Isaiah 29 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 29
Pulpit Commentary
Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.
Verses 1-4. - A WARNING TO JERUSALEM. Expostulation is followed by threats. The prophet is aware that all his preaching to the authorities in Jerusalem (Isaiah 28:14-22) will be of no avail, and that their adoption of measures directly antagonistic to the commands of God will bring on the very evil which they are seeking to avert, and cause Jerusalem to be actually besieged by her enemies. In the present passage he distinctly announces the siege, and declares that it will commence within a year. Verse 1. - Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! "Ariel' is clearly a mystic name for Jerusalem, parallel to "Sheshach" as a name for Babylon (Jeremiah 25:26) and "'Ir-ha-heres" as a name for Heliopolis (Isaiah 19:18). It is generally explained as equivalent to Art-El, "lion of God;" but Delitzsch suggests the meaning of "hearth of God," or "altar of God," a signification which "Ariel" seems to have in Ezekiel 43:15, 16. But there is no evidence that "Ariel" was ever employed in this sense before the time of Ezekiel. Etymologically, "Ariel" can only mean "lion of God," and the name would in this sense be sufficiently descriptive of the Jewish capital, which had always hitherto been a sort of champion of Jehovah - a warrior fighting his battles with a lion's courage and fierceness. Dwelt; literally, pitched his tent - an expression recalling the old tent-life of the Hebrews (comp. 1 Kings 12:16). And ye year to year; rather, a year to a year; i.e. the coming year to the present one. The intention is to date the commencement of the siege. It will fall within the year next ensuing. Let them kill sacrifices. The best modern authorities translate, "Let the feasts run their round" (Kay, Cheyne, Delitzsch); i.e. let there be one more round of the annual festival-times, and then let the enemy march in and commence the siege.
Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.
Verse 2. - Yet will I distress Ariel; rather, and then will I distress Ariel. The sense runs on from the preceding verse. There shall be heaviness and sorrow. Mr. Cheyne's "moaning and bemoaning" represents the Hebrew play upon words better. The natural consequence of the siege would be a constant cry of woe. And it shall be unto me as Ariel. It would be better to translate, "Yet she shall be unto me as Ariel." The meaning is that, though distressed and straitened, Jerusalem shall still through all be able by God's help to answer to her name of "Ariel" - to behave as a lien when attacked by the hunters.
And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.
Verse 3. - I will camp against thee round about; i.e. "I will bring armed men against thee who shall encamp around the entire circuit of thy walls." There was small chance of forcing an entrance into Jerusalem on any side except the north; but, order to distress and harass her, an enemy with numerous forces would dispose them all round the walls, thus preventing all ingress or egress (see Luke 19:43). And... lay siege against thee with a mount; or, with a mound. Artificial mounds were raised up against the walls of cities by the Assyrians, as a foundation from which to work their battering rams with greater advantage against the upper and weaker portion of the defenses (see 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. p. 80). And... raise forts against thee. "Forts" were usually movable, and accompanied the battering-ram for its better protection. Archers in the forts cleared the walls of their defenders, while the ram was employed in making a breach (see Layard, 'Monuments of Nineveh,' Second Series, p. 21).
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.
Verse 4. - Thy speech shall be low. The feeble cries of a people wasted and worn out by a long siege are intended. These cries would resemble those which seemed to come out of the ground when a necromancer professed to raise a ghost. The Hebrew 'ohv is used both of the necromancers (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, etc.) and of the ghosts which they professed to raise (1 Samuel 28:7, 8; 2 Kings 21:6, etc.). Here the "ghost" is spoken cf. Thy speech shall whisper; literally, chirp (comp. Isaiah 8:19). The word used occurs only in Isaiah.
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.
Verses 5-8. - THE WARNING FOLLOWED BY A PROMISE. It is ever God's care to prevent men from being "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2:7). As long as he is not about to "make a full end" (Jeremiah 4:27), he mingles promises with his threats, words of cheer with words of warning. So now the prophet is directed to attach to his four verses of denunciation (vers. 1-4) four others of encouragement, and to declare the utter discomfiture of the vast host of enemies which for a time has besieged and "distressed" Ariel. Verse 5. - Moreover; rather, but. The relation of vers. 5-8 to vers. 1-4 is that of contrast. The multitude of thy strangers; i.e. "of thy enemies" (comp. Isaiah 25:5). In primitive societies every stranger is an enemy; and hence language - the formation of primitive men - often has one word for the two ideas. In Latin hostis is said to have originally meant "foreigner" (Cic., 'De Off',' 1:12). Shall be like small dust. Ground down, i.e. to an impalpable powder - rendered utterly weak and powerless. The meaning is determined by the clause which follows, with which it must necessarily be in close accordance. As chaff that passeth away. "Chaff," in Scripture, is always a metaphor for weakness (comp. Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 33:11; Isaiah 41:15; and see also Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:5; Job 21:18; Hosea 13:3; Daniel 2:35; Zephaniah 2:2). It has no value; man's object is to get rid of it: a light wind carries it away, and no one inquires whither. Yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly. Dr. Kay says it is "the collapse of Jerusalem" which is here intended. But most other commentators understand, with more reason, the collapse of her enemies (Cheyne, Delitzsch, Vance Smith, Knobel, etc.).
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.
Verse 6. - Thou shalt be visited; literally, shall there be a visitation. On whom the visitation will fall is not expressed; but the context shows that it is on the enemies of Judah. The terrible nature of the visitation is signified by an enumeration of the most fearful of God's judgments - "thunder, earthquake, great noise, whirlwind, tern-pest, and a flame of devouring fire." All the expressions are probably metaphorical.
And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.
Verse 7. - Her munition; i.e. her defenses the walls and towers in which she put her trust (comp. ver. 3). As a dream of a night vision. "The baseless fabric of a vision," when it has once passed by, "leaves not wrack behind." The entire host of the "terrible ones" would melt away and disappear, as a night vision before the light of day - it would dissolve into nothing, vanish, leave no trace.
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.
Verse 8. - It shall be even as when an hungry man dreameth. The melting away of the vision would involve a keen disappointment. The enemies of Israel had expected to secure a most valuable prey. They had dreamed of a rich booty when they should take the city - a booty which would reward them for all the hardships of their marches, their watches, their toils in the siege, the dangers to which they exposed themselves in the assaults. It was as if a hungry man had dreamed that he was engaged in a feast, or a thirsty man that he was drinking deep at a banquet, when suddenly he wakes up, and finds that he has been merely dreaming, and that there is no reality in his fancies. Dr. Kay quotes a passage which is much to the point from Mungo Park's journals: "No sooner had I shut my eyes than fancy would convey me to the streams and rivers of my native land. There, as I wandered along the verdant bank, I surveyed the clear streams with transport, and hastened to swallow the delightful draught; but, alas! disappointment awaked me, and I found myself a lonely captive, perishing of thirst amid the wilds of Africa." Those engaged in the siege, while themselves vanishing away, would likewise find their dreams of plunder vanish, and Would bitterly feel the disappointment. That fight against Mount Zion. To attack Jerusalem was to fight against the mount of God, the place where Jehovah had "set his Name, "and where he condescended in some true sense to dwell continually. How could those who engaged in such an enterprise hope to succeed?
Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.
Verses 9-12. - NEITHER WARNING NOR PROMISE COMPREHENDED BY THOSE TO WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN ADDRESSED, "Who hath believed our report?" says the prophet in another place (Isaiah 53:1), "and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" It was among the most painful circumstances attaching to the prophetical office, that scarcely ever was the prophet held in any esteem among his own people, or in his own lifetime. Isaiah knows that his warning will fall dead - that the people and their rulers have neither "eyes to see" nor "ears to hear." He places on record this knowledge, while at the same time striving if by any means he may arouse some from their condition of dull apathy. Verse 9. - Stay yourselves, and wonder; rather, stand stupefied and be astonished. The prophet bids them act as he knows that they will act. They will simply "stare with astonishment" at a prophecy which will seem to them "out of all relation to facts" (Cheyne). They will not yield it the slightest credence. They will only marvel how a sane man could have uttered such egregious folly. Cry ye out, and cry. Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne translate, "Blind yourselves, and be blind," which certainly gives a much better sense, and is justified by the use of the same verb in Isaiah 6:10. As Pharaoh began by hardening his own heart, and then God hardened it ('Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus, pp. 103, 166, 203, etc.), so those who blind their own eyes, and will not see when they have the power, are, in the end, if they persist, judicially blinded by God. They are drunken, but not with wine. "The drunkards of Ephraim" (Isaiah 28:3) were such literally. They "erred through strong drink" (Isaiah 28:7); they "were swallowed up of wine;" but the case was different with the infatuated ones of Judah. They were morally, not physically, intoxicated. Their pride and self-trust rendered them as irrational and as unimpressionable as ever drunkenness rendered any man; but they were not actual drunkards.
For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
Verse 10. - The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. "Sleep," in Scripture, is sometimes "rest," "repose from trouble" ("So he giveth his beloved sleep," Psalm 128:2). But here it is "spiritual deadness and impassiveness" - an inability to appreciate, or even to understand, spiritual warnings. The Jews of Isaiah's time were sunk in a spiritual lethargy, from which he vainly endeavored to arouse them. This spiritual lethargy is here said to have been "poured out upon them by Jehovah;" but we are not to suppose that there was anything exceptional in their treatment - "because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28), as he does men generally. Hath closed your eyes (comp. Isaiah 6:10; and see also Matthew 12:13; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; John 11:8, etc.). The prophets. As the text stands, the proper translation would be, "For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes (the prophets), and your heads (the seers) hath he covered." But it is reasonably conjectured that the expressions, "the prophets," "the seers," are glosses, which have crept from the margin into the text (Eichhorn, Koppe, Cheyne). If so, they are probably mistaken glosses, the allusion being, not to particular classes, but to the actual "heads" and "eyes" of individual Hebrews, which were "closed" and "covered" by the judicial action of the Almighty. In the East a covering is often drawn over the head during sleep.
And 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:
Verse 11. - The vision of all; i.e. "the entire vision" - all that Isaiah has put before them in vers. 1-8. As the words of a book that is sealed; rather, the words of a letter (marginal rendering) or writing. Written documents were often sealed up to secure secrecy, the sealing being done in various ways. When the writing was on a clay tablet, it was often enclosed in a clay envelope, so that the document could not be read till the outer clay covering was broken. Rolls of papyrus or parchment were secured differently. One that is learned; i.e. "one that can read writing," which the ordinary Jew could not do, any more than the ordinary European in the Middle Ages. Neither the learned nor the unlearned Jews would be able to understand Isaiah's prophecy, so as to realize and accept its literal truth. They were devoid of spiritual discernment. Even the rulers were but "blind loaders of the blind."
And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
Verse 12. - Him that is not learned; i.e. "that cannot read writing." Even in our Lord's day the ordinary Jew was not taught to read and write. Hence the surprise of the rulers at his teaching the people out of the Law (John 7:15, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?").
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Verse 13. - Wherefore the Lord said; rather, moreover the Lord said. This people draw near me with their mouth. Samaria had been punished for open idolatry and flagrant neglect of Jehovah (2 Kings 17:7-17). Jerusalem had not gone these lengths. She still, in profession, clung to the worship of Jehovah, and had even recently accepted a purification of religion at the hand of Hezekiah, who had "removed the high places," and cut down the groves, and broken in pieces the brazen serpent," because the people burnt incense to it (2 Kings 18:4). But her religion was a mere lip-service, which God detested - it was outward, formal, hypocritical (comp. Isaiah 1:11-17). Jerusalem, therefore, no less than Samaria, deserved and would receive a severe chastisement. But have removed their heart far from me. Here lies the gist of the charge. It was not that there was too much outward religion, but that there was no inward religion corresponding to it. Lip-service without inward religion is a mockery, though it is not always felt as such. Their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. Mr. Cheyne conjectures that ritual books had been already published by the authority of the priests, and that these were followed, on account of the human authority which had issued them, without any reference to the Law. Thus ritual obedience became mere obedience to "the precept of men."
Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
Verse 14. - I will proceed to do a marvelous work. Commentators are not agreed what this "marvelous work" was. Some, with Delitzsch, consider it to be the hardening of the hearts of the Jews to such an extent that even the appearance of wisdom and understanding, which the rulers of the people had hitherto retained, would completely disappear. Others, with Mr. Cheyne, regard it as the coming siege, with those extreme sufferings and perils (vers. 3, 4) which the Jews would have to undergo - sufferings and perils barely consistent with the previous covenant-promises made to the nation. It is difficult to decide between these two views; but, on the whole, Mr. Cheyne's view seems preferable. A marvelous work and a wonder; rather, a marvelous work and a marvel. The repetition is for the sake of emphasis. For the wisdom; rather, and the wisdom; i.e. "when I do my marvel, then the wisdom of the wise men shall perish" - all their crafty designs and plans shall be of no avail, but come wholly to naught. The chief of these designs was that alluded to in the next verse.
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?
Verse 15. - Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord. The allusion is to the schemes which were afloat for calling in the aid of Egypt. As Isaiah had long since denounced these schemes as the height of folly (Isaiah 19:11-17), and prophesied their failure (Isaiah 20:5, 6), every effort was made to conceal them from his knowledge end from the knowledge of all who were like-minded (comp. Isaiah 30:1, 2). Steps were probably even now being taken for the carrying out of the schemes, which were studiously concealed from the prophet. Their works are in the dark. Underhand proceedings ere at all times suspicious. "Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." The very fact of concealment was an indication that the works in which the rulers were engaged were evil, and that they knew them to be evil. They say, Who seeth us? (comp. Psalm 73:11, "Tush, they say, How should God perceive? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"). The wicked persuade themselves that God does not see their actions.
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 of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
Verse 16. - Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay; rather, O for your perverseness! Shall the potter be reckoned as clay? They were so perverse and wrong-headed that they inverted the relation in which they stood to God and God to them. God was to be passive, or merely give opportunities of action, and they were to mould their own plans and carve out their own destinies. For shall the work say, etc.? rather, for the work saith. Taking their destinies into their own hands was equivalent to saying that they were their own masters, which they could not be if God made them. Shall the thing framed say, etc.? rather, yea, the thing formed hath said. To refuse to take counsel of God, and direct the national policy by the light of their own reason, was to tax God with having no understanding.
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?
Verses 17-24. - A RENEWAL OF PROMISE. God's judgment (ver. 14), whatever it is, will pass. In a little while there will be a great change. The lowly will be exalted, the proud abased. From the "meek" and "poor' will be raised a body of true worshippers, who will possess spiritual discernment (ver. 18), while the oppressors and "scorners" will be brought to naught. When Isaiah expected this change is uncertain; but he holds out the hope of it here, as elsewhere so frequently (Isaiah 1:24-31; Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 5:13, etc.), to keep up the spirits of the people and prevent them from sinking into a state of depression and despair. Verse 17. - Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field. Lebanon, the wild forest, shall become smiling garden-ground, while garden-ground shall revert into wild uncultivated forest. An inversion of the moral condition of Judaea is shadowed forth by the metaphor.
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.
Verse 18. - In that day - i.e., when that time comes - shall the deaf hear the words of the book; the spiritually deaf shall have their ears opened, many of them, and shall not only hear, but understand, the words of Scripture addressed to them by God's messengers. No particular "book" is intended - sepher being without the article, but the words of any writing put forth with Divine authority. The eyes of the blind shall see also out of obscurity. Men shall shake off the "deep sleep" (ver. 10) in which they have long lain, and have once mute "eyes to see" the truth.
The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Verse 19. - The meek... the poor. The "evangelical prophet" anticipates the gospel in this, among other points - that he promises his choicest blessings, not to the rich and mighty, but to the poor and meek (comp. Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 61:1).
For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:
Verse 20. - The terrible one... the scorner. "The terrible one" may be the foreign enemy, as in ver. 5, or, possibly, the native oppressor (Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:93, etc.) - a still more tearful evil. "The scorner" is the godless man, who scoffs at religion (Isaiah 28:14, 22). Both classes would be "consumed" and "brought to naught" when the new state of things was established. All that watch for iniquity; i.e. "all those who, for the furtherance of their iniquitous schemes, rise up early and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness" (Psalm 127:2).
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.
Verse 21. - That make a man an offender for a word. The meaning of this clause is very doubtful. Kay translates, "That lead men into sin by words;" Mr. Cheyne, "That make out people to be sinners by their words," i.e. by bearing false witness against them; while Delitzsch upholds the rendering of the Authorized Version. Mr. Vance Smith has other suggestions ('Prophecies,' p, 171). There seems to be, on the whole, no sufficient reason for setting aside the authorized rendering, which con-demus one form of oppression - the severe punishment of mere words. And lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate. "The gate" was the place where judgment was given and public assemblies held. If any one boldly stood up and reproved the oppressors "in the gate," they instantly set to work to lay a trap for him and bring him to ruin. And turn aside the just for a thing of naught; rather, and deprive the just [of their right] by empty charges. "Turning aside the just" means turning them from their right (Amos 5:12; Exodus 23:6); and bat tohu is not "for nothing" but "by nothing," i.e. by some vain empty pretence.
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.
Verse 22. - The Lord, who redeemed Abraham; rather, who delivered Abraham, as the verb used is often rendered (see Job 33:28; Psalm 51:18; Psalm 69:18; Psalm 78:42, etc.). God's directions to Abraham to remove from a land of idolaters (Joshua 24:2, 3; Acts 7:2, 3) were practically a "deliverance." The work thus commenced could not be suffered to remain incomplete. Israel - the true Israel - would not be ashamed, or wax pale through fear any more; they would be God's children, his true worshippers, and would have no need to experience either fear or shame.
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.
Verse 23. - The work of mine hands; i.e. regenerated and "created anew unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10) - God's work, and no longer denying themselves to be such (ver. 16). They shall sanctify my Name, and sanctify, etc.; rather, they shall sanctify my Name, they shall even sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and fear the God of Israel. The last two clauses are exegetical of the first (Kay).
They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.
Verse 24. - They also that erred in spirit; i.e. those who were blind and deaf (ver. 18). Shall come to understanding; literally, shall know understanding; i.e. recover their power of spiritual discernment. They that murmured. The reference cannot be to the "murmuring" in Egypt, though the verb used occurs only elsewhere in Deuteronomy 1:27 and Psalm 106:25, where that murmuring is spoken cf. We must look for some later discontent, which we may find in quite recent "murmuring resistance to the admonitions of Jehovah" (Delitzsch), without going back so far as the time of the Exodus. Shall learn doctrine; i.e. "shall willingly receive the teaching, of God's prophets, and profit by it."

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