How do you respond to Isaiah 6:10?

The Lord tells Isaiah,

“Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.” (cf. Matt. 13:14–15)

If taken out of context this passage may sound like the Lord wants certain minds to be spiritually dull, certain ears to be spiritually deaf and certain eyes to be spiritually blind. Hence this passage is sometimes cited as evidence that it is by sovereign design that some people are hardened to the message of the Lord. How can this passage be reconciled with the universality of God’s love and desire for salvation expressed elsewhere in Scripture?

The answer is to be found in the observation that the Lord is not commissioning Isaiah to preach to people who would otherwise be receptive to his message. God never hardens anyone arbitrarily. Rather, in this passage God is responding to the persistent obstinancy of the Israelites. (Hence, God no longer refers to them as “my people” [cf. 1:3] but as “this people” [cf. 8:6, 12; 9:16).* God sends Isaiah out as an act of judgment, anticipating that the preaching of his word will only serve to further solidify the Israelites in their self-chosen obstinancy. This increased solidification will make them “ripe for judgment.” It always grieves the Lord that he has to treat people in this fashion: it is not his perfect will (e.g. Hos. 11:5–9). And even in judgment the Lord holds out hope for the future (cf. Jer. 29:9–14).

Note
*C. W. Carter, ed. The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), 35.

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