Whose Ears and Eyes Does Jesus Say are Closed in Matthew 13:10-16

Matthew 13:10-16

10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, ‘Why speakest thou unto them in parables?’

11 He answered and said unto them, ‘Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which says, “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

If we desire to “rightly divide the word of truth” in this passage, we need to answer a few questions: About whom is Jesus speaking? Who are “you” in verses 11 and 16? Who are “they” in verses 10, and 12 to 15? Who is “this people” in verse 15?

In verse 2, the writer tells us to whom Jesus had been speaking: “… great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that he went into a ship and sat, and the whole multitude stood on the shore, and He spoke many things to them in parables …” Jesus was addressing the Jewish crowd that had gathered to listen to His words. The question of “who” is referred to by the disciples in verse 10 is answered.

Jesus’  answer to the disciples’ question referred back to His prophecy through Isaiah, as He specifically told them in verse 14. That prophecy is found in Isaiah chapter 6; copied below in its entirety to maintain context:

1   In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

2   Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

3   And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

4   And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

5   Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

6   Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:

7   And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

8   Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

9   And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

11 Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,

12 And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.

13 But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.

The narrator in this passage, referring to himself as “I”, is Isaiah. He is recording his personal encounter with the living God, his response to God, and God’s first words to Isaiah after that encounter. Noteworthy is Isaiah’s immediate recognition of himself as unworthy, and unclean before an holy God. After making a provision for Isaiah, symbolized by the burning coal placed on his “unclean lips”, God issued the call: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Again notably, Isaiah immediately offered himself without hesitation or qualification: “Here am I; send me.”

God instructed Isaiah to tell “this people” that they would hear and not understand, see and not comprehend, in order to prevent them from turning and being healed. This condition would prevail “until the cities are wasted without inhabitant, houses without a person, the land be desolated, the LORD removed men far away, and a great forsaking was in the midst of the land.”

The people to whom God referred are the nation of Israel, and the closing of the eyes and ears would be until the utter desolation of the land that was coming in the future – which we now recognize as the Roman conquest of Israel in 70 AD, when the nation was devastated, with “no stone left upon another”, and the people scattered world-wide.

In Matthew’s record, Jesus referred to “this people”, whose ears and eyes were stopped, whose heart was made “fat”, so they would not hear or understand so they would turn and be healed, and quoted Isaiah’s prophecy to confirm that Jesus was referring to Israel, represented by the multitudes gathered around Him.

Paul addressed this fact in his letter to the church in Rome, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, both of whom were conflicted concerning the relationship of each group to God and to the gospel. Paul turned his particular attention to the Jews early on in that letter (2:17), later addressing the Gentiles in particular (11:13), because some among each group wrongly perceived that the Jews had a more privileged position before God than the Gentiles in the context of the Gospel, as they had had under the Old Covenant, which was exclusive to the nation of Israel. The entire letter of Romans was written to fully address and dispel this error to the members of both groups, demonstrating that both are equally guilty before God, and equally dependant upon God’s mercy; and that Christ and His death and resurrection are the sole and fully-sufficient remedy for all men, regardless of membership in any ethnic group.

First of all, the content of chapter 11 in its entirety, because we must take note of context in order to understand what is being said:

1   I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

2   God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,

3   ‘Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.’

4   But what saith the answer of God unto him? ‘I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.’

5   Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

6   And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

7   What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded

8   (According as it is written, ‘God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear’) unto this day.

9   And David saith, ‘Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:

10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.’

11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

19 Thou wilt say then, ‘The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.’

20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.

24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.’

28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.

29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:

31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

As we see, this portion of Paul’s letter corresponds to the passages in Mathew and Isaiah cited above. Paul’s words confirm what Jesus told the disciples and what Isaiah prophesied from the LORD: that God dulled the eyes and ears of Israel, who had refused Him through centuries of His divine provision and prophetic word to them, and then rejected His promised Messiah, failing to recognize and receive Him as He was: the Lord of Lords, come to save them from their sin.

God’s relationship and interaction with the nation of Israel was unique; having chosen to raise up a people from faithful Abraham, (Gen 17:3) to give His Word through them (Rom 3:2), to give them a land (Gen 17:8), and to provide through them the Saviour of the world (Gen 12:1-3). While there are lessons we can learn from God’s engagement with Israel, we cannot extend His particular words about them to others who are not part of the nation of Israel. God’s closing of the eyes and ears were of Israel specifically; to apply this prophecy or Jesus’ reference to it, to anyone other than national Israel, is to add to the words of God, which Jesus addressed several times throughout God’s interaction with humanity. [1] 

Nothing in these passages can be construed to refer to anyone other than national Israel, apart from twisting the words or imposing upon the test. We must allow the words of Scripture to say what is written and not embellish or detract from them, in order to know what God wants us to know. God impaired Israel’s ability to understand what Jesus said, through Christ’s use of parables, as Jesus clearly stated to the disciples when they asked Him, and which was reiterated later in in the same chapter:

13:34- All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:

35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

He did not impair the understanding of all hearers, which we see from the responses of the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22-28), and the woman of Samaria and her fellow citizens (John 4:5-42). None of these were Jews, but in the first two cases, Jesus remarked aloud concerning their faith toward Him, and in the latter, John recorded their belief expressly because of His words, which were not couched. (vv 26, 29, 42). God had no reason to close the eyes and ears of the Gentiles; they were the people groups who had originally rejected the living God for idols; they already began in the place of unbelief. Yet the New Testament records that thousands came to believe on Christ at the simple proclamation of His gospel, and in some cases, a gracious and reasoned apologetic to help them overcome their misunderstandings concerning God and His relationship with mankind. (ie: Acts 17)

The human mind is blinded, not by God’s supernatural imposition of the inability to comprehend, but by the wilful refusal to hear. When a person chooses to hear and believe, God gives them what they require: the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for forgiveness of sin, adoption as children of the living God, and everlasting life.


[1] Rev 22:18-19 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book, and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. Deut 4:2  Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Deut 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Prov 30:5-6 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.