Woe to You, Ariel, Ariel,

 the City Where David Settled

29: 1-8

   DIG: What happened regularly on the Temple’s altar that Isaiah is warning is mere “lip service,” and unintelligible at that (29:4 and 13)? Who is being criticized in this mockery of the city’s unwarranted hope in their immunity from God’s judgment? Although it will be the Assyrian army outside their gates, who is really “encamped against” Jerusalem (29:3, also see 28:21)? How would this realization affect the city’s proud leadership (29:4, compare with 28:14-15)? What might they expect to happen next?

   REFLECT: When has God turned things around for you, suddenly, in an instant? What were you doing when this happened? How did God show His love to you in a special way? What does this show you about the LORD’s grace?

    This is the second woe in the Book of Woes. Jerusalem prided herself on her pure worship as opposed to the idolatrous Samaria, but in fact, pure worship does not replace a pure heart. It turned out that pride led to her downfall. But ADONAI would not only be responsible for her downfall, He would also be able to restore her. As throughout the book, the word of judgment (8:1-4) is very quickly followed by the word of redemption (8:5-8).

    The corrupt leadership of Judah was apparently urging an alliance with Egypt specifically because they did not believe that the LORD could save them (5:18-19, 7:12, 30:2, 31:1). So Isaiah cries out: Woe to you Ariel, Ariel, the city where David settled (29:1a)! Ariel means two things, the lion of God and the burning altar-hearth of God. The word is used in the lion of God sense in Second Samuel 23:20 and Isaiah 33:7. The word is used in the burning altar-hearth of God sense here in Isaiah 29:2 and Ezekiel 43:15-16. Isaiah will use both figures. He will view Ariel as a burning altar-hearth and he will view Ariel as a lion.

    We learn that Ariel means Jerusalem because this is the City where David settled (Second Samuel 5:6-10). Her close association with David was another expression of Jerusalem’s pride. To the Jewish mind, David was the ideal man of God. The rabbis taught that all Jews would enter the Messianic Kingdom, while all Gentiles (unless they converted to Judaism and took on the yoke of the Torah)were doomed to Sh'ol. Ezekiel understood that the soul who sins is the one who will die (Ezekiel 18:1-32). For every righteous father like king like Uzziah, there was a wicked son like Ahaz; for every Ahaz, there was a righteous son like Hezekiah. For every Hezekiah, there was a wicked Manasseh. Association guarantees nothing. Salvation is individual and personal. Going to church or messianic temple does not guarantee personal righteousness. Just because you sit in the garage doesn’t make you a car!

    The LORD chided the Jews living in Jerusalem, saying: Add year to year and let your useless cycle of festivals go on (29:1b). Adding year to year seems to be a sarcastic invitation by Isaiah to have the citizens of Jerusalem go right ahead with their useless cycle of festivals. They were useless because their hearts were far from God. Although they would continue with their cycle of festivals, they could not avert the attack by Sennacherib and the Assyrians (36:1-22). The feasts may have pleased the Judeans, but they did not please ADONAI. Opposed to the covenant signed with the antichrist (28:14-29), this was the near historical covenant with Egypt.

    God’s response was to put Jerusalem under siege! Yet I will lay siege to Ariel (29:2a). Just when we think we have the LORD figured out, He pulls the rug out from under our feet. He is the Maker and He can use His power anyway He wants (29:16). We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand (64:8, also see 29:16). There is no mention of Assyria here because she irrelevant. The focus is not on Assyria but on Jerusalem. The human author wants to make it clear that ADONAI is no mere spectator in the theater of human history. It will be God who puts Jerusalem under siege when the Assyrians are at the gate. He is the One controlling Judah’s future.

    Then Isaiah uses another play on words when he says: She will become mourn and lament (29:2b CJB). These two words sound virtually the same with just one small change of vowel pattern, mourning and moaning. The impact of God’s actions here are emphasized by the use of haya, Ariel will not merely mourn and lament, she will become them when she becomes the sacrifice. She will come to Me like an altar hearth (29:2c). We learn that she will be to me like an altar hearth, or the burning altar-hearth of God. The reason for the woe is that Jerusalem's pride will be brought down to the ground. She will be so low, her voice will mumble out of the dust like a ghost in 8:19.

    If we dismiss the sacrifice ADONAI has made available to us, then we ourselves become the sacrifice. If we do not accept God’s substitution (Genesis 22:1-19), then we must carry the burden of our own sin (Hebrews 10:26-27; Romans 8:11-13).

    I will encamp against you all around. David may have encamped within Jerusalem, but the LORD will encamp against her. As Sennacherib laid siege to Ariel, walling it off so no one could enter or leave, it would in fact be ADONAI in the form of the Assyrians. God Himself declared: I will encircle you with towers and set up my siege works against you (29:3). The Assyrians developed many ingenious devices to break down the walls of cities they wanted to pillage. Among the greatest were great wheeled towers that included a battering ramp on the bottom and spaces for attacking soldiers on the top. These were pushed up against the city walls on ramps or earth and wood.

    Brought low, or humiliated, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust (29:4a). This is probably an allusion to the notion, which was common to the ancient peoples, as well as to the Hebrews, that the souls of the dead had a weak, strident sound, entirely different from the voices of living people. The mourners, who were mostly women, spoke in a shrill, feigned voice, and may have practiced ventriloquism; in which case the voice would seem to come from the ground, where it was popularly supposed the disembodied spirits were.98 Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper (29:4b). So the LORD has the power of life and death. It was He that the Judeans needed to pay attention to, not the Assyrians. Messiah gave this warning: I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear. Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him (Luke 12:4-5).

    Next, the tone shifts form judgment to redemption (see my commentary on Exodus Bz – Redemption). Isaiah wants the Judean’s to know that they can trust Him when they are faithful and they can trust Him even after they have experienced His discipline. How foolish they were to trust Egypt instead.

    When my son was very young and I had to discipline him, I always tried to reassure him how much I loved him when the discipline was over. I would hold him and spend some time with him. I didn’t want to leave him emotionally hurt and distant from me. I wanted him to be secure in our relationship. So when the discipline was over, I would hold him in my arms and tell him how much he meant to me, and how much I loved him. This is what ADONAI is doing here.

    Once the threshing and the plowing of Ariel were over with, as the parables in the previous section pointed out (28:14-29), they would give way to planting. Isaiah tells us that God is going to punish Ariel’s enemies. But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff (29:5a). The many enemies of Ariel are, in reality, no more than fine dust or wind blown chaff. Although Jerusalem would be surrounded by one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian troops, she would not be taken at that time (37:36).

    ADONAI will come His people as they cry out to Him for mercy (Ruth 1:6; First Samuel 2:21; Psalm 8:4, 106:4, Jeremiah 15:15, 29:10). Suddenly, in an instant, the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB) will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire (29:5b-6). He comes to His people to right their wrongs. If they are wrong, His coming means punishment (24:21), but if they were being wronged, He comes to deliver. He is the God of the exodus, delivering His people and destroying His enemies. This judgment will be in the form of convulsive judgments and will cause Ariel’s enemies to disappear. The phrase, a devouring fire, is used specifically of the Shechinah glory.

    Then the hordes of all the Gentile nations that fight against Ariel, that attack her and her fortress and besiege her, will be as it is with a dream, with a vision in the night. As when a hungry man dreams that he is eating, but he awakens, and his hunger remains; as when a thirsty man dreams that he is drinking, but he awakens faint, with his thirst unquenched (29:7-8a). By means of these judgments the enemies of Ariel who brought her down, will themselves be destroyed. The result will be that they will be so completely destroyed that they will appear to be only a dream (Zechariah 12:2-4, 14:1-3). In one sense, the Holy Spirit speaks in general terms of all the Gentile nations that fight against Jerusalem over the centuries, but the specific context is Sennacherib and the Assyrians. Compared to the terrifying reality of ADONAI, the mighty Assyrian army will only seem like a dream. Here today, gone tomorrow. Then the Angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning – there were all the dead bodies (37:36)! So will it be with the hordes of all the Gentile nations that fight against Mount Zion (29:8b).

    When the Assyrian soldiers were destroyed in Isaiah’s day, no doubt the people of Jerusalem were overjoyed. But shortly the difficulty subsided and life returned to normal. Rather than turning back to the LORD, the nation sunk more deeply into sin. Assyria came against Jerusalem and was destroyed accordingly. This assurance should have encouraged the people to trust ADONAI and worship Him properly, but it didn’t.


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