Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 29)

Chapter 29 provides another version of a similar theme in Isaiah’s book: God promises to contend with his own people for spiritual indifference and hypocrisy by sending foreign foes to attack them.  He also promises, at the appointed time, to suddenly intervene and deal with their enemies.  The result will be that His people, who are now mostly spiritually drunk and blind will see his wonders.  The duplicitous who think they can get away with their evil will be exposed and cut off.  Those who remain true will be redeemed and stand in awe of their God.

The chapter opens with the Lord speaking plaintively to His people: “Ah, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped” (1).  There sadness in His call; he remembers the city’s historical ties to David, a man after His heart.  Sadly, things have changed, and not for the better.  The specified feasts and fasts still occur (2), but the people’s hearts are no longer filled with wonder or true worship (as will be explained in verse 13).

So the Lord promises to come against Ariel like an Ariel.  This Hebrew word has several lexical possibilities: lion, hero, altar hearth.  All are possible; in light of what comes next perhaps the first two fit the context best.  The Lord will “encamp” around Ariel, the place where David once encamped (3).  He will “besiege” the city and bring it low (4).  The Lord takes personal responsibility for the upcoming military campaign to be waged against Jerusalem.  When the dust clears, Jerusalem (Ariel) will lie the dust: “For your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost, and from the dust your speech shall whisper” (4).

Lest we think God has ceased in his loyalty to Israel, Isaiah goes on to explain how the Lord will attack Israel’s attackers.  He will “suddenly” grind them to dust, turning them into chaff (5).  These armies who fight against Jerusalem will “be like a dream, a vision in the night” (7).  Though they dream of devouring Jerusalem, they will wake up to find their victory vanishes (8).

Still, Israel doesn’t get it.  They are spiritually drunk and blind (9).  The Lord, in His judgment, has “poured out upon [Judah] a spirit of deep sleep” (10).  He has closed their eyes—their prophets have no insight; He has covered their heads—their seers are in the dark.  They don’t understand what He is doing.  God’s ways and plans are like a sealed book (11); the people are spiritually illiterate (12).

Verse 13 strips back the metaphors to get to the heart of the problem: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by me.”  This verse, quoted by Jesus when confronting the Jewish leaders (Mark 7; Matt 15), speaks of external observance devoid of internal reality.  Form without fire.  Ritual without reality. As verse 1 indicated, the feasts and fasts cycle through each year, but the hearts of the people are distant and detached. 

Therefore (opening word in verse 14), the Lord promises to “do wonderful things with this people.”  The wonderful things include the stunning judgments that will cause “the wisdom of their wise men” to “perish” (14).  In their hardened, blind condition, they will not see it coming.

The Lord calls out the scoffers who think they can hide their nefarious plans and actions from God (15-16).  They do their deeds “in the dark” (15), presuming to hide their sins: “Who sees us?  Who knows us?” (15).  The Lord rebukes them for turning reality on its head: “You turn things upside down!” (16).  They foolishly think the clay has power over the potter.

What they don’t know is that God’s plans for redemption and refining will become reality in “a very little while” (17).  Soon the region, once overrun with invaders, will flourish with fruitfulness:  Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field” (17).  When the Day of the Lord arrives (“In that day”—18), those who had been deaf and blind will hear and see (contrast verse 18 with verse 9).  The humble (“meek”) will “obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (19).  Those who refused to repent and remained “ruthless” will be dealt with finally and fully: “For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off” (20).

To sum things up (“Therefore”—22), the Lord, who once redeemed Abraham, will now do so for “the house of Jacob” (22).  No longer will God’s people (“Jacob”) be “ashamed” or have their faces “grow pale” (22).  Instead, when they see God restore their “children”, they will worship: “they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob” (23).  Where they had previously gone “astray in spirit” and become unable to hear or understand the word of the Lord, they will not “come to understanding” (24).  Where they had grumbled and murmured about their pain (compare verse 4), they will now “accept instruction” (24).

These words of Isaiah seem to have had both a near and far fulfillment.  During the reign of Hezekiah, the city was besieged and rescued by God’s wondrous works (see chapters 36-39).  Yet, the fullness of these words awaits the consummation at the final Day of the Lord (chapters 40-66).

Behold Your God

The Lord has a multitude of ways to accomplish His will.  In this chapter we are reminded the Lord has no shortage of ways to work His will on earth.  He can bring a nation low through bringing a foreign army to attack (“I will besiege you with towers”—3).  He can send thunder, earthquake, whirlwind, tempest and devouring fire (4).  He can pour out a “spirit of deep sleep” (10), making a people spiritually drowsy. He can withhold visions and discernment, leaving people in the dark (10).  He can also open blind eyes and give insight to those in the dark (18).  As He declares, “the work of my hands” should lead us to stand in awe of His holiness and power (23). 

As I study this chapter, our world groans in the midst of a pandemic.  In addition, we are in a prolonged heat wave (10th straight day over 30 C).  A tropical storm currently is forming over the East Coast.  Earthquakes have rocked parts of the world.  Labour pains are intensifying.  Isaiah’s words remind us that God is working His will through all that hits us.

The Lord detests hypocritical, half-hearted worship.  Israel is indicted by God, not for failing to hold the annual religious festivals (1), but for their lack of genuine, heart-felt worship.  “. . . this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (13).  Lukewarm devotion fails to warm God’s heart; in fact, it makes him nauseous (Rev 3:15-16).

The Lord knows our motives, thoughts and desires.  The people of Israel foolishly believe they can hide their “counsel” (motivations, intentions) from the Lord (15).  Yet, as the divine potter, He understands everything about the clay He molds (16).  He discerns our devotion or its absence (13).  He knows the motives behind the words we say (13) and those we hide (15).  Nothing is hidden from Him who searches our hearts (Rom. 8:27).

Here Am I

I have a great reason to greatly worship the Lord.  There is no one like our Lord.  He has power to bring down nations and their multitude of warriors.  He can blind open eyes and open blind ones.  He brings down and builds up.  He does wonderful works to humble the proud and bring joy to the humble.  He knows what is done in secret and displays His greatness openly.  Best of all, He remains faithful in His steadfast love to His people.  Though he chastens severely, He remains loyal to redeem. “Stand in awe of the God of Israel” (23).  Praise Him! 

I have a genuine reason to genuinely worship the Lord.  In His greatness, He detects when our worship reflects true devotion.  He knows when we are going through the motions, saying the right things, but devoid of heartfelt affection and adoration.  The people of Israel and the believers in Laodicea both learned God finds lukewarm worship nauseating. Lord, I want my worship of you to reflect a heart that is truly devoted to you.  Search me and know my heart.

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