“… you did not incline your ear or listen to me.” (Jeremiah 35:15b)
We come upon this imagery frequently in Jeremiah—eight times, more than any other writer in Scripture. The words indicate there are two levels of receiving communication. First, “incline … ear” and, second, “listen.”
The former (“incline … ear”) implies a readiness and willingness and desire to hear from the one speaking. The root of “incline” means to “extend” or “stretch out.” It seems to describe the turning of the ear or the head so the ear can catch the sound of another’s voice. Perhaps we could even picture the cupping of the hand behind the ear in order to gather more of the sound-waves into the ear canal.
The latter (“listen”) implies not simply hearing the sounds, but taking them in intelligently and with understanding and perception … and then responding positively with obedience and submission to what has been heard.
One cannot pull off the latter (“listen”) until he has first performed that former (“incline … ear”). There is a logical order implied: first, the willingness and readiness and anticipation and desire to hear. Second, the intelligent understanding of what is heard issuing in a positive response to that which is heard.
Unless I anticipate that God will speak to me, I will be unlikely to listen for Him or to Him. I must, therefore, believe that God will speak to me when I come to the Bible. He will do so by His Holy Spirit though what He has already spoken in His written Word, taking the definitive Word and making it a personal word as He applies it to my life. I must move myself and my attention to God through the Scripture by reading and studying it with a willingly and desirous heart. Then I must obey what I hear God say there.
Only then will true, full communication have taken place.
Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening! Amen.