Today, Isaiah reverts back to pronouncing judgment on Israel and Judah. He begins with Israel (Ephraim). The “Ah” is the Hebrew word for “woe” (translated “Ah” in chapters 28, 29, 30, and 33, but “woe” in chapter 31). Here, Isaiah pronounces woe on the pride and drunkenness of Ephraim (28:1), likened to a fading flower. God will send Assyria, a “destroying tempest,” to tread underfoot the proud and the drunk (vv.2-4). In verse 5, we have our “in that day” indicating a dual fulfillment. What Isaiah predicts in verses 5-6 applies to the spiritual remnant of the church. The beauty of the fading flower of sin from verse 4 will be replaced by the crown of beauty for God’s true people. He will provide justice and be our strength to turn back the battle at the gate – these are the gates that are destroyed for the wicked in 24:12, but are the salvation of the elect in 26:2. God will not only work our initial salvation (justification), but give us strength to fight off the enemy of sin in our ongoing salvation (sanctification).
In verses 7-8, Isaiah indicts the religious leaders of Israel in vivid poetic language. They have not received instruction or warning from YHWH (v. 9). God sarcastically asks if He should try teaching young children instead. In verse 10, we lose the effect of what God is doing in English. In Hebrew, it says tsaw lutsaw lutsaw lutsaw qaw luqaw luqaw luqaw sham tsaier sham tsaier. A more accurate translation might be “blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.” God is basically saying what He says sounds like gibberish to the religious leaders of Israel. They lose the forest for the trees, as we might say, as they find the details of the Law they do follow and make those important. And yet, they are drunk and unjust. So God will teach them a new way. He will send a foreign nation against them to teach them (v. 11), a people to whom He has given rest (v. 12), and yet hear Him only say “blah-blah-blah-blah-blah” (v. 13). They will be broken and taken into captivity.
In verse 14, God turns His attention to Judah. He calls on the leaders in Jerusalem (the king and the priests) to hear Him in light of what will happen to Israel. They are no different from Israel. Their covenant is not with God, but with “death” and “Sheol” (v. 15). Yet they are convinced that the same punishment will not befall them, so convinced are they by their own lies. But God will judge rightly (v. 17). Their lies, which they are so sure of, will be revealed to be powerless and they, too, will be defeated by the enemy (v. 18), but they will only realize it too late (v. 19). There will be no rest or place to hide (v. 20).
In verse 21, we see that God is actually coming against them. He compares this to how He fought for them on Mount Perazim (2 Sam 5:20) and in the Valley of Gibeon (Josh 10:12 – remember the sun standing still?). Only now, how strange it must seem that He is fighting against them! Isaiah then points Judah to planting and sowing (vv. 23-28) to explain that they are going to reap what they have sown, but that the threshing (the punishment) does not last forever. He is pointing them to a coming restoration which will also be the work of YHWH on their behalf (v. 29).
Chapter 29 begins with another “Ah” (Woe”). God pronounces woe on Jerusalem (29:1). “Ariel” can mean “lion of God,” “hero,” or “altar hearth.” There is a play on words here, where God laments the “Lion of God” because He is putting her in the destructive fires of the altar hearth (v. 2 – see the “devouring fire” of verse 6). In verses 3-4, we see the Babylonian siege and victory. Yet God will not leave Babylon (or Assyria or Persia) unpunished for her wickedness (vv. 5-8).
God then says He will dull the spiritual senses of the prophets and seers (vv. 9-10). They will hear the prophecy of Judah’s destruction, but will not be able to discern that it is true (vv. 11-12). This is part of the judgment of Judah for being like Israel. They say the right things and observe the details of the Law that they find they are able to follow. But their hearts are not for God (v. 13). This is the same indictment Jesus pronounced against the Pharisees (Matt 15:1-9). So God will work His power and destroy the wisdom of Judah’s wise (the prophets of v. 10). Paul quotes this verse to describe unbelievers and their worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:19) to explain why they cannot understand the truth of the Gospel.
In verse 15, we see that the Judahites believe their sins are secret, even from God. So God likens them to a lump of clay that believes it understands more than the potter (v. 16). God is showing how ridiculous their ideas of obedience are and how they wrongly believe because they are God’s people (in the physical sense) that they are safe from judgment. Paul uses this imagery to describe national Israel in his day and how they wrongly believed themselves to be the true people of God (see Rom 9:20-22).
In verse 17, Isaiah shifts back to restoration. That Lebanon (a Gentile nation to the north of Israel) will be a “fruitful field” speaks to the harvest of Gentile souls that will be brought into the family of God. Then, the sleepy and blind eyes of verse 9 will be exchanged for the opened eyes of the formerly blind nations (v. 18). Those who cannot read the sealed revelation (Gentiles) will be able to hear the words of the book. The meek and the poor will be blessed in YHWH (v. 19 – see Matt 5:3, 5). Verses 20-21 speak to the judgment that accompanies the final restoration. The judgment of the wicked is part of the final salvation of God’s people.
Verse 22 returns again to the restoration. YHWH refers to His redemption of Abraham from among all the nations. Remember, the promise to Abraham was that the whole world would be blessed through his offspring (see Gen 12:2-3). Here, the whole house of Jacob (Israel and Judah) will see their children (offspring) in their midst and they will regard God as holy and stand in awe of His deeds (v. 23). In verse 24, we see that it is those who understand spiritually that God calls to Himself.
Chapter 30 pronounces a third woe (the “Ah”). Here, God pronounces woe on Judah’s stubbornness (30:1). Judah sought help from Egypt when Assyria came against them. But they didn’t seek help from God (vv. 1-2). Their reliance on worldly powers will contribute to their downfall (vv. 3-5). In verse 6, the beasts of the Negeb (the south of Judah) are the people of Judah. They will again seek Egypt’s help. When Babylon comes against Judah, many will flee to Egypt (see Jeremiah 42-43). Returning to Egypt was a sign of unbelief in the Pentateuch. It still will be. They will be unable to help (v. 7).
In verse 9-11, we see that, like Christ interpreted 29:13-14 and Paul interpreted 29:16, the problem is that Judah would rather not see and hear the truth. We see that the judgment pronounced for this is Babylon’s victory over them (v. 13). The clay that tried to have say over the Potter will be a vessel that is utterly destroyed (v. 14). In verse 15, God says He put out a call to repentance and faith, and in verse 16 tells Judah they rejected the call and relied on worldly power. Therefore, they will be overthrown (v. 17).
But God will yet restore His people (v. 18). He will show mercy on those who experience His justice and turn to Him. And then, God speaks of the coming restoration. God will have mercy on His people (v. 19 – see Hos 2:23), after He brings them to repentance (v. 20), and they obey (v. 21). Then Judah will turn from her idolatry (v. 22). And God will then provide for His people abundantly (vv. 23-26). His chastisement will bring for His people blessing beyond measure.
In verses 27-28, God describes His presence in terms of judgment. But this is judgment for the oppressors of His people. Note that the description here is similar to Sinai (smoke and fire), but it also points forward to Pentecost where tongues of fire represent the Spirit of God that empowers His church. The overflowing stream that comes form God’s breath (can also be translated “Spirit”) is described in Ezekiel as flowing from the Temple (the church) in Ezekiel 47:1-5. This salvation, as always, is accompanied by judgment (the sifting of the nations in v. 28). For those who are saved, we will celebrate on the mountain of YHWH (where heaven meets earth) with the Rock of Israel (Jesus Christ – see 1 Cor 10:4). This is picturing our forever in Christ’s presence. And God will judge the earth (vv. 30-32) whose kings will suffer with Satan in the lake of fire (v. 33 – see Matt 25:41, Rev 20:14-15).