Isaiah 29-33: Woe to the Unbeliever

Introduction

Isaiah 29-33 presents a series of woes. Any time I see the word "woe" coming from the mouth of God, I immediately feel the severity of the situation. When God starts with woe, chances are you've already exhausted quite a few chances to abort your foolishness, repent, and return to Him. These chapters name the nations and types of people that God is condemning and give us a glimpse at the fate that awaits them. Despite being directed at specific people in Isaiah's time period, many of these warning apply to us as well. Let's learn from the past and make sure we aren't imitating any of the people God is pronouncing a woe upon.

A Punishment for Jerusalem

Ariel or Jerusalem

Ariel means "Lion of God" in Hebrew. The lion was associate with the tribe of Judah, and as such, the name came to be associated with Jerusalem.[5] This is why Isaiah 29 calls the city of David (Jerusalem) Ariel.

Punishment

There are five punishments, or plagues, foretold to come upon Jerusalem in Isaiah 29:6. All five are also found in revelation.
  • Thunder (Revelation 8:5; 11:19)
  • Earthquake (Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:19)
  • Great noise / Rumbling (Revelation 8:5; 11:19)
  • Storm and tempest (Revelation 16:21)
  • Fire (Revelation 9:18; 13:13)
Isaiah 30:30 lists four troubles that come with God's wrath, two are the same (a great storm and fire), while two are new:
  • Scattering (Matthew 26:31; John 16:31; Acts 11:19)
  • Hail (Revelation 16:21)

Fires

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Nathan Lindahl
California seems like it is always on fire, and last year (2018) was the worst fire season in recorded history.[13] As heartbroken as I am for the people who suffered in these fires, I have to also point out that California—the home of Hollywood—is the state where if you look for how the people voted on controversial issues or how they live their lives, and compare it to how God commands us, they're known for their opposition to God's ways. Of course fires, in general, isn't a new thing for California. The original tribes that lived there before colonization had their own techniques to deal with the fires which resulted in less disaster than what we see today.[14]

Interesting fact: something in the world is actually always on fire. There's even a map that plots all of the fires seen each month over the course of about 18 years.[15]

Scattering

The New Testament shows us evidence that God's people have were scattered, at least in the early days of the Church. The Old Testament constantly warns Israel that they will be scattered, and they too were scattered. Whether Isaiah meant the scattering would only happen to believers, or whether he was informing us that groups of people in general would be scattered, we've seen scattering happen throughout history as well. If we look at scattering in the general sense, assuming all the people of the world are scattered and scrambled like eggs, we can easily point to the refugee crisis. Wars, genocides, violence, economic collapse, etc., are driving people from their homes and into foreign nations.[16] People are pouring out of certain areas in search of safety and stability. Even if a nation suddenly decided to roll out the welcome mat for refugees, transplanting a significant number of people from one country to another would only cause overpopulation problems. This is one of the excuses used to keep people out (I say excuses because I don't think they're actually concerned with overpopulation). Another issue is that depending on where a person is located and what the situation is in their country, it could be easier to escape to this country or that country. As such, the populations fleeing these countries are scattered.

Storms

Let's face it, because I'm from the coastal lands in the Southeast, tempest means hurricane to me. Of course, it could also refer to Nor'easters, tornadoes, snow storms, and any other dangerous weather situation. Research shows hurricanes are increasing in strength,[17] and of the strongest 10 recorded Hurricanes to strike the U.S., 5 are from the last 20 years.[18]

Blind to the Truth

In Isaiah 29:9-12, we learn that the people are unable to understand the truth even though it is right before them. Although this is presented as a metaphor in which no one can read a particular book because the right combination of "learned" (or educated) and able to unseal the book, there are quite a few instances in the Bible that this could actually be alluding to. Daniel 8:26; 12:4,9 tells us a book is sealed for the end times. Revelation 5 shows Jesus being the only person worth to loose the seals of the book. An interesting aside from modern time is that schools and places of higher education lean away from God, teaching children to doubt. The deeper you go into school ("learned), the more disbelief you will find. Thus those who are less educated may be able to break the seal, through faith and belief, but they may not have the tools to interpret the book.

Rebellious Children

Isaiah 30 pronounces a woe upon the rebellious children. However, God is not referencing children who are unruly and refuse to listen to their parents here. He is actually referencing the people of Israel who are His children. God describes how they are rebellious in the first few lines. First, they have decided to take the advice of someone other than God. Note that this doesn't necessarily just mean doing the opposite of what God tells them to. Have you ever had someone ask you a question, then go ask someone else the same question, and instead of taking your answer they take the other person's, which was exactly the same as what you said? It's possibly the most annoying thing in the world. As children (or teens, perhaps), we're really bad at doing some version of this with our parents' advice. We value other sources, so our peers saying something is cool or uncool has more weight than what our parents say. We have to be careful not to do that to God; our acceptance of His ways should come from an acceptance of Him, not just that the world happens to agree on that point. If we fail do this, like those being addressed in Isaiah 30:1, we won't be covered by the Spirit, and that leaves us vulnerable. Thus, this warning is for those of us who have turned against His wisdom and decided to follow in the ways of the world. For Israel, the worldly temptation was that of Egypt; they put their trust in Egypt's gods and armies. Today, the U.S. acts as Egypt. People from all over the world seek out American customs and take on the ways of America (which have roots in pagan Egypt![6]). The real battle is against Satan, earthly forces and customs will never be enough to win this war.

The beginning of Isaiah 30 also mentions two places that are not easily recognizable: Zoan and Hanes. Zoan separated Egypt from Goshen—this is where the Israelites lived during their tenure as slaves in Egypt. Hanes is also a city in Egypt, thought to be either Tahpanhes or Ahnas-el-Medeeneh. Tahpanhes was in the eastern part of the country while Ahnas-el-Medeeneh was about 70 miles away from Cairo.[7] [8]

Symbols

Isaiah goes on to describe a burden that exists on certain animals, we can be sure this is symbolic. The animals mentioned are the young and old lion, the viper, and the firery serpent. Using my knowledge of symbols elsewhere in the Bible, I would say the lion is Judah. Jesus is sometimes referred to as the Lion of Judah, but because it mentions a young and old lion, I am led to believe this might reference the old and new covenant believers. Similarly, Isaiah juxtaposes these two lions with a viper and a serpent. Obviously the serpent is Satan. So, who is the viper? The only thing I could come up with is maybe the antichrist system.

Why They Were Judged

Many of the judgments in the Bible are the same, whether it be plagues, drought, captivity, or death, they all serve as divine punishment. The details of judgement may be important for identifying when a prophecy is fulfilled, but ultimately the thing we should be concerned with is why judgment fell on these people. If we can identify their mistakes, we can keep from making the same ones and thus avoid punishment.

Luckily, Isaiah tells us exactly why they were punished: they despised the Word. The people turned against the law of God and refused to take the Word of God into their hearts. John tells us that Jesus is the Word, so even though He hadn't been revealed to the Israelites yet, the same character is meant when God references the Word. This passage is also one of the reasons we should know that what God commanded of the Israelites didn't just evaporate into thin air. When God is angry with Israel, it's usually for idolatry, but it's always for breaking the law. However, it's never ceremonial. We don't find that the Israelites failed to keep the sacrifices or that they failed to keep a feast. That's not to say they never failed with these things, but to point out that these aren't thee reasons God is angry with them. It's always something that leads back to the law of God or the teachings that Jesus expounded upon. If God was angry about disobedience then, He's definitely angry about it now.

A Teacher

Isaiah 30:19-22 talks about the Teacher that will come and lead the people back to God. Matthew 8:18-19 is just one of countless examples where Jesus is referred to as Teacher in the New Testament. It is through His teachings and His gift of the Holy Spirit that we can return to truth. Isaiah alludes to the Holy Spirit when he references a voice guiding the people in the right direction.

The Lights of the Sky

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Jordan Wozniak
Isaiah 30:26 talks about the light of the moon being as bright as the sun, and the sun being 7 times brighter. This seems to be a stark contrast to the end times where the Sun and moon are darkened. We can either conclude that this prophecy is not for the end times, or that the sun and moon are symbolic. Before we really jump into this, I want to point out that since the moon reflects the light of the Sun, it makes sense that if the Sun is brighter, the moon will also be brighter. One can't be brighter without the other also being brighter. The ancients may not have known this, but God certainly did because He created it that way.

Lots of things came to my mind when I read this verse. For starters, I thought about climate change (more commonly referred to as global warming). Although the sun isn't necessarily changing, our self-destruction of the Earth is causing a change in how we feel the effects of the Sun. Ultimately this could cause us to feel as thought the Sun is 7 times brighter. If the rays of the sun are having more of an impact, it also possible that moon seems more reflective because it would be taking advantage of the same vulnerabilities in our atmosphere.

Some people believe this is a reference to a nova. If you're like me, in school you learned about a supernova but not simply a nova. When I first read the theory, I thought nova was a shortened way to reference a supernova and completely against the idea, since a supernova would destroy the Earth in the process and their theory suggested the Earth would still be existence after the fact. However, I felt like I needed to confirm my hunch (that was the Spirit leading me to wisdom!), and I discovered that a nova is similar to a supernova but nowhere near as powerful. In the event of a nova, less material is ejected from the star and the star still exists after the fact.[12] Now I fully understand the theory and why it could apply to end time events. In Revelation 6:8-11, we see an angel given power over the Sun. This is followed by fires and great heat. If the Sun did nova, it would fit Isaiah's reference to become 7 times brighter, it may eject some matter which would cause damage to Earth, generating heat and fires. What's more is that the Sun would be significantly darker after the fact.[11] The one catch with this theory is that nova generally happen in binary star systems making it scientifically unlikely for our Sun. Of course, that doesn't mean it's impossible.

I'd also like to point out a difference in tone between the KJV and the CSB for this particular verse. The KJV talks about binding up the breach against the people, which reads as punishing those who went against God's people, as well as healing the people, whereas the CSB sounds like its only a healing process. The former allows for the above interpretation whereas the latter reduces the meaning to a simple happily ever after (implicitly leaving out the punishment of those who did not turn back to God).

What is Tophet?

When I first saw the name Tophet, I couldn't figure out if it was a person or place. Tophet was a city of great importance to the nations around Israel. It functioned as a burial ground for all the pagan sacrifices the surrounding nations had made, including child sacrifices.[9][10] This is not a place the Israelites should have been mixed up with. God is alluding to the death of the king and suggesting that he will be unceremoniously buried amongst the pagans.

Phone A Friend?

Chances are if your car broke down, there's at least one person that you would dial to come help you out. If you were in a deeper, more personal situation, that list of people might shrink. As the situation becomes more and more severe, the number of people you'd trust to help you would probably shrink, until you got to that one person you know has your back no matter what. Colloquially, we'd call that your "ride or die" friend.

When the Israelites ran into some trouble in, they were at the point that the list should have been whittled down to their "ride or die" choice. That choice should have been God, but if you know anything about their history, you already know they didn't choose God. Instead, the put their faith in Egypt (Isaiah 31). They trusted the tangible things they could see with their eyes—horses, chariots, and a great army. They took matters into their own hand, and God lays out a "woe" to them because of this choice.

We like to see progress being made. Think about how much more satisfying it is to drive on a backstreet uninihibited versus driving on the interstate, where traffic is bumper to bumper. One is immensely peaceful; the other is extremely frustrating. We like to see our selves moving forward toward a goal. We typically feel helpless in a situation that we're not actively working in, and while praying to God is an active step in resolving any problem, we often don't feel like it is. Instead we look for tangible, but less viable, solutions from the world.

Think of it like this: something major happens, and instead of calling you best friend to help you sort it out, you call a bully who use to harass you all the time. That's exactly what Israel did. God saved Israel from Egypt. The Egyptians were not allies of Israel, and they weren't known for their helpfulness nor their morality. Yet God was all three of those things!

Fortunately for us, when we do stupid things like this, God is always willing to take us back. If we repent of our foolishness and run back to Him, He will make a way for our return. We might have to endure some punishment, but He will clean up or mess too. We just have to have faith.

A Prophecy

Isaiah 32 is prophecy made up of 3 parts. First, Isaiah relays information about the leaders of the coming kingdom. Second, he gives us information on the wicked in the world. Finally, he leaves a message to the women of the nation.

The King

The first couple of verses definitely sound like a Messianic prophecy. Isaiah is speaking of this great king who will come and restore justice to the nation, which is exactly what Jesus is doing. Biblical scholars actually debate whether this is a genuine Messianic prophecy, or a reference to a righteous king like Hezekiah or Josiah.[1] Because God is known for His double prophecies, I lean toward both interpretations being true. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of most prophecies given in the Old Testament, because it's purpose is to point us to salvation.

Liberals

If you're reading the King James Version, you'll notice something very interesting in Isaiah 32:5,7-8. In these verses, Isaiah starts talking about "liberals." In verse 5, he says the vile (or the wicked) are not liberals, and in verse 7 and 8, he contrasts the liberals to the vile, implying once again that they are not the same. If you forget to put the verse in the context of the Bible, you might think he's endorsing the Democratic party or the political left, which is often referred to as "liberal." However, I'm fairly confident that's not what Isaiah was referencing. So, I checked out the verse in other translations and did some research on the original Hebrew word.[2]

The original Hebrew word translated to liberal in the KJV and noble in the CSB, is נָדִיב (nadib). According to Strong's Concordance, it means "noble, generous, inclined."[3] One might wonder why the KJV chose the word liberal, but the literal definition of liberal actually makes sense in the context as well.[5] One of the definitions of liberal is actually "generous." Think of the phrase, "apply liberally." Basically, the righteous are generous, which is why they do not behave as the unrighteous, who take from the poor. The opposite of generous is greedy, and we see that clearly in the description of how the unrighteous behave.

While this isn't a prophecy or commentary on the politics of the U.S., it can still be used to assess the state of the government or the motivations of individual politicians. The ones whom God would have lead will be generous; they will want to give to the people and take care of people. Those backed by Satan will be about money, about helping the rich, and will implement policies designed to hurt the poor.

A Message to Women

In Isaiah 32:9-19, a message is given that is specifically for the women. The women have also been lulled into a false sense of comfort and complacency. God warns that all their lavishness and riches will be taken from them.

The relationship between men and women as it concerns God is actually quite interesting. It is possible that because the men have provided so well for the women—through their unrighteous connections with Egypt—the women feel no need to be concerned with God. Remember, Ephesians 5:23-24 tells us that as head of the house, the man is supposed to connect woman to God. So, since the men are not seeking God, the women aren't either.

Of course, there is also the converse situation that women can pull men away from God. Adam chose to disobey God because he followed Eve. The Israelites constantly dabbled in idolatry because they married pagan women—*cough* Solomon *cough* Samson *cough*. So, it's also possible that it was the women who started this descent from God.

That's why I find the relationship between men and women, biblically speaking, to be interesting. So many people harp on men leading and women being submissive, that they miss the point that both parties are responsible for each other. If one person in the relationship is walking away from God, it's very easy for the other person to follow. Part of the vows should be a responsibility to re-center the couple back on God if/when the other person is lost.

Endgame

When the people of Israel return to righteousness (re: return to God), the result will be peace. I found it interesting that God speaks of hail in his judgment of the unrighteous, because it's also mentioned as a plague of the final judgement (Revelation 8:7; 11:19; 16:21).

The Spoiled

In Isaiah 33 we see another example of needing context to understand a particular word. Here, Isaiah warns those who are "spoiling" that have not been spoiled and those who "deal treacherously" with people that have not be dealt treacherously with. Usually when I say "spoil" I mean it in the sense of spoiling a child. Most parents who spoil their children have good intentions but take things too far. I don't think anyone spoils their child with the intent of crippling the child's growth. However, the context of this passage clearly implies negative intentions on the person's part. Spoiled in this context, means to ruin with malicious intent—such as to spoil the ending of movie, or to spoil the surprise.

It almost seems like Isaiah is giving a pass to those who were wronged first, as though it's OK for them to play tit-for-tat, but given the Bible's overall stance on turning the other cheek, I don't think that's what Isaiah is getting at. We have sympathy and mercy for people acting in self defense, wether their choice is right or wrong. We also have sympathy and mercy for those who don't know any better—for instance, a 3 year old that finds a gun and accidentally kills someone. It's not right that they killed someone, but we aren't going to blame them for it (hopefully). Similarly, if you've been wronged your whole life, you've been taught that is how you treat people; you don't know better. Or if you've been severely wronged, you may lash out, at which point it's easy to sympathize with you despite knowing your action was wrong. The people Isaiah is speaking of don't have this excuse. They're just be horrible people because they want to be horrible people. There's no sympathy for them.

In short, when you know better, you should do better.

Everlasting/Forever

A lot of people believe when you die, if you go to hell you will burn for all eternity. I'm not one of those people. I believe that those who are sentenced to hell will burn out of existence; that state is for all eternity unlike the first death we we go through now, but that's for a different post. I bring it up because Isaiah 33:14 is one of the verses people might think supports an eternity of burning, after all, it does say everlasting. Isaiah also makes a reference to the tabernacle that will never be torn down in Isaiah 33:20. The tabernacle in question is clearly not the Temple of Solomon or the on that was destroyed in 70ad. I point these two examples out because it's important to think about how each verse works with the whole of the text and the concept of forever/everlasting in the Bible is quite interesting.

There are several passages in the Bible that reference God's name being on the Temple forever, but the Temple is gone. So what God really meant was that as long as the Temple is there, His name is on it. Similarly, we aren't given eternal life unless we surrender to Jesus, so we can be alive, burning forever. However, we the fire is everlasting because the death it causes is everlasting. I'll try to do a more in depth post on the concept of hell in the future, but I wanted to point this bit out since Isaiah mentions it as part of the judgement.
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.Isaiah 33:22

References

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 1169. 2014
  2. "Isaiah 32:5". Interlinear Bible, via Bible Hub; visited March 2019
  3. "5081. nadib". Strong's Concordance, via Bible Hub; visited March 2019
  4. "Liberal". Merriam-Webster; visited March 2019
  5. "Ariel". Bible Study Tools; visited March 2019
  6. "Was America Ever A Christian Nation?". YouTube
  7. "Hanes". Bible Study Tools; visited April 2019
  8. "Zoan". Bible Study Tools; visited April 2019
  9. Emil G. Hirsch and Ira Maurice Price. "Tophet". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906
  10. "Mark Cartwright. "Tophet". Ancient History Encyclopedia. April 15, 2016
  11. G. H. Rieke. "Sometimes the Final Stages of the Life of a Star Result in Violent Explosions". University of Arizona: Natural Sciences 102 Lecture
  12. Connie. "Revelation 16:1-11". End Times Studies. March 7, 2010
  13. Dennis Romero. "California had nation's worst fire season in 2018". NBC News. March 9, 2019
  14. Debra Utacia Krol and Allison Herrera. "California wildfires weren’t always this destructive". High Country News. November 15, 2018
  15. Paul Przyborski and Robert Levy. "Fire". NASA Earth Observatory; visited April 2019
  16. Megan Specia. "The Five Conflicts Driving the Bulk of the World’s Refugee Crisis". NY Times. June 19, 2018
  17. "Global Warming and Hurricanes". Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. February 8, 2019
  18. "Strongest Hurricanes: 10 Most Intense Atlantic Hurricanes on Record". The Weather Channel. June 16, 2018

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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