Seeing Without Perceiving; Hearing Without Understanding

There are certain drawing that look like one thing to some and something else to others. (Think of the duck/rabbit picture or the old woman/young woman picture.) The same applies to scripture. I may see one side; you might see another. I fear, however, that sometimes we only see or hear what we want to hear. When it comes to God’s word, there is only one side – God’s. We may point our fingers at those outside the church as viewing God’s this word, but God’s people, historically and today, are in danger of doing the same thing.

Misunderstanding Among God’s Elect

Isaiah 6:10 records God giving Isaiah his mission, and Gad warns that His word would shut the eyes and the ears of the people. In Isaiah 1:16-19, the prophet calls the people to repentance and obedience, and Isaiah 55:6-7 implores those separated from God to return to Him, seeking pardon and forgiveness. Unfortunately, as God warned in chapter 6, the people would hear but not listen. Verse 9 warns Isaiah’s intended audience would see and hear him without comprehension because their hearts are closed. Isaiah 55:10-11, though, proclaims that God’s word will never return to Him without accomplishment.

Moving from one prophet to another, Jeremiah 5:1 records God challenging Jeremiah to seek Jerusalem for anyone who cares about justice and truth. Verse 3 has Jeremiah responding to this by calling the people hardened against God’s word. They have turned away from their Lord, but Jeremiah 5:6-19 warns God’s people will be judged by that word they rejected. As they turned to serve strange gods, so would they be made to serve strange people. Jeremiah 5:20-21 then warns against hearing and seeing God’s words without understanding and applying.

Finally, during the captivity in Ezekiel 12:1-2, God says His prophet is dwelling in a rebellious house that consists of people with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Ezekiel 33:23-28 records the attitude God’s people had, assuming their inheritance of the land of Judah and Israel as a given, but God says He will pull the land from these that reject His word. In Ezekiel 33:30-32, the people come to hear God’s word from the right source, but they fail to apply those words they hear. They sit and listen but do nothing.

Personal Applications

It’s easy to see these failings in coworkers and friends. It’s easy to judge others without judging ourselves. Matthew 13:10 has the apostles asking about Jesus’ habit of teaching parables, and, in His answer, Jesus uses language similar to those prophets of the Old Testament. Those crowds around Him sees without seeing and hears without hearing. Those people claiming to be religious, interested in the words of God, would see and hear what they wanted. They would be entertained by the words but fail to apply. The same can be true of us today.

In Acts 7:57, Stephen is accusing the Jewish leadership of killing God’s messengers time and again. The result of his accusations is his subsequent stoning. In contrast, Peter and the apostles make similar accusations in Acts 2, but verse 37 records a far different response. These opened their hearts to accept God’s word. One would have expected Peter’s and Stephen’s results to be reversed. Hebrews 6:4-6 contains a warning for those who have accepted Christ at one point only to later close their eyes and their ears.

Late in Jesus ministry, in John 6, many leave Him when He stops preaching the things they want to hear. He asks the twelve if they too will abandon Him, and Peter responds that they have no place to go. They recognize Jesus as the source of eternal life. James 1:21-22 encourages us to receive God’s word in meekness, but James goes on to say that we should not only be hearers of that word. We should do it, lest we delude ourselves by only seeing and hearing those things we desire. He says we should humble ourselves before the word, be receptive of the word, and then apply it.

lesson by Tim Smelser