|Q352 : Insensitive Hearts and the Doctrine of Election|
I have been studying and researching the doctrine of election for several months.
I have been exclusively studying Isaiah 6:9-10 for the last several weeks and I cannot understand how these verses properly relate with the doctrine of election.
9 He said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' 10 "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9-10, NASB)
I believe no one believes unless God leads them to believe.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44, NASB)
It seems as though Isaiah 6:9-10 means if their hearts are not hardened more, then they could change their own mind and be saved. However, God is in control and no one comes to believe unless God leads them to believe.
My questions are:
Why would God be "concerned" that they could return and be healed if He did not harden their heart?
If they are not of the elect in the first place, then how would they change their mind and return to belief and be saved?
Why would there even be a chance they could be healed (saved), if God was not going to lead them to believe?
If you could enlighten me, I would really appreciate it.
|A352 : by Tony Garland |
I applaud your desire to study the doctrine of election. It is both a difficult and encouraging truth found in God's Word—and one that has fallen on hard times due to the man-centered view of salvation help by many Christians today.
The key to understanding Isaiah's statement in relation to election, is to grasp that Isaiah's statement, inspired by the Holy Spirit, represents God's assessment of the condition of the Israelites—as a whole—in Isaiah's day. Isaiah's statement concerns God's judicial hardening of the people in response to their rejection of Him.
Probably Isaiah, responding as he did in verse 8, thought that his serving the Lord would result in the nation’s cleansing. However, the Lord told him his message would not result in much spiritual response. The people had not listened before and they would not listen now. The Lord did not delight in judging His people, but discipline was necessary because of their disobedience. In fact the people, on hearing Isaiah’s message, would become even more hardened against the Lord.1
This passage in Isaiah is cited by the Apostle John (John 12:38) when answering the question posed in the opening verse of Isaiah 53:
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?2 (Isaiah 53:1, NKJV)
John is commenting on the hardness of certain Jews in Jesus' day: But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled... (John 12:37)
John again quoted from Isaiah (6:10) to explain that the nation as a whole was unable to believe. Because they constantly rejected God’s revelation, He had punished them with judicial blindness and deadened . . . hearts. People in Jesus’ day, like those in Isaiah’s day, refused to believe. They “would not believe” (John 12:37); therefore they could not believe (v. 39). Similar illustrations of God’s punishing of persistent sin by hardening are common (Ex. 9:12; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; 2 Thes. 2:8–12).3
Jesus referred to Isaiah's principle when He explained to His disciples why He had begun to teach using parables. This occurs in Matthew 13, when it has become evident that the nation—as a whole—will reject their Messiah.
For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not year, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled... (Mat. 13:12-14a)
Jesus' use of parables was a form of God judicially hardening those who He knew would continue to reject—essentially confirming them in their unbelief.
Jesus teaches, by God’s design, in a way which purposefully separates: 1) those who are hardened won't understand, will continue to reject, and move further and further away from God; but 2) those who are being drawn by God—the elect—will see past the faith tests to the truths within the parable and understand. Jesus is purposefully erecting a "faith hurdle" to harden the skeptics while, at the same time, drawing His sheep.
Many assume that God's communication with man is all about restoration and healing—but a careful study of Scripture will show otherwise. God is also a perfect Judge and sovereign in all things. There are many passages in Scripture like Isaiah's where God is pointing out the irony and hardness of unbelief—and gives people over to their own desires (e.g., Romans 1:24).
The irony is that God alone is the source of all peace, restoration, wholeness, and blessing—yet many want nothing to do with Him, broad is the path that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it (Mat. 7:13). Such is the overpowering blindness and waywardness of sin: apart from the work of God, no one would be saved: we would all remain God-haters.
This hate toward God will ultimately manifest itself in what I like to refer to as the "terminal generation" — the "earth dwellers" of the book of Revelation immediately prior to the return of Jesus who were never written in the Lamb's book.
So Isaiah's passage is not emphasizing the possibility that the people are going to be healed. On the contrary, it states they will remain steadfast in their rejection such that they will not be healed—the very thing so many claim the desire (and so it continues in our own day).
Regarding your related questions about this passage: it is important when studying predestination, calling, and election not to lose sight that those who reject remain responsible for their actions. The fact that they are not among the elect doesn't give them an out. If God didn't intervene, then all would be lost—and justly condemned. Yet, by His grace, He intervenes to save some who would otherwise remain among the lost. Even so, those He doesn't predestine/call/elect remain fully responsible for their continued rejection. It is important to always keep divine sovereignty juxtaposed with human responsibility when studying either (a great verse which illustrates this tension is Acts 2:23).
Does that make it election and human responsibility easy to understand? No. But it helps to avoid overemphasizing either one at the expense of the other: the Bible teaches both.
Keep in mind that no one, other than God, knows in advance who will turn (among the elect) vs. those who will not (who are progressively confirmed in their rejection). Passages such as these are intended to highlight the distinction between the elect and non-elect. In this case, God—through Isaiah—is describing the sad state of those who remain opposed to God: their rejection of God is progressive and each day makes it more difficult than the day before—except God were to intervene (one of His elect)—to respond positively to God.
Truly, now is the day of salvation (2Cor. 6:2)!
Not an easy topic, to be sure - Tony
|1.||Ref-0038, John Martin, Isaiah, 1:1045-1046|
|2.||Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|
|3.||Ref-0038, Edwin Blum, John, 2:318-319|
|Ref-0038||John Walvoord and Roy. B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983).|