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Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 29:1 Woe to Ariel! Ariel, the city where David encamped!- This is the theme of Is. 28:21; what David had done to Gentiles was to be done to Israel by Gentiles. God's people were to be treated as Gentiles because that was who they were in their hearts. Ariel, God's lion, was to be devoured by the Assyrians or Babylonians, who are also presented as God's lion. See on :3.  

Add year to year; let the feasts come around- The idea may be that very soon, Jerusalem was to fall. Hence GNB: "Let another year or two come and go, with its feasts and festivals". But this didn't happen; Jerusalem's doom was averted by the repentance and intercession of a small minority; in accordance with the principle of Jer. 18:8-10. Perhaps the idea is that the distress of Ariel (:2) was to be at the time of a Jewish feast. And this seems to have been the case at the time of the Assyrian attack upon Jerusalem at Passover. Or the point may simply be that the feasts and sacrifices (AV) would not save Jerusalem. 

Isaiah 29:2 Then I will distress Ariel-
A pagan god looked after his own people against their enemies. But Yahweh of Israel sent and empowered Israel’s enemies against them, and gave them victory against His own people; He encamped against His very own people (Is. 29:2-4), God 'distressed' Ariel, 'the lion of God'. The archenemy of Israel, Assyria, was revealed as a rod in the God of Israel’s hand (Is. 10:5 etc.), and the King of Babylon was Yahweh’s servant who would come against Yahweh’s own people (Jer. 25:9; 27:6 etc.). The will of Israel’s God was that the capital city, seen by the people as the symbol and nerve center of a god’s power and control, was to be destroyed by Israel’s enemies (Jer. 34:1-5; 21:3-7). In the surrounding culture of Israel, capital cities were portrayed as women, the wives of the gods. They are always presented as pure and wonderful. But the prophets represent cities like Jerusalem and Samaria as fallen women, whores. It was all so counter-cultural. Yahweh’s prophet even appealed for Israel to surrender when under siege (Jer. 21:8-10). Try to enter into how radical and counter-cultural all this was. The prophets were trying to share the feelings and positions of a God so vastly different to the imaginations and understandings of His very own people. The nervous stress of this, the psychological pressure, can’t be underestimated. And we are asked to share the spirit / mind / disposition of those prophets. Not only was God on the side of Israel’s enemies; yet through all that, He somehow was with Israel; quite simply, “God is with us”, even though it is He who encamps against them too (Is. 8:9,10; 18:4). The God of Auschwitz is somehow still the God of Israel. The very torment, even torture, of understanding that was etched clearly in the prophets, and it will be in us too.

And there will be mourning and lamentation. She shall be to Me as an altar hearth- Another meaning of Ariel is 'God's altar'. Hence GNB "God will bring disaster on the city that is called "God's altar." There will be weeping and wailing, and the whole city will be like an altar covered with blood". This was the huge picture of potential destruction which was averted when the Assyrians were destroyed thanks to the prayer of the minority.


Isaiah 29:3 I will encamp against you all around you, and will lay siege against you with a mount; I will raise siege works against you-
The LXX "And I will compass thee about like David" connects with our observation on :1, that as David had fought against Zion so now God was going to fight against it. See on :2. Yet even these clear statements were conditional; because finally, God did not allow the Assyrians to build a mount or siege works against Jerusalem (Is. 37:33). God is continually open to changing the outcomes He has specified.     


Isaiah 29:4 You will be brought down, and will speak out of the ground. Your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will be as of one who has a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and your speech will whisper out of the dust-
This is a common theme of Isaiah, that judgment brings down. Because humility is so critical to God and is the basis for salvation. The LXX doesn't see any allusion to witches: "And thy words shall be brought down to the earth, and thy words shall sink down to the earth, and thy voice shall be as they that speak out of the earth, and thy voice shall be lowered to the ground". Even if there is allusion to ghosts or witches, the idea would be that their words had been brought down as low as those witches were known as talking, in the same muffled way, out of the earth. And it would be a tacit reflection of the state of society that people all knew what wizards and witches sounded like- they were so common. The humbling of words suggests this category would be refined by the judgments and repent; unlike the "foes" of :5 who will be destroyed completely.

Isaiah 29:5 But the multitude of your foes will be like fine dust, and the multitude of the ruthless ones like chaff that blows away. Yes, it will be in an instant, suddenly-
This sounds like the instant destruction of the Assyrian army outside Jerusalem. But then the allusion to being blown away like chaff is the language of Dan. 2:44. The final destruction of Zion's enemies could have come at different times; there is an open ended nature to God's purposes which is reflected in His prophecies, and which makes them hard to interpret.

Isaiah 29:6 She will be visited by Yahweh of Armies with thunder, with earthquake, with great noise, with whirlwind and storm, and with the flame of a devouring fire-
This sounds like a major theophany; "Yahweh of Armies" suggests Angelic involvement. It was indeed a single Angel who destroyed the Assyrian army, but it would seem that this level of Divine manifestation didn't then occur. This chapter goes on to speak of the sins of Judah, and so it would seem that the full potential of deliverance wasn't realized; because only a minority of them were spiritual. And so these prophecies are transferred to the last days.

Isaiah 29:7 The multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all who fight against her and her stronghold and who distress her, will be like a dream, a vision of the night-
This could refer to the mercenaries of various nations who comprised the Assyrian army. But the language seems to imply a multiethnic attack against Jerusalem which has more relevance to the last days. We note that the attack is specifically against "her stronghold", the temple of Zion. This particular focus upon the temple area is clearly going to characterize the latter day invasion. Both LXX and GNB stress that all the military strength of the invaders will come to nothing, continuing the great prophetic theme that human strength is to be brought down eternally: "then all the armies of the nations attacking the city of God's altar, all their weapons and equipment—everything—will vanish like a dream, like something imagined in the night" (GNB).

Isaiah 29:8 It will be like when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he eats; but he awakes, and his hunger isn’t satisfied; or like when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he drinks; but he awakes, and behold, he is faint, and he is still thirsty. The multitude of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion will be like that-
What seemed so concrete and solid was in fact but the fantasy of dreams. And this is how we are to perceive things today. The language here suggests that the motivation for the attack on Jerusalem was material, imagining how they would feast on the spoil. This is only really relevant to the situation in Hezekiah's time; and it was the foreign mercenaries in the Assyrian army rather than Assyria who would have had these dreams and motivations. And so this verse is addressed to them, the "all nations that fight against Mount Zion". 2 Chron. 32:27 records how Hezekiah "had exceeding much riches", with store cities for gold, silver and jewels. The latter day Assyrian of Ez. 38 likewise wishes to attack Jerusalem in order to take great spoil.

Isaiah 29:9 Pause and wonder, take your pleasure and be blind. They are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink-
Despite the destruction of Judah's enemies described in :7,8, they too were to be judged for their blindness. The implication would therefore be that they were saved from the Assyrians by grace and thanks to the intercession and repentance of a small remnant.
“Blind yourselves and be blind” (RVmg.); yet God had closed their eyes, confirming them in the decision for blindness which they had taken themselves. The drunkenness of these people was because God had mentally confused them in response to their desire to be blind. He waits to confirm men positively (through the Holy Spirit working on the human mind) and also negatively. In the end, we get where we really want to go.

Isaiah 29:10 For Yahweh has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, O prophets; and He has covered your heads, O seers-
The language here recalls the judgment upon Egypt in Is. 19:14. They acted and thought like Egypt, and so they received Egypt's judgment; just as the unfaithful of the new Israel will be "condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32). The prophets didn't want to 'see' or 'be seers'. And so their eyes were blinded (:9). Remember that they and the priests were so drunk in the temple that they vomited on the altars (Is. 28:8).

Isaiah 29:11 All vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is educated, saying, Read this, please; and he says, I can’t, for it is sealed-
This is all in exemplification of how God had closed their eyes to His word (:9,10). Even the words they received were like a sealed book to them. And the sin of their own blindness was because they were unable to teach that word to others. Potentially they could read it; but it was sealed now. This appears to be God confirming Isaiah's personal attitude in Is. 8:16, where he seals the revelation just for his disciples to understand.

The Lord spoke in parables so that Israel would be deceived (unless they made specific search of the meaning of the parable) and therefore would not come to salvation. This fact is hard to get round for those who feel God isn't responsible for deception. Isaiah spoke likewise (Is. 6:9,10; 29:10,11). See on Is. 66:4. Thus men are confirmed psychologically in the way they wish to go.

Isaiah 29:12 And the book is delivered to one who is not educated, saying, Read this, please; and he says, I can’t read-
As explained on :11, the prophets were not able to understand the word given to them, it was as it were sealed. And it was their duty to teach others; even those "educated" (:11) couldn't break the seal now; and the masses of the people were illiterate anyway. So much depended upon the teachers.

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord said, Because this people draws near with their mouth and with their lips to honour Me, but they have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men which has been taught-
The Lord quotes these words in Mt. 15:8. They honoured with their lips, but their heart was far from God; they externally kept His commandments, but they frustrated their intention by not letting them influence their essential selves (Mk. 7:6-9). They fiercely guarded the pronunciation of His Covenant Name; but in reality, they forgot that Name (Jer. 23:27). The Lord perceived that “your tradition… the commandments of men… your doctrines” resulted in the hearts of Israel being “far from [God]”. Doctrine was intended to affect the heart; and false doctrine resulted in the heart being far from God. True doctrine, on the other hand, was and is intended to bring the heart close to God. Doctrine / teaching is therefore to affect the heart; it is not just the intellectual basis for unity in a community of believers. And the Lord goes on in this very context to talk of how “every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up” (Mt. 15:13). The Greek for “planted” is interpreted by James Strong as meaning “Figuratively, to instill doctrine”. The planting of the believer is through the instillation of Godly doctrine, rather than the doctrines of men. Note how the Lord speaks of doctrine as a command in Mt. 15:6,9: "Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition... in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men". And He taught earlier that the doctrine of one God was in fact a command to action. Doctrine, didache, is teaching, not just theory; it is commandment towards action. For doctrine and practice are linked. In this we are helped to assess whether any idea or interpretation is indeed a 'first principle doctrine' or not. What does it inspire in practice? Or is it merely the academic interpretation of the human brain cells?

Like Israel we can seek God daily, taking delight in approaching unto Him; and yet need the exhortation to urgently seek Him (Is. 55:6 cp. 58:2). We can appear to seek unto Him in prayer and attendance at our meetings, and yet not seek Him in the real sense at all. Likewise men came to Jesus physically, at quite some effort to themselves, and yet He tells them that they have not truly come to Him at all (Jn. 6:24 cp. 35-37). We can draw near with our mouth, honour Him with our lips, “but have removed [our] heart far from me” (Is. 29:13).

Isaiah 29:14 therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the understanding of their prudent men will be hidden-
The Jewish opposition to the prophets were insistent that wisdom would not perish from them (Jer. 18:18). This is stated in the context of God sealing up His word from those who blinded themselves to it (:9-13). But He would remove from them also their own wisdom so that they would as it were be left alone, without God's word and without their own word. This is the kind of psychological pain which will arise from the condemnation process- to be left both without God and without secular support.

Isaiah 29:15 Woe to those who deeply hide their counsel from Yahweh, and whose works are in the dark, and who say, Who sees us? and Who knows us?-
The counsel in view was their seeking help from Egypt against  Assyria and later against Babylon (Is. 30:1,2). But they thought they could somehow hide this "in the dark" from Yahweh, whom they still believed in and would have assented in theory to the truth that He sees and knows all things. It's doubtful that they said in so many words that God could not see or know. But as often in the prophets, the implication of their positions are perceived and stated as God sees them.


Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Should the potter be thought to be like clay; that the thing made should say about him who made it, He didn’t make me; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, He has no understanding?- See on :15. Their trust in Egypt (:15) and refusal to accept His condemnation of their trust in Egypt (Is. 20:5,6) was effectively accusing Him of having "no understanding". They were forgetting that He was their creator; rather they considered that God, the potter, was in fact like the clay. They considered God to exist but to have the same mentality and limitations of men; they had created God in their own image and likeness rather than the other way around. And this is a temptation for us all.

A living faith in God as our creator leads to an acceptance that He sees and knows all our ways, that life is lived utterly open before Him- and we should live it accordingly. Hence Isaiah uses the fact of God as creator to reason with those who argued (in their hearts at least) that they could hide their ways from the Lord, saying "Who sees us, and who knows?". Isaiah's answer to this was that "Shall the thing framed (i.e. us) say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?" and therefore doesn't know nor understand what we do... (Is. 29:15,16).

Isaiah 29:17 Isn’t it yet a very little while, and Lebanon will be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be regarded as a forest?-
In a "very little while" from when these words were spoken, the Kingdom could have been reestablished, as described in the next verses. But this was conditional upon Judah seeing and hearing God's word (:18). But they didn't want to do this, and so these possibilities didn't then happen; but the essence of them will come true in the last days. The revived "fruitful field" situation would only come when the Spirit was poured upon them (Is. 32:15,16) and this would only be if they accepted the new covenant, which promised this gift of the Spirit. See on :18; Is. 32:1. Perhaps Rabshakeh was aware of this prophecy, and he swore to negate it by destroying "Lebanon" [a reference to the cedars of Lebanon in the temple] and "Carmel" (s.w. "fruitful field"; Is. 37:24). The promised revival could therefore have come "a very little while" after the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem was miraculously ended. But Hezekiah's weakness and the peoples' impenitence precluded that, resulting in the Babylonian invasion turning the fruitful field into a wilderness (s.w. Jer. 4:26).    

Isaiah 29:18 In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness-
The blind are those just spoken of in :9- the Jews who had blinded themselves and been blinded. The deaf who will now hear the words of the book contrast with those for whom the book had been sealed (:11). Those who were so hardened, even hardened by God. would experience the psychological miracle of being again sensitized to God's word. This is the work of the Spirit on Jewish hearts promised in the new covenant of Jer. 31 and Ez. 20. See on :17,24.

The repentance of Israel must be associated with an opening of their eyes to God's word. There is no other way men can come to repentance. Jer. 30:24 prophecies Jacob's final homecoming, and then comments: "In the latter days (not now) ye shall consider (understand) it". Then Israel will consider and understand the words of their prophets. "The Lord hath poured out upon (Israel) the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes (quoted in Rom. 11:8 concerning Israel's blindness to Christ)... the vision of all (God's word) is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed... (but) in that day  shall the (spiritually) deaf hear the words of the book" (Is. 29:10,11,17,18). This will be when the book is unsealed at "the time of the end" (Dan. 12:4). Thus Israel's minority repentance must occur prior to the Lord's return. Therefore there must be an upsurge in Biblical activity amongst those who will become the faithful remnant in latter day Israel. This will be brought about by the Elijah prophet- remembering that the Elijah prophet is framed in Malachi as a teacher of God's word, not just an imparter of it. Likewise John, in the spirit of Elijah, taught the people about the Lord's advent.

The teaching of Jesus included frequent quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. When we go back and read around the contexts of the passages He quoted, it becomes apparent that He very often omits to quote the negative, judgmental, or conditional aspects of the blessings which He quotes. Consider the way He quotes Is. 29:18; 35:5,6 and 61:1 in Mt. 11:4,5. These are all talking about Messianic blessings. But they are embedded amidst warnings of judgment and the conditionality of God’s grace. Likewise Luke records how Jesus read from Is. 61:1,2, but He stopped at the very point where Isaiah’s message turns from promise to threat. None of this takes away from the terrible reality that future failure is a real possibility, even tomorrow. We can throw it all away. We may do. We have the possibility. And some do. There is an eternity ahead which we may miss. And each one who enters the Kingdom will, humanly speaking, have come pretty close to losing it at various points in his or her mortal life.

Ultimately, we will only truly see in the Kingdom (Is. 29:18; 42:6; 1 Cor. 13:12). Then we will know (see) face to face. We will see God face to face, i.e. understand Him. It follows therefore that in some ways we are blind, or partially sighted, now. This is indicated by the Lord's symbolic healing of the blind man in two stages (Mk. 8:23-26). Firstly, the man saw men as if they were walking trees. Probably he scarcely knew what a tree or man looked like. Yet he is described as receiving his sight at this stage (Mk. 8:24 Gk.). And then the Lord touched his eyes again, and again he is described (in the Greek) as receiving his sight (Mk. 8:25- same phrase as in v.24). This time he saw all things (Gk.) clearly. This surely represents the full spiritual vision of the Kingdom. According to this type, we are at the stage of seeing men as if they are walking trees, perhaps wildly guessing about some things, lacking the most basic sense of proportion

Isaiah 29:19 The humble also will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel-
Again we note that the righteous remnant are characterized above all by their humility; this is so utterly critical to God. The humble are those who will hear and see God's word (:17,18), and this category will be the materially poor and needy.

Isaiah 29:20 For the ruthless is brought to nothing, and the scoffer ceases, and all those who are alert to do evil are cut off-
I noted on :17 the allusion to the scoffing of the ruthless Assyrians (s.w. Is. 13:11 about Assyria - Babylon) in Is. 37:24. Clearly in view here are the Assyrians and their destruction outside Jerusalem. But :21 speaks of these persons as if they are the Jews scoffing at Isaiah and his 'Don't trust in Egypt' message (see on :16).  Again the point is made that generally the Jews were no better than their Gentile enemies.  

Isaiah 29:21 who cause a person to be indicted by a word, and lay a snare for the arbiter in the gate, and who deprive the innocent of justice with false testimony-
As noted on :20, the context is a condemnation of the Assyrians, who were to be destroyed outside Jerusalem. But the language is just as relevant to the Jewish leadership, the same words being used of their treatment of the poor Jews in Is. 10:2; Am. 2:7; 5:12; they too were worthy of destruction outside Jerusalem, in Gehenna. Again the point is made that generally the Jews were no better than their Gentile enemies. The salvation from the Assyrians was an example of God's great sensitivity to the faith, repentance and intercession of a minority.    

Isaiah 29:22 Therefore thus says Yahweh who redeemed Abraham concerning the house of Jacob: Jacob shall no longer be ashamed, neither shall his face grow pale-
The context is of a spiritually weak Judah being reformed and recreated by God's Spirit. This was what God did to their fathers Abraham and Jacob. Those men are not so much examples of faith, but of men willing to let God work in them to redeem them from their own unspirituality. The pale face of Jacob was surely in the "time of Jacob's trouble" when he faced apparent annihilation by the superior forces of Esau- but the situation was reversed by God's grace and his night of repentant wrestling with God. Although God would save His people as He had Jacob, they still needed to repent in order to be like Jacob at that point. And they refused to generally be like this at Isaiah's time; they were saved therefore by grace and because a minority repented. However the potentials then possible for the reestablishment of the Kingdom were thereby precluded.

Isaiah 29:23 But when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in the midst of him, they will sanctify My name. Yes, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel-
The significance of "the work of My hands" is that the children referred to here are new creations of people whose blind eyes have been opened (see on :17). The Jews had mocked the idea of their being the clay and God the potter (:16); they effectively reduced Him to the clay like them. But now they would fully accept His sovereign, creative power through the Spirit. The only time when Jacob saw his children with joy was when he met the [as it were] resurrected Joseph and his children. The equivalent in the last days is when the people of Jacob see / perceive the spiritual children created through the work of the resurrected Lord Jesus.

Isaiah 29:24 They also who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will receive instruction
- This is saying the same thing as :17. Through the gift of the Spirit, those who had blinded themselves to understanding would be made to understand.
Is. 29:13,24 speaks of repentance as 'learning doctrine' or being instructed; Israel went astray morally because they allowed themselves to be wrongly instructed.