Isaiah (Part 30): Remnant Rejoice – God’s Plan (Ch 28-29)
Continuing in Isaiah 28 from our last discussion, an irony exists in verse 15 as one realizes that the deal with Death is made by the people who had the covenant of life from God. And their disregard for God is the very thing that brings on the judgment terrors. Their sin was the same sin of all humanity that began with the fall in the Garden. The Jews replaced faith in God with faith in themselves. Their thinking and their ideas became the standard by which they acted, thus cutting this deal with Death. But God replies that he is the standard. He places a “stone in Zion.” This is a measuring stone. A marker by which everything will be leveled. It is God’s revelation (ultimately to be realized in Christ). The deal with Death, along with all other determinations made on the basis of human wisdom in disregard of God, will fail. And the result will be judgment—harm that comes to the God-rejecters.
Isaiah tells them that the overwhelming scourge is not merely some wave of judgment that they must endure until it passes. Rejecting God means wave upon wave of scourge. It will be a constant bombardment of pain. And “only terror will cause you to understand the message” (28:19b). That HCSB translation is not the best. The NIV is better but still somewhat awkward: “The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror.” It is odd that the NASB, usually know for its literal but rather clumsy expression, provides the best and most natural translation: “And it will be sheer terror to understand what it means.” It is when the Jews realize that their burden of judgment doesn’t cease but continues in wave after wave that sheer terror sets in.
God then brings to mind a fitting illustration from their past. Isaiah reminds the Jews of God rising up in wrath at Mount Perazim in the Valley of Gibeon. That incident is recorded in 2 Samuel 5:17 and following. When the Philistines march against David and spread out in the valley, David asks God whether he should go out against them. God tells David what to do, and David does as God instructs. And the passage tells us that God, “like a bursting flood, has burst out against” David’s (and God’s) enemies. At first read, this may seem very different from what is happening in Isaiah 28. Back at Mount Perazim, God burst out against the Philistines in support of the Jews. In Isaiah 28, God is “bursting out” against the Jews themselves. There is no inconsistency with God. In both cases God rises up against those who have disregarded him. It is because his anger has turned toward the Jews in Isaiah 28 that we read of God’s wrath as “His strange work” and “His disturbing task.” It is strange and disturbing because God has risen up in anger to fight against his enemies—his covenant people of Judah.
Isaiah then warns the Jewish leaders, who we understand from verse 14 have been mocking God’s prophecy and prophet, not to mock or their judgment will be that much worse.
In the last section of the chapter, verses 23 through 29, Isaiah encourages the Jews to learn this lesson from God. He draws an analogy from their unquestioning acceptance of God’s “advice” in farming. They know not to till the soil forever, but rather to a point at which they are ready to plant. They plant different seeds in different ways and according to a prescribed order because that is how God has shown them that the growing works best. Likewise, when reaping, God has shown them the different ways to separate the grain from the chaff according to the size of the grain. Isaiah’s point is that the Jews recognize and accept so well this physical instruction/advice from God, so why do they hesitate or second guess God about his spiritual/religious/political direction. Trust him! Isaiah is urging. “He gives wonderful advice; He gives great wisdom” (28:29b).
Isaiah 29 begins addressing Ariel. Who is Ariel? The context tells us that God is addressing Jerusalem. But the question is why Jerusalem is being referred to as Ariel. Some have thought it was a corruption of the word for Jerusalem. But that is a stretch. Some have argued that it means Lion of God, since a breakdown of the word gives us ari, meaning lion, and el, meaning God. But lion of God really doesn’t fit the context. Most scholars today believe the word has been sort of misspelled, resulting of a change of one word into another. Ariel, in Hebrew, is spelled almost exactly like Arieyl, the word for altar hearth. We find this word for altar hearth in Ezekiel 43:15. The four main letters are the same as well as all jots and tittles. One mark after the second letter in ariel is prior to the second letter in arieyl. That is the only difference. The transcription could have been miscopied, and because it resulted in a real word (lion of God), it may never have been corrected, finding its way into all the ancient manuscripts that we happen to have of Isaiah.
“Altar hearth” seems to fit the context a bit better. In the first two verses of Isaiah 29, God has taken issue with the Jews for their thoughtless adherence to rote duty. He wants worship of love and care, not merely dutiful performance of sacrifice. So God calls out to the people defined by their ceremonial activity of worship centered on the altar hearth—Ariel. After noting their unthinking rote ceremony, God says he will turn this people, known for their altar hearth-centered worship, into an altar hearth themselves. In other words, God will sacrifice them for their failure in true worship.
By verse 4, we notice that the Jewish leaders’ problem is more than rote sacrifice. They have become arrogant in their leadership. They considered themselves above those whom they lead. God would teach them by bringing them down to “speak from the ground” so that their “words will come from low in the dust” (29:4). This problem of the Jewish leaders is a characteristic of this world’s sin environment among all peoples in all ages. We deal with this problem today within our very own Christian communities. The idea of authority and submission has been perverted from NT intent. The characteristic submission that Jesus and Paul spoke of at length has been interpreted by focusing on what has not been mentioned. Christians (including especially Christian leaders) reason that if submission to others is emphasized, there must be those in authority to whom those others submit. Thus, Christian leadership has been given an authority. We can see that authority structure more clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. However, although a little more disguised, it is widespread among our Protestant denominations as well. However, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18). For everyone else, we are taught that we ought to be “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21).
Those who argue for an authority/submission structure among Christians tell us that the Greek word hypotasso (submit or be subject to) is never, in any ancient Greek literature, used for mutual submission but rather always assumes that the subjection of person A to person B always assumes that person B has a unique authority which person A does not have. In other words, hypotasso always implies a one-directional submission to someone in authority.
This argument sounds convincing because most of us are not Greek scholars of ancient literature. The statement upon which the argument is based is simply false. For example:
1 Clement 38:1: “So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each man be subject unto his neighbor, according as also he was appointed with his special grace.”
2 Maccabees 13:23: “He [King Antiochus Eupator] got word that Philip, who had been left in charge of the government, had revolted in Antioch; he was dismayed, called in the Jews, yielded [submitted to] and sore to observe all their rights, settled with them and offered sacrifice, honored the sanctuary and showed generosity to the holy place.”
In the first example, the submission is to neighbors in general who have no unique authority over the one submitting. In the second example, the king submits himself in one area to the Jews, a people who have no unique authority over the king. Additionally, the Bible provides us with a good example in I Corinthians 16:15-16: “Brothers, you know the household of Stephanas: They are the firstfruits of Achaia and have devoted themselves to serving the saints. I urge you also to submit to such people, and to everyone who works and labors with them.”
It is simply not true that the Greek word (passive) for submission always assumes a submission to someone of authority. The Bible argues against this. Furthermore, the Bible never tells us that a pastor or elder or even apostle has authority over the rest of us concerning our spiritual lives. Perhaps, your mind rushes to Paul, who on occasion did claim an authority. We need, therefore, to discuss Paul’s authority…next time.