In our study of Isaiah chapter twenty nine, we will see that those who cling to a religion instead of accepting the Word of God will face judgment. In chapter 28, we saw that religion fails in its efforts to bring men to a right relationship with God. Now, we will see from Israel's past that God has judged the religious in the past and will do so again in the future.
Woe to you, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David settled! Add year to year and let your cycle of festivals go on. Yet I will besiege Ariel; she will mourn and lament, she will be to me like an altar hearth.
Ariel means either lion of God or altar of God and refers to the city of Jerusalem. In the history of Jerusalem, the city has been beseiged 23 times. This passage is reminding us that it was the hand of God in the past as He has judged the city. The "altar hearth" refers to the top of the altar of burnt offering and speaks of the pleasing aroma of the judgment of sin.
I will encamp against you on all sides; I will encircle you with towers and set up my siege works against you. Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper.
This passage speaks of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar. Just as the ashes were removed from the temple, Judah was removed from the land and taken into captivity in Babylon. Judah and Jerusalem were judged by God even though they were going through religious rituals. Their voice speaks to us today from the dust and gives us the opportunity to learn from their history. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Because of the fact that He judged the religious of Isaiah's day, we can be sure that He will judge the religious of today.
But your enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of devouring fire.
This verse speaks to the fact that it will appear hopeless for the people of Israel in the last days. It will look like everyone in the entire world is against them and it seems that we are pretty close to that description today. Though the enemies will appear to be everywhere and ready to overtake God's people, He will show up and protect them. Just as dust or chaff is blown away in a windstorm, the enemies of God's people will be handled when He shows up. Today, the Israeli people have a world class military to protect the nation but, in the last days, they will have to rely on the power of God instead of their own efforts. This will be required for their spiritual protection as well as for their physical. This passage is speaking of the time just before the Millennial Reign and His people will be preserved so that they can see that, even under perfect conditions, their religious rituals cannot save them.
Then the hordes of all the nations that fight against Ariel, that attack her fortress and besiege her, will be as it is with a dream, with a vision in the night - as when a hungry person dreams of eating, but awakens hungry still; as when a thirsty person dreams of drinking, but awakens faint and thirsty still. So will it be with the hordes of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion.
In the last days, man will come to the conclusion that they can bring about peace by taking the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah compares this to dreams of food and water with the idea that you can dream all that you want but, in the end, they do not put food or water into your body. It is the same when the nations come against Jerusalem with their visions of conquering the city once and for all. When Jesus shows up, the battle is quickly over and their plan is swept away just like a dream. Isaiah reminds us that the battle is the Lord's as he speaks of the nations fighting against "Mount Zion".
Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer. The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers).
Isaiah now begins to describe the fact that his people were dazed and confused by the word of God much like someone that has been drinking alcohol. He goes on to explain that it is God that has kept them from seeing and understanding the prophecy that has been delivered.
For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, 'Read this, please,' they will answer, 'I can't; it is sealed.' Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, 'Read this, please,' they will answer, 'I don't know how to read.'
Isaiah goes on to describe the fact that the people didn't believe that man could understand the word of God. They may have had the scroll but they did not have the power to read and understand it. This same type of thing happens today even among Christians as there are many who say that we cannot understand the Book of Revelation. Those who say such a thing are just as dazed and confused as the people of Isaiah's day. The fact of the matter is that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we CAN read and understand the things of God.
The Lord says: 'These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.'
You can almost hear the distaste that God has for religion as He says that Israel's worship was just religion. They just went through the motions of rituals without having any real relationship with God. We are reminded that God is the same today and there is no amount of religious activity that can gain you a right relationship with Him.
'Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.'
God had done some pretty astounding things as He brought them up from Egypt and helped them to conquer the Promised Land. This passage speaks of all of the signs and wonders that will be displayed in the last days. They will not be able to be explained by even the wisest of men. Even today, there are so-called experts that attempt to explain away the miracles of God but, in the end, they will be revealed as fools.
Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, 'Who sees us? Who will know?'
Now, Isaiah speaks of the fact that there were people that were masking their real lives with all kinds of religious activities. In their hearts they did not think that anyone would know including God. The same type of thing is happening today in many "churches" as many will show up and do the religious thing but do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each time they leave the building, they have missed another opportunity to lose their religion and replace it with a saving faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'You did not make me'? Can the pot say to the potter, 'You know nothing'?
Isaiah shows us what is wrong with religion which is man's efforts to appease God. In a sense, it is pride and elevating man to the place of God. The prophet shows how ridiculous it is with the example of a pot talking back to the one who created it. The problem with religion is that it tries to make God into an image that we approve of instead of accepting the fact that we were created in His image to be like Jesus. We should also remember that it was pride that caused Satan to try to replace God and so lose his place in heaven.
In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest?
Isaiah now shifts from his message of judgment to the promise of what is known as the Millennial Reign. We notice that he says that it will be in "a very short time" and many times we forget that, although a year or decade seems like a long time to us, in the overall time it is but a speck. Lebanon refers to a wooded mountain range on the northern border of Israel. This mountain range (along with all others) will be brought low and made as if it was a garden. Throughout the Bible, mountains were considered as places to learn about the things of God and this speaks of the fact that, during this time, everyone will have access to the teaching of Jesus Christ. This teaching (garden) will be valued as much as a forest was valued for its lumber.
In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see
Isaiah goes on to explain that this time will be a time where the Jewish people will be able to understand the things of prophecy concerning the messiah. The religion will have fallen away like scales falling from the eyes. This was the same thing that happened with the apostle Paul as he accepted Jesus as the Messiah (see Acts 9:18).
Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Once the religious scales are removed from their eyes, they will see that their efforts to create a right relationship with God can never succeed. They will have to accept the fact that they cannot get there on their own and humbly accept salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ or face judgment for rejecting Him. The needy speaks of all who see that their own efforts are not enough and they will be filled with joy at knowing that their Messiah has already done the work on their behalf.
The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down - those who with a word make someone out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice.
This passage speaks of the leaders of the earth and Satan as they come against Jerusalem just before the start of the Millennial Reign. The men that were a part of this rebellion are killed (cut down) while the beast and the false prophet are cast into the fiery lake and Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss. We see all of this in Revelation 19. This passage also reminds us of the fact that Satan is the accuser whose goal is to separate us from God as it speaks of a court. We can rejoice in knowing that, through Jesus Christ, we are found to be not guilty (justified) in the sight of God.
Therefore this is what the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the descendants of Jacob: 'No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will their faces grow pale. When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction.'
This passage reminds us that everyone, even Abraham the father of the faith, had to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. During the Millennial Reign, the descendants of Jacob will come to see and fully understand God's plan for the redemption of man.