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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 29

Two woes against Jerusalem ch. 29

There are two more "woes" that deal with Jerusalem in this chapter (Isaiah 29:1-24) in addition to the one in chapter 28. The first of these is similar to the previous "woe" (cf. Isaiah 29:1-8 with Isaiah 28:1-6, and Isaiah 29:9-14 with Isaiah 28:7-13). Isaiah condemned the Jerusalemites for their religious hypocrisy.

Verse 1

Isaiah addressed this oracle to Ariel (lit. altar hearth, cf. Ezekiel 43:15-16). Another meaning, "lion of God" (cf. Isaiah 31:4; Genesis 49:9; 2 Samuel 23:20; 1 Kings 10:19-20; 1 Chronicles 11:22), was probably not intended here since Isaiah described Ariel as the place were Israel’s religious festivals took place. Clearly Ariel refers to Jerusalem, the city where David set up his headquarters (cf. 2 Samuel 5:9), and Mount Zion (Isaiah 29:8), the site of Judah’s worship.

"Jerusalem prides itself as being God’s altar-hearth, the very heart of the only cult [system of worship] that pleases him. But, in fact, God is not pleased at all." [Note: Oswalt, p. 526.]

The city also boasted of its heritage in David, but the present residents did not share David’s heart for God (cf. Isaiah 29:13). The prophet directed the city to continue to observe its annual religious feasts regularly. This seems to be a sarcastic call to continue offering the sacrifices, which the people thought assured their blessing by God, even though they were doing so as an empty ritual (cf. Isaiah 29:13). These meaningless acts of worship would not avert judgment to come (Isaiah 29:2; cf. Hosea 8:11-14; Amos 4:4-5).

"The true poignancy of the ’woe’ here lies in the fact that the God who had enabled David to take it would now besiege this city himself, through its enemies (Isaiah 29:5), and cause its destruction by fire just as if the whole city had become an extension of the [brazen] altar hearth within its temple." [Note: Grogan, p. 187.]

Verses 1-4

Judah’s religious hypocrisy 29:1-4

Verse 2

The Lord would bring the city into distress, lamentation, and mourning. It would become like an altar hearth in that it would become a place of death.

"If we treat lightly the sacrifices God has made available (and in the Christian era, The Sacrifice) then we ourselves become the sacrifice. If we will not accept God’s substitution, we must carry the burden of our own sin (Hebrews 10:26-27; Romans 8:11-13)." [Note: Oswalt, p. 527.]

Verse 3

Yahweh would bring Jerusalem under siege. David had camped there (Isaiah 29:1), but God would camp there too. This probably refers to His use of Sennacherib and the Assyrians for this purpose in 701 B.C., though other armies also besieged Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 1:1).

Verse 4

Both the status and the strength of the city would suffer humiliation. The people’s weak voices would reflect their abject condition under Yahweh’s sovereign discipline.

Verse 5

God would powerfully blow away the enemy, who would be as numerous and insignificant as dust and chaff, even though the enemy built great ramparts and siege towers to storm Jerusalem. His deliverance, like that of a storm, would be very quick (cf. Isaiah 37:36). God would judge those whom He had sent to judge His people. God will do a similar thing at the end of the Tribulation (cf. Zechariah 14:1-3).

Verses 5-8

Restoration following judgment 29:5-8

The prophecy now changes from judgment to restoration following judgment.

Verse 6

The Lord Himself would be directing Jerusalem’s judgment. He would use the audible, the visible, and the invisible, to shake, remove, and consume the city. These are probably not the instruments that He would use as much as expressions of His sovereign power. This is the classic language of theophany in which images express God’s powerful intervention in the world (cf. Exodus 19:16-19; 1 Kings 19:11-13; Ezekiel 20:47-48).

Verse 7

However, eventually "all" the enemies of Israel would vanish, just as the subject of a nightmare disappears when one wakes up (cf. Isaiah 37:36-37). This points beyond the Assyrian invasion and includes all similar attempts to destroy Jerusalem in the future. The events of 701 B.C. were a partial fulfillment, but the ultimate fulfillment is still future (cf. Revelation 20:8-9). The Exodus was a similar earlier deliverance.

"Sennacherib’s forces lifted the siege to fight the Egyptians at Eltekeh. It was on their return from that victorious engagement that the devastating stroke of God here predicted fell upon them." [Note: Archer, p. 629.]

Verse 8

Israel’s attackers would also dream of devouring their enemy, of drinking them down, but when they awoke to reality they would discover that their desires were unfulfilled. Israel has proved to be an elusive enemy, by God’s grace, throughout history.

Verse 9

Jerusalem’s leaders would delay (actually, "be delayed," by their lack of perception) and wait to act in faith because they were spiritually blind and drunk (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10). Isaiah was apparently speaking to them ironically again (cf. Isaiah 29:1). If the people of Jerusalem failed to see the importance of trusting God in the face of enemy attack, and failed to trust Him, they would find it even more difficult to see His will and do it later. When people see the will of God and refuse to do it, they become incapable of seeing it and doing it further (cf. Acts 28:26-28; Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28; Hebrews 4:1-11). This is serious spiritual blindness and drunkenness.

Verses 9-14

The reason for coming judgment 29:9-14

Isaiah 29:9-14 explain the reason for Jerusalem’s judgment (cf. Isaiah 28:7-13).

Verse 10

The people already found it more difficult to see God’s will and act obediently because God had shut their eyes and covered their heads (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10; 1 Samuel 26:12; 1 Kings 22:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). He had not given most of their prophets and seers insight into what was coming that they could share with the people. Isaiah and a few other faithful spokesmen were the exceptions.

". . . determined spiritual insensitivity becomes judicial spiritual paralysis." [Note: Motyer, p. 239.]

Verses 11-12

"The entire vision" probably refers to the whole Book of Isaiah. [Note: Watts, p. 386.] God would hide His will from those who could know it but did not have the spiritual discernment to understand it. This would lead the people to appeal for an interpretation of His will for those who did not even have the intellectual ability to understand it. In other words, God would hide His plans from the people completely because all of them were spiritually obtuse, the literate and the illiterate.

Verse 13

The Lord had observed that the people of Jerusalem were going through the motions of worship without a vital, daily relationship of trust and obedience with Him. Their worship was a matter of traditional ritual observance, rather than a heartfelt desire to interact with Him (cf. Matthew 15:9; John 4:23-24).

Verse 14

Therefore He would again deal with them in a way that would cause others to marvel, as He had done in the past when they sank to this level. Their wise men would not be able to view life from God’s perspective, and their discerning men would not be able to see through things to the real issues (cf. Isaiah 28:29). Inability to see would be their punishment for choosing not to see (cf. Isaiah 5:21; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 26:7-10; 1 Corinthians 1:19).

Verse 15

"Woe" announces divine condemnation of another trait of the Jerusalemites: their habitual and determined decision to try to hide from God (cf. Genesis 3:8). The political strategists seem to be particularly in view. [Note: Ibid., p. 389.] They tried to hide their plans from the Lord so they could be their own masters, as they thought, to live as they pleased rather than as He instructed them. Previously King Ahaz had tried to hide his appeal to Assyria for help (ch. 7).

Verses 15-24

The remedy for spiritual blindness 29:15-24

The remedy for this spiritually blind state is the subject of the next "woe" (Isaiah 29:15-24). It begins with a word of condemnation for deception (Isaiah 29:15-16), proceeds to explain what God will do (Isaiah 29:17-21), and ends with a summary statement (Isaiah 29:22-24).

Verse 16

These politicians turned things upside down. They denied the Lord’s distinctiveness, sovereignty, and wisdom-and attributed those characteristics to themselves (cf. Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Genesis 2:7; Jeremiah 18:1-6; Romans 1:25; Romans 9:19-21). They told the Lord what to do rather than trying to discover what He wanted to do.

"It is the forgetting of God’s right as Maker that leads to ethical relativism." [Note: Oswalt, p. 537.]

Verses 17-18

The Lord would demonstrate His distinctiveness, sovereignty, and wisdom soon by reversing the conditions of the proud and the humble, symbolized by the forest and the field (cf. Isaiah 2:13; Isaiah 10:34; Isaiah 33:9; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 60:13; Matthew 5:5). This change will be literal in the Millennium. Note the mention of "just a little while" and "on that day," phrases that often introduce eschatological conditions. The deaf would hear and the blind would see (cf. Isaiah 29:9-12; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:4). Isaiah’s point was that only God could do these things, not man. The fact that Jesus Christ was able to do this shows that He was God.

"Lebanon probably represents man in his self-pride." [Note: Archer, p. 630.]

Verse 19

The Lord would also cause the afflicted and the needy to be happy in the Holy One of Israel (cf. Matthew 5:3). True joy in worship would appear (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Revelation 22:1-5).

Verses 20-21

God will destroy the mighty as well as elevate the helpless (cf. Isaiah 29:17). He will correct social ills. The samples of wicked behavior that Isaiah offered have been all too prevalent throughout history. The ruthless are unscrupulous in wielding their power (cf. Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 13:11; Isaiah 25:3-5). Scorners deny moral absolutes (cf. Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 28:22). Those intent on doing evil bend law and order to achieve their ends. Specifically, those who abuse the legal system by committing perjury, tampering with witnesses, and withholding protection from the innocent will come to an end. The prophet pictured false witnesses, crooked lawyers, and corrupt judges (cf. Hosea 4:1-2; Amos 2:6-8; Amos 5:10-11; Micah 2:1-2).

Verse 22

The Lord, who began a good work of redemption in Abraham, would bring it to completion (cf. Philippians 1:6). Jacob may have felt embarrassed by all that his descendants had done, as-Isaiah suggested-Jacob looked down from heaven on them. But he would no longer feel ashamed of them, or fear God’s dealings with them, when he saw the transformations that God would make in them. They would finally trust in the Lord as they should.

Verse 23

The Lord would halt the downward course of the history of Jacob’s family, and transform them. The Israelites would at last confess their God as holy and acknowledge His holiness as central in their lives. They would be fruitful rather than barren. The text gives no basis for interpreting the people in view as the spiritual seed of Jacob, the church. [Note: This was the view of Young, 2:332.]

"It is awe inspired by wondering gratitude that will bring about this profound sense of ’the godhood of God.’ It is this deep awareness of God’s goodness to them as a nation that will produce a penitent and receptive spirit in those formerly wayward and complaining." [Note: Grogan, p. 191.]

Verse 24

Those who are the work of God’s hands, the Israelites, will demonstrate steadfastness in their lives. Their formerly incorrect understanding will be straightened out. Those who have been critical, feeling superior, will accept instruction. Deliverance leads to praise, which results in understanding, just as lack of understanding leads to pride resulting in judgment.

"Just as Abraham was separated from the human race that was sunk in heathenism, to become the ancestor of a nation of Jehovah, so would a remnant be separated from the great mass of Israel that was sunk in apostasy from Jehovah; and this remnant would be the foundation of a holy community well pleasing to God." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:25.]

When will all this happen? It will happen in "just a little while" (Isaiah 29:17), "on that day" (Isaiah 29:18), a day yet future but not specifically identified in the context. Since it has not happened yet, and since similar changes accompany Jesus Christ’s millennial reign, that seems to be the day in view.

"The Redeemer will surely bring to pass his perfect plan for Israel, and forge them into a godly and reverent people, after they have repented and opened their hearts to the truth of Christ." [Note: Archer, p. 630.]

In the next three "woes" (chs. 30-33) Isaiah became more specific. In the first three (chs. 28-29) he stressed principles of God’s dealings with His people, but in these last three (chs. 30-33) he applied the principles to the historical situation they faced. However, there is a blending of historical and eschatological emphases in these "woes."

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.