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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 29

Verse 1

There are five paragraphs in this chapter: (1) Jerusalem is warned of the siege by Sennacherib (Isaiah 29:1-4). (2) A divine promise of relief (Isaiah 29:5-8). (3) Prophecy of the hardening, or blinding, of Israel (Isaiah 29:9-12). (4) Israel's warnings repeated (Isaiah 29:13-16). (5) Israel's promises renewed (Isaiah 29:17-24).

Isaiah 29:1-4

"Ho, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped! add ye year to year; let the feasts come round: then will I distress Ariel, and there shall be mourning and lamentation; and she shall be unto me as Ariel. And I will encamp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with posted troops, and I will lay siege works against thee. And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust; and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust."

Cheyne and other scholars have concluded that there is a firm promise here by the prophet that Ariel shall be besieged "within one year"; but in fairness, it must be admitted that such a promise is simply not in the passage. "Adding year to year and letting the feasts come round" point to successive actions and not to the limitation of a single year. We learn in Isaiah 32:9ff that the time was "slightly longer than a year"; and, in that passage, "Isaiah implies that his hearers did not well understand his language."[1] Indeed, they did not; and commentators are still misunderstanding it, as did Peake: "Within a year, Ariel, that is, Jerusalem will be destroyed and will be an altar-hearth indeed, flowing with the blood of human victims."[2] Absolutely nothing that justifies such statements is in the text.

Of course, Ariel does indeed mean Jerusalem. The scholars are practically unanimous on this. It is one of those mystical and symbolical names that one often finds in the writings of this great prophet. The actual meaning of the word is disputed. As Dummelow expressed it:

"`Ariel' is a symbolic name for Jerusalem, meaning either: (1) lion of God, hero (2 Samuel 23:20), the lion being the symbol of Judah; or (2) altar-hearth of God."[3]

Either meaning is acceptable, but we prefer the second meaning; because Isaiah wrote that, "His (God's) fire is in Zion, and his furnace is in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 31:9). Naturally, wherever the fire is, there is also the altar. There the sacrifices were offered, the feasts were held, and there the Day of Atonement was celebrated, etc. Most significantly of all, it was there that the Great Sacrifice, that of Christ himself upon the cross, was offered. "In the light of all this, `hearth of God' (or altar-hearth) seems to be the better understanding."[4] James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible (1929) renders it, "God's own hearth and altar."

The date of the crisis mentioned here "evidently belongs to the very eve of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah in 701 B.C."[5]

Beginning in Isaiah 29:5, the prophet promised relief from "the siege"; but, as Kidner noted, "The gathering of the nations (See Zechariah 14:1) and the spectacular signs of Isaiah 29:6-8 suggest a still greater struggle."[6]

"Thou shalt be brought down ..." (Isaiah 29:4). This is not a reference to the fall and depopulation of Jerusalem, but rather, it means, "Jerusalem was to be brought to abject humiliation and extremity of supplication."[7]

The fulfillment of this came in Sennacherib's insulting taunts of Hezekiah when his siege began, even offering Hezekiah two thousand horsemen, provided that Hezekiah would supply two thousand men who could ride them! (2 Kings 18:23). All of these Assyrian taunts were heard by the citizens and not by the king only. The humiliation must indeed have been acute.

Verse 5

"But the multitude of thy foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be in an instant suddenly. She shall be visited of Jehovah of hosts, with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even the multitude of all that fight against her and her stronghold, and that distress her, shall be as a dream, a vision of the night. And it shall be as when a hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall all the nations be that fight against Zion."

In Isaiah 29:7,8, the words Ariel and Zion are used interchangeably, making it certain that Ariel and Zion (or Jerusalem) have the same meaning. As already noted, the mention of many nations fighting against Jerusalem is a sure indication that even the lifting of the siege of Sennacherib will by no means end the troubles of God's people.

"It shall be in an instant suddenly ..." (Isaiah 29:5). This is a repetition of the promise already given in Isaiah 17:14. "At eventide, behold, terror, and before morning they are not." Of course, that is exactly the way it happened!

Isaiah 29:8 is a description of the attitude of the cruel invader, already believing that victory belongs to him, and eagerly anticipating his triumph; but he suddenly wakes up to bitter hunger and disappointment. There have also been, and there will continue to be, many other occasions, "When the world has prematurely licked its chops over the demise of the Church."[8] The Marxist revolution in Russia, the French Revolution, and the regime of Adolph Hitler . were most certainly such occasions. But today, where is "The God of Reason," or those new names of the months which were supposed to mark the New Era?

The fulfillment of this prophetic promise of the abrupt end of Sennacherib's siege was described by Gleason:

Sennacherib was just returning from a great victory in which he defeated the Egyptians at Eltekeh; it was upon his return that he laid siege to Jerusalem; and there God destroyed 185,000 of his troops on a single night![9]

Verse 9


"Tarry ye and wonder; take your pleasure and be blind: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For Jehovah hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes, the prophets; and your heads, the seers, he hath covered. And all vision has become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I cannot for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to one that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I am not learned."

These verses are parallel to Isaiah 6:9,10, the passage so frequently quoted in the New Testament, being another reference to the source of Israel's perverse and rebellious behavior. God had judicially hardened the nation. This condition is here spoken of as "a deep sleep," an intellectual and spiritual "drunkenness," but not of wine or strong drink, and as "blindness." Widespread ignorance and misunderstanding prevail with regard to this condition.

Who causes it? There are no less than three centers of responsibility for the development of this condition. These are: (a) men themselves; (b) Satan; and (c) God.

A. Initially, it is the hatred of God's Word in human hearts that results in hardening. Yes, God hardened Pharaoh's heart; but the Bible did not mention this at all until it had been recorded no less than ten times, that, "Pharaoh hardened his heart."

Paul mentioned the judicial hardening of the whole pre-Christian Gentile world as caused by the people themselves, citing a number of reasons.

(1) They knew God, but because they did not glorify him, nor give thanks (Romans 1:21), their senseless heart was darkened, and they became fools. (2) They perverted and corrupted their knowledge of God (Romans 1:22-23), and ... God gave them up to lusts and uncleanness (Romans 1:24). (3) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served themselves, rather than God (Romans 1:25); ... and for this cause God gave them up unto vile passions (Romans 1:26). (4) They refused to have God in their knowledge; and, for this cause, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind. Thus, there cannot be any doubt that judicial hardening occurs only when the human will itself has deliberately rejected the knowledge of God and has fully determined to follow a course of rebellion against God. Kidner's comment on the passage here notes that, "The reflexive verbs in Isaiah 29:9 suggest that the hardening is judicial; self-will has brought its own punishment.[10]

People are still being hardened today, exactly as they were in ancient times, and for exactly the same reason. Why? The best answer was given by Paul:

"They received not the love of the truth that they might be saved; and for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, KJV).

We chose the KJV in this passage because "strong delusion" in our version has been watered down to "working of error," which is unintelligible.

B. Satan also has a hand in this phenomenon. "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them" (2 Corinthians 4:3,4). Of course, Satan is able to blind only those persons whose hearts have already been given to evil. In this action, Satan is an instrument of God.

C. God Himself blinds, hardens, darkens, gives men up to reprobacy, sends a strong delusion etc. This never means that God actually causes men to sin. It means that all heavenly restraint is finally removed from evil men whose course of life against God is already set. It is certain that the actual intelligence of men is severely and negatively affected by judicial hardening. Unless this is true, no one could ever explain how Pharaoh could have been induced to lead his men into the Red Sea! Right here is the explanation of why so many individuals who are honored by high office or distinguished achievements are actually morons with reference to understanding the Bible. No one knows how many there are who have already suffered the removal of the very "bud" of their central intelligence through this thing called judicial hardening. It is actually impossible to understand the Bible apart from Jesus Christ; and that is not merely a personal opinion; it is so stated in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.

For some who may be interested in the further pursuit of this very important subject, see Vol. 6 of my New Testament Series, pp. 376-380.

In all ages of Israel's history, there were false prophets, and these were the ones addressed in this passage.

Verse 13

"Forasmuch as this people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Woe unto them that hide deep their counsel from Jehovah, whose works are in the dark, and that say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? Ye turn things upside down! Shall the potter be esteemed as clay; and the thing made say of him that made it, He made me not: or the thing formed say of him that formed it, He hath no understanding?"

This paragraph registers still further complaints against Israel. Their religion is not sincere. Sure, they still sing the old songs and repeat the terminology of worshipping God; but their hearts are simply not in it at all. One cannot avoid the fear that today there must be some worship of God that falls into the pattern of what is condemned here. "Their religion had become a mere formality."[11] Jesus Christ reiterated the thought here in Matthew 15:8,9; Mark 7:6,7.

"Your fear of me is a commandment of men ..." (Isaiah 29:13). This describes a situation in which religious teachers had usurped the place of God. Even morality is determined and founded upon human opinions, rather than upon the Word of God. This always results in a condition where men dispute and contradict one another, where your word is as good as my word, and there's no word at all from God! We fear that a great deal of this very philosophy dominates the religious thinking of our very day.

Isaiah 29:15 is an allusion to, "Those secret intrigues with Egypt, which were conducted behind Isaiah's back."[12] Cheyne wrote that, "The ruling classes recognized Isaiah's right to advise and direct God's people; but they threw a veil of secrecy over their untheocratic pursuit of worldly alliances."[13] Isaiah's words here expose their hypocritical behavior. Another example of the same hypocrisy is that of Ahaz in Isaiah 7.

The turning of things "upside down" (Isaiah 29:16) is reinforced by the illustration of "the potter and the clay," an analogy used again in Isaiah 45:9 and Isaiah 64:8, and by Paul in Romans 9:20. In the 1940's this writer purchased a little booklet published by those in charge of the great telescope installation on Mount Palomar in California. The book described the great 100-inch reflecting telescope. A brief foreword noted that, "With this mighty instrument we seek to gain conscious control of man's evolution"! That represents exactly the same kind of boastful infidelity that Isaiah rebuked here.

Verse 17

"Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The meek shall increase their joy in Jehovah, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scoffer ceaseth, and all they that watch for iniquity are cut off; that make a man an offender in his cause, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just with a thing of naught. Therefore saith Jehovah, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when he seeth his children, the work of my hands in the midst of them, they shall sanctify my name; yea, they shall sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall stand in awe of the God of Israel. They also that err in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmur shall receive instruction."

In this we have glimpses of the kingdom of the Messiah and a renewal of precious promises to Israel. The Israel to which these sacred promises belong, however, was a far different Israel from the hypocritical, rebellious leaders of the secular nation. No doubt the promises were treasured and that they comforted the "righteous remnant" who received them and believed them; but the great racial Israel as a whole continued to despise them.

"Yet a little while ..." (Isaiah 29:17). This does not mean in a few years, but it is a statement from God's perspective which speaks of events in the far distant future. In that day, a new body of people will be gathered out of the ranks of mankind which shall give preference to the meek and lowly and the poor. Such words point squarely to the kingdom of Christ. The contrast between the two Lebanons here, "Seems to be between national Israel and spiritual Israel; national Israel will become an uncultivated wilderness, and spiritual Israel will become a fruitful field."[14]

Isaiah 29:18-19 here, according to Gleason refer to the responsiveness of the poor and lowly, "to the glorious truths of the gospel."[15]

"Isaiah 29:22-24 describe the inner transformation that will take place within the people of Israel in the age to come. The Lord's people, the meek and lowly, will find new joy in the Lord; and the ruthless and arrogant on the other hand will cease to be."[16]

The mention of laying a snare for one who reproved in the gate was explained by Rawlinson:

"The gate was the place where assemblies were held and judgments were given. If one stood up and boldly accused the oppressor in the gate, they instantly set to work to lay a trap for him and to bring him to ruin."[17]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.