Isaiah 29 – The Cause and Cure of Spiritual Blindness
A. The coming distress upon Jerusalem.
1. (1-4) The LORD humbles a proud Jerusalem.
“Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt!
Add year to year;
Let feasts come around.
Yet I will distress Ariel;
There shall be heaviness and sorrow,
And it shall be to Me as Ariel.
I will encamp against you all around,
I will lay siege against you with a mound,
And I will raise siegeworks against you.
You shall be brought down,
You shall speak out of the ground;
Your speech shall be low, out of the dust;
Your voice shall be like a medium’s, out of the ground;
And your speech shall whisper out of the dust.
a. Woe to Ariel: The name Ariel means Lion of God, and in this passage is used as a symbolic reference to Jerusalem (the city where David dwelt). The only place where Ariel is used as a name for Jerusalem is in this chapter of Isaiah, and the word only appears one other time in the Old Testament (as the name of a priest in Ezra 8:16).
i. There is some dispute as to if Ariel means Lion of God (the literal translation) or an altar for burning, which is a very similar word in Hebrew (used in passages like Ezekiel 43:15-16). If it is to be understood as an altar for burning, then the idea is that “The fighting and bloodshed around Jerusalem would make the city like a giant place of sacrifice.” (Wolf) But, considering the context as a whole, it is best to see Ariel with its literal meaning – Lion of God.
ii. When we consider the way Ariel is used in these verses, and the context as a whole, the idea behind calling Jerusalem Lion of God is probably sarcastic. The repetition of the name (four times in two verses), and the context of God’s judgment against Jerusalem, suggest the idea that Jerusalem may have thought of herself as the Lion of God, but God didn’t share that lofty opinion of the city. It may be that the people of Jerusalem had taken to calling themselves by the name Ariel, to both express and strengthen their confidence.
b. Add year to year; let feasts come around: The feeling in Isaiah 29:1 is that Jerusalem is proud (Ariel), resting on its spiritual heritage instead of its present reality(the city where David dwelt!), and living for present pleasures without concern for God.
c. Yet I will distress Ariel: Jerusalem may have this high opinion of itself, but it is not out of the reach of God’s hand of judgment. Instead of the routine of year to year and the feasts, God will send heaviness and sorrow. If Jerusalem sees itself as a lion, then God will fight against them with the same fury a man would have against a lion (it shall be to Me as Ariel).
d. I will encamp against you all around: Using the images of warfare for that day, God promises to battle against Jerusalem, and to conquer her (You shall be brought down).
e. You shall be brought down: In all of this, the LORD will bring down the lofty self-image Jerusalem has of itself. Instead of calling herself Ariel, and the city where David dwelt, their speech shall be low, out of the dust. Instead of loud boasts, their speech shall whisper out of the dust.
2. (5-8) The LORD protects and delivers a humbled Jerusalem.
“Moreover the multitude of your foes
Shall be like fine dust,
And the multitude of the terrible ones
Like chaff that passes away;
Yes, it shall be in an instant, suddenly.
You will be punished by the LORD of hosts
With thunder and earthquake and great noise,
With storm and tempest
And the flame of devouring fire.
The multitude of all the nations who fight against Ariel,
Even all who fight against her and her fortress,
And distress her,
Shall be as a dream of a night vision.
It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams,
And look—he eats;
But he awakes, and his soul is still empty;
Or as when a thirsty man dreams,
And look—he drinks;
But he awakes, and indeed he is faint,
And his soul still craves:
So the multitude of all the nations shall be,
Who fight against Mount Zion.”
a. The multitude of your foes shall be like fine dust: The closing image in the previous verses was Jerusalem groveling in the dust. Now, the LORD uses another image, spun off of the idea of dust – Jerusalem’s enemies will be scattered as fine dust. God will humble Jerusalem in the dust, and then scatter her enemies like fine dust, like chaff that passes away.
b. You will be punished: This seems to be directed against the nations that come against Jerusalem. God will allow them to come against the city, and to humble it, but God will punish the nations that have come against His city.
c. It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams: Because the LORD will protect Jerusalem, the nations that come against her will ultimately be frustrated. They will be like a man who dreams of food but wakes up hungry. They will dream of fulfillment but be unfulfilled.
B. The spiritual blindness of Jerusalem.
1. (9-10) The spiritual stupor of Jerusalem.
Pause and wonder!
Blind yourselves and be blind!
They are drunk, but not with wine;
They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.
For the LORD has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
a. Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind: Jerusalem’s pride (as expressed in Isaiah 29:1) has made them spiritually blind, and spiritually drunk. The LORD tells Jerusalem to pause and wonder at this, because though they do it to themselves, they lack the self-awareness to see their condition.
b. They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink: This was not a blessing from the Spirit of the LORD. This was a curse, both self-induced and sent from the LORD. This speaks powerfully to those today who wrongly promote the idea of God “blessing” His people with being “drunk in the Spirit.” This is no blessing.
c. For the LORD has poured out on you: Because Jerusalem chose blindness, and chose spiritual drunkenness, God sent something: the LORD poured out on them the spirit of deep sleep. As drunks will “sleep it off,” so the LORD will send blind, proud, drunk Jerusalem into the lethargy and vulnerability of spiritual sleep. But a drunk can become sober after sleep; for those who are spiritually drunk, sleep worsens their condition.
i. When we are asleep, we are doing nothing productive. When we are asleep, we are vulnerable. When we are asleep, we are insensitive. God sent these things to a blind, proud, drunk Jerusalem.
ii. The problem of spiritual sleep didn’t end with the Jerusalem of Isaiah’s day. Romans 13:11 was written to Christians: And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Christians need to be awake, especially knowing the time.
d. For the LORD has poured out on you: Because Jerusalem chose blindness, and chose spiritual drunkenness, God took away something: He has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets. As a drunk has blurred vision and poor perception, so God closed the spiritual eyes of the nation – namely, the prophets.
i. The prophets were silent, and the word of God was neglected because the people wanted it that way. In silencing the prophets and the seers, God simply gave Jerusalem what she wanted.
ii. The prophet Amos spoke of the same idea: “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)
2. (11-12) The spiritual illiteracy of Jerusalem.
The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.”
a. A book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate: Isaiah had likened Jerusalem to the blind and to the drunk. Here, he likened them to the illiterate. But this wasn’t a literal literacy, because the literate man received the vision of God, but to him it was like a sealed book. When the book of the vision was brought to the illiterate man, he did no better (I am not literate).
b. Read this, please: Many today read or receive God’s word like an illiterate man “reads” the newspaper. They can pick out a few words here and there, and they can certainly look at the pictures. They can sit with an open newspaper, enjoy themselves to some degree, and appear to be reading. But the true content of what is written has no impact on them.
3. (13-16) Why the LORD sends spiritual blindness upon Jerusalem.
Therefore the LORD said:
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD,
And their works are in the dark;
They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?”
Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
a. These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me: Jerusalem knew how to talk the spiritual talk, but their hearts were far from God. You can’t always tell a person’s heart by what they say. You can’t always tell a person’s heart by what they do. Though only God can really know the heart, the closest we can come is by looking at the whole of their life – not only what they say or do, and especially not only at how they act at church or among Christians.
i. Jesus said, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). This is a true – but not absolute – principle, because people can draw near to God with their mouths and honor the LORD with their lips, and their hearts can still be far from God. Of course, their speech will betray them at one time or another – but just maybe never at church.
ii. This manner of talking the talk, but not having the heart, didn’t end in Isaiah’s day. Jesus quoted this passage from Isaiah when He rebuked the religious leaders of His day for their hypocrisy (Matthew 15:7-9, Mark 7:6-7). It didn’t end in Jesus’ day either.
iii. God tells us how their hearts got far from Him – they have removed their hearts far from Me. God didn’t move away from His people; they removed their hearts from Him.
b. And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men: The people of Jerusalem had no fear of God in themselves; it had to be commanded by others. Their hearts did not respond to God, but only to men.
c. The wisdom of their wise men shall perish: Because Jerusalem’s pride had led them into spiritual blindness, sleep, drunkenness, illiteracy, and hypocrisy, God will destroy the wisdom of their wise men. Their wise men promoted the pride that led to all these evils.
i. Isaiah calls this a marvelous work and a wonder, for God to reject the wisdom of man and to display His wisdom. Paul was also amazed at the so-called wisdom” of man, and how it compared to what was thought to be the foolishness of God: For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).
d. Who sees us? In their false wisdom, the proud people of Jerusalem thought they could hide their thoughts (hide their counsel) and their deeds (their works are in the dark) from the LORD.
e. Surely you have things turned around! The proud people of Jerusalem thought they could hide from the LORD, and that they had Him all figured out. God told them here that they had actually turned aroundthe true state of things. In truth, the LORD had them all figured out, and they really don’t know God at all.
f. Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay: The people of Jerusalem made the terrible mistake of raising themselves up and lowering God at the same time. So, for them, the clay was just as worthy, just as intelligent, just as powerful, as the potter was.
g. For shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Indeed, man says exactly this today. Man looks at God our Creator, and says, “He did not make me.” For the LORD and His prophet, this was absolutely absurd, but today it passes for high science.
h. Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? Indeed, man says exactly this today. Instead of seeing the absolute need for an Intelligent Designer who created all things, many believe that chance – absolute blind, random, purposeless chance, having no understanding at all – brought all things into being.
i. Some intelligent people may fall into this delusion. Jacques Monod, a biochemist, wrote: “Chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution.”
ii. But assigning such power to chance is doesn’t make sense. Chance has no power. For example, when a coin is flipped, the chance it will land “heads” is 50%; however, chance does not make it land heads. Whether or not it lands heads or tails is due to the strength with which the coin is flipped, the strength of air currents and air pressure as it flies through the air, where it is caught, and if it is flipped over once it is caught. Chance doesn’t do anything but describe a probability.
iii. Many years ago a scientist named Carl Sagan petitioned the U.S. government for a grant to fund the search for intelligent life in outer space. He hoped to find evidence of life by using a super-sensitive instrument to pick up radio signals from distant space. When he received those radio signals, he looked for order and pattern, which demonstrated the signals were transmitted by intelligent life. In the same way, the order and pattern of the whole universe demonstrate that it was fashioned by intelligent life, not by chance. Scientists detect chance in the radio signals constantly (in the form of static with no pattern), but it tells them nothing.
iv. Therefore, when someone says the universe or anything else came about by chance, one may say that despite their expertise or skill in other areas, when it comes to this subject, they are ignorant, superstitious, or simply repeating a tired theory presented and disproved before, yet is often unthinkingly accepted.
i. He did not make me: We need to remember the context of the whole chapter – the pride and blindness of Jerusalem. It is perhaps the height of man’s pride and blindness to reject the LORD as our creator.
C. A promise of restoration.
1. (17-21) Sight for the spiritually blind, justice for the wicked.
Is it not yet a very little while
Till Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
And the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest?
In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book,
And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.
The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD,
And the poor among men shall rejoice
In the Holy One of Israel.
For the terrible one is brought to nothing,
The scornful one is consumed,
And all who watch for iniquity are cut off—
Who make a man an offender by a word,
And lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate,
And turn aside the just by empty words.
a. Is it not yet a very little while: God’s restoration will come, and all things considered, it is in a very little while. It may not seem so to us when we are in the midst of a trial, but it is true.
b. Till Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest: The land of Lebanon was known for its mighty forests, which would be brought low and turned into a fruitful field. On the other hand, the fruitful field would become as a forest. God would cut one down and raise another up.
i. This was a “proverbial saying, expressing any great revolution of things; and, when respecting two subjects, and entire reciprocal change.” (Clarke)
c. The deaf shall hear…the eyes of the blind shall see: When God’s people are restored, pride no longer prevents them from hearing God’s word or seeing God’s work. Just as much as these are miracles in the natural realm, they are miracles in the spiritual realm also. We need to humbly seek God for ears to hear and eyes to see.
d. The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD: This joy is the proper reward for the humble. When we are humble – having an accurate estimation of ourselves, and a proper perspective of ourselves in relation to God and others – our lives are filled with the most joy.
i. The humble and the poor have their joy in the LORD. He is a constant source of joy that can never be taken away.
ii. Pride is the enemy of joy. We can be proud and have fun, we can be proud and have success, we can be proud and experience excitement, and we can be proud and be happy because of happy circumstances. But we cannot be proud and have joy in the LORD, or to whatever degree we are proud, we are missing joy in the LORD. The proud can never have joy in the LORD if they are in humble or poor circumstances.
e. The terrible one is brought to nothing: The work of the LORD does not stop at restoring His corrected people. It extends to bringing justice upon the wicked. Singled out for judgment by the prophet are those who have no sense of proportion or justice: Who make a man an offender by a word…turn aside the just by empty words.
2. (22-24) The restoration of God’s people.
Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:
“Jacob shall not now be ashamed,
Nor shall his face now grow pale;
But when he sees his children,
The work of My hands, in his midst,
They will hallow My name,
And hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
And fear the God of Israel.
These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding,
And those who complained will learn doctrine.”
a. Jacob shall not now be ashamed: Significantly, God addresses His people as Jacob in this promise of restoration. The name Jacob, given to the father of the 12 tribes, is not complimentary. It has the idea of a “con-man” or a “trickster.” Anyone who is really a Jacob, has good reason to be ashamed, but when God restores His people, even the “Jacobs” shall not now be ashamed.
b. When he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, they will hallow My name: The picture is of the patriarch Jacob looking over his descendants, and no longer being ashamed of them, because they now hallow the name of the LORD, and respect the holiness of the LORD.
c. These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, and those who complained will learn doctrine: Finally, in God’s day of restoration, the truth is taught and known and exalted. Those who erred in spirit now have understanding, and those who complained know better because they know the truth.
i. This chapter says a great deal about spiritual blindness:
Spiritual blindness is caused by pride.
Spiritual blindness will bring us low.
Spiritual blindness leads to spiritual drunkenness.
Spiritual blindness leads to spiritual sleep.
Spiritual blindness leads to spiritual illiteracy.
Spiritual blindness causes hypocrisy.
Spiritual blindness makes men believe God cannot know what they think or see what they do.
Spiritual blindness makes men deny God as Creator.
Spiritual blindness is cured through humility.
Spiritual blindness can only be healed through the LORD’s restoration.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org