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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 29

Verses 1-24

Isaiah 29:1 . Woe to Ariel, the lion of God, or the strong lion, for El is often rendered strong or rock, as in Psalms 42:9. “God my rock.” The city of Jerusalem was that strong rock, or strong lion. The Chaldaic, for reasons unknown to us, reads the altar; which would more closely touch the nation, as the altar was the sinner’s hope. In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, the great brazen altar is called the lion: Isaiah 43:15. ה אראיל ו מ ve-mi-ha-ariel, “and from the lion of God,” designating the cross, where the lion of the tribe of Judah prevailed, and put his enemies under his feet. It has been generally understood, that Isaiah delivered this prophecy about two years before the invasion of Sennacherib. Perhaps he had Jacob’s prophecy in his eye, who said, Judah is a lion’s whelp; he coucheth like a lion, and as an old lion, who shall rouse him up? Genesis 49:9.

Isaiah 29:4 . Thy speech shall be low. The invasion would check the high glee of the city; they would mutter half words, like the witches, and like the pythonesses of the heathen. Those are characters of which the prophets speak with the utmost contempt; they often hid themselves, afraid to have their persons seen, or their voices known. See Exodus 22:18. Leviticus 19:31. A just but mortifying comparison. In the temple of Delphos, the pythonesses spake from a vault under ground: nothing was seen, but the voice was heard.

Isaiah 29:5 . The multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust. Habakkuk 1:5. The Assyrian army estimated at seven hundred thousand, of which number Palmyra furnished a quota of eighty thousand. But a small proportion of those men ever returned to their own homes.

Isaiah 29:8 . As when a hungry man dreameth. The Assyrians dreamed of plundering Jerusalem, and were disappointed of the booty, as he who dreams of feasting and awakes hungry.

Isaiah 29:16 . Shall the work say of him that made it, he made me not? Or, how shall the work say of him that made it, he made me not; or how shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, he hath no understanding? Satire is the keenest dart at idols.

Isaiah 29:17 . Is it not yet a very little while, only a hundred and eighty years, and the fruitful field shall be turned into a desert, by the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar.

Isaiah 29:20 . The terrible one is brought to nought. Isaiah well knew that Babylon should be punished for its excessive cruelty towards the nations, How was it possible for Babylon to be happy, when millions of spirits were praying for their blood to be avenged on Babylon. See her fall described in Isaiah 45:0., and foretold in chap. 13. and 14.


How hard and difficult was the lot of the holy prophets. They lived in evil times; while princes were flattered in their sins, they had the arduous duty to speak the truth, and preach terror. Instead of entering the sanctuary of God to speak peace to the people, and to comfort all that mourned, they had to announce the melancholy sentences of heaven against men, against cities, and against nations. The prophet having laid down his burdens at the door of every surrounding nation, lays down his final burden at the door of the temple, and the door of his country.

Here is first a woe to Ariel, the lion of God, the city where David dwelt. Here the altar seems to be so called, because of the victims consumed there. As if the prophet should say, woe to thee, oh altar; once hallowed with fire from heaven, but now profaned with sin. Thou art attended with drunken priests, and served with impure hands. Thou daily purgest the sins of a people who are resolved to retain their sins; therefore heaven sends back the sweet smell of thy fatlings, because it is not perfumed with repentance, and because thy incense has no fragrance of sighs and tears. This polite mode of accusing the altar would lead the people to accuse themselves; and reflections which come in that way often more deeply impress the heart than pointed reproofs.

Against the city of David the enemy were to be encamped, with all the apparatus of a formidable siege. The number of the invaders were to be as the dust, and were to fly upon the city like chaff driven before the wind. So indeed it happened. While Sennacherib took all the fenced cities of Judah, and was besieging Lachish, Hezekiah sent and made submission, and paid three hundred talents of gold. This booty served merely as a temptation to further demands. The terrible ones approached the city, as in an instant, and filled all Jerusalem with consternation. Isaiah complains of the stupidity, or torpor, which seized the inhabitants. The rulers and the prophets were infatuated, and not aware of the danger. They slumbered on till it came to the door, and were as men that could not read the vision. Hence the prophet proceeds to reprove them for hiding their unavailing counsel from the Lord, and for hypocrisy in their worship.

He closes by averring that the meek should encrease their joy in the Lord, because the terrible one is brought to nought. This prophecy cannot therefore be applied either to the Chaldees, or to the Romans, for they prospered long after vanquishing Jerusalem, but it is correctly true of the Assyrians. God’s judgments we see are always accompanied with more or less of joy to the church, for Messiah would come and comfort Zion, after all her troubles. This is the happy close in general of all the sermons of the prophets; they never left the church in despair. The meek shall encrease in joy, and the poor shall be glad in the Lord.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.