“Harden their hearts so they don’t repent”

I have to admit I’m more than a little befuddled by the way is handled in general.

In poking around the web and in my commentaries on this passage, I see several disturbing consistencies:

  • People keep avoiding the main issue
  • They reinterpret Isaiah’s commission to say things it doesn’t say
  • They conclude things that contradict what Jesus said and did

I don’t get this. I wouldn’t make so much hay out of it, except for the fact that in the NT, this is the 3rd most frequently quoted OT passage. If the NT authors think it’s pretty doggone important, it’s probably appropriate that I think it’s important too. And if it’s possible for believers to be blinded like Isaiah’s audience was, then….. yikes!

The Passage

Let’s start with the passage. After a dramatic introduction to Isaiah’s vision (), he’s given a two-fold commission:

  1. () Go and tell the people “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.”
  2. () 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.

My thoughts try to go in several different directions simultaneously:

A. Doing Part 1 should be simple – just go and tell them. But I don’t quite know how he’s supposed to do part 2. How exactly is Isaiah supposed to go and make people’s hearts hard, ears dull and eyes closed?

B. Why does God want to prevent their seeing, hearing, understanding, turning and be healing?

A couple of my commentaries come right out and say “God would never deliberately prevent their salvation – that’s heretical! So He’s allowing it, not appointing it”. Ummmmm, ok. I re-read the times, in multiple translations, and they still say “Go and make them hard/dull/blind lest they repent”. That’s not “allowing”, that’s “making”. And not only is it ‘making’, but it’s making with a purpose: so they don’t repent. (Ok, in all fairness, unlike the ASV, BBE, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, WEB, etc, the Septuagint doesn’t say “Make…” it says “They have become..” But the Septuagint’s corrupt, right?)

New Testament Usage

It doesn’t stop there. When we flip to the NT, this passage is quoted (in part or in whole) in , , , , and (and more, if you include allusions as opposed to direct quotes). These passages don’t focus on v1-8 like many of our songs, sermons, commentaries and books do – they focus on Isaiah’s commission (which the vast majority of those songs, sermons and books do not).

In the synoptic gospels, these verses are used by Jesus to answer the question of why He’s speaking in parables. The disciples pull Jesus aside privately and ask Him why He’s always speaking in parables and He answers them like this: “The secrets of the kingdom have not been given to those guys over there (the multitude) who are outside the kingdom. All they get is parables so that – like Isaiah said – they can hear, but never understand, see, but never perceive – lest they turn back and be forgiven. But to you guys, the secrets have been given. Now here’s the meaning of the parables…” (the actual language varies in the synoptics, but it basically follows that outline. In Mark, you see the stark contrast between what Jesus tells the multitude (always speaking in parables, never speaking publicly w/o parables) and what Jesus tells His disciples (He waits till they’re alone privately, and then explains the parables). Matthew mentions their hard hearts (not specifying whether they hardened their hearts or whether God hardened their hearts), but in Mark and Luke, there is no mention of hard hearts one way or the other – just that Jesus was deliberately not telling the multitudes about the kingdom of heaven, and deliberately explaining the details to His disciples.

The gospel of John takes a different tack and goes one step further. Isaiah’s commission is referenced, but not with regards to the parables. John uses the passage to explain why the people didn’t believe. He says although they saw all the signs and wonders, they “could not believe” because He (God/Jesus) had hardened their hearts/eyes/ears lest they should turn and be healed. (I don’t like it, but that’s what it says.)

What’s Going On?

A number of websites say that the reason why Jesus withheld clarity was an act of mercy so that they would avoid further condemnation: “to whom much is given, much is required. If you know they’re not going to believe, then don’t give them much info and, voila, they don’t get much condemnation”. (One website said that John McArthur holds that view.) But as I think about what’s going on, I don’t buy that. At all.

In , Jesus rebukes and condemns Bethsaida, Chorzain and Capernaum in the harshest of terms. He tells them that

  • They had been lifted up to heaven (seen Him and all His works) and
  • They refused to repent – now they’re going to be thrown down to hell.
  • Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented and still be standing if they’d seen what Bethsaida, Chorzain and Capernaum had seen. (After condemning them to hell, He then turns and thanks the Father for hiding these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes because it is God’s gracious will – )

Let’s stop for a sec: if we recall that Jesus Himself was the One that destroyed S&G (), then we have to rule out “John McArthur’s” line of reasoning because Jesus knows all things and would have known that these cities would not have accepted Him. Therefore, if hiding the truth is an act of mercy then a) why on earth did Jesus give them so much truth that they get a worse hell than S&G; and b) why on earth did Jesus not go into S&G 2,000 yrs earlier and just perform miracles, preach sermons and, cha-ching, see S&G repent so they’d still be standing today? Whatever the answer is, ‘mercy’ cannot be the driving reason for the way He handled Bethsaida, Chorzain and Capernaum …unless we think “worse than S&G” is somehow mercy. I certainly don’t!

Conclusion?

The only conclusion I can come to is that Jesus deliberately destroyed S&G and deliberately hid information about the kingdom from the multitudes, and deliberately hardened/deafened/blinded the people (as John puts it) for the specific purpose that “lest they turn and be forgiven” (as Mark phrases it). I don’t like it – but that’s the only conclusion I see that actually fits the verses, the history and the logic. All other explanations I’ve seen fall short on the verses, history or logic. (Don’t look now, but says that God destroyed S&G as an example to those who live ungodly lives.)

This seems painfully obvious to me, yet people who share this opinion are hard to come by. Am I blind/deaf/hardened? What am I missing? Am I reading all the wrong books? Is this really the correct conclusion?


6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump. (ESV)


6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (ESV)


And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ (ESV)


10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (ESV)

ERROR: No results were found for your search.

14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.

15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
(ESV)


12 so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
(ESV)


10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (ESV)


40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.” (ESV)


26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’ (ESV)


as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.” (ESV)


11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)


20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (ESV)


24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. (ESV)


if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (ESV)

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9 comments to “Harden their hearts so they don’t repent”

  • Rafael

    The only conclusion I can come to is that God has wishes but he also creates compelling necessities for himself where His will and decrees need to run contrary to His wishes, and that is, so the drama of existence can unravel, it all comes from Him as an absolute including the tensions that exist, otherwise it becomes a movie without a plot that can never be made.

  • Alen

    I am content to not understand all things. Some things that are GOD’s will must be guided and governed by FAITH. Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please GOD.
    The issue I see here is that some chose not to put their FAITH in God, but in other things.

    That is to say, simply because I understand something as far as the understanding of men goes, doesn’t mean I have the faith to believe that GOD even exists. Therefore, why would I choose to live for Him instead of myself? GOD KNOWS the hearts and minds of all men, therefore He knew the rich man or any others could be taken up to heaven and see for themselves all His Word is true, and then still not be able to live by faith. “Even if one was sent from the dead the would not believe”. The JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH, not everyone will choose to live justly. Not everyone will live by FAITH.

    I respectfully disagree with your conclusion because I humbly submit that GOD has the last and final word on all matters.

    • admin

      Hi Alen. Thanks for your thoughts.

      I appreciate that you want to submit that God has the last and final word on all matters. However, your disagreement with my conclusion seems like an explicit denial of what Jesus is saying in

      20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. (ESV)

      ff. My conclusion is essentially a retelling of what happens in that passage, so I have to confess I’m not following you.

      Here’s the passage in particular:
      ————
      Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

      At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (

      20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

      25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (ESV)

      )
      ————-

      It seems to me that Jesus is saying quite explicitly that
      a) He does not reveal Himself to everyone, but rather, only to those whom He chooses
      b) The Father willfully hides truth from the “wise and understanding”, but reveals to little children. He sees this as good, and He is, in fact, having the last and final word on the subject.
      c) This hiding of truth results in condemnation and judgment on certain people

      If you can see a better way to understand this, I welcome your input. (If you could provide verses, that’d be helpful).

      LC

  • fantastic points altogether, you just won a new reader.
    What would you suggest about your post that you just made some days ago?
    Any certain?

  • Asking questions like this finally broke my conditioning and I went apostate. Now I’m free! I’m actually putting together a playbook to deprogram the brainwashed.

    • admin

      If I may.. what you broke was the collection of simple and shallow “answers” that many people try to superimpose on the Bible. It’s unfortunate that so many people push these “answers”, even from the pulpit. The Bible has a consistent way of handling all these issues, but if we don’t address these things on the Bible’s terms, eventually it all falls apart.

      Do understand that the theological questions presented throughout this site are not intended to question the authority and accuracy of the Bible, but rather, to ask why we humans are so content to believe something other than what the Bible says.

      I would encourage you to keep an eye on what the Bible actually says, and accept the Bible’s answers for these things. You’ll go much farther. Also, bear in mind that the Covenants of God always come with both a blessing and a curse: blessings on those who adhere to them; a curse on those who break them. I was reminded of that again in my study of

      11:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”

      And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

      Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. 11 Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. 13 For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.

      14 “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. 15 What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? 16 The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. 17 The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.”

      18 The Lord made it known to me and I knew;
      then you showed me their deeds.
      19 But I was like a gentle lamb
      led to the slaughter.
      I did not know it was against me
      they devised schemes, saying,
      “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
      let us cut him off from the land of the living,
      that his name be remembered no more.”
      20 But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously,
      who tests the heart and the mind,
      let me see your vengeance upon them,
      for to you have I committed my cause.

      21 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand”— 22 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine, 23 and none of them shall be left. For I will bring disaster upon the men of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.” (ESV)

      this morning, and felt it only fair that I pass it along.

      Godspeed.

  • BmB

    In my experience these types of conundrums usually arise from poor translation or errors in the copy. The best way is to go back to the hebrew original (even the new testament was written in hebrew, but only copies of the originals of matthew exist) and start over with a clean slate. Since I don’t have such originals on hand, and can’t read hebrew I can’t say what that would be in this case. But it’s something for your consideration.

  • Brandon

    To be honest, it’s not the fact that they’re hardened and blinded that is troublesome to me (after all, look at how God was glorified through the Exodus–a direct consequence of His hardening of Pharaoh’s heart), but rather the seeming implication that those in question would believe and turn and be saved if left to their own devices. This seems to stand in stark contradiction to the rest of the counsel of Scripture concerning the sin nature and natural inclination of creatures in open rebellion to their Creator.

  • Jewish rabbi’s are consistent in their interpretation of this passage (I.e. God hardening with a purpose), The same as the author of this blog concluded. And as Brandon mentions above, Exodus provides another clear example of God deliberately hardening to achieve His purpose.

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