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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 29

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 29:1. Wo to Ariel — This word signifies a strong lion, or the lion of God, and is used concerning lion-like men, as it is rendered 1 Chronicles 11:22; and of God’s altar, as it is translated Ezekiel 43:15-16; which seems to be thus called, because it devoured and consumed the sacrifices put upon it, as greedily and as irresistibly as the lion doth his prey. “That Jerusalem is here called by this name,” says Bishop Lowth, “is very certain; but the reason of this name, and the meaning of it, as applied to Jerusalem, are very obscure and doubtful. Some, with the Chaldee, suppose it to be taken from the hearth of the great altar of burnt-offerings, which Ezekiel plainly calls by the same name; and that Jerusalem is here considered as the seat of the fire of God, אור אל, which should issue from thence to consume his enemies: compare Isaiah 31:9. Some, according to the common derivation of the word, suppose that it is called the lion of God, or the strong lion, on account of the strength of the place, by which it was enabled to resist and overcome all its enemies. There are other explanations of this name given, but none that seems to be perfectly satisfactory.” The city where David dwelt — The royal city, and seat of David and his posterity, which is probably here mentioned, because this was the ground of their confidence, and also to intimate that their relation to David, and their supposed interest in the promises made to him and to his seed, should not secure them from the destruction here threatened. Add ye year to year, &c. — The prophet speaks ironically: Go on year after year, and kill sacrifices at the appointed times, whereby you think to appease me; but all shall be in vain. For know, that God will punish you for your hypocritical worship, consisting of mere form, destitute of true piety. As the latter clause, חגים ינקפו, is literally, Let the feasts go round, it is probable this discourse was delivered at the time of some great feast.


Verse 2

Isaiah 29:2. Yet will I distress Ariel — Notwithstanding all your sacrifices, by bringing and strengthening her enemies against her. And there shall be heaviness and sorrow — Instead of your present joy and festivity. And it shall be to me as Ariel — That is, either, 1st, I will treat her like a strong and fierce lion, which the people, among whom it is, endeavour by nets and pits, and divers other ways, to take and destroy. Or, 2d, I will make Ariel the city like Ariel the altar, filling it with sacrifices, even of men, whom I will slay in my anger; which act of God is called his sacrifice, Ezekiel 39:17-19. Agreeably to this latter interpretation, Bishop Lowth renders the clause, It shall be unto me as the hearth of the great altar: that is, as he explains it, “all on flame; as it was when taken by the Chaldeans; or covered with carcasses and blood, as when taken by the Romans: an intimation of which more distant events, though not immediate subjects of the prophecy, may perhaps be given in this obscure passage.”


Verse 3-4

Isaiah 29:3-4. And I will camp against thee, &c. — That is, by those enemies whom I will assist and enable to take and destroy thee. The prophet may here refer to different sieges of Jerusalem, that of Sennacherib, that of the Chaldeans, or even to that of the Romans. Thou shalt be brought down — thy speech shall be low — Thou, who now speakest so loftily, shalt be humbled, and in a submissive manner, and with a low voice, shalt beg the favour of thine enemies. As of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground — “That the souls of the dead uttered a feeble, stridulous sound, very different from the natural human voice, was a popular notion among the heathen, as well as among the Jews. This appears from several passages of their poets, Homer, Virgil, Horace. The pretenders to the art of necromancy, who were chiefly women, had an art of speaking with a reigned voice, so as to deceive those who applied to them, by making them believe that it was the voice of the ghost. They had a way of uttering sounds, as if they were formed, not by the organs of speech, but deep in the chest, or in the belly, and were thence called εγγαστριμυθοι, ventriloqui. They could make the voice seem to come from beneath the ground, from a distant part, in another direction, and not from themselves, the better to impose upon those who consulted them. From these arts of the necromancers, the popular notion seems to have arisen that the ghost’s voice was a weak, stridulous, almost an inarticulate sort of sound, very different from the speech of the living.” — Bishop Lowth.


Verses 5-7

Isaiah 29:5-7. Moreover — Or, rather, But, the multitude of thy strangers — Of the strangers that encamp and fight against thee; shall be like small dust — Dispersed by the least breath of air; and the multitude of the terrible ones — Of the Assyrian army, terrible for courage and ferocity; shall be as the chaff that passeth away — Which is quickly carried away by the wind. Yea, at an instant, suddenly — This dissipation and destruction of thine enemies shall be as instantaneous as it is unexpected. Bishop Lowth, who considers these verses as containing “an admirable description of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, with a beautiful variety of the most expressive and sublime images, adapted to show the greatness, the suddenness, and horror of the event,” gives us the following elegant and striking translation of them, which will give the reader a more just and enlarged view of their meaning, than any note wherewith we might attempt to explain it: But the multitude of the proud shall be like the small dust; And like the flitting chaff, the multitude of the terrible: Yea, the effect shall be momentary, in an instant. From Jehovah there shall be a sudden visitation, With thunder, and earthquake, and a mighty voice; With storm, and tempest, and flame of devouring fire. And like as a dream, a vision of the night, So shall it be with the multitude of all the nations, that fight against Ariel; And all their armies, and their towers, and those that distress her. The reader will observe, that this view of the passage has the sanction of the Vulgate version, and is approved by Prebendary Lowth, Vitringa, Dr. Waterland, Henry, and several others. Some, however, think that these verses should be connected with the preceding, and that the prophet continues in them to describe the judgment to be inflicted on Jerusalem.


Verse 8

Isaiah 29:8. “As when a hungry man dreameth; and, lo! he seemeth to eat; but he awaketh, and his appetite is still unsatisfied: and as a thirsty man, &c. So shall it be with the multitude of all the nations, which have set themselves in array against mount Zion.” Thus Bishop Lowth. The Assyrians had swallowed up Jerusalem in their imagination: but God would suddenly disappoint all their hopes, and send them away empty and confounded. For, the reader will observe, “Sennacherib and his mighty army are not here compared to a dream, because of their sudden disappearance; but the disappointment of their eager hopes is compared to what happens to a hungry and thirsty man, when he awakes from a dream, in which fancy had presented to him meat and drink in abundance, and finds it nothing but a vain illusion. The comparison is elegant and beautiful in the highest, degree, well wrought up, and perfectly suited to the end proposed.”


Verse 9-10

Isaiah 29:9-10. Stay yourselves and wonder — The prophet, having described the temporal judgment coming on the Jews, (see the contents of the chapter,) proceeds now to predict the spiritual one, the first gradation of which is contained in these and the two following verses, which both describe the judgment and the consequence of it. It is the same with that predicted Isaiah 6:9-12; and Isaiah 8:14-15. On which see the notes. Hebrew, התמהמהו ותמהו, Pause and be astonished. Stop and consider the stupidity of this people, and you cannot but wonder at it. Cry ye out, and cry — Through amazement and horror. They are drunken, but not with wine — But with stupidity and folly, which makes them, like drunken men, insensible of their danger, and not knowing what to do. For the Lord hath poured out upon you — Hath suffered to come upon you, in a way of righteous judgment, and as a punishment for your loving, darkness rather than light; the spirit of deep sleep — Hardness of heart, and insensibility of your danger and misery. The prophets and your rulers — Your magistrates and ministers, whose blindness and stupidity are a great curse to the people; hath he covered — Permitted to be covered with the veil of ignorance and stupidity; that is, he hath withdrawn his abused light and grace from them, so that they no more see things in a true light than if a thick veil were spread over them. The prophets and seers here mean the same persons.


Verse 11-12

Isaiah 29:11-12. And the vision of all — Of all your prophets, or every vision; is unto you as the words of a book that is sealed — Which no man can read while it is sealed up, as books then sometimes were, being in the form of rolls. Which men deliver to one that is learned — That understands the language in which the book is written; saying, Read this — he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed — Mere human learning, without supernatural illumination, will not enable any man rightly to understand the word of God, and things divine: see 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 2:14. The book is delivered — Unsealed and opened; to him that is unlearned — and he saith, I cannot read it; for I am unlearned. Thus, neither the learned nor the unlearned among the Jews were any better for the messages which God sent them by his servants the prophets, nor desired to be better.


Verse 13-14

Isaiah 29:13-14. Forasmuch as this people draw near to me — Namely, in acts of worship; with their mouth — Speaking to me in prayer and praise, and promising and professing to serve me; and with their lips do honour me — With mere outward devotion and bodily worship; but have removed their heart far from me — Do not render me that love and gratitude, that regard and obedience, which I require; and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men — By mere human wisdom, and not by my word and Spirit. They worship and serve me, not in such a manner as I have prescribed, but according to men’s inventions, preferring the devices and traditions of their false prophets before my institutions. Or, their religion is merely of human, not of divine, origin: it is the fruit of corrupt nature, and not of renewing grace. I will proceed to do a marvellous work — A thing that will scarce be believed; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish — Shall disappear and vanish. A veil shall be cast upon the eyes of their minds, and their folly shall be made manifest to all. The most refined arts of their politicians shall not avail their authors, nor be able to preserve them from God’s judgments; and their most wise and learned men shall lose their usual discretion, and be infatuated. This threatening was remarkably fulfilled in the Jews of our Lord’s time, who crucified him out of fear of the Romans, and thereby brought the Romans upon them! And “their learned rabbis, ever since, have minded little else but fabulous stories, and the Cabbalists have vented trifles for profound mysteries.” As, in rejecting Christ and his gospel, they removed their hearts far from God, therefore God justly removed wisdom far from them, and hid from their eyes the things that belonged even to their temporal peace.


Verse 15-16

Isaiah 29:15-16. Wo unto them that seek deep — Hebrew, המעמיקים, that make, or dig deep; a metaphor from persons digging deep into the earth, that they may hide what they wish to keep safe and unknown. To hide their counsel from the Lord — Who vainly imagine that they can conceal their hypocrisy and secret wickedness from him, and can deceive, not only men, but God, by their external professions and services; or, who think they can carry on their projects without the observation or interposition of Providence. And their works are in the dark — Their wicked counsels are contrived, and their idolatry is practised, in secret and dark places, of which see Ezekiel 8:12. And they say, Who seeth us? — Neither God nor man can discover us. Surely your turning of things upside down — “Your giving things unexpected turns, or false appearances, to hide your true designs, shall signify no more toward producing the intended effect, than the clay does without the artificer.” Dr. Waterland renders the verse, “This perverseness of yours is as if the potter were reputed as clay; that the work should say of its maker. He made me not; or the thing framed, say of him that framed it, He hath no understanding.” Bishop Lowth reads the passage in the interrogative form, and thereby gives it still more force: “Perverse as ye are! shall the potter be esteemed as the clay? Shall the work say of the workman, He hath not made me?” &c. “We, and all our works are in the hands of God, as clay in the hands of the potter, to give what form and fashion to them he pleases; and when the finest schemes are laid, he can work things to a quite contrary end.” — Lowth.


Verse 17

Isaiah 29:17. Is it not a very little while, &c. — The following paragraph, to the end of the chapter, relates to the times of the gospel; the prophet foretelling therein, in figurative language, the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles. Lebanon, a barren mountain, a desolate wilderness, here stands for the Gentile world. This was to be turned into a fruitful field Hebrew, לכרמל, into Carmel, or the vineyard of God, as the word signifies. On the other hand, the fruitful field, what had formerly been the vineyard of God, the Jewish Church, should be esteemed as a forest — See this interpretation confirmed, Isaiah 32:15; and Matthew 15:7-8.


Verse 18-19

Isaiah 29:18-19. In that day, &c. — In these two verses we have the first happy consequence of Lebanon’s becoming a fruitful field, “the spiritual blessings of light and understanding in divine things, and of joy and consolation to be diffused among the Gentiles, formerly deaf and blind.” The deaf hear the words of the book — That is, the truths of divine revelation are declared to the heathen, and their ears are opened to hear, and their hearts to understand them. And the eyes of the blind to see — They who had been for ages in a state of the greatest spiritual blindness and darkness, shall be enlightened with the clear and satisfactory knowledge of God and his will. The meek also — Humble and meek believers of the Gentiles, opposed to these proud and scornful Jews, spoken of in the former part of this, and in the foregoing chapter; shall increase their joy in the Lord — Shall greatly rejoice in this, that Jehovah is now their God and portion. And the poor among men — The poor in spirit, or the poor of this world, to whom, especially, the gospel has been and is to be preached, or those whom the Jews viewed as a mean and despicable people; shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel — Whom before they neither knew nor regarded.


Verse 20-21

Isaiah 29:20-21. For, &c. — Here we have the second event connected with the calling of the Gentiles, the punishment of the enemies of God and his truth. For the terrible one is brought to naught — The proud and potent enemies of those meek and poor believers, mentioned in the last verse, such as the unbelieving Jews and their rulers, and the heathen potentates, were in the first age of Christianity. And the scorner is consumed — The scornful opposers of God’s word and servants. And all that watch for iniquity — That early and diligently apply themselves to the practice of wickedness. That make a man an offender for a word — That condemn a man, as if he were a great criminal, for a verbal reproof; and lay a snare for him that reproveth — For God’s faithful prophets and ministers, whose office it is to reprove ungodly men; in the gate — Where the people used to assemble, both upon civil and sacred accounts, and where prophets used to deliver their prophecies. And turn aside — From his right; the just — Hebrew, the just, or righteous one, meaning chiefly the prophets and ministers of God, and especially Christ, often called the Just One, both in the Old and New Testaments; for a thing of naught — Not for any great advantage, but for a trifle, which was a great aggravation of their injustice, or, with vanity, as כתהוsignifies, that is, with vain and frivolous pretences, or without any colour of reason or justice. Vitringa applies all this to those who opposed Christ and his apostles.


Verses 22-24

Isaiah 29:22-24. Therefore thus saith the Lord — These verses contain the third consequence of turning Lebanon into a fruitful field; “a wonderful increase of the true seed of Abraham and Jacob disseminated through the whole world, in whom those patriarchs, according to the promises given them by God, might be able to recognise their true image.” Who redeemed Abraham — From manifold dangers, and especially from idolatry, in which his family and ancestors were generally involved; Jacob shall not now be ashamed — The posterity of Jacob, who had great cause to be ashamed for their continued infidelity, for their persecutions of God’s prophets and righteous servants, and for their rejection of their own Messiah, shall, at last, be brought back unto the God of their fathers, and to their own Messiah. Neither shall his face now wax pale — Through fear of their enemies, who from time to time had molested them, for now they shall be delivered from them all, and shall serve God without fear, Luke 1:74. But when he seeth his children — When the believing seed of Jacob shall see those children whom they have begotten to God, by the gospel, even the Gentiles; the work of my hands — The children, not of the flesh, but of the promise, whom I, by my almighty grace, have regenerated; in the midst of him — Incorporated with the Jews, into one and the same body; they shall sanctify my name, &c. — Instead of despising and hating the Gentiles, and envying them the grace of God, they shall praise and glorify God with them, and for them. They also that erred — Those Gentiles who had erred from God’s truth, being led aside by a lying spirit to idolatry, and all manner of impiety; shall come to understanding — Shall come to the knowledge of the truth; and they that murmured, &c. — They that would not receive the doctrine of God, but murmured at his faithful teachers who delivered it; shall learn doctrine — Shall receive God’s truth in the love of it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 29:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-29.html. 1857.

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