Isaiah 29

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

29:1.  “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.”


Ariel, meaning lion of God, and also altar is a synonym for Samaria the principal city of Ephraim, and inasmuch as the lion symbolizes rule, e.g., the Lord is the Lion of Judah, we are being reminded that in the Millennium Israel will rule, Jerusalem being the center of world government. But in Isaiah’s day the city, because of sin, had become synonymous with servitude rather than sovereignty, for God was about to bring the Assyrians against it though He would not permit them to capture it. 


Assyria means a step, a meaning which may indicate that this would be God’s first step in chastisement that was designed to produce repentant obedience.


The second sentence may not be taken to mean that God approved of the offerings they continued to bring.  He strongly disapproved, for what He Himself had ordained had degenerated into a mere empty formal religious ritual which was an offence to Him.  Nor is what passes for worship in Christendom today any less abhorrent to Him, however impressive it may seem to be in men’s eyes.  It glorifies man, but insults God, because the leading of the Holy Spirit is conspicuously absent in all of it.  The imperative that true worship be impelled by the Holy Spirit has been declared by the Lord Himself in John 4:23-24, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.  God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”


29:2.  “Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.”


Taylor has rendered this verse, “But I will send heavy judgment upon you, and there will be weeping and sorrow.  For Jerusalem shall become as her name ‘Ariel’ means - an altar covered with blood.”


Because of their failure to repent and stop their idolatrous worship, God would make Ephraim herself a sacrifice unto Him, using Assyria as His agent; and so will it be also in the Great Tribulation when He will use the Beast to chastise rebel Israel, and bring her to repentance.


29:3.  “And I will encamp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.”


When God brought this to pass it is doubtful whether any but the godly remnant recognized the besieging Assyrians as God’s instruments; and relative to today’s unbelieving world, it is questionable whether anyone but spiritual believers stop to consider that earthquakes, floods, famines, epidemic diseases, etc., may be God’s attempt to get man’s attention.  It would be well, in fact, were we to respond to every seeming personal misfortune or adversity, by asking whether God is trying to tell us something.


The impossibility of anyone’s escaping from the besieged city assures us that man cannot escape the judgment of God except by repentant confession of sin, and by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


29:4.  “And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.”


Expositors disagree as to whether the Israelites described here had been slain, or brought to humble repentance.  A familiar spirit was an evil spirit indwelling an individual permanently, or sporadically, and using its host’s voice to express itself.


Phillip’s translation of this verse is, “Then you will speak as you lie prostrate, your words will come humbly from the earth, and weak as the voice of a ghost will be your squeaking from the dust.”


29:5.  “Moreover the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away; yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.”


29:6.  “Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.”


By means of the natural phenomena described here God would scatter the armies besieging Jerusalem, and deliver the inhabitants without their having to lift a weapon.  What needless concern we give ourselves when we forget that our God is omnipotent, and that He loves us so much that He gave His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die in our stead, and thus enable Him, on a basis of perfect justice, to pardon all our sins, and bestow His priceless gift of eternal life, see Romans 8:31-33, “What shall we then say to these things?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”


29:7.  “And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition (stronghold), and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.”


Taylor has translated this verse, “And all the nations fighting Jerusalem will vanish like a dream.”


29:8.  “It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against mount Zion.”


This describes the futility of fighting against Jerusalem.  The expectation of every foe will be frustrated.  This is not to say that the city has never been captured.  It has: but only by God’s permission, and because of her rebellion against Him, and to teach the people the folly of rebellion, and the blessing of obedience.  As noted already, in the Millennium Jerusalem will be the governmental center of the world.


29:9.  “Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.”


The Phillips translation of this verse reads, “Stupefy yourselves, yes, live in a stupor, blind yourselves, yes, live in darkness!  Fuddle your wits, but not with wine!  Stagger about, but not through drink ...” and Taylor has translated it, “You are amazed, incredulous?  You don’t believe it?  Then go ahead and be blind if you must!  You are stupid - and not from drinking, either!  Stagger, and not from wine ....”


This is God’s disgusted condemnation of their stubborn wilful rebellion, and their insane pursuit of pleasure; and only the spiritually blind will fail to see that the condition of the people of that early day is exactly the same as that of this present pleasure-pursuing generation, which is described as being, “... lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof ...” 2 Timothy 3:4.


29:10.  “For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, (the eyes of) the seers hath he covered.”


As literal sleep suspends awareness, so had God removed the ability, not only of the people, but also of their leaders, to comprehend the folly of their evil doings; and the conduct of today’s society indicates that He has imposed that same spiritual blindness, so that neither the people nor their leaders are aware of the dreadful eternal consequences of their sinful living.  The principle governing the imposition of this spiritual myopia is declared in Genesis 6:3, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” and again in Proverbs 29:1, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”  Continued neglect of the voice of conscience results in the condition described in 1 Timothy 4:2, “... having their conscience seared with a hot iron,” the result being that God ceases to strive with them, and abandons them to the eternal endurance of torment in the lake of fire.


29:11.  “The vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:”


The condition described here is the equivalent of that referred to in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The spiritual message woven into the fabric of the Bible’s literal language is incomprehensible to the natural man, as it is also to the disobedient believer, for it is only by the enlightenment of the ungrieved and unquenched Holy Spirit that the obedient believer can understand what is written.  (The Holy Spirit is grieved when we do what He forbids; and quenched when we refuse to do what He commands, His will being revealed most often in the words of Scripture, though sometimes also through circumstances).


In the present instance the book (scroll) wasn’t sealed literally: the learned man could read what was written, but he couldn’t understand the meaning of it; and it is the same today: men can read what is written in Scripture, but only the obedient spiritual man can understand what he reads.  For example, it is only by spiritual discernment that a reader can see in Adam a type of Christ the last Adam.  In the garden of Eden the first Adam fell into a death-like sleep, during which his side was opened, a rib removed, and formed into Eve his bride.  It was in a garden, see John 19:41, that the last Adam was crucified, and had His side opened, from which came the blood that cleanses believing sinners, making them part of that mystical body which is His bride, the Church.


29:12.  “And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”


Here the book is delivered to one who has never learned to read, with the result that he has to confess his inability to read, so that he too remains ignorant of the contents of the book.


The lesson is crystal clear: the learned leaders of the people were as ignorant of the spiritual content of Scripture as were the unlearned; and the same condition prevails today: in spite of their theological degrees, and their impressive titles, the unconverted clergy who rule today’s Christendom, are as ignorant of the Bible’s spiritual message as are their unconverted congregations.


29:13.  “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:”


Hypocritical Israel maintained the outward form of worship; but it was devoid of the reverential love that is the basis of true worship.  The same charade passes today in Christendom for worship.  It is nothing more than an outward ritual conceived by the minds of men, and designed to impress men, but it is an abomination to God.


Scriptural worship in the early Church consisted of small groups of believers meeting around the Lord’s Table on the first day of each week, to remember His death and resurrection by breaking bread and drinking wine, the bread representing His body, and the wine, His precious blood.  There was no human leadership, the activity of each group being at the impulse of the Holy Spirit, He leading a few to pray, a few others to read from the Scriptures, and a few others to announce a hymn of worship.  The women were silent as commanded in 1 Corinthians 14:34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak ....”


Scripture knows nothing of a robed and collared theologically educated clergy, all such being an abomination to God, for their activity frustrates the leading of the Holy Spirit; and like much of the unscriptural activity in the Protestant churches, this evil practice has its origin in Roman Catholicism, which Protestantism has been all too eager to ape in more than dress, e.g., pretentious, but unscriptural, clerical titles, orchestrated music, imposing architecture of church buildings, etc.


As for their fear of God it is a hypocritical sham designed to lend credence to the ritual they call worship, and to inculcate awe of the clergy in the minds of the duped congregations whose lifestyles demonstrate all too clearly that “There is no fear of God before their eyes,” Romans 3:18.


29:14.  “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”


The “marvelous work” would be God’s judgment upon the whole hypocritical sham, a destruction that would evoke amazement in the hearts of the deceived people, and that would expose the “wisdom” of the so-called wise men as utter folly.


So will it be also relative to this present evil generation: the judgments of the impending Great Tribulation will expose the stupidity of what men call sagacity, and the evil of what they call righteousness.


29:15.  “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? And who knoweth us?”


The reference is generally understood to be to Israel’s seeking to make alliances with heathen nations rather than trusting in Jehovah to deliver them from their enemies.


In stark contrast with those trying to do the impossible - hide their evil thoughts and deeds from God - is the attitude of those who seek His guidance and blessing relative to all that they plan and hope to do, appending the wise condition, If it be Thy will. What the evildoers forget is that God discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12.


29:16.  “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? Or shall the thing framed say to him that framed it, He had no understanding?”


Their turning of things upside down refers to their inane thinking that the Creator could ever be incapable of knowing the thoughts and intents of their evil hearts, as though a clay vessel could ever imagine itself to be superior to him who fashioned it.  Their thinking that God didn’t know their thoughts implied that He the Creator was less intelligent than they the creatures He had made!


29:17.  “Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?”


Taylor’s translation of this verse reads, “Soon - and it will not be very long - the wilderness of Lebanon will be a fruitful field again, a lush fertile forest.”


Under God’s transforming hand forested Lebanon would become fertile crop-producing land, while formerly barren hills would become forested.  This clearly points to the prodigious productivity of the Millennial earth.


29:18.  “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.” 


This points to the abolition of spiritual, as well as physical blindness and deafness, in the Millennium.  It is to be remembered however, that God doesn’t overrule man’s free will relative to accepting or rejecting Christ as Savior.  Those who choose to reject Him as Savior in the Millennium will be permitted to live as long as their sin remains covert, but the moment it becomes overt they will die.


29:19.  “The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the holy One of Israel.”


The RSV translation of this verse reads, “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.”  It may be that the meek and the poor here are those whose present day counterparts are those who are sincere believers, but whose spiritual understanding is less keen than that of some of their fellows.


29:20.  “For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:”


“For the ruthless shall come to nought and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off” is the RSV rendering of this verse; and it continues the description of the idyllic conditions that will prevail in the Millennium.


29:21.  “That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.”


The NEB translation of this verse reads, “... those who charge others with a sin or lay traps for him who brings the wrongdoer into court or by falsehood deny justice to the righteous - all these shall be exterminated.”  This announces the fate of him who would attempt to pervert judgment in the Millennium.  Unlike today when justice is often flagrantly wrested, Divine retribution will be swift and sure against every prevaricator.


29:22.  “Therefore thus saith the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale (in fear).”


As has been discussed already Jacob is the name associated with Israel as an earthly nation, while Israel relates to them as a redeemed spiritual people.  Believers also have that same dual characteristic: as to our bodies we are earthy, Jacob-like, but as to our souls we are spiritual, Israel-like.


The use of the name Jacob here tells us that what is said relates to God’s earthly people, the Jews.  In the Millennium they will occupy a place of governmental supremacy.  The same principle applies to believers: here on earth we are despised, but in heaven we shall reign with Christ, as it written, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him,” 2 Timothy 2:12.


29:23.  “But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.”


The AAT translation of this verse reads, “For when his children see what my hands have done in their midst, they shall reverence my name; they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob, and shall stand in awe of the God of Israel.”


Again the distinction between the earthly and the spiritual is emphasized in the names Jacob and Israel, and again the reference is to what will be in the Millennium.  Believers will worship God in spirit and in truth, but the obedience of unbelievers will be compelled, and their worship formal and feigned.


29:24.  “They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.”


Phillips has translated this verse, “Those who have been faithless will understand the truth and the obstinate be willing to be taught,” while the NEB renders it “Those whose minds are confused will gain understanding, and the obstinate will receive instruction.”

[Isaiah 30]

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