Isaiah 29:1-24 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What does the Lord instruct Judah to do (see verse 1b printed below) and what does He inform Judah that He will do (see verse 2a printed below?) Why do you suppose the Lord tells Judah these things? Note: “Ariel” is a reference to Judah, it means “the hearth of God,” and it conveys the picture of spiritual intimacy with God, an intimacy the people of Judah took for granted and thus allowed themselves to degenerate into a state of spiritual complacency.

For still another year, continue to observe the cycle of your sacred festivals. (Isaiah 29:1b)

Then I will distress Ariel, she will mourn and lament (Isaiah 29:2a)

In verse 1 the Lord addresses Jerusalem as “Ariel.” As pointed out, the term is intended to convey a picture of spiritual confidence on the part of the people; indeed, a sense of spiritual complacency: assumption that all is well with the soul, that their religious observances are well-pleasing to God, that God’s blessing and watchful protection shall continue to abide upon them—despite the fact that they have removed their heart far from God (as verse 13 indicates). Because these people have chosen to entertain such a sense of spiritual complacency and (false) confidence—despite the message of the prophets warning them of impending judgment and calling them to repentance—the Lord now instructs them: “For still another year, continue to observe the cycle of your sacred festivals.” Because they refuse to heed the Lord’s command to take warning, He now invites them to continue in their state of spiritual complacency: for one more year let them continue to observe the cycle of their religious feasts, all the while operating under their chosen false assumption that all is well with their soul and they shall continue to enjoy God’s favor and protection. But attached to this command/invitation to continue on their chosen course of spiritual complacency and false confidence comes the warning: “I will distress Ariel, she will mourn and lament” (verse 2). Note: when the Lord’s command for repentance is perpetually unheeded, He changes the command to fit the course the people have chosen to follow—it is a form of giving them up to their sinful desires (note Romans 1:28).

2. What does Isaiah 29:2 (printed below) tell us about the Lord’s covenant faithfulness to His people? Note, especially, the latter part of verse 2.

I will distress Ariel, she will mourn and lament—but she will still be to me like a pleasant hearth, an Ariel. (Isaiah 29:2)

Having declared that He will bring distress to Ariel, the Lord then adds these words: “but she will still be to me like a pleasant hearth, an Ariel.” The Lord does not forget His covenant people—those who are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; His discipline is intended to restore His children, not destroy them; and His true children respond to His discipline by returning to the Lord (note verse 4). There is a deep humbling of His people: “you will be brought down, and you will speak from out of the ground.” The hand of the Lord, heavy upon His people in chastening, will cause them to “whisper” a prayer for mercy (Isaiah 26:16) and they shall be spared.

3. Describe the spiritual state of the people of God as it is presented in Isaiah 29:9-10 (printed below). What affect does their spiritual state have upon their ability to comprehend the Lord’s revelation?

Stop and stare, blind yourselves and become blind. They are drunk, but not from wine; they stagger, but not from strong drink. (10) On the contrary, Jehovah has poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep: he has shut your eyes, namely, the prophets; he has covered your heads, namely, the seers. (Isaiah 29:9-10)

The spiritual state of the people is compared to a blind man and a drunken man: they are totally disoriented and without comprehension of what is transpiring around them and to them because of their departure from the Lord their God. Because they have withdrawn their heart from Him, the Lord, as an act of judgment, has poured out upon them “the spirit of deep sleep”—a spiritual stupor (verse 10). Consequently, as verses 11-12 indicate, the Lord’s revelation has become to them like a book that is sealed shut or like a book given to an illiterate man. When you remove your heart from God, becoming enamored with pleasure, business, sports, unhealthy relationships, etc., one consequence is a deterioration of spiritual perception and understanding: the things of God become distant and foreign, the Word of God becomes “blurry” and “irrelevant.”

4. Describe the character of Judah’s religion at this time. Was there a dynamic communion with God or only lifeless formalism? What was the cause of this present spiritual condition? See Isaiah 29:13-14 (printed below)

Then the Lord said, Because these people only approach me with their mouth and only honor me with their lips, but have removed their heart far from me, and their reverence for me is nothing more than a tradition they have learned by rote; (14) therefore, take note, I will proceed to do an astonishing thing to these people, an amazingly astonishing thing. The wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their intelligent men will vanish. (Isaiah 29:13-14)

These people were still drawing near to God; they were still coming to His temple, they were still observing the religious holy days and festivals (verse 13a). But they were merely honoring the Lord with their mouth, not with their heart and their life (verse 13b). Their reverence of God was “nothing more than a tradition they have learned by rote” (verse 13c). They still displayed an outward show of reverence for God because that is what they had been taught to do. But there was no personal encounter with God by which they would become acutely aware of who He is and would respond to Him with a deep sense of worship, reverence and awe. Contrast this with Isaiah’s personal encounter with the Lord (Isaiah 6:1,5). Their present spiritual condition was due to the fact that they had removed their heart from the Lord their God. When you remove your heart from God your religion becomes empty, formalistic and boring.

5. What will life be like when Christ returns, bringing the kingdom of God in all of its fullness? See Isaiah 29:18-21 (printed below)

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of the scroll, and even in the gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. (19) The meek will abound with joy in Jehovah, and the poor people of the world will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel; (20) because the ruthless will vanish, the scoffers will disappear, and all those who watch for the opportunity to commit iniquity will be cut off—(21) those who condemn a man on a mere technicality, those who lay a trap for the man who speaks out against evil in the courts, those who deprive the innocent of justice by means of false testimony. (Isaiah 29:18-21)

Verses 18-21 reveal what life will be like when Christ returns, bringing the kingdom of God in all of its fullness. God’s people shall hear and understand His Word with clarity: the dullness caused by sin shall be completely removed (verse 18). The meek (those who walk humbly with their God) will be filled with the joy of the Lord; they who have waited upon the Lord shall finally rejoice in His faithfulness and justice (verse 19). But the ungodly (those who have loved their sins more than their God, those who have perverted justice in the earth, those who have remained the impenitent enemies of God) shall be cut off from the blessing of God and given over to His judgment (verses 20-21).