John 12:39
Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again,
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(39) Therefore they could not believe, because.—The words refer to those which have gone before, not to those which follow, and then by an addition give the reason more fully. “It was on account of the divine will expressed in Isaiah’s prophecy.” “It was therefore, namely, because Isaiah said again.”

The words, “they could not believe,” must be taken in their plain meaning as expressing impossibility. The Apostle is looking back upon the national rejection of Christ, and seeks a reason for it. He remembers how our Lord Himself had explained His method of teaching by parables, and has based it upon this prophecy of Isaiah (Matthew 13:14). The principle was that which has been repeated in His last public words (John 12:35-36); that power used is increased, and power neglected destroys itself. Here, then, in these prophetic words was the reason they could not believe. Wilful rejection had been followed by rejection which was no longer within the power of the will. With this statement of St. John’s should be compared our Lord’s words on the same subject in John 5:40; John 6:37, Notes, and St. Paul’s arguments in Romans 9-11.

12:37-43 Observe the method of conversion implied here. Sinners are brought to see the reality of Divine things, and to have some knowledge of them. To be converted, and truly turned from sin to Christ, as their Happiness and Portion. God will heal them, will justify and sanctify them; will pardon their sins, which are as bleeding wounds, and mortify their corruptions, which are as lurking diseases. See the power of the world in smothering convictions, from regard to the applause or censure of men. Love of the praise of men, as a by-end in that which is good, will make a man a hypocrite when religion is in fashion, and credit is to be got by it; and love of the praise of men, as a base principle in that which is evil, will make a man an apostate, when religion is in disgrace, and credit is to be lost for it.They could not believe - See Mark 6:5; "He could there do no mighty works," etc. The works can and could are often used in the Bible to denote the existence of such obstacles as to make a result certain, or as affirming that while one thing exists another thing cannot follow. Thus, John 5:44; "How can ye believe which receive honor one of another." That is, while this propensity to seek for honor exists, it will effectually prevent your believing. Thus Genesis 37:4 it is said of the brethren of Joseph that they "could not speak peaceably unto him." That is, while their hatred continued so strong, the other result would follow. See also Matthew 12:34; Romans 8:7; John 6:60; Amos 3:3. In this case it means that there was some obstacle or difficulty that made it certain that while it existed they would not believe. What that was is stated in the next verse; and while that blindness of mind and that hardness of heart existed, it was impossible that they should believe, for the two things were incompatible. But this determines nothing about their power of removing that blindness, or of yielding their heart to the gospel. It simply affirms that while one exists the other cannot follow. Chrysostom and Augustine understand this of a moral inability, and not of any natural want. of power. "They could not, because they would not" (Chrysostom in loco). So on Jeremiah 13:23, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin," etc., he says, "he does not say if is impossible for a wicked man to do well, but, because "they will not, therefore they cannot." Augustine says on this place: "If I be asked why they could not believe, I answer without hesitation, because they would not: because God foresaw their evil will, and he announced it beforehand by the prophet."

Said again - Isaiah 6:9-10.

39-40. Therefore they could not believe, because Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, that they should not see, &c.—That this expresses a positive divine act, by which those who wilfully close their eyes and harden their hearts against the truth are judicially shut up in their unbelief and impenitence, is admitted by all candid critics [as Olshausen], though many of them think it necessary to contend that this is in no way inconsistent with the liberty of the human will, which of course it is not. Some will have, they could not believe, to be the same with, they did not; as, Mark 6:5, it is said Christ could not do mighty works at Nazareth; or the same with, they would not, as Genesis 19:22; but this seemeth a hard interpretation of ouk hdunanto. It is most certain, that in all there is a natural impotency and disability to believe; but this text seemeth to speak of a further degree of impossibility than that, occasioned through their wilful obstinacy, and God’s judicial hardening of them.

Because Esaias said, is no more than, for Esaias said; the particle doth not denote the cause influencing them, but the effect of the prophecy: God’s word (saith the evangelist) must be made good, and Isaiah had prophesied of what now came to pass. Therefore they could not believe,.... God had determined to leave them to the blindness and hardness of their hearts, and to deny them his grace, which only could cure them of it, and enable them to believe: he had foretold this in prophecy, and they were manifestly the persons spoken of; and therefore considering the decrees of God, the predictions of the prophet, and the hardness of their hearts, they were left unto, it was morally impossible they should believe,

because that Esaias said again, in Isaiah 6:9.

Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again,
John 12:39-40. Διὰ τοῦτοὅτι] as always in John (see on John 10:17): therefore, referring to what precedes, on account of this destiny contained in John 12:38namely, because, so that thus with ὅτι the reason is still more minutely set forth. Ebrard foists in an entirely foreign course of thought, because Israel has not willed to believe, therefore has she not been able to believe. Contrary to that Johannean use of διὰ τοῦτοὅτι, Theophylact, Beza, Jansen, Lampe, and several others, including Lücke, Tholuck, Olshausen, Maier, B. Crusius, Luthardt, take διὰ τοῦτο as preparative.

οὐκ ἠδύναντο] not: nolebant (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euth. Zigabenus, Wolf), but—and therewith the enigma of that tragic unbelief is solved—they could not, expressing the impossibility which had its foundation in the divine judgment of obduracy. “Hic subsistit evangelista, quis ultra nitatur?” Bengel. On the relation of this inability, referred back to the determination of God, to moral freedom and responsibility, see on Romans 9-11.

τετύφλωκεν] The passage is Isaiah 6:9-10, departing freely from the original and from the LXX. In the original the prophet is said, at the command of God, to undertake the blinding, etc., that is, the intellectual and moral hardening (“harden the heart,” etc.). Thus what God then will allow to be done is represented by John in his free manner of citation as done by God Himself, to which the recollection of the rendering of the passage given by the LXX. (“the heart has become hardened,” etc.) might easily lead. The subject is thus neither Christ (Grotius, Calovius, and several others, including Lange and Ebrard), nor the devil (Hilgenfeld, Scholten), but, as the reader would understand as a matter of course, and as also the entire context shows (for the necessity in the divine fate is the leading idea), God. Christ first appears as subject in ἰάσομαι.

πεπώρ.] has hardened. See Athenaeus, 12, p. 549 B; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17; Romans 11:7; 2 Corinthians 3:14.

καὶ στραφῶσι] and (not) turn, return to me.

ἰάσομαι] Future, dependent on ἵνα μή. See on Matthew 13:15. The moral corruption is viewed as sickness, which is healed by faith (John 12:37; John 12:39). Comp. Matthew 9:12; 1 Peter 2:24. The healing subject, however, cannot, as in Matthew 8:15, Acts 28:27, be God (so usually), simply because this is the subject of τετύφλωκεν, κ.τ.λ., but it must be Christ; in His mouth, according to the Johannean view of the prophecy from the standpoint of its fulfilment, Isaiah puts not merely the utterance in John 12:38, but also the words τετύφλωκενἰάσομαι αὐτούς, and thus makes Him say: God has blinded the people, etc., that they should not see, etc., and should not turn to Him (Christ), and He (Christ) should heal them. Nonnus aptly says: Ὀφθαλμοὺς ἀλάωσεν ἐμῶν ἐπιμάρτυρας ἔργωνμὴ κραδίῃ νοέωσικαί μοι ὑποστρέψωσι, νοοβλαβέας δὲ σαώσω ἄνδρας ἀλιτραίνοντας ἐμῷ παιήονι μύθῳ. Thus the 1st person ἰάσομαι is not an instance of “negligence” (Tholuck, comp. his A. T. im N. T. p. 3 5 f. ed. 6), but of consistency.John 12:39. Διὰ τοῦτο seems to have a double reference, first to what precedes, second to the ὅτι following, cf. John 8:47.—οὐκ ἠδύναντο, “they were not able,” irrespective of will; their inability arose from the fulfilment in them of Isaiah’s words, John 6:10 (John 12:40), Τετύφλωκεναὐτούς. τετύφλωκεν refers to the blinding of the organ for perceiving spiritual truth, ἐπώρωσεν (from πῶρος, a callus) to the hardening of the sensibility to religious and moral impressions. This process prevented them from seeing the significance of the miracles and understanding with the heart the teaching of Jesus. By abuse of light, nature produces callousness; and what nature does God does.39. Therefore] Or, For this cause (John 12:18; John 12:27); see on John 7:21-22. It refers to what precedes, and the ‘because’ which follows gives the reason more explicitly. This use is common in S. John: comp. John 5:18, John 8:47, John 10:17.

they could not] It had become morally impossible. Grace may be refused so persistently as to destroy the power of accepting it. ‘I will not’ leads to ‘I cannot.’ Pharaoh first hardened his heart and then God hardened it. Comp. Romans 9:6 to Romans 11:32.John 12:39. Διὰ τοῦτο) for this reason; because, namely, this just judgment on them had been foretold. The Evangelist stops short at this point: who may venture [strive to reach] farther? [First, they do not believe, as being refractory; then, they cannot believe. They are mistaken, who suppose what is said to be in the inverse order: they could not believe; therefore they did not believe.—V. g.]Verses 39, 40. - In these verses, however, a deeper difficulty still is involved. The διὰ τοῦτο... ὅτι leave us no option (see John 7:21, 22) but to translate: For from this reason they were unable to believe (see other illustrations of the usage, John 5:18; John 8:47; John 10:17). There was a moral impossibility inherited by them through ages of rebellion and insensibility to Divine grace, and through their misuse of Divine revelation. The issue of it was, "'they could not believe." Because Isaiah said again; i.e. in another place; illustrative of this great Messianic oracle and the reception it would meet with from the nation as a whole. In the passage which follows we have a translation which does not directly correspond with either the Hebrew or the LXX. of Isaiah 6:9, 10. The prophet is bidden by the Lord to punish the people for their obduracy by blinding their eyes and hardening their heart, and even arresting the conversion and healing of the covenant people. This same solemn passage is quoted in four other places in the New Testament. Perhaps Luke 8:10 is hardly to be regarded as a citation; a small portion only of the passage is introduced from the prophet without reference to him, and this is inverted in order. In Matthew 13:14, 15 there is the nearer approach to the LXX., which, however, transforms the שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמוםע, "to hear, hear ye," into ἀκοῇ ἀκούσετε, "by hearing ye shall hear;" and similarly with the other clauses, - the imperative of God's command to the prophet being resolved into the future of most certain accomplishment, and in place of "Lest they understand with their heart, and convert, and he [God] heal them," LXX. reads, "Lest... should convert, and I [who give you the command to deliver such a message, notwithstanding its results upon them] heal them." This St. Matthew has followed. Mark 4:12 has given a different representation again, and, while omitting a considerable portion of the passage, passes to the climax, which is put thus: "Lest they should be converted, and their sin should be forgiven them," showing that the evangelist, looking to the Hebrew rather than to the LXX., has resolved its meaning into a clearly related paraphrase. In Acts 28:26, 27 the passage almost verbally follows the LXX. Here in the remarks of St. John the whole passage seems independent of the LXX., and to have resolved the Hebrew "imperative," addressed to the prophet, into an awful assurance of Divine agency in the matter. Instead of "shut their eyes," Hebrew imperative, or LXX. "their eyes they closed," ἐκάμμυσαν, LXX., he says, τετύφλωκεν, He hath blinded their eyes; and so with the other terms: He hardened their heart; in order that they should not (lest they should) see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and should turn, and I should heal them. In ἰάσωμαι the evangelist, returning to the first person, draws a distinction between the retributive activity of the pre-existent Christ of the earlier revelation and the historical Savior. There is no slip or negligence. Godet and Hengstenberg go a long way in making God the Author of the sin and rejection, and the cause of the impossibility of their repentance and healing. That which in all the several quotations of this passage we learn from Isaiah's oracle is that the unforced and willful rejection of the Divine Word is visited by condign withdrawment of the faculty to receive even more accessible and apprehensible truth. This is the great law of Divine operation in the nature of all moral beings. This law is described as a distinctly foreseen event, and by LXX. as an apprehensible and even conspicuous fact, and it is quoted by St. John as the direct consequence of the Divine activity. He does not mean to say that, because Isaiah foretold this as a Divine reprobation, they, whether they would or not as individuals, were fated to die the death of blindness, but they could not believe, because, on the principle involved in Isaiah's predictions, the Divine government had fulfilled itself, had acted upon its universal law, and in consequence of vows and acts of willful disobedience, they had thus fallen into the curse that belongs to a neglect of the Divine. "They could not believe." Thus even now disinclination to God and to righteousness leads to moral incapacity. Sin is punished by its natural consequences: unbelief is punished by unsusceptibility to clearest evidence; prejudice by blindness; rejection of Divine love by inability to see it at its best. How is this natural evolution brought about? Surely by laws of God. What are these laws but God's ways of acting with all moral agents whatever?
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