You are on page 1of 23

BIOLA UNIVERSITY

YOU WILL HEAR CLEARLY BUT NEVER UNDERSTAND:


MATTHEW 13:14-15’s USE OF ISAIAH 6:9-10

A paper

Presented to

Dr. Jon Lunde,

Bible and Theology Department

In Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements for

BBST 430

The NT Use of the OT

By:

Christopher J. Coleman

May 2, 2006
1

Introduction:

Christian theologians today, as well as Christian theologians of yesterday have

wrestled with the question of why, broadly speaking, the Jews have rejected their

promised messiah; Jesus? The apostle Paul sought to answer this question in Romans 9-

11 and is a major question among modern theologians; especially as the nation of Israel

relates to the “people of God” and eschatology. As I will argue, this also seems to be the

overriding question that Jesus seeks to answer in Matthew 13:14-15, where he quotes

Isaiah 6:9-10.

The purpose of this paper is not to discuss eschatology per-say—only if the text

demands such a discussion—nor discuss the relationship between the nation of Israel and

the Church. The purpose of the present study is to ascertain the relationship between

Isaiah 6:9-10 and Matthew 13:14-15. The methodology for understanding this

relationship is as follows: (1) to understand the meaning of Isaiah 6:9-10 in its original

historical, literary and theological context; (2) to understand Matthew 13:14-15 in its

historical, literary and theological context; (3) then we will attempt to understand

Matthew’s interpretation of Isaiah 6:9-10 in light of the two previous section, this

includes a study of: (i) Matthew’s exegetical methods, (ii) Matthew’s hermeneutical

assumptions and (iii) any relationship between the NT and OT passages; and (4) we will

end by presenting any theological applications that arise after all the above steps have

been thoroughly completed.


2

OT Background:

Oswalt and Young argue that Isaiah 1-6 is not necessarily chronological. They

argue that chapters 1-5 were prophecies in the early days of Isaiah’s ministry and that

chapter 6 took place, chronologically, before chapter 1-5. Isaiah or compiler(s) placed

chapter 6 after chapters 1-5 for theological, logical and literary reasons.1 Oswalt argues

that the theological reason for this purposeful arrangement is that Isaiah’s redemptive

experience with Yahweh in chapter 6 functions as a model for rebellious Israel/Judah.

He says: “If the ‘people of unclean lips’ (6:5) can have the same experience that he, the

‘man of unclean lips’ had, then the dilemma Isaiah sees in Israel, and which he expresses

in chapters 1-5, can be solved.”2 If Oswalt’s conclusion is correct, and I think it is, then

we must conclude that chapters 1-5 do not provide historical context to chapter 6, but

provide the problem which chapter 6 seeks to answer.

Our above discussion does not rule out a historical context for Isaiah 6, in fact the

chapter begins with a historical reference: “In the year that King Uzziah died…” It is not

so much the activities that happened during Uzziah’s reign that are important to the

1
John N. Oswalt, Isaiah, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p.
125. Also: John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the
Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1986), pp. 25-28, 55 and 79-80. Also: Edward J. Young, The
Book of Isaiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 232-234.
Blenkinsopp supports the theory that the location of chapter 6 is not chronological, but attributes
its placement by later compiler(s), Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, The Anchor Bible (New York:
Doubleday, 2000), p. 224. Both Oswalt and Young attribute chapter 6’s placement to Isaiah himself or a
student of his, but the final form of Isaiah was fit together before Isaiah’s death and/or the Babylonian
exile.
Childs offers a brief interpretive history of how commentators have dealt with chapter 6’s relation
to chapters 1-5. See Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah, The Old Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John
Knox, 2001), pp. 51-52.
2
Oswalt, Isaiah, p. 125.
3

context of Isaiah 6. It is, rather, the time near, or directly after, the death of Uzziah that

provides the context. 2 Chronicles 26:4 says that Uzziah “did what was right in the eyes

of the LORD.” 2 Chronicles 16:6-15 recounts how Uzziah expanded the land of Judah by

strengthening the military, the walls of Jerusalem and building outposts. Verse 15b

concludes with: “his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.”

Uzziah does become prideful in light of his strength, and because of this, he is correctly

punished (see 2 Chr. 26:16-21). But overall, neither Judah nor Israel had experienced

such prosperity since the reign of Solomon.3

Also, during the reign of Uzziah, Assyria was gaining strength and Israel was

always a threat to the peace of Judah. With Uzziah’s death and the impending strength of

Assyria; Uzziah’s successors, Jotham and Ahaz, were forced to make a decision. Would

Judah be pro-Assyria or anti-Assyria? Neither of these options was optimal, but the

former had political benefits that the later did not: “…if Assyria were to cut Israel down

to size or to destroy it completely, Judah would emerge the winner. Furthermore, if Judah

joined Assyria soon enough, not merely when she had to, Assyria might leave Judah

alone as a faithful ally.”4 Ahaz clearly operated under a pro-Assyria foreign policy (2

Chr. 28:16-21 and 2 Kings 16:7-9), but it seems likely that pro-Assyria ideas had already

made inroads amongst Jotham after the death of Uzziah.5

But, what does all of this have to do with the content of Isaiah 6? Judah had put

its trust in Uzziah, who had steadily guided the nation for years. The combined affect of

his death and the impending power of Assyria, Judah needed someone to trust in. Instead

of Judah trusting in an alliance with Assyria or other foreign powers, they should put

3
Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, pp. 5 and 177. Also: Young pp. 10-11 and 234.
4
Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, p. 6.
5
Oswalt, Isaiah, p. 126. Also: Young pp. 20-21 and 235.
4

their trust in Yahweh. This seems to be Isaiah’s point in chapter 6. He “…saw the Lord

sitting upon a throne…” (6:1) and his eyes saw “…the King, the LORD (Yahweh) of

hosts.”6 (6:5c) Judah should find their salvation, spiritually and politically, from Yahweh

not pagan idols or foreign nations. These seem to be the sins of Judah, and Israel in

general, which are presented in chapters 1-5.7 Judah should have followed the example

of Isaiah in chapter 6, allowing Yahweh to redeem them of their sins and to fulfill their

mission to the nations as Isaiah fulfilled his mission to Judah. So, in this context, Isaiah

seems to represent the entire nation of Israel as a faithful and trustworthy servant, what

Judah/Israel should be.8

Interpretation of Isaiah 6:9-10, with Consideration to Verses 11-13:

Robinson summarizes the main point of 6:9-10: “The motif of blindness and

deafness is a metaphor for a spiritual condition that (1) is brought on by the people

themselves, (2) comprises a judgment from God, and (3) will ultimately be rectified by

God himself ‘in that day’ of salvation.”9

6
Oswalt gives a helpful insight to the phrase “The LORD Almighty” (NIV) or the “The LORD of
hosts!” (ESV): This title “…is a favorite of Isaiah’s…Literally it is ‘The L ORD of Armed Hosts’ and
denotes Yahweh as a leader of a mighty heavenly army. Thus it speaks of God’s incomparable power.” In
Isaiah, p. 126, n. 2.
7
Possible references to trusting in foreign nations: 1:21, 22b, 23a-b; 2:6b, 22; 3:12b. Clear
references to Idolatry: 2:8 and 20. 3:8 sums up the sins of Judah/Israel presented in chapter 1-5: “For
Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD,
defying his glorious presence.”
8
See Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, pp. 174-175. Some commentators have objected
to this idea because in chapter 6 Judah/Israel’s fate seems to be immanent doom, not redemption and
commission. (6:9-13) Oswalt recognizes this but responds with: “…it is illogical to think that what is
available to one member of the nation could never be available to the whole nation.” He finds support for
this in Isaiah’s identification with the nation, both have “unclean lips.” (6:5b) So also Childs: “…the
prophet [Isaiah] is not just an impersonal vehicle, but one who identifies with his people and whose
cleansing by fire and whose restoration makes him the paradigm of the new arising from the old.” Childs,
pp. 58-59.
9
Geoffrey D. Robinson, “The Motif of Deafness and Blindness in Isaiah 6:9-10: A Contextual,
Literary, and Theological Analysis,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1998): p. 174. Most commentators
pick up these three major themes, but they vary considerably in there explanations of them.
5

The repetitive parallelism of verse 9 serves to drive home Yahweh’s point, he

doesn’t want anyone to misunderstand him. This repetition also serves as a memory

aid.10 There is also a clear chiastic structure to verse 10:11

Chiasm—of organs and status:


(A) Make the heart of this people dull,
(B) and their ears heavy,
(C) and blind their eyes
(D) lest
(C-) they see with their eyes,
(B-) and hear with their ears,
(A-) and understand with their hearts,

The chiasm highlights the physical organs, used metaphorically, and the current status of

that organ among the people of Judah/Israel. The transitional term “lest” emphasizes the

first part of the chiasm: the judgment of God on the people by means of prophetic

preaching.12 This emphasis implies that the positive response of the people, seen in the

second half of the chiasm, will not come to pass. These literary devices, the repetitive

parallelism and chiasm, accentuate two conclusions: “(1) the finality of the condition,

namely, spiritual impotence and irresponsiveness; and (2) the comprehensiveness of the

condition. Every organ of potential divine-human communication is malfunctioning.”13

It should be noted that the last line of verse 10, “…and turn and be healed,” is not part of

10
Robinson, pp. 175-176. Kaiser says that verse 9 does not sum up Isaiah’s “public preaching, but
the effect intended from it by God.” Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), pp. 82-83.
11
Robinson, p. 176.
12
Ibid., pp.176-177.
13
Ibid.. p. 176.
6

the chiasm but it serves as a conclusion to the entire chiasm. The purpose of Isaiah’s

commission and his prophetic message is so that the people do not turn to be healed.14

Now, we must consider verses 9-10 in light of the verses that follow immediately

after. In verse 11, Isaiah asks Yahweh how long this hardening of the people will last.

Yahweh answers: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant…and the LORD removes

people far away…” (vv. 11-12) These verses seem to imply exile.15 So, this divine

hardening will remain upon Israel/Judah until the exile. Verse 13 ends with a glimmer of

hope for Judah and the Israelite people as a whole, a “holy seed” a “tenth” will remain.

Childs, says verse 13 is a later “addition,” presumably after the time of Isaiah, which

sought to explain the prophets message.16 Oswalt defends the authenticity and originality

of verse 13 and the text of the MT.17 He sees in verse 13 a ray of hope for Judah and the

nation of Israel as a whole. The Abrahamic covenant must still be fulfilled, the whole

earth will be blessed through this nation. The guarantee of a remnant ensures the

fulfillment of this promise.18

14
McLaughlin makes this point clear: “The last line of the verse [10] stands outside this unifying
structural feature [chiasm] as a climactic explanatory phrase; the underlying purpose of the command is so
that the people not ‘turn’ and receive divine healing.” In J.L. McLaughlin, “Their Hearts Were Hardened:
The Use of Isaiah 6,9-10 in the Book of Isaiah,” Biblica 75, no. 1 (1994): p. 5.
It should also be noted that these verse, 9-10, have historically been difficult for many theologians
to recon with. The implied “determinism” of Israel’s unbelief has been the main hold up for many
theologians. McLaughlin attempts to solve this problem by saying that this divine hardening is Yahweh’s
means of just punishment for past sins. McLaughlin, pp. 8-9. Oswalt says that the affects of sin on Isaiah’s
generation are so deep, that any true divine Word would only drive them further from redemption. Oswalt,
The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, p. 189. Young gives a classical “Calvinist” explanation of this problem,
saying that this hardening was according to God’s good sovereign pleasure. He seems very close to
embracing “determinism.” Young, p. 259.
15
See John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 24A (Waco: Word, 1985),
pp. 75-76; although Watts attributes these verses to a later post-exilic community. Young gives a much
more balanced and reasonable position, pp. 261-264. See also Kaiser, p. 85. There also several references
to exile in 5:13 and 26-30.
16
Childs, p. 58.
17
Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, p. 187 footnote #4.
18
Ibid., pp. 190-191.
7

OT Referents:

In light of the above study, the referents within verse 9-10 will now be offered.

“this people” within the context, is clearly rebellious Judah. It seems to refer to the

nation in general; it does not refer to any specific King or leader. Although Judah is

specifically in mind here, it does seem reasonable to conclude that this judgment can

refer to Israel in general.19 “Keep on hearing, but do not understand” refers to

Judah/Israel’s response to Isaiah’s prophetic message. Isaiah is sent to warn Israel, to plea

with them to turn to Yahweh for strength. But, in reality Isaiah’s preaching will only

result in further disobedience and spiritual deafness and blindness.20 If Isaiah’s message

is ignored, then Israel will face judgment, i.e. exile. “Keep on seeing, but do not

perceive” This is a parallel idea to the previous referent. Therefore the meaning stays the

same, but by including another human sense organ, Yahweh is emphasizing the

wickedness of Judah. Therefore, the verse’s parallelism and inclusion of another sense,

emphasizes the severe nature of Judah’s wickedness and hardness toward Isaiah and his

preaching, and ultimately Yahweh. As we said above, the emphasis of verse 10 is on the

first half of the chiasm, which implies that Israel will not turn to be healed. This is divine

judgment and punishment for their continual sins against Yahweh, namely for rejecting

the message of Isaiah: “Trust Yahweh not men!” Israel should have responded to

19
This is because of Isaiah’s use of broad terms to refer to Israel in chapters 1-5 and throughout
the book of Isaiah. (1:3 “Israel,” 2:5, 6 “House of Jacob,” 40:27, 41:8, etc.)
Childs and Young note that instead of Yahweh referring to Israel as “My people” he is actually
spiting them. He is saying that Israel is not longer my people, they are merely “this people.” Childs, p. 57
and Young p. 255. Oswalt and Watts argue that there is no significance to this language. Yahweh can refer
to Israel as “this people” and still be their covenant God. Oswalt points to other places in the OT where this
demonstrative is used: Exod. 3:21, 5:22, 17:4, 18:18 and Num. 11:14. Watts, p. 75 and Oswalt, The Book
of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, p. 188.
20
Childs, p. 57: “His [Isaiah’s] commission is not one of strategy of how to preach, but concerns
the effect of his proclamation. The divine word of which he is a bearer will only result in rejection; Israel
has been divinely hardened lest it were to seek to repent.” See also Robinson, pp. 176-177.
8

Yahweh, after hearing Isaiah’s message, like Isaiah did when he saw the LORD: “Woe is

me!”

NT Context; The Parable of the Sower and the Interpretation of the Parable of the
Sower, Matthew 13:3-8 and 18-23:

Much has been written on the Parable of the Sower, its original meaning and the

Interpretation of the Parable by Jesus in verses 18-23. With much of the secondary

sources in mind, I want to argue that the original meaning of the Parable of the Sower

sets the background for a fuller understanding of Jesus’ use of Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-

15. I would also like to argue that the original meaning of the Parable lies in the OT and

especially in the story of Israel. The interpretation of the Parable, supported in this paper,

elevates the general interpretation by most scholars and commentators. The general

interpretation that is widespread among NT scholars is that the Parable “…is about the

various ways God’s word is received.”21 As the following exegesis of the Parable will try

21
Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), p. 262. See
also: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1992), pp. 345-348; Mark L. Bailey, “The Parable of the Sower and the Soils: Part 2 of
8 parts of ‘The Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13,’” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 618 (1998): pp. 179-184;
W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, International Critical
Commentary, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), p. 398; Stanley D. Toussaint, “The Introductory and
Concluding Parables of Matthew Thirteen,” Bibliotheca Sacra 121, no. 484 (1964): pp. 352-354; and Jack
Dean Kingsbury, The Parables of Jesus in Matthew 13: A Study in Redaction-Criticism (Richmond, VA:
John Knox, 1969), pp. 34-35.
Hagner follows along the same line, but says that it is not rejection of Jesus’ preaching/teaching
per-say, but is rejection of Jesus himself; Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary,
Vol. 33A (Dallas: Word, 1993), p. 379.
Gundry follows the same line of thinking as well, but relates the responsiveness and non-
responsiveness of the person/soil to true disciples and false disciples, respectively; Robert H. Gundry,
Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution, 2d ed (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 258-261.
Jones’ interpretation is a little ambiguous, but he seems to see the main point as to “…identify this
danger [persecution in the early church] with the power of evil, giving the parable a paraenetic [parenetic]
force,” Ivor H. Jones, The Matthean Parables: A Literary and Historical Commentary (New York: E.J.
Brill, 1995), p. 301.
9

to show, the proposed interpretation does not disregard this understanding of the

Parable—as an allegory of how people receive the message of Jesus in different

ways—but simply that this understanding of the Parable does not exhaust its meaning.

To understand what Jesus is teaching in the Parable of the Sower, and its

subsequent Interpretation, we have to understand the nature of parables in general and

how parables would be understood in light of a first-century Jewish context. Any

thorough study of the parable genre, especially those belonging to Jesus, must look at

how parables were used in the OT. One example of an OT parable can be seen in Isaiah

5:1-7. Yahweh calls Israel his vineyard, which does not yield grapes but instead bears

wild grapes. The vineyard is then “trampled down,” “biers and thorns” are allowed to

grow and Yahweh will withhold the rain from falling on the vineyard.22 This parable,

and others like it, is “Israel’s-story-in-miniature:” Israel turns from Yahweh, Yahweh

promise judgment (exile) while at the same time promising hope (return/exodus).23

These parabolic stories have certain features in common; they are presented by a prophet

and are apocalyptic.24 Apocalyptic literature, in the OT in particular, comes from the

Crossan sees this Parable as “…articulate[ing] the gift of the kingdom’s advent and the joyful
surprise of its experience: despite all the problems of sowing there is the abundant harvest…” John
Dominic Crossan, “The Seed Parables of Jesus,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92, no. 2 (1973): p. 266.
22
Other OT examples can be also be given: the entire book of Hosea where Israel is represented
by Gomer, Hosea’s prostitute wife; also 2 Samuel 12:1-6 where Nathan uses a parable to present to David
his sin with Bathsheba and the vision of the statue in Daniel 2:31-45. I am indebted to N.T. Wright for this
insight into the parables as well as his interpretation of the Parable of the Sower. See N.T. Wright, The New
Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1 (Minneapolis:
Fortress, 1992), pp. 433-434 also Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the
Question of God, Vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), pp. 174-182 and 231-232.
23
Wright, Jesus and the Victory, pp. 178-179 and 228-229.
24
See Wright, The New Testament, p. 433 where he says: “…parabolic stories are to be found
throughout Jewish writings, reaching one particular high point in the often bizarre visions of apocalyptic.”
Also Wright, Jesus and the Victory, p. 181: “The most immediate literary background to the parables is that
of apocalyptic. The parables are not just ‘about’ the return of Israel’s god into her history, to judge, redeem
and restore her; they are also agents of that all-important event.”
10

mouth of a prophet and effects two things: (1) calls Israel to be the true Israel (i.e. the

covenant people of Yahweh) who believe that Yahweh will liberate them; (2) while at the

same time proclaiming judgment upon renegade and unrepentant Israel.25 Apocalyptic

literature not only proclaims the coming of Yahweh but also calls for the people to make

a decision.26 It seems unlikely that Jesus, a Jew living during the first-century, when he

taught in parables would have not been influenced by this use of parables in the OT.

Thus, it is my conviction that Jesus was extremely aware of this parabolic tradition and

reflects such a tradition in his own parabolic discourses. But Jesus’ parabolic teaching

does not merely reflect the OT tradition, which is surely does, it also culminates Israel’s

story and does so in an unexpected way.

How does this background influence the original meaning of the Parable of the

Sower? Well, as we alluded to above, it recapitulates the story of Israel. Wright argues

that this interpretation is to be favored for three reasons: (1) its form and content is

similar to the apocalyptic vision of Daniel 2:31-45, (2) the Parable of the Wicked Tenants

(Matthew 21:33-45) is obviously a recapitulation of the story of Israel and (3) the use of

“seed” in the OT and in second-Temple Judaism.27 Although the first two reasons are

valid and add to the strength of this particular interpretation, this paper will focus

primarily on the third reason—namely the OT background. One OT passage that is

relevant to this discussion is Isaiah 6:13c, “The holy seed is the stump.” As we saw

above in our discussion of Isaiah 6, the context is clearly exile. (vv. 11-13) Therefore, it

25
Wright, Jesus and the Victory, pp. 177-178.
26
Ibid., p. 176: on apocalyptic literature: “They do not merely give people something to think
about. They invite people into a new world that is being created, and warn of dire consequences if the
invitation is refused.”
27
Ibid., pp. 231-234.
11

seems reasonable to conclude that this “holy seed” is the remnant or Israel.28 The use of

Isaiah 6:9-10 in the immediate context to the Parable of the Sower adds to the strength of

this interpretation. Anyone during the first-century preaching about the Kingdom of God

through a story about a sower sowing seed would hear: “The remnant is now returning.

The exile is over.”29 Now, some people might object that Jesus seems to refer to the

object being sown, in his Interpretation of the Parable, as the “word of the kingdom.”

(13:19) But, this argument is inadequate. This is so because of Isaiah 55:10-13. In this

passage we have a sower and his seed linked closely with the word of Yahweh. (vv. 10d-

11) There is also very strong “return from exile” language in verses 12-13. This leads

Wright to conclude:

The sowing of the seed, resulting in a crop that defies the thorns and the biers, is a
picture of YHWH’s sowing of his word, and the result is the return from exile
and, indeed, the consequent renewal of creation.30

Before we move on to the specific referents in the Parable, an understanding of

the nature of the sowing must be grasped. The sowing is not chronological—four

individual sowings—but one concurrent sowing. This is important because it reflects the

nature of apocalyptic literature that we mentioned above; namely the dual message of

deliverance and judgment.31 In line with the seed representing the Word of Yahweh to

Israel, the Parable reflects other parts of Israel’s story as well. The sowing is not simply

for the remnant to return, pictured in the soil that fell upon the good ground (Matthew

28
As does Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, pp. 190-191 and Kaiser, p. 85.
Wright offers multiple passages throughout the OT that support this understanding. See Wright’s
list, Jesus and the Victory, pp. 232-233, n. 128.
29
Wright, Jesus and the Victory, p. 232-233.
30
Ibid., p. 233. Evans also picks up this verse as a background to the Parable of the Sower, Craig
Alan Evans “On the Isaianic Background of the Sower Parable,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47, no. 3
(1985): p. 466-467.
31
Wright, Jesus and the Victory, pp. 233-234.
12

13:8 and 23), it is also a sowing of judgment, pictured in the three unsuccessful soils.

(Matthew 13:3-7 and 19-22) The seed that feel upon the good ground is the people that

make up the remnant of Israel who have heard the “word of the kingdom” and have

responded in trust. This remnant, in the context of Jesus’ preaching, are the people who

believe and trust the “word of the kingdom” now taught by Jesus. The unsuccessful soils

represent rebellious and unrepentant Israel, similar to Judah/Israel after the death of King

Uzziah. This type of Israel has ignored the “Word of the Kingdom” that Yahweh has

sent to them through the preaching of the prophet, and now the preaching of Jesus.32 This

Israel will remain in their state of “exile,” theological and political exile that is.33 If

Gerhardsson is correct, in that the Parable of the Sower reflects the theology of the

Shema (and I think he is), then it can be concluded that these unsuccessful soils have not

32
Wright says the following about the unsuccessful soils: “…the previous sowings represent the
unfruitful work of the prophets, longing to bring Israel back to her god.” Ibid., p. 236. Wright is correct
here, he just doesn’t go far enough to relate the prophet’s rejection to Jesus’ rejection. Snodgrass’
corrective is to be favored and adopted: “It would be better to say the different results encountered with
Jesus’ preaching correspond to or mirror the rejection of Isaiah and other prophets throughout Israel’s
history.” Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Reading & Overreading the Parables in Jesus and the Victory of God” in
Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, ed.
Carey C. Newman (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1999), p. 69, n. 13. The rejection of Jesus is clear at
this point in the flow of Matthew’s narrative: directly before Jesus’ preaching in parables, his
miracles/signs are not understood by the Pharisees. (12:1-45)
33
Wright argues that in second temple Judaism, the Jews still believed themselves to be in exile.
They had indeed returned to the land and rebuilt the temple. But the great promises of Yahweh were not
fulfilled in the second temple period. The Jews were constantly under foreign rule, even after they had
returned. During the life of Christ, the Jews were expecting the Messiah to release them from the yoke of
the Romans. For more support that the Jews believed they were still in exile see: Wright, New Testament,
pp. 268-272 and 299-301 also Wright, Jesus and the Victory, 126-131 and 202-209.
At first I was hesitant about the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower that has been presented.
It is unlike any other position taken by scholars and commentators. It is makes one uneasy going against
the majority tide of scholarship! I was greatly encouraged in the presented interpretation after reading
Klyne R. Snodgrass’ fine critique of Wright’s take on the parables. He gives a fair treatment of all of
Wright’s parable interpretations and his parable theory as a whole. I thought Snodgrass would disagree
heavily with Wright’s take on the Parable of the Sower, to my surprise he affirmed it! I am very
appreciative to Snodgrass for his insights. See Snodgrass, in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical
Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, ed. Carey C. Newman (Downers Grove, IL:
Inter-Varsity, 1999), pp. 61-76.
13

“loved the Lord with all their heart, with all their soul and with their whole strength,” i.e.

they are not being true Israel.34

As was implied above, most commentators take the soils to represent the different

response of Jesus’ audience to his teaching. In light of our presented interpretation, this

majority position is not invalid; it is just not complete. It seems to ignore Jesus’ first

century Jewish context altogether. In general, this position is correct, the soils do in fact

represent the response of Jesus’ audience to his preaching, but this position misses the the

apocalyptic and prophetic thrust of the verse. “The parable is not merely a nice picture of

response to preaching but a warning and an enactment of the kingdom’s presence and a

promise about the future.”35 The traditional interpretation is incorrect, though, to imply

there are four different sowings—four different responses to Jesus—instead of one

sowing. With this foundation laid, we are now equipped to comment on Matthew’s use

of Isaiah 6:9-10 in 13:14-15.

The Referents in Matthew 13:14-15:

The “Their,” “You” and “This people” in verse 14-15 is clearly, in light of our

interpretation of the Parable of the Sower, rebellious and unrepentant Israel, i.e. Israel in

exile. Specifically this status applies to anyone who rejects the prophetic and apocalyptic

message of Jesus. The description of these people’s organs as “blind/closed, unable to

understand/dull, and unable to hear,” is a metaphor for how they have responded to the

message of the prophets in past—Isaiah, etc.—as well as in the present—the teaching of

34
Gerhardsson argues that each separate unsuccessful soil represents one part of the Shema. Thus,
these soils represent people who fail to keep the Shema, i.e. fail to be true Israel. He makes a very strong
case, and adds further substantial insight into the OT background of this parable. See Birger Gerhardsson,
“The Parable of the Sower and Its Interpretation,” New Testament Studies 14, (January 1968): 165-193.
35
Snodgrass, p. 68.
14

Jesus. (v. 15) As we saw above, this verse is in a chiastic structure, with the term “lest”

putting the emphasis on the first part of the verse. Thus, the hopefulness of the last half

of the verse will never come to pass. These people have hardened their hearts, closed

their eyes and plugged their ears to the “word of the kingdom,” therefore they will remain

in exile.36

So, the referents from the OT to the NT do not really change, they still represent

unrepentant and rebellious Israel. The referents are expanded to include anyone who

rejects the teaching of Jesus. Just as Israel ignored the message of the prophet throughout

the Book of Isaiah (described in 6:9-10), so is anyone who ignores the teaching of this

prophet, Jesus.37

Text Form:

The text form is important in Matthew’s use of Isaiah 6:9-10. He clearly draws

from the LXX.38 But the significance lies in the difference between the LXX and the

MT. The syntax of the MT has imperatives, “do not understand,” “do not perceive” and

“make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.” The LXX

does not have this imperatival emphasis. “The LXX describes conditions for which the

people are responsible: ‘the heart of this people has grown thick, with their ears they hear
36
Wright argues that the reason Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 is because his “Kingdom” message was
deeply subversive to Rome, Herod and other political leaders. Therefore, he argues, people will “…hear
but never understand,” and “…indeed see but never perceive,” because Jesus doesn’t want to put his life in
danger. See Wright, Jesus and the Victory, pp. 236-238. Snodgrass is correct to critique this aspect of
Wright’s view: “The words from Isaiah 6:9 are applied to all those who do not respond to the message, and,
of course, Jesus’ audience is made up of Jewish people in general.” Snodgrass, p. 69, n. 13.
37
Nolland supports this conclusion: “The quotation from Is. 6:9-10 in Mt. 13:14-15 seems to be
used paradigmatically to suggest that the context of Jesus’ ministry is much the same as that of Isaiah’s
ministry and therefore that Jesus shapes his approach in recognition of this.” John Nolland, The Gospel of
Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), p. 35. See also p. 36 and Hagner, pp. 373-374.
38
Robert Horton Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel: With Special
Reference to the Messianic Hope (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1967), pp. 116-118.
15

poorly, and they have shut their eyes.’ It is the unbelieving people who have shut their

own eyes.”39 It seems that Matthew purposefully chose the LXX for this very emphasis,

or lack of “predestinarian” emphasis.40

Matthew’s Method:

In this section we will seek to work out the method Matthew had in mind when he

recorded Jesus’ use of Isaiah 6:9-10 in 13:14-15. A scholarly debate has raged as to

whether or not the NT writers used popular first century biblical exegetical methods,

especially those used at Qumran, in the Targums and in Philo. I will assume that the NT

writers did in fact use these exegetical methods, believing there are good reasons to

assume such. 41 There is a definite Pesher idea behind Jesus’ use of Isaiah 6:9-10. He

seems to be saying, “This, the rejection of my message by rebellious and unrepentant

Israel (i.e. anyone who rejects Jesus) is that, the rejection of Isaiah’s message by

Judah/Israel.” Jesus first looks at the people’s response to his message, and then equates

it with Isaiah’s rejection.42 But there also seems to be a Midrashic exegesis in Jesus’ use

of Isaiah. This can be seen when the wider context of the Parable of the Sower is kept in

mind. The broad OT context, especially Isaiah itself, helps us understand the parable and

subsequently the quotation from Isaiah. As we saw, the Parable of the Sower is a

recapitulation of Israel’s story. In it Jesus tells us of the “word of the kingdom”—which

in the OT was the prophetic message and now in the NT is Jesus’ message—being sown

39
Hagner, p. 374.
40
See Hagner, pp. 374-375. He says, “…for Matthew Jesus spoke in parables because of the
willful unreceptivity of the blind.”
41
For an excellent presentation and positive argument for these exegetical methods, see Richard
N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 2d ed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), Ch. 1.
42
For more on Pesher see Longenecker pp. 24-30.
16

to true Israel, the remnant, and rebellious Israel, Israel in exile. In another way, Jesus is

relating his ministry to the ministry of the prophets in general, including Isaiah.

Therefore, Jesus also seems to be saying, “That, the ministry of Isaiah and rejection of his

message has relevance to this, my ministry and rejection of my message.”43 These

exegetical methods used by Jesus/Matthew, shed light on to Jesus’/Matthew’s

hermeneutical assumptions.

Matthew’s Hermeneutical Assumptions:

This use of the OT in the NT reveals the NT writers and Jesus held that the OT

was authoritative and relevant to their hearers/readers. In a day an age where the OT,

especially a verse like Isaiah 6:9-10, is generally disregarded as “out-of-touch” “stale”

“archaic” or “to harsh for seekers;” Jesus reminds us that the OT is still relevant and

applicable “…for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

(2 Timothy 3:16)

It seems possible that Matthew might have also assumed that Jesus, like Isaiah,

was a representative, federal head, of the people. In the above discussion on Isaiah 6, we

argued that Isaiah’s response before Yahweh was the response that Judah/Israel was

suppose to have. Thus, Isaiah was a representative of Israel. Now, if Jesus is supposed

to fulfill the role of Isaiah, as we argued above, then the relationship between Jesus and

the people he was bringing the “word of the kingdom” to can be classified as corporate

solidarity.

Matthew and Jesus, by there use of the OT presented above, clearly assume that

the ministry of Jesus is typical to the ministry of Isaiah. That is there is a correspondence
43
For more on Midrash see Longenecker pp. 18-24.
17

in history between Isaiah’s ministry and Jesus’ ministry. Isaiah preached “judgment” on

the exiles while at the same time “return” for the remnant; Jesus preached “judgment” on

the unsuccessful soils while at the same time “return” for the good soil.

Jesus’ use of anaplhrovw (v.14) to introduce his quotation from Isaiah is only

used here in Matthew. Matthew prefers plhrovw, so his use of anaplhrovw here instead

seems significant. Morris says this term has the nuance of “to fulfill completely.”44 So,

it seems that Jesus is saying, “these are the days of fulfillment, Isaiah’s prophecy is

completely commenced in your rejection of my message.” The prophecy of Isaiah does

not only apply to the original hearers, but to anyone who rejects the message of Jesus.

Therefore Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled today whenever someone rejects the message of

the Kingdom of God.

This type of fulfillment implies that Jesus’ use of Isaiah 6:9-10 inaugurated the

rejection of his message. Initially this rejection was unique to the Jews, but with the

spread of the “word of the kingdom” by the Apostles in Acts the rejection of Jesus

reaches the Gentiles. The final rejection of Jesus will come at the dawning of the end of

the age, when people will follow the anti-Christ. These will face final judgment.45 So

the rejection of Jesus is now and not yet.

The Relationship between the OT, Isaiah 6:9-10, and the NT, Matthew 13:14-15:

We implied above that Jesus’ ministry was typical to Isaiah ministry, as

evidenced in our discussion of the NT use of the OT. This means that there is a

44
Morris, p. 342. He sites G. Delling saying “G. Delling understands the meaning here to be that
the prophecy “is ‘fully actualized’ in the rejection of Christ’s message and work” (TDNT, VI, p. 306).
45
The judgment and restoration taught in the Parable of the Sower can also be deemed
inaugurated eschatology; Jesus will finally judge those who reject him as well as finally and fully sanctify
his remnant.
18

typological relationship between Isaiah and Jesus; Isaiah being the type and Jesus the

anti-type. There is another typological relationship present in this passage, Judah/Israel

are the type and anyone who rejects the message of Jesus are the anti-type. But, it is also

clear that Isaiah 6:9-10 was prophetic in its original usage. That is: it predicted how

Judah/Israel would receive Isaiah’s message. But this prophetic message also seems to

leave the door open for future fulfillments. Remember, Yahweh put a stipulation on the

hardening; Israel would have to turn back to him. As we argued above, the structure of

the verse makes this return very unlikely, if not impossible. Therefore, this prophecy

implies that an anti-type, outside of the original referent, will fill up this prophecy. So

the relationship between the two testaments is both typological and prophetic.46

Theological Application:

The message Isaiah and Jesus were called to preach was not an easy one to hear or

declare. You do not become popular by telling people they are spiritually blind, deaf and

dumb! But this is the message given to Isaiah and Jesus. They didn’t preach it because it

made their audience feel good. They were surely not interested in being “seeker-

sensitive.” The very content of their message implies that people do not in fact seek God,

but do the exact opposite; we turn our back, close our eyes and plug are ears from God!

They preached their message because it was true, and it is what the people needed to

hear, not what they wanted to hear. Isaiah and Jesus’ message is a challenge for

preachers and churches today who are more interested in drawing big crowds,

entertaining their parishioners and tickling the ears of their congregations!

Evangelicalism doesn’t need more motivational speakers, we need more Isaiahs!


46
Typological-PROPHETIC.
19

This NT use of the OT reminds us that Christ is our perfect Prophet. Christ’s

office as a prophet means that he perfectly reveals the Father to us. We argued above that

there is a typological relationship between Isaiah and Jesus, and one of the aspects of

typology is that the anti-type always supercedes the type. Therefore, Jesus is a greater

prophet than Isaiah. Jesus’ revelation of Yahweh is more complete; he reveals Yahweh

through his words and actions. The culmination of Jesus’ actions that reveal Yahweh is

his redemptive work on the cross. Christ proclaimed as a prophet, “For God so loved the

world that he gave his only son and whoever believes in him will not perish but have

everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Christ spoke, by means of his prophetic office that faith in

him secures our justification before the Father. He also announced “I am the good

shepherd. I know my own [sheep] and my own know me, just as the Father knows me

and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15) Jesus

proclaims to us, as his sheep, that he knows us just as he and the Father know one

another! Christ is in control of out destiny, he knows us and has chosen us. (John 15:16)

He has laid his life down for us. This realization should stir up within us a sense of

gratefulness. We should be eternally thankful for Christ, his perfect life and sacrificial

death. “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white

as snow.”
20

Bibliography:

Bailey, Mark L. “The Parable of the Sower and the Soils: Part 2 of 8 parts of ‘The
Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13,’” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 618 (1998): 172-
188.

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Isaiah 1-39, The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997.

Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah, The Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John
Knox, 2001.

Crossan, John Dominic. “The Seed Parables of Jesus,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92,
no. 2 (1973): 244-266.

Davies, W.D. and Dale C. Allison Jr. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew,
International Critical Commentary, Vol. 2. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991.

Evans, Craig Alan. “Isaiah 6:9-10 in Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation.”
Claremont Graduate School, University Microfilms, Ann Arbor: MI, 1983.

________. “On the Isaianic Background of the Sower Parable,” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 47, no. 3 (1985): 464-468.

France, R.T. Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher. Grand Rapids: Academie, 1989.

Gerhardsson, Birger. “The Parable of the Sower and Its Interpretation,” New Testament
Studies 14, (January 1968): 165-193.

Gundry, Robert Horton. The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel: With
Special Reference to the Messianic Hope. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1967.

________. Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under


Persecution, 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33A. Dallas: Word,
1993.

Jones, Ivor H. The Matthean Parables: A Literary and Historical Commentary. New
York: E.J. Brill, 1995.

Kaiser, Otto. Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library. Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1972.
21

Kingsbury, Jack Dean. The Parables of Jesus in Matthew 13: A Study in Redaction-
Criticism. Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1969.

Longenecker, Richard N. Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 2d ed. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1999.

McLaughlin, J.L. “Their Hearts Were Hardened: The Use of Isaiah 6,9-10 in the Book of
Isaiah,” Biblica 75, no. 1 (1994): 1-25.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament
Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1992.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New
International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary
on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1986.

________. Isaiah, The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

Robinson, Geoffrey D. “The Motif of Deafness and Blindness in Isaiah 6:9-10: A


Contextual, Literary, and Theological Analysis,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 8,
(1998): 167-186.

Snodgrass, Klyne R. “Reading & Overreading the Parables in Jesus and the Victory of
God” in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s
Jesus and the Victory of God, ed. Carey C. Newman. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-
Varsity, 1999. pp. 61-76.

Stendahl, Krister. The School of St. Matthew: And Its Use of the Old Testament.
Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968.

Toussaint, Stanley D. “The Introductory and Concluding Parables of Matthew Thirteen,”


Bibliotheca Sacra 121, no. 484 (1964): 351-355.

Watts, John D.W. Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 24A. Waco: Word,
1985.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the
Question of God, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.

________. Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol.
2. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.

Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah, The New International Commentary on the Old
Testament, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.
22