Hearing without Understanding
Mt 13:14 “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed.”
This problem is recorded in all three synoptic gospels and in Acts (Mk 4:12, Luke 8:10, Acts 28:26). Shouldn’t we assume these four accounts were included for our benefit? Are we supposed to learn something from their problem? Could it be modern-day believers have a similar problem?
The gospel accounts are speaking of Yeshua’s/Jesus’ audience, those that felt He was worth listening to. So apparently even those who appreciated His message to some degree still didn’t get what He was trying to tell them.
Joh 4:48 ‘Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.“’
John 12:37 “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him”.
Even though they found Him interesting and saw the miracles, the great bulk of His audience still didn’t recognize the Creator in His message! Were they idiots? They heard His teaching, but evidently it just didn’t sink in that the Kingdom of God was moving in that time and at that place through Yeshua of Nazereth. Why not? What would cause them to shut their eyes?
Consider what Josephus had to say about the loyalties of the masses: “… the Pharisees, who were one of the sects of the Jews, as we have informed you already. These have so great a power over the multitude, that when they say anything against the king, or against the high priest, they are presently believed.” (Ant. 13.10.5, emphasis mine). Messiah also indicated that the Pharisees were blind leading blind people.
Mat 15:14 “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
As the saying goes; ‘there is none so blind as he who will not see’. The people for generations generally had looked to the Pharisees. A single voice, or even two if we include John the Baptist, was evidently not able to overcome their entrenched authority. Why did they not believe Yeshua when He taught the full intent of the Creator? How did these religious leaders come to so dominate the general population?
Mat 23:1 “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.
“Moses’ seat” refers to the position of Moses as he taught God’s law. Both the Scribes and Pharisees at the time of Yeshua were established as the religious authorities of that time. The position they were in had been established by the Creator!
Ex 18:13 “And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. 14 So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?…”16 “When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”
The Scribes and Pharisees controlled God’s House. As time progressed particularly the Pharisees established traditions based on their interpretation of Scripture. Their approach had been accepted for generations.
Unfortunately, it was not apparent to the general population that these established authorities were not doing a good job. They were presumed to be the authorized representatives of the Creator. So, it was assumed they spoke for Him. Yeshua did not have generations of established tradition upholding His perspective. Those who did recognize Yeshua as a servant of God were afraid to speak up since they could be alienated from the community.
John 12:42 “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue”.
The Pharisees had control of everybody’s church. Alienation from the Synagogue was alienation from the whole community. It was potentially devastating. The assumption was that those alienated from the synagogue were alienated from the Creator as well.
NT Jews not Alone
This example from the time of the Messiah is not the only example of God’s people missing His message because of preconceived ideas and prior teaching. The people of the Exodus had a similar problem.
Jer 7:22 “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. 23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”
Deu 5:29 ‘Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!”
Israel stepped on the Creator’s last nerve at the golden calf. Yet when confronted by Moses about the enormity of their sin they seemed to immediately repent and show remorse for their error.
Ex 33:4 “And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’” 6 So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.”
Jeremiah tells us that Israel followed ‘the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts’ rather than obeying the instruction of their Creator. Yet, they showed their awe of Him earlier when He spoke from Mt. Sinai (Ex 20:18-21, Deu 5:24-29). Yahweh wanted to speak directly to them, but they wanted Moses to stand between them.
Consider that this is the same thing that prevented the Jews from recognizing Yeshua’s message. They put the Pharisees between them and the Creator. They looked to the Pharisees to understand Him. Because of that the message that they had been receiving for generations was a corrupted message. Yet, they had been taught from childhood that it was pleasing to the Creator. They had little chance of recognizing a different message as more in accord with the will of the Creator.
With ancient Israel, the people looked to Moses. When Moses was not available Israel was incapable of discerning the will of the Creator on their own. So they did what seemed best to them.
Ex 32:1 “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods <0430> that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
<0430> ‘elohiym 1) (plural) 1a) rulers, judges, 1b) divine ones, 1c) angels, 1d) gods 2) (plural intensive-singular meaning) 2a) god, goddess, 2b) godlike one, 2c) works or special possessions of God, 2d) the (true) God
Elohiym is not limited to divine spirit beings. Since Aaron made only one golden calf it, “the apparent the meaning in Exodus 32:1”, intends a singular intensive meaning, i.e. god or god-like one.
Even though they were told not to make any gods <0430> of silver or gold they felt they needed something in Moses’ place. He was their god-like one who brought them out of Egypt. Indeed, Hebrew “‘elohiym” <0430> can refer to entities less than the supreme Creator. The celebration that Aaron proclaimed, he proclaimed as a celebration to Yahweh, “הוהי”. So Israel evidently still recognized Yahweh, but they felt they needed someone or something in between.
The covenant they made though, required that nothing be in between. “You shall have no other gods <0430> before Me.” (Ex 20:3) That included Moses. They were to represent the Creator directly, each and every man of them. ‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Ex 19:6)
The covenant of Sinai did not designate a high priest. The One who spoke to them from Mt. Sinai was the High Priest. They were all on equal footing.
The establishing of the various captains in Deuteronomy 1:15 strongly hints that their original Patriarchal structure was REestablished. It then must have been dismantled at some point. “So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and knowledgeable men, and made them heads over you, leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, leaders of tens, and officers for your tribes.”
Their tribes had leaders, but they had no authority. This is not typical of a patriarchal society. The Creator wanted everyone to represent Him. They each needed to look directly to Him for guidance and standards. A patriarchal system would have gotten in the way. However, since they didn’t seem to be able to trust the Creator and work out their difficulties through faith in Him they ended up going to Moses. He was their link to Yahweh. That ended up overwhelming him and putting him in the place of God. The restoration of the heads of their tribes as heads was likely a necessary evil because they were simply incapable of working through their own problems based on faith, let alone being able to teach other nations.
The re-establishment of the patriarchal heads seems like an obvious solution to the problem of Moses’ burden. Unfortunately, that was not the solution that the Creator wished. It was a necessary evil because the people didn’t have the mentality, the heart, to resolve their problems among themselves or the faith to trust their Creator to make up their lack. The Creator wanted a people that would seek Him and trust in His provision. He would supply what they could not. Ancient Israel was simply incapable of living to His expectation.
The lesson for believers today ought to be clear. Believers are also supposed to be priests to the Creator (I Pet 2:9). He wants no middlemen between Him and His people. He wants each of us to diligently seek His way from His instruction. We can share perspectives among one another, but we must not be content with someone else’s opinion. If we do, we will either be the blind following the blind or be putting other great ones, Elohim, to be with the Creator.
The Creator wants to know how our mind works. He is trying to make us in His image, so we think as He does. When we don’t seek His way for ourselves we will not likely be capable of making correct decisions on our own.
Not Understanding Scripture
Many capable people have not been able to agree on what Scripture is telling us. Just like the Jews were locked into the Pharisees, so also, preconceived ideas even when based on scripture can lead us astray.
John 12:34 ‘The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”’
Messiah’s audience was not ignorant of the scriptures. In this case, He apparently didn’t really answer their concern. A solid answer would likely have brought up other issues that He may not have wanted to deal with.
Even John the Baptist was under a false impression. Mat 11:3 “and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” What did he mean “Coming one”?
Mal 3:1 “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts. 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness.”
John understood that he was announcing the arrival of the Messiah as he gave his warning in the wilderness( John 1:23). Certainly, he saw himself as the messenger preparing Messiah’s way.
In using ‘coming one’ (Mat 11:3) John was making a direct reference to the Messiah. Specifically, in Malachi, His role of purging the corruption of the priesthood is highlighted. As the messenger preparing the way John had good reason to think the Messiah would shake up the administration of the temple at that time.
Consider that John had been baptizing in the Jordan River which is in the area of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Qumran community was led by alienated priests protesting what they saw as the corrupt and illegal administration of the temple in Jerusalem. At some point, John may have been part of that community. Based on Malachi 3:1, it is easy to understand why John needed reassurance. John likely expected the Messiah to clean up the corruption of the administration in Jerusalem quickly. Needless to say, Yeshua did not see that as His job at that time.
Notice His response: Mat 11:4 ‘Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.“’ (See Isa 42:18, 35:6, 61:1)
Timing is often imprecise in Scripture and/or misleading to us. Western thinking expects stories to be related in sequential order or with timing assumptions that one thing leads quickly to the next unless clarified otherwise. The authors of Scripture didn’t necessarily think that way. Evidently even John was confused when Yeshua didn’t act according to John’s impression of timing. He wondered if Yeshua was really the Messiah.
In a similar fashion, Peter apparently didn’t understand the need to distinguish between the traditions of the Elders and the ways of the Creator until he received his vision from God to go to Cornelius. He seemed to have no idea many years after the crucifixion that God might have a different opinion or even conflict, with the traditions of the Elders.
Acts 10: 28 ‘Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”’
The Law does not forbid an Israelite from keeping company with a Gentile. That was a tradition set in place by the respected religious leaders, likely the Pharisees. Could the Jews of New Testament times have understood the parable of the good Samaritan when ostracism of Samaritans was promoted as godly by the respected religious leaders who were in Moses’ seat?
In the same way, the various Christian denominations have their respected leaders in whom the laity trusts. With the instruction of leaders, people grow up with various assumptions. It is difficult to read the Scriptures without applying the filter of those assumptions and teachings. As much as we might try this means we assume Scripture agrees with what we are taught and assume; even if it does not. We read what we think the text means, not what it says.
If John the Baptist was confused by scripture and Peter needed a vision from Heaven to properly understand the mind of the Creator, what chance do the rest of us have to understand His ways better than the well studied leaders on whom we have relied?
By design, understanding the expectations of the Creator don’t depend on great intelligence. It depends on seeking to understand His instruction as He intended it. Most problems come because we are prejudiced by the teaching of others. We assume our trusted leaders know when sometimes they do not. We try to fit Scripture to their teaching and miss the full intention of the Creator. He also has scattered relevant instruction on many subjects throughout scripture. It is not often that everything having to do with an important subject is in one place. So people focus on the scriptures that support their perspective. Other scriptures that don’t fit from other scattered areas are easy to ignore.
1Cor 10:11 “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
New Testament examples are for us too! John the Baptist and Peter thought they knew. Is there hope for us? There is, if we don’t get comfortable assuming we know everything of importance.
1Cor 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Consider that this applies to a trial of understanding the will of God too. Information to resolve important issues is available. We just need to keep pondering the pieces we have and keep looking for the piece that makes everything fit. This is incompatible with being confident we possess the truth and being unwilling to consider other perspectives.
I Pet 5:5 “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
Humility is essential when dealing with the things of our Creator. Patience is also necessary. The Creator will provide all our needs, including knowledge of His ways, in His good time. Of course, He expects us to do what we can, yes, seek. At the same time, we must understand that there is a subtle & cunning enemy wandering around whose purpose is to deceive.
Acts 13:10 ‘and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?”’
Satan deals in half-truths, clever arguments, perversions of righteousness…not quite the truth. It is not necessarily easy to tell the difference. This is why the Pharisees, Jewish rabbis, and highly respected Christian leaders have been successful in gathering a following. People attach themselves to what seems right to them. When their perception has been shaped by erroneous teaching it is no surprise that they will miss truth.
Isa 28:9 “Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” 11 For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, 12 To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear. 13 But the word of the LORD was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little,” That they might go and fall backward, and be broken And snared and caught.”
It is unlikely a novice will be able to put all the pieces together. All the instruction must be put together and considered as a whole. Everything we need is not in a single tidy package but must be ferreted out carefully. The instruction is there, but many will not pay attention to it. They will be victims of their own devices, their own making. The Creator is gracious to the humble who carefully seek His ways.
How do we know when we’ve found all the pieces? We don’t know. We might understand things better than others, but that doesn’t guarantee that there is not more to learn. Believers don’t own the truth, they seek it wherever it might be found. Trusted leaders are susceptible to error just like anyone else.
Written by Everett Leisure