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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:29 If they were wise, they would attend to this; they would understand their own future.
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The word comes from the root , from which comes many words like 'behind', 'after', 'later'; the words are usually translated as "the end times" or "the last days". Although Davidson suggests that the word could be translated "to their uttermost parts", it makes more sense to render it here as "to their own end", or "their own future". Verse 27 tells us that the passage is talking about the enemies of Israel who have - atHaShem's calling - been His agents in visiting judgement upon Israel for her disobedience to the covenant. The Sforno comments, "Were they wise they would understand this: that Israel fell into their hands in such an unnatural fashion, because of their (i.e. Israel's) sins." These nations cannot discern that they are simply agents and that Israel has been given into their hands; they think that it is their own power and might that have prevailed over Israel, so they puff themselves up and are proud of their accomplishments and military prowess. Hirsch adds, "Were they receptive to wisdom, they would direct their intelligence to G-d's Judgement being exercised over Israel under their very eyes and through their agency, and from that deduce what their own fate would be." It is not just that they cannot see what is going on, they are also blind to the future that awaits them: if G-d is allowing Israel - His own chosen people - to be punished, then those who carry out His orders and add something on their own account, the while boasting that it was all their own doing, will certainly not be spared G-d's wrath when Israel repents and the positions are reversed. And yet, these other nations are not stupid; they have enough intelligence to recruit armies, to fight battles, to form associations and empires, to conquer other nations and control their affairs - what is the point here? Three-fold: firstly, that they trust in their own strength and might, rather than in G-d; secondly, that because they are not in relationship with G-d, they cannot see the true state of affairs; and, thirdly, that because they overstep the mark and treat Israel harshly, delighting in her downfall, they become responsible for their actions in attacking and harming G-d's elect.
The question of spiritual discernment, seeing the true state of affairs from G-d's perspective, is explained to Isaiah the prophet. At the end of his vision of HaShem sitting on His throne surrounded by heavenly beings declaring His holiness, Isaiah is told: "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10, NASB). Even G-d's people are sometimes deaf and blind to what G-d is saying either directly through the circumstances around them. Sometimes, things can only be spiritually discerned. Rav Sha'ul wrote, "Now the natural man does not receive the things from the Spirit of G-d - to him they are nonsense! Moreover, he is unable to grasp them, because they are evaluated through the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:14, CJB). This is not Gnosticism, or some esoteric "secret knowledge" only passed on to the cognoscenti; it is simply that although very practical in its outworking and its interface with the world, the Kingdom of G-d is, by definition, the place where G-d's rule and authority are worked out. This means that those who do not even acknowledge the existence of G-d are not going to be able to see and understand the workings of the Kingdom or the motivation and principles that undergird its actions.
The gospels relate four occasions when Yeshua used the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear": when He spoke about John the Baptist (Matthew 11:15), in telling the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:9, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8), after explaining the parable of the sower to His disciples (Matthew 13:43) and after one saying in Luke's account of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 14:35). We find the same phrase used as a question to the disciples: "Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?" (Mark 8:18, NASB), another closely related phrase in Matthew's record of the parable of the sower: "Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears because they hear" (Matthew 13:16, NASB) and a saying that purports to come as Yeshua is welcoming the disciples back after their two-by-two ministry trip, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see" (Luke 10:23, NASB), although that may be an isolated saying divorced from its original context. We may speculate from these that He may well have made use of it on other occasions either as a question or in an an affirmatory way. Certainly the phrase re-appears seven times, one for each of the seven churches, in the first two chapters of the Revelation "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22, NASB).
Our physical senses alone are not enough - although they may contribute to the process - to hear from G-d. Spiritual wisdom or discernment is also needed to decode or assemble the message so that we may understand it. The message may come in several pieces and mediums over a period of time: verses from our Bible reading, sermons, words spoken by friends and acquaintances, pictures or images on TV or in the press; but all are knitted together by the Holy Spirit to make an unmistakable impression that G-d has spoken to us. Non-believers may also receive these messages - after all, how does someone receive the initial revelation and conviction that they are a sinner and need to seek forgiveness - but often have difficulty connecting with what they perceive because it makes no sense to them or is so strange to their current modes of thinking. Every such message must, of course, be tested against the Bible itself to be sure that it is consistent with the "all the counsel of G-d" (Acts 20:27, KJV); if of great significance in a believer's life, then it should also be shared with and tested by our spiritual leaders, families and those who know us well - the last thing the world needs is more mavericks who think they hear voices in their heads and single-handedly rush out on a crusade of holy judgement or revenge.
Yeshua rebukes the crowds that throng after Him and hang on His words because they are unable to understand the tension, politics and spiritual significance that is happening in the society around them: "When you see a cloud-bank rising in the west, at once you say that a rainstorm is coming; and when the wind is from the south, you say there will be a heat wave, and there is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky - how is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?" (Luke 12:54-56, NASB). If they used their intelligence they would know that G-d was moving in their midst and that someone more than just a clever speaker or even a miracle worker was among them. Similarly, He urges the disciples to take notice of what is happening around them: "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognise that He is near, right at the door" (Mark 1:28-29, NASB) and then goes on to talk about His return at the Second Coming.
We should expect G-d to speak to us about our personal lives, to offer us encouragement and correction as we walk with Him, following in the footsteps of the Master. If Yeshua Himself said, "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak" (John 12:49, NASB), how much more do we need instruction and guidance on the way.
Further Study: Psalm 107:43; Jeremiah 5:21-23; Acts 3:24-26
Application: How good are you at hearing and recognising the voice of G-d when He speaks to you? Why not ask Him to help you practice listening for His voice this week, so that you can improve your skills at hearing the things that He says.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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