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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 29

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 29 The Second Woe. A Woe Against The False Jerusalem.

Isaiah stresses that although they boast of their city as the city of David, Yahweh will soon cause her to be besieged by an army which He will bring against her. But then, when they cry out of the dust He will act on their behalf in power and deliver Jerusalem.

Analysis.

a Woe to Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped. Add for yourselves year to year, let the feasts come round. Then will I distress Ariel, and there will be mourning and lamentation, and she will be to me as Ariel.

b And I will encamp against you in a circle (literally ‘like a circular object’ surrounding the city), and will lay siege against you with a fort, and I will raise siegeworks against you.

c And you will be brought down, and you will speak from the ground, and your speech will be low out of the dust,

c And your voice will be as of one who has a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and your speech will whisper (chirp), out of the dust.

b But the multitude of your alien foes will be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones as chaff that passes away. Yes, it will be at an instant suddenly, from Yahweh of hosts she will be visited, with thunder and with earthquake, and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest and flame of a devouring fire,

a And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all who fight against her and her stronghold, and who distress her, will be as a dream, and as a vision of the night, and it will be as when a hungry man dreams ,and behold he eats, but he awakes and his inner man is empty, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold he drinks, but he awakes, and behold he is faint, and his inner man has an appetite, so will all the multitude of the nations be, who fight against Mount Zion

In ‘a’ Ariel is David’s city, which he made his headquarters (encamped there), but as time goes by Yahweh will distress Ariel and there will there be mourning and lamenting, and in the parallel those who come against Ariel and distress her will dream of victory but will find that the reality is far different, for they are fighting against Mount Zion. In ‘b’ at Yahweh’s behest they will lay siege to Ariel, but in the parallel they will experience the visitation of Yahweh Who will devastate them. In ‘c’ Judah will be brought low and speak out of the dust, and in the parallel it will be similar to the way in which mediums speak out of the dust.


Verse 1-2

‘Woe to Ariel, Ariel,

The city where David encamped.

Add for yourselves year to year.

Let the feasts come round.

Then will I distress Ariel,

And there will be mourning and lamentation,

And she will be to me as Ariel.’

Having declared His woe on Israel (Isaiah 28:1) God now declares His woe on Jerusalem under the name of Ariel. It is to be distressed with mourning and lamentation because it has become superficial in its response to Yahweh. It is to be besieged. This occurred around 701 BC at the hand of Sennacherib, and we must not in the wonder of the deliverance overlook the awfulness of the siege and what led up to it. Judah paid a heavy price for not trusting Yahweh earlier.

‘Ariel.’ The Akkadian arallu can mean either the ‘mountain of the gods’ or ‘underworld of the gods’, both places where gods were thought to dwell, and thus the dwellingplaces of the gods. Here Isaiah’s purpose might well be, by a play on the word, to draw attention to the fact that while Jerusalem prided itself on having within it Mount Zion, the mountain of God, the mysterious mountain which was seen as joining heaven and earth and was the dwellingplace of God, by their manner of living they were debasing the fact and were making it rather ‘an Ariel’, a pagan dwelling place of the gods, no longer the ‘holy city’ even though they called themselves by that title (Isaiah 48:2). The reference to David encamping there might be seen as backing up the idea of seeing it as a dwellingplace.

But the ‘ariel’ was also the name used for the altar hearth near the top of Ezekiel’s high altar (Ezekiel 43:15), the place where the sacrificial fires continually burned. This was probably a technical term which had lost much of its original meaning but was originally associated with the above idea of the mountain of God, the stepped altar being seen as typifying a mountain (compare the stepped ziggurats). It was also used in this sense of altar hearths on the Moabite Stone demonstrating the probable wide use of it as a technical term for this outside Israel. Perhaps there is therefore also contained in the use the idea that Jerusalem is God’s altar hearth, ready for sacrifice.

It is described here as ‘the city where David encamped’, confirming that this is indeed referring to Jerusalem. Isaiah is indicating that once in the time of David it had been true to Yahweh. It had had an honourable and noble past. Then it had been filled with genuine worship and praise, led by the king himself. It had become the earthly dwellingplace of God in His Temple. What a contrast with the present. Now things just carried on year by year, with a round of meaningless festivals. It is no longer Mount Zion but Ariel (see Isaiah 29:7-8 where it reverts). Well let them continue. They are simply leading up to a time of mourning and lamentation. The use of ‘encamped’ might be seen as indicating that even David only had a right to camp there and had no right to a permanent dwelling on the holy mountain.

Thus this mountain of God/the gods is to be downgraded. ‘She will be to me as Ariel’. It is to be treated as an Ariel, as a mountain of the gods and not as containing the Mountain of God at all. God is on the point of disowning it, at least temporarily. (Ezekiel later demonstrates in chapters 40 onwards that He has by then disowned it completely).


Verse 3-4

‘And I will encamp against you in a circle (literally ‘like a circular object’ surrounding the city),

And will lay siege against you with a fort,

And I will raise siegeworks against you.

And you will be brought down,

And you will speak from the ground,

And your speech will be low out of the dust,

And your voice will be as of one who has a familiar spirit, out of the ground,

And your speech will whisper (chirp), out of the dust.’

There is a direct contrast between David encamping in the city in Isaiah 29:1 with God encamping against it here. The tables have been turned.

Some however translate Isaiah 29:1 as ‘against which David encamped’, a possible translation, and see this as indicating parallel action (Hebrew prepositions are not always as clear as we would like). David had once encamped against it when it was a pagan city, and now God was doing the same for the same reason. The basic idea is the same.

Yahweh (initially through the king of Assyria) intends to lay siege to Jerusalem, this false mountain of God, raising siegeworks against it and humbling it. It will be brought so low that its voice will, as it were, seem to come out of the ground, from the very dust. They will be utterly humbled. And they will be in such a state that their prayers will be like the whispered words of a medium, like the chirp of an enchanter who seeks to the dead. (For the idea of prayer seen as such chirping/whispering in distress see Isaiah 26:16). Again there is a mixing of the contrast between the idea of God with ‘the gods’, especially underworld gods, as the people’s prayers to God seem almost similar to appeals made to these ‘gods’.


Verses 5-8

‘But the multitude of your alien foes will be like small dust,

And the multitude of the terrible ones as chaff that passes away.

Yes, it will be at an instant suddenly,’

From Yahweh of hosts she will be visited,

With thunder and with earthquake, and great noise,

With whirlwind and tempest and flame of a devouring fire,

And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel,

Even all who fight against her and her stronghold, and who distress her,

Will be as a dream, and as a vision of the night.

And it will be as when a hungry man dreams ,and behold he eats,

But he awakes and his inner man is empty,

Or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold he drinks,

But he awakes, and behold he is faint,

And his inner man has an appetite.

So will all the multitude of the nations be,

who fight against Mount Zion.’

However the siege will be lifted because in some way the attackers will, as it were, be blown away as if they were dust, the huge army of terrible ones (‘terrible’ is a regular description of those to do with large empires, see Isaiah 25:4-5; compare Isaiah 13:11; Isaiah 25:3; Isaiah 29:20; Isaiah 49:25; Jeremiah 15:21; Ezekiel 28:7 etc.) will be wafted away like chaff. And it will happen suddenly and unexpectedly. A fulfilment of this took place when the Assyrian army withdrew to face the Egyptian army at Eltekeh, and a further fulfilment is found in Isaiah 37:36, when some unknown cause (humanly speaking) wrought death in the camp of the Assyrians causing them to withdraw.

Note the movement from Ariel in Isaiah 29:7 to Mount Zion in Isaiah 29:8, from the pseudo ‘mountain of God/the gods’ to the real ‘mountain of God’, a sign of the movement in the hearts of many of the people from the unreal to the real, from lack of belief to real belief as a result of their deliverance. Before deliverance, Ariel, afterwards, Mount Zion.

‘‘From Yahweh of hosts she will be visited with thunder and with earthquake, and great noise, with a stormy wind and tempest and flame of a devouring fire.’ This is the picture of the God of the covenant, the God of Sinai. This is simply a majestic way of saying that the God of Sinai will come to act on behalf of His people. There too there was thunder and a great noise, there the earth shook, there too there was tempest and the flame of a devouring fire, only the stormy wind was unmentioned (Exodus 19:16-20 with Isaiah 24:17) and that finds mention in the Psalmist’s description of the Exodus deliverance (Psalms 77:18), which was thus part of the tradition. It is thus a way of saying that the mighty Creator of Sinai and of the Exodus will come to act in power.

The thought is of what He is rather than of the phenomena being visible. It is God in His power Who acts, even if invisibly. There may be no outward manifestations that can be seen but this will be the spiritual effect. In the account itself it is described as being by the angel of Yahweh (Isaiah 37:36).

We can compare for this how David described Yahweh as coming to his aid in similar language when he was in trouble (2 Samuel 22:8-16). There too he was visualising the unseen power of God. Assyrian kings would also describe their approach in similar language. It was the way of the age.

‘And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all who fight against her and her stronghold, and who distress her, will be as a dream, and as a vision of the night.’ The result of Yahweh coming in invisible but genuine power as visualised by the prophet will be that the many nations in the army of Assyria will be powerless against Jerusalem. They will simply have the same effect as a dream or vision of the night, frightening but rapidly disappearing in the morning. The certainty of the dream will give way to the uncertainty of the day. And certainly when the Assyrian army lay down on the awesome night that the angel smote them, they were full of confidence and certainty, and when those who were left awoke it had all vanished. The angel of Yahweh had done His work (Isaiah 37:36).

‘And it will be as when a hungry man dreams ,and behold he eats, but he awakes and his inner man is empty, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold he drinks, but he awakes and behold he is faint, and his inner man has an appetite. So will all the multitude of the nations be who fight against Mount Zion.’ The siege of Jerusalem will seem so threatening, but its threat will turn out to have the potency of a dream. It will be to the enemy like a man having dreams of eating and drinking and then waking to discover he is still hungry and thirsty. It will be an unreality that has no effect in real life. The enemy will go to sleep dreaming of seizing and despoiling Jerusalem, and enjoying all the good things that they will pillage, they will awaken to find that their hopes are in vain. This will be the potency of the international army of Assyria. And why? Because they are not fighting against Jerusalem, nor against Ariel, they are fighting against Mount Zion, the heavenly and earthly dwellingplace of Yahweh, and against the God Who dwells there.


Verses 9-14

The Unbelieving Response of the Majority To God (Isaiah 29:9-14).

There are at least two ways of looking at this passage. One is to see it as Isaiah’s words prior to God’s amazing deliverance, seeking to inculcate faith but seeing instead obstinacy, in which case Isaiah 29:14 points to that event, the other is to see it as Isaiah’s words after that amazing deliverance when the careless final response of the majority of the people to it has left him baffled. The modern Christian is similarly amazed that men do not see the glory of Christ and follow Him.

Analysis.

a Make yourselves hesitate, and wonder. Blind yourselves (literally ‘be smeared’, and to do with the eyes), and be blind (Isaiah 29:9 b).

b They are drunk, but not with wine, they stagger, but not with strong drink, for Yahweh has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, the prophets, and has covered your heads, the seers (Isaiah 29:10).

c And all vision has become to you as the words of a book which is sealed, which men deliver over to one who is learned, saying, “Read this, I beg you”. And he says, “I cannot for it is sealed”. And the book is delivered to him who is not learned, saying, “Read this I pray you”, and he says, “I am not learned” (Isaiah 29:12).

c And the Lord said, “Forasmuch as these people draw near to me with their mouth, and honour me with their lips, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is but a commandment of men which has been taught them,

b Therefore behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder.

a And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the understanding of their astute men will be hid.

In ‘a’ the people are seen at work making themselves hesitate and wonder and then putting a blind on their eyes and blinding their own eyes, and in the parallel the wisdom and understanding of both their wise and astute men will cease and be hidden. In ‘b’ their state is seen to be the action of Yahweh who has poured out on them the spirit of stupor and in the parallel it is described as a marvellous work, a work and a wonder. There is nothing as wondrous as the unbelief of men in the face of God revealing His mighty works as he did at Jerusalem with Sennacherib. Or alternately the parallel may mean that He did a marvellous work and a wonder, but because of their stupor they did not appreciate it. In ‘c’ all vision has been hid from them because of their unwillingness to see, and in the parallel it is because they have withdrawn their hearts from Him.

Isaiah 29:9-12

‘Make yourselves hesitate, and wonder,

Blind yourselves (literally ‘be smeared’, and to do with the eyes), and be blind.

They are drunk, but not with wine,

They stagger, but not with strong drink,

For Yahweh has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep,

And has closed your eyes, the prophets, and has covered your heads, the seers.

And all vision has become to you as the words of a book which is sealed,

Which men deliver over to one who is learned,

Saying, “Read this, I beg you”. And he says, “I cannot for it is sealed.”

And the book is delivered to him who is not learned,

Saying, “Read this I pray you”, and he says, “I am not learned”.

The use of the imperative vividly brings out Isaiah’s own perplexity and growing awareness of the obduracy of the people. Although God had warned Him that the people would mainly continue to be blind he still found it difficult to take in. If this was before the great deliverance it expresses his growing awareness of their deliberate blindness. If this was after the event, the wonder of what happened at the deliverance of Jerusalem would have come home strongly to him, and it represents him as seeing that it had left many of them unchanged. Momentarily, in the exultation of the moment, they might have become convinced but they will soon deliberately begin to hesitate, and then wonder if it ever happened. They will smear over their own eyes by means of their doubt and unwillingness to believe, thus they will finish up blind. They will convince themselves that there was a natural explanation, talk it down and shrug off its effects. They will have seen a wonder of the world and will remain unchanged, even hardened. (Just as the Pharisees will later do with Jesus in the face of even greater wonders).

In either case Isaiah cannot understand it. He is baffled. So he speaks to them almost as in a daze. ‘Make yourselves hesitate (reflexive) and wonder.’ He is warning them that if they make themselves hesitate, they will soon begin to wonder whether God will indeed work, or whether He has so worked. Rather they should respond to Yahweh’s amazing act, or His past acts, with full belief and gladness of heart. But he senses their hesitation, and fears what the result will be. They will go on hesitating and then they will begin to wonder in the end whether it meant anything significant at all. His words are drawn out of him almost unwillingly, as he warns them what the result of their attitude will be. By smearing up their own vision they will become blind. It is always dangerous to hesitate when the call comes to ‘follow Me’.

If this refers to before the event then the words are to be seen as a rebuke at their continuing unwillingness to trust Yahweh. As he sees their determined opposition to his position of trusting in Yahweh, the One Who in the past has acted so mightily on behalf of their people as their past history reveals, he can only see it as fulfilling what God had said to him at his inauguration as a prophet (Isaiah 6:8-12), that they would be subject to blind unbelief. If after then it is even more incredible, and the rebuke is to be seen as even stronger.

And so in either case he decides that there can be only one explanation for their attitude, it must be because they are drunk. But as he recognises that it must be with something more permanent than wine, he concludes that they must be staggering about, seemingly incapable of understanding, not because of what they have drunk, but because Yahweh has poured out on them a spirit of deep sleep. They are in a divinely wrought coma. It is the only explanation that comes to hand. Indeed on top of their own obduracy he sees an even deeper wonder, that those who profess to be their eyes, who should have helped them to appreciate what had happened, the prophets, seem to have their own eyes closed, while those who should have been in a position to explain everything, the seers, seem to have had their heads covered over lest they see.

His perplexity is understandable. It is always difficult for one who believes to understand deep doubt. Everything seems so clear to believers. Thus they can only then conclude that if there is doubt it is Yahweh’s work. It must be because He wants it that way. And in the end they are right. Not because He wants men to be blind and directly acts, but because He has made mankind as he is, to grow in doubt if he refuses to believe. So such blindness and hesitation are not Yahweh’s direct work. They are the result of sin and rebellion, and of an unwillingness to be in submission to God. They are the result of man’s obstinate free will. And Isaiah sees that that is the case here.

‘And all vision has become to you as the words of a book which is sealed, which men deliver over to one who is learned, saying, “Read this, I beg you”. And he says, “I cannot. The book is sealed.” But he recognises that this is not the result of their extra intelligence. It is because they have closed minds. So he tells these men that they are like those who have a sealed book, which is full of knowledge, but to them it is hidden knowledge because they will not open the seal. In the same way, something has clearly sealed their minds so that they have failed to grasp the significance of what God’s activity past or present really means. And when they go to the learned (the prophet and the seer) and beg them to read it, they will demur. They cannot, they say, for the book is sealed, that is, they cannot understand it. But this would not be humility, it would be stubbornness and unwillingness, a further example of blindness. They do not want to see God’s ways, they prefer their own.

Then in their perfidy the people take the book to one who is unlearned, and ask him to read, and he refuses, saying, “I am not learned (cannot read fluently)”. No one wants to make the attempt.


Verse 13-14

God’s Response To and Verdict on Their Unbelief (Isaiah 29:13-14).

Isaiah 29:13-14

‘And the Lord said,

“Forasmuch as these people draw near to me with their mouth,

And honour me with their lips,

But have removed their heart far from me,

And their fear of me is but a commandment of men which has been taught them,

Therefore behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people,

Even a marvellous work and a wonder.

And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,

and the understanding of their astute men will be hid.’

When men harden their hearts against God’s revelation, given in one way or another, it often results in continuing hardening. It is as though having hardened themselves they have made it almost impossible for them to do anything else, and so they go on more and more firmly closing their eyes. This is what God saw would be the result here.

‘And the Lord said.’ This, says Isaiah, is the sovereign Lord speaking, Who now gives His verdict on their attitude. They go on and on with their religious ritual, they all continue to say what seem to be the right things, repeating it by rote, but there is no true inward response in their hearts, as is shown by the way that they are acting. And it is of their own choice. They deliberately stop their hearts being taken over by God. So their supposed piety is simply something that they do because of the pressure of those in authority over them, and not because they have responsive hearts.

So He will act in a wondrous way which will be amazing to all, and He stresses the wonder of what He will do and men’s responsive amazement. He will do a work which will result in the wise men’s wisdom perishing, and the astute men’s astuteness being hidden. He has already described it in terms of the great stupor He has brought upon them. As a result of what He will do they will appear as fools. All their clever words will be seen to have come to nothing. And later generations will wonder at it.

However, if the previous words were prior to the great deliverance then these words may well have in mind that deliverance. Then he may be saying that Yahweh will do a great work, a mighty work, a marvel, but because of their obduracy they will fail to see it and to properly appreciate it. They will close their minds against it.

Either way in the end it is simply a way of saying that man’s opposition to Him and His ways, and their refusal to trust Him, is folly, a folly which the future, as controlled by Him, will reveal. History is full of such examples. Men make great statements and are greatly admired, and then they are seen to come to nothing. So will it be with these wise teachers and astute thinkers. They and all they have taught will perish, but God’s word and God’s purposes will go on.


Verses 15-24

The Third Woe: Against Those Who Seek To Hide What They Do From God, But Yahweh Will Triumph In Spite Of It (Isaiah 29:15-24).

Analysis.

a Woe to those who seek deep, to hide their counsel from Yahweh, and their works are in the dark, and they say, “Who sees us?”, and “Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:15).

b You turn things upside down. Will the potter be counted as clay, that the thing made should say of him who made it, “He did not make me,” or the thing framed say of him who framed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:16).

c Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon will be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be counted as a forest? (Isaiah 29:17).

d And in that day will the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness (Isaiah 29:18).

d The meek also will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 29:19).

c For the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scornful one ceases, and all those who watch for iniquity are cut off, who make a man an offender in a cause, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and turn aside the righteous in a thing of naught (Isaiah 29:20-21).

b Therefore thus says Yahweh, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob. Jacob will not now be ashamed, nor will his face now grow pale. But when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in the midst of him, they will sanctify my name, yes, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel (Isaiah 29:22-23).

a Those also who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will learn instruction (Isaiah 29:24).

In ‘a’ the people seek to hide what they do from Yahweh, but in the parallel those who err will come to understanding, and those who murmur will learn instruction. In ‘b’ His people are turning things upside down, forgetting that Yahweh is the Potter who made them and framed them, and saying that He has no understanding, and in the parallel Jacob’s children are the work of His hands, and thus His people set Him apart as holy and stand in awe of Him. In ‘c’ Lebanon which is being crushed by the enemy will be turned into a fruitful field, and all will prosper, the fruitful field will be counted as a forest, and in the parallel the terrible one is to be brought to naught, and all will prosper for the scornful one will cease, and all those who watch for iniquity will be cut off, who make a man an offender in a cause, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and turn aside the righteous in a thing of naught. In ‘d’ ‘in that day’ the deaf will hear the words of the book (which was previously a mystery - Isaiah 29:11), and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness, while in the parallel the meek will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 29:15

‘Woe to those who seek deep, to hide their counsel from Yahweh,

And their works are in the dark,

And they say, “Who sees us?”, and “Who knows us?”.’

The verbs are important. The opening participle is speaking of something continual. These men are always seeking to go deep and hide their discussions and ideas from Yahweh. It is their practise. The imperfect then refers this to their present continuing activity, they are choosing to perform their works out of sight.

The picture is of men digging themselves a hideout where they can hide what they are thinking and doing from God. They then go into their hideout and assert their independence of God. It is not literal but figurative. It refers to all who think that they can carry on their activities without God knowing, who think that they can hide their ways from God. It is the example of ultimate folly, for ‘all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13).

So here Woe is declared on them. They come under God’s direct condemnation. In the background is the thought of all the plans and activities of men seeking to counter the Assyrian threat without recourse to God, especially those who have gone to Egypt for consultation and to make alliance, and have kept what they are doing secret from Isaiah. But it applies finally to the plans of men of all ages.

Isaiah 29:16

‘You turn things upside down.

Will the potter be counted as clay,

That the thing made should say of him who made it,

“He did not make me,”

Or the thing framed say of him who framed it,

“He has no understanding”?’

These people who are ignoring God should consider. They have got things the wrong way round. They are treating Him as though He is but the clay. But it is He Who is the Potter, and it is they who are the clay. It is He Who made them and fashioned their frame. They would therefore be wise to recognise that they are responsible to Him as their Creator, and to recognise that as such He has more understanding than they. But they rather reject His authority and question His wisdom. What folly!

If we were more aware that He is the Potter and we are the clay we might well find that we were more responsive to Him. Indeed it can be a comforting thought. It means that He takes final responsibility for what we become if we trust in Him (see Isaiah 29:23). But some of us still tend to treat God as the clay with His ways to be fashioned by us.


Verses 17-24

If They Were Wise They Would Recognise That God Has Everything In Hand (Isaiah 29:17-24).

For the truth is that Yahweh, the Potter, will take the poor and the lowly and will work on them to make of them His new people. All who are unjust and work contrary to God’s law will be rooted out. In Paul’s words they will be pruned from the olive tree. And His own will then grow and develop into a godly nation. And as he has shown elsewhere this includes those who were Gentiles. They will be adopted into Israel, become sons of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:29) and be grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17).

Isaiah 29:17-19

‘Is it not yet a very little while,

And Lebanon will be turned into a fruitful field,

And the fruitful field will be counted as a forest?

And in that day will the deaf hear the words of the book,

And the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness.

The meek also will increase their joy in Yahweh,

And the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.’

The Potter will very decisively show His authority and His wisdom in the future. And He will do it ‘in a very little while.’ That is, a little while from God’s viewpoint. When the time comes He will act.

‘Lebanon will be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be counted as a forest’ Lebanon was proverbial as the essence of fruitfulness because of its tall cedars (Psalms 104:16). Perhaps the thought here is of the devastations wrought by the Assyrian invasion which God will in His time put right (Isaiah 37:24). Alternatively the thought may be that God will at some stage humble the mighty. That the tall cedars of Lebanon, often a symbol of man’s pride (see Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 31:3), will as such be cut down and Lebanon be turned into garden land which will be accepted as being as good as a forest. The proud will be laid low, but the humbled will be fruitful. This suggestion of humbling would tie in with what follows.

‘And in that day will the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The meek also will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.’ We can compare here Isaiah 29:9-12. In contrast with the present those in the future, ‘in a very little while’ when God acts to humble the mighty, will receive what is in the book of vision, for it will be read out for the deaf to hear. This demonstrates that God appointed prophets and seers will then be willing to open the book. And they will then will have their blindness removed. The idea here is primarily of the spiritually deaf and blind.

‘In that day’, which in itself is very general, looks forward to the time of the humbling of the mighty, and the blessing of the deaf and blind, and the poor and meek (compare on Isaiah 11:4), the lowest members of society, and an increase in joy and rejoicing (Luke 1:14; Luke 2:10; Luke 10:17; John 15:11). This is specifically referred to the time of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-5 and Luke 1:52-53 and of the Spirit anointed prophet (Isaiah 61:1 compare Luke 4:18-21; Matthew 11:5) and the Spirit anointed king (Isaiah 11:4). Indeed as the Gospels make clear Jesus also opened the ears and eyes of the literally deaf and blind, and examples of such healings were used by Him as symbolic of spiritual deafness and blindness. For ‘darkness’ compare Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:16; Luke 1:79; John 1:5; John 3:19; John 8:12; John 12:46; Acts 26:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:4). That this was fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles can hardly be doubted. We need look no further.

Isaiah 29:20-21

‘For the terrible one is brought to naught,

And the scornful one ceases,

And all those who watch for iniquity are cut off,

Who make a man an offender in a cause,

And lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate,

And turn aside the righteous in a thing of naught.’

There will also be an increase in social justice, and the unrighteous and unjust will be removed from Israel. Three types are warned against. The terrible, the scornful and the busybodies. The first could refer to the Assyrian king but in context more probably refers to ‘the oppressor’ in a judicial sense, one in high authority who uses his authority to pervert justice. The scornful are those who are not really concerned for justice and despise the law and use it for their own ends. Those who watch for iniquity are those who make use of the law to catch out unwary people who accidentally go astray, in order to gain a reward. All are misusers of the judicial system, and all will be dealt with.

‘Him who reproves in the gate.’ The gate was where the elders would gather to dispense justice and hear complaints. Thus this is a righteous and just elder who has annoyed the ungodly by reproving their unrighteousness so that they are trying to bring him down.

What they get up to is also described. They make people guilty by manipulating the law, they trap those who reprove them and seek to establish true justice, and they find legal loopholes so as to get the righteous found guilty. Note how the second three are in reverse order compared with the first three, typical of Isaiah. The oppressor turns aside the righteous, the scornful cut off the man of truth and honour, the unrighteous busybody catches out the unwary. Jesus constantly spoke up against these things and the spreading of Christianity increased social justice, and in Paul’s language resulted in the unjust in Israel being pruned from the true Israel. And when He returns, full justice will be established for ever, and all who have thwarted it and have not repented will truly be brought to naught.

To modernise the ideas, politicians will manipulate the law which they themselves have set up, while applying it rigidly to others for their own advantage, scorners will deny moral absolutes (compare Isaiah 5:20; Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 28:22), those intent on doing evil will bend law and order to achieve their own ends. Specifically in mind are those who abuse the legal system by such things as using politics for their own gain, committing perjury, tampering with witnesses, and preventing the innocent from getting justice, and they include crooked politicians, false witnesses, amoral lawyers, and biased judges (compare Hosea 4:1-2; Amos 2:6-8; Amos 5:10-11; Micah 2:1-2).

Isaiah 29:22-24

‘Therefore thus says Yahweh, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob.

Jacob will not now be ashamed,

Nor will his face now grow pale.

But when he sees his children,

The work of my hands, in the midst of him,

They will sanctify my name,

Yes, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,

And will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

Those also who err in spirit will come to understanding,

And those who murmur will learn instruction.’

Yahweh speaks as the One who redeemed Abraham. The Old Testament elsewhere makes no specific reference to ‘the redemption’ of Abraham, but see Genesis 48:16 where the root is applied to Jacob, where it refers to God spending effort in keeping Jacob from evil. We need not doubt that He was seen as doing the same for Abraham, for having first called him and brought him out from among his unbelieving family, He had brought him into a land where he could walk with God. Indeed the saving and keeping of Abraham from evil fits this passage well. It is saying that Yahweh is the Saviour and Keeper of His chosen ones from evil by the expenditure of His power. This is what their redemption involves. The mention of Abraham takes them back to their roots, and reminds them of the first promises on which their hope for the future is based. They are chosen because of him.

The motif of Abraham is important in Isaiah. He was the one whose original faith and response to God not only resulted in him being ‘redeemed’ and seen as ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes (Genesis 15:6), but will also result in the redemption of his ‘children’. They will be saved for Abraham’s sake. Later we will learn that it was because Abraham was His friend and servant, the one whom He loved, that Israel is privileged to be called on to be His Servant, in order to carry out His will (Isaiah 41:8). And in Isaiah 51:1-2 they are to look to Abraham, the rock from which they were hewn, something directly related to the covenant, ‘when he was but one I called him, and blessed him, and made him many’ (Isaiah 51:2). That is why they too will be made many, because they are one with Abraham in the covenant.

The use made here of the name Jacob is typically Hebrew. It refers both to the man and his tribe seen as one. (Just as ‘Abraham’ in Genesis referred to the man but was regularly to be seen as including his family tribe). Jacob, the descendant of Abraham, was present among them in his descendants, and there would, in the future being outlined, be nothing that they would do to bring shame to ‘him’ or pallor to ‘his’ face, i.e. to his descendants’ faces. When ‘he’ sees his children who have been transformed by the work of God’s hand in ‘his’ midst, instead of bringing shame on God they will by their lives and behaviour ‘sanctify’ (show as set apart as unique and special) God’s name, the name of the Holy One of Jacob.

In view of the fact that the title is always elsewhere ‘the Holy One of Israel’ this demonstrates that Isaiah had a special reason for using Jacob’s name in this passage rather than that of Israel, his other name. Possibly it was in order to bring out that just as Jacob became Israel, a man transformed as a result of wrestling with God, so now has the tribe of Jacob been worked on by God and been transformed, producing a new Israel. They too will have ‘wrestled’ with God. Thus they will also stand in awe of ‘the Holy One of Jacob’, sanctifying His name as ‘the God of Israel’.

‘When he sees his children, the work of My hands.’ Note the reference back to the work of the Potter. The people may forget that He is the Potter, but He still continues His work, and it will in the future become obvious.

‘Those also who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will learn instruction.’ The new Israel will not yet be perfect, but they will make a recovery from the position in Isaiah 29:15. Having previously erred in their inner beings, they will recover and be brought to understanding. They may sometimes murmur, as Israel murmured in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:27). But it will not be fatal. They will be instructed and learn from it, because God is with them for Abraham’s sake.

The picture is of people transformed by the action of the living God and growing in grace and stature, a true picture of the new Israel who will be established, and of the true church of Christ who will be grafted into Israel by adoption, and will become the true Israel. This is not to distort the passage, or ‘spiritualise’ it. We who are Christ’s are the continuation of Israel, we are the true Israel arising out of the old (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 21:43; Romans 11:17 onwards; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9). Israel always welcomed any who would respond to the covenant, and submit to the God of Israel, whether they were the immediate foreign servants of Abraham, the mixed multitude of Moses (Exodus 12:38) or the covenant people of Shechem (Joshua 8:30-35, note the reference to resident aliens). In fact the large majority of Israelites were not literally physically descended from Jacob. They were ‘adopted’. Thus this has in mind the new Israel, which includes the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), all those united with the new Israel in Christ.

So whenever those who err in spirit come to understanding and learn doctrine, that is, the truth as it is in Jesus, so they are seen to be the work of His hands, and they then begin to ‘sanctify His Name’, by recognising His otherness and His holiness, and standing in awe of Him, in loving worship. They will know God in truth. And it all began with Abraham, whom God graciously redeemed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 29:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-29.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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