This is one of the most quoted parts of scripture from the Old Testament, and one of the more difficult to understand.
God told Isaiah to give the people this message:
“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.” (9-10)
Talk about a depressing message. And Isaiah asked God, “For how long, O Lord? How long will they be so blind?” (11). God answered,
“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. (11-13)
What does this all mean? It does seem a bit unfair. It almost seems as though God is purposefully blinding the hearts and minds of the people. But is this really true? Yes, and no.
The Greek translation of the Old Testament, made before the time of Jesus, translated it this way.
“You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. This people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.”
In other words, it’s not so much what God did to the people, it’s what the people did to themselves. God spoke to the people, warning them about their sin, but they closed their ears, and refused to listen. And the more God spoke, the more they hardened their hearts. And the more they hardened their hearts, the more difficult it became for them to accept the words of God.
God knew what their reaction would be, but he continued to warn them to turn from their sin. In that sense, you could say, “God hardened their hearts” because he knew how they would respond. But what was the alternative?
There was a song that once said, “The same sun that melts the wax will harden clay.” And the same thing can be said about the Word of God and the hearts of people.
For some, the word of God makes their hearts softer and more able to respond to him. But for others, that very same word causes them to harden their hearts and turn their face even further away from him.
And so God has a choice. He can either say nothing and let all perish. Or he can say something that some may be saved. And that’s what happened in Judah and Israel. Yes, there were many that hardened their hearts even more at the word of God. But there were others that softened their hearts to him. You can see that clearly in the exile in the lives of people such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
God loves us too much to let us alone to perish. But what we do with his word is our choice alone. The question is, will we soften our hearts, or harden them? Will we close our eyes and ears to his word? Or open them?
The choice is yours.