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Lowell Brueckner

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You Turn Things Upside Down!


28. An Expository Study of Isaiah, Chapter 29

Let me summarize five general characteristics that we have come to recognize in studying the book of Isaiah:
1. It is a book of repetition. God knows who He is dealing with… that is, forgetful human beings… and therefore, He goes over the same principles of truth again and again.
2. It is a poetical book, full of symbols, analogies, axioms and even song, appealing to the inner man, as well as the intellect, in order that the truth should penetrate deeper.
3. As in all Scripture, it is a book that reveals the person and character of God. This book has a central theme, which concentrates on the holiness of God. Therefore it promises judgment and retribution to the nations for their sin, and punishment to Israel for its rebellion against Him.
4, It is a book about God’s salvation. In it, God clearly demonstrates his unwavering and undying care for His people. He will defend them against their enemies and bring about their deliverance. Again and again, we also see Him reaching out to His enemies and offering them the opportunity of a future with Him and His people. Ultimately, He promises eternal salvation.
5. It is a book of prophecy. Some of the prophecy will shortly come to pass, especially that regarding Assyria. Others reach forward to the rise and fall of Babylon. There is a wealth of Messianic prophecy pointing to the advent, the birth, the ministry, the purpose, the death and the reign of the Messiah. It prophecies of the mercy of God to the Gentile nations. It points to the Tribulation and often to the Millennium, which follows. And then it takes us on into eternity, telling of the total destruction of the present world and the new heaven and earth.

Ariel – the lion of God

Jerusalem was the city of God and within it was Mount Zion, the city of David. On Mount Zion was the temple, as well as the palace of the kings. As is the case today, major cities often receive nicknames, and so Jerusalem is here named Ariel, meaning, The Lion of God. It referred to its royal strength and that of its kings.

The verb which describes David’s presence there is correctly translated encamped: “Woe to Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped!” (v.1). It clearly emphasizes that kings in their palaces are mortal and only reside for a while.

Isaiah sees a curse upon the city, a coming distress with moaning and lamentation (v.2). The religious customs were to continue unabated, “add year to year; let the feasts run their round”, but without bringing an escape from the coming distress. Already in the book, the Lord has made His point concerning the ineffectiveness of religious activity and the point will be reiterated, as we go along. For this reason, Paul and Christ Himself quoted from Isaiah, because it specialized in the uncovering of the deception of outward religiosity, a great problem, which continues and expands during the gospel period.

There is a second meaning to Ariel, which seems to come into play in the second verse. The second definition is hearth or altar, so that the statement might mean, “I will distress the lion, and it shall be to me like an altar.” In other words, “this royal city will be put in flames.” The Lord of hosts or armies shows that He is the Lord of the coming sieges (v.3). Prophecy, remember, often points to a process of fulfillment, which can involve various stages. There were at least three major sieges to come against Jerusalem… Assyria, Babylon, and Rome. 

Powerful divine intervention

The discipline that God brings upon His people and its purpose, which we contemplated in the last chapter, now is very clearly depicted in verse 4: “You shall be brought low.” The lion will be humbled and its manner of expression will change: “From the dust your speech will be bowed down… your speech shall whisper.”  Included in the Lord’s dealings with Jerusalem is judgment against the sin of necromancy or spiritism.

Once His purpose is accomplished (see the notes on the harvest in farming from the last chapter, verses 27-28), these great armies will be severely dealt with and become “like small dust… like passing chaff” (v.5). This is divine principle that the Apostle Paul fully understood: “Indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…” (2 Th.1:6).

Then He suddenly and powerfully visits His people with His favor “in an instant, suddenly, you will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder… earthquake… great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire (v.6). Put this into New Testament context and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind… and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them…” (Ac.2:2,3). By this kind of power, enemies are defeated under the New Covenant.

In verse 7 and 8, the Comforter stands by His people to show the lack of substance in the threats against them. It “shall be like a dream… as when a hungry man dreams he is eating and awakes with his hunger not satisfied.” The true child of God can lean on this promise in his distress.

Deep sleep and spiritual blindness

Sadly, Isaiah must return to his denunciation of his home city, the Jerusalem of his day. You may remember when Jerusalem was called The Valley of Vision, the home of the prophets (chapter 22). The message resounded into the future and was preached again by Paul, concerning the Jerusalem of his time. “The Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes” (v.10 cited in Ro.11:8).

Ah people, let’s not brush this off so quickly, before taking into consideration that it might apply to our lives. That which happened to the Jews can also happen to the Gentile church. This is a day of dark deception and apostasy. One morning at five o’clock, a word from the book of Zechariah came to me, "The angel who talked with me came again and woke me..." and then came this word from Paul: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph.5:14), and I preached it that evening. Without a natural connection between us, in another part of the country and at the same time, a friend preached the same message… yet, it seems, few have awakened!  

We can know that spiritually we have fallen asleep when we are more awake to the guidance of men, and less conscious of an active relationship with God. Here is some proof that this is what is happening: 1) We have been slow to obey the word of God, but have waited for men in leadership to order us. Often, fallible as they are, they can mislead us. (Gal.1:1,10) 2) Authoritarianism has laid its heavy hand on the flock and the sheep felt it was normal and even biblical. They felt obligated to submit and obey.  (2 Co.11:20) 3) Many leaders have fallen into sin and their sin has not caused the great alarm that it should merit among the membership. It demonstrates a lack of the fear of a holy God and of the consequences of His wrath that might fall upon all. In fact, in many cases the sin has been swept under the rug and the people are not aware of the danger. (1Ti.5:19-20)  4) We have laughed at theology (the study of God) and have not given the necessary importance to sound doctrine, the old pathways, and we have not been careful to see that our counsel is completely biblical. We have underestimated the depth of this error and have not allowed the sword of the word to penetrate to the roots. Worse yet, we have justified ourselves, dulling the pain, instead of giving place to remorse and repentance. (1 Co.5:2)  5) We have not given enough thought to our deficiencies, but have concentrated on those of other movements and denominations, and consequently concluded that we are okay or, at least, a little better than others. (1_Co.4:8). Having escaped from the "worst" vices and exterior habits, we are left with our arrogance and other character weaknesses. All this is evidence of Christians, who are asleep.

It is spiritual blindness! Deception has kept us in spiritual ignorance, at the same time convincing us that we know best. We have missed the essence of true godliness and true Christianity, submerged, as we are, in activity and work. The Bible is taught and heard, but often misinterpreted. It remains a sealed book in many ways.

Whether the people are willing to admit to the truth or not, and because of their deep sleep, they will likely not admit it, Isaiah has a way of laying it before them. He speaks for all the prophets, present and past, as he observes the spiritual blindness around him towards divine revelation. It was true at the time of Christ and it is true today.  “The vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read’” (v.11-12). It may not be confessed, but it is the true situation.

The root problem is a heart problem. Songs are sung, prayers are prayed, messages are taught, and people faithfully serve, but, the heart is insensitive to the Holy Spirit and incapable of recognizing His voice. Emotion is confused with reality and all becomes ritualistic and habitual. “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (v.13). When Jesus quoted this verse in Mark 7:6-7, He was not only referring to the Pharisees and scribes, but to the general Jewish populace, “the Pharisees and all the Jews…(Mk.7:3-4), who practiced what was called the tradition of the elders. They were man-made injunctions, added to the Scripture.

God will arise in defense of His glory, while He discredits the wisdom and discernment of men. “I will again do wonderful things with this people with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” (v.14, cited by Paul in 1 Co.1:19). The written revelation of God, puts His glory above man’s capacities. His work is manifested in light, while man’s cunning and astuteness is hidden in darkness. They demean the omniscience of God by “Who sees us? Who knows us?” (v.15) Remember again, Isaiah is presenting the true condition, whether men will admit to it or not.

“You turn things upside down!”

“You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (v.16). Notice the inverted condition and the perverse mentality. This is the mentality, not only in the world, but in every Christian body, where humanistic philosophy has been adopted. The clay is exalted over the Potter and the thing made excludes its Maker! In the realm of evangelism, for example, the narrow gate has been broadened to accept men under wider conditions. Do we ever pause to ask, “Why has God intended that the gate to life be narrow?” I will give you the answer without fear of contradiction. The gate is narrow to prevent anyone or anything from entering that will not bring glory to God. His glory must be maintained over the well-being of men (Paul again refers to Isaiah in Ro.9:19-21).

God will turn things right side-up in his time. The allegory is that of the forests of Lebanon becoming a cultivated field and a cultivated field turning into a forest (v.17). This great transformation in men takes place under the power of the gospel of Christ. The deaf will hear, the blind will see, the meek will find reason to rejoice and the poor will be lifted out of their poverty. This is first of all a spiritual regeneration, but it was also literally true in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth (v.18-19). On the other hand, the ruthless will be reduced to nothing, the scoffer’s cynicism will cease and the purposes of the evil-minded will not come to fruition (v.20). 

I want to be very careful in treating verse 21. I have resorted to commentators to be sure that what I write gives the accurate message. I could quote various ones, but I think that Matthew Henry, in this case, speaks well for all: They ridiculed the prophets and the serious professors of religion... They lay in wait for an occasion against them. By their spies they watch for iniquity, to see if they can lay hold of anything that is said or done that may be called an iniquity. They took advantage against them for the least slip of the tongue... though ever so innocently spoken, and without any design to affront them... Those that reprove in the gates, that were bound by the duty of their place... to show people their transgressions, they hated these... They pervert judgment, and will never let an honest man carry an honest cause... they condemn him, or give the cause against him, upon no evidence... They misrepresent him, by all the little tricks they can devise, as they did our Savior. 

This prophecy particularly points to those who bring false accusation and injustice because of their perverted mentality, “who by a word make a man out to be an offender. These misjudge, full of prejudices, and therefore are unable to discern. They are spiritually incapable of judging any situation. We see in Luke 11:54, that the Lord encountered this same kind of opposition, "lying in wait for Him, to catch Him in something He might say."

We go to the second part: "Lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate". In biblical times, the judge tried cases in the gates of the cities. A good judge " reproved in the gate". He would examine a case justly and judge it according to the Word of God and in the fear of God, not taking into account the importance of the person, who was being judged.

Now the third part: "With an empty plea turn aside him who in the right". The empty plea belongs to people incapable of judging any situation, because their judgment has been perverted by personal interest, by sentiment and emotion, instead seeing a matter objectively with clear understanding of what is right before God. God said. "I will honor those who honor Me. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is the fact that among too many Christians, men who have demeaned God and His glory and done harm to His flock are easily forgiven and accepted. On the other hand, those who have exposed them and uncovered their sin, are called "judgmental" and are cast aside.  Again, these people are burdened down with spiritual prejudices, favorimg men instead of honoring Jes“You turn things upside down!”

Now, all these principles are turned in the direction of the house of Jacob. God’s plan began to unfold when He called and redeemed Abraham. The church, as well as the nation of Israel, has been built upon that calling. Jacob has been misjudged in the earth and the one nation under the hand of God has been maligned (v.22). A day of reckoning is coming for Israel, a day of judgment upon the nations, when eyes are opened and truth becomes apparent. The sleepers will be awakened and the deceived will face truth.

The prayer, “Hallowed be Your name”, will be answered and “they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob. They will declare, “Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory” and “will stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who are mistaken in judgment and have turned everything upside down will come to understanding “and those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction. We are marching toward the Millennium.


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