James R. Aist
“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.” — Isaiah 32:1-4).
We are probably all familiar with the phrase “ears to hear” in the New Testament. Jesus used it on at least three occasions in the gospels and seven times in Revelation. Where did this phrase come from, why did Jesus use it, and what relevance does it have for us today?
“Ears to hear” in the Old Testament
"You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.” (Isaiah 48:8);
"Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.” (Jeremiah 5:21);
“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” (Jeremiah 6:10);
“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.” (Ezekiel 12:2).
In these passages, we see God lamenting the hardness of a rebellious people, His chosen people, to His wisdom and advice, given to them through His prophets. They have ears, but their ears (of hearing) are not open, and so they do not hear (comprehend, take to heart, heed) what God has to say to them.
"He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”(Isaiah 6:9-10).
“With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.”(Deuteronomy 29:3-4).
In these passages, we can see that God has become fed up with their hardness of heart, and so He says, in effect, “Have it your way, then. I will close your ears myself, so that you will not be able to hear, to repent and to be healed until I restore your hearing to you when the time is right.
“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.”(Isaiah 32:1-4).
In this passage, God is saying that “When King Jesus comes, that’s when I will restore hearing to your ears, so that then you will be able to know and to understand what I am telling you.”
The points that I am taking from these Old Testament passages are that 1) it is God who closes their ears, 2) it is God who opens their ears, and 3) it is God who will open their ears so that His chosen people, the Elect, will be able to hear the Good News that Jesus will bring, repent of their sins and be saved (healed). Jesus, himself, made this connection clearly when He said to His disciples, “This is why I speak to them in parables: “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. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” (Matthew 13:13-16). The Apostle Paul also made this connection when he was explaining why the Jews were not more receptive to the gospel: “What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.” (Romans 11:7-8). Later, Jesus extended this insight to include gentiles when He used it in reference to the seven churches in present-day Turkey, in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.). And since the messages of Jesus to the seven churches also apply to the present day, “ears to hear” is also for us.
Why Did Jesus Paraphrase this Saying in Mark and Revelation?
Let’s first take a look at what He said there:
"Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9);
"If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:23);
"Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?" (Mark 8:17-18);
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.).
Jesus was, of course, familiar with the Bible passages listed and discussed above, so He knew that, in any given audience, there would be some to whom God had not given “ears to hear” and that they would not be able to accept (receive) His teaching. One of the best examples of this is found in John 6:51-66, where many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him, because of His teaching on the requirement of His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood. And in Mark 8:17-18, Jesus seemed surprised, because it appeared that God may not have given His very disciples “ears to hear” the meaning of one of His parables. So, despite knowing that some in His audiences had not been given “ears to hear”, Jesus proclaimed His teaching anyway, for the sake of those to whom the Father had given ears to hear. And that’s why He said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear”: His target audience was specifically those to whom the Father had given “ears to hear.” In modern parlance, we might refer to them as having been given a “teachable spirit.”
Relevance for Present Day Christians
Firstly, I believe that this “Ears to Hear” teaching reveals something important about the “conversion” experience. Let’s see how that connects up. Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (John 6:44-45). Now, let’s consider this passage in view of Isaiah 32:1-4 (“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.”); we see that the reason the ones whom the Father draws to Jesus are now able to be taught by God, to hear the Father, to learn from Him, and to know and understand is that their ears have been opened so that they can listen to Him. In other words, somewhere in the conversion process, God gives them “ears to hear” so that they can receive the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I believe that the Apostle Paul had Isaiah 32:1-4 in mind when he declared “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
Secondly, I believe that this teaching can help us understand why, for example, two people can listen to the same presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet only one gets saved. We are all born with deaf ears, and God gave only one of them ears to hear. That was Paul’s explanation regarding the intransigence of the Jews to the Gospel. Knowing this, we can better understand it when our sharing of the Gospel seems to fall on deaf ears, and we can also be encouraged to share the Gospel anyway, for the sake of those who have been given ears to hear.
And thirdly, I believe this teaching can motivate us to boldly proclaim biblical teachings – especially those concerning some of the more controversial moral issues of our time — where some amount of risk may be involved. I believe that we are to follow Jesus’ example and be willing to be teachers to mixed audiences comprised of those who have ears to hear and those who do not. We are not to let those who do not have ears to hear prevent those who do have ears to hear from hearing what God wants us to say. This means that, like Jesus, we should be willing to face opposition for the sake of our target audience. To do this will require us to have the courage of our convictions and to trust in God to protect us from the enemies we will make in the process. This is the example Jesus gave us, and I believe that if we are to be His followers, then we must follow this example when He calls on us to do so. So don’t be afraid to speak up when unbelievers are mocking the Bible or questioning the very existence of God; someone who has ears to hear may be ready to receive what you have to say. Where would you and I be today if Jesus had been intimidated by those in His audiences who had deaf ears?
Prepare yourself to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the next opportunity, and brace yourself to contend for the truth of God’s word when He calls on you to do so.
(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS by Professor Aist, click HERE)