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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 29

Verse 1


As the preceding chapter began with “the garlanded summit of Samaria,” so this opens with Ariel.

1. Woe to Ariel, to Ariel Referring to Jerusalem, of course, but may mean, “Lion of God,” (1 Chronicles 11:22,) or God’s champion, (2 Samuel xxiii, 20;) or, it may mean, “Altar-fire-hearth;” (Ezekiel 43:15-16,) a tropical name, as Bochart supposes, ( Hierozoicon,) because the altar devours sacrifices as the lion devours its prey. Gesenius finds the meaning of “fire-hearth” in the Arabic cognate word for lion. Delitzsch decides for this meaning, and the Chaldee paraphrase renders the repeated word, “O altar! altar!” Jerusalem is the place where altar fires are ceaselessly burning, and a woe is pronounced upon her, at least for a period.

Add ye year to year One year to another; that is, go on heartlessly in your yearly sacrifices if ye will. Such dead formality is cause sufficient for a fearful visitation.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. Years may roll on, and sacrificial routine may be continued, but not long hence this shall be interrupted.

I will distress Ariel Jerusalem shall be severely besieged.

Heaviness and sorrow Appalling affliction shall befall her. The expression is as if the prophet had vision of all the siege troubles of Jewish history concentrated in one view, from Sennacherib to Titus, so far as the intensity of the distress is considered. The sieges, however, of which we have here a prophetic forecast, included, probably, only those experienced prior to the fall of Judea and the captivity.

I will camp Will bring to pass that an army shall, etc.

With a mount An elevation on which to erect battering rams, and on which to place marksmen to shoot their arrows into the city.

Raise forts Walls, citadels, towers.

Verse 4

4. Shall be brought down Jerusalem, accustomed to feel secure from its strength, is personified as lying flat to the ground, like a man prostrate.

Thy speech shall be low Its utmost humility is meant, reduced by starvation till so weak as to speak only in low whispers, or with low undertone, like ventriloquists who feign to speak with the dead. The whole city is in this condition, unable to speak above a breath.

Verses 5-8

5-8. Now there is promise. At the close of Isaiah 29:2 it is stated that Jerusalem shall become God’s altar-fire-hearth indeed, the burning place of wrath upon her enemies. These verses expand this meaning.

Thy strangers Foreign invaders.

Small dust Suddenly the fierce besiegers shall become as dust, or like chaff blown away.

Thou The enemy.

Shall be visited Physical agencies shall be employed for a sudden annihilating stroke. The distresses of “Ariel” will pass away as in a moment. The suddenness will make the events seem as a dream to both the besiegers and the besieged. The besieger believed the prize of Jerusalem’s wealth was his; as he was passing his hand to grasp it, it evaded his touch as a flash. The besieged awoke in like manner to find the distress of dreaded capture wholly gone, and himself a free man again. There is scarcely so vivid a picture, in so small a compass, in all literature. It is the experience of nightmare that is given.

Thus far extends the promise attached to the woe-text of Isaiah 29:1-4. As will soon be seen, however, the people of the city of God’s altar-hearth are still stupid and dull.

Verses 9-12

9-12. Stay… wonder; cry The original, and our version from it, in this verse are obscure. Credibly the meaning is: “Stare with amazed look at the prophecy just given, if you will. [Isaiah is addressing the nobles and priests and prophets of Jerusalem.] Revel in sensual pleasures if you will. Deeper blindness will be the certain result. Cling still to your policy of rejecting Jehovah’s aid and seeking Egypt’s.” They stagger, etc. Here the prophet apparently soliloquizes: “Here they stagger and are stupefied by something quite different from the usual wine.” Isaiah 28:7. What this something is he now states to them. Jehovah hath poured… deep sleep, etc. God creates not moral evil; but when projected from the creature, he causes it to react upon and punish itself. Sin stupefies the moral nature. It works “a deep sleep.” It makes dull, or even blind, the intellectual and the spiritual eye. Since, therefore, ye will blind yourselves to divine prophecy, Jehovah allows you all the results of your wilful blindness.

The prophets They are not God’s prophets. Pretending to be prophets they are not true men. They pander to popular vices for popular favour and applause.

Your rulers Your head men, men who have wickedly attained to leadership, claiming to be seers, that is, statesmen.

Hath he covered Covered as to the eyes. They see not the plain truths of God. (It is the same over again in all ages, down to Christ’s time, down to these times.) God leaves them in their blindness. “Like priest, like people.”

The vision of all is become… as… a book that is sealed Parabolic words, these, which teach that what God reveals avails the people nothing. Prophecy by God’s true men is thrown away through the corrupting influence of such leaders.

Verses 13-14

13, 14. Thus spiritual teaching is rejected, though formal adherence may be observed. In this way moral blindness is self inflicted. It follows the law which God has established, that, abusing so delicate a thing as conscience, it must be blinded. They keep up the form of sacrifice and worship in Jerusalem, not from heart-assent to it, but because Hezekiah, the truly pious king at this time, has prohibited idol worship absolutely. They see no help against Assyrian invasion but from Egypt. So spiritual a thing as help from Jehovah alone they cannot appreciate.

A marvellous work and a wonder Our Lord quotes these words as applying to the scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 15:7-9. Does Isaiah forecast the times of Christ? Yes, by stating a law of the Spirit and conscience applicable on the same point at all times. Perverting truth is followed by blindness always.

Verse 15

15. Seek deep to hide Irony on the conceit of these leaders, in impiously supposing even God did not see their intent as to Egypt, and the motive of their disloyalty to him. Their absurdity is exposed in the next verse.

Verse 16

16. Your turning… things upside down Or, “O such perversion!” Fools! to suppose God knows no more than to put your profane, formal pretension of piety on a par with genuine religion; to suppose him easily deluded by you. This means the proverb-like comparison or illustration in frequent use among the Jews. See Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:5; Jeremiah 18:7; Romans 9:20.

Verse 17

17. Is it not a very little while Equivalent to a declaration that the schemes and plans of Israel should soon come to naught.

Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field Rocky and comparatively barren as was this noted mountain, even it should, metaphorically, soon become as a fruitful field, and in place of its thinly scattered cedars should be a crowded forest. To drop the metaphor, the time was not distant when Israel, now as barren of the products of righteousness as rocky Lebanon was of fruit, should become luxuriant in goodness.

Verses 18-19

18, 19. That day The period of moral changes to be wrought by Jehovah, mentioned in the preceding verse. The revolution is to be complete. Hinderances to teaching the law, through blind leaders, shall be removed. The moral blindness of Isaiah 29:11-12, is here put in antithesis to the docility and consequent joy in God and his Gospel among the Gentile converts, and the people, now blind and deaf so far as the word of Jehovah is concerned, shall be changed into a people with open ears and seeing eyes. Words such as those the prophet in vain now holds forth, shall then be heard with willing distinctness, and their truth be clearly discerned.

The poor… rejoice in the Holy One of Israel Poor men, the pious poor who fear God, and had been subjected to oppression.

Verses 20-21

20, 21. For the terrible one The haughty and overbearing among the worldly Jewish leaders.

Watch for iniquity For opportunities to commit it.

That make a man an offender for a word Hold a man criminal, perhaps, for a reproving word; the prophet, for example, who was faithful to announce the truth front God, or any pious, uninfluential man, whose modest remonstrance they would not endure, and whom they would have condemned in a mock trial at the gate, the place for holding court.

Turn aside the just The man who had a just cause, by a decision that was a mere mockery of justice.

Verses 22-24

22-24. Jehovah, who called Abraham out of heathendom, says, that in consequence of this happy change, which shall take place in the nation when the oppressor shall be removed, and the poor and meek shall rejoice, and the ignorant shall be properly instructed, the holy ancestry of Israel shall no more blush in shame nor wax pale as aforetime on account of the base life of their descendants. But they shall look out of heaven upon the whole body of purified Israel sanctifying the name of Jehovah, who hath wrought in them this great change. They shall see those of formerly erring spirit now learning true wisdom, and the hardened ones accepting sound instruction.

From the foregoing we may fairly infer that the prophet sees just before him in the future, during the improved times of Hezekiah, the beginning of this happy change; and that, with prophetic ken, he leaps on to the better days beyond the captivity, and thence to the glorious period of the Messiah. At least, in other prophetic pieces, such appears to be the law under which the soul of Isaiah was wrought upon.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.