“So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favour of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say, “God has put them into a deep sleep. To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see, and closed their ears so they do not hear.” Likewise, David said, “Let their bountiful table become a snare, a trap that makes them think all is well. Let their blessings cause them to stumble, and let them get what they deserve. Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and let their backs be bent forever.””
Romans 11:7-10 NLT
Paul wrote that most of the “people of Israel” looked earnestly for God but failed to find Him. So what were they looking for? In the Jewish heritage there was the Law, and His people generally thought that if they could follow the Law legalistically and completely, they would find God’s favour. Paul wrote, however, that their hearts had become hardened, and they failed to either see Him or hear Him.
In a recent survey, a majority of UK respondents said that they believe in some form of higher power. Not the Christian God necessarily, but a god of some form or another. There is something implicit within humans that cause them to embark on a journey of searching for the “god” they somehow think is there, but know little about. So up springs all sorts of religions and sects, ideologies, beliefs and ideas about who or what this “god” might be like. Sometimes it seems that everyone we meet, if asked, has a different view. At one extreme we might find the occult, with all the paraphernalia that goes with it. We find all sorts of meditation-based philosophies, like Yoga or Mindfulness, that try and find their “god” within them. Then there are the people who have made a religion out of the film Star Wars, and now claim to be Jedi Knights. We have, of course, the established religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The list seems endless. People look “so earnestly” but fail to hear the “still small voice” of God whispering in their souls. There is only one true God, and only one way to find Him. Jesus said, “ … I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God, when He created mankind, designed within them the need to worship their Creator. But our enemy, the devil, wants that worship for himself. Sadly, he has been, and still is, very successful in getting it.
Paul, in Romans 11:8, quotes from Isaiah 29. The context is that through the prophet Isaiah, God tells the people of Israel that He is fed up with their rebellion and wicked deeds. We read in Isaiah 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote”. And in Isaiah 29:15, “What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The Lord can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”” God’s patience with them was expiring and He responds, “Are you amazed and incredulous? Don’t you believe it? Then go ahead and be blind. You are stupid, but not from wine! You stagger, but not from liquor! For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep. He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries” (Isaiah 29:9-10). A people literally sleep-walking into disaster. But in it all, Paul said there was still a few who remained faithful to God. God was still there for the rest, but through their choices, their hearts became hardened, and unable to hear that “still small voice”.
But we enlightened Christians today, recipients of God’s love and grace, of course don’t believe that we would fall into such a trap. We would never find ourselves in a position of spiritual blindness or deafness, would we? But I think that if Isaiah was with us today, he would deliver the same message of God’s impending judgement. We pilgrims share our messages of hope with people around us who are truly deaf and blind, with hearts hardened by their life choices. But we go on providing hope for the lost regardless.
One thing we pilgrims regularly need to do, however, is to look after our own hearts. Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”. Through contact with a sinful world, our hearts can become calloused, blind and deaf. We need to have sensitive spirits to hear what our loving Heavenly Father has to say to us. His whispers can be easily drowned out by life’s clamours.
Dear Father. Through Your Son Jesus we have found the way to eternal life. There is no other way. We praiser and worship You today. Amen.