We recently looked at reflections on substitutionary atonement in (what many would see as) an unlikely place: the book of Proverbs. Does Solomon also say something about sovereign grace?
For brevity's sake, I'll focus on one specific verse: Proverbs 20:12 —
The hearing ear, and the seeing eye,At first glance, the point of the proverb seems plain: Yahweh created the faculties of sight and hearing. The flows from the doctrine of creation, stressed often in the Canon as a whole, and in Proverbs in particular (cf. 3:19-20; 8:22-31, etc.).
Jehovah [Yahweh] hath made even both of them (ASV)
But we remind ourselves that biblical proverbs are not meant to be skimmed, scanned, glanced at in passing. They are designed to be singled out, ruminated over, meditated upon. Does this proverb say more than the obvious?
The obvious is almost too obvious, to the point of being banal and insipid — and Proverbs is neither. So at the least, perhaps Solomon is saying that these faculties are creations of Yahweh, to be taken seriously and used in a way that pleases Him. Or he could be saying that, if we have these faculties, certainly Yahweh has them to a vastly greater degree, and hears and sees us. Both of these are Biblical thoughts (cf. Luke 12:48 and Psalm 94:8-11, respectively).
But I think Solomon's word-usage in Proverbs points us in a different direction.
"Hearing ear." For instance, the word translated "hearing" is from the verb šāma`. You know if from the "Shema": "Hear, O Israel..." (Deuteronomy 6:4). It does mean to hear. It also is the verb usually translated obey. šāma` commonly means not only to hear, not only to listen, but also to respond obediently, as in the phrase "to hear is to obey." Every parent (and pastor) knows that not all hearing is listening, and not all listening is obedience: but this word regularly takes in all three dimensions.
See this for yourself in its uses in Proverbs 1:5, 8, 33; 4:1, 10; 5:13; 8:33-34; 12:15; 13:1; 15:31-32; 19:27; 28:9. This list is not exhaustive, but you will readily observe that mere physical hearing does not satisfy the meaning of any of these verses.
Similarly the ear in Proverbs is meant to be employed not merely in hearing the birdies sing nor the brooks babble. The ear is to be used in accepting and accumulating God's wisdom, as you readily see in Proverbs 2:22; 4:20; 5:1, 13; 15:31; 18:15; 22;17; 23:12; 25:12; 28:9.
So both of the first two Hebrew words point strongly beyond a surface reading. What of the next two?
"Seeing eye." Similarly, the "eye" has many uses in Proverbs, but is also used of the organ of perception and evaluation. The "eye" is spoken of in warning (3:7; 5:21; 12:15; 16:2) and encouragement (3:4; 4:21, 25). We should use our eyes to perceive and learn wisdom (23:26). And the common verb "to see" (rā'â) is used of looking and learning, of picking up wisdom through the eye-gate (6:6; 7:7; 22:3; 24:32; 27:12).
Could Solomon have meant more? I've shown that Solomon's own usage heavily weights the case for thinking he means more than the mere physical powers of seeing and hearing. In fact, I'd say that if that's all he meant, this is actually an unusual use of the words, for Solomon.
But even more persuasive are some earlier Canonical uses he surely would have known: Deuteronomy 29:4 — “But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” Here are all the elements of Proverbs 20:12. Clearly, Moses is not speaking of the mere physical ability to receive and decipher light and sound waves. He's talking about responding to the revelation of God receptively, understandingly, believingly, and obediently.
Another verse may or may not have a bearing, depending on the date of Psalm 119. Verse 18 voices the prayer, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." The writer is not asking for physical eyesight. He sees just fine. He is praying that he'll have the spiritual insight to perceive and receive what is already there in Yahweh's word — the ability, in other words to see what he sees.
Putting this all together, I might suggest this interpretive paraphrase of Proverbs 20:12 —
The ear that hears, listens and obeys;And thus I concur with Derek Kidner's characteristically pithy observation:
speand the eye that perceives God's truth —
Are not even both of them direct acts of spcYahweh?
“Hearing is the Heb. term for ‘obedient’ (so translated in 25:12; cf. 15:31; I Sa. 15:22). It can also, like ‘seeing,’ express understanding: cf. Isaiah 6:9, 10. The proverb makes a constructive companion to verse 9, pointing with it towards Ephesians 2:8-10” (Proverbs, p. 138)The doctrine of sovereign grace is called Reformed, or Calvinistic. But Calvin and the Reformers got it from the Bible — all of it.