Isra'el's Watchmen Are Blind,

They All Lack Knowledge

56:9 to 57:2

   DIG: What three figures of speech does Isaiah use to describe the leaders of Israel? What time period was Isaiah describing? How do we know? To whom was this prophecy addressed? In what ways are the leaders as useless as gluttons or sleeping watchdogs that can’t even bark? What are the primary concerns in these verses?

   REFLECT: How can we check ourselves against spiritual blindness? How can you be taken away to be spared from an evil situation? How do you think you would react in a situation like this? Why? What is the most important life lesson you can take away from this study? How can you use it to help others?

    Throughout most of this third major section in the second half of the book: Il - That Her Sin Had Been Pardoned from 49:1 to 57:21, the emphasis has been on the far eschatological prophecy of the righteous of the TaNaKh in the messianic Kingdom. Now in 56:9 to 57:21, Isaiah prophesied about the spiritual condition of the nation about a hundred years in the future. We can be confident of our interpretation because the nation was not broken apart during the days of Isaiah, although undoubtedly corrupt. It was, however, during the ministry of Jeremiah, that the beasts came and Jerusalem fell (Jeremiah 52). It was then that the Israelites were taken into captivity and the book of Lamentations was written. In view of the wonderful future that Isaiah had already prophesied, one would expect the Israelites would want to obey ADONAI in anticipation of that glorious Kingdom. But, sadly, that was not the case. And if we look around us, we have the same problems today.

    In this near historical prophecy Isaiah condemns the religious rulers of Jerusalem about one hundred years later during the ministry of Jeremiah. The leaders of Isra'el were not the LORD’s servants, they were working for themselves. They had failed the people and they had failed God. Therefore, they were to be condemned and removed by Babylon. In irony and bitterness the heart of the prophet invites the wild beasts of the field and the beasts of the forest to come and devour the defenseless sheep, because they were left unprotected by their shepherds. This is a scathing accusation against the slothful leaders of the people and is a standard motif elsewhere in the Bible (Jeremiah 12:9; Ezeki'el 34:8).

    Come, all you beasts of the field, come and devour, all you beasts of the forest (56:9)! The beasts in the plural refer to the Gentile nations. Just because ADONAI had selected her as His vineyard did not mean He would not break down its walls and call in the wild animals if she did not keep her covenant promises (see Ba – The Song of the Vineyard). Grace is not to somehow condone overt, continuous sin and make it acceptable, but rather, to make it possible, after discipline, to start over with a clean slate and the power to obey (Romans 6:1-23).

    But here the LORD was permitting the Gentile nations to break down the walls of the vineyard, and like wild beasts, devour His people. Assyria had already broken in and Babylon was coming. Later, others would come and devour her. If you have ever seen pictures of the walls of Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall, you can see that they are built of stones from different time periods and civilizations. History tells us that Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twenty-seven times, and today is built upon its own debris. To reach the place where Yeshua walked you would have to dig down thirty to fifty feet. Why did ADONAI allow the Gentile nations to devour the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10b)?

    In his first figure of speech, Isaiah uses a watchman. The watchmen of Isra'el were the prophets, who were designated to see what was coming and prepare the people to meet the challenge (Isaiah 21:6, 52:8; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; Habakkuk 2:1). If these “seers” were blind, however, the likelihood that the people would choose the right way and avoid sin was virtually non-existent. Unfortunately, that was the case during the ministry of Jeremiah. Israel’s watchmen were blind. They all lacked knowledge, they were all mute dogs who could not even bark; they lay around and dreamt, loving to sleep (56:10). From Isaiah we learn that Isra'el’s watchmen were guilty of a whole list of wrongdoings. It would almost be laughable if it were not so tragic.

    First, they were blind (56:10a); they could not see the difference between good and evil. Unfortunately, it was the blind leading the blind, and not surprisingly, it ended terribly. The Psalmist wrote: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11). The only way we can tell if we have our spiritual blinders on, is check ourselves against the Word of God. For all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (Second Timothy 3:16-17).

    Secondly, they all lacked knowledge (56:10b). They lacked the necessary foresight and knowledge to lead, even though the well-being of the nation rested on their narrow shoulders. The LORD said through His prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6a). The priests in particular had ignored their duty to communicate the Torah to the nation (Deuteronomy 31:9-13, 33:8-10; Malachi 2:7).

    Thirdly, in his second figure of speech, Isaiah likened those counterfeit leaders to dogs. Rather than being barking dogs for protection, they were all mute dogs, because they refused to bark (56:10c). In Isaiah’s day every shepherd had a dog to help him watch the sheep. The dog would lie down at night and keep one eye open. The second a dangerous animal or human being came to harm or to steal the sheep – the dog would bark. But the watchmen, who should have been warning ADONAI's people, were ignoring it. Like mute dogs, they did not bark when danger was near. A silent watchdog is worthless.

    Fourthly, rather then keeping a sharp eye on the flock, they laid around dreaming because they loved to sleep (56:10d). Instead of staying alert watching for the approaching enemy, those dogs were fast asleep, their legs twitching in their dreams, only waking up long enough to yawn and change positions. They didn’t love the people, or even their task. The real affection of their lives was for sleep. Because those religious leaders had allowed their sense of calling to become fuzzy, laziness had overtaken them and destroyed their ability to perform their calling.

    Fifthly, not only were they lazy, but they were also greedy. That's a bad combination. They were dogs with mighty appetites; they never had enough (56:11a). The problem with them was not merely idleness and sloth; the problem was much more active than that. They were concerned with their own self-interests rather than the welfare of their flock. Ironically, they had forsaken the real purpose of their lives for self-gratification that they could never satisfy. Like a dog chasing its tail, they could never find the reward that they were so franticly looking for. It always seemed just out of their reach.

    Sixth, in a third figure of speech they were compared to shepherds who lacked understanding (56:11b). Solomon wrote: Folly delights a man who lacks judgment, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course (Proverbs 15:21). Good shepherds know the best grazing ground for their flocks. But these pseudo-leaders were self-absorbed and ignorant. They just didn’t get it.

    Seventh, they all turned to their own way, each seeking his own gain (56:11c). They sought their own interests without caring for the welfare of the people. The cardinal sin of leadership is insatiable self-concern. The threefold imagery of the watchman, dogs and shepherds suggests that Isaiah’s prophecy was addressed not only to the prophets but, as other places in the book, to the heart of the Jewish leadership: the priests and the royalty. Each group, without exception, had chosen to put themselves before the interests of their God, their country and their people. If they only could have seen king Zedekiah taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, forced to watch the execution of his own sons, then blinded, bound with shackles and taken to Babylon to die (Jeremiah 52:9-11), maybe then they would have chosen differently. But they themselves were blind.

    Eighth, then Isaiah offers a concrete illustration. Without an introduction of a speaker we simply hear the watchmen speak. Then everything Isaiah had been saying became tangibly real. “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer” (56:12a)!” They drowned their sad plight and condition in excessive drinking. The Bible doesn’t object to drinking wine (First Timothy 5:23), but it does condemn drunkenness. Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise (Proverbs 20:1, also see Proverbs 23:19-21).

    Ninth, they were characterized by a false sense of security, saying tomorrow will be like today, or even far better (56:12b). If a little pleasure is good, then more is better, and much more is better still. They faced the future as drunkards and blind optimists, unable to see beyond the glass of alcohol in front of them. There are many people who are facing life like that today. What desire never tells us is that she can never be satisfied, and in the end, she ends up enslaving us. Sin always takes you further than you want to go, and costs you more than you wanted to pay.

    In Matthew 23 Jesus accuses the Jewish leadership of not fulfilling their God given duties and pronounces seven woes against them. Jewish critics like to use that chapter to try to show that there is anti-Semitism in the New Covenant. If anyone ever does that to you, turn to Isaiah 56:10-12 and ask them if Isaiah was anti-Semitic also?

    The disappearance of the righteous and godly was a result of the apathy of the nations supposed leaders. The righteous perish and no one takes it to heart (57:1a). As the wicked leaders continued their pursuit of pleasure, their flock was being devoured. They didn’t care; in fact, they didn’t even notice. Evil became so rampant in Jerusalem that during the ministry of Jeremiah there was a time when he was virtually unable to find one person who dealt honestly and sought the truth (see my commentary on Jeremaih Ba - No One Is Upright). There were a few, but basically Jeremiah found a city full of evil. They were like Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah; in effect they basically made no difference. ADONAI had disciplined Isra'el in the past, but He had only been met with resistance. If anything, God’s discipline only made their hearts harder and they refused to repent. Zion was rushing headlong toward both spiritual and physical disaster.

    Therefore, the LORD, in His mercy, began to take the righteous out of their society. Devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil (57:1b). He was preparing the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and knew the suffering that would result. So one by one, devout men and women were taken away, not to be replaced. Slowly, like a body bleeding to death, the spiritual life was drained from the City. The Bible doesn’t tell us how this was accomplished; only that God did it. The disappearance of the righteous should have been a signal to all that drastic corrective measures were at hand. But no one understood that the righteous were taken away to be spared from the evil.

    Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death, literally they lie upon their beds (57:2). Those who walked uprightly had the peace of death (Second Kings 22:20) and their souls are in heaven because of their righteousness. In contrast to this peaceful state of the righteous, the wicked, however, were idol worshippers; as we will see in the next section.

 

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