What has ears but cannot hear? One answer, of course, is corn! There are also a couple others given in Scripture. Note the Psalmist’s description of idols: “They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands but they cannot feel; They have feet but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat” (Psa. 115:5-7 cf 135:17). But it isn’t only idols made of wood or silver or gold that “have ears but cannot hear.” God gave this message to the prophet Isaiah to tell to the rebellious people of Judah under the reign of King Uzziah: “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 hears, And return and be healed” (Isa. 6:9,10).
Isaiah’s message was to be God’s instrument for hiding the truth from an unreceptive, hard-hearted people. Centuries later, Jesus’ parables were to do the same. After Jesus told the parable of the “sower and the seed” (Lk. 8:4-8), Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (cf Mt. 11:15; 13:9,43; Mk. 4:9,23; 7:16; Lk. 8:8; 14:35). When Jesus’ disciples questioned Him as to the meaning of the parable, before He told them the meaning, Jesus explained why He used parables in His teaching. He said: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that ‘SEEING THEY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND” (Lk. 8:10 cf Isa. 6:9). People who were spiritually discerning, that is, who were following Jesus and were acknowledging His message as true (such as those listed in Lk. 7:36-8:3) would have the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God. But others, who were not responding to Jesus message of the kingdom, would not understand the parable. In support of this, Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9 indicating that people would physically hear what He said, but would not understand it. Jesus’ speaking in parables was actually an act of grace to those listening to Him. If they refused to acknowledge Him as Messiah, their judgment would be less severe than if they understood more. (See Lk. 8:10-16 for an example).
For those who “have ears to hear,” that is, who are willing to listen to and believe God’s Word, God reveals the truths of His Word (Dt. 29:29), but to those who are unwilling, He withholds them. Note what was written by Moses about the Israelites who witnessed God’s miracles in the desert as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land: “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, ‘You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all of his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders, Yet to this day, the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, not ears to hear’” (Dt. 29:2-4).
For those of us who have trusted Christ as Savior, and become “new creatures” in Christ (II Cor. 5:17), we have “ears that can hear.” Note what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM (Isa.64:4; 65:17).’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in Him? Even so the thoughts of God one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God…But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things…For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM (Isa. 40:13)? But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:6-15).
Paul also, in writing to the church in Rome, speaks of those who “suppress the truth,” who “did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but became futile in their speculations.” Paul says, “their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…Therefore God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity…For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions…” (Ro. 1:18-28). They no longer had eyes that could see or eyes that could hear. What a tragic passage.
How crucial that unbelievers respond positively to the message of truth from God’s Word when the Holy Spirit reveals it to them, that they listen while they have “ears that can hear,” and not suppress the truth to where God will “give them over” to live by their old sinful flesh, for God said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3).
But, to Jesus’ followers, He said, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Mt. 13:16). Do you have “blessed eyes,” and “blessed ears”? Do you have “ears to hear”? I trust so. If not, ask God to remove the blindness and deafness so you can see and hear His truths (cf II Cor. 4:3-6).