Isaiah’s Vision and New Testament Parallels: Part 3a
The Lord Sends Isaiah with a Message
Following the outline presented in Part 1 (see link), this segment will describe Key Concept 3: The Lord Sent Isaiah with a Message. The message breaks easily into two parts:
- restoration of a remnant
The Lord’s Message of Judgment for Israel
The message of judgment is the longer of the two portions (Isaiah 6:8-12). It also breaks into two segments. In Part 1, Isaiah heard the “voice of the Lord” (vs 7) telling him the message he was to give to “this people,” (vs 9) i.e., the nation of Israel. Isaiah asks, “How long?” In Part 2 (vss 11-12), the Lord gives Isaiah a prophetic look into Israel’s future. This post will cover Part 1: Blind Eyes and Deaf Ears.
Content: Part 1
Isaiah 6:9-10 are likely some of the most well known verses in Isaiah, since Matthew 3:14-15, Mark 4:12, John 12:40, and Luke in Luke 8:10 and Acts 28:26-27 cite them in total or in part.
The following quotation is from the Septuagint, which Jesus quotes in Matthew almost verbatim.
Isaiah 6:9 Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. 10 For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. (LXE)
Here is the same passage translated from the Masoretic text. This version seems to be the one that Mark, John, and Luke use.
Isaiah 6:9 He said, “Go and tell these people: ‘Listen continually, but don’t understand! Look continually, but don’t perceive!’ 10 Make the hearts of these people calloused; make their ears deaf and their eyes blind! Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, their hearts might understand and they might repent and be healed.”14 (NET)
There are two interpretive possibilities. 1) The weaker of the two possibilities is that the Lord is stating a fact to Isaiah concerning the willful disobedience of Israel in hardening their hearts to the Lord. He tells Isaiah to warn them that he will not heal them unless they turn to him. 2) The stronger possibility is that the Lord uses their willful, persistent disobedience as the reason for him to judicially blind them. That means that the Lord decrees their continued hardness of heart. Their sin of turning a deaf ear to him is so bad that the Lord does not wish to heal them.
Christians have difficulty accepting the second interpretive possibility. They want to “cut God some slack.” That is, they have difficulty believing that God could be so harsh. Unfortunately for this view, the weight of Scripture falls against it. Consider the following verses.
John 12:40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (ESV)
Luke 8:10 He said, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that although they see they may not see, and although they hear they may not understand. (NET)
Mark 4:11 He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, 12 so that although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven.” (NET)
Acts 28:25 So they began to leave, unable to agree among themselves, after Paul made one last statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah 26 when he said, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will never understand, and you will keep on looking, but will never perceive. 27 For the heart of this people has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”‘ 28 “Therefore be advised that this salvation from God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!” (NET)
Whether one takes the soft interpretation or the more difficult one, it remains clear in both cases that a hardened heart is not a good thing. The text definitely teaches that even God’s own people can have blind eyes and deaf ears.
What about Christian churches today? What about me? What are my blind spots? My areas of hardened heart? What lies do I believe? What excuses do I make for behaviors which God’s word teaches are clearly against his will? What sins of omission do I commit? Do I love my neighbor as I should? Whom do I consider to be my neighbor? Whom do I exclude from my “neighbors” list?
The antidote for the sin of stubbornness, blindness, insensitivity to the Lord’s commands, and hardness of heart is to pray. Lord, show me my blind spots, show me where I turn a deaf ear, show me those hardened places in my heart. And most importantly, when you do show me these things, Lord, give me a heart to listen and obey. Help me to change, Lord. Thank-you, Lord, Amen.