Isaiah 29 Study Notes


29:1 Ariel stands for Jerusalem. What the word means is difficult to discern. It could mean “lion of God,” but more likely it refers to “altar hearth,” its meaning in Ezk 43:15 in reference to the hearth of the sanctuary. This chapter is a pronouncement of woe (see note at 1:4) against Jerusalem. This is the second woe presented in chaps. 28-33 (28:1; 29:15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1).

29:2 God will turn Jerusalem into an Ariel—an altar hearth. The meaning seems to be that he will destroy it by fire.

29:3 Though on a literal level it will be Assyria that will set up a siege around Jerusalem, the prophet knew that it would do so only as an agent of the Lord.

29:4 God speaks to Jerusalem in the second person (you . . . your) and thus personifies the city. He will kill Jerusalem, and it will be like a buried body (speak from the ground).

29:5-8 Suddenly the pronouncement shifts from judgment against Jerusalem to the restoration of the city. It imagines a situation like Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah. His initial successes fizzled out at the siege of Jerusalem (chap. 37).

29:6 When God comes as warrior, he often takes the form of earthquake . . . storm, and fire.

29:8 Those armies that move against Jerusalem will ultimately prove unsuccessful. Their early successes will give way to failure, so their first actions will seem like a dream.

29:9-10 The pronouncement shifts again to the spiritual hardness and punishment of the people of God. They will blind themselves, but God will shut their eyes. They will get drunk, but God will give them an overwhelming urge to sleep. The pronouncement recognizes the people’s sinful actions and God’s sovereign control.

29:11-12 God has laid it all out for the people (the entire vision), but they were spiritually dull and could not make sense of it. They will not heed God’s warnings and will suffer the consequences. In ancient Israel documents were written on papyrus or vellum scrolls. After being rolled into a tube, they were sealed with wax or clay, then stamped with an impression that identified the sender.

29:13 The worship offered by the people was empty and meaningless. They were just going through the motions. Jesus quotes these words in Mt 15:8-9 and Mk 7:6-7.

29:14 The wisdom offered by the wise would vanish because it is based on the past, and God was going to do new wonders, such as the fall of Jerusalem, the return from captivity, and the sending of a Savior. Paul quotes this verse in 1Co 1:19.

29:15 A new woe oracle (see note at 1:4) begins with this verse and extends to the end of the chapter. This is the third woe presented in chaps. 28-33 (v. 1; 28:1; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1). Those who did evil thought they could hide their actions from God. It may be that these plans included a decision to seek help against Assyria from Egypt. Such presumption would not go unpunished.

29:16 The metaphor of God as a potter is used in a few key places in prophetic literature (45:9; 64:8; Jr 18:1-12; see also Rm 9:21). It evokes the description of the creation of Adam from the dust of the ground (Gn 2:7). The prophets pointed out how crazy it was for God’s creatures, the pots made from clay, to challenge or question their Maker, the Potter.

29:17-24 As with the previous woe oracle, there is a shift in this pronouncement from judgment to hope (see note at vv. 5-8).

29:17 Lebanon was known for its cedar forests, but it will be transformed into an orchard—a place for fruit-bearing trees. The cedar is often used in the Bible as a symbol of power and arrogance, so perhaps the transformation has to do with a change from pride to humble service.

29:18 The coming transformation is also pictured as the deaf hearing and the blind seeing. The document probably is an allusion to vv. 11-12. In those verses the document could not be understood, but here it could.

29:21 The city gate was where public hearings and judicial proceedings were held. The mediator was the person who heard a case. His removal would lead to injustice.

29:22 The pronouncement invokes the election of Abraham (Gn 12:1-3), the father of God’s people. Jacob is another name for the nation of Israel.

29:23-24 God will fulfill his promise to Abraham and Jacob by transforming his people.