And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.’” (Is 6:8-10)
This passage seems crazy! Why would our patient, long suffering God tell Isaiah to preach this message? It’s a total downer. It’s like God didn’t want his people to repent.
I think this only makes sense if we realize that God doesn’t have unlimited patience. We so much get this idea in our heads that no matter how long someone ignores the Lord, they can repent in the end and it will be okay.
And one one hand, this is true. Jesus told a parable (Matthew 20) about workers in a vineyard, and how some began working in the beginning of the day, some in the middle, and some at the very end. They all got the same pay, no matter when they came. And this means that everyone who repents and obeys the teachings of Jesus will go to heaven, no matter when in their life they repent.
But there’s another principle that is also true, and it’s that there comes a point when God has given people, especially a nation of people, chance after chance, and their time runs out. I believe that’s the message Isaiah was given to preach. Time was running out for the Jews.
Jesus told a different parable in which a land owner went away, and left tenant farmers in charge of his land. The owner kept sending servants to get his share of the crops, and the tenant farmers kept killing the servants so they could keep it all for themselves. Finally the owner sent his son, thinking they would respect him. But the tenant farmers killed the son as well. Jesus asked the religious leaders what they thought would happen to these tenants. The leaders said the tenants would be put to death, and the land would be leased to others. Jesus told them the same would be true for them, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.” (Matthew 21:43) God had sent prophets to his people and they didn’t listen. He sent his son, and they still wouldn’t listen. So God’s patience with them would come to an end.
I think this commentary by Matthew Poole sums up God’s thoughts in Isaiah 6 well, “Their time of conversion and healing is past; it is now too late, I will not convert, I will not heal them.”
Now it makes sense why Jesus quoted Isaiah 6 and said to his disciples, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’” (Luke 8:10)
By speaking in parables instead of plain language, God, through Jesus, actually made it difficult for the Jews to understand the gospel. It was like God was saying to the them, “You reap what you sow. Because you wouldn’t listen for so long, now you won’t be able to hear.”
Man, that’s hard! It’s a side of God we need to try and understand.
And the lesson for us in this is that it’s vitally important to learn how to listen better. In the same passage where Jesus taught about Isaiah 6, he used phrases like, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear, ” and, “Take care then how you hear.” (Luke 8:8b, 18a) He told the parable of the soils and concluded, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:15)
Can we be good soil, better hearers than the Jewish nation of old?
This is exactly what I need to focus on at this point in my life. You see, I’ve started life coaching, and I’ve been struggling to be effective at it. And the feedback I’ve been getting is that I need to learn to stop worrying about saying the right thing to the client, because then I’m not listening to them.
And I’m seeing that can also play out in my day to day living. I get so busy performing, and thinking about what I’m supposed to do, that I forget to listen to God. It becomes about me, and not about HIM.
But I’m learning to listen better. And I want to pass this on to you. Here are some ways to be a good hearer.
- Look for what God is doing. Have the attitude of Jesus, who said, “The son can do nothing by himself. He can only do what he sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19)
- Listen to God in prayer. Have a time in your devotional when you stop speaking and open your ears to spiritual promptings.
- Be reactive, instead of proactive. Don’t be so set on your agenda that you can’t go with what God puts on your plate.
- Be open, instead of closed. A closed person hides behind walls of self protection. An open person is like Mary, who said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
- Read the Bible with the intent of understanding God’s heart.
- Clean out the gunk in your heart that keeps you distracted, like worries, hurts, anger, bitterness, and loving the world.
- Touch base with the Spirit frequently. Envision that each breath fills you with the Spirit. Let every plan and action flow from that, like exhaling.
Today, just as in the days of Isaiah, God wants everyone to hear, despite the state of their hearts. That’s why he commissions us in the same way he commissioned Isaiah.
Will we respond to this commission as Isaiah did, saying, “Here am I, send me!”
Will we go out and tell others, even when they’re not receptive? That’s what Isaiah had to do. That’s what it feels like I do when I share my faith.
But I I have to admit that when I persevere, I always find that one person who has a more open heart.
And that’s the last piece we can learn about God in this discussion. Yes, he made it difficult for the Jews to hear and be healed. But he knew that a few of his people would understand and respond to the gospel. The whole nation of Israel would not be converted. But a handful of invididuals would get it.
And this small group would be enough to impact the world for eternity.
So we have to take the same attitude. We can go out and share our faith, and hundreds of people won’t get it. But there IS that one heart out there who will. There might even be others who will remember later, and respond.
And the few who do, will change the world.
That’s why we go, as Isaiah did.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2