Hear O Israel

Seeing is not always believing!

A rationalist can explain away the supernatural. The atheist speaks about co-incidence. The religious person can be, sadly, spiritually blind through an unwillingness to believe.

The Torah, the Law, gives very precise and graphic illustrations of seeing but not believing in the account of Israel moving out of Egypt and into the Wilderness. They had enough signs and wonders to make any fair-minded person's eyes 'pop-out.' The greater majority of the nation saw, enjoyed, and kept trudging along but their spiritual attitude had not changed. They remained mumblers, grumblers and bumblers through ingratitude, disobedience and an unwillingness to believe in God's faithfulness.

The psalmist many centuries later summed it up succinctly. In writing a warning to his generation in Psalm 95:7-11, he said, "Today, if you will hear his voice: do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me; they tried me, though they saw my work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, 'It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know my ways.' So I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'"

When that first generation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, had died out, Moses assembles the up-and-coming generations and challenges them with a newer way of knowing and responding to the Eternal One. As the nation prepares to enter the land under Joshua, Moses takes them beyond 'seeing' and into the realm of 'hearing.' This great statesman and intercessor in Deuteronomy stresses for the first time that clarion call, "Hear O Israel!"

In chapter 4 of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the nation what took place at Mt. Horeb. "Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might instruct you; on earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire." (Deuteronomy 4:36) This leads Moses to stress heavily the people's need to respond to God's Word. Wrapped up in the Words of God are blessings that flow across generations. These are experienced through faithfulness to the Word of the Lord. There are also curses that are unleashed for persistent and unrepentant disobedience and hardness of heart through unbelief.

The crescendo of Moses' heart for the people is reached when you read Deuteronomy 6. As you read his words you can almost feel them pulsating with passion. They vibrate with an urgency and a longing for the people to realize God means what He says. "Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgements which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. Therefore hear, O Israel , and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the LORD God of your fathers has promised you – 'a land flowing with milk and honey.' Hear, O Israel : the LORD our God, the LORD is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:1-4)

In essence this is the first real call for the nation to hear and obey. It becomes the unchanging principle to which succeeding generations will be expected to hearken. That principle is still operational today!

This will help us to understand the emphasis Israel placed upon the reading of the Scriptures in the home, worship and later in the synagogues. It really is a feature of the Israelites' heritage. There does seem to be the implication that by reading and hearing the Scriptures a relationship between the nation, or an individual, develops with the Lord God. It is from hearing that Faith is birthed and a relationship begins.

In reading through the final discourse of Moses you realize that he senses the creeping deafness of the nation. In his warnings in chapter 28 there is a sadness at a nation that will degenerate beyond deafness to the death of any capacity to hear or understand even sign language. For the blessings and more so the progressive aspects of the curses must be seen as God's sign language to a deaf community.

To understand the pleadings of the later prophets and the heartbreak they felt it is important to grasp the significance of God's sign language in the Torah. They consistently appeal to the nation to evaluate their moral, spiritual and international health in the light of the blessings and curses. Unfortunately, many of the first generation out of Egypt were 'blind' to the acts of God, while many in succeeding generations were 'deaf' to the Word of God.

Isaiah calls upon the various strata of his society to pay attention to God's Word through his mouth. In chapter 28:14 he calls upon the rulers of the people at Jerusalem to, " Hear the word of the LORD, you scornful men…" In chapter 30:9 he says of the people "This is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the LORD." In chapter 42:18-25 a depressing picture emerges. "Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, and blind as the LORD's servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe; opening the ears, but you do not hear.

"The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will exalt the law and make it honourable. But this is a people robbed and plundered; all of them are snared in holes, and they are hidden in prison houses; they are for prey, and no one delivers; for plunder, and no one says, 'Restore!'

"Who among you will give ear to this? Who will listen and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for plunder, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the LORD, he against whom they have sinned? For they would not walk in his ways, nor were they obedient to his law. Therefore he has poured on him the fury of his anger and the strength of battle; it has set him on fire all around, yet he did not know; and it burned him, yet he did not take it to heart."

The reader can feel the burden of the prophets of Yahweh when they urge the people to hear, to listen, to obey, expressed strongly in Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and it is no less stressed in Hosea, Amos and Micah. It does appear that the so-called weeping prophet, Jeremiah, more than the others seems to shout, "get the fingers of unbelief out of your ears and hear the word of the Lord!"

"Thus says the LORD: 'Go and get a potter's earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd gate: and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD , O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.'" (Jeremiah 19:1-3)

They didn't listen!

Early in the book that bears his name, Jeremiah had defined for him the people to whom he was to proclaim the word. "Declare this in the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah, saying, 'Hear this now, O foolish people, without understanding, who have eyes and see not, and who have ears and hear not'" (Jeremiah 5:20.21) The reason for this diagnosis is given in chapter 6:10, "Indeed their ear is uncircumcised and they cannot give heed; behold, the word of the LORD is a reproach to them; they have no delight in it." Later in that chapter God makes an interesting invitation. He calls upon the nations to be witnesses to what He will do to that generation of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He explains the reason for what He is about to do. It is " because they have not heeded my words nor my law, but rejected it." ( Jeremiah 6:19)

There is an immeasurable chasm between sounds the ear picks up and what registers in the heart and mind. To really hear requires attentiveness and knowledge. It means being on the same wavelength. To act upon those words then requires trust born out of a maturing relationship. Therefore when God through His prophets of old and His servants today declare, "Hear the Word of the Lord" how the words are received becomes a commentary on the person's spiritual 'wavelength.'

The prophets testify of Israel's blindness to God's acts, and of their deafness to His word. For many, it would seem Israel has died to the purposes of God. But will they ever come alive to God? Will they ever hear God speak to it again?

To this the prophets confirm and apply their conviction. They, in their own manner, express the fact that God's promises both to Abraham and to David will yet be fulfilled. This means that spiritual deafness will be dealt with and overcome. In the most moving and graphic illustration possible God confronts Ezekiel with this dilemma. In chapter 37 is the picture of the people of Israel – a dried out, broken and scattered nation of bones. It is a picture of utter despair and shame.

However, the nation of Israel becomes in the purpose of God an awesome display of His grace and power. The nation that would not hear the word of the Lord when it was 'alive' is once again in its 'deadness' commanded: "Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!" (Ezekiel 37:4)

To read the rest of the passage is thrilling in its future prospects for Israel, the nation, and for the world. Maybe it is also saying a spiritual principle for us all to be aware of. That is, when we recognize our spiritual deadness, shame and uselessness we will actually be in the right frame of mind to hear the word of the Lord spoken through His prophets and finally through His Son, Yeshua.

Isaiah has the last word for the moment. In Isaiah chapter 55 is the record of God's word being sounded forth with a most wonderful and gracious invitation. One part is a renewed call to hear and the other is an offer of pardon if in the hearing a person responds. It is a promise also endorsed by other prophets of a day to come in the program of God when the dry bones will hear, believe and live again.

"Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you – the sure mercies of David." (Isaiah 55:3)

"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)