Getting to Know God Meditations: 25. God of Communication (4)
Mt 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
Ongoing: In the previous study we noted that ‘hearing’ comes not only through our physical ears but also through our soul or spirit. Just looking at the stars, we can be moved with understanding and be stirred to worship. Reading the Bible we can find truth impacting us and moving us. Reading the Gospels, we can see the wonder of Jesus displayed and our hearts be moved. This is communication taking place that includes, but also goes way beyond, physical seeing and hearing.
And Yet? Yet, there are instances in the Bible, our textbook for these things, where people hear the words being spoken to them but do not perceive the import of them. Pharaoh, who opposed Moses in Exodus, was one such example. The trouble is that it is the nature of the words being spoken in such situations, for they are words about ‘God’ and for many that is a bridge too far in belief. But why, the evidence is there, in fact it is piled high, so high as to be unmissable – except by a blind person.
Pharaoh, an example: Pharaoh was the king over a pagan country, Egypt, a country full of superstition and idolatrous worship. Pharaoh was divine, it was thought. Pharaoh succumbed to that wrong belief, but acted as if he was, so when Moses turned up and made demands as from the One True God, Pharaoh naturally resisted. So Moses performed a miracle and had his brother Aaron throw his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake (Ex7:10), but the trouble was Egypt was into the occult and so Pharaoh’s ‘magicians’ copied him and there were snakes all over the place! (v.11,12) – but Aaron’s ‘snake’ ate up all the others. Pretty impressive! But Pharaoh wasn’t impressed.
So Moses, at God’s instigation, performed another miracle, the first of what turned out to be ten ‘plagues’, he turned the water of the Nile into blood. (Ex 7:20,21) So the occult ‘magicians’ did the same as he did, with other water. Still Pharaoh is not impressed. OK, another plague, frogs all over the place and for a third time the occult ‘magicians’ copy him (Ex 8:1-7). Now, OK, to be fair, in Pharaoh’s eyes so far it is just an occult competition, but at least he is starting to see something for he asks Moses to pray that the Lord will remove the frogs – which happens – and then he digs in again. Another plague – gnats – but this time this is beyond the magicians. And so it goes on and on with each plague getting worse and still Pharaoh ‘hardens his heart’ and refuses to let Israel leave the land.
Example of what? But of what is Pharaoh an example? Of blindness, of stupidity, of refusal to note the mounting evidence, of refusal to acknowledge the Lord for who He is – Creator of the world, and all powerful who cannot be resisted. What is remarkable about this bizarre story is the number of opportunities God gave Pharaoh to ‘see’ and respond rightly. One of my favourite verses these days is, speaking of God, “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” (2 Pet 3:9), and if you read that chapter you will see the context is of a world that refuses to acknowledge the pile of evidence and instead says, but where is God, you keep saying he’ll turn up but he doesn’t’ and so Peter explains, this is God being patient giving you opportunity after opportunity to come to your senses.
A Spiritual Dimension: But the Bible shows that this world is not purely material, there is this spirit dimension as well, and we get indicators of this all over the place. For example – “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Without going into the theology of this for the moment, the apostle Paul was saying that unbelief has blinded the eyes of so many to the wonder of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God, has come and revealed the Father and died to take our sins and punishment. That is mind blowing when you ‘see’ it, but many don’t! As the Message paraphrase version puts it, “The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out.” (1 Cor 1:18) It is only when we recognize and acknowledge our blindness and cry out to God that suddenly all the talk about Jesus dying on the cross makes sense.
Jesus’ Acts Prophesied: John in his Gospel testified, “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (Jn 12:37) As we’ve seen before the religious leaders were so prejudiced against him that even the miracles could not persuade them. John 9 is a great chapter to illustrate this. Jesus heals a man who had been blind from birth – but he does it on a Saturday, the Sabbath when work was forbidden for Jews. Then along come the Pharisees, the conservative, hypocritical guardians of the Law and, instead of being thrilled that a man who has been blind all his life can now see, they carp on about it happening on a Saturday. What heartless blindness!
But now John explains that this was exactly what Isaiah (Isa 6:10) had prophesied: “This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Jn 12:38) i.e. where were those who would believe what God was doing? But then Isaiah says by way of explanation, “For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (Jn 12:39,40). What, God has done this? Well this is where we have to go back to Pharaoh where a number of times this matter of a ‘hard heart’ is seen. Cutting a long story short, when there is a hard heart because of pride (which is what Pharaoh had), God’s demands on such a person, if they are set in their ways (as Pharaoh was), will simply harden their heart even more and show even more clearly the folly of their ways. So yes, God does harden further, existing hard hearts. If they would turn they would get healed but their hard hearts prevent them believing, they simply get harder and harder.
Jesus’ Teaching Style: To conclude with our starter verse, it comes when Jesus has been explaining to his disciples why he uses parables, and he again uses the Isaiah words: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” (Mt 13:13-15 quoting the Greek version of Isa 6:9,10) Not only does this blindness work when people refused to see the wonder in the miracles Jesus was performing, it also applies to his teaching. It is like Jesus is saying, beware, hard hearts mean an inability to see and understand. Hearing is impaired by the state of the heart. By the heart we don’t mean the physical muscle, but as a dictionary puts it, ‘the central or innermost part of something’. At our core – intellect and will – we either believe or not.
Presuppositions: Philosopher Francis Schaeffer used to talk a lot about ‘presuppositions’, our starting points in our thinking, things we assume or take for granted are true. He used to make the point that much of the time we just ‘caught’ these from other people (like the flu). We didn’t conclude them from deep and meaningful thought. Very often we allow attitudes extolling ‘self’ to grow in us, called pride, and this pride creates what we have been calling a ‘hard heart’ which is simply a refusal to consider anything other than the presuppositions we have settled on. For many it is that there is no God.
The Hard-nosed Bible: The Bible uncompromisingly declares, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1,53:1) and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Very often there is a footnote that says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” Lacking moral standing? Why? The implication is, as we concluded the previous study, we find Jesus saying, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” (Mt 11:15) and, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear,” (Lk 8:8, 14:35) and the clear implication is that we have been given the means to be able to ‘hear’ God and so if we don’t it is an indication that pride has meant that we have exercised the will to refuse to consider these things openly and honestly and that, the Bible says, raises moral questions over us. Perhaps we need to consider this further to distinguish between hearing and listening, which we haven’t done yet. Stay with me if you can.