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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Isaiah 29

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXIX.

God's heavy judgment upon Jerusalem. The unsatiableness of her enemies. The senselessness and deep hypocrisy of the Jews. A promise of sanctification to the godly.

Before Christ 712.

THE second section of the discourse, contained in the present chapter, directed wholly to the Jews of Jerusalem, is nearly the same argument with that preceding. Herein the prophet denounces upon Jerusalem, and principally upon Sion, the more excellent part of the city, under the mystical name of Ariel, a grievous calamity which was to happen to it in process of time; the beginning whereof it should experience in the time of Sennacherib's expedition, shortly to take place, but with such ill success, that the enemies of the Jews, when they seemed almost, in their own imagination, to have attained their hope, should find themselves, by the divine judgment, utterly deluded and disappointed. In the mean time, the prophet convinces the Jews of their inattention and stupidity, their ignorance of the true doctrine of salvation, and of the divine revelation contained in it; and he denounces upon them the judgment of blindness and hardness of heart, giving the pious a lively hope, that the Gentiles should be called in their stead to the communion of the kingdom of God. This section may be divided into two parts; the first containing the denunciation of the temporal judgment to be inflicted on this people, Isaiah 28:1-8. The second, the spiritual judgment: in the former part we have, first, a preface which contains an address to the people of Jerusalem with a deploration of the calamity about to come upon them, for the punishment of their insolence and hypocrisy; Isaiah 28:1. Secondly, the declaration of that judgment whereby Jerusalem should be besieged by an incredible number of enemies, and should learn to speak humbly;—middle of Isaiah 28:1 to Isaiah 28:5. This declaration consists of various articles. Thirdly, the event of these hostile undertakings with respect to the enemies themselves, who, while they besieged Jerusalem, should either be destroyed with great slaughter, or at least experience that their joy on the expectation of taking the city and destroying the state was merely imaginary, Isaiah 28:6-8. The latter part, exhibiting the spiritual judgment, is two-fold; for, it either describes that judgment directly and clearly, in various articles, as well with respect to those who concealed their hypocrisy in the cause of religion with zeal for the traditions of their fathers, Isaiah 28:9-14 as to those who openly denied the hope of their fathers, and placed all their hope of safety in wealth, in craftiness, and their own self-approving wisdom, Isaiah 28:15-16. Or, it declares that judgment indirectly and obliquely; namely, from the calling of the Gentiles to be substituted in the place of the disobedient Jews; Isaiah 28:17-24.


Verse 1-2

Isaiah 29:1-2. Woe to Ariel, &c.— It is evident from Isaiah 29:8 and all interpreters have agreed, that this prophesy is directed against Jerusalem; and it has been commonly thought that אריאל Ariel, which signifies the lion of God, and was the name of the altar of burnt-offerings, is here put for the city of Jerusalem, where this celebrated altar was erected;—which has appeared the more probable from the apparent allusion in the latter part of this verse to the rites performed at that altar. But Vitringa is of opinion, that Ariel, or the city of Ariel, means the city of David, as the next clause explains it; for he thinks that Ariel was a mystical name for David, and one which was usual for the most celebrated warlike heroes among the Hebrews. Our prophet has used it in this sense in chap. Isaiah 33:7. See also 2 Samuel 23:20. And Bochart informs us, that even yet, among the Arabs and Persians, their most celebrated warriors are called, "The lions of God." There is great emphasis in the passage thus understood. The author of the Observations, however, cannot agree in this interpretation of Vitringa's; he asks, "How will this account for the altar's being called Ariel: Ezekiel 43:15.? Is it not proper rather to think of some circumstance which agreed with both, and might be the occasion of calling each of them Ariel?" Such, according to the eastern taste, was the confirming great quantities of provision, and especially of flesh. The modern Persians will have it, says D'Herbelot, in his account of Schiraz, a city of that country, that this name was given to it, because this city consumes and devours like a lion (which is called Schir in Persian) all that is brought to it; by which they express the multitude, and, it may be, the good appetite of its inhabitants. The prophet then denounces Woe; perhaps to Zion, as too ready to trust to the number of its inhabitants and sojourners, which may be insinuated by the same term, Ariel: and conformably to this interpretation, the threatening in the last clause of the second verse may be understood of Jerusalem consuming its inhabitants. We read of a land eating up its inhabitants. Numbers 13:32. So that Jerusalem, which had been called

Ariel on account of the great quantities of flesh consumed there, above all the other cities of Judah, might be threatened by the prophet to be called Ariel, as consuming its inhabitants themselves: a very different sense from the preceding, and an extremely severe one. Observations, p. 114. Bishop Lowth renders the latter part of the first verse, Add year to year; let the feasts go round in their course. The general meaning of the whole passage is, that though the hypocritical inhabitants might think to please God by external worship, by their annual festivals and repeated sacrifices, yet these, without faith and right dispositions, would avail them nothing: God, notwithstanding them, would distress, or rather inclose and besiege them, (see Jeremiah 19:9.) and reduce them to great sorrow and misery. The last clause, And it shall be unto me as Ariel, is differently understood. We have just seen one interpretation of it by the author of the Observations: Vitringa thinks that the sense of the prophet is, that God would make Jerusalem the fiery centre of his indignation; for Ariel is here taken, says he, in its true signification, not for the altar, but for the centre of the altar; and herein consists the force of the sentence. The centre of the altar sustained the symbol of the most holy and pure will of God, by which all the victims offered to God were to be approved, to which pertains the justice of God, burning like fire, and consuming the sinner, if no propitiation intervenes, but Jerusalem should become the theatre of the divine judgments; it should consume, like the fire upon the altar, as well the wicked and refractory sinners who should miserably perish in it, as the enemy who should besiege it: for a fire should burst forth from the face of the Lord, and consume the enemy, as it happened to the Assyrians. To shew the propriety of this interpretation, compare chap. Isaiah 31:8-9 which refers to the present passage.


Verse 3-4

Isaiah 29:3-4. And I will camp, &c.— This second article explains the former. The prophet had said that Jerusalem should be straitened and distressed; which he here expresses plainly, Isaiah 29:3 declaring that the consequence of this siege should be, a reduction of the proud and self-confident inhabitants to that state of humility, that, like the Pythonesses, or those who had familiar spirits, they should, with a low and whispering voice, (a certain demonstration of the anxiety of their minds) mournfully express their sensations, or answer their enemies in supplication and humility. See ch. Isaiah 2:6. Though the prophet in this place may refer to different sieges of Jerusalem, yet it appears that the more immediate reference is to its last and terrible siege by the Romans; and by referring to Josephus's account of that siege, the reader will find a variety of particulars which will throw great light on this prophesy.


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 29:5-6. Moreover, the multitude Vitringa is of opinion, that this passage sets forth the event of these hostile attempts against Jerusalem, particularly with respect to the Assyrians; in which view it is extremely clear: while others think that these words should be connected with those preceding, and that the prophet continues in them to describe the judgment to be inflicted on Jerusalem. In Vitringa's sense, which, says he, after long and diligent meditation, I prefer to any other, the words, Thou shalt be visited, should be read, and accordingly they are read by him, They [the multitude] shall be visited.


Verse 7-8

Isaiah 29:7-8. And the multitude of all the nations These verses contain the event of the siege of Jerusalem, with respect to the Chaldees and Romans; and the meaning of the parable appears to he this, that the joy of the enemies, after the destruction of Jerusalem, shall not be of a long continuance, but imaginary; such as is the joy and pleasure of dreamers; for, persuading themselves, after the great labour of taking and destroying Jerusalem, that they may give themselves up to rest, or sleep; that with the destruction of this state they had entirely cut off the religion of the true God, so that it could never more raise its head, and give trouble to the Roman empire and superstition; and on this account giving themselves awhile up to a dream of imaginary joy, they should at length be awakened from their sleep, and be experimentally convinced that they had fed themselves with false and delusive ideas; for, so far from hurting the true religion, these judgments of God should conduce to extend and amplify it, and to give it establishment over that idolatry which its enemies patronized. This was the case with many of the Chaldees, who became proselytes to the Jewish religion; and remarkably with the Romans; over whom that religion of Jesus Christ which came from the Jerusalem which they had destroyed, so remarkably triumphed: insomuch that Seneca, speaking of the Jews, says, that the conquered gave laws to the conquerors; victi victoribus leges dederint; and Rutilius, (who lived in the fifth century,) referring more immediately to the Christians, victoresque suos natio victa premit. See Vitringa.


Verse 9-10

Isaiah 29:9-10. Stay yourselves, and wonder Or, Stay, &c.—Make blind and be ye blind; they are drunken, &c. The prophet here proceeds to describe the spiritual judgment; the first gradation of which is contained in Isaiah 29:9-12. The two former expressing this judgment both mystically and properly; the two latter the unhappy consequence of it. Upon the whole, this period describes the same judgment with that mentioned, chap. Isaiah 6:9, &c. Isaiah 8:14-15. See also chap. Isaiah 28:7-8. Vitringa supposes that the event which the people are called upon to stay and wonder at, is the manifestation of the kingdom of Christ; their rejection whereof should be attended with the spiritual blindness and hardness of heart here predicted, and which we learn sufficiently to have been the case from the Gospel. See Vitringa.


Verse 11-12

Isaiah 29:11-12. And the vision, &c.— These words set forth the consequence of the common blindness of the whole Jewish nation, learned and unlearned, teacher and people; namely, their universal incapacity to interpret and to understand the word of God, especially the prophetic word; which incapacity Isaiah exposes in a parable no less plain than beautiful. How remarkably this prophesy has been and is fulfilled, we learn abundantly from those teachers of the Jews to whom the prophetic vision is to this day a sealed book, and of which the people, incapable of gaining instruction from their teachers, are equally ignorant, each being alike in gross and judicial darkness.


Verse 13-14

Isaiah 29:13-14. Wherefore the Lord said This second article is so connected with that preceding as to explain it. It contains the fault, Isaiah 29:13 and the punishment, Isaiah 29:14. Our prophet every where excellently sets forth both in his usual manner; for no colours can more fully express the state of the Jewish nation, according to what we learn of it from the gospel-history, than these words. Our Lord himself has quoted and applied them to the Pharisees of his times, and their deluded followers. See Matthew 15:8. Mark 7:6. Vitringa renders the last clause of the 13th verse, And the reverence with which they honour me consists in precepts taught by men. There needs no comment upon the 14th verse, more than what we have remarked in the former note. See St. Paul's application of it, 1 Corinthians 1:19.


Verse 15-16

Isaiah 29:15-16. Woe unto them, &c.— Woe unto them who with deep dissimulation seek to hide their counsel, &c. Isaiah 29:16. 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. Vitringa. The plain meaning of the prophet is, that their proceedings who attempted to hide their worldly counsels and subtle devices from Jehovah, were as absurd as if the clay should set itself against the potter. This reproof is levelled against the Sadducees, the Herodians, and those other sects among the Jews who, disclaiming dependence upon God, were for relying on the aid and protection of the Roman powers.


Verse 17

Isaiah 29:17. Is it not yet a very little while, &c.— The prophet here proceeds to set forth this spiritual judgment upon the greater part of the Jewish nation obliquely, by foretelling the call of the Gentiles, who should be substituted in their place; an event, which he first proposes in general in this verse, and then he more particularly relates three consequences or effects of it; First, 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: Isaiah 29:18-19. Secondly, the subdual or destruction of the enemies who had opposed the truth of the Gospel, and its preachers: Isaiah 29:20-21. Thirdly, 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 to them by God, might be able to recognize their true image, Isaiah 29:22-24. The proposition is metaphorically expressed; wherein the sudden and remarkable conversion of the Gentile world is spoken of as a thing no less extraordinary, than if Lebanon, a high and unfruitful hill, should be turned into a fruitful field; while the rejection of the Jews, on the other hand, should be as remarkable as the fruitful field becoming desolate, and being turned into a forest. This is a common image in our prophet; chap. Isaiah 32:15, Isaiah 35:1-6, Isaiah 43:19-20. See Romans 11:15. We have no need to speak of the completion of this prophesy, which we see daily fulfilled before our eyes.


Verse 18-19

Isaiah 29:18-19. And in that day See Luke 2:32. Acts 11:18. Ephesians 4:18 and other similar passages of the New Testament, for the best comment upon these words, JESUS gave ears to the deaf, and sight to the blind, as figurative of that spiritual deafness and blindness which he removes by his grace.


Verse 20-21

Isaiah 29:20-21. For the terrible one, &c.— The terrible and fierce were such as Herod Agrippa, who persecuted the apostles; the scorners and blasphemous, such as those who reproached the apostles when filled with the Spirit, as being drunk with wine. The watchers for iniquity, or of iniquity were such as those priests and scribes, who consulted together to take Jesus by subtilty: they who make a man an offender for a word, such as those who condemned Stephen for certain words imputed to him: those who lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, such as those who laid wait for Paul, after he had so fully reproved and baffled them; and lastly, they who overturn the just for a thing of nought, for no cause, were such as they who put to death James the less, surnamed the Just, and others of the first Christians, against whom they could lay no just cause of offence. See Vitringa.


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;—the Gentiles being called to the privileges of the Christian dispensation. The prophet foretels that many spiritual children should be born to the church; in whom the true image of Abraham and Jacob should be seen, whom the true sons of Jacob (in whom Jacob yet lived) should see without shame, Isaiah 29:22 and with whom they should sanctify and celebrate the name of the God of Jacob; Isaiah 29:23. Which wonderful conversions should have such an effect, that those men who might be thought erring in spirit, wanting in understanding, and who had for a long time murmured against and reviled the doctrine of the Gospel, should at length themselves also receive it. The word therefore, in Isaiah 29:22 properly connects with the 17th verse. By the murmurers, &c. Vitringa understands the orators, sophists, philosophers, and others, who with their vain science first opposed the Gospel, but of whom many became afterwards converts to the Christian faith.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The subject of this prophesy is Jerusalem, the place where David dwelt, or encamped; it is called Ariel, the lion of God, some think in reference to the altar, which consumed the sacrifices as a lion his prey; or more probably as the metropolis of Judah, called the lion's whelp, Genesis 49:9 and whose standard was a lion.

1. The ruin of it is foretold, which all their sacrifices, because hypocritical, cannot prevent. Vain were the oblations from year to year, while their iniquities were unrepented of. God threatens to distress them, to fill every heart with heaviness and sorrow, and make the city like the altar of God, surrounded with the blood and carcases of the slain, and fire kindled in the midst of it. The besiegers, under a divine support, should surround it with mounts and forts without, beat down the walls, and reduce them to the most abject subjection; or bring them so low by famine, that their voices should, through weakness, scarcely be heard, like those who, pretending to familiar spirits, whispered and muttered out of the dust. With marks of divine displeasure, God would assist their foes with thunder, earthquake, and tempest, and give them up at last into their hands, who should consume their city and temple with fire. Note; (1.) Formal services, while the heart continues unchanged and unhumbled, are but an abomination in the sight of God. (2.) Woe unto those against whom God contends; against him there is no defence. (3.) The proudest sinner will sooner or later be laid in the dust, either in willing penitence, or terrible perdition.

2. God would disappoint their foes; they in their turn should suddenly be destroyed, their vain hopes of success be as a vision in the night, and their disappointment like the man who dreams of meat and drink, yet awakes hungry and thirsty; which may refer to the ruin of Sennacherib's army, though that will not agree with Isaiah 29:3 as they never raised any mount there; but more pointedly applies to the Roman army, whose sudden irruption, and numerous forces rushing to the siege, are pointed at Isaiah 29:5 and their disappointment, when the spoil they promised themselves would be so little answerable to their expectations, set forth in Isaiah 29:7-8. The whole also may be applied to the Jews themselves, expressing the destruction of the succours they expected, and the vanity of the hopes with which they flattered themselves, that their city would not be taken, till dreadful experience at last awaked them from their fatal reverie.

2nd, Whatever fulfilment the words of the prophesy beginning at the 9th verse had in the men of that generation, it is plain, from Romans 11:7-8 that they refer to the times of Christ and the Gospel dispensation, and God's judgment of spiritual blindness inflicted on the obstinate Jews under that dispensation. But on this we shall enlarge, when we come to the passage in the New Testament.

1. The prophet calls aloud with the voice of warning: Stay yourselves, consider your ways, and run no more madly in the way of sin and ruin, and wonder at the long patience of God, and cry ye out, and cry at the impending judgments of God, if yet there may be hope.

2. The prophet describes their stupidity and judicial blindness. They were drunken; not merely with wine, but with corrupt principles, staggering, unsteady in their conduct, and ever turning aside from the right way. And to this God had in righteous judgment given them up, because they refused the knowledge of the truth; priests, prophets, and rulers, were all under this spirit of darkness and infatuation. The prophesies were as a sealed book, the wise no more understanding them than the ignorant. Which was eminently verified, when, in opposition to the brightest evidence, and fullest completion of the prophesies concerning the Messiah, the Jews obstinately rejected the Lord Jesus, and the rulers and priests were the chief in the transgression, blind leaders of the blind, hardened themselves, and hardening others against conviction. Note; (1.) They who will not take warning, will be given up to their own heart's lusts. (2.) It is a woeful case, when they who should teach others are blind and ignorant themselves. (3.) Multitudes, in the midst of the plainest light of Gospel truth, are still to overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, that their eyes are closed in darkness, and they are led captive by the devil at his will.

3. He charges them with vile hypocrisy. They draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, giving him the formal services of the lip and knee; but have removed their heart far from me; their affections being supremely placed on the world, and the things of it, and their souls utter strangers to any inward heart-approach to God; and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men; their religion was from education alone, not derived from God's word; and their worship destitute of spirituality, and suited to lull their souls asleep in stupid formality. Such was the case with the Jews, see Matthew 15:3-9 and such is still the case with multitudes, who call themselves, and are counted by the world, good Christians, whose prayers are as regular as the hour returns, while their hearts are utter strangers to converting grace and communion with God. Note; That is no prayer which is not the soul's work.

4. God threatens them with condign punishment: a marvellous work he would work, at which they should be astonished.

[1.] The understanding of their wise men should perish. Though their schemes were laid so deep against the Lord, and against his Anointed, and so concealed, that they atheistically promised themselves that not even God could see or disappoint them—yet woe unto them! their politics were as absurd as wicked: their attempts to hide their counsel from him, and counteract his designs, were vain, since as easily as the potter moulds the clay, so could he mar their schemes, or fashion them after his own will; for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? as if self-created; or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? which they in fact did by such conduct, though the folly of it was so evident. Note; (1.) They who set up for wise men and free-thinkers, and discard their Bibles, will prove at last the most egregious fools. (2.) A disbelief of God's all-seeing eye and universal agency is at the bottom of every work of darkness.

[2.] The Gentiles should shortly be called into the church, and the Jews rejected. Though the one was now like a forest, it should, by the preaching of the Gospel, become as a fruitful field; and the other, though long favoured in a peculiar manner as God's heritage, should be utterly laid waste for their impenitence, and especially for their rejection of Christ and his Gospel: and this in the eyes of the Jews, and even of the apostles themselves, too partial at first to their own nation, appeared a marvellous work.

3rdly, It having been foretold by the prophet, that the Gentiles should be called, and the Jews rejected, we have the blessings which the church should in that day of Gospel grace enjoy.

1. They who before were deaf to God's calls, and blind to any spiritual knowledge of the truth, should, by the preaching of the Gospel, in the demonstration of the Spirit and power, have the eyes of their mind enlightened, and be enabled to hear and receive the word of truth. Note; (1.) Every soul is by nature spiritually blind. (2.) The preaching of the Gospel is the grand means that God uses to bring the soul out of darkness into his marvellous light.

2. Joy and gladness shall revive the meek and poor in spirit. Such as are brought to a view of their own sinfulness, and humbly submissive to every dispensation of Providence, silent under provocation, and in their own eyes poor and perishing, these shall increase their joy in the Lord, under the experience of his love and care of them, and rejoice in the Holy One of Israel as their rich portion and exceeding great reward. Note; (1.) It is not external poverty, but internal lowliness of heart, to which the promise is made. (2.) Whatever injuries we receive, or wants we endure, if, in the midst of all, our hearts are quietly stayed upon God, we have cause of abundant joy.

3. The erroneous will be convinced, and they who murmured at God's word or commandments as hard sayings, be silenced, and humbly submit to his truth.

4. Their enemies and persecutors shall be destroyed. By the terrible one may be meant the rulers of the Jews, or the persecuting power of the pagan Roman emperors; or it may have respect to antichrist, whose kingdom shall be brought to nought, as the former enemies of Christ and his Gospel have been broken. The scorner signifies the philosophers of the Gentiles, or the Jews that scoffed at the doctrine of the cross, whose inveterate enmity against Christ and his apostles kept them always on the watch, and any word which could be misrepresented served for a ground of accusation: they laid snares for their faithful reprovers, that they might entangle them in their talk; and without proof or evidence condemned the just; and this was abundantly fulfilled in the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees, Matthew 22; Matthew 23 but they received their just doom, and were cut off, according to the prophetic word, in their iniquities Note; (1.) They who are Christ's servants, must expect the threatenings of the terrible, and the ridicule of the scorner. (2.) The enemies of religion are ever on the watch to catch at every slip or failing of the professors of it, as matter of railing accusation against them. Let it make us the more watchful to cut off occasion from those who desire occasion. (3.) We must not think it strange, to have a word dropped unadvisedly, construed into a heavy charge, or an innocent expression perverted to a most criminal meaning, when scoffers come to hear God's ministers, not for edification, but to lay snares for their reprovers; so persecuted they the prophets that were before us. (4.) If in the faithful discharge of our office we find a wicked world opposing, and with every base and malignant insinuation seeking to blacken us, it is a consolation that we are the more like our Lord. (5.) Whatever success at present may seem to attend those who oppose the cause of God and truth, they shall be cut off at the last.

5. The church should be gloriously enlarged, by the accession at last of the seed of Jacob. Therefore thus saith the Lord, who redeemed Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and out of all his troubles, concerning the house of Jacob his posterity, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, and his face wax pale, as when his degenerate seed rejected and crucified the Lord Jesus. But when he seeth his children recovered from their apostacy, the work of mine hands, by converting grace fashioned anew, in the midst of him assembled together, they shall sanctify my name, by believing in the Redeemer, and receiving his Gospel, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel, returning to his worship and service. By Jacob here also the church of Christ may be meant, rejoicing in the conversion of all the true believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, in the latter day, who shall then together unite in the praises of their Lord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 29:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/isaiah-29.html. 1801-1803.

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