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"Speak to Us Smooth Things"
Because of the threats against them from the Assyrian Empire to the north, Israel and Judah sought help from the empire to the south—Egypt. Hoshea of Israel had sought help from So, king of Egypt (2 Kings 17:4)—to no avail. Judah apparently did so during Hezekiah's reign, as described by the Assyrian general who attacked Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:6). And they did not seek God's counsel in the matter.
Isaiah is told to write the message from God on a scroll—"that it may be for time to come, forever and ever" (verse 8). Yes, it was a message for Isaiah's day. But it is one for our day too—the very reason we are reading it right now! The people didn't want to hear God's commandments (verse 9). They didn't want to hear any warning message (verse 10). In fact, they demanded that their religious leaders tell them only the things they wanted to hear.
It is the same today. People do not like correction and rebuke, as needful as they are: "It's dangerous for a patient to ask [his or] her doctor only for good news. Once a serious illness is diagnosed it can be treated. If that same illness is simply denied, it is likely to kill. It's the same with God's words through the prophets. Their warnings may not be pleasant. But only if we listen and take them to heart is there hope" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 10).
Despite the rebellion of the people, God will at last humble them and bring them to repentance—offering them salvation at the return of Jesus Christ. And they will at last flourish.
"This Is the Way; Walk in It"
In Isaiah 11:9, God said of the millennial rule of Jesus Christ, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain." And now we get a glimpse of how this will be ensured. God says: "Your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left" (Isaiah 29:20-21).
What this is saying is that godly teachers will no longer be persecuted and driven into a corner—out of sight and ignored. Instead, people will generally welcome God's guidance. Moreover, it is stated that when people start to veer out of line from God's law, a voice will remind them of what they should do. (We will consider what this means in a moment.) The voices will be those of their teachers, whom they will at times actually see. And amazingly, the teachers, the priesthood of that time, will be the glorified followers of Jesus Christ from this age—at last made perfect to rule with Him over all nations.
Now, what are we to make of this instructive intervention? It clearly does not refer simply to general instruction. A word "behind" someone implies that he is caught in some action. So does that mean people will be completely prevented from sinning every time they start to entertain a wrong thought? That just does not make any sense. People will still have to choose the right way and then exercise the character to do right and think right continually, for they must develop holy righteous character through this process. It is most likely that people will be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn from them—perhaps even commit crimes like lying and stealing. Where there are flesh-and-blood human beings, there are a host of problems. And no doubt, there will be even then.
Yet imagine if a person were about to commit a serious violent crime against another person—rape or murder for instance. Surely the incidence of such attempts would be diminished through general righteous instruction. But that alone would not utterly eliminate impulsive actions. God, however, says that people will not be allowed to hurt or destroy in all of His Kingdom. The answer? They will hear a word behind them—to mercifully guide them into right thinking if they will be so led. And if not, they will be restrained and perhaps punished. God's saints, the "policemen" of the world to come, will not allow people to afflict terrible atrocities on one another. Such evil is allowed today because this is not God's world. The Kingdom age is a different story—for then it will be God's world.
We can perhaps also envision people who go through a period of drifting from God and His ways. Eventually, such people may need to be directly confronted by their teachers. The fact is that we don't really know how often such intervention will be required. It will probably be reserved for drastic situations rather than as a matter of course. On the other hand, people seeing their glorified teachers and receiving general instruction from them will likely be more commonplace.
If you commit to God now and remain faithful to Him, yours will be one of the voices providing guidance and direction to human beings in that amazing time to come.
Finally, God states that He will be the One to destroy the Assyrians, not Egypt (verse 31). This is apparently part of the prophecy of end-time events, of which the destruction of Sennacherib's army in Isaiah's day was a forerunner. Notice the reference to Tophet in verse 33. "Tophet, located south of Jerusalem, was the place where the valleys of Hinnom and Kidron met. It was probably a deep, wide pit containing a bonfire of blazing wood, where children had at times been burned to death as offerings to pagan deities (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:32, 32; Jeremiah 19:6, Jeremiah 19:11-14). The area has filled in significantly through the centuries" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Isaiah 30:33).
It is interesting to note that God says Tophet was prepared for the ruler of Assyria—here a reference to the end-time European dictator known as "the Beast" in Revelation. God said in Joel 3 that the destruction on His enemies at the end would occur in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is often identified with the Kidron Valley (see highlights on Joel 3). And Jesus used Gehenna (Gai Hinnom—the "Valley of Hinnom" outside Jerusalem where trash was burned) to represent the coming "lake of fire," which, according to the book of Revelation, will burn up the wicked. In Revelation 19:20, we learn that the Beast and his accomplice the False Prophet will be cast into the "lake of fire," which appears to be a reference to this place of Tophet, where the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys meet. Christ will evidently ignite Hinnom (Isaiah 30:33) and will perhaps keep it burning throughout the Millennium, since Satan (the ultimate ruler of Assyria) is cast into the lake of fire where the Beast and False Prophet were cast—and he is cast there at the end of the thousand years (Revelation 20:10). Thus it is a fire in the same place if not the very same fire. This fire will eventually engulf and purify the entire earth, burning up all the incorrigibly wicked (compare verses 13-15; 21:8; 2 Peter 3:10-12; Malachi 4:1, 3).