Isaiah (Part 31): God’s Plan Using Israel (Ch 29)
Before discussing Paul and authority, it may be good for us to look at Isaiah 29 as a whole. We find in Isaiah 29 some abuses of authority in Judah at which God directed his wrath. We have already discussed the use of Ariel in referring to Judah. Ariel, in a different spelling, meant altar hearth. Perhaps Isaiah’s play on words here was first to call attention to Jerusalem as the place of the altar of God. It was here that David, the man after God’s own heart, resided. It was here where the temple was built and the altar found a permanent resting place after the wanderings.
But despite the settled place of importance where God met with his covenant people, the heart had gone out of their worship. The sacrifices made on this altar did not cease, but they became rote religion—repetition of form “year after year.” The priests and prophets, we learned already, had had become proud and lazy in their knowledge and expertise. They knew religion. They didn’t need Isaiah or even God reminding them of anything. And for this arrogance and dullness of heart, God decided to oppress this Ariel, turning the city itself into an ariel—an altar of sacrifice.
He sent the Assyrians to attack, encircling the city and besieging it with earth ramps to tear down walls and invade.
And the city—its leaders, its pride—was brought low. The arrogant were pulled down to the dust—not literally from battle, but rather in heart, realizing their defenselessness before the Assyrians. In lowness of mind and heart they saw their need.
God suddenly changes what seemed inevitable. The Assyrians are driven away—not by the force of the Jews or by the alliances formed to win them protection. Clearly, the rescue was by the hand of God. It was like a bad dream erased by waking for the Jews. It was a dream of desire, unsatisfied by the waking of the Assyrians. But still, though clearly a rescue by God, the stumbling, staggering Jewish leaders could not even see that. They were as blind as drunken revelers, trying vainly to find their ways home without falling over.
God describes the reason for their blindness in verses 13 and 14, which was the reason for their oppression. These selfish, arrogant leaders gave lip service to the worship of God. Their actions were about form, not heart. They were legalists who seemed to think that God would be satisfied in the keeping of the rule and not the intent. They were the clay from the potter’s wheel who had the blind and arrogant audacity to think that they could manipulate God.
Verse 17 mentions Lebanon, not to draw that nation into the discussion, but rather merely the picture of arrogance associated with Lebanon and its cedar trees. The world came to Lebanon for its trees. But the image of verse 17 is that God would cut down the forest—cut down the arrogance—and make it clear as a plowed field in which would be planted God’s people—the cultivated orchard of the God-dependent, which would itself grow to be a forest.
Notice then whose eyes are open. Those who were deaf and blind hear and see (29:18). The humble have joy, and the poor rejoice.
Again, the care-giving God shows how he wants leaders to act. People have no authority from God to act on their own authority. In the Old Testament as well as the New, authority of leadership means activity of service in bringing the principles of God to people, not through dogmatic demand but through the ministry of submission. To learn this is to learn God.
We are amazed and wonder at the great God of the universe who made everything by his word, who controls tempests, earthquakes, cosmic shaking, and earthly upheaval with his thought, who lifts kings and kingdoms and dashes empires with a wave of his hand, and who then pours his heart into blind stumbling fools of rebellion to lavish on them the riches of his grace. Ministry, service—the responsibility of the care-giver—this is God’s lesson. And when we finally learn, then, as the end of Isaiah 29 shows, Jacob, the patriarch of faith, will no longer be ashamed, for God will be honored. “The confused will gain understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.”