The Sermon on the Mount
“Ask” “Seek” and “Knock”
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8)
The Bible contains many exhortations regarding prayer, along with numerous prayer promises, like the foregoing words of our Lord found in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, this exhortation to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” formed the foundation of the Lord’s teaching regarding prayer to His disciples, and He repeated it a number of times, along with specific promises about answers to prayer. (See, for example, Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:1-13; John 14:13-14) These exhortations are wonderful to read and the promises associated with them are exceedingly precious. However, if we are honest in our handling of God’s word, we must “rightly divide the word of truth” and recognize that these particular exhortations and promises found in the Gospel accounts pertain to God’s program and dealings with Israel, and not to us today. They are Israel’s prayer promises and not ones that God has given to us in this dispensation. This ought to be clear to us seeing that this present dispensation of God’s grace was not even revealed and brought in by God until He raised up Paul to be His brand new apostle, as historically recorded in Acts 9. (Cf. Eph. 3:1-12) Hence, our Lord’s earthly ministry was to Israel and His teachings (including those on prayer) pertained to His program with them, being, as He was, “a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” (Rom. 15:8)
Unfortunately, often times today God’s word is not properly handled and Christians are taught to pray on the basis of the Lord’s exhortation to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” and to claim the other prayer promises of the Gospels. This not only leads to confusion and heartache when sincere Christians “ask” but don’t receive, it also opens the door for Satan’s policy of evil to produce numerous “winds of doctrine” concerning prayer. These range from teachings on ‘the keys to productive prayer,’ to ‘name it and claim it’ success formulas for prayer, to theological excuses for unanswered prayer, to learning how to be a ‘prayer warrior’ who can storm the throne of God and get through to God when others can’t. On top of all of this, however, is the violence that is done to the Lord’s words in the Gospels, so that their significance in Israel’s program is obscured.
In actuality, when the Lord exhorted His disciples to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” He was exhorting them to do something that they had the unique privilege of doing as the remnant of Israel. He was exhorting them to take a hold of a privilege that they then possessed, which the rest of Israel did not.
GOD CLOSES HIS EARS
Under the terms of the Law covenant that Israel had entered into with God, the nation’s disobedience merited cursing from God. That cursing would take many forms and it would be doled out in increasingly intensifying courses, until it came to the point when God would “walk contrary unto (them) in fury” and His ‘soul would abhor them.’ (See Lev. 26:14ff) When the horror of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities took place, God began to administer the final course of curses to Israel, and they began to experience what it was like for God to walk contrary unto them. One of the grievous things Israel began to suffer at that time was the refusal of God to respond to them. As part of the final course of curses God declared to Israel that He would not listen to their prayers and He would not take notice of their attempts to appease Him.
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
AND WHEN YE SPREAD FORTH YOUR HANDS, I WILL HIDE MINE EYES FROM YOU: YEA, WHEN YE MAKE MANY PRAYERS, I WILL NOT HEAR: your hands are full of blood.” (Isa. 1:11-15)
God closed His ears to Israel’s prayers and hid His eyes from seeing them, as part of their chastisement in the final course of curses under the Law. The reality of this was underscored to them repeatedly by the prophets God raised up at this time.
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
BUT YOUR INIQUITIES HAVE SEPARATED BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR GOD, AND YOUR SINS HAVE HID HIS FACE FROM YOU, THAT HE WILL NOT HEAR.” (Isa. 59:1-2)
“Thus saith the LORD unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, THEREFORE THE LORD DOTH NOT ACCEPT THEM; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins.
Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good.
WHEN THEY FAST, I WILL NOT HEAR THEIR CRY; AND WHEN THEY OFFER BURNT OFFERING AND AN OBLATION, I WILL NOT ACCEPT THEM:…” (Jer. 14:10-12a)
“Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: AND THOUGH THEY CRY IN MINE EARS WITH A LOUD VOICE, YET WILL I NOT HEAR THEM.” (Ezk. 8:18)
God’s closed ears was not something that Israel experienced only at the beginning of the final course of curses, but it would be the case throughout its duration. Until the final course of the curses ended with “the day of the LORD” and God’s fury was at its zenith, He would not hear them. On the whole, Israel would experience this very grievous aspect of the Law’s curses throughout the duration of the final course of chastisement.
THE REMNANT’S PRIVILEGE
Though God’s ears would be closed to the prayers of His nation on the whole, they would be open to the prayers of a particular element within the nation — i.e. the believing remnant. This was described by the prophets as especially being true for the remnant that would be called out in the ‘days of the Messiah’ and would be going through “the day of the LORD.”
“And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.
For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: HE WILL BE VERY GRACIOUS UNTO THEE AT THE VOICE OF THY CRY; WHEN HE SHALL HEAR IT, HE WILL ANSWER THEE.
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isa. 30:18-21)
Likewise Jeremiah declared regarding the believing remnant,…
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end.
THEN SHALL YE CALL UPON ME, AND YE SHALL GO AND PRAY UNTO ME, AND I WILL HEARKEN UNTO YOU.
AND YE SHALL SEEK ME, AND FIND ME, WHEN YE SHALL SEARCH FOR ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART.” (Jer. 29:11-13)
Israel’s “expected end” was “at hand” when the Lord was in Israel preaching “the gospel of the kingdom.” God’s “thoughts of peace” were being heralded to the nation in that gospel. Upon believing that gospel an Israelite became part of the remnant of Israel, and as such became a beneficiary of God’s promise to His remnant in Isaiah 30 and Jeremiah 29. In contrast to the rest of Israel, God’s ears would now be open unto the remnant’s prayers. When they prayed, He would hearken unto them. When they sought Him, they would find Him. The rest of the nation would still experience God’s closed ears and hidden face, but not so the remnant.
It is this believing remnant of Israel that the Lord is addressing and dealing with in the Sermon on the Mount. As ones who were partakers of God’s promise to His remnant, when the Lord told them to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” He exhorted them to take a hold of the privilege that was theirs as the remnant, being assured that God would hear their prayers, would not hide Himself from them, and would open doors of refuge for them. They, therefore, would be able to ask in fulfillment of Psalm 55:1,…
“Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication.” (Psalm 55:1)
In like manner would they be able to seek the Lord and find Him, as in Psalm 27 and Psalm 70. They would also be able to knock upon doors of refuge in the “day of the LORD” and God will open them unto them, as also described in Psalm 27, Psalm 50, and other places.
The privilege of being able to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” knowing that God’s eyes were watching over them and His ears were open unto their prayers, was clearly something the remnant of Israel needed to understand and appreciate. As the “gospel of the kingdom” proclaimed to them, the “day of the LORD” was right around the corner when they would go through the time of great tribulation and adversity. During that time they would be ‘asking,’ ‘seeking,’ and ‘knocking’ in desperate need of God’s help. By what the Lord declared unto them in the Sermon on the Mount, and later built upon with more specific prayer promises, the remnant was assured of their privilege position before God and prepared to go through the “day of the LORD” with confidence that they would not be forsaken of God. With this being the case, Peter reminded the remnant of their privileged position before God, when he wrote to them and said,…
“For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (I Peter 3:12)
– K.R. Blades