Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
The Great Prophetic Message to This People
These words which Isaiah must speak to Israel are indeed prophetic words. Of this there cannot be a shadow of doubt when these words are read in the light of all of Scripture. And the latter we shall need to do if we are reverently to bow before the Bible.
First of all, we notice that they are words which Isaiah must prophesy. They are not merely a one-time announcement for Isaiah in his day, but they are words which really reach across the ages till the first and second coming of the Son of God in the flesh.
Let us try to see this together.
When Nathan comes to David to tell him of his heinous sin against God in the killing of Uriah by the sword of the enemy, and of his sin of adultery against God in the taking of another man’s wife, then that is a message which is one-time, and is not something of a prophetic character. Likewise also are the words of Elijah when he stands before Ahab and announces the three-and-a-half-year famine and drought over Israel. That too is not a prophetic word which awaits centuries of fulfillment.
But here it is different.
Here is not a message from God to an individual sinner, but a message to a people, to a nation whose generations extend over centuries of time. These are words which reflect the lives reaching back till the days at Sinai, and Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, and reaching forward, for their initial fulfillment, in the captivity of Judah in Babylon. For the later and mom complete fulfillment they anticipate the utter destruction of the temple by the Roman legions as they surround Jerusalem. Typically the destruction of Jerusalem mpresents the end of the world, when it will be said by God “it is done” I (Matt. 24:13-25; Luke 21:20-23; Rev. 16:17b).
But we have stronger evidence still that these are words of futuristic prophecy. It is none other than Jesus Himself Who thus interprets these words to His disciples. In Matthew 13:14 we read, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, by hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see and not perceive….”
We ought to notice a few things of importance here.
1. That Jesus looks at His work of doing miracles and of preaching the gospel far and wide for three years as the very climax of the work of all the prophets who prophesied until John.
2. That at His day this prophecy was fully fulfilled. Nothing more needed to be done in the way of preaching to fulfill the words “go and tell this people.” Yes, over many centuries these words had been preached by prophets, from generation to generation, and by various prophets whose words were taken up in the inspired Scriptures. Two prophets in particular merit our attention. They are Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However, Daniel, Hosea and Micah, Haggai and Zechariah as well as Malachi, all spoke this word of Adonai to Israel, rising early and late.
The Import of the Terms in the Text
Our next question to consider is the exegetical import of the terms: hear ye indeed and hear not, etc. These words, of course, presuppose that each generation is going to hear these words in future preaching of the promise of God and its certain fulfillment by Him, Adonai, Who sits on the throne.
Grammatically the terms in the Hebrew are very significant. In the Hebrew the verb “hear ye” has a modifier. It is the same verb in a form of the verb which is called “infinite absolute.” It is used to add emphasis to the verb, in this case to the verbs hear and see. It means hear and see very emphatically. Know the content of what you hear and see so that you never forget it. It will stick in your memory; yea, it will, even from a spiritual point of view, penetrate into your very heart (Matt. 13:19). It was sown in the hearts of the hearers. It is indeed the calling by the Gospel. It comes as the word which is circumscribed in Hebrews as follows, and we quote:
For the word of God is quick (living), and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Heb. 4:12, 13
Now here we have the spiritual-psychological insight into what happens in the preaching of the Word. This text explains rather profoundly the import of ‘hearing hear emphatically” and “seeing see very clearly’ from a natural (psychical) point of view. This people must hear and must come to stand naked and opened before the eyes of the all-knowing God with whom they have to do. They will, therefore, stand condemned by their own gospel-enlightened conscience. They belong to those who are under law, and stand with the entire world whose mouths are stopped and who stand guilty before God (Rom. 3:19).
In this spiritual blindness and hatred, God’s righteous judgment upon them is evident!
Yes, they are those blind leaders of the blind who cannot read the Scriptures. It is for them a closed book. We read of them in Isaiah 28:8ff ., where they are portrayed in their riotous drunkenness. When reproved by the prophet they derisively retort, Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Does he think that we are still babes in arms? He teaches us in the abominable rote: precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little!
But God says to these mockers “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” It is not often understood that those in Corinth who clamored for eloquent preachers were not merely guilty of a certain clique spirit, but they were those who did not love to hear the message of the Word of the Cross as they should. To them as well as to us comes this warning in I Corinthians 14:21!
When these foolish unbelievers are told really to read the Scriptures so that they would hear the great Gospel-truth uttered by Paul in I Corinthians 14:30, 31, then they cannot possibly read that Gospel-message in the Scriptures. God says of these men, who are wise in their own conceits: I have not given them ears to hear, nor eyes to see, neither have given them to see what the prophets desire to see, the fulfillment of the Promise in the SEED. With the Bible-book in their hands they really say to the Lord, I cannot read in the entire book any such gospel as “This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest. And this is the refreshing. But they would not hear.”
They never walked in the old and tried paths spoken of in Jeremiah 6:16,
Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said: we will not walk therein.
In Matthew 11 Jesus says to this same people, “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you and ye have not lamented. John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say: he hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” Yes, Jesus adds, “But wisdom is justified of her children.”
Unto this people “say the very strong word of God’s eternal wisdom, “hear ye indeed, but understand not!” In this light we understand that the divine wisdom of the Cross through the foolishness of preaching is justified in the believing children. Yes, here we take the shoes from off our feet, and repeat with Jesus:
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
The church-world of contemporary “theology” is full of such preachers and unbelieving churchgoers who say “the book is sealed I cannot read.” Such they are, not in their own judgment, but in the all-wise judgment of our Lord Who sits on the throne as King in Zion.
It truly will be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum. He that has known the way and has not walked in it shall be beaten with many stripes. For they that sinned under law shall be judged by the law in the day when God judges the secrets of man according to His Gospel (Rom. 2:16).