Bible Commentary: Isaiah 29

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Isaiah 29

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Message to Ariel

It is apparent that in spite of Hezekiah's faithfulness, the nation as a whole has not made the turnaround God requires.

Jerusalem is referred to as "Ariel." Some translate this name as "Lion of God"—the lion being the emblem of Judah and its kings. Others view the name as meaning "Altar Hearth"—seeing Jerusalem as the place of sacrifice and that Jerusalem itself will be made a sacrifice in its coming destruction. Yet Jerusalem was not destroyed in Isaiah's day. The Assyrians laid siege to it, as described in verse 3, but they did not enter and destroy the city.

It is not clear whether verses 5-8 are referring to Jerusalem's destruction by a great multitude of enemies or to the destruction of the enemies themselves. A seemingly parallel passage in Isaiah 17:12-14 would appear to argue for the latter. In the end time, Jerusalem will be initially invaded and trampled down by foreigners (Revelation 11:2). But, leaving the city at the very end to gather at Megiddo (Revelation 16:16), these forces will return with others at Christ's return to be wiped out (Revelation 19:19-21; Joel 3:2, Joel 3:12-14).

The first part of Isaiah 29:10 is used by Paul to describe how God has temporarily blinded the Israelites (compare Romans 11:8, Deuteronomy 29:4). Part of this blindness is accomplished, as the last part of Isaiah 29:10 explains, through the removal of righteous teachers. All that is left to the people then is God's Word. And yet people won't even seriously look at what the Bible has to say even when they are asked to. Isaiah 29:11-12 profoundly summarizes their two main excuses for not reading it. The "literate" (educated religious leaders) claim it is no use to try because parts of the Bible are mysteriously sealed from human understanding, and the "illiterate" (the common people) claim it is no use to try because understanding the Bible requires more education than they have.

Jesus quoted verse 13 in chastising the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7). People's religion can become hollow—appearing righteous to the outward observer but in reality substituting human tradition and reason for God's actual instructions. They lack heartfelt desire to really to listen to what God has to say. And again, Paul chose verse 14 of Isaiah 29 to support his discussion about how the wise of this world do not understand the truth of God (1 Corinthians 1:19). It is thus a prophecy of how God would use His servants to demonstrate this fact.

One lesson we should draw from this passage in Isaiah 29—that is, verses 9-14—is the danger in people looking too much to the instruction they receive from their spiritual leaders and not ultimately to God and His Word. People can add their own ideas to God's Word and His revealed way of worship. Even if a leader is righteous, people must be careful about placing too much trust in him. He is certainly not perfect. And if people are relying too much on human leaders to guide them, then God may see fit to remove that leadership as in verse 10 and leave them with blind guides instead. This is basically the way God worked with His people throughout the time of the judges and the Jewish monarchy. God would provide strong righteous leadership for a time—and then withdraw it—over and over and over again. In so doing, each generation was tested to see who was merely following men and who really followed the true God to the point of continuing to follow Him even when the righteous leadership was withdrawn and wicked influences prevailed.

Thankfully, Israel as a whole will at last come to know God's truth and live by it. Verses 18 and 24 foretell the time when all people will have their spiritual eyes and ears (their minds) opened to read and understand God's Word.