Isaiah 29
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.
1. Jerusalem’s time of joyous security shall speedily come to an end. Ho Ariel, Ariel, city where David encamped! (R.V.). Of the word “Ariel” two explanations (both ancient) are given. (a) That which renders it “Lion of God” is undoubtedly the one most naturally suggested by the form of the word. It is also thought to be confirmed by the proper name ’ar’çlî in Genesis 46:16; Numbers 26:17; and the “lion-like men” (’ǎrîçl) of 2 Samuel 23:20; 1 Chronicles 11:22; although all these analogies are very doubtful (cf. ch. Isaiah 33:7). But is it suitable in the present context? Hardly, unless we take Isaiah 29:2 to mean that Jerusalem when driven to bay, will exhibit a prowess worthy of her mystic appellation; which is not at all the idea of the passage. The name is in any case a strange one for a city, and it would be difficult to account for its selection by Isaiah. (b) The other (and preferable) explanation is given by the Targum, and is supported by a word which occurs in two forms (har’çl and ’ǎrî’êl) in Ezekiel 43:15 f. It appears to mean “altar-hearth”; and occurs, probably in the same sense, in the inscription of the Moabite Stone. The translation here will be either “hearth of God” or (better) simply “altar-hearth.” How Isaiah was led to such a designation we shall see from Isaiah 29:2.

where David dwelt] R.V. encamped. Not “against which” David encamped, as the LXX. fancied (see on Isaiah 29:3), but which he occupied and fortified.

add ye year to year] i.e. “let a year or two more come and go”: cf. Isaiah 32:10. The discourse was probably delivered at the leading festival, the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the “turn of the year” (Exodus 34:22) in ancient Israel.

let them kill sacrifices] R.V. has the true rendering: let the feasts come round; “run their round”—but only a few times more.

ch. Isaiah 29:1-14. The announcement of Jehovah’s wonderful purpose regarding Jerusalem, and its reception on the part of the people

Under the second “Woe” (Isaiah 29:1) are grouped two oracles, which may have been originally independent; or they may be intimately connected, the second describing the effect of the first on the minds of Isaiah’s hearers.

i. Isaiah 29:1-8. The impending humiliation and deliverance of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, apostrophised by the mystic name of “Ariel,” is at present gay and careless and secure, the festal calendar follows its accustomed course, and this state of things may endure for a short time longer (1). But already in vision the prophet sees her beset by hosts of enemies, and reduced to the lowest depths of despair (2–4) when suddenly the Lord Himself, arrayed in the terrors of earthquake and tempest, appears in judgment (6), and in a moment the scene is changed. In the very hour of their triumph, the enemies of Zion are disappointed of their expectation, and vanish like a vision of the night (7, 8).

ii. Isaiah 29:9-14. A rebuke of the spiritual blindness and unbelief, and the hollow formal religion prevalent amongst all classes of the people.

(1) Isaiah 29:9-12. Jehovah has visited the leaders of the people with judicial blindness (9 f.); the consequence is that neither among the cultured nor the unlettered can the word of the Lord find entrance (11 f.).

(2) Isaiah 29:13-14. Because the popular religion has degenerated into a mechanical routine of traditional observances (13) it is necessary for Jehovah to adopt startling measures, transcending all human calculation and insight (14).

Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.
2. there shall be heaviness and sorrow] Better: “mourning and lamentation” (R.V.), but still better (as reproducing the assonance of the original): moaning and bemoaning (Cheyne). The expression recurs in Lamentations 2:5.

it shall be unto me as Ariel] she shall be to me like a (true) altar-hearth (Kaph veritatis). If Ariel meant “Lion of God” this clause would necessarily have to be understood in a favourable sense; on the view here followed it may be either a promise or a threat; the context decides for the latter. The meaning is that Jerusalem will be either a place where the flames of war rage fiercely, or a place reeking with the blood of countless human victims. We may suppose that Isaiah addressed these words to the worshippers in the Temple, and that the great altar with its bleeding victims stood out before his mind as an emblem of Jerusalem’s fate, and suggested the name “Ariel.”

2–5. The humiliation and distress of Ariel, at the hands of the Assyrians.

And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.
3. I will camp against thee round about] see Isaiah 29:1. LXX. carries the parallel still further by reading “I will encamp … like David,” a reading which would be plausible if “against which” could be fairly supplied in Isaiah 29:1. “Round about” is the same word as “like a ball” in Isaiah 22:18.

with a mount] R.V. with a fort; perhaps lines of circumvallation. For forts, read siege-works, as R.V. Comp. Ezekiel 4:1-3.

4 explains the “moaning and bemoaning” of Isaiah 29:2. The verse reads: And thou shalt be laid low, speaking from (beneath) the earth, and thy speech shall come humbly from the dust; and thy voice shall be like (that of) a ghost (coming) from the earth, and thy speech shall squeak from the dust. The allusions in the latter half of the verse are explained under ch. Isaiah 8:19. The figures signify the utter abasement and exhaustion of the “joyous city.”

And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.
Moreover the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.
5. thy strangers] the barbarians who assail thee.

the terrible ones] or the tyrants.

5–8. The discomfiture and dispersion of Zion’s enemies in the hour of their triumph.

Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.
6. See ch. Isaiah 30:27-33. The last words of Isaiah 29:5 should be read as part of this sentence. And suddenly, full suddenly, she shall be visited, &c. The word for “visit” is ambiguous, being freely used both of punishment and mercy, but the passive appears never to be employed in a good sense except here.

And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.
7. her munition] perhaps her citadel (R.V. “stronghold”).

a dream of a night vision] R.V. a dream, a vision of the night.

7, 8. The figure of the dream is applied in two ways; first, objectively, to the vanishing of the enemy; second, subjectively, to his disappointment.

It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.
8. dreameth, and behold] The invariable formula in narrating a dream; Genesis 40:9; Genesis 40:16; Genesis 41:1 ff.; Daniel 2:31; Daniel 7:5-6.

his soul] the seat of appetite and desire: cf. Isaiah 5:14, Isaiah 32:6; Proverbs 6:30. A more vivid representation of utter disenchantment than this verse gives can scarcely be conceived.

Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.
9. Stay yourselves, and wonder] Rather (as R.V. marg.), Be ye amazed and wonder. The first verb is of uncertain derivation. Probably both express the idea of astonishment. Cheyne (Comm.) rendered: “astonish yourselves and be astonished.”

cry ye out, and cry] Render: Blind yourselves and be blind. The root of both verbs is that used in ch. Isaiah 6:10 of “smearing” the eyes: the doom then threatened is now being fulfilled.

they are drunken … they stagger] These perfects should probably be pointed and translated as imperatives; “be drunken” (so the LXX.).

9–12. The people meet their doom in a state of spiritual stupor, unobservant of Jehovah’s work, and heedless of the warnings given to them.

For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
10. Their infatuation is caused by Jehovah; see on ch. Isaiah 6:10.

deep sleep] The word (tardçmâh) is nearly always used of a profound slumber due to supernatural agency (1 Samuel 26:12) and favourable for the reception of Divine revelations (Job 4:13). The expressions the prophets and the seers are obviously glosses, based on a misconception of the meaning of the verse. Render: hath closed your eyes, and your heads hath he covered (or muffled).

And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
11. the vision of all] i.e. the revelation of all this (cf. Psalm 49:17, “all that”).

learned] is literally “knowing letters.”

11, 12. A distinction is drawn between the ignorance of the educated and that of the uneducated classes. The man of culture is like one who will not break the seal of a sealed book that he may read it; the man in the street cannot read it even if unsealed. The passage is interesting as illustrating the diffusion of literary education in Isaiah’s time (cf. Jeremiah 5:4-5).

And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
13. draw near (i.e. worship) me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me] A.V. is here unquestionably right against R.V., which slavishly follows the Hebrew accentuation, rendering, “draw nigh, and with their mouth and with their lips do honour me.” with their mouth … their lips]—uttering the prescribed liturgical formulæ.

have removed their heart far from me] The heart is the organ of intelligence and moral obedience and inclination (cf. Proverbs 23:26).

their fear towards me] R.V. their fear of me, i.e. their piety, religion.

is taught by the precept of men] Better as R.V.: is (or, has become) a commandment of men which hath been taught;—a human ordinance learned by rote (cf. Matthew 15:1-9). This pregnant criticism expresses with epigrammatic force the fundamental difference between the pagan and the biblical conceptions of religion. Religion, being personal fellowship with God, cannot be “learned” from men, but only by revelation (Matthew 16:17).

13, 14. This spiritual insensibility of the people is the outcome of its whole religious attitude, which is insincere, formal, and traditional. The contrast implied is that between a religion of mere ritual and one of moral fellowship with God.

Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
14. Israel being thus hopelessly estranged from true knowledge of Jehovah, Jehovah must (and will) reveal His character in a way not to be misunderstood.

behold, I will proceed] The Hebr. has the same peculiar construction as in Isaiah 28:16.

to do a marvellous … wonder] Render: to work wonderfully with this people,—wonderfully and wondrously (cf. Isaiah 28:21).

the wisdom of their wise men (cf. Jeremiah 18:18) shall perish]—so far will the issue surpass human forethought.

shall be hid] shall hide itself, in shame and confusion.

Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?
15. Cf. Isaiah 30:1, Isaiah 31:1. that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord] that hide a plan deep from Jehovah. The Egyptian party at court had done their utmost to conceal their project from Isaiah; this attempt to deceive God’s prophet is an act of rebellion, an attempt to steal a march on Jehovah. That they had other reasons for working in the dark is no doubt true; but these were of small moment compared with the sin of refusing to Jehovah a voice in their counsels of state.

Ch. Isaiah 29:15-24 A Messianic forecast

The third “Woe” (Isaiah 29:15), directed against the political intrigue with Egypt, merely serves as a point of attachment for a glowing description of the regenerated Israel. The course of thought is as follows:—

The prophet, having unmasked the designs of the conspirators, expostulates with them for pitting their foolish plans against the purpose of the Almighty (Isaiah 29:15-16).

Ere long, Jehovah will prove His power by a marvellous transformation of nature and society; the word of the Lord will be received by the people, now deaf and dumb to spiritual things; the poor and oppressed shall rejoice in their God (Isaiah 29:17-19).

In that glorious age there shall be neither tyrant nor scoffer,—neither oppression from without, nor injustice within the state (Isaiah 29:20-21).

The time of Israel’s humiliation shall soon pass away, never to return; and those who at present are perplexed and discontented shall accept the instruction of true religion (Isaiah 29:22-24).

Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
16. Shall the creature attempt to outwit the Creator?

Surely your turning … clay] Render as R.V. marg.: O your perversity! Shall the potter be counted as clay? “Is there no difference between maker and thing made?” On the image of the clay and the potter, cf. ch. Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21 ff.

Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?
17. The expressions here were perhaps proverbial; they are almost exactly repeated in ch. Isaiah 32:15.

yet a very little while] as in ch. Isaiah 10:25 (cf. Isaiah 16:14).

Lebanon is here a synonym for forest (see on ch. Isaiah 10:34); it answers to “wilderness” (uncultivated pasture-land) in Isaiah 32:15.

a fruitful field] cf. Isaiah 10:18.

And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.
18. the words of the book] There is a reference implied to Isaiah 29:11-12. “Deafness” and “blindness” are metaphors for the spiritual obtuseness which at present characterises the nation (Isaiah 29:10).

The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
19. The meek and poor (as in the Psalms) are the oppressed and down-trodden lower orders, as contrasted with the irreligious upper class (Isaiah 29:20 f.). They have now no hope but in Jehovah; then they shall obtain fresh joy in Him, because He has delivered them.

For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:
20. the terrible one] or “tyrant” probably denotes an external oppressor (the Assyrian); cf. Isaiah 25:3-4; the scorner is the despiser of religion (ch. Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 28:22; Psalm 1:1, &c.).

all that watch for iniquity] Perhaps “those who are wakefully intent upon plans of mischief” (Micah 2:1; Amos 8:5). Some think the phrase is ironical, implying that those spoken of were appointed to watch over right, but betrayed their trust in the manner described in Isaiah 29:21.

That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.
21. That make a man an offender for a word] The verb rendered “make an offender” usually means “lead into sin” (Exodus 23:33; Ecclesiastes 5:6, &c.); and is so understood in R.V. marg. “make men to offend by their words.” Here, however, the second part of the verse seems to shew that it is used in a declarative sense (= “make a man out to be an offender”). for a word should be translated either by a (false) word; or (as R.V.) in a cause.

him that reproveth in the gate] (cf. Amos 5:10). The person indicated may be either a judge (“umpire, as Job 9:33) or a private individual who stands up for justice in the place of public assembly.

turn aside the just (from his right, ch. Isaiah 10:2; Amos 5:12) for a thing of nought] rather, as R.V. with a thing of nought, “on an empty pretext.”

Therefore thus saith the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale.
22. who redeemed Abraham] The clause is suspicious both from its position in the original, and from its contents. There is no incident in the biblical history of Abraham to which the expression “redeem” is specially appropriate; there is, however, a late Jewish legend about his being delivered from a fiery death prepared for him by his heathen relations (Book of Jubilees, ch. 12). The words may be a late interpolation.

not now] spoken from the standpoint of the ideal future.

But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.
23. when he seeth his children, the work …] R.V. marg. “when his children see the work” [lit. “when he (his children) shall see the work, &c.”] Neither rendering is satisfactory, and “his children” should be omitted as a marginal gloss.

sanctify … fear] The same words are used in ch. Isaiah 8:13.

They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.
24. The meaning is that even the least capable and most refractory classes of the community shall willingly subject themselves to the teaching of revelation.

understanding and doctrine are words characteristic of the Hebrew Wisdom Literature (Isaiah 28:29).

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