The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 25; Chapters 28-29, part 2
Chapter 28 revealed the destruction of Israel as well as the future deliverance of the remnant of believers. We will see why these themes of judgment and deliverance are so often side by side. At the end of 28, two parables are given - sowing and reaping - upon which opened the question, would Jerusalem go the same way as Israel, or would she be spared. Chapter 29 answers that question.
We cannot read 29 without thinking of king Sennacherib and his numerous and powerful Assyrian army that was confidently on its way to destroy Jerusalem after it had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and sacked much of the towns in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. However, neither the Assyrian king or nation are mentioned, and even Jerusalem is given the pseudonym Ariel. We can devise the reason for the absence of names: God is not here concerned to describe particular events in time, but to elucidate principles that are timeless. The principle is that God always has the last word and that word will fulfill all righteousness and justice. God is the Rock of all history.
Woe, O Ariel, Ariel the city where David once camped!
Add year to year, observe your feasts on schedule.
2 And I will bring distress to Ariel,
And she shall be a city of lamenting and mourning;
And she shall be like an Ariel to me.
3 And I will camp against you encircling you,
And I will set siegeworks against you,
And I will raise up battle towers against you.
4 Then you shall be brought low;
From the earth you shall speak,
And from the dust where you are prostrate,
Your words shall come.
Your voice shall also be like that of a spirit from the ground,
And your speech shall whisper from the dust.
We begin with the second woe of this section (28-37) of which there are six woes in total. Great distress will be brought upon Jerusalem, but she will be delivered from Assyrian oppression. However, physical deliverance does not guarantee spiritual deliverance, which demands faith, and that is the real issue. How many of us have been delivered from the physical calamity that was caused by our sin to only go back to the way of that sin?
Ariel is revealed as David’s city, a city under duress, and Zion (vs. 8). The name therefore represents the combination of favor (David and Zion) with distress. The best image that combines distress and favor is the altar hearth in the Temple where the sacrifice is burned. The fire and the sacrifice are truly a combination of favor and judgment. Within her Temple, little Ariel holds both sides of God’s relationship to His people - judgment and favor, and the fulcrum between them being faith in God’s redemption. The altar was the privilege of some and the peril of others, just as the cross has been since Jesus completed it. The reality of God’s redemption accomplished in Jesus condemns those who reject it and brings unfathomable favor to those who accept it.
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?
In verse 3 we find the Lord encircling the city, yet we know it will be the Assyrians who do so. Assyria is a secondary cause or a tool in the hands of God. God assimilates the secondary cause with Himself because He will not allow us to live as though we were dealing with only secondary causes or His tools. We always directly face the Lord Himself, no matter who or what we see physically standing before us or around us. We live before Him and are beholden to Him no matter how well we think we can work the system (secondary cause).
The Lord will remove the enemy:
But the multitude of your enemies shall become like fine dust,
And the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away;
And it shall happen instantly, suddenly.
6 From the Lord of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise,
With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire.
7 And the multitude of all the nations who wage war against Ariel,
Even all who wage war against her and her stronghold, and who distress her,
Shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.
8 And it will be as when a hungry man dreams —
And behold, he is eating;
But when he awakens, his hunger is not satisfied,
Or as when a thirsty man dreams —
And behold, he is drinking,
But when he awakens, behold, he is faint,
And his thirst is not quenched.
Thus the multitude of all the nations shall be,
Who wage war against Mount Zion.
Verses 5-8 turn to the enemy, Assyria. “Chaff which blows away” (vs. 5) is always used of swift acting divine judgment before which the guilty are helpless (JOB 21:17-18; PSA 1:4; 35:5; ISA 17:13; HOS 13:3). The tool that God uses, in this case Assyria, is itself an enemy of God and His people. Just because He uses them does not mean that they will not be judged justly by God. The great Sennacherib will be removed with awesome ease (ISA 37:36-38), but as we stated, the king’s name, nor his nation are mentioned here because God desires us to see more than that great historical event. He wants us to see the timeless principle that He always has the last word in which the kings of the earth will be turned upside down to fall off their thrones, and the Lord will be turned right-side up to sit upon His (Psa 2).
Verses 7-8 contain a dream simile. The enemy was certain of victory just like in a vivid dream, but then they woke to the reality. In fact, it would seem that they woke up dead (37:36).
“At his inauguration (6:9ff.) Isaiah was warned that he was called to prophetic office at a crisis point. Those who have resisted the word of the Lord can only be won by yet another offer of the word. Yet that very offer also gives them the dreadful opportunity to go beyond the point of no return into irretrievable heart-hardening. It is upon this moment that Isaiah now meditates.” (Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah)
Be delayed and wait.
Blind yourselves and be blind.
They become drunk, but not with wine;
They stagger, but not with strong drink.
10 For the Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep,
He has shut your eyes, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, the seers.
11 And the entire vision shall be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, "Please read this," he will say, "I cannot, for it is sealed." 12 Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, "Please read this." And he will say, "I cannot read."
13 Then the Lord said,
"Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
“Blind yourselves and be blind” or “be dumbfounded, yes dumbfounded.” If Isaiah still has the Assyrian invasion in mind; for the people to see the Lord wipe out that great enemy like chaff and still hesitate to know it was from the Lord would likely be a step into the place of no return. Events don’t carry their own explanations. The people of Jerusalem might have concluded that it was the pact with Egypt that brought deliverance or simply just happy circumstance. Yet, still Isaiah in this oracle has not mentioned names or events. Whether it is the situation with Assyria or the great situation with Midian against Gideon’s 300 many years before it, or any other deliverance wrought by God, the principle is in view, which is timeless - God delivers those who trust Him, and those who see God’s works and continue to reject Him as the Author will step into the place of no return.
A willful blindness moves God’s hand to blind further by showing Himself again. Each time God is rejected, deeper blindness ensues, inevitably resulting in judgment.
"Render the hearts of this people insensitive,,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Lest they see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed."
Our Lord said: "And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
'You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; (MAT 13:14)
In verse nine they become drunk, but not with wine. In 28:7-8 their indulgence promoted refusal of God’s word. Here, refusal of God’s word promotes a different kind of indulgence. Drunkenness promotes the refusal of God’s word which in turn promotes spiritual blindness, which promotes more indulgence and then more blindness - a continuous and destructive cycle.
In verse ten a deep sleep is poured over them. They go into a coma. What we embrace will be visited upon us. “A determined spiritual insensitivity becomes spiritual paralysis.” (Motyer)
In verse eleven there is a double illustration of the rejection of the word or warning given. There are those who can’t be bothered (“I can’t open it, it’s sealed.”) and those who do not care (“I cannot read.”). Due to this, religion remains (“lip service”), but true worship has perished (“their heart is far from Me”). We worship God when our hearts are turned towards Him, understanding truth and loving that truth and its Maker.
“I know that you are Abraham's offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.”
"He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
And so God will continue to do marvels, and these will make the believers rejoice in God and weep for their blind neighbors, while simultaneously making the blind neighbors more blind.
ISA 29:14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;
And the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed."
What the wondrous act will be we are not told, but it will be marvelous and supernatural. Three times the same root word is used [hapli]: marvelously, wondrously, marvelous - and the result of it will be the destruction of wisdom and discernment. How odd that the wondrous act of God should make men more stupid. The believer couldn’t miss it. The unbeliever will conclude some rational explanation and get dumber.
This divine remedy to the people’s spiritual state is the subject of the next ‘woe.’ (vv. 15-24)
The first result (15-16) of the remedy is the submersion of reason. Life must be lived in light of the wisdom of God. The proper way of life is to submit to God’s designs and ways, even His timetable. It is foolish to go astray to our own ways.
Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord,
And whose deeds are done in a dark place,
And they say, "Who sees us?" or "Who knows us?"
16 You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made should say to its maker, "He did not make me";
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, "He has no understanding"?
The second result (17-21) of the remedy is a coming world renewal for the remnant. God shows us the future so that we may walk towards it in confidence. And He shows us the past so that we may strengthen our confidence in His workings. Though His deliverance may seem delayed at times, He will never fail to bring it at the proper time. People may not accord to God His proper place, but this will not stop Him from accomplishing His good pleasure. The upside-down world must be put right.
Is it not yet just a little while
Before Lebanon will be turned into a fertile field,
And the fertile field will be considered as a forest?
18 And on that day the deaf shall hear words of a book,
And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The afflicted also shall increase their gladness in the Lord,
And the needy of mankind shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
20 For the ruthless will come to an end, and the scorner will be finished,
Indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off;
21 Who cause a person to be indicted by a word,
And ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate,
And defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments.
The cedars of Lebanon (vs. 17) are mighty and breathtaking trees. A forest of them would represent the Lord’s restoration of the earth’s beauty. So the spiritual people of God are to be mighty and beautiful.
The spiritual aspect of the transformation that God will bring to His believers is that they will hear and see (vs. 18) in contrast to vv. 9-12 where the unbelievers have closed eyes and closed books. What they hear and see will give them new appetites that they know that only God can fulfill, and to them He will add joy (“increase their gladness;” vs. 19). The Messiah would come and open the eyes of the blind and give the church His joy, and this He will do in eternity for all who enter the kingdom.
Then there is the societal transformation. The joy in the hearts of God’s people are going to be matched by an environment that is absent of troublemakers (“ruthless” and “scorner” and “evil-doer” in vs. 20) as well as the absence of those who pervert justice (vs. 21) .
The third result of the remedy will be the changed fortune of Jacob. The day of transformation is coming for the remnant of all generations of Israel.
Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob,
"Jacob shall not now be ashamed, nor shall his face now turn pale;
23 But when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst,
They will sanctify My name;
Indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,
And will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 "And those who err in mind will know the truth,
And those who criticize will accept instruction.
God reaches back to Abraham, bringing attention to His age old purposes, showing that He will fulfill all that was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. Those to whom the covenant is fulfilled will stand in awe of the God of Israel and sanctify His name (vs. 23). They are the work of His hands. They have not made understanding in themselves (vs. 24), nor have they made the perfect world they live in (vs. 23).
Yavah is the Lord of history. There is one foundation of all of history as well as one destiny. The problems that man creates along the way will all be solved by God. The believing of mankind will be spiritually transformed because of God’s faithfulness to His promise and their faith in it. God will both renew them and deliver them and victory will come in His perfect time. Yavah Elohim is the Rock of history.
In the spirit of God's good pleasure,
Pastor Joe Sugrue