Isaiah 29-32: Beyond the Woes
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Almost halfway through. Long haul, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty good at guessing what Isaiah’s going to say next, and I sometimes catch myself getting impatient with his repetition. Then I remember that Isaiah's words were God's words, that hundreds of years later the Holy Spirit had them stitched together into a scroll, that the scroll was preserved for us through 28 centuries and the rise and fall of least ten empires, that twenty-one parchment and papyrus copies were hidden in a cave in Qumran, and that a curious Bedouin just happened to enter the cave at a time when the nation of Israel definitely needed a boost.
So, I’ll keep studying.
God said to Isaiah:
“Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll,
that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. (Isaiah 30:8)
Isaiah’s instructions were simple enough, but his job must have been a nightmare.
For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (30:9-10)
Crazy. We need to know what God had to say even if the people of the time were unwilling to hear. The plans Jerusalem's leaders had may have seemed right to them, but the end of it was death (Proverbs 14:12). I don’t want that to be my legacy.
“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 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”? (29:13, 16)
Now while the clay was dissing the potter, disaster was in the works. When Judah’s judgment came by way of the Assyrian armies, Judah wasn’t ready. With siege works raised outside their walls, all of Jerusalem’s well-laid plans fell apart. (29:2-4; 30:13-17)
No regard for God, no regard for His word, no idea that His invitations were their salvation. While He was saying “Come to Me,” they were packing their camels for Egypt. (Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1)
As I studied Isaiah's words inscribed on that part of the scroll we call chapters 29-32, four themes seemed to emerge: Judah’s sin, Judah’s judgment, the judgment of Judah’s enemies, and God’s promises to them all. These chapters may paint a pretty bleak picture, but woven throughout the bad news, there is good: righteousness will win.
They relied on Egypt rather than God:
“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace. (30:1-3)
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. (31:1)
They refused to recognize that God was in the equation.
They were complacent, with a false sense of security:
You women who are so complacent, rise up and listen to me; you daughters who feel secure, hear what I have to say! In little more than a year you who feel secure will tremble; the grape harvest will fail, and the harvest of fruit will not come. Tremble, you complacent women; shudder, you daughters who feel secure! (32:9-11)
They refused to repent:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (30:15)
If you are a parent, you know it’s your responsibility to teach your children what's acceptable and what's not, what's profitable and what is destructive. If they refuse to take those lessons to heart, most likely they will experience consequences down the road, either sooner or later. Such was the case with God’s children. Time and time again throughout the centuries, Israel has been conquered or occupied by nations and peoples hostile to them: Assyria, Babylon, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, Turks, Crusaders, Egyptians, Mamelukes, and Islamists. So far.
The Assyrian siege of Jerusalem was the harvest of seeds planted long ago. When Isaiah was called to be God’s prophet to Judah, they were already up and budding.
They became hard of heart and spiritually blind:
In the case of the Assyrian advance, God miraculously shielded Jerusalem from destruction (31:5), but Judah entered into a long season of judgment. Most evident was their exile to Babylon 100 years later, but far more damaging was the spiritual blindness that afflicted them for centuries. They wanted words that tickled their ears rather than stinging prophecies hard to hear but straight from the heart of God. “Tell us pleasant things,” they said. “Prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (30:11) Well, they got what they asked for: The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers). (29:10)
After 300 years of warning from Isaiah and the prophets who came after him, Israel entered into 400 years of silence. And then came Jesus. But dull of heart and spiritual understanding, they missed the day of their visitation. (Luke 19:41-44)
Their land was cursed:
Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vines and for the land of my people, a land overgrown with thorns and briers (32:12-13).
They lost their identity:
For all their bluster and boldness, Judah’s leaders bolted as the Assyrian armies advanced (30:16-17). While they were impaled on stakes outside the city walls, their nation remained to face another shameful defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. The land of Judah was emptied and the Promised Land became a wasteland (32:12-14). As prophesied by Isaiah, they were shattered and scattered (30:14). Although some returned to Israel after the Babylonian Empire fell to the Medes, most didn’t. Large Jewish communities existed in the Roman provinces, but even so, they weren’t in the land God promised them. Their land came under the rule of unrighteous governors who either mocked, ignored, or incorporated the Holy One's worship into their pagan practices. The temple was destroyed and God’s chosen lost their identity as a people.
THE JUDGMENT OF JUDAH’S ENEMIES
However great God’s judgment of Israel and Judah, His judgment of their enemies is greater still.
Judah’s expected savior, Egypt, was of no help to them at all (30:5). In fact, God’s name for them was “Rahab, the Do Nothing” (30:9). Isaiah reminded his people,
“The Egyptians are mere mortals and not God;
their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
those who help will stumble,
those who are helped will fall;
all will perish together.” (31:3)
Because they meddled in Judah’s affairs, Egypt shared in Judah’s fate. Thirty years after Judah’s fall, Egypt was invaded.
There came the point in the Assyrian advance that King Sennacherib, raised up by God, lifted his head in pride and bragged that the source of his success was his own power. I’m not sure he really understood that he was on assignment from God, but the price for his blasphemy was the death of 185,000 soldiers. Assyria’s conquest of Jerusalem was stalled, and within 80 years the Assyrian Empire was eclipsed by the Babylonians.
Assyria will fall by no human sword; a sword, not of mortals, will devour them.
They will flee before the sword and their young men will be put to forced labor.
Their stronghold will fall because of terror; at the sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic,” declares the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, whose furnace is in Jerusalem. (31:8)
It seems that foreign kings took Isaiah and his God no more seriously than Judah’s.
Chapters 29-31 have a lot to say about God’s judgment of any power that opposes His chosen nation. Empire after empire has risen up against them, and empire after empire has failed. But at least one fall more is coming.
Your many 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 a devouring fire…So will it be with the hordes of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion. (29:5-6)
Evil men and the king of evil:
Isaiah had a lot to say about men who oppress the weak and the disadvantaged. Here he makes their end clear: The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down. (29:20)
Isaiah's obscure prophecy is one of those already fulfilled but with another fulfillment on its way: Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze. (30:33)
Topheth, in the Valley of Hinnom south of Judah, was the site of child sacrifice by the worshipers of Molech. It became a byword for a place that would experience the severe judgment of God. Isaiah presents it as a funeral pyre that God had prepared “of old,” ages before Assyria existed. In New Testament times, the Aramaic term gehinnam, meaning “Valley of Hinnom,” was known in Greek as Gehenna (Matt. 5:22) and Jesus warned of fiery judgment there (Matthew 18:9).
Isaiah had strong words for Judah and the nations, but the God he served had other things to say and Isaiah was faithful to record them, too.
They will have to wait ‘til next time, but here’s a teaser:
See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. (32:1)
That’s a good one.