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In this section, Isaiah renews his message of judgment on Israel and Judah. It is split by six ‘woes’ in 28.1; 29.1, 15; 30.1; 31.1 and 33.1. Compare the six woes of 5.8-24. This appears to be an Isaianic pattern. The six may indicate the doubled completeness of the woes (twice three indicates intensification of three - three was a recognised number of completeness).
The first woe is against the drunken pride of the northern kingdom, Israel. The second is against the spiritual blindness of Judah. The third woe is against those who seek to hide what they are doing from God. The fourth is against those who look elsewhere for help to other than God. The fifth is specifically against those who pursue the Egyptian dream, depending for their future on the assistance of Egypt. And the final woe is against those who are treacherous to His people. So as is so common in Isaiah he begins with rebuking God’s people and ends with rebuking their enemies and with a promise of restoration.
Chapter 28 The Future For Israel, and For Judah If They Continue As They Are.
This chapter begins with a description of God’s view of Israel and its leaders in their pride and self-sufficiency, depicting them as being really like drunkards with a false view of life and of their own importance, which can only result in soon-coming judgment. Then, following a flash-forward in which what God will be for the remnant in the future is depicted, Isaiah turns to a description of Judah’s leaders, seeing them as equally culpable, and indeed despicable. But for them at least he has an offer of hope. God has not yet determined the full end of Judah.
The First Woe. The Coming Judgment on Ephraim Because of Its Parlous Condition (28.1-4).
Here Israel is depicted as a drunken festival king, proudly wearing a garland of faded flowers, while sadly unaware of its true condition, who is soon to be dragged down to earth by the Lord’s ‘strong one’.
In ‘a’ we have a woe to ‘the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley’, and in the parallel what is to happen to their crown, their fading flower and the head of the fat valley. In ‘b’ we have the Lord’s mighty and strong one, and in the parallel what he will do. In ‘c’ we have comparative descriptions.
A woe is called on Samaria. because of its ‘crown of pride’. It is within God’s sights for judgment, and the reason for it is clearly revealed. It is like a crowned ‘king of the festival’, slumped on his throne, and yet drunkenly proud, who in his drunken state wears, with inordinate pride, a crown which was once beautiful but was now a faded and wilted garland of dying flowers, and is unaware of his true condition.
The fat valley is probably to be seen as that outside Samaria with its fertile fields and terraced vineyards. Its ‘head’ is the proud city of Samaria, perched on its hill. It is pictured as proudly wearing the garland crown as it drunkenly celebrates, depicting the residents of Samaria, ‘the drunkards of Ephraim’, as behaving as though they were in a permanently inebriated condition. It is a sad picture, for its supposed glorious beauty, its flowered crown of which it is so ridiculously proud, is seen on closer inspection to be made up of but fading, wilting flowers. It is a crown only the foolishly drunken could be proud of, for although worn with drunken pride it is made up of the wilting blooms which are a pathetic last remnants of good days gone by, which would have been discarded by any but those well inebriated.
So the residents of Ephraim are pictured as proud, but not justly so, because in their pride they behave like inebriated sots, proud in spite of being in a dishevelled and careless condition, and glorying in folly and in a faded past. They fail to see what they really are. But they are too proud to turn to Yahweh. Compare here 9.8-12 where a similar attitude is revealed. Ephraim, as the largest tribe numerically in the northern kingdom, here represents Israel, and thus reveals Israel as a whole to be in a sad condition.
In contrast to these proud and drunken fools is the sovereign Lord’s ‘mighty and strong one’. Previously they had been chastised by the invasions of Syria and Philistia (9.12), now they will have to face a greater. He is in perfect condition and comes to cast Samaria down to earth with his hand, descending on them like a tempest of hail, like a destroying storm, like a tempest of mighty waters overflowing. The dreadful storm and hail pour down on them and soon produce the fearsome flash floods which overwhelm them.
And he will tread underfoot Ephraim’s proud but wilting crown, and eat up the contents of the faded garland, in the same way as someone who notices the first ripe fig, casually picks it and eats it up immediately. Her pride will have collapsed. It will be all over in moments, plucked by a stranger.
There can be little doubt that Assyria is in mind here, but Isaiah keeps it deliberately anonymous. He is concerned that all should recognise that this is the hand of the sovereign Lord, Yahweh. Yahweh could have used whoever He wanted to. It is a further reminder that Assyria is His, to do with as He will, and that it is at His behest that they are ‘the rod of His anger’ (10.5).
Flash Forward - The Coming Day of Deliverance (28.5).
In the future Yahweh will have a proper crown available for those who serve Him.
In ‘a’ Yahweh will be ‘for a crown of glory’, and in the parallel will be ‘for strength’ for those who defend His city. In ‘b’ He will be a diadem of beauty, and in the parallel a spirit of judgment.
Suddenly in true Isaianic fashion we have a flash forward to the coming day when God will deliver His people. However dark the horizon Isaiah wishes to stress that beyond it is always Yahweh’s deliverance for the remnant. The false crown of Samaria has brought to mind the true crown which His true people will receive, and the comparison is made accordingly. This therefore looks back to verses 1-4. However the ‘spirit of judgment’ looks forward to the following verses.
‘In that day’, that is, whenever Yahweh steps in to deliver. The same pictures are used as in verses 1-4 but this time they indicate something that is real and precious and lasting. One day Yahweh will be for a true crown of glory (not a crown of misplaced pride) and a genuine diadem of beauty (not a wilting diadem of flowers) to the residue of His people, one that they can truly wear with ‘pride’. Judgment may be coming but it will produce a residue, (but only a residue), on behalf of whom God can act. Gone will be the false pride and the wilting flowers of the past, replaced by this genuine glorious crown and beauteous diadem.
Then ‘the one who sits in judgment’ will be filled with a spirit of judgment so that his judgments are in accordance with the divine will. This is in deep contrast to the present when His people can only learn little by little. Associated as this one is with the crown and the diadem, and spoken of in the singular, Isaiah may well have in mind here the coming Prince, the son of David (7.14; 9.6; 11.1). For He is the One who is coming to rule and will be given the spirit of wisdom in judgment (11.1-5).
Furthermore, those who guard the ‘weak point’, the gate, of the strong city (26.1) will have the strength of Yahweh and be able to turn back any attack. It will no longer be a weak point. So in that day both prince and people will be strong with Yahweh’s strength. Many, however, see it as referring to taking the battle to the gates of their enemies. Either way the point is that He will give certain victory.
Back To the Present. The Condition of Judah (28.7-8).
Many view this movement back to the present as commencing a reference to Judah (see verse 14), as against Israel in verses 1-4, which would explain the reason for the intervention, which was to turn attention to the coming David and the strong city. Isaiah now points out that their leaders are too much involved in overmuch drinking to come to sensible decisions. Their riposte will be to accuse him of speaking to them as though they were children, to which he will reply that as they will not rest in Yahweh they will fall into His snare.
Note how the second item covers the same ground as the first in reverse, but with an added feature, although applying it to priest and prophet. The spirit of judgment is lacking, replaced by strong drink. The writer’s pattern is complicated. Note how in ‘a’ they have been surfeited in wine and strong drink, and in the parallel it has made them filthy their surroundings with their vomit. In ‘b’ priest and prophet have erred and gone astray and in the parallel they have erred in vision (prophets) and stumbled (failure of the teaching of the priests).
‘These also’ refers back to the one who sits in judgment and those who guard the gates, the people of Judah. Those who are presently in this position are not guided by the spirit of judgment, they are guided by false ‘spirit’, by wine and strong drink. Whether the people turn to priest or prophet they will discover the same. Their judgments (the responsibility of priests - Malachi 2.5-7) and their vision (the responsibility of prophets) err because they are under the influence of drink, soaked in it, swallowed up by it, and going astray. They stumble in their judgments, and spew out the contents of their stomachs. So bad is the situation that, when they are at table, the table is covered with their vomit and their filth. Thus all is unclean.
There could not be a worse picture of debility. Here they are gathered to make decisions on behalf of God’s people, but they appear hopelessly drunk. Thus they stumble in judgment, they stumble in vision, and they behave disgustingly. They vomit all over the table. All is filthy with no place clean. It is like a pigsty. The picture is of those unfit to govern. It is only later that we discover wherein they err. They look to Egypt for help against Assyria rather than to Yahweh. But at this point Isaiah is more concerned to point out that they are cut off from Yahweh in all their deliberations by their condition. God is disgusted with them.
His Opponent Mock Isaiah’s Teaching (28.9-13).
Isaiah’s opponents mock him because all that he does is proclaim a repetitive message. In their view that is to treat them like children. But his reply is that God will indeed speak to them through what they see as babbling, because He will bring against them people who speak in a strange tongue, which to them will seem like babbling. And this will happen because they have refused the rest that He has repeatedly offered them. And the result can only be disaster.
In ‘a’ they mock him declaring that his teaching can only be for babes, and in the parallel like babes they try to ‘go’, fall over backwards, and are ensnared. In ‘b’ his message is repetitive and in the parallel the word of Yahweh is repetitive to them. In ‘c’ he speaks to the people as with babbling lips, and with a different tongue (because they have been exiled abroad in a place where there is no rest), and that because in the parallel they would not hear his message of rest in their resting place.
In their drunken state the leaders reply by deriding Isaiah. They see themselves as wiser and more superior in thought than he is. They think that he clearly does not understand politics. They ask, to whom then should he convey his knowledge, to whom should he give his message? Who is there who can possibly be expected to listen to what he wants to tell them? Their answer is that it can only be those who are so young that they have just been weaned from their milk, or even recently withdrawn from the breast. For what he says is like rote teaching, constant repetition, a message that never changes, elementary repetitive words unfit for grown men, with a bit here and a bit there added as words are seen to be remembered, but constantly repeated over and over again. (For all he can say is ‘trust in Yahweh, trust in Yahweh, trust in Yahweh’, but that is for children. People today say the same thing about the Gospel).
‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.’ That is he teaches in an elementary fashion and by rote. The Hebrew is ‘tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw kaw lakaw kaw lakaw ze‘er sham ze‘er sham’, a clear example of childish rote learning or even a baby’s babbling. So they deliberately insult him saying, ‘he just goes on and on saying tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw kaw lakaw kaw lakaw ze‘er sham ze‘er sham’. He just teaches repetitively at a child’s level or even as a babbling baby.
The stern reply comes back. He has offered them the option of resting in Yahweh, and of helping their weary subjects by giving them rest. Indeed he has offered them a complete resting place in Yahweh (see verse 16; 7.4; 26.3-4; 30.15). Note the deliberate repetitiveness of ‘rest’ and ‘resting place’, sarcastically confirming what they say. But they still will not listen to him, and instead accuse him of babbling. So be it, is his reply. God will in turn speak to them through babbling lips in a foreign tongue. In other words He will now speak to them in Assyrian (Akkadian)!! God’s word will come through the strange foreign words of Assyrian generals, and by action through the Assyrian invasion. And they will have to learn them in exile once they are taken to Assyria. The Assyrian ‘words’ from Yahweh will be difficult to understand and even more difficult to accept, but they will certainly speak powerfully.
So Yahweh’s word to them will appear like the meaningless repetition that they have accused him of. Thus because they will not listen they will go and fall backwards into the camouflaged trap prepared for them where their bodies will be broken and they will be ensnared and captured. The picture is of the hunter’s pit with its wooden pointed stakes waiting to receive them. There may also be in mind the unsteadiness of a babe on its feet.
“Tsaw latsaw tsaw latsaw, kaw lakaw kaw lakaw, ze‘er sham ze‘er sham.” That is, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little.’ They might mock in this way, but in fact this is how spiritual growth takes place, learning verse upon verse, doctrine upon doctrine, here a little, there a little, until we grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
But in context it is a reminder to us that if we treat God’s word to us as fit only for children we can only expect devastating consequences.
Isaiah Sternly Warns About The Threatening Future If They Will Not Look to God’s Sure Foundation (28.14-22).
The leaders of Judah reply that they are not afraid of his threats because they have got it all worked out. They have an agreement with Egypt to come to their assistance, while meanwhile keeping the king of Assyria happy with deceitful words. Isaiah points out that that is to have a covenant with death and the grave (Sheol). What they should rather be doing is looking to the foundation stone that God will lay in Jerusalem (to Immanuel). If they looked ahead to His coming then they would accept their present situation and not be in such a hurry to be ‘free’. As it is their machinations will only result in disaster for them.
In ‘a’ Yahweh speaks to the scornful men and in the parallel they are not to be scornful men. In ‘b’ Yahweh lays a sure foundation stone in Zion, and in the parallel He rises up to do His strange work and bring about His strange act. In ‘c’ He will make justice His plumbline and sweep away their false agreements with death and the grave because they are incompatible with His will and in the parallel they will find their resting places incompatible so that the news can only bring them terror. In ‘d’ they will be trodden down by the overflowing scourge that passes through, and in the parallel when it passes through it will take them whether by night or by day.
‘For this reason.’ That is, because they have accused Isaiah of babbling and are therefore unable and unwilling to understand what God has to say to them and so are doomed to fall into a trap. Therefore let them hear what Yahweh has further to say.
Isaiah addresses them as ‘you scornful men’. This description is regularly found in Proverbs of those who are self-satisfied, beyond correction, arrogant and scornful of spiritual truth (Proverbs 1.22; 13.1; 14.9; 21.24; see also Psalm 1.1), as these have proved themselves to be.
They also rule Jerusalem. They sit in the place of the Davidic king, but it is quite apparent that their hearts are set in another direction than the service of Yahweh. They should be those by whom God’s Law goes out to the world (2.2-4), but instead they look to their own reputation and purposes. That is why Jerusalem will be subject to judgment, for great privilege brings great responsibility.
The words are not the ones that they would actually have spoken, but Isaiah’s ironic interpretation of them. They had probably boasted of their covenant with Egypt, but Isaiah interprets that as their making a covenant with death, and being in agreement with Sheol (the world of the grave), in other words as having received guarantees from death and Sheol that they would not touch them (see on verse 18). But if they were not fools they would have realised that death and Sheol are not to be trusted. Rather their mouths are open wide to receive them
They also boasted of the fact that ‘when the overflowing scourge passes through it will not come to us’, because they actually believed that Egypt would be able to turn the tide of Assyria. Isaiah, however was of a different mind. He knew from God that Egypt stood no chance against Assyria. ‘Overflowing scourge’ combines the idea of the scourge and the overflowing of a flood against which men have no hope. It will be a scourge of terrifying proportions.
‘For we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hidden ourselves.’ This is again not what they said but Isaiah’s interpretation of it. This may refer to their deceiving of the Assyrian king, pretending one thing when doing another, or more likely it may be Isaiah’s way of indicating that their covenant, made with Egypt and its gods, was relying on something that was nothing but lies and deceit, the religious claims of Egypt. And yet the sad thing was that they would rather trust in these than in the living God, and His truth!
God’s reply is to set certainty against uncertainty. He declares that there is only one tried and tested thing to trust in. And that is the tested stone, the cornerstone of great value which gives a sure foundation and guarantees the stability of the building. This is the corner stone on which the whole building would depend. It is the everlasting rock (26.4) on which the strong city is founded.
But what is this tested stone, this sure foundation?
Whichever it is it confirms that whoever trusts in what God has provided will not be in a hurry to seek alternative security, whether in Egypt or anywhere else. They will rest confidently in Him, because He provides a firm foundation.
Indeed like many promises of God it could have a near and far view thus having both a present and a future significance. It could be intended first to turn their thoughts on God and their need for firm trust in Him alone, and their need to be founded on Him, and then to look ahead also to its wider fulfilment in the God-sent One Whom Isaiah had promised, the coming Immanuel (God with us - 7.14; 9.6-7; 11.1-4), which is indeed all tied up in true faith in God. Certainly we may see its supreme fulfilment in Jesus Christ, for when He came from God He became the foundation stone in which men could trust and on which they could be established with confidence and certainty (see 1 Peter 2.4-6; Matthew 21.42; Romans 9.33; 1 Corinthians 3.11-12; Ephesians 2.20).
The word for stone (‘bohan’) is possibly an Egyptian loan word and signifies an especially hard stone suitable for carving. What was to be seen as being carved on it may well have been ‘he who believes will not be in a hurry’.
Having laid His foundation stone God now declares that He will use justice and righteousness as tools with which to measure the population of his strong city. There can be no deceit there. All must be above board and morally true. It is a city of righteousness, the faithful city (1.26). Thus each who would enter its gates must be measured to determine their worthiness to be there.
Meanwhile on this basis their refuge of lies will be swept away by hail, and the hiding place of falsehood will be overflowed by floodwater, both regular symbols of the judgment of God. This possibly refers to the defeat of Pharaoh’s army by the Assyrians. Compare how the activities of the Assyrians are described in these terms in verse 2. Furthermore the covenant with death will be disannulled, and the agreement with Sheol cancelled, for man cannot determine his own destiny. The day of his death is in the hands of God.
‘When the overflowing scourge passes through, you will be trodden down by it.’ The fact that it will ‘tread them down’ reveals that the overflowing scourge is indeed the army of the king of Assyria. The symbol is no longer being figuratively applied.
The overflowing scourge will continually pass through, morning by morning, and by day and night. The Assyrian annals in fact report that their armies did make numerous and constant returns to the same areas, every return being accompanied by massive slaughter and pillage. The steady blows of such attacks would create a sense of terror as the next visit was anticipated. And as the news reached them of the next advance their hearts would quail within them.
‘For the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.’ They had rejected God’s resting place (verse 12) and now the bed that they had made for themselves was distinctly uncomfortable. But having prepared it they had to lie on it, even though it was both unpleasant and ill fitting. They could not stretch comfortably on it because it was too short. They could not curl up on it because their covering was too narrow. They had sentenced themselves to night-long misery. How different it was from Yahweh’s foundation stone.
It was at Mount Perazim that Yahweh arose on behalf of David against the Philistines on their first invasion against him as king and broke them (1 Chronicles 14.8-12). And at Gibeon He again intervened on David’s behalf so that David achieved another important victory (1 Chronicles 14. 13-16). These deliverances were vital occasions, and they established Israel and were the foundation of David’s kingship. So Yahweh declares that here again He will arise and act, but this time it will be a strange work and a strange act that He performs. For it will not be on behalf of His people but against them. He will work and act in His anger so as to punish them, for His anger will this time be directed against His own people and not against the enemy.
Each nation expected their gods to favour them and to defeat the enemy. Judah too looked to Yahweh to do the same for them, although their alliances demonstrated that they did not really have much confidence in Him to do so. But things have got to a state where He will not do so. Because they would not trust Him He will do the opposite, so that they might learn to trust. He will bring their enemy against them. He will arrange for them to be taken into captivity, so that they might be faced with their own wrongdoing and unbelief.
So Isaiah makes a final plea for these men to themselves cease being scornful men, lest the worst come on them. The bands being made strong might refer to future threatened captivity, or to their becoming finally bound in the state in which they now are so that there is no hope of repentance. Both are in fact connected (compare 6.9-12). And this plea is in the light of the fact that a consummation is coming, one which is set and determined (compare 10.23) which will affect the whole known earth (or ‘the whole land’), as he has been informed by the One Who is the sovereign Lord, Yahweh of hosts Himself.
The word for ‘consummation’ regularly means ‘a full end’ or a ‘set purpose’. The thought therefore here is of something momentous, purposed by God. In the light of the captivity of Israel, this may well signify his awareness that Judah faces the same prospect of exile (39.6-7).
The Parable of the Farmer and his Crops (28.23-29).
The point behind this parable is that the wise farmer thinks carefully about what he is doing and does not get bogged down in one activity. He looks at things as a whole, and does each thing in its proper course, ready to change as the occasion demands. He is fully flexible. In the same way these men of Jerusalem should consider that now is the time for a change. They should cease to look to other nations and should look instead to Yahweh, as the farmer does. For now is Yahweh’s day, and God has great purposes for Israel if only they will take note of what He is saying.
We must remember that the purpose behind all Isaiah’s words is not to ‘foretell the future’. It is to speak of the future in order that it might stir to action. Every revelation should cause his hearers to think again of what God would do through them if only they would respond rightly to Him.
In ‘a’ they are to listen to Yahweh’s voice, and in the parallel the wisdom and counsel comes from Yahweh. In ‘b’ the ploughman does not restrict himself to the initial action of ploughing, and in the preparation of the grain in the parallel he does not restrict himself to the initial threshing. In ‘c’ he does not sow the dill and cummin, and in the parallel the dill and cummin are beaten out with a rod. In ‘d’ everything is put in its appointed place, and in the parallel the dill and cummin are treated in the appointed way. And in ‘e’ all is done according to the wisdom provided by Yahweh.
Isaiah calls for careful attention to what he will now say. His first question is, does the farmer never do anything but plough? Does he only ever break up the ground? The answer he expects is, “Of course not.” Otherwise he would never achieve anything.
We must remember that each farmer had only a comparatively small patch in which he had to grow his different crops, somewhat like a large market garden. He had to decide what to plant in each section and arrange carefully so that he produced all the crops he needed using all available space, which would come to fruition at different times. Thus he takes each type of seed and carefully sows it in the place which he has determined, different types of herbs or different types of grain in different places, even planning which will be sown on the border. This is because God gives him wisdom and shows him what to do. The hint is that that too is what these men of Jerusalem should be doing. Listening to God’s voice and planning accordingly.
‘In rows’ and ‘in its appointed place’ are two Hebrew technical farming terms and any translations are simply guesswork. (Even LXX omitted them not knowing what they meant). We do not know exactly what they mean, but the idea is clear. Each crop is dealt with in the appropriate way.
But once he has planted it the farmer does not leave matters like that. He plans ahead. Later he will deal with each crop as it requires. He does not thresh the dill with a sharp instrument like a threshingsledge, rather he beats it with a staff. He does not revolve a threshing wheel over the cummin, he beats it with a rod. He threshes the corn (with his sharp instrument), but he does not go on threshing it forever. He then grinds it ready for use. The wheel of his cart and his horses scatter the seed, but the wheel does not grind it. (Something was probably fitted to the wheel to aid the process of threshing).
So each thing is dealt with according to requirements, and each is dealt with differently. Each instrument has its purpose and must be used correctly. And all this, as guided by God, is extremely good advice and very wise. In the same way should the men of Jerusalem consider whether they are using the right instruments for what they are about to do, whether trust in Egypt or trust in Yahweh. For that too is wise advice.
There is possibly also an indirect threat here that God will have to plough up Judah if it is not responsive to His guidance. Unlike Samaria it still had the option, and God is pointing out that as the Great Farmer He is quite ready to deal differently with Judah if the situation warrants it.
It has been objected that horses would not be used for this kind of work and that the text should be amended. But Isaiah was not an experienced agriculturalist or zoologist and was probably speaking loosely. In his world in Jerusalem horses were what he came across, and he may well have meant ‘horse-like animals’. e.g. asses. Nor can we in fact be sure that they did not use horses in this way.
Chapter 29 The Second Woe. A Woe Against The False Jerusalem.
Isaiah stresses that although they boast of their city as the city of David, Yahweh will soon cause her to be besieged by an army which He will bring against her. But then, when they cry out of the dust He will act on their behalf in power and deliver Jerusalem.
In ‘a’ Ariel is David’s city, which he made his headquarters (encamped there), but as time goes by Yahweh will distress Ariel and there will there be mourning and lamenting, and in the parallel those who come against Ariel and distress her will dream of victory but will find that the reality is far different, for they are fighting against Mount Zion. In ‘b’ at Yahweh’s behest they will lay siege to Ariel, but in the parallel they will experience the visitation of Yahweh Who will devastate them. In ‘c’ Judah will be brought low and speak out of the dust, and in the parallel it will be similar to the way in which mediums speak out of the dust.
Having declared His woe on Israel (28.1) God now declares His woe on Jerusalem under the name of Ariel. It is to be distressed with mourning and lamentation because it has become superficial in its response to Yahweh. It is to be besieged. This occurred around 701 BC at the hand of Sennacherib, and we must not in the wonder of the deliverance overlook the awfulness of the siege and what led up to it. Judah paid a heavy price for not trusting Yahweh earlier.
‘Ariel.’ The Akkadian arallu can mean either the ‘mountain of the gods’ or ‘underworld of the gods’, both places where gods were thought to dwell, and thus the dwellingplaces of the gods. Here Isaiah’s purpose might well be, by a play on the word, to draw attention to the fact that while Jerusalem prided itself on having within it Mount Zion, the mountain of God, the mysterious mountain which was seen as joining heaven and earth and was the dwellingplace of God, by their manner of living they were debasing the fact and were making it rather ‘an Ariel’, a pagan dwelling place of the gods, no longer the ‘holy city’ even though they called themselves by that title (48.2). The reference to David encamping there might be seen as backing up the idea of seeing it as a dwellingplace.
But the ‘ariel’ was also the name used for the altar hearth near the top of Ezekiel’s high altar (Ezekiel 43.15), the place where the sacrificial fires continually burned. This was probably a technical term which had lost much of its original meaning but was originally associated with the above idea of the mountain of God, the stepped altar being seen as typifying a mountain (compare the stepped ziggurats). It was also used in this sense of altar hearths on the Moabite Stone demonstrating the probable wide use of it as a technical term for this outside Israel. Perhaps there is therefore also contained in the use the idea that Jerusalem is God’s altar hearth, ready for sacrifice.
It is described here as ‘the city where David encamped’, confirming that this is indeed referring to Jerusalem. Isaiah is indicating that once in the time of David it had been true to Yahweh. It had had an honourable and noble past. Then it had been filled with genuine worship and praise, led by the king himself. It had become the earthly dwellingplace of God in His Temple. What a contrast with the present. Now things just carried on year by year, with a round of meaningless festivals. It is no longer Mount Zion but Ariel (see verses 7-8 where it reverts). Well let them continue. They are simply leading up to a time of mourning and lamentation. The use of ‘encamped’ might be seen as indicating that even David only had a right to camp there and had no right to a permanent dwelling on the holy mountain.
Thus this mountain of God/the gods is to be downgraded. ‘She will be to me as Ariel’. It is to be treated as an Ariel, as a mountain of the gods and not as containing the Mountain of God at all. God is on the point of disowning it, at least temporarily. (Ezekiel later demonstrates in chapters 40 onwards that He has by then disowned it completely).
There is a direct contrast between David encamping in the city in verse 1 with God encamping against it here. The tables have been turned.
Some however translate verse 1 as ‘against which David encamped’, a possible translation, and see this as indicating parallel action (Hebrew prepositions are not always as clear as we would like). David had once encamped against it when it was a pagan city, and now God was doing the same for the same reason. The basic idea is the same.
Yahweh (initially through the king of Assyria) intends to lay siege to Jerusalem, this false mountain of God, raising siegeworks against it and humbling it. It will be brought so low that its voice will, as it were, seem to come out of the ground, from the very dust. They will be utterly humbled. And they will be in such a state that their prayers will be like the whispered words of a medium, like the chirp of an enchanter who seeks to the dead. (For the idea of prayer seen as such chirping/whispering in distress see 26.16). Again there is a mixing of the contrast between the idea of God with ‘the gods’, especially underworld gods, as the people’s prayers to God seem almost similar to appeals made to these ‘gods’.
However the siege will be lifted because in some way the attackers will, as it were, be blown away as if they were dust, the huge army of terrible ones (‘terrible’ is a regular description of those to do with large empires, see 25.4, 5; compare 13.11; 25.3; 29.20; 49.25; Jeremiah 15.21; Ezekiel 28.7 etc.) will be wafted away like chaff. And it will happen suddenly and unexpectedly. A fulfilment of this took place when the Assyrian army withdrew to face the Egyptian army at Eltekeh, and a further fulfilment is found in 37.36, when some unknown cause (humanly speaking) wrought death in the camp of the Assyrians causing them to withdraw.
Note the movement from Ariel in verse 7 to Mount Zion in verse 8, from the pseudo ‘mountain of God/the gods’ to the real ‘mountain of God’, a sign of the movement in the hearts of many of the people from the unreal to the real, from lack of belief to real belief as a result of their deliverance. Before deliverance, Ariel, afterwards, Mount Zion.
‘‘From Yahweh of hosts she will be visited with thunder and with earthquake, and great noise, with a stormy wind and tempest and flame of a devouring fire.’ This is the picture of the God of the covenant, the God of Sinai. This is simply a majestic way of saying that the God of Sinai will come to act on behalf of His people. There too there was thunder and a great noise, there the earth shook, there too there was tempest and the flame of a devouring fire, only the stormy wind was unmentioned (Exodus 19.16-20 with 24.17) and that finds mention in the Psalmist’s description of the Exodus deliverance (Psalm 77.18), which was thus part of the tradition. It is thus a way of saying that the mighty Creator of Sinai and of the Exodus will come to act in power.
The thought is of what He is rather than of the phenomena being visible. It is God in His power Who acts, even if invisibly. There may be no outward manifestations that can be seen but this will be the spiritual effect. In the account itself it is described as being by the angel of Yahweh (37.36).
We can compare for this how David described Yahweh as coming to his aid in similar language when he was in trouble (2 Samuel 22.8-16). There too he was visualising the unseen power of God. Assyrian kings would also describe their approach in similar language. It was the way of the age.
‘And 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 as a dream, and as a vision of the night.’ The result of Yahweh coming in invisible but genuine power as visualised by the prophet will be that the many nations in the army of Assyria will be powerless against Jerusalem. They will simply have the same effect as a dream or vision of the night, frightening but rapidly disappearing in the morning. The certainty of the dream will give way to the uncertainty of the day. And certainly when the Assyrian army lay down on the awesome night that the angel smote them, they were full of confidence and certainty, and when those who were left awoke it had all vanished. The angel of Yahweh had done His work (37.36).
‘And it will be as when a hungry man dreams ,and behold he eats, but he awakes and his inner man is empty, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold he drinks, but he awakes and behold he is faint, and his inner man has an appetite. So will all the multitude of the nations be who fight against Mount Zion.’ The siege of Jerusalem will seem so threatening, but its threat will turn out to have the potency of a dream. It will be to the enemy like a man having dreams of eating and drinking and then waking to discover he is still hungry and thirsty. It will be an unreality that has no effect in real life. The enemy will go to sleep dreaming of seizing and despoiling Jerusalem, and enjoying all the good things that they will pillage, they will awaken to find that their hopes are in vain. This will be the potency of the international army of Assyria. And why? Because they are not fighting against Jerusalem, nor against Ariel, they are fighting against Mount Zion, the heavenly and earthly dwellingplace of Yahweh, and against the God Who dwells there.
The Unbelieving Response of the Majority To God (29.9-14).
There are at least two ways of looking at this passage. One is to see it as Isaiah’s words prior to God’s amazing deliverance, seeking to inculcate faith but seeing instead obstinacy, in which case verse 14 points to that event, the other is to see it as Isaiah’s words after that amazing deliverance when the careless final response of the majority of the people to it has left him baffled. The modern Christian is similarly amazed that men do not see the glory of Christ and follow Him.
In ‘a’ the people are seen at work making themselves hesitate and wonder and then putting a blind on their eyes and blinding their own eyes, and in the parallel the wisdom and understanding of both their wise and astute men will cease and be hidden. In ‘b’ their state is seen to be the action of Yahweh who has poured out on them the spirit of stupor and in the parallel it is described as a marvellous work, a work and a wonder. There is nothing as wondrous as the unbelief of men in the face of God revealing His mighty works as he did at Jerusalem with Sennacherib. Or alternately the parallel may mean that He did a marvellous work and a wonder, but because of their stupor they did not appreciate it. In ‘c’ all vision has been hid from them because of their unwillingness to see, and in the parallel it is because they have withdrawn their hearts from Him.
The use of the imperative vividly brings out Isaiah’s own perplexity and growing awareness of the obduracy of the people. Although God had warned Him that the people would mainly continue to be blind he still found it difficult to take in. If this was before the great deliverance it expresses his growing awareness of their deliberate blindness. If this was after the event, the wonder of what happened at the deliverance of Jerusalem would have come home strongly to him, and it represents him as seeing that it had left many of them unchanged. Momentarily, in the exultation of the moment, they might have become convinced but they will soon deliberately begin to hesitate, and then wonder if it ever happened. They will smear over their own eyes by means of their doubt and unwillingness to believe, thus they will finish up blind. They will convince themselves that there was a natural explanation, talk it down and shrug off its effects. They will have seen a wonder of the world and will remain unchanged, even hardened. (Just as the Pharisees will later do with Jesus in the face of even greater wonders).
In either case Isaiah cannot understand it. He is baffled. So he speaks to them almost as in a daze. ‘Make yourselves hesitate (reflexive) and wonder.’ He is warning them that if they make themselves hesitate, they will soon begin to wonder whether God will indeed work, or whether He has so worked. Rather they should respond to Yahweh’s amazing act, or His past acts, with full belief and gladness of heart. But he senses their hesitation, and fears what the result will be. They will go on hesitating and then they will begin to wonder in the end whether it meant anything significant at all. His words are drawn out of him almost unwillingly, as he warns them what the result of their attitude will be. By smearing up their own vision they will become blind. It is always dangerous to hesitate when the call comes to ‘follow Me’.
If this refers to before the event then the words are to be seen as a rebuke at their continuing unwillingness to trust Yahweh. As he sees their determined opposition to his position of trusting in Yahweh, the One Who in the past has acted so mightily on behalf of their people as their past history reveals, he can only see it as fulfilling what God had said to him at his inauguration as a prophet (6.8-12), that they would be subject to blind unbelief. If after then it is even more incredible, and the rebuke is to be seen as even stronger.
And so in either case he decides that there can be only one explanation for their attitude, it must be because they are drunk. But as he recognises that it must be with something more permanent than wine, he concludes that they must be staggering about, seemingly incapable of understanding, not because of what they have drunk, but because Yahweh has poured out on them a spirit of deep sleep. They are in a divinely wrought coma. It is the only explanation that comes to hand. Indeed on top of their own obduracy he sees an even deeper wonder, that those who profess to be their eyes, who should have helped them to appreciate what had happened, the prophets, seem to have their own eyes closed, while those who should have been in a position to explain everything, the seers, seem to have had their heads covered over lest they see.
His perplexity is understandable. It is always difficult for one who believes to understand deep doubt. Everything seems so clear to believers. Thus they can only then conclude that if there is doubt it is Yahweh’s work. It must be because He wants it that way. And in the end they are right. Not because He wants men to be blind and directly acts, but because He has made mankind as he is, to grow in doubt if he refuses to believe. So such blindness and hesitation are not Yahweh’s direct work. They are the result of sin and rebellion, and of an unwillingness to be in submission to God. They are the result of man’s obstinate free will. And Isaiah sees that that is the case here.
‘And all vision has become to you as the words of a book which is sealed, which men deliver over to one who is learned, saying, “Read this, I beg you”. And he says, “I cannot. The book is sealed.” But he recognises that this is not the result of their extra intelligence. It is because they have closed minds. So he tells these men that they are like those who have a sealed book, which is full of knowledge, but to them it is hidden knowledge because they will not open the seal. In the same way, something has clearly sealed their minds so that they have failed to grasp the significance of what God’s activity past or present really means. And when they go to the learned (the prophet and the seer) and beg them to read it, they will demur. They cannot, they say, for the book is sealed, that is, they cannot understand it. But this would not be humility, it would be stubbornness and unwillingness, a further example of blindness. They do not want to see God’s ways, they prefer their own.
Then in their perfidy the people take the book to one who is unlearned, and ask him to read, and he refuses, saying, “I am not learned (cannot read fluently)”. No one wants to make the attempt.
God’s Response To and Verdict on Their Unbelief (29.13-14).
29.13-14) ‘And the Lord said,
When men harden their hearts against God’s revelation, given in one way or another, it often results in continuing hardening. It is as though having hardened themselves they have made it almost impossible for them to do anything else, and so they go on more and more firmly closing their eyes. This is what God saw would be the result here.
‘And the Lord said.’ This, says Isaiah, is the sovereign Lord speaking, Who now gives His verdict on their attitude. They go on and on with their religious ritual, they all continue to say what seem to be the right things, repeating it by rote, but there is no true inward response in their hearts, as is shown by the way that they are acting. And it is of their own choice. They deliberately stop their hearts being taken over by God. So their supposed piety is simply something that they do because of the pressure of those in authority over them, and not because they have responsive hearts.
So He will act in a wondrous way which will be amazing to all, and He stresses the wonder of what He will do and men’s responsive amazement. He will do a work which will result in the wise men’s wisdom perishing, and the astute men’s astuteness being hidden. He has already described it in terms of the great stupor He has brought upon them. As a result of what He will do they will appear as fools. All their clever words will be seen to have come to nothing. And later generations will wonder at it.
However, if the previous words were prior to the great deliverance then these words may well have in mind that deliverance. Then he may be saying that Yahweh will do a great work, a mighty work, a marvel, but because of their obduracy they will fail to see it and to properly appreciate it. They will close their minds against it.
Either way in the end it is simply a way of saying that man’s opposition to Him and His ways, and their refusal to trust Him, is folly, a folly which the future, as controlled by Him, will reveal. History is full of such examples. Men make great statements and are greatly admired, and then they are seen to come to nothing. So will it be with these wise teachers and astute thinkers. They and all they have taught will perish, but God’s word and God’s purposes will go on.
The Third Woe: Against Those Who Seek To Hide What They Do From God, But Yahweh Will Triumph In Spite Of It (29.15-24).
In ‘a’ the people seek to hide what they do from Yahweh, but in the parallel those who err will come to understanding, and those who murmur will learn instruction. In ‘b’ His people are turning things upside down, forgetting that Yahweh is the Potter who made them and framed them, and saying that He has no understanding, and in the parallel Jacob’s children are the work of His hands, and thus His people set Him apart as holy and stand in awe of Him. In ‘c’ Lebanon which is being crushed by the enemy will be turned into a fruitful field, and all will prosper, the fruitful field will be counted as a forest, and in the parallel the terrible one is to be brought to naught, and all will prosper for the scornful one will cease, and all those who watch for iniquity will be cut off, who make a man an offender in a cause, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and turn aside the righteous in a thing of naught. In ‘d’ ‘in that day’ the deaf will hear the words of the book (which was previously a mystery - verse 11), and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness, while in the parallel the meek will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
The verbs are important. The opening participle is speaking of something continual. These men are always seeking to go deep and hide their discussions and ideas from Yahweh. It is their practise. The imperfect then refers this to their present continuing activity, they are choosing to perform their works out of sight.
The picture is of men digging themselves a hideout where they can hide what they are thinking and doing from God. They then go into their hideout and assert their independence of God. It is not literal but figurative. It refers to all who think that they can carry on their activities without God knowing, who think that they can hide their ways from God. It is the example of ultimate folly, for ‘all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrew 4.13).
So here Woe is declared on them. They come under God’s direct condemnation. In the background is the thought of all the plans and activities of men seeking to counter the Assyrian threat without recourse to God, especially those who have gone to Egypt for consultation and to make alliance, and have kept what they are doing secret from Isaiah. But it applies finally to the plans of men of all ages.
These people who are ignoring God should consider. They have got things the wrong way round. They are treating Him as though He is but the clay. But it is He Who is the Potter, and it is they who are the clay. It is He Who made them and fashioned their frame. They would therefore be wise to recognise that they are responsible to Him as their Creator, and to recognise that as such He has more understanding than they. But they rather reject His authority and question His wisdom. What folly!
If we were more aware that He is the Potter and we are the clay we might well find that we were more responsive to Him. Indeed it can be a comforting thought. It means that He takes final responsibility for what we become if we trust in Him (see verse 23). But some of us still tend to treat God as the clay with His ways to be fashioned by us.
If They Were Wise They Would Recognise That God Has Everything In Hand (29.17-24).
For the truth is that Yahweh, the Potter, will take the poor and the lowly and will work on them to make of them His new people. All who are unjust and work contrary to God’s law will be rooted out. In Paul’s words they will be pruned from the olive tree. And His own will then grow and develop into a godly nation. And as he has shown elsewhere this includes those who were Gentiles. They will be adopted into Israel, become sons of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3.7, 29) and be grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11.17).
The Potter will very decisively show His authority and His wisdom in the future. And He will do it ‘in a very little while.’ That is, a little while from God’s viewpoint. When the time comes He will act.
‘Lebanon will be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be counted as a forest’ Lebanon was proverbial as the essence of fruitfulness because of its tall cedars (Psalm 104.16). Perhaps the thought here is of the devastations wrought by the Assyrian invasion which God will in His time put right (37.24). Alternatively the thought may be that God will at some stage humble the mighty. That the tall cedars of Lebanon, often a symbol of man’s pride (see 2.13; Ezekiel 31.3), will as such be cut down and Lebanon be turned into garden land which will be accepted as being as good as a forest. The proud will be laid low, but the humbled will be fruitful. This suggestion of humbling would tie in with what follows.
‘And in that day will the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind will see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The meek also will increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.’ We can compare here verses 9-12. In contrast with the present those in the future, ‘in a very little while’ when God acts to humble the mighty, will receive what is in the book of vision, for it will be read out for the deaf to hear. This demonstrates that God appointed prophets and seers will then be willing to open the book. And they will then will have their blindness removed. The idea here is primarily of the spiritually deaf and blind.
‘In that day’, which in itself is very general, looks forward to the time of the humbling of the mighty, and the blessing of the deaf and blind, and the poor and meek (compare on 11.4), the lowest members of society, and an increase in joy and rejoicing (Luke 1.14; 2.10; 10.17; John 15.11). This is specifically referred to the time of Jesus in Matthew 5.3-5 and Luke 1.52-53 and of the Spirit anointed prophet (61.1 compare Luke 4.18-21; Matthew 11.5) and the Spirit anointed king (11.4). Indeed as the Gospels make clear Jesus also opened the ears and eyes of the literally deaf and blind, and examples of such healings were used by Him as symbolic of spiritual deafness and blindness. For ‘darkness’ compare 9.1; Matthew 4.16; Luke 1.79; John 1.5; 3.19; 8.12;12.46; Acts 26.18; 1 Thessalonians 5.4). That this was fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles can hardly be doubted. We need look no further.
There will also be an increase in social justice, and the unrighteous and unjust will be removed from Israel. Three types are warned against. The terrible, the scornful and the busybodies. The first could refer to the Assyrian king but in context more probably refers to ‘the oppressor’ in a judicial sense, one in high authority who uses his authority to pervert justice. The scornful are those who are not really concerned for justice and despise the law and use it for their own ends. Those who watch for iniquity are those who make use of the law to catch out unwary people who accidentally go astray, in order to gain a reward. All are misusers of the judicial system, and all will be dealt with.
‘Him who reproves in the gate.’ The gate was where the elders would gather to dispense justice and hear complaints. Thus this is a righteous and just elder who has annoyed the ungodly by reproving their unrighteousness so that they are trying to bring him down.
What they get up to is also described. They make people guilty by manipulating the law, they trap those who reprove them and seek to establish true justice, and they find legal loopholes so as to get the righteous found guilty. Note how the second three are in reverse order compared with the first three, typical of Isaiah. The oppressor turns aside the righteous, the scornful cut off the man of truth and honour, the unrighteous busybody catches out the unwary. Jesus constantly spoke up against these things and the spreading of Christianity increased social justice, and in Paul’s language resulted in the unjust in Israel being pruned from the true Israel. And when He returns, full justice will be established for ever, and all who have thwarted it and have not repented will truly be brought to naught.
To modernise the ideas, politicians will manipulate the law which they themselves have set up, while applying it rigidly to others for their own advantage, scorners will deny moral absolutes (compare 5.20; 28.14, 22), those intent on doing evil will bend law and order to achieve their own ends. Specifically in mind are those who abuse the legal system by such things as using politics for their own gain, committing perjury, tampering with witnesses, and preventing the innocent from getting justice, and they include crooked politicians, false witnesses, amoral lawyers, and biased judges (compare Hosea 4.1-2; Amos 2.6-8; 5.10-11; Micah 2.1-2).
29.22-24 ‘Therefore thus says Yahweh, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob.
Yahweh speaks as the One who redeemed Abraham. The Old Testament elsewhere makes no specific reference to ‘the redemption’ of Abraham, but see Genesis 48.16 where the root is applied to Jacob, where it refers to God spending effort in keeping Jacob from evil. We need not doubt that He was seen as doing the same for Abraham, for having first called him and brought him out from among his unbelieving family, He had brought him into a land where he could walk with God. Indeed the saving and keeping of Abraham from evil fits this passage well. It is saying that Yahweh is the Saviour and Keeper of His chosen ones from evil by the expenditure of His power. This is what their redemption involves. The mention of Abraham takes them back to their roots, and reminds them of the first promises on which their hope for the future is based. They are chosen because of him.
The motif of Abraham is important in Isaiah. He was the one whose original faith and response to God not only resulted in him being ‘redeemed’ and seen as ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes (Genesis 15.6), but will also result in the redemption of his ‘children’. They will be saved for Abraham’s sake. Later we will learn that it was because Abraham was His friend and servant, the one whom He loved, that Israel is privileged to be called on to be His Servant, in order to carry out His will (41.8). And in 51.1-2 they are to look to Abraham, the rock from which they were hewn, something directly related to the covenant, ‘when he was but one I called him, and blessed him, and made him many’ (51.2). That is why they too will be made many, because they are one with Abraham in the covenant.
The use made here of the name Jacob is typically Hebrew. It refers both to the man and his tribe seen as one. (Just as ‘Abraham’ in Genesis referred to the man but was regularly to be seen as including his family tribe). Jacob, the descendant of Abraham, was present among them in his descendants, and there would, in the future being outlined, be nothing that they would do to bring shame to ‘him’ or pallor to ‘his’ face, i.e. to his descendants’ faces. When ‘he’ sees his children who have been transformed by the work of God’s hand in ‘his’ midst, instead of bringing shame on God they will by their lives and behaviour ‘sanctify’ (show as set apart as unique and special) God’s name, the name of the Holy One of Jacob.
In view of the fact that the title is always elsewhere ‘the Holy One of Israel’ this demonstrates that Isaiah had a special reason for using Jacob’s name in this passage rather than that of Israel, his other name. Possibly it was in order to bring out that just as Jacob became Israel, a man transformed as a result of wrestling with God, so now has the tribe of Jacob been worked on by God and been transformed, producing a new Israel. They too will have ‘wrestled’ with God. Thus they will also stand in awe of ‘the Holy One of Jacob’, sanctifying His name as ‘the God of Israel’.
‘When he sees his children, the work of My hands.’ Note the reference back to the work of the Potter. The people may forget that He is the Potter, but He still continues His work, and it will in the future become obvious.
‘Those also who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will learn instruction.’ The new Israel will not yet be perfect, but they will make a recovery from the position in verse 15. Having previously erred in their inner beings, they will recover and be brought to understanding. They may sometimes murmur, as Israel murmured in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1.27). But it will not be fatal. They will be instructed and learn from it, because God is with them for Abraham’s sake.
The picture is of people transformed by the action of the living God and growing in grace and stature, a true picture of the new Israel who will be established, and of the true church of Christ who will be grafted into Israel by adoption, and will become the true Israel. This is not to distort the passage, or ‘spiritualise’ it. We who are Christ’s are the continuation of Israel, we are the true Israel arising out of the old (Matthew 16.18; 21.43; Romans 11.17 onwards; Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9). Israel always welcomed any who would respond to the covenant, and submit to the God of Israel, whether they were the immediate foreign servants of Abraham, the mixed multitude of Moses (Exodus 12.38) or the covenant people of Shechem (Joshua 8.30-35, note the reference to resident aliens). In fact the large majority of Israelites were not literally physically descended from Jacob. They were ‘adopted’. Thus this has in mind the new Israel, which includes the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), all those united with the new Israel in Christ.
So whenever those who err in spirit come to understanding and learn doctrine, that is, the truth as it is in Jesus, so they are seen to be the work of His hands, and they then begin to ‘sanctify His Name’, by recognising His otherness and His holiness, and standing in awe of Him, in loving worship. They will know God in truth. And it all began with Abraham, whom God graciously redeemed.
Chapter 30 The Fourth Woe. Against Those Who Trust in Egypt Rather than in Yahweh (30.1-7).
Having broken with Assyria and withheld tribute, as a result of the death of Sargon II of Assyria and the troubles that the new king Sennacherib was experiencing in cementing his kingship, Hezekiah and Judah now had to choose what they would do. Babylon’s rebellion had failed and she had been crushed by Sennacherib. She could no longer be counted on. Would they look to and depend on Egypt, who were making representations to them and to other allies, with all the compromises that that would involve, or would they look to and depend solely on Yahweh? Isaiah’s stress was on total dependence on Yahweh, but Hezekiah and his advisers favoured Egypt.
It was ironic that the people who had been delivered from Egypt’s bondage could not shake off their connections with Egypt. They had only to look at their history to realise which choice would be better for them. But they had a mistaken view of Egypt’s power and preferred the help that they could see. They overlooked the fact that in the end Egypt, if successful, might make even greater demands on them than Assyria. Such help did not come cheap.
We too must choose whether we will look back nostalgically to the past and also whether we will look at the things that are seen, or alternatively whether we will look at the things which are unseen, for the past is behind us and the things which are seen are temporal, while the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.18).
In ‘a’ the people take counsel anywhere but of Yahweh, and in the parallel their counsel is sought from Egypt. In ‘b’ they walk down to Egypt and look to the strength of Pharaoh, and trust in the shadow of Egypt, and in the parallel the strength of Pharaoh will be their shame and the trust in the shadow of Egypt their confusion.
God now declares a woe on His people. The act of seeking to Egypt for help against Assyria rather than to God is here seen as rebellion against God. For the stark choice lay before them. Would they trust in Yahweh, seek, and walk in His guidance, and make their plans accordingly, or would they seek the guidance of Pharaoh, seen by Egyptians as the living Horus, son of Osiris, and be guided by Egypt, making their plans in alliance with them?
Note that their choice of Egypt is said to be because of their predilection for sin. They were like rebellious children, looking to anyone but their Father for advice. They were adding sin to sin. For the real truth was that seeking to Yahweh was too demanding. He then expected them to obey Him and walk in His ways. And that is why they looked elsewhere. It was history repeating itself. Thus did they add to their sins, their ‘falling short’ of God’s requirements. When a man says, ‘I no longer believe’, what he usually means is ‘there are things I want to do which my belief is preventing’.
So the reason that they had lost faith in Yahweh was not because they saw Him as inadequate or unable to cope, but because they had turned their eyes from Him because of His covenant demands. They had found the covenant too burdensome. The result was that they then had to look elsewhere, and that is when they rested their new faith in Egypt. They then walked in the wisdom of the world and not in the wisdom of God. Was not Egypt a mighty nation? Must their gods not be powerful? Look at their chariots and horsemen. And did they not have a reputation for wisdom? But it would never have happened if they had not first turned away from Yahweh.
To ‘cover with a covering’ meant taking as a form of protection. But the covering they took was not that of the Mighty Yahweh, it was not as guided by His Spirit, or as within His will, but it was the covering of the shadow of Egypt. They did not trust to the strength of Yahweh but to the strength of Pharaoh. They preferred what they could see to what they could not see (compare 2 Corinthians 4.18).
‘Walk to go down into Egypt’. That is, they made the deliberate choice. They chose the direction in which they would walk. When the option was given to them they had to choose what they would do. It was not that they were not faced with the options. Isaiah’s voice was loud and clear. They simply had to choose what they would do, listen to Isaiah and to Yahweh, or listen to Pharaoh’s messengers (18.2). They chose Pharaoh.
All of us face similar choices in our daily lives and walk. Which will it be for us? God’s way or man’s way?
He stresses that they will live to regret their choice. They will find the strength of Pharaoh insufficient. It will leave them exposed. They will find the shadow of Egypt brings defeat and disaster. It will fill them with confusion. The corollary is that the only sensible path would be to trust Yahweh, Whose shadow would be sufficient, and Whose strength would guarantee deliverance.
The consultations will take place at Zoan in the northern Delta, the power base of Shabako, the Cushite king of Egypt, and at Hanes. Hanes is possibly a transliteration of the Egyptian Ha-nesu meaning ‘the king’s mansion’. The princes and ambassadors are probably those of Hezekiah. They have made their choice and now here they are. But it is a great mistake. In the end they will discover that Egypt cannot help them, will not profit them, and in the end will not be willing to back them sufficiently. Thus they will in the end shamed by them. For Egypt itself will fail in its promises and be a shame and a reproach to them. (Egypt always ensured that they did not commit themselves sufficiently to bring disaster on themselves. They knew that they could always retire beyond their strong borders. They were fair weather friends). Indeed the defeat of the Egyptian army by Assyria at Eltekeh will simply add to their shame and confusion.
The Burden of the Beasts of the South (30.6-7).
A prophetic burden usually indicates judgment on the subject of the burden. Here the judgment is on the beasts who carry the bribes to Egypt. For they carry them to no purpose, for Egypt is a powerless monster.
In ‘a’ they make a great effort to seek Egypt’s help circumventing all the fearsome creatures of the desert, and in the parallel Egypt is a monster who sits still and does nothing. In ‘b’ they go to a people who will not profit, and in the parallel discover that Egypt helps in vain and to no purpose.
This is a word heavy with sarcasm. Isaiah declares himself to be burdened over the asses and camels that have to carry the heavy burden of the gifts sent by Hezekiah to Egypt, foreseeing judgment on them because of the task they carry out. The judgment will really be on their owners. They are being taken through the Negeb, a place full of wild and dangerous beasts, possibly in order to avoid the easy route along the coast lest news of their journey gets out. The caravan is doing exactly the same in the opposite direction as Israel did when they came out of Egypt at the Exodus, avoiding the trade route, presumably for the sake of secrecy. This is probably intended to be seen as significant. Israel are retracing their steps towards their previous tormentors instead of trusting in Yahweh.
They bear gifts to Egypt in order to prepare the way for their discussions on the Assyrian question. But they are here warned that they will gain no benefit from it, because Egypt’s aid will be in vain (as it did indeed prove to be).
‘The land of trouble and anguish.’ That is, the wilderness where all kinds of problem can be encountered, from heat and lack of water, to fierce and dangerous wild animals and rough terrain. ‘The south’ was the description often used for the Negeb, the semi-desert land on the south of Palestine, and stretching into the desert.
‘Therefore have I called her, Rahab who sits still.’ Rahab was a mythical monster whose name was applied in black humour to Egypt (see Psalm 87.4). Here the mockery is increased by calling her ‘the great monster who sits about and does nothing’, depicting the half-hearted attempts that Egypt will make to fulfil her part in the alliance. Hezekiah’s men have braved the creatures of the desert in order to get this monster on their side, and all it does is sit still.
‘The fiery flying serpent.’ Possibly the action of the particular snake as it lunged and struck gave the impression that it was flying so that it gained this nickname.
Their Trust in Other Than Yahweh And Their Tantamount Rejection of Him Can Only Result in Disaster. Security Rests in Trusting in Yahweh (30.8-18).
Isaiah is to write his words down as a testimony to the future, because at present men will not listen. They deliberately close their eyes and refuse to hear His word, and by doing so are bringing on themselves trouble and disaster, rejecting His call to them to trust Him and have confidence in Him. And yet even now Yahweh is waiting to bless them and will yet have mercy on them, and all who do put their trust in Him can be sure that they will be blessed.
In ‘a’ Isaiah is to write before them on a tablet, and inscribe in a book, what he has prophesied, so that it may be for the time to come, for ever and ever, for in the parallel Yahweh is waiting to be gracious to them, and will be raised that He might have mercy on them, for He acts wisely and blesses those who wait for Him. In ‘b’ they do not want to hear His words, nor do they want His interference, and in the parallel they assert their preferred response which is to trust in horses. In ‘c’ the Holy One of Israel speaks of their ‘despising this word, and trusting in oppression and perverseness, and relying on them’, and in parallel the Holy One of Israel calls on them rather to ‘return and rest’ and ‘be quiet and confident’ for in this they would be saved, an offer they refused. In ‘d’ their iniquity will be to them like a collapsing wall, and in the parallel like the breaking of a potter’s vessel.
Isaiah is told to write down his prophecies so that future generations would know what God had said to His people. For the people were in a state where they did not want to hear God’s Law and wanted seers and prophets who would say what they wanted to hear, while God wanted His own acts to be judged in the light of the truth and of what He had promised.
‘Write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book.’ The writing on the wooden writing tablet would be for display as a public record (compare 8.1). It was to be placed where all could see it, ‘before them’. It probably especially refers to verses 6-7 or verses 9-15. The inscribing in the papyrus or leather scroll was for future use and would include wider prophecies as a permanent record of what Isaiah had proclaimed. Both commands show the importance laid on prophecy being written down.
‘For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of Yahweh, who say to the seers, “See not”, and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things, speak to us smooth things. Prophesy lies (‘illusions’). Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path. Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.’ This is God’s verdict on Judah. They were rebellious, rejecting trust in Yahweh. They were deceitful because they pretended to be His children but did not behave like it (compare 1.2). They made subtle, lying excuses for their behaviour and made a feigned submission to Yahweh that was not genuine. For they were children who did not want to listen to authority. Above all they did not want to listen to the Instruction of Yahweh (God’s Law in Scripture). They wanted to avoid the impact of the word of God and its demands on their lives.
Thus they asked their teachers and preachers to tell them what they wanted to hear, and to avoid telling them the truth. They did not want them to receive a word from God. They preferred, and demanded, smooth preaching which would not ruffle their consciences (compare Amos 2.12; Micah 2.6) and to be told illusions that would make them happy (such as how good it was to trust in safe, reliable Egypt). They did not want to be told the truth.
They especially did not want to be faced up to the Holy One of Israel with His strong requirements and absolute morality. Those were out-of-date concepts suitable only for wilderness existence. Yahweh was old-fashioned. What they wanted was more modern preaching for a different age, that did not lay an emphasis on divine imperatives. (They would of course have put all this more delicately, but that was what they really wanted). So they were basically telling their teachers to go astray, and to leave the way and path of Yahweh because it was too demanding.
Today so many are guilty of the same thing. They want the security of being Christ’s but they do not want the transformation that goes with it. They think, as Israel did in Isaiah’s day, that they can have the one without the other. But we cannot be His without beginning the process of being like Him. For God will not allow it. ‘Whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives, -- but if you are without chastening, of which all are made partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons’ (Hebrews 12.6-8).
30.12-14 ‘For this reason thus says the Holy One of Israel,
But the Holy One of Israel cannot be so avoided and He speaks back directly to them. So they despise His word? They prefer to oppress people, bringing pressure on them to do what they want, and to behave perversely, following their own ways, their ‘new morality’? Indeed they trust and rely on these things. Well, let them consider what the consequences of this will be. Despising His word is like having a high wall which has not been properly built and has become unstable, suddenly beginning to bulge out and then collapsing violently. It will be like a potter’s vessel which has gone wrong in the making and is therefore deliberately smashed to pieces by the potter. And the pieces will be so small that they cannot be used for anything, not even for carrying out the most basic and simple tasks such as poking the fire or ladling up water. (A sherd was a fair sized piece of broken pottery). They will be useless.
Note the two aspects of the stated consequences. The wall collapses because it has been badly built, it has relied on man’s unreliable craftsmanship, it is unstable, just as their moral choices are unstable in themselves. Man’s wisdom always fails in the end because it results from not seeing the whole picture. How regularly man’s relieving of restrictions and his establishing of his ‘freedoms’ result in unseen consequences that result in suffering for all. The vessel smashes because it is smashed by the Potter, and the reason is that he is not satisfied with it. So will God act against those who despise His instruction, His Law, because He is not satisfied with how they have turned out.
The breach in the wall and its being in danger of collapse may well have in mind despoliation by an enemy as they see their walls collapse under his attack, and the smashing to pieces could signify the result of such invasion as their city is ransacked.
30.15 ‘For thus says the Holy One of Israel,
These, he stresses, are the words of the same Holy One of Israel Whom they have rejected. This is His alternative approach. This is where they could find security and strength. If they return to Him and trust Him they will be saved. Their deliverance is dependent not on Egypt or any other outside assistance, but on returning to Yahweh, a positive putting aside of sin and disobedience and a renewal of their covenant with God resulting in responsive obedience, accompanied by a trusting in Him and a resting on His reliability. But they ‘would not’. They made their choice and were not interested. They preferred lying words, despising Yahweh’s word and trusting in oppression and perverseness, living harshly and behaving intolerably.
But they would indeed remember this when they later stood within Jerusalem, looking out over the walls and seeing the vast hordes of the enemy that had approached again and had made encampment after the defeat of the Egyptian army. Then they would have only one last place to look, to Yahweh. And this time when they cried to Him He forgave them and acted for them. But only after they had learned a bitter lesson through much suffering. For even though Jerusalem was delivered from the worst, the surrounding region was not.
But we must remember that a century later in time the same thing would happen and they would cry and would not be forgiven. Then it would be too late, they would have gone too far, and the city would be taken, and the people would go into exile. We must recognise that we cannot presume on God’s mercy for ever. There are limits even to that.
‘In quietness and confidence will be your strength” The only real solution to a satisfying and inwardly secure life is quiet confidence in and trust in Yahweh, with its resulting obedience to His word. Then a man can be strong whatever comes because he knows that Yahweh is with him to act for him and with him. The implication is that had the quietness and confidence of Judah been in Yahweh by an obedient and responsive people, they would not have needed to creep secretly off to Egypt. Nor would they later have been besieged.
The question for each of us is the same, what is our Egypt? What are we leaning on rather than leaning on God?
This probably reflects the confident humour, or arrogant self-confidence, with which Isaiah’s pleas for trust in Yahweh had been met. ‘We are not worried, we will flee on horses. Our horses are like racehorses,’ while confident that they would not have to flee at all. So Isaiah assures them that what they have suggested is what will indeed happen. But then they will find that their enemy have super-racehorses and will overtake them.
Indeed their enemies will be so mighty that all that they will need to defeat a regiment will be one man, and five will defeat the whole army. A ‘five’ was possibly the smallest known military unit at the time, or may mean a handful.
‘Until you are left as a beacon on the top of a mountain, and as a banner on a hill.’ This probably refers to a last stand made by a defeated force, when they have rallied on a convenient mountain or hill and raised their banner or sent out their distress signals (compare Judges 20.47). And when finally routed all that remains are the traces of the beacon fire, or a solitary, ragged banner blowing in the wind.
In verse 15 God had stressed that they must return to Him and rest in Him quietly and confidently, but they had declined His offer in favour of their own self-sufficiency. So now we learn of the patience of God. He is prepared to wait. We should never cease to be amazed at God’s capacity to wait, even though one day it will come to an end. But it is not a waiting of inactivity. During it He brings men into situations in which their minds are forced to consider Him, as He will with Judah. And then He looks for their response.
He commences with two ‘therefores’. In verse 16 they had learned that because of their trust in their own abilities ‘therefore’ they would flee and ‘therefore’ those who pursued them would be swift. Now He stresses that ‘therefore’ also He will wait, allowing what is to happen to happen, so that they might learn their insufficiency, and then, when they finally do seek Him, He can be gracious to them, revealing His undeserved love, and ‘therefore’ He will finally act on their behalf, He will rise (or ‘be exalted’) in order to reveal to them His mercy and compassion. The latter may refer to what He is about to do in sending His angel to bring relief from the siege of Jerusalem, which will truly exalt His name.
For He is too wise to react hastily. He is a God Who makes sound judgments, and acts in grace. And He will, despite all, wait patiently and then work on behalf of His own. Thus those who wait for Him will be blessed, and others will be blessed along with them. But it was not something to presume on, for many would perish before that time came.
For God’s Final Purpose is To Bless His True People Who Will Remain After His Chastisement and Purification, And To Defeat Their Enemies Himself (30.19-33).
While the future holds adversity for them, His final purpose is to bless those who are His true people. In the case of those who will hear His voice, He will be there to guide them. And once they have learned their lesson through their sufferings then they will enjoy great prosperity.
In ‘a’ the promise is that one day His people will weep no more because He will hear their cry and be gracious to them, and in the parallel all their benefits will be enhanced in the day when He acts to heal them. In ‘b’ although they must suffer adversity and affliction they can be sure that they will hear His voice leading and guiding them in the right way, and in the parallel there will be rivers of waters on the hills, even though there is great slaughter and the towers fall. In ‘c’ when they get rid of their idols and destroy them, in the parallel they will prosper and enjoy prosperity. In ‘d’ He will feed their sown seed with rain, and in the parallel this will result in abundance of provision.
30.19-21 ‘O people who dwell in Zion at Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. When he will hear he will answer you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet will not your Teacher be hidden any more, but your eyes will see your Teacher, and your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left.’
In typical fashion Isaiah now promises hope, because it is finally God’s purpose to bless those of His people whom He preserves. His words are addressed to those in Zion, at Jerusalem. It is true that they must first face the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, that is, that adversity and affliction will for a time be their staple diet in days to come, but there will come a day when weeping is no more. The present is bleak because of their sin, but the future is bright because of God’s sovereign mercy (but only for those who survive).
For when they do call on Him in genuine repentance and seek His face, when they ‘cry’ to Him, then He will hear and answer them. Then they will know Him as their Teacher, who will not be hidden from them any more (contrast 29.11-12). Their eyes will see Him and their ears will hear Him. And when they begin to stray the voice of their Teacher will speak to them, saying, “This is the way. Walk in it”.’
The picture is of a Guide, who when the caravan he is leading takes the wrong road because he has gone ahead to scout, calls after them, ‘this is the way, walk in it’.
‘Your eyes will see your Teacher.’ Isaiah here probably means acknowledge and recognise, but it was to receive a greater fulfilment than Isaiah probably intended, when the Counsellor Himself walked and taught in Palestine and men saw Him with their own eyes, and they could say, ‘we beheld His glory’ (John 1.14).
It may, however, be that he did here have ‘the Counsellor’ in mind (9.6), and that the reference here is to the coming Immanuel, Who is later spoken of in this way (42.7; 49.2, 6; 50.4; 61.1-2).
So God promises that one day there will be a Teacher in response to their prayers (whether God or Immanuel), a Teacher Who will care for them and be available to them and lead them in the right way (compare 2.3; 28.6, 26; Psalm 25.8; 94.10, 12). A Teacher whose concern for them will be such that He is ever watchful of their spiritual welfare, bringing to them His Law and guiding them by it (2.3).
Note again the near and far view. Jerusalem would be delivered in the near future, and the deliverance would certainly have a spiritual impact, but the greater impact awaited another day when God would act in a more wonderful way to finalise His work, because their response of faith would be insufficient.
One sign of their reformation will be that they will rid themselves of their idols made of wood, and covered with precious metals. They will first denude them of their silver and gold, and then throw them away, declaring their intention to be rid of them, and that they want no more of them, demanding that they go on their way and leave them.
It is noteworthy that the final result of exile and the suffering that they subsequently endured was that Israel did finally finish with idolatry. From then on it became anathema to them. So fulfilment was both near and far. Isaiah foresaw what would happen, but he was not aware of the timetable.
Then instead of the bread of affliction and the water of adversity, they will enjoy rain from heaven enabling them to sow their seed with certainty, and sufficient harvest that they have plentiful soft bread. The cattle will enjoy pasturage in large fields, the oxen and the young asses will eat well-flavoured provender, which has been thoroughly sifted and fanned (contrast verses 6-7). The latter has in mind that when grain is short it is better not to remove too much of the chaff in order that the food may appear more plentiful, but now there is so much that it can be well sifted. The contrast demonstrates that the emphasis is not on the detail, but its significance. Instead of affliction will come freedom and joy; instead of adversity will come peace and blessing.
As so often the fulfilment is greater than the promise. Days did come in their future prior to the time of Jesus when Jerusalem enjoyed the physical blessings promised. Times became prosperous. But the greater fulfilment lay in Him Who was the bread (John 6.35, 51) and water of life (John 4.14; 7.37-38), which was to be enjoyed while His people were on earth and will be enjoyed even more abundantly, without the weeping (verse 19), in eternity, when the curse will be no more (Revelation 21.4, 6; 22.1-3). Then life will flourish beyond all understanding.
To an agricultural community the greatest blessings conceivable were plentiful rain, fruitful harvests, and large pasturage, and that is why their future was pictured in these terms. The curse would be lifted, the blessings of Eden would return. That is why their everlasting future is depicted in those terms. They were terms that they understood. They indicated that the curse of Eden will have been removed and that Paradise will have come. John in Revelation would later depict the same future in terms of a city made of gold and precious jewels, and of a river of life surrounded by fruitful trees. None are finally to be pressed literally.
(If you were to go among a remote Eskimo group that had no conception of a life beyond the grave or of advanced spiritual concepts, how would you present Heaven to them? Would it not be in terms of plentiful extra fat seals, bigger igloos and larger holes in the ice? So it was here, but in different terms. It is ever so. God can only speak to us through pictures, and that is equally true even in our modern age).
30.25 ‘And on every lofty mountain and on every high hill there will be rivers and streams of waters, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.’
This verse brings out the parabolic nature of the prophetic words. All the mountains will run with streams of water! (Compare 33.21). Canaan was a land which depended on rain and not on mighty rivers, and so blessing is pictured in those terms. So on the one hand for the people of God who trust in Him the mountains and hills will run with water, a sign of fruitfulness and plenty, while on the other for God’s enemies there will be great slaughter and the destruction of their strongholds (compare 25.2; 32.19). It will thus be a time of judgment and of separation. On the one hand those deemed righteous will enjoy life-giving water, on the other those deemed unrighteous will face destruction and ‘the great slaughter’.
30.26 ‘What is more the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Yahweh binds up the hurt of his people, and heals the stroke of their wound.’
In the day spoken of the whole of nature will be abounding. The moon will shine like the sun (compare Revelation 21.26) and the sun will have sevenfold brightness, sufficient sun in one day for seven days. That man could not naturally survive in these conditions is apparent, but that is not the point. The point is to indicate that man’s blessings and provision will increase ‘sevenfold’, that is, will increase in terms of divine perfection. We are not here speaking of literal happenings but of a heavenly kingdom spoken of in earthly terms when all will be magnified and far more wonderful than we can ever imagine.
‘In the day that Yahweh binds up the hurt of His people, and heals the stroke of their wound.’ That is, when the everlasting kingdom begins and all is made well (contrast verse 20; 1.5-6). In New Testament terms it is the day of the Parousia, the day when Christ Jesus takes up His own to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). This day is in contrast with the day of great slaughter in verse 25. His people will come out of that time of distress, to healing and restoration. And yet for His true people it begins here and now, for ‘out of the innermost beings will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7.37-39), while the healing of the wounds is carried out by the Great Physician in all who trust in Him (Mark 2.17).
The Destruction of Assyria (30.27-33).
However, although there will be no help for them in Egypt, they will be delivered, for God Himself will act to deliver them. For the remnant who come through the fire, those who have sought refuge on God’s mountain, the true believers, there will be mercy, because God will act for them and sweep away the enemy.
This passage opens with ‘the name of Yahweh’ being revealed in judgment and fire, and closes with ‘the breath of Yahweh’ expressing itself in judgment, as the enemy are offered up like a sacrifice to a heathen god. His name represents His greatness and glory, His breath His powerful judgment. It describes the dreadfulness of Yahweh’s judgment on Assyria.
In ‘a’ Yahweh will come burning with anger in thick smoke, His breath like an everflowing stream which reaches to the neck, to sift the nations, and in the parallel He has prepared for a sacrifice on piles of fire, and His breath is like a stream of brimstone which kindles it. In ‘b’ they will have a song and gladness of heart as they rest on the Rock of Israel, and in the parallel they will have tambourines and harp as the enemy are defeated by Yahweh. In ‘c’ Yahweh will reveal His effective power, and in the parallel will break the Assyrian in pieces.
The approach of the name of Yahweh demonstrates that He has come for vindication, to establish His name and reputation. Assyria, His rod, has thwarted His will and gone beyond its remit (10.6-7, 12-15). Now Yahweh comes to make matters right. For anger combined with thick rising smoke compare Genesis 19.28 of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (compare 13.19 of the judgment on Babylon). Also see Exodus 19.18. For devouring fire compare 29.6; 33.14; Exodus 24.17. The thick rising smoke emphasises the burning nature of His anger. It is all consuming. Whenever people saw thick rising smoke in the distance they knew that it was always ominous, and that destruction accompanied it.
Thus we have here the God of Sinai, the God of the covenant, the Great Deliverer, appearing to exercise His wrath. He ‘comes from far’ for He has been standing back, out of this world, allowing events to go forward, but now He can stand by no longer. He burns with anger, His lips flow with indignation, His tongue is like a devouring fire, His breath (or wind) like a devastating flood that reaches even to the neck (compare 8.8; 11.4), because of the treatment meted out to His people. (Isaiah’s purpose is to bring out Yahweh’s depth of feeling for His people). He has come to sieve their oppressors in ‘the sieve of worthlessness’ which will analyse and reveal what they are, revealing their worthlessness and futility, and to lead them into disaster with a bridle that causes to err, to go astray. They are still under His control, no longer as the rod of His anger, but now as the butt of His anger. They have overstepped the mark. And He will work His will on them.
The idea of the flood to the neck, which is recompensing Assyria’s earlier behaviour (see 8.8), while stressing its depth, may be to give an assurance that it will not be like the flood in the time of Noah, all consuming. While it will be severe judgment, it will not be final.
30.29 ‘You will have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goes with a pipe to come to the mountain of Yahweh, to the Rock of Israel.’
Israel/Judah on the other hand will rejoice because their enemy are being dealt with. As they watch over the walls in amazement they will see large numbers of dead men being carried from their tents and piled up, and will recognise that it can only mean the cessation of the siege. The previous day the camp had been vibrant with hostility and purpose. Now it was a graveyard. Yahweh has visited their enemies. Assyria and its allies have suffered a cruel blow from which they cannot recover.
The watchers will thus sing as they would by night at a holy feast, possibly especially at Passover, the feast of deliverance, which was specifically celebrated at night, with spontaneous delight and a sense of release. But the emphasis here is on the fact that it will be spontaneous worship, not the result of a specific feast but of a unique event that has brought them special joy, just as the original Passover did. They will be as they would when they play their pipes and ascend the mountain of Yahweh, the Rock of Israel, full of gladness and rejoicing in Him. The name ‘Rock of Israel’ confirms the solidity of their foundations (compare 26.4). They have found Him to be so and have cause to rejoice.
30.30-31 ‘And Yahweh will cause his glorious voice to be heard, and will show the descending blow of his arm in the indignation of his anger, and the flame of a devouring fire with the crashing of a storm, and tempest and hailstones. For through the voice of Yahweh will the Assyrian be broken in pieces, who smote with a rod (or ‘whom he smote with a rod’).’
For Yahweh will have spoken with a majestic and glorious voice by His act of power in destroying the Assyrian army. His mighty arm will have descended revealing His fierce anger against their sin, His devouring fire will have done its work like thunderbolts and forked lightning in a mighty storm. This need not signify a literal storm. It is a picture of the invisible power of Yahweh at work, bringing about the havoc that such a storm causes. For Yahweh will have decimated the Assyrians with one mighty blow.
‘Who smote with a rod (or ‘whom he smote with a rod’).’ This refers to the fact that what Assyria had initially done to the cities of Judah was as Yahweh’s rod (compare 10.5). But now the rod itself will be punished and destroyed because it went far beyond Yahweh’s remit. For Assyria had not knowingly acted as Yahweh’s rod, they had acted as they did because they were greedy, rapacious and bloodthirsty, and even while ‘controlled’ they had been uncontrolled. Alternately it could refer to the smiting with a rod by Yahweh of the Assyrian army. Either way it is a reminder that Assyria is receiving what it sowed.
30.32-33 ‘And every stroke of the appointed staff that Yahweh will lay on him will be with tambourines and harps, and he will fight with them in battles of shaking. For a Topheth is prepared of old, yes, it is made ready for the king. He has made it deep and large. Its pile is fire and much wood. The breath of Yahweh like a stream of brimstone kindles it.’
Yahweh in turn has appointed a staff with which to smite His people’s enemies, and every stroke it makes results in music of rejoicing from the besieged. Note how the music here parallels verse 29. Only those who have been under siege in a walled city with a cruel enemy surrounding, awaiting what seems to be the inevitable cruel end for themselves, their wives and their children, can appreciate the exaltation when the siege is unexpectedly lifted by the defeat of the enemy, and the wild expression of release in the playing of every instrument to hand and the singing of songs of deliverance.
In divine contrast with the tambourines and harps is Yahweh fighting for them in ‘battles of shaking.’ Compare 19.16. ‘Battles’ is probably a plural of intensity. It is the mother of all battles. The reference would appear to be to the hand of Yahweh shaking (or ‘waving’) with expressed power over them in battle, which will cause their enemies also to shake, but with fear. It may even also be a deliberate comparison with the people’s shaking of their tambourines. As they shake their tambourines He will be shaking the enemy. Also included may be a reference to the shaking that resulted from the fever with which Yahweh possibly smote the Assyrian army. The phrase may signify ‘an intensive battle (plural of intensity) which results in shaking’.
But all the while from the battlements of Jerusalem will be heard the tambourines and the harps as they give glory for their deliverance. We have here a wonderful illustration of what it means to ‘stand still and see the salvation of God’ (Exodus 14.13), when God does it all and His people watch in rejoicing.
‘For a Topheth is prepared of old.’ Topheth probably means ‘abominable fireplace’. The root tpt relates to the Aramaic and Arabic for fireplace, with the vowels of bosheth (‘shame’) applied to it. It was the name given to a high place in the Valley of Hinnom where children were passed through the fire to Melech (‘King’ - from which comes Molech - using the vowels of bosheth to denote shame). It is thus a place of burning which is shameful, and thus suitable for this idolatrous king and his arrogant pride. God has made it deep and large, sufficient for its purpose. He has piled it high with burning wood, and His breath kindles it like a stream of brimstone, a stream of burning sulphur. Destructive fire is often spoken of in terms of brimstone.
The whole picture is demonstrating the awful end of the king and his armies at the hand of Yahweh, as though they were being burned in a fire as a heathen sacrifice to the gods. All are doomed.
Such passages remind us of the holiness of God. They remind us that He is not to be treated lightly. That He is the Holy One. That His fury at sin results in judgment. But they also indicate that He will protect His own when they look to Him. Then we will have cause for singing when we enjoy His deliverance.
Chapter 31 The Fifth Woe On Those Who Trust To Egypt And To The Strength Of Their Horse Propelled Armaments. Rather They Must Trust In Yahweh Who Will Fight For Them.
This chapter is a chapter of contrast. On the one hand are those who fatally trust in Egypt because of their horses and chariots, And on the other the call goes out to trust in Yahweh Who will deliver without needing either, for He will hover over Jerusalem as He did at the Exodus and will smite their enemy with His voice.
They Must Trust In Yahweh and Not In The Horses of Egypt (31.1-3).
The Assyrians had powerful chariotry and horsemen, and in order to combat them many felt that their only hope was in Egypt, famous for its horses. But Yahweh here points out that the Egyptians are but men, and their horses are but flesh. Where they should be looking is to the One Who can act by His voice and by His Spirit.
In ‘a’ he declares woe on those who seek help elsewhere than in Yahweh, and who depend on Egypt’s strong horses and in the parallel those who help will stumble when Yahweh stretches out His hand. In ‘b’ they fail to look to the Holy One of Israel or seek Yahweh, and in the parallel are reminded that the Egyptians are not God but men, and that their horses are ordinary horses, not ‘spirit’. Thus how foolish to look to them rather than to the Spirit of God. and His heavenly power. In ‘c’ Yahweh also is strong, (stronger than the Egyptian horses, see verse 1), and He can and will bring evil (what is looked on by the enemy as evil) and in the parallel will arise against the house of evildoers and against the assistance given by those who work iniquity.
A further woe is declared on Judah. The men of Judah had clearly been impressed by the Egyptian horse weaponry, both their many chariots and their fine cavalry. This had given them renewed confidence in an Egyptian victory, something which they seemingly drew to Isaiah’s attention. They had become horse-dependent (continuous tense) rather than Yahweh dependent. They had stopped looking to Him.
But Isaiah points out that Yahweh too is strong, far mightier than the Egyptian horses. And that they should beware, for when He purposes misfortune He will not call back His words. Indeed He is the Holy One of Israel, therefore He must go against the house of evildoers (Egypt), and those (the Egyptians) who are the help of those who work iniquity (the people of Judah and especially the Egyptian party in Judah). Note again the stress on the fact that Yahweh so acts because those against whom He acted were sinful and wicked. His dislike of Egypt and the Egyptian party in Judah was not arbitrary. It lay in their sinfulness.
Indeed Isaiah reminds them that, in contrast to Yahweh, Who is God and of the spiritual realm, the Egyptians are but men and their horses but flesh. Thus when God chooses to act to demonstrate their human frailty He will simply stretch out His hand and both helper (the Egyptians) and the helped (Judah) will stumble and fall. Both will fail together. For it is God Who is against them. This might suggest that there was a contingent of men from Judah assisting Egypt when they were defeated by the Assyrians at Eltekeh, as there almost certainly would be. Pharaoh would not expect to march through Judah towards Eltekeh without gathering support along the way.
The whole tenor of the passage is of the folly of trusting in men when they could trust in God and the certain promises that He has given them, the folly of trusting in human strength rather than in divine aid.
In The End It Is Yahweh Who Will Deliver His People (31.4-9).
Isaiah points out that God is not afraid of the rantings of Assyria. Rather He will come to act on behalf of His people as He did at the Exodus when the angel of death slew the Egyptian firstborn. For like a giant bird He is hovering over His people to protect them, and they will therefore be delivered, but not by a human agency.
In ‘a’ Yahweh is like a powerful lion who is not frightened of a group of shepherds, however large, He will not be dismayed or afraid, while in the parallel Assyria will be dismayed and afraid, because of Yahweh, Whose fire and furnace is in Jerusalem. In ‘b’ Yahweh will come down to fight for His people, and in the parallel the Assyrians will flee to their own land, smitten by a sword which is not human. In ‘c’ Israel is to turn to Yahweh from whom they have so deeply revolted, and in the parallel are to cast away the idols which they themselves have made, which they have preferred to Yahweh.
31.4 ‘For thus says Yahweh to me,
However, in contrast to the Egyptians who will flee before Assyria God will rise like a young strong lion on behalf of His people, undismayed by the size and boasting of the enemy. Note the stress on the noise they make and compare the speeches of the Assyrian leaders (36-37), they are like shepherds making a loud noise to frighten the lion off, but they will not succeed, for the Lion is Yahweh. And Yahweh will be fighting on Mount Zion. This is not so much Jerusalem that is in mind as Mount Zion His earthly dwellingplace with its heavenly connections, and all that it means and signifies. That is where He will take His stance as He protects Jerusalem, and is one reason why He does so.
The picture now moves on to that of birds fiercely aroused to protect their nest, taking off from Mount Zion and protecting Jerusalem. The king of Assyria had boasted that he collected the riches of the nations like an egg collector collected eggs, without the helpless parent birds protesting (10.14), but now he will discover that there is one Parent Bird Who will protect His young, and will succeed in delivering them. He will not allow Jerusalem to be robbed of its eggs. He will ‘pass over’ Jerusalem and preserve it. The idea behind ‘pass over’ is unquestionably intended to remind the reader of the previous time when God ‘passed over’ His people in deliverance and Egypt was left to bewail its dead (Exodus 12). Now it will be Assyria’s turn to bewail their dead because of their treatment of His people. The twin double verbs, ‘protect and deliver’, ‘pass over and preserve’, making four in all, stress that what will happen is a double twofold witness to God’s delivering power.
31.6-8 ‘Turn to him from whom you have deeply revolted, O children of Israel, for in that day they will cast away every man his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made for you for a sin, then will the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of man, and the sword not of men will devour him. And he will flee from the sword, and his young men will become tributary.’
Their deliverance must, however, go in parallel with their repentance and turning. When His people look to him and cast from them their idols of silver and gold which they have made for themselves so that they can sin with them (note the sarcasm, they have made them with their own hands for themselves; and the description of what idolatry achieves, it makes them sin), then He will reach out and smite the Assyrians without the aid of a human sword. The sword He will use will be His own strong sword (27.1), and it will devour the Assyrian. And it will not stop there. For it will also make the Assyrian flee and in the end result in their young men becoming enslaved to another nation. In the end the empire of Assyria will be overthrown by the sword of Yahweh.
Note how Judah are called ‘the children of Israel’. As far as the prophets were concerned there was only one Israel, the combined tribes. (Which is why it is sometimes difficult to know which is in mind when the term ‘Israel’ is used).
‘In that day.’ Here this means in the day when they cease to trust Egypt and turn to trust in Him (37.1-4). It must always be interpreted in context. It means basically in a day when God brings about His particular purpose.
‘His rock’ is the rock ‘of the Assyrian’, that is, their king. Unlike the strong rock of Judah (26.4; 30.29), their rock will be terrified and depart for Assyria. While Yahweh will ‘pass over’, their rock will ‘pass away’. As will their princes. Both will be dismayed at the One Who is Israel’s banner (compare 11.10; Exodus 17.15 - ‘Yahweh my Banner’). Or it may well be that the Davidic banner is in mind (11.10), with Hezekiah seen as Yahweh’s representative and as a predecessor to the coming king, for we move immediately on to a description of that coming king (32.1-2).
‘Says Yahweh, Whose fire is in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem.’ The Assyrians had approached Jerusalem with confidence. It was but another city to fall before their onslaught. What they did not appreciate was that the God of Sinai was there. The fire of Yahweh was in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem. He was the fire that was to both destroy them and purify Israel (10.16-19; 4.4), the furnace prepared for their king (30.33). He will totally burn up both them and him, and purify His people.
Chapter 32 The Coming King Will Open Men’s Hearts, Reveal What Is True And Right And Encourage Nobility of Life. What Life Will Be Like Before His Coming. The Pouring Out Of The Spirit.
The banner at which Assyria will be dismayed points towards the coming king, the hope of Israel (11.10). The king of Assyria will perish, burned up in Yahweh’s furnace, but Israel’s hope is to be in Yahweh’s king Who will come in righteousness and be to His people all that they require, the king already expanded on in Isaiah 9.5-6; 11.1-9, when the prince of Peace will bring peace and harmony to His people.
Israel/Judah laid great stress on the house of David and saw all their future hopes as tied up in that house. The King was to them the representative of God and acted on their behalf and in their name with God. It was in him that the everlasting promises were tied up (2 Samuel 7.12-16; Psalm 2; 45; 89.19-37; Ezekiel 37.24-28). These promises were central to the everlasting covenant. They were seen as ‘the sure mercies of David’ (55.3).
Thus their king was the very source of their life (Lamentations 4.20). We can imagine with what hopes they therefore looked forward for the greater David who would establish the everlasting kingdom, and towards the good days that were coming. That is why the writers of the book of Kings laid such great stress on whether the king did good or evil in the sight of Yahweh. He was seen as acting for the nation and in its name, and his failure was their failure.
So Israel looked forward in accordance with God’s promises to the fact that one day would come a King Who would be all powerful and all triumphant, Who would establish righteousness and justice, and Who would introduce the everlasting kingdom (9.6-7; 11.1-10; Psalm 2; 45; 89.19-37; Ezekiel 37.24-28).
The Coming King (32.1-3).
The final result of Yahweh’s activity will be the rise of the righteous king and the establishment of the perfect kingdom. This can be compared with 11.1-9.
In ‘a’ the king will reign in righteousness an his princes in justice, and in the parallel the eyes of all will be wide open, and the ears of all will listen. There will be perfect rule and perfect response. In ‘b’ ‘a man’ will be a hiding place from trouble, and in the parallel he will refresh men in a dry and hot land.
Beyond God’s judgments as expressed in His treatment of Assyria lies the coming of a King who will rule in righteousness, and Whose reign will epitomise true justice, (9.7; 11.1-5) so that all who serve under Him will be just and fair. (See Matthew 19.28; Luke 22.30). It will introduce the coming Paradise. As always no time limit is laid down, only that it is ‘in the future’.
Then comes the even better news. ‘A man’, someone unique and special but truly human, will be a hiding place, a covert, a river of water to the thirsty, the shadow of a great rock (note the contrast with 31.9). Elsewhere such ideas are linked with God (see 4.6; 26.4; 30.29; 33.21 compare Psalm 46.4), but now they are applied to ‘a man’. And this can only be the One Who will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9.6), for He must be a man and yet more than a man, or how could He do and be such things? He will be a shelter from wind, tempest and heat, and a provider of the water of life to those who thirst, the great Sustainer in the strength-sapping desert of life.
Some kings would partially fulfil the dream, kings such as Josiah, but none would make it a full actuality until the coming of Jesus, great David’s greater son. He alone could represent the future king in all His aspects. He did so when He offered men entrance under the Kingly Rule of God, and was there for them to meet their deepest needs, and especially so when, having sacrificed Himself on their behalf (see chapter 53) He was raised and seated on the throne at the right hand of God to watch over them permanently. So whatever wind blows, whatever tempest arises, whatever great heat makes weary His people, He is their shelter, their Protector, their hiding place, and the provider of the water of life (compare 55.1; John 4.10, 13-14; 7.37-38).
And in response to the righteous king will be a responsive people. They will see clearly and will hear the words of righteousness. The sad state of the people as in 6.10 will have been reversed. For when this king reigns those who see will understand, their eyes will not be dim, those who hear will listen. This is in direct contrast to 6.10 where the people were described as heavy of ear, closed of eye and fat in heart and thus unwilling to respond to Yahweh.
While we may possibly include the literal opening of the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf in the thought (compare 35.5-6), the main intention is to stress the response of men’s hearts and lives to God. Jesus combined the two when He interpreted His healings as parables as well (Mark 7.32-36 and 8.22-26 with 8.18).
A Comparison of the Wise and Honourable With The Foolish And The Crafty (32.4-8).
In describing what will happen in the coming kingdom Isaiah analyses wisdom and folly. The king will deliver His people from folly and craftiness, and will give them understanding in the truth, and make them noble.
In ‘a’, in the kingdom that is coming those who usually interpret things too superficially will understand knowledge, and those who usually stutter over things will be able to speak them plainly, while in the parallel the noble will plan noble things, and will continue in noble things. All ignorance and folly will be put aside. In ‘b’ the fool will no longer have any place, nor will the ‘crafty’ be able to pretend to be bountiful, for firstly the fool will be seen to speak folly, and will be seen as a worker of iniquity, while in the parallel the methods of the ‘crafty’ will be exposed as evil, and his devices revealed as lying words . In ‘c’ the activity and consequence of the fool in his foolery is described.
When this king reigns men’s hearts will be open to knowledge, for even those who are hasty and superficial in their thinking will understand knowledge (some see it as meaning that people will be in a hurry to hear His words). To this is also added the fact that those who found talking difficult will now be able to speak plainly. For their teachers will now speak truth to them, and they will be well taught. The result is that all His true people will respond totally to Him. They will receive and see knowledge, they will hear and obey gladly, they will be careful to hear His word, they will plainly tell out the Lord’s glory from the heart.
And we have only to see the life of Jesus to see how this wonderfully came about, for He had come to enlighten His people and bring them under God’s Kingly Rule.
When the king reigns and teaches, people will be shown up as they really are. Nothing will be hidden. Both the fool and the crafty will be exposed.
The word for ‘fool’ means one who thinks foolishly, especially in moral terms. He will accept no moral or spiritual obligation. Thus in his heart he rejects God and His ways (Psalm 14.1). He thinks of himself as freethinking and noble but his mind is in fact bound by sin and its ways. Thus the truth about him will now be known, that he is not freethinking but bound by his own prejudices and desires. He will be exposed for what he is. He will be seen to be in contrast with the truly noble and liberal person (verse 8).
And those who make a great show of being bountiful, but really give very little, will be shown up for what they are. The crafty (or ‘conspirers’) are those who make a great outward show in the right places. They want to impress and increase their reputations, and to win people to their own ways (Numbers 25.18). But their minds are really fixed on what they can obtain for themselves from their actions, and in dragging others to their own level, and the true mainspring of their actions will now be made clear.
Life As It Will Be Before the King Comes In Terms Of The Fool and The Crafty (32.6-8).
Having mentioned the fool and the crafty Isaiah expands on them. Firstly he deals in detail with the fool and his folly (verse 6), then he deals with the crafty and his deceit (verse 7). This is a general description of what the king will deliver His people from in terms of the fool and the crafty, whom Isaiah clearly sees as generally representing the condition of many of the people prior to the king’s coming.
Here life as it will have been before the king comes and exposes them is described in terms of the fool and the crafty. The fool reveals what he is by turning people away from Yahweh by his supposed freethinking. He leads them into error. But his heart is wicked, deceitful and profane (he is not really freethinking at all), and what he says about Yahweh is untrue. Having deceived himself by his own cleverness he goes on to deceive others, and by doing so he steals their spiritual food and drink and leaves them empty and in hopelessness. We cannot but be reminded here of Jesus’ castigation of the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 23) as He revealed to them how they had failed in the responsibility that they saw as having been given to them by God. This is one reason why He spoke of them as ‘fools and blind’ (Matthew 23.17)
The crafty, on the other hand, use their craftiness to deceive the poor and lowly. They take advantage of their trust and lack of discernment, persuading them otherwise even when the needy are actually right, so that they can gain advantage from them. No doubt they called it ‘doing business’, but they are really swindlers. Many an ‘investment adviser’ is in mind here, as well as many a one who persuades people to part with their money for one reason or another in a way that is deceptive or not for their good. But these are examples only, for man is deceitful at heart.
So between them the fool and the crafty lead men astray from the truth and keep them in poverty by clever dealings and trickery. Both are common in every age. But the point is that when the king comes both will be revealed as what they are, and inherent in that is that they will one day be called to account.
In contrast with the fool and the crafty are the noble. They seek to do noble things. They are honest and reliable and truly consider the good of others. There were always such, even when things were at their worst. In modern terms we would say that they were ‘godly men’. Of such has always been the Kingly Rule of God.
Life As It Will Be Before The King Comes In Terms of Careless Women At Ease (32.9-14).
Isaiah showed neither fear nor favour. He was as ready to draw attention to the sins of the womenfolk as well as those of the men. He was concerned that none should be able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Here he castigates the better off women who enjoy their ease and are overconfident and complacent, we might almost say ‘cocky’, about themselves and their importance. He no doubt met many of them around the court, full of their opinions and derogatory of others. It is probable that he saw them as depicting the spiritual barrenness of the nation more than most, for they paraded their condition openly (3.16-23), and because it is often the women who are the most openly devout, their behaviour emphasised what little devoutness there was in the nation.
In ‘a’ the women at ease are to rise up because trouble is coming, while in the parallel thorn-briars will come up and all in which they trust will be done away. In ‘b’ the vintage will fail, and in the parallel they will smite on their breasts for the fruitful vine. In ‘c’ they are to tremble and be troubled, and in the parallel they are to publicly demonstrate their despair.
These women enjoyed plentiful leisure and indulgence, and this had made them somewhat above themselves. They were at ease and complacent. They felt that nothing could disturb the equanimity of their lives. As they paraded themselves they no doubt looked down arrogantly on the poor and lowly women who had to work in the fields or do menial labour. But now Isaiah warns them that hard times are coming, even for them, shortage of wine and summer fruits, their treasured delicacies. And it would go on for more than one bad year. It would be better for them therefore if they now took off their splendid clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn. For shortly would come the time for the beating of breasts at the lack of harvest, at the emptiness and devastation of the fields that always results from invasion or drought.
Indeed the stripping off of the clothes may be intended to signify more than mourning. Perhaps he is here already preparing them for the long march into exile, for in 20.2-3 stripping off the clothes indicates exile and captivity as men are led off in shame and ignominy. As the following verses make clear it is finally exile that is in mind. But we must accept that Isaiah in his warning probably still hoped for a repentant people, and therefore longed that they might show signs of returning to God.
This is the picture of a deserted land. Thorn-briars (wilderness weeds) would spring up everywhere, even in the houses in the cities where there was so much hilarity. The complacent women at ease would no longer be complacent but would feel the prick of the thorns.
All that the women at ease looked to would be gone. The palace would be forsaken, the city, once so populous, deserted, and even the watchtowers would be home to the wild ass. ‘The hill’ was probably a recognised watch place, possibly the southern projection of the temple mount, the Ophel, paralleling the watchtower. They will no longer have a use but will instead be made use of by wild asses and flocks who will enjoy them to the full.
This is either speaking of exile or of a land so devastated that comparatively few are left. In view of 6.11-12 we may presume the first, although both were no doubt true. While he was aware that God would deliver Jerusalem from Sennacherib he looked beyond that and recognised what the end must be. Indeed these words may well have been spoken after that great deliverance when it was apparent how little real effect it had had on the lives of the people. Either way he had his inaugural instructions which had told him how it must finally be. ‘For the cities will be waste without inhabitant, and the houses without men, and the land become utterly waste. And Yahweh has removed men far away, and the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land’ (6.10-11). And he knew now with sinking heart that it had to be. Even Hezekiah had shown himself as unreliable (39.1-6).
(The one piece of light in the darkness was that this fate did not affect the whole of the promised land. While different groups were taken into exile, from Galilee, from Samaria and from Jerusalem, this did not cover the whole land. The poor were not taken and there were many parts which were not left so empty of population (even though for a time they had fled to the mountains) and would recover. Those who were exiled were the leadership and the artisans, the aristocratic and the educated from the targeted places. The ordinary people were left behind. So the picture was not quite as bleak as it seemed, looked at from the point of view of the whole land. But it undoubtedly was for Jerusalem and for those directly involved).
The Great Turn-Around (32.15-20).
In ‘a’ the Spirit will be poured forth from above, and the land will blossom, and in the parallel those who ‘sow beside all waters’ and plod on through the times of trouble and patiently watch over their ox and ass can be sure that they will be blessed. In ‘b’ justice will dwell in the wilderness and in the fruitful field, but in the parallel hail will be poured out on the forest and the city. In ‘c’ righteousness will prevail, and will bring peace and quiet confidence, and in the parallel the people will live in peaceable habitation in security and quietness.
The Pouring Out Of The Spirit (32.15-20).
As ever Isaiah sees beyond the gloom. God will finally work on behalf of His remnant (6.12). After the destruction and the coming exile will also come the time when God acts again on behalf of His true people. Isaiah does not know how long after but he knows that it will happen. The picture is put in terms of both a transformed land and a transformed people, the result of the Spirit being poured forth. Then the land will blossom and so will the people.
God will act on behalf of His people through His Spirit. The verb ‘poured out’ demonstrates that rain is in mind in the description, thus the Spirit is seen as active in producing rain on the land resulting in fruitful fields where there was wilderness, and the land which was once fruitful field becoming so luxurious that they will appear like a forest (compare 29.17). It is the picture of a redeemed earth, another Eden, a new creation, an agriculturalist’s heaven (compare Psalm 104.30), but as 44.1-5 makes clear it will also result in the transformation of the people.. To Israel it is finally a picture of the new heaven and the new earth (65.17; 66.22; Revelation 21.1) when evil has been done away.
But we are here dealing with God, And the commencement of the pouring out of the rain producing the heavenly fruitfulness need not mean that we limit this to happening within a man-period. The time between the commencement of the pouring out of the ‘rain’ of the Spirit, and the final Paradise could be ‘a thousand years’ or even ‘a thousand generations’ (a long period designated by God), for this is the heavenly harvest.
So the Spirit Who initially hovered over creation ready to act (Genesis 1.2), will now act in full measure in the restoration of God’s purposes, directly intervening to restore what has been spoiled.
But stress is also laid on true judgment and righteousness which will result in peace, quietness and confidence (compare 30.15), and while to some extent the fruitfulness will be a vindication to Israel, that can only be so because the nation has itself become just and righteous in the sight of God. There could be no vindication otherwise, as previous chapters have made clear. Like Abraham they will have believed God and it is counted to them for righteousness (Genesis 15.6; 53.11).
Thus the working of the Spirit must be seen as also producing righteousness in men’s hearts through faith, resulting in right judgments and righteous living (compare 44.1-5). And the result of that righteousness will be peace, and its continual effect everlasting quietness and confidence. So the overall picture of the Spirit’s outpouring is of heaven-like fruitfulness and heavenly righteousness in men’s hearts, resulting in perfect spiritual rest and joy, the result of their new trust in Yahweh (contrast 30.15).
This pouring out of the Spirit has already been indicated in 11.2 where it makes the coming king righteous and successful, and in 28.6 where it gives true judgment to the one who judges and strength to the people of God who defend against the enemy. It is therefore seen as powerfully effective through men’s lives. We will come across more of this in a short while (42.1-4; 44.1-5), and it is also taken up even later by Joel 2.28, and in a slightly different way in Ezekiel 36.25-32.
That is why John the Baptiser will drench men and women (baptise) in expectancy of this promised pouring out of the Spirit, of which he sees himself the forerunner (that is what his baptism pictured as coming), and will preach in terms of a harvest of men and destruction of the unfruitful (Matthew 3.7-12). He considered rightly that he was introducing the end days. He just did not know how long they would be.
And Jesus Himself was drenched in the Holy Spirit at His baptism as the One Who would finally drench with the Holy Spirit all Who are His. Indeed the New Testament sees Him as the One Who brings about this outpouring of the Spirit, both through His life, when the working of the Spirit was already apparent (Luke 4.1; John 3.1-7), then in those who responded to Him (Luke 11.13), and then in the Upper Room and at Pentecost (John 16.7; 20.22; Acts 2.1-2).
There would be a partial fulfilment in the inter-testamental period when ‘Israel’ once again began to flourish, and their fields became abundantly fruitful, and there would also be a spiritual fulfilment in the coming of the king in His humility, the king Who would reign in righteousness, and in the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the final fulfilment undoubtedly awaits His second coming, and the new heaven and the new earth, the eternal realm. This distinction was not, however, specifically known to Isaiah. He knew that full deliverance would come about, what he did not know was how, and on what time-scale. He saw the future as one whole. What he did not know was the intermediate process, what he did know was the final result. For the prophets were not predicting events as such, (although they did also do that). Rather they were predicting the triumph of God as He acted in His own way to bring about His will.
The result of the Spirit’s work will be that God’s true people, refined and purified (4.4), will have peace and security and wherever they dwell, peace, security and rest will be all-prevailing (compare 11.1-10; John 14.1-2). It is a picture of Heaven on earth for them in their spiritual lives (as citizens of Heaven - Philippians 3.20) followed by Heaven above, an eternal Paradise.
In contrast with the pouring out of the Spirit on the righteous will be the hail, which results in the downfall of the forest. The forest has in past chapters been symbolic of Israel’s enemies (10.18-19, 34), and the city is ever symbolic of corrupt and rebellious man (24.10, 12; 25.2; 26.5), while hail is symbolic of judgment (28.2, 17), and the result of this downfall will be that the world cities with all their pretensions and arrogance will be laid low (25.10-12; 26.5). As ever mercy and glory is paralleled with judgment and destruction (30.25).
Note the contrast between righteousness coming in the wilderness and in the fruitful field (verse 16), whereas judgment comes on the forest and the city (verse 19). The one represents living freely and openly away from evil influences, the other those who cause harm and danger (both man and wild beast) and those who live in sin and corruption.
This contrast can be interestingly compared with the laws of uncleanness. The ‘clean’ animals were those who lived in the fields and partook of what was ‘clean’. The ‘unclean’ lived in the bare mountains and the forests, and scrabbled after what was ‘unclean’, and connected with the dust of death.
Finally Isaiah ends on an encouraging note for the present believers. Blessed are those who sow beside all waters, both when times are hard, and when times are promising. They make use of all God’s provision. They never fail to send forth the feet of the ox and ass to do their work, they never slacken in the service of Yahweh. They will be truly blessed, because God has blessed them for their faithfulness. In the analysis this parallels with the pouring out of the Spirit. These already enjoy the work of the Spirit, which is available through all ages (Psalm 51.10-11; 139.7; 143.10), even before His pouring out at Pentecost.
Chapter 33 The Sixth Woe Against Those Who Despoil Others and Who Are Treacherous.
The sixth woe seems in context to be directed against Assyria for some treacherous act. We can compare and contrast how the previous list of woes ended with a ‘ho’ (or ‘woe’) towards Assyria (10.5), but now Assyria has gone beyond the pale and receives ‘woe’ instead. The treacherous act may be seen as occurring in 2 Kings 18.13-18 when Sennacherib accepted peace terms and tribute from Hezekiah but then later advanced and besieged Jerusalem. Behind his change of heart may have been news of the gathering of the Egyptian army, possibly supplemented by auxiliaries from Judah. No doubt he persuaded himself that he was justified because of this, but Jerusalem and Isaiah saw it as treachery, for they had had no part in the rebellion since the surrender.
Here the chapter then proceeds with a prayer to Yahweh, followed by a declaration of the victory He achieved, which resulted in an at least temporary transformation in Jerusalem as we would anticipate (33.2-6). But it would not last for long as the previous chapter has made clear. This is followed by further mourning over the act of treachery, and Yahweh’s promise to respond to it, resulting in a description, as so often in Isaiah, of the triumph of God and the time of final blessing.
The Great Deliverance At Jerusalem (33.1-6).
Assyria is chided for its greed and treachery, and Yahweh’s people plead for deliverance. But the invasion is going forward and the spoil is being gathered rapaciously. However, they are assured that Yahweh, Who dwells on high, will be exalted, and will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and the promise is therefore that at that time peace will prevail, and there will be stability and deliverance.
But it does not appear that way immediately. Those who have sought to establish peace are in despair because of Assyria’s treachery, and the land mourns and languishes, but then Yahweh declares that He will arise and lift Himself up and be exalted, and the result will be that Assyria conceives chaff and brings forth stubble and brings forth judgment on itself.
In ‘a’ Assyria is chided with its greed and treachery and is warned that it will come back on its own head, and in the parallel that they will conceive chaff and produce stubble and they will be devoured by their own breath. In ‘b’ Yahweh’s people call on Him and Isaiah adds his plea to theirs, and in the parallel Yahweh will arise and act in a way by which He will be exalted. In ‘c’ the people flee at the noise of tumult and the nations are scattered by one who lifts himself up, while in the parallel the land mourns and languishes. In ‘d’ the spoil is gathered with the rapacity of caterpillars and locusts, and in the parallel those who have sued for peace weep because of what is being done to the land through treachery. In ‘e’ Yahweh is seen as exalted, dwelling on high, and filling Zion with justice and righteousness, while in the parallel the result will be stability in their times, and abundance of deliverance, wisdom and knowledge because the fear of Yahweh has become his treasure.
The point behind this woe is that Assyria have gone beyond their remit. God had summoned them to chastise His people, but they are now bent on going further. They have despoliation of the temple treasury, captivity and exile for the people in mind (36.17). They have no excuse for this. No one has done it to them. But they are greedy and treacherous. Thus their greed and treachery will rebound on their own heads. They in turn will be despoiled by others and they will experience treachery at first hand, just as they have been treacherous. What a man sows he will reap. This is a principle that God has built into creation.
The plea now goes up to Yahweh for help. His people seek His compassion and undeserved love. They point out that they are trusting Him at last, they have at last ‘waited for Him’. So Isaiah prays that Yahweh will indeed be their arm every morning, their strength and uplifter. Then he includes himself and prays for deliverance for them all in the trouble that they now face, which may well have been the sight of the siege army of Sennacherib surrounding Jerusalem, and the words of the army commander calling on them to surrender (36-37).
It is not always easy to discern the detailed trend in Isaiah’s prophecies, and some see this as portraying Yahweh’s deliverance and the partial fulfilment of the woe, with Yahweh devastating the camp of the Assyrian international army (37.36). The tumult that arose as a result of the mysterious deaths is then seen as resulting in speedy departure, for at His lifting up of Himself the nations are scattered, as they were at Babel (Genesis 11.1-9). Then the people of Judah are seen as emerging from the city of Jerusalem like caterpillars and locusts, spoiling what remained of the camp, with all the goods and provisions which have been left behind. This results from seeing ‘yourself’ and ‘your’ as signifying the Yahweh of verse 2. The story is then seen as repeated in verses 7-12.
But in verses 11-12 ‘you’ is Assyria and our analysis above suggests that what is rather being described in these verses is the spoliation resulting from the Assyrian’s advance towards Jerusalem and laying siege to Lachish, during which they gather spoil like caterpillars and locusts (compare Joel 1.4). All the peoples who have been in alliance against them have previously fled, all the nations have been scattered, and now Jerusalem is in Sennacherib’s sights. But what he has overlooked is that Yahweh is exalted and dwells on high.
Assurance of the coming victory is now described. His people need not fear. Yahweh is exalted for He dwells on high. And as a result of His action and His deliverance which is about to take place there will be a great renewal of the covenant in Zion, with the result that it will be filled with right judgments and righteousness. And the result will be stability in Hezekiah’s day (compare 39.8). Wisdom and knowledge will grow as men again look to Yahweh. And while Hezekiah’s treasure house has been emptied (2 Kings 18.15-16), it will be replaced by a greater treasure, the fear of Yahweh, which is the true treasure which Yahweh gives to His own.
The future therefore would seem bright, but it would not be long before the strains underneath were detected and the people returned to their old ways under Manasseh, and even while Hezekiah was still alive. It would not be long before Isaiah detected the crumbling of the revival.
Yet one importance of this incident for us is not only that it reveals the power of God, but also that it assures us that God does see the treachery against His own people of their enemies and will Himself in His own way deal with it, often in ways that are unexpected, even if not quite so spectacular as at this time. For in all these prophecies Isaiah is not only detailing events, he is enunciating great principles which are true in every age. This is one reason why he keeps so much of it general rather than specific.
Bewailing The Treachery of the Enemy (33.7-12).
Meanwhile the Assyrian advance continued. Yahweh had promised action, but had not yet acted. He was waiting above for the right time to arrive. All was in suspense.
Humanly speaking great hopes had been placed in the surrender treaty made with Sennacherib, but those great hopes had come to nought, and here we see those who had sought to establish the treaty in tears. The further interference of Egypt had probably devastated them, and had demonstrated yet again that it is never wise to trust in man. Thus the commanders and mighty men (the valiant ones) in the field are ‘crying outside’, and the ambassadors who had achieved the treaty wept bitterly. Both thought that they had succeeded, the one in holding off Sennacherib long enough for the treaty to be signed, the other in actually formulating a treaty which at least seemed to give some hope, even if it was at great cost. But it had all been in vain. For Sennacherib’s advance now continued, men were shut up for protection in their cities, the roads and highways were wasted, no one travelled on them in peace, for Sennacherib had rejected the treaty and torn it up, and his warlike attentions were again turned on the cities of Judah. He had no regard for men nor for what they thought. His aim was destruction and despoliation. And this is a picture of the world and its ways continually. It will ever be thus.
‘The land mourns and languishes’ (compare 24.4). The names chosen all indicate plenty and prosperity, Lebanon with its great cedars, Sharon with its fertility, Bashan with its great oaks, Carmel (‘garden land’) for its luxurious growth and scrubland pasture (compare 35.2). But now all is in mourning and is failing. None can stand against the enemy. The cedars of Lebanon have been cut down (37.24), the fields have been devastated, the pasturage despoiled. Even the leaves have fallen from the trees because of the fear of the enemy. Indeed we might see Lebanon as northward, Sharon as southward, Carmel as eastward and Bashan as westward. Nothing escapes his hand.
It is often in the hour of greatest darkness, when His people’s faith has been tested to the limit, that God arises to act. And here there is a great emphasis on ‘now’, thrice repeated. The time had ‘now’ come. God had waited but He will stand by no longer. Note the progression, He will arise, His first movement; He will lift Himself up, His divine action; He will be exalted, the final result. From beginning to end He will be effective. Once begun His work will not cease until its final triumph and His subsequent exaltation. Sennacherib has done his worst, and now God will do His best.
And the result will be this which delineates His sentence on the Assyrians, and on all who oppose Him. Sennacherib’s achievements, and all the achievements of great kings through the ages, are depicted here. All their efforts will bring to birth nothing but chaff and stubble, they breathe out fire but they will be burned up by their own breath. And those who follow them will be so thoroughly burned up that it will be as though they were burned in a limepit. They will be as thorns cut down and consumed in the bonfire. Indeed the description covers all men’s achievements without God. So does God confirm that He will step into the situation and reveal the truth about man’s accomplishments by means of their destinies. As He will also in the final judgment.
God Is So Holy, Who Can Know Him? (33.13-16).
What Yahweh has done in defeating Assyria and delivering Jerusalem leads on to His depiction of His holiness and power. He is above all and will bring about His will and none but those whom He has chosen and made fit may dwell with Him in His glory, amid the everlasting burnings.
In ‘a’ the call is by Yahweh to all who are for off or near, to consider what He has done and acknowledge His might, and in the parallel the one who responds rightly will dwell on high and be placed in a fully defensible position, protected from all enemies. In ‘b’ the question is put as to who can dwell with the awesome holiness of God, and in the parallel the reply is that it is the one whose life is pure, who walks righteously, speaks uprightly, despises dishonest gain, rejects bribes, shuns violence and closes his eye to evil.
The effect of His destruction of the army of Assyria now causes God to challenge the nations. Let all both far and near consider what He has done and acknowledge His power. For what He has done has even awakened the sinners and the godless in Zion to consider their position. It has made them aware of His holiness and power, and of what He essentially is, so that they cry out and ask who can possibly hope to dwell with One Who is so holy that He is like a devouring fire, One Who is like an everlastingly burning flame (compare Deuteronomy 4.11-12, 33, 36; 5.24-25).
The word for dwell means ‘to dwell as an outsider, an alien’. They have therefore rightfully recognised that those who are strangers to Yahweh and what He is cannot hope to reside in His presence. And they compare themselves with those strangers. For they know that He is a consuming fire of holiness, that He is glorious in holiness, that He is the Holy One of Israel, and can only be truly known by those who have been made holy (compare 4.3-4).
The experience described here is similar to that of Isaiah in chapter 6. There Isaiah himself had drawn back in shame and anguish in His awareness of the glory of God, and now the sinners in Zion and the godless ones, which in this context signifies God’s people as they are made aware of their extreme sinfulness, do the same.
But the reply comes that there are those who can survive and enjoy His presence, and live with His holiness, and of those we now learn. Compare for this Psalm 15.
This is the description of the one who can dwell with God’s holiness. It is the one who has responded to God and to His covenant, who walks in accordance with God’s requirements, and whose word is totally true, honest and reliable. He does not seek to obtain gain by the wrong use of power or influence. When any seek to bribe him, pushing something quietly into his hand, he shakes his hand free. If there is talk of injuring others he stops up his ears from involvement. He closes his eyes against all evil sights and refuses even to look at them.
Such a man can dwell on high spiritually with God (compare 57.15), where he will be situated far out of reach of men in a place where he cannot be harmed. He will receive from God all the sustenance he needs, both spiritual bread and water. He will eat of the bread of life, and drink of the water of life (compare Psalm 1). The thought is of him being safe in an impregnable fortress, fully provisioned in every way with a totally safe water supply. He need fear nothing. Here we have the Old Testament equivalent of Paul’s ‘heavenly places’, the spiritual realm in which His people can live in close contact with Him (see Ephesians 1.3; 2.6).
The Glory That Is Coming (33.17-20).
In stark contrast with all that has gone before is the destiny of God’s true people. For them the future holds the promise of a permanent existence in the presence of God, of a permanent beholding of His glory, of a permanent experience of His presence, when all that is of the past will have been done away, and He has become all in all.
In ‘a’ their eyes will see the King in His beauty, and in the parallel they will see Jerusalem a quiet habitation which is perfectly safe and secure. In ‘b’ they will recognise that they have nothing to fear from anyone any more, and in the parallel this includes strange foreign invaders.
This promise to the godly man sums up the future for the godly remnant. They will see the coming King in the splendour of His glorious beauty (compare Psalm 45.2), the king of 32.1-2. They will behold a land spacious and free (in contrast with the tiny area then ruled from Jerusalem). They will look back and muse without fear on those of whom men were in terror, wondering how they could ever have been afraid of them, such as those fearsome men who assessed men to take them into captivity, those who weighed the tribute and decided what each would pay, making the burden heavy, those who elected which buildings should be destroyed, for to the godly man none of this will matter any more. He will be beyond it. To him these things will have become a thing of the past. For His trust is in God. And he will then have no involvement with foreign invaders and masters in exile and tribute collectors, who speak a gibberish tongue. He will finally be delivered from it all.
Intrinsically this looks first to the coming of the King and the deliverance He would bring. As they take His yoke on them and learn of Him, they will find rest to their souls (Matthew 11.28-30), but in the final analysis it looks to the coming to the everlasting kingdom, to the complete salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messianic king, and the glorious spaciousness of the new heaven and the new earth. While not stating so, this assumes the heavenly kingdom, and the resurrection of the dead in 26.19, for Isaiah knew that all this could only be when Assyria had been destroyed and Babylon itself had been defeated and finally destroyed, and yet he promised it to the godly of his day who walked righteously and spoke uprightly. Thus it had to be after the resurrection he had described.
This further description confirms that we are speaking of the heavenly Jerusalem. Ezekiel thought in terms of a heavenly temple set on ‘a very high mountain’ well away from Jerusalem, reaching up to heaven, with the city itself on the very outskirts of a ‘holy area’ (40-48, see especially 45.1-6). Isaiah has not quite reached that depth of vision but his wording suggests something similar, in as far as it was possible for someone with no real conception of a Heaven above to which men could go. Somehow he knew that this could be no earthly city. So Jerusalem has here gone back to being the Tent in the wilderness, but as having a heavenly permanence. It is the eternal dwellingplace of Yahweh.
And this was Zion/Jerusalem. ‘The city of our solemnities’ connects it in thought with the earthly Jerusalem, for he is in these words speaking of the city where they celebrated their sacred feasts, the city of worship, but it has become something other than itself. Instead of a place of buildings it will have become a quiet dwellingplace, away from a tumultuous world, an everlasting tent, a new tabernacle where those who are holy meet with God (compare 4.3-6). It will be a place apart from the earth as the tabernacle was apart from the camp, and yet a tent so permanent that its guy ropes will never break. It will be a permanent tabernacle which never moves from its site, for its pegs will never be uprooted. Once they see it they will have passed through the wilderness of history and have reached their final home.
The thought is not so much that of a return to the ‘ideal’ time in the wilderness, when Israel was holiness to Yahweh (Jeremiah 2.2-3), although it includes that, but more that of a going on to something better and more permanent. Yet it is certainly not thinking of earthly permanence (compare Revelation 21.3). The very nature of a tent is against earthly permanence. It is a rejection of the idea of ‘the city’. It is calling men apart to God to a purity of relationship that rejects ‘civilisation’. And there they will see Yahweh in the fullness of His majesty and will be with Him. The writer to the Hebrews described it as ‘the true Tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not men’ (Hebrews 8.2).
We may see in it a twofold future reference. Firstly the entering in of those who come to believe in Jesus Christ the king, who thus come under the Kingly Rule of God (verse 22) and enjoy His personal presence with them, for they become His tabernacle, His dwellingplace; no longer of ‘the city’; in the world but not of the world; temporary on earth and yet with a permanence in Heaven, for they are even now citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20). And secondly the full fulfilment in the heavenly kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth, when they are with Him for ever and enjoy the full glory of His majesty and presence (Revelation 21.3).
The Perfect Paradise (33.21-24).
In this chapter His people are to mount level by level into the presence of the Holy One. Firstly it has happened by their response to an awareness of God’s holiness which draws them to obedient and holy living, and results in their mounting into the heavenly places with Him where they are safe and fully supplied with all they need (33.13-16). Secondly by their recognising and responding to the King in His beauty, so that they see and enter the Jerusalem which is above, the eternal Tabernacle, which is permanent and everlasting, freed from all the terrors of the world (33.17-20). And now thirdly by recognising that they are to enjoy Paradise itself. This is described as the place where Yahweh is in His majesty, a place of broad rivers and streams (compare Revelation 22.1-5), but free from all earthly contamination. And there Yahweh will be their Judge, their Lawgiver, and their King. He will be their Saviour.
But none of this will be because of their deserving. They have in themselves no means of mobility. Rather it is as the lame that they will take the prey. And there the inhabitants will know nothing of sickness. Those who dwell there have been forgiven all their iniquity.
In ‘a’ they will be with Yahweh in His majesty in great rivers unsullied by man’s enterprises, and in the parallel they will be there as those who have been made whole, as forgiven sinners, which alone has fitted them for this place. In ‘b’ Yahweh is their Judge, their Lawgiver, and their King, providing all that is necessary for good governance, and in the parallel their own insufficiency is brought out. They are like loose tackle which is unable to launch the ship or drive it along. But they need not be concerned. For they will share between them a great spoil as their prey, and it is the lame who will take the prey. Thus is the goodness and grace of Yahweh made clear to His own.
There in the new Zion, the heavenly Tabernacle, Yahweh will be with them in majesty. The place is pictured as a place of broad rivers and streams, the agriculturalist’s ideal, for it is self-sufficient in water whose sole purpose is to provide for their needs. No ships will pass along them, for there will be no trafficking, no laborious rowing, no trading, nothing to spoil its calm and serenity.
‘A place of broad rivers and streams, in which no galley with oars will go, nor will any gallant ship pass by it.’ Its heavenly nature is confirmed by this description. No earthly river could lack ships and boats, but this is in a different realm of thought and existence. The streams and rivers are waters of life, symbols of overflowing life, (compare Psalm 45.4-5; Isaiah 30.25; 55.1-3; Ezekiel 47.1-12), not vehicles for carrying people about and hubs of world trade. They provide for the sustenance and life of the people (compare Revelation 22.1-5). Man’s glory, as revealed in his great ships, will have no place there. All will be of God. We should remember here that Israel did not like the sea, and would see ships as an indication of what was unwelcome. They were not into deep sea sailing.
Note the final implication behind all this. All that man glories in, both by land, his great cities, and by sea, his great ships and galleys, will have gone. The glory of man will be replaced by the glory of God. God will be all sufficient.
And in that place they will be under the perfect rule of Yahweh. They will be able to declare in truth, ‘Yahweh reigns’. The threefold phrases emphasise the completeness of His rule. All the righteous are here seen as having entered under the Kingly Rule of God and therefore as confident of final salvation. Note that Yahweh is all that they need, He passes judgment, He proclaims the Instruction (Law), He rules in might. No other authority is needed when Yahweh rules. He is all in all. He is the final Deliverer, the final Saviour of His own.
But Isaiah is aware of what God’s people are like, even those who are His true people. In contrast with Yahweh they were not glorious in holiness, rather they were like a stranded ship, and when we consider that there would be no ships there we can see that this reveals them as very much connected with earth. So Isaiah completes his description of the heavenly city and the coming salvation by reminding the earthly people of God of their own present true condition. The splendid vision has only brought home their sinful state. They are like a ship with loose tackle. The tackle neither holds the mast steady, nor manoeuvres the sail adequately. They are like a lame and limping ship striving to reach harbour, floating helplessly and seemingly with none to help. But those who are His true people need not fear, for when the prey consisting of a great spoil is divided up it is the lame, not the mighty, who will take the prey. That is the result of God’s grace. Weak and helpless they may be, but all that God has for them will be theirs. And they will not need then to say, “I am sick”. For those who dwell in the new Jerusalem will be forgiven sinners, made right in Him, never to be sick again in any way, for they have partaken of the Tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.2).
Note. It is an interesting fact that the major Isaianic scroll (Is.a) discovered at Qumran contains at this point a short break of three lines, prior to chapter 34 (there is no break prior to 40.1, even though the opening of that verse is on the last line of a column). It is of especial interest because the appeal in 34.1, ‘Come near you nations to hear and hearken, let the earth hear, and its fullness, the world and all things that come forth from it’, (speaking about the nations), can easily be seen as paralleled with the appeal in 1.2, ‘Hear O heavens, and give ear O earth, for Yahweh has spoken’, (speaking concerning the situation of Israel/Judah). Thus it might appear that Isaiah’s prophecy may not only have split into two at this point so as to fit onto two equal scrolls, but have been designed to do so, with each section having its own emphasis. This would then tend to confirm that 1.1 was to be seen as opening the whole prophecy in its two sections.
The first section 1-33 might then be seen as very much describing Yahweh’s appeal concerning Israel and Judah, resulting in the coming of their everlasting King (7-11) and judgment on the nations who have failed her (13-23), and ending in the picture of final fulfilment in chapter 33, with the everlasting Tabernacle of Jerusalem being established in a place of broad rivers and streams (33.20-21), with the people healed and forgiven (33.24; contrast 1.4-9). While the second section, commencing with chapter 34 onwards, might then be seen as Yahweh’s appeal concerning the nations, resulting in the coming of the Servant of Yahweh on behalf of the nations, and judgment on Babylon (46-47) and Edom (63.1-4), (as representing all that is worst in the nations), and ending with the picture of final fulfilment described in 65-66, with the ideal Jerusalem being established (65.17-25; 66.10) in a place where peace is extended to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an ever-flowing stream (66.12), with all nations restored and worshipping Yahweh. If that is so then chapter 34 can be seen as introductory to all that follows, in the same way as chapters 1-2 were to the first section.
End of note.
Chapter 34 God’s Judgment on Edom And The Surrounding Nations.
Now Isaiah suddenly turns his attention away from God’s people to Edom and the nations. Always after being lifted up, he comes solidly down to earth. For in this chapter God declares that His day is about to come on Edom and the nations connected with them. But the switch is not quite such a surprise as we might at first think. For what he is doing here is remind God’s people that all who have proved themselves their enemies will be dealt with. God’s archenemy Babylon has long been dealt with (13-14). Now it is Edom’s turn, Edom who turned against his brother Israel, Israel’s Judas, and illustrates all that is treacherous in the world. As with Babylon Edom’s fate is also to be permanent. There will be no second chance. So both Babylon which represents the glorying of the world, and Edom which represents the treachery and apostasy of the world, will be dealt with in final judgment. In both cases this fact will again be dealt with in the later part of the book, chapters 46-47 for Babylon, and 64 for Edom. For these two represent God’s permanent enemies, the menace without and the traitor within (see especially 47.1-13; 63.1-6).
Edom and their neighbours always took advantage of Judah when they were weak, and took possession of land belonging to Judah (compare Amos 1.11-12; Psalm 137.7; Obadiah 1.10-14). Because of this God’s special judgment is declared against them. Compare how the feeling against them is so strong that they later get their own chapter in Ezekiel (in chapter 35). Their sin was the greater in that they were a brother tribe (Numbers 20.14; Deuteronomy 23.7). This was why they receive special condemnation.
In ‘a’ the nations, the peoples and the whole of creation are called on to hear Yahweh’s indictment against Edom and its related nations, and in the parallel it is because it is the Day of Yahweh’s vengeance, the year of His recompenses in the controversy of Zion. In ‘b’ Yahweh has indignation against ‘all the nations’ (associated with Edom), He has devoted them to slaughter, and in the parallel He has a sacrifice in Bozrah which will be a great slaughter. In ‘c’ such is their slain that they will be cast out, and the stench will be great and the mountains will flow with their blood, while in the parallel Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood and with the fat of the sacrifices. In ‘d’ it will be such a slaughter that it will be seen as affecting the heavens, and in the parallel His sword will drink its fill in heaven, coming down on the people of His curse for judgment.
The nations of the world are all called to come near and witness this judgment about to be described. Indeed not only the nations but also the whole of creation, is to consider what God is about to do. Compare on this 1.2. From it they will learn how precious to Him are His people, and what it means to deal wrongly with them. All are finally involved in what God does, for He is the Creator and the God of all nations.
The fact that the nations have been called on to witness this and are having it explained to them, and that the total judgment of ‘all the nations’ mentioned here is described in a way that seems to single them out (He has called on the other nations to witness it), suggests that ‘all the nations’ here cannot mean all the nations of the whole known world. It is ‘all the nations’ of the particular area under judgment, that is, it is Edom and her allies known under that name, although possibly as a warning to all nations. It would be a particularly useful way of describing Moab and Ammon and the variety of nomadic tribes in the desert, including Amalek, that connected with Edom, and often allied with her, seen in verse 5 as ‘the people of my curse’ (compare Exodus 17.14, 16; 25.17-19; Deuteronomy 23.3-6; Nehemiah 13.1-3). Compare how in 63.6 His judgment on Edom also affects ‘the peoples’. The use of the term ‘the nations’ in this way, as limited to a particular area, is exemplified in 9.1; Judges 4.2; see also 2 Chronicles 32.23; Ezekiel 5.5, 7; Nehemiah 5.17; 6.16, although not there as referring to these same tribes.
‘All their host.’ This suggests that these nations have gathered together their fighting men to take advantage of Judah’s weak condition. Such were the ways of the world that during times of trouble for a nation their neighbours would often look out for ways of benefiting from it.
But others see ‘all the nations’ as meaning exactly that and the restriction to Edom that follows as therefore being because it is about to be used as an example of the judgment God will bring on all. However, the particularisation of the judgment as against Edom in the way that is described does not seem to support this case. It is Edom particularly (with her allies) who are to be subjected to great slaughter, and whose land is to be drunk with blood (verse 6), and who are to be finally extinguished (verses 9-10). It is they who are to be the example to the nations. On the other hand this kind of half-anonymity is typical of Isaiah (compare chapter 13 of Babylon). The hint seems to be that what applies to the particular situation could apply to all, even in fact to the hosts of heaven as well (verse 4, 5a). For all are finally under the judgment of God.
The total destruction of these nations is vividly described. In His anger they are put under The Ban, ‘devoted’ to destruction. They are delivered to slaughter (specifically said of Edom in verse 6). They will not be given proper burial, but will be ‘cast out’ and left in stinking piles in the mountains to rot (compare 14.19-20 of the king of Babylon).
‘And the mountains will be melted with their blood.’ So great will be the number of their dead that the blood spilled will cause soil erosion in the mountains. As so often in prophecy the perfect (definite) tenses indicates not the past but the certainty of what is to happen. It is already seen as completed in the mind if God.
This kind of vivid language in respect of heavenly bodies comes regularly on Isaiah’s lips to describe both judgment and glory (see especially the parallel in 13.10 when speaking of Babylon; and compare 24.23; 30.26; 60.19-20). The ‘host of heaven’ could mean sun, moon and stars, but it could also mean the gods they represented, the worship of whom was constantly condemned. Here they are seen as but leaves on a tree, to be dispensed with just as easily. However the point here is that as far as those under judgment are concerned there will be no help for them from the gods and that their last moments will make it seem as though the heavens themselves are dying and ceasing in their function, in a similar way to the leaves on trees when the harvest is past.
Note the extremeness of the language. It is drawn on in Revelation 6.13-14. If it really happened earth would not survive it. But it is not intended to be taken literally. It is stressing how great the catastrophe will be for Edom. They will never see the stars again.
It is clear from this that the main verdict is against Edom and its neighbours, ‘the people of my curse’ (compare Exodus 17.14, 16; 25.17-19; Deuteronomy 23.3-6; Nehemiah 13.1-3). Together they are the constituents of a great sacrifice when God will finally have His due because of their sinfulness. The time for mercy is past.
‘My sword has drunk its fill in heaven.’ This may suggest that, like Daniel, Isaiah sees earthly nations as having counterpart angels in heaven (compare 24.21). When Edom is to be slaughtered their heavenly counterparts must suffer first. Or it may be that the idea is that His sword has already drunk its fill in heaven in anticipation of what it is about to do.
The destruction of Edom is then likened to the offering of sacrifices, as being like a great holocaust (compare Ezekiel 39.17-19; Zephaniah 1.7-8). In such sacrifices the blood and the fat were offered to God (Leviticus 1.5-8; 3.13-17 and often). The comparison brings out that this is not just arbitrary, it is necessary slaughter for the sins of the nations. They are receiving their due.
‘Bozrah.’ Compare Amos 1.12 where it is described as a place of palaces. It is possibly modern Buseirah, a fortified city of nineteen acres on top of a crag at the head of the Wadi Hamayideh, sixty kilometres (thirty eight miles) north of Petra, and forty kilometres (twenty five miles) south-south-east of the Dead Sea, controlling the King’s Highway, and thus probably prominent in denying earlier passage to the Israelites (Numbers 20.17).
Not only Edom but their wild neighbours will be included in the sacrifice, pictured in terms of wild oxen, representing their wilder roving neighbours, while the bullocks and mighty ones possibly represent their other, less wild, near neighbours. There will be so much blood spilled that the land will become drunk with it, with the dust cloyed together in the melted fat.
Yahweh’s day has finally come on Edom, the day when He revenges His people, and when sin too is dealt with. It is the day when Edom receive recompense for what they have done. This is one of many ‘days of Yahweh’ from the beginning to the end of time, each one of which mirrors the final great day of Yahweh in the final judgment.
‘The year of recompense in the controversy of Zion.’ This particularly applies the vengeance to their attitude towards God’s people. The ‘controversy of Zion’ may refer to their taking advantage of Judah’s weak condition (2 Chronicles 28.17; Joel 3.19); the controversy over their rights to land which Edom have taken or had given to them by Assyria, which they are seen by Jerusalem as having no right to; and their general hostility towards Israel. Or to the original controversy when Edom refused passage to the children of Israel (Numbers 20.14-21). Or indeed to all the continued controversy between such neighbours. Or it may signify the continual controversy between the people of God and the world arising from their distinctive faith. With regard to Edom God is now settling the matter once and for all.
The All-Embracing Nature of the Judgment and Its Permanence (34.9-17).
It is important to note that God’s judgment on Edom will be all-embracing and permanent. Nothing will survive it. It is an indication of the consequences of treachery and apostasy.
The whole picture in this description is one of desolation and emptiness. It commences in ‘a’ and ‘b’ with the emptying of the land and it becoming a burning waste for ever and ever, and ends in ‘b’ and ‘a’ with its possession by all the creatures that Yahweh will call there and write in His book, which will possess it from generation to generation. In between are all the evidences of its desert-like state. It is lost to all human habitation.
This will one day be the destiny of all who have rejected Yahweh (compare 66.24). But here the reference is distinctively to Edom. It will be deserted by men because of its condition (compare 13.20. See Malachi 1.4), but that we are not to take the description too literally comes out in that plentiful wildlife would survive there (verses 13-15), which would have been impossible on a literal application of the words. The thought is rather of God’s extreme judgment having come on them in terms of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.24) and Deuteronomy 29.23, a fate that will continue for ever. And indeed Edom did cease to be a nation, and its land did become totally barren. Thus the message of its evil goes up for ever and ever. God’s brimstone of judgment has enveloped it.
Its fate is described in language typical of what God had promised to those who disobey Him and reject His covenant (Deuteronomy 29.23). It is saying that the covenant curse has come on them. Brimstone especially is a symbol of judgment (30.33). The description is not therefore intended to be taken as literally describing what will literally be seen on earth, but to describe how the action is seen from Heaven’s viewpoint, and to symbolise the fact that God has dealt with it in judgment for ever. It is Heaven that sees the burning sulphur and the eternal smoke arising, not men on earth. They just see the barrenness and the burning desert waste.
Note the great emphasis on its everlastingness. As in 30.30, which spoke of vivid heavenly activity not seen on earth although the consequences were seen, what is described is ‘invisible’. It is how heaven sees it. It is a poetic description. Its land fell into Arab hands in 5th century BC, and was overrun by the Nabataeans in the 3rd century BC. Those Edomites who fled to Judah were finally compelled to become Jews under John Hyrcanus in 1st century BC (a kind of mercy out of judgment). Edom as a nation disappeared.
So the two nations who most symbolise the arrogance of the nations and their antipathy towards God, Babylon the great anti-God (13-14) and Edom, the faithless and treacherous brother, will share similar fates (Revelation 19.3).
The occupation by animals, birds and snakes is an indication of desertion by man. Compare 14.23 of Babylon (It should be noted that we are not always able to identify exactly which animals and birds certain Hebrew words apply to. In some cases we only get a very general idea).
And the land has become tohu wa bohu, ‘formless and empty’ (Genesis 1.2), as indicated by the measuring instruments passed over it. But the measuring line, which was used for marking off plots, is measuring what is without form, and the plummet for measuring building work is measuring emptiness. They are measuring ‘nothing’.
For the line and plummet compare 28.17 where right judgment is the line and righteousness the plummet. Edom has lacked both.
No activities with regard to land and buildings will take place, for it has been emptied of its nobility. It will be called ‘Not There’, and its princes will be non-existent. It will be as if it had never been inhabited.
The picture continues of the many wild creatures who will take possession of its ruined cities, and the weed growth that will infest them. There will be birds, beasts and snakes along with satyrs (‘goat-demons’ or ‘wild goats’) and night hags. The latter may be creatures of superstition, the thought being to convey the idea of a ‘haunted’ place, or may be picturesque and haunting names given to nocturnal animals (compare the modern Tasmanian devil). Note the emphasis on snakes and birds as being there to reproduce and as, with their mates, being a sign of permanence (demonstrating again that verse 9 was not intended literally).
‘Seek out the book of Yahweh and read.’ This suggests that Isaiah has recorded his own words and has called them ‘the Book of Yahweh’. He tells the people to read what he has written, so that when it happens they will know and recognise the fact. Every word he has spoken will be fulfilled, not one of these beasts, birds and snakes will be missing, nor with they lack their mates. Or it may indicate that Yahweh has written His own ‘book of the living’ for Edom, composed only of beasts and creatures, an evidence that it is no longer man’s.
And this will be so because under God he has commanded it and God has brought them there by His Spirit. It will be a deliberate and specific act of God.
Indeed God has shared it to these creatures by lot, as He did the promised land to His people of old (Joshua 14.1-2), and He has divided it between them by measuring their territories, and they will possess it for ever. This is God’s inheritance to Edom because of what they have done to His people (contrast Deuteronomy 2.5). No greater condemnation of Edom’s antagonism to his brother nation could be made. The inheritance of Edom was specifically divided up by God between wild animals, birds and snakes.
But even behind this total judgment was a kind of blessing, for history shows us that the remnant of Edom were eventually absorbed into Israel and became one with the people of God. They were thus in a position to respond when the King came.
Chapter 35 God’s Future Blessing on His People.
This chapter possibly completes the first half of the book (but see note at the end of chapter 33) prior to entering the corridor that leads into the second half of the book, that is chapter 36-39 which deal with historical events that carry us from the first to the second, and illuminate both halves. It thus deals with the final triumph of the people of God through redemption.
The chapter is in huge and deliberate contrast with the previous one. There the dreadful doom of Esau was pronounced, but here the huge blessing of Jacob. In the end all will be as God had determined, but in the case of Jacob/Israel not as they deserved. Their destiny is of God’s grace as revealed to the remnant, just as Edom’s is of God’s wrath (Malachi 1.2-4). For in contrast to the steaming pitch and brimstone on Edom, the desert of Israel will blossom like a rose (or ‘crocus’), and in contrast to the everlasting emptiness of Eden, the remnant of the people of God will enjoy their land in everlasting joy. The land will then flourish in such a way that it will be evident that the curse is over. There will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
The result will be that the redeemed will walk in it in total safety. Gladness and joy will abound and there will be no more sorrow or sighing. The two chapters illustrate well the words of Jesus, ‘these (like Edom) will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous (the true Israel) into life eternal’ (Matthew 25.46).
Again we must note the prophetic method. The whole future is seen as one. We, looking back on the gradual unfolding of it, can see its many facets, but what mattered to the prophet was the idea as a whole, the final redemption and glorifying of God’s people.
The Desert Will Blossom Like A Rose And Reveal The Glory of Yahweh (35.1-2).
In direct contrast with the barrenness and emptiness of Edom, all the barren places of Israel will flourish, and they will blossom with all the glory of a rose in its splendour, and will be filled with joy and singing, for they will see the excellency and glory of God. The picture is one of total blessing and rejoicing.
In ‘a’ the wilderness and desert will blossom abundantly, and in the parallel it will reveal the glory of Yahweh and His excellence. In ‘b’ it will blossom abundantly like a rose, and in the parallel will receive the excellency of Carmel and Sharon.
As a result of God’s judgment on them large parts of the lands of Judah and Israel would become like a wilderness and a desert, but it is not God’s intention that this should be for ever. For eventually His people will return and the land will blossom like a rose or like the autumn crocus, and there will be great joy and singing. It will become fruitful like Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon proverbially were (see also 33.9), and through it the glory of Yahweh and the excellency of their God will be revealed.
The picture is of a new miracle of growth. Even the most barren parts of the land will be as the most fruitful. There will be fruitfulness everywhere. It is the agricultural nation’s idea of heaven.
That this to some extent occurred literally is testified to by history. Once Israel/Judah were again established in the land, the land did become fruitful and blossom. But there was still the problem of the curse, and the people lost their way, although a remnant ever remained faithful. It found a spiritual fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus and what followed, for John the Baptiser and Jesus both depicted the spiritual blessing that they had brought in terms of harvest, and of trees, and of fruitfulness (Matthew 3.7-12; 13.3-43 and often). In the words of Jesus, the fields were white for harvest, and they blossomed abundantly (John 4.35). But its greater fulfilment awaits the new heaven and the new earth which are the final result of all that Isaiah looked forward to (65.17; 66.22). There will then be such a blossoming as has never been known before, the curse will finally be removed and the river of life will sustain God’s people for ever (Revelation 22.1-5).
God’s People Are To Prepare Themselves For Deliverance (35.3-7).
But those who would participate in the blessing must also prepare themselves, and Isaiah calls on the people to become strong in faith and in looking to God.
In ‘a’ they are called on to strengthen their hands and knees, ready in the parallel for the coming of the recompense and salvation of God. And in ‘b’ they are to seek to encourage their own hearts and be strong and unafraid, recognising that in the parallel their God will come with vengeance.
In the midst of their adversities all thoughts are to be turned on what God will do. The people are to encourage each other with thoughts of what is to happen. Those who are weak at the knees, and those whose hands are weak, are to be strengthened by those who are stronger. They are to make each other strong, looking forward in faith and encouraging the weak in faith to be strong and unafraid on the basis of the promises of God. For His promise is that He will come with vengeance on their enemies, recompensing them for their sinfulness, and with salvation for those who are His, because He will come and deliver them (compare the time of recompense and vengeance in 34.8).
Note that these words are spoken to people still very much under constraint, for they require rescuing from oppressors. But in their oppression they are to endure in expectation of God’s coming blessing.
This is ever to be true of God’s people throughout history, for throughout that history, prior to the final fulfilment of the hope, there will be times of great distress for all His people (Acts 14.22), as there would be for ancient Israel. And in this they are to sustain each other. But in the end God’s true people have this certainty, that after trial (assumed by the need to keep strong), the everlasting kingdom will one day be enjoyed in the revealed presence of God.
The Days of Blessing Will Surely Come (35.5-7).
For those who are His the day of blessing is guaranteed. And in that day all will be put right. All disability will be removed to be replaced by rivers of living water (John 4.10-14; 7.37-39), which will endure for ever (Revelation 22.1-5).
Note that in ‘a’ what is marred will be made whole, and in the parallel the place which was only fit for jackals will flourish. In ‘b’ and its parallel the dry places will become water sources.
So once God’s Day of vengeance and recompense comes, wonderful things will happen. For Edom it would mean slaughter and desolation (34.8). But for God’s people it will mean restoration of sight and hearing both physically and spiritually, healing of all faculties of body and soul, and the restoration of the ability to speak, and of joy, and of a desire to sing. For in God’s kingdom imperfections cannot survive. All will be made complete.
And the whole land will be restored to blessing. The wilderness and desert will have plentiful water, mirages will become the reality that they promise, the dry ground will abound with springs, and in the wasted areas where jackals had their lairs grass would spring up, with reeds and rushes. Abundance of water is a constant indicator of blessing in Scripture, symbolic as we saw in 32.15 of the coming of the Spirit of God (compare 44.1-5).
Such will be God’s blessing that all physical imperfection will be removed. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will dance about and the dumb will speak. Note the contrast between the feeble knees of the previous verses and the leaping like a hart. All has changed. The stress here is on the fact that in God’s ideal kingdom there can be no defects. In that future kingdom man will be made completely whole.
There was a spiritual fulfilment of these promises among the godly in Israel after the return for many heard and saw Him, and the spiritually lame leaped and spoke of His glory. That was what sustained the truth through the dark times (we must not underestimate this inter-testamental work of God which resulted in a remnant of Israel being preserved pure and holy ready for the Coming One).
Later, with the presence of Jesus, there was literal fulfilment wherever He went, for He healed all Who came to Him, the deaf, the dumb, the blind and the lame (Matthew 11.4-5). In His presence disease could not survive, and it was a picture of the greater glory yet to come in the everlasting kingdom in heaven. For in healing them He drew attention to the greater spiritual significance of what He was here to do, using the healings as parables of what He had spiritually come to bring about. And He opened the spiritual ears and eyes of men even more fully and declared that the Kingly Rule of God had come. Men’s hearts leaped in His presence. And it has been so through the centuries.
However, its even greater fulfilment awaits that great day when the true people of God will arise from the dust (26.19), made perfect in Him in every way, and the everlasting kingdom will come in, and all that is imperfect and marred will be done away.
The need for water was constantly central in life in Canaan. There were no great rivers, and the country mainly depended on rainfall; on springs and wells and cisterns. Here the promise is therefore that the wilderness and desert will have plenty of water and abound in springs, instead of burning sand (or mirages) there will be cooling pools, instead of ground thirsty for rain there will be springs of water. There will be streams (‘wadis - temporary rushing streams caused by rain) everywhere. Even the barren places where jackals made their dens would be full of grass, reeds and rushes, all indicating plenteous water and regular rain.
This glowing picture again found fulfilment step by step. First after the exilic period when the land was restored and became fruitful, and was irrigated and blossomed, then in spiritual terms through the ministry of Jesus when the water of life flowed through the land and out into the world producing fruitfulness and blessing (John 4.10-14; 7.37-39), and it will finally again receive its complete fulfilment in the everlasting kingdom (Revelation 22.1-3), when the river of Eden will again flow for the people of God.
God Will Prepare For His People The Way In Which They Must Walk (35.8-10).
Walking in God’s way (or not doing) is a theme of Isaiah (3.12; 8.11; 26.7-8; 28.7; 30.21). It is a way of roses and abundant joy (verses 1-2), it is a way in which all are restored and made whole (3-6a), it is a way of abundance of water when the wilderness will be no more (6b-7), it is the way of security and holiness (8-9). And all who walk in it turn towards the heavenly Zion in festal joy (10).
In ‘a’ there will be a way in which men can walk called the holy way, set apart for God’s own purified people, and in the parallel it will be a way of joy and gladness, where sorrow and sighing is no more (Revelation 21.4). In ‘b’ nothing unclean will be there, and it will be a way in which none can go astray, and in the parallel the ransomed of Yahweh will constantly turn from what they are doing in that way and come with singing to Zion, with garlands of everlasting joy on their heads, in order to worship and praise their God. In ‘c’ it will be perfectly secure, there will be no wild beasts to watch out for, for, in the parallel they will not be there. It is the redeemed who will walk there.
There is double emphasis here on the fact that there is a Way, a road to travel along. The concentration here is not on where the way leads, (although it is clear from verse 10 that it leads to the heavenly Zion where everlasting joy can be found, so that those who are in it are never far from the heavenly Zion), but on the walking in it. For it is the Holy Way (‘way of holiness’), the way of cleanness, of separation to God, the way where God is with His people, and in which they turn to Him. Thus the careless, those who are ritually or morally unclean and do nothing about it, cannot use it, for it is ‘for those who walk in it’, that is, for those who choose it by deliberate choice and dedication, and it is so straight a way that even the foolish will not go astray in it.
There is a stress here on choice. A man could choose whether he be made clean, in the Old Testament by the ordinances of sacrifice and offering, and washing and waiting before God, and in the New by the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses from all sin (1 John 1.8-10). Those who would walk that way now must use the means offered. For that Holy Way is in the end only for the cleansed. And in the final kingdom all who are there will be in that way, and those who are not clean will not be there. All will walk with God in the way.
It is no accident that the early Christians saw themselves as the people of The Way (Acts 9.2;19.9, 23; 22.4; 24.14, 22). The designation may well have had this verse in mind, as in the same way Jesus may have had when He called Himself the Way (John 14.6). For to come to Jesus as the Way was to enter onto the way of holiness. It is the Way of God.
In Isaiah this is represented in a number of ways. ‘The way’ is the way of God’s paths (3.12), in contrast with the ‘way of the people’ (8.11); it is the way of the just which is uprightness (26.7); it is the way of His judgments (26.8). His own do not leave it through drunkenness (28.7), but rather when they begin to go astray to the right hand or to the left they hear a word behind them saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30.21).
We can also compare here 19.23 where there would be a highway between Egypt and Assyria uniting them in God with Israel, a highway of blessing and oneness. Not all highways were seen to lead to Jerusalem. Rather it was a way of mutuality and blessing, bringing together the people of God.
Comparison with verse 10 certainly sees this way as connecting with Zion. All who walk in this way will constantly ‘turn and come with singing to Zion’, for it will be their delight to worship God and acknowledge Him, but that is by no means the emphasis of the way. It is simply one of its aspects. The emphasis is on walking in ‘the Holy way’. There is no basis at all for suggesting that it is the road from exile. It is rather the way to God for all who are in spiritual exile, so that if we would escape from spiritual exile we must certainly walk in it. The ‘turning’ or ‘returning’ of verse 10 primarily refers to their continual turning to God while in the Way (see 1.27; 6.10; 9.13; 10.21-22; 19.22). Isaiah had said elsewhere, in ‘returning and rest’ they will be delivered (30.15), where no thought of the exile is in mind. The thought is of a turning of the heart towards God.
The road will be secure from every type of danger, it is for the redeemed of Yahweh. On ancient roads the wayfarer was always in danger of wild beasts, but where this road is there will be no wild beasts, it is the road of the new age when the lion is no longer harmful (11.6). And it is for the redeemed, those whom God has delivered by His power and who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Kinsman.
And while in that way ‘the ransomed of Yahweh’ will turn and come with singing to Zion. The idea of ransom is that of the paying of a price. God will in some way pay a price for the deliverance of His people by the exertion of His power and mercy. That is why they are His. They are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6.20). And those who have been redeemed will walk in His way, and while walking in that way they will constantly turn to Zion to meet with God, in order to give praise and thanks to God. In the end the picture is of the whole world walking in His way and constantly turning to Zion as they receive His word from there (2.2-3). They will be crowned and garlanded with everlasting joy. They will be full of joy and gladness. Sorrow and sighing will have no place for them, such things will flee away.
The whole idea behind these last three verses is that of redemption, and of being holy, and of walking in God’s way, and of constantly turning to God and enjoying His presence. In the Old Testament, as the Psalmists made clear, the true in heart looked to Jerusalem and the Temple as the earthly representation of the reality of God’s presence with His people, although they knew that they could pray wherever they were (Daniel 6.10; 9.3). And these words are therefore emphasising that those who would so approach God must do it in holiness. In New Testament terminology it is the heavenly Zion (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22) to which they are to turn, the place where they may meet with God, and walk with Him and dwell in His presence. And it will result in everlasting joy.
The emphasis of the whole chapter is in fact on walking in this blessed way. In verses 1-2 it is a way where men walk amidst roses, where they constantly enjoy abundance, where they see the glory of Yahweh, the excellency of God. In verses 3-6a it is the way in which all who walk are made whole, and can be strong and rejoice. In verses 6b-7 it is the way in which there is always plenteous ‘water’ which is God’s provision for His own. And now it is the Way of Holiness in which men constantly turn to Zion. It is the way in which men walk with God.
And so we come to the end of what some see as this first section, and these verses will now lead us on, after an historical interlude, into the second part of the book, where we will learn the way by which we can enter on to this Way.
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