One of the greatest and gravest indictments of the ancient nation of Israel was the fact that they had stopped listening – or lost the ability to listen. Having just finished reading the book of Jeremiah again, this especially stands out. God commissioned Jeremiah to speak to the people, to warn the people, and to confront the people, yet they refused to listen.
In fact, God told Jeremiah from the beginning that they would not heed his words. So even though Jeremiah knew they would be deaf and hard of heart, he kept speaking God’s word year after year and decade after decade. But this was true of so much of Israel’s history, just as it is sadly so true of so much of church history.
Early on Yahweh says this to Israel: “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” (Jer 5:21). Israel “however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me” (Jer. 34:14). One of the most damning indictments is found in Jer. 6. Consider v. 10:
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.
Yahweh kept on bringing watchmen to warn the people, yet they refused to listen, as vv. 17-19 make clear:
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’
Therefore hear, you nations;
you who are witnesses,
observe what will happen to them.
Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.
Jesus of course had the same problem; he kept speaking to people who did not want to hear. As he often said, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (eg., Matt 13:9). When he was asked why he spoke in parables, he replied:
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. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (vv. 13-17).
Of course in all these passages to hear means more than just having sounds pass through our eardrums. It means to personally apprehend, accept and obey that which is being said. James 1:22-25 plainly tells us this: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
Anyone involved in watchmen ministries knows the frustration of constantly speaking, constantly warning, and constantly sounding the alarm, only to have it all fall on deaf ears. The word must still be given, even if no one listens. But it certainly can be a demoralising task. Thus all those with such a calling and ministry must persevere.
Just as Jeremiah had to keep at it for decades on end, so must we, regardless of the reception. We are simply called to speak, to challenge, to encourage, to rebuke, and to warn. It is up to the listeners as to how they will respond. Indeed, having started reading Ezekiel, we find the same message given:
“You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious” (Ez. 2:7).
“But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people” (Ez. 3:27).
Ezekiel must speak the words of the Lord. Whether the people will listen or not is another matter. Today we are in desperate need of people who will boldly proclaim the word of God, and of those who will eagerly listen and obey it. Spiritual deafness is rife in our churches, so the need for leaders to speak truth courageously is great.
We need to pray that the deafness which weighs so heavily upon so many churches will be removed so that the word of the Lord can be clearly heard and followed. And we need to pray for prophetic voices to be raised up to sound the alarm and take head on the spiritual deafness of our day.
Without this we are lost. Let me finish with the words of Leonard Ravenhill:
The prophet is violated during his ministry, but he is vindicated by history.
There is a terrible vacuum in evangelical Christianity today. The missing person in our ranks is the prophet. The man with a terrible earnestness. The man totally otherworldly. The man rejected by other men, even other good men, because they consider him too austere, too severely committed, too negative and unsociable.
Let him be as plain as John the Baptist.
Let him for a season be a voice crying in the wilderness of modern theology and stagnant “churchianity.”
Let him be as selfless as Paul the apostle.
Let him, too, say and live, “This ONE thing I do.”
Let him reject ecclesiastical favors.
Let him be self-abasing, nonself-seeking, nonself-projecting, nonself-righteous, nonself-glorying, nonself-promoting.
Let him say nothing that will draw men to himself but only that which will move men to God.
Let him come daily from the throne room of a holy God, the place where he has received the order of the day. Let him, under God, unstop the ears of the millions who are deaf through the clatter of shekels milked from this hour of material mesmerism.
Let him cry with a voice this century has not heard because he has seen a vision no man in this century has seen. God send us this Moses to lead us from the wilderness of crass materialism, where the rattlesnakes of lust bite us and where enlightened men, totally blind spiritually, lead us to an ever-nearing Armageddon.