Have Ye Not Read?

By Hoyt H. Houchen

Question: Can you please explain Matthew 12:43-45?

Reply: Jesus was speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in the verses under consideration. These verses will be easier understood when we consider the context; but first, let us read them. “But the unclean spirit, when he is gone out of the man, passeth through waterless places, seeking rest, and findeth it not. Then he saith, I will return into my house whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man becometh worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this evil generation.”

While Jesus was upon earth, there were evil spirits which took possession of men’s hearts. There were occasions when Jesus cast them out (see Matt. 4:24; Mk. 1:34; etc.). The Pharisees accepted the fact that Jesus did this; but they claimed that He did it, not by the power of God but by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of the demons. Jesus refuted their claim by reasoning that if he were casting out demons by the prince of demons, then Satan’s kingdom would be divided against itself and brought to desolation. It could not stand. This was an obvious fact.

Jesus described the unclean spirit going out of the man and not finding rest, returning to the house to find it empty. He then took with himself seven other spirits, more evil than himself, to enter the empty house and dwell in it. When evil spirits were cast out, they inhabited dry places. The Jews, Arabs, Egyptians and others believed that deserts were the haunts of evil spirits.

Our Lord clearly applied the empty house occupied by evil spirits to that present generation. He had denounced that generation by declaring that the men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with it and condemn it, because they had repented at the preaching of Jonah (v. 41). Also, the queen of the south would rise up in the judgment and condemn it (v. 42). Then He related the incident of the restless unclean spirit and his return with seven other spirits more evil, who dwelt in the empty house (w. 43-45). He concluded the narrative with the words: Even so shall it be also unto this evil generation.

The meaning of verses 43-45 is clear. Israel had rejected the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus. Their hearts were represented by the empty house. They had not replaced their hearts with good – they were empty. Because of their failure to acknowledge and accept Christ, their hearts were represented as being occupied with evil spirits worse than the first. Having learned the truth, they were in worse condition.

Emptiness is an evil, and as it was the problem of Israel during the time that Jesus was on earth, so it is today. Many have hearts which are empty because they have not accepted the gospel of their salvation, and having not filled their hearts with good are now worse off than when they first heard the truth. Many allow their lives to remain empty.

Brethren are often guilty of the evil of emptiness. They suppose they are growing wings because there are so many things that they do not do. They dote on the fact that they are doing no harm; but when those things are added up that they are not doing, their service to God and others is a total blank. A string of zeros total up to zero. We are not only to be good but we must also do good.

The evil of emptiness is emphasized over and over in the Bible. Jesus cursed the fig tree because it was barren, nothing being found on it but leaves (Matt. 21:19). It represented Israel which had produced no fruit. John the Baptist declared that every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire (Matt. 3: 10). The man who received the one talent (Matt. 25) was given a scathing rebuke upon the return of his master (vv. 26-30), not because he wasted the talent in riotous living, not because he used it to pervert justice, not because he had used it for gambling, not because he lost it, but because he buried it; he simply did not use it.

The only cure for the empty head is fullness. Error must be replaced by the truth. Lives must be filled and made complete by faithful obedience and service to God. The story Jesus related does have an application to us today.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 7: p. 197
April 4, 1985