Ears of Obedience
In our anxiety to guard the deity of Christ, there is a very great danger of going to the opposite extreme and losing sight of His perfect manhood. He was and is God, but everything He did, He did as a dependant man. He had no will of His own, but the will of His Father, and He did not act in His own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we miss this, and simply see Him as God come down to the world of men, then we shall lose something of the wonder of the incarnation, and the attractive beauty of the Son of God—the One who “learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5: 8).
Turn first of all to Psalm 40. We read there of Christ that “Sacrifice and oblation thou didst not desire: ears hast thou prepared me” (literally, digged, or hollowed out). “Burnt–offering and sin–offering hast thou not demanded; Then said I, Behold, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me—To do thy good pleasure, my God, is my delight, and thy law is within my heart” (vs 6–8). It is sobering to think of how the Lord became a servant and took on “a bondman’s form” (Phil. 2: 7). Many can rightly conceive of Him as a king, as a ruler, and as God—but not as a man before God who came to serve. Yet “the Son of man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister” (Mark 10: 45), and as He Himself said to the disciples: “I am in the midst of you as the one that serves” (Luke 22: 27).
Now what do you understand by the ‘digging’ of the ears? It is very simple. Suppose I go and dig a pit—there is no pit there till I dig it. So Christ had no ears till they were hollowed out—He had never been a listener before! He had created, commanded, governed, and legislated, but He had not listened in order to obey. There is a beautiful interpretation of this Hebrew figure of speech in Heb. 10, which makes the meaning of it quite clear: “Wherefore coming into the world he says, Sacrifice and offering thou willedst not; but thou hast prepared me a body” (v5). You will have observed that the writer does not quote the passage exactly as it is written in the Psalm. Some have been troubled about this, and unbelievers have been quick to point out the discrepancy, but, there is no mistake. About 200 years before the birth of Christ, the OT Scriptures were translated into Greek, and when the translators came to Psalm 40, they evidently inquired what was meant by ‘digging’ the ears. They were given to understand that the One spoken of there had never had ears, had never had a body before, but was yet to assume one, and so they rendered the verse very freely, and said, “thou hast prepared me a body”. That their understanding was correct is proven by the fact that the Spirit of God led the writer of Hebrews to quote from the Greek, rather than the Hebrew, so that we might understand that the Christ now had a body, and was a listener.
So what is the value of the ear? It does not see, act, or think, it only receives communications from without. What does He say to His God? “Lo, I come to do thy will” (Heb. 10: 9), and to do that will in the body that had been prepared Him. He came to do what no one had fully ever done before—to listen to the instructions of God, and to do His will.
Take another Scripture, Isaiah 50, a further step on in the blessed history of the perfect servant: “The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of the instructed, that I should know how to succour by a word him that is weary. He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed” (v4). Elsewhere, we are told that the throne of God was His (see Heb. 1: 8), but here in Isaiah 50 He comes before us as a dependent man. It is the same thing as in Psalm 40—one who listens. If the Psalm presents the ears as being dug at His incarnation, then Isaiah gives us these same ears as listening throughout his subsequent life down here. No one but God ever wakened the Lord Jesus (except the disciples once, and when they ought not to have done so—see Mark 4: 38). The Father’s well–known voice wakened Him, and He received His daily directions. Remarkably, (considering who He was), He was a man of prayer, frequently spending the whole night in supplication to His Father (see, for example, Luke 6: 12). The popular view that the Lord acted here as God is not really right. He had no will of His own, but instead acted as a Man for God. He “emptied himself” (Phil. 2: 7), and took on a “bondman’s form”. As such he could not move one step without a word from His Father (see John 5: 19, 30; 14: 10).
Furthermore, the Lord got early communications from God of what His pathway would entail, and when He knew all, He did not turn back, even when in extremity (see Luke 22: 42). This perfect subjection in a path of unspeakable trial is revealed to us in verses 5–7 of Isaiah 50: “The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not away back. I gave my back to smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. But the Lord Jehovah will help me: therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed”.
If the history of our souls were honestly told out, most of the difficulties and distresses that we pass through are the anticipation of sorrows that never even come upon us. The Lord Jesus saw the whole way, and He went straight on. How often we have been rebellious, and turned back from what we saw looming in the distance? It is so unlike what we find with the Lord. Again, when we have sought to serve Him, how many times have we been humbled because we could not follow it through? Perhaps we have come into contact with people—saints or sinners—and sought to help them, and then found that we could not minister to them spiritually at all. Why? It was because we were not near enough to the Lord. Why could the Lord Jesus always help souls? Simply because He was always near His Father, so that the words He spoke came from the Father. In all the history of Christ, perfect, absolute dependence marked Him. He always had a “word in season” (see Is. 50: 4, AV)—the right word for every soul He met—and God was always glorified when Christ spoke, because He spoke what He had heard from the Father.
We see the Lord’s perfect dependence, and waiting on God for guidance when Martha and Mary begged Him to come to their dying brother, feeling sure that the words “he whom thou lovest is sick” (John 11: 3) would bring Him at once. But the Lord did not do that. Love always does the best for its object and in this instance it was to remain “two days then in the place where he was” (v6). The disciples did not understand it when He did go: “Then after this he says to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. The disciples say to him, Rabbi, [even but] now the Jews sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walk in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world; but if any one walk in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (vs 7–10). What do these verses mean? Christ saw the light, and He walked in it. Supposing He had gone off two days before, He would not have been walking in the light, but in the night, because He had not the word for it. That, of course, would be an impossibility with Him! When He went (see vs 11–16), He had the word, He walked in the light, and never stumbled. How I covet this for my own heart, and for all saints—this nearness to the Lord—that we may be walking so close to Him, that we know what to do and when to do it! What was brought out through Christ staying in the same place for those two days? God was glorified (see v40). The Lord was the perfect servant, and never moved without the word for it. What is the use of a servant running round the house all day long? His duty is to wait until the bell rings, then to listen to what his master wants, and then to do it. It was always so with the Lord Jesus. He was the Perfect Servant.
Now turn to Exodus 21: “But if the bondman shall say distinctly, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free” then “his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall be his bondman for ever” (vs. 5, 6). I have no doubt that the death of Christ is brought out here, the culmination, we might say, of a life of listening. The Hebrew servant loved His Master—speaking of Christ’s affection to God—He loved His wife—those in corporate relationship with Himself—and He loved His children, and He would not go out free. Put simply, Christ loved His own. It is very blessed to know this, because it forms the soul, and attaches the heart to the Lord. Responsive affection to Him is of the greatest importance. You may be a first–rate theologian but without this affection, you will be a very poor Christian. You may be as clear as a great big block of ice—and as cold. Intelligence is made a great deal of nowadays, but in reality we are apt to think we know a great deal more than we do, and to give each other credit for knowing a great deal more than is just. Then, when troubles come upon us, or questions of doctrine, we are surprised at how easily saints are affected. Love is the great preservative. What we see here is the Lord’s ear bored through with an awl—a figure of Christ’s death. As it says elsewhere, He was “obedient even unto death” (Phil. 2: 8) and “having loved his own who were in the world”, He “loved them to the end” (John 13: 1). Though “on an equality with God” (Phil. 2: 6), the Lord Jesus moved here as a listener, without a will of His own, and thus glorified God with every word that He spoke and every step that He took—even the step into death itself.
Thus in connection with the ear, that life of listening, we have Ps. 40 giving us His birth—“ears hast thou prepared me” (v6)—Is. 50 His life—“he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed” (v4) —and Ex. 21 His death—“his master shall bore his ear through with an awl” (v 6). How the heart is bowed when we contemplate these things! Brethren, let us not cease being jealous of the deity of Christ (see Heb. 1: 8), but let us be equally jealous of his perfect manhood! It was the One who had never known obedience that learned obedience!