In medicine we have a general term to describe the situation where a person cannot properly absorb nutrients from their food. We call it a "malabsorption syndrome." There are many types of this disorder. For example, one specific type of malabsorption syndrome occurs when a person lacks a protein, known as 'intrinsic factor', needed to absorb vitamin B12. This is known as pernicious anemia. It used to be fatal, but today it is easily treated with B12 injections or supplementation.
The Bible speaks about a sort of spiritual malabsorption syndrome too. Jeremiah the prophet warned the people of God who "have ears but do not hear (Jeremiah 5:21)." Jesus spoke to His disciples who failed to grasp the significance of His miracles and said "Do you not yet perceive nor understand...having eyes, do you not see? And having ears do you not hear (Mark 8:17-18)?"
The letter to the Hebrews offers a very sobering statement along the same lines as the texts quoted above. In speaking about the Israelites who failed to trust in the Lord's power to save them, and died in unbelief, we are told:
"the Word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (Hebrews 4:2)."
While it is always true that the unbeliever does not savingly profit from the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:14), it is also true that the believer can go through periods of spiritual malabsorption as well. Christians may read the Bible without profit. Christians can listen to sermons and not grow. Our ears can grow dull. Our hearts grow hard.
How many times might the phrase "the Word which they heard did not profit them" rightly be applied to the Christian? Devotions that were lifeless. A Sunday school class that was ignored. A good book that was read without any benefit at all. A sermon that never strengthened the soul.
Why don't we profit from the Word?
This is a practical question and should be of concern to every Christian. Not profiting from the Word is a serious condition. There is no supplement that can substitute for Scripture.
Sometimes we don't profit from the Word because we avoid it. We skip church. We neglect Bible reading. We don't attend opportunities where the Word of God is being opened or taught. or discussed. Thus we do not profit. When a Christian, not otherwise hindered by Providence, fails to regularly attend upon opportunities to be in the Word, it should be no wonder that we do not profit by it.
But often I think we fail to profit from the Word simply because we allow ourselves too little time with it. We don't prepare for it. We rush through it. We forget it. No wonder that we do not profit from the Word. Profiting from the Word takes work. There is praying work that must be done. There is an enemy to the growth of our soul that needs to be battled with. There are many distractions that press hard on our time and to which we must work to say "no."
We should take the warning to heart. "The Word which they heard did not profit them."
But we should also take the warning to the Lord. Christ can awaken the dull heart. The Spirit can quicken the cloudy mind. The Psalmist often calls upon God to revive him ("revive me according to your justice....revive me according to your Word...revive me according to your judgments...revive me, O Lord, according to your loving kindness (Psalm 119:149-160)."