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I was surprised when in Isa 6:9-10, following the often cited passage about Isaiah's famous vision in Isa 6:1-4, his purification with coal in Isa 6:5--7, and Isaiah's famous offer in Isa 6:8 celebrated in songs "Here I am. Send me" that exhort Christians today to become missionaries, that God wanted Isaiah to do the VERY OPPOSITE of what missionaries do:

Go! Say to these people:
Keep listening, but do not understand;
keep looking, but do not perceive.
Make the minds of these people dull;
deafen their ears and blind their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
understand with their minds,
turn back [repent], and be healed.

Weren't prophets sent by God to tell people to know and understand Him better and to repent so God can heal them, but in this passage God wanted the exact opposite ("otherwise, they might see..., hear..., understand... and be healed").

What's interesting is how the passage's overall meaning was sometimes changed when the NT authors placed the quote in the mouth of Jesus in each of the 4 gospels (Matt 13:14-15, Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10, John 12:37-43), in Romans 11:7-8, and in the mouth of Paul in Acts 28:26-27:

  1. Matt 13:14-15: Jesus seems to do what Isaiah was commanded to do by speaking in parables to the people but revealed the secrets of the kingdom to the disciples.
  2. Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10: less context than Matthew but same reason.
  3. John 12:37-43: This is the explanation that makes the most sense (i.e. an explanation why despite the signs the people were unable to believe is because Isaiah saw God's glory similar to how the disciples saw Jesus's glory in Transfiguration), but then it changes the meaning in Isaiah since in the Gospel of John Jesus did His best to make the hearer's mind understand, the ear hears, and the eyes opened (Jesus didn't speak in parables in John) but in Isaiah God commanded Isaiah to do the opposite!
  4. Romans 11:1-10: Paul uses the quotation to explain how God hardened the non-elect while explaining that God did not reject his people in the rest of chapter 11.
  5. Acts 28:23-28: Similar to how Jesus used the passage in the Gospel of John, Paul also changed the meaning by using Isa 6:9-10 as explanation why after Paul tried his best to explain the gospel some STILL did not believe, adding a prophecy that the Gentiles will be more receptive (Acts 28:28).

My question is this: Why does God seem harsh in commanding Isaiah to "make the minds of these people dull .... otherwise [they will repent] and be healed"? Especially how the very prior verse Isa 6:8 is about mission?

Related questions:

  • Why Jesus seemed to be doing the counter-productive act by speaking in parables in the Synoptic gospel, making quoting Isa 6:9-10 looks like a rationalization to be obscure?
  • Did John and Luke do a wrong exegesis in John 12:37-43 and Acts 28:23-28 respectively, by changing the meaning of Isa 6:9-10 that they quoted?

5 Answers 5

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People who refuse to listen cannot be forced to hear. People who refuse to see cannot be forced to look. 'Deaf and blind' is a metaphor to describe the symptoms of these people. The Lord sent Isaiah to tell the people their symptoms, but comfort him in advance that the people would not listen to him, otherwise they would be healed.

It is worth noting that in open fields, there were two kinds of people who came to Jesus. One kind was looking for food, and another kind for His words. The people who were looking for food did not prioritize understanding the kingdom of God, and were deaf and blind in this sense. The people who were looking to know Jesus had no issue understanding His parables. When Jesus was with His disciples in private, He did not use parables.

In John 12:37-43 and Acts 28:23-28, John and Paul gave the same interpretation. It was the people who resisted believing in Jesus caused them to be deaf and blind. However, this statement is always quote after: "Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them". This statement is a promise of God, who will forgive the sin of those who repent.

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  • The "otherwise" portion doesn't mean what you say. NLT translation is more obvious: ".... That way, they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts and turn to me for healing." It's phrased as an announcement for judgment, that God will close their mind and as a result, they will not understand. Jan 18 at 21:17
  • @GratefulDisciple - literally you may be correct. But it is equally important to understand God. He wants to heal, not to punish. Jan 18 at 21:33
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Your question (paraphrased):

Why did God “make people dull, deaf, and blind”?

The answer is given in Romans 11:32:

“For God shut up all into disobedience, that He may show mercy to ALL”.

God has a Time Table

It is very much true and Scriptural that God wants every human to be saved:

“So it is not the will before your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt 18:14).

But God has a time table to do things. The Scripture plainly states that God has a preordained time table to deal with the act of salvation to all mankind:

“God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the TIME is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head. All things are done according to God's plan and decision” (Ephesians 1:9-11; GNB).

The Present Age

Right from the time when God expelled the first man Adam from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23-24) until the time of the “last Adam” establishing that same Garden in all the earth (Isaiah 51:3; Ezek 36:35), the period is known as the “present age or time”.

Before Adam’s expulsion, he had direct access to God (Gen 3:8). It was man who hid first from God (same verse).

In the “coming age” (Heb 6:5) after “the end of the” present “age” (Matt 24:3), the entire humanity will have direct access to God as is clear from the following verses:

“for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

“No longer will a person teach his neighbor or his relative: 'Know the LORD.' Instead, they'll all know me, from the least to the greatest of them," declares the LORD” (Jer 31:34).

But in the present age, God has shut up all in unbelief so that He will show mercy to ALL in the coming age. In the present time, only a remnant (from Israel as well as Gentiles) is elected for grace:

“So then, also in the present time a remnant according to election of grace has come into being” (Rom 11:5).

This is “the Bride”, “the little flock” of Jesus.

“and the rest were hardened” (Rom 11:7) by God to show mercy to them all in the coming age (Second Coming) when the earth will be transformed and filled with the knowledge of God.

The author of the epistle Hebrews describes the present age beautifully thus:

“The Holy Spirit clearly teaches from all these arrangements that the way into the Most Holy Place has not yet been opened as long as the outer tent STILL stands. This is a symbol which points to the present time” (Heb 9:8-9; GNB).

This is why Jesus said (without any doubt), “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest in parables, that seeing they might not see, and hearing, they might not understand” (Luke 8:10).

“Jesus said, I praise You, Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, because You hid these things from the sophisticated and cunning and revealed them to babes” (Matt 11:25).

Conclusion

God loves all human beings. He does not wish even a single human to perish. He will call all human beings in Jesus Christ. There is no doubt about it.

But He has a time table to do things. Only a remnant is called according to election under grace in the “present time”, the time when the outer “holy” place still stands.

The “hardened” rest will be elected in the coming age when the inner “Holy of the holies” will stand, that is, when Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords will be ruling in the earth!

This is what I learned from the Scripture.

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This is best explained with a verse that has the full context of the meaning, such as John 9:39:

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (ESV)

Before Jesus healed the blind man, he said:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:3–5, ESV)

The context of making them blind is showing them the truth which they were unable to accept, even with clear evidence. When you look at the trial of the man previously bind, but now could see both physically and spiritually, the truth of the situation made evident the blindness of the leaders who claimed to know the truth.

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This is very contentions, especially in the long debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. Essentially, it boils down the Hebrew idea of what some now call the "Divine Passive" (see appendix below) where the omnipotent God is held responsible for that which He does not prevent.

In the specific case of Matt 13:13-15, whose meaning all turns on the understanding of V15 -

For the heart of this people has grown dull, and they barely hear with the ears, and they have closed their eyes, lest ever they should see with the eyes, and they should hear with the ears, and they should understand with the heart, and should turn, and I will heal them.'

Thus, the OP's question devolves to the more specific question of, Who is the cause of the spiritual deafness and harness of heart of these people? Was it their choice or God's sovereign will?

Matt 13:15 appears to allude to or quote the following OT verses:

  • Deut 29:4 - Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear.
  • Isa 42:18-20 - Listen, you deaf ones; look, you blind ones, that you may see! Who is blind but My servant, or deaf like the messenger I am sending? Who is blind like My covenant partner, or blind like the servant of the LORD? Though seeing many things, you do not keep watch.
  • Jer 5:21 - “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. Though your ears are open, you do not hear.”
  • Eze 12:2 - “Son of man, you are living in a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.

Note that in all these Ot references, Jehovah expresses exasperation with God's Covenant people, Isarel, who know God, know the promises, but choose to ignore the promises and ignore God; and thus willfully sin.

Jesus appears to reflect this frustration and that of god when He expresses that which is recorded in Ezekiel 18:32

For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death, declares the Lord GOD. So repent and live!

Jesus' teaching via the mechanism of Parables was a method well-known to the Rabbis. The OT has many parables and Jesus continues this effective method. However, it works only on those who are willing to learn.

Jesus wanted to heal their hearts and mind but many refused to listen.

APPENDIX - Divine Passive

Lam 3:38 - Do not both adversity and good come from the mouth of the Most High?

Isa 45:7 - I form the light and create the darkness; I bring prosperity and create calamity. I, the LORD, do all these things.

The idea of the Divine Passive is one that is not explicit in the Bible but was created to explain the available, apparently contradictory, facts. Here are some examples:

  • 2 Sam 24:1 vs 1 Chron 21:1 – Who tempted King David to have a census? God or Satan? Both are correct because to the Hebrew mind, God is omniscient and omnipotent and thus events only occur if He allows. James 1:13 explicitly states that God tempts no one.
  • Job 2:3 - God says that Satan "incited" God to ruin Job, even though it was Satan that was the direct cause of Job's ruin
  • 1 Sam 16:14, 16, 18:10, 19:9 – God sent an evil (literally, unclean) spirit on Saul? God does not have an evil spirit to send! Again, the omnipotent God is deemed responsible for that which He does not prevent.
  • Judges 9:23 has an identical idea of an evil spirit from God.
  • 1 Kings 2:22, 23, 2 Chron 18:21, 22 all have a “lying spirit” from the LORD.
  • Ex 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8 – God causes Pharaoh to harden his heart??? Clearly not! Compare Ex 8:15, 32, 9:34 where Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
  • Compare Rev 17:1 where God judges the great prostitute, with, Rev 17:16, 17 where the great prostitute becomes a victim of her own wicked ways.
  • In Eze 14:9 says, “I the LORD have enticed/deceived that prophet”; whereas James 1:13 says that God does not tempt anyone.
  • Eze 20 – Judah makes some bad choices and rejects God’s laws and so God gives them other statutes and laws including child sacrifice (V25, 26). In fact, this is what Judah has chosen.

This principle can be readily extrapolated to other many (not all) other passages where the passive voice is used; eg, the beatitudes of Matt 5, Rom 3:28, 1 Cor 7:23, Gal 5:13, Eph 2:5, Matt 9:2, 1 Peter 1:18.

This same idea is expressed another way in some places where God allows sin and evil to reap its own consequences and cause its own downfall.

  • Job 5:13 - He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.
  • Ps 5:10 - Declare them guilty, O God; let them fall by their own devices. Drive them out for their many transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.
  • Ps 7:15 - He has dug a hole and hollowed it out; he has fallen into a pit of his own making.
  • Ps 9:16 - The LORD is known by the justice He brings; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
  • Ps 37:14, 15 - The wicked have drawn the sword and bent the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.
  • Ps 69:22 - Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
  • Ps 141:10 - Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.
  • Prov 5:22 - The iniquities of a wicked man entrap him; the cords of his sin entangle him.
  • Prov 11:6 - The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the faithless are trapped by their own desires.
  • Prov 12:13 - An evil man is trapped by his rebellious speech, but a righteous man escapes from trouble.
  • Prov 28:10 - He who leads the upright along the path of evil will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will inherit what is good.
  • Isa 3:11 - Woe to the wicked; disaster is upon them! For they will be repaid with what their hands have done.
  • Hos 11:6 – A sword will flash through their cities; it will destroy the bars of their gates and consume them in their own plans.
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To begin, the purpose of this chapter of Isaiah is to provide hope, not doom. God's chesed (loving-kindness, mercy) would forgive the people and so he sends Isaiah to preach to them. But his justice demands that they be punished for breaking their covenant with him. The prophecy itself may be interpreted as a challenge to the people to repent, rather than an absolute declaration of doom or an instruction to Isaiah to make the people close their ears. A biblical precedent for this exists in the Book of Jonah, where God is content that Jonah's prophecy was proved wrong. God readily forgave the people of Nineveh despite the prophecy: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) Jonah, on the other hand, pouted because the prophecy was not fulfilled.

Isaiah himself seems taken aback by the mission, asking: “How long, O Lord?” -- how long before the people hear and understand, how long before they repent and are healed? God replies:

Until the cities are desolate, without inhabitants, Houses, without people, and the land is a desolate waste. Until the Lord sends the people far away, and great is the desolation in the midst of the land. 13 If there remain a tenth part in it, then this in turn shall be laid waste; As with a terebinth or an oak whose trunk remains when its leaves have fallen. Holy offspring [seed] is the trunk.

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Thus, the apparent doom God asked Isaiah to declare was immediately followed with one of the Bible's first expressions of messianic hope. After their exile, the people of Israel will repent and return to Jerusalem, where "a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse" (11:1) and arise to redeem them. Be that as it may, no prophecy of doom is absolute:

Jeremiah 18:8

If that nation against whom I have decreed turns from its evil, then I will have a change of heart regarding the evil which I have decreed.

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