“The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both (Proverbs 20:12; ESV).”
The proverb is a simple axiom, but one well worth remembering as it has several consequential ramifications of practical importance.
It is first a reminder of the wisdom and goodness of God. Both the eye and the ear are masterpieces of engineering, and, when they are functioning properly, are tremendously useful in almost every facet of life. They allow us to observe the world around us, they enable us to more fully experience and enjoy the companionship of our fellow creatures, and they provide myriad opportunities for the sheer enjoyment of God’s creation.
It is possible for an individual to make their way through life without either sight or hearing, for they are not the only senses which God has graced us, but they are of such central importance that they rightfully serve as a synecdoche (a part representing the whole) for all the myriad abilities and faculties God has blessed men with, the entirety of which must compel us to declare with the inspired Psalmist of old, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).”
Yet it is not just the eye and the ear which the Proverb addresses, but most specifically the hearing ear, and the seeing eye. The twin ideas of hearing and seeing are closely linked in the Scriptures to the concepts of learning and understanding, both hallmarks of life and intelligence.
Idols are ridiculed because, though the artist may have equipped them with artistic representations of ears or eyes, they can neither hear nor see (cf. Deuteronomy 4:8; etc). God on the other hand, can both hear and see all that transpire. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13; ESV).”
The prophet Isaiah was told by God as part of his commission to preach: “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. (Isaiah 6:9-10; ESV)” Jesus, referencing Isaiah’s words, said concerning His own use of parables as a teaching tool: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand (Matthew 13:13; ESV).”
Plenty of people possessing eyes and ears don’t use them to learn what God has been trying to teach them. It’s not because their ears don’t work, but rather because they choose to ignore the things that God has actually said to them, and they fail to acknowledge that which God has shown them. Which is a shame, because the best thing that we can do with what God has given us is use them in the manner God intended us to use them. Anything else is a waste of God given talent and ability. Even worse is when we use what God has created to do those things which are contrary to the righteous will of God.
There is a children’s song which advises our youngsters, “be careful little eyes what you see,” and “be careful little ears what you hear.” Not everything we fill our minds with is beneficial or good. There are things we should not be doing with our ears and eyes for they are contrary to God’s desires for us. Thus did righteous Job declare, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high? (Job 31:1-2; ESV)” Job knew it would be displeasing to God if he used the gifts God had given him to lust wantonly; therefore he practiced self-control so as to be the man God created him to be. To use the eyes for lust, to use the ears only to “hear” and listen to that which fills the heart with ungodly passions and desires and thoughts – such behavior shows a lack of gratitude and appreciation to the One who made us.
God made the seeing eye and the hearing ear and it is only fitting that we acknowledge His gifts by using them in a way which brings glory and honor to the giver.
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.