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It doesn’t take very long for dead religious traditions to replace vibrant biblical convictions. It happens all the time.

– It happens in families as children attend the same worship services as their parents but never experience the internal transformation of being born again by the Spirit of God. They can’t identify with the truth that is proclaimed because it doesn’t resonate with their own experience of just going through the motions of religious activity. Their spiritual eyes are closed.

– It happens in churches as people fall away from the faith and end up perpetuating just a religious carcass of rote tradition. Look at the hypocrisy in the Roman Catholic Church and the parallels to the leaven of the Pharisees in the gospel times. Look at the deadness in the mainline Protestant churches. We drive by their magnificent structures every day and marvel at the apostasy of such churches. The truth is no longer being preached from those pulpits. Look at the void of spiritual life over in Europe where the Great Reformation took shape.

– It happens in educational institutions like universities (Princeton and Yale) and seminaries and social ministry frameworks like the YMCA. Here in Isaiah 29 we see it happening in the very City of God, Jerusalem.

God hates it when people draw near to Him with their lips but their hearts are far removed. That is why it is critical that biblical convictions fuel your spiritual activities. Why do you do what you do when it comes to worshiping and serving the Lord? It is possible to engage in a wide range of positive religious functions that end up having more of a deadening effect because you are just going through the motions in an external sense like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day or the Jews back in the time of Isaiah.


We ask of our educational system: “Why can’t Johnny read?” Here we are going to have the answer to the spiritual question: “Why don’t these seemingly religious people understand God’s truth?

Important verses – quoted by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul – we do well to pay attention


A. (:1-3) Jerusalem Besieged

1. (:1) Hypocritical Worship

“Woe, O Ariel, Ariel the city where David once camped!

Add year to year, observe your feasts on schedule.”

WOE = Watch Out Earthlings

Cf. liturgical worship schedule adhered to by many traditional churches – empty worship characterized by a lack of spiritual discernment – no true understanding of the Word of God

Van Parunak: Jerusalem is God’s altar, where the righteous offer sacrifices to please him, but where the wicked themselves are consumed by the fire of his wrath.

Constable: Isaiah addressed this oracle to Ariel (lit. altar hearth, cf. Ezek. 43:15-16). Another meaning, “lion of God” (cf. 31:4; Gen. 49:9; 2 Sam. 23:20; 1 Kings 10:19-20; 1 Chron. 11:22), was probably not intended here since Isaiah described Ariel as the place where Israel’s religious festivals took place. Clearly Ariel refers to Jerusalem, the city where David set up his headquarters (cf. 2 Sam. 5:9), and Mount Zion (v. 8), the site of Judah’s worship. . .

The city also boasted of its heritage in David, but the present residents did not share David’s heart for God (cf. v. 13). The prophet directed the city to continue to observe its annual religious feasts regularly. This seems to be a sarcastic call to continue offering the sacrifices, which the people thought assured their blessing by God, even though they were doing so as an empty ritual (cf. v. 13). These meaningless acts of worship would not avert judgment to come (v. 2; cf. Hos. 8:11-14; Amos 4:4-5).

S. Lewis Johnson: Now that statement “add year to year” in the Hebrew text suggests that he is allowing them just a little over a year for their present activity and we know of course that Sennacherib’s invasion came in 701 B.C. So the prophecy is probably written around 703 and there is not much time left for Ariel. . ..

Now the reason Jerusalem is called the hearth of God is because it was in Jerusalem that the brazen altar lay. It was in the temple area and it was there that the animals were scarified and they were placed upon the brazen altar where the animals were burned. And so this, the place of worship was the hearth of God, and Jerusalem is given its name by reason of the fact that it was there that the worship of God took place. True worship existed in Jerusalem.

Oswalt: Jerusalem prided herself on her pure worship as opposed to idolatrous Samaria, but in fact, pure cult does not replace a pure heart, and the very source of her pride contributed to her downfall.

Young: Ariel, you are the very city in which David once had made his dwelling, but you, Ariel, are in a precarious position. Woe unto you! You refuse to realize your true condition, but you will soon discover that your present security is no security at all. Go on therefore, as you have been doing. Add year to year, for you think that your present condition will continue indefinitely. Celebrate your feasts regularly, year by year as you have been doing. It will be of no avail.

2. (:2) Hysterical Mourning

“And I will bring distress to Ariel,

And she shall be a city of lamenting and mourning;

And she shall be like an Ariel to me.”

Cf. book of Lamentations – lots of wailing and lamenting and mourning

And God will bring distress to the City of God …

The city itself, having rejected the true worship of God, will become in essence God’s own sacrificial altar as He consumes it in judgment

3. (:3) Higher Power Opposition

“And I will camp against you encircling you,

And I will set siegeworks against you,

And I will raise up battle towers against you.”

Contrast: place where David once camped (signifying prestige) now place against which the Lord has camped; terrible thing to have the Lord against you instead of for you

S. Lewis Johnson: The four great sieges of Jerusalem, however, are the siege by Sennacherib in 701 B.C., the siege by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., then the siege by Vespasian and Titus in 70 A.D. and then the siege of the future described in the 14th chapter of the Book of Zachariah as well as in the Book of Revelation, a siege by the antichrist and his forces. These are the four great sieges of the city of Jerusalem, and the first one is being announced here, the siege by Sennacherib and God is going to encamp against the city.

Van Parunak: This is probably a reference to siege engines, wheeled towers that provided shelter to the operators of a battering ram on the lower level, along with an elevated platform for archers.

Grogan: David, in fact, besieged Jerusalem when it was a Jebusite stronghold. When he took it, it became his capital city. Through many a difficult century in its history it had never been taken again. The true poignancy of the “woe” here lies in the fact that the God who had enabled David to take it would now besiege this city himself, through its enemies (v. 5), and cause its destruction by fire just as if the whole city had become an extension of the altar hearth within its temple.

B. (:4) Jerusalem Brought Low – to Death

“Then you shall be brought low; From the earth you shall speak, And from the dust where you are prostrate, Your words shall come. Your voice shall also be like that of a spirit from the ground, And your speech shall whisper from the dust.”

Beall: v. 4 increases the tragic irony: instead of arrogant boasting, Jerusalem will be brought down to the underworld, and only a whisper from the dust will be heard.

Van Parunak: her speech is described as a “whisper.” Mediums often used ventriloquism to make their voice sound as though it were coming out of the ground, and the result was a thin, far-away sound. Compare again 8:19, “wizards that peep and that mutter.” This dampened voice may anticipate the dream imagery that dominates vv. 7-14. In a nightmare, bodily actions are restrained. You try to run but your legs are leaden. You try to scream but you can only whisper. The Israelites are frozen in a nightmare.

Cf. Nebuchadnezzar being brought low; God knows how to humble the pride of man


A. (:5) Sudden Destruction

“But the multitude of your enemies shall become like fine dust,

And the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away;

And it shall happen instantly, suddenly.”

Judgment not just against Babylon but against “multitude” of enemies = last days reference

Fine dust is very different from the Solid Rock which the Lord is laying in Zion (28:16)

No strength in numbers here

B. (:6) Cosmic Calamity

“From the LORD of hosts you will be punished

with thunder and earthquake and loud noise,

With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire.”

Young: The picture is one of great grandeur, for even elements of nature are involved and move at the coming of the Lord. Tempest and storm are present as well as the flame of devouring fire. The visitation is a terrible one, inspiring awe in the beholder. At His coming the world of nature cannot be at ease for His coming is majestic, accompanied by the voice of thunder and the noise of the elements in agitated motion. Before Him nothing can stand, for a fiery flame, devouring all, is with Him. As once He came down upon Sinai’s mount, so now Jerusalem will be visited with His presence.

C. (:7-8) Frustrating Futility – Nothing but Pipedreams

“And the multitude of all the nations who wage war against Ariel, Even all who wage war against her and her stronghold, and who distress her, Shall be like a dream, a vision of the night. And it will be as when a hungry man dreams– And behold, he is eating; But when he awakens, his hunger is not satisfied, Or as when a thirsty man dreams– And behold, he is drinking, But when he awakens, behold, he is faint, And his thirst is not quenched. Thus the multitude of all the nations shall be, Who wage war against Mount Zion.”

Pipedream = a hope, wish, or dream that is impossible to achieve or not practical.

Motyer: How certain the foe considered himself to be of accomplishment, how completely he was deceived!

The enemy nations want to devour the people of Israel; wipe them off the face of the map; make a feast of them and consume them utterly; but the Lord frustrates their purposes


A. (:9) Condition of Spiritual Blindness

1. Spiritually Blinded

“Be delayed and wait.

Blind yourselves and be blind.”

Sarcastic – go ahead and continue your delaying of getting right with God; it doesn’t get easier; you are doing this to yourselves – even though God is also active in judging you with blindness;

You are only hurting yourself by this stubborn hypocrisy

2. Spiritually Disoriented

“They become drunk, but not with wine;

They stagger, but not with strong drink.”

Constable: Jerusalem’s leaders would delay (actually, “be delayed,” by their lack of perception) and wait to act in faith because they were spiritually blind and drunk (cf. 6:9-10). Isaiah was apparently speaking to them ironically again (cf. v. 1). If the people of Jerusalem failed to see the importance of trusting God in the face of enemy attack, and failed to trust Him, they would find it even more difficult to see His will and do it later. When people see the will of God and refuse to do it, they become incapable of seeing it and doing it further (cf. Acts 28:26-28; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Heb. 4:1-11). This is serious spiritual blindness and drunkenness.

B. (:10-12) Curse of Spiritual Blindness

1. (:10) Blinding of the Spiritual Prophets

“For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep,

He has shut your eyes, the prophets;

And He has covered your heads, the seers.”

Principle: you respond to divine light then you receive more light; you reject divine light and even the light you had been shown will be diminished

Remember Isaiah’s commission: Is. 6:8-10 – should be no surprise . . . but still difficult to deal with

2. (:11-12) Concealing of Any Revelation

a. (:11) Educated Leaders are Spiritually Illiterate

“And the entire vision shall be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, ‘Please read this,’ he will say, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’”

God’s revelation not an open book to religious hypocrites; book is sealed; cannot be understood; problem cannot be solved by academic degrees or sophistication of human wisdom;

Imagery in Rev. of the Lord being the only one who can break the seals

b. (:12) Masses are Just Plain Illiterate

“Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Please read this.’ And he will say, ‘I cannot read.’”

C. (:13-14) Cause of Spiritual Blindness

1. (:13) The Problem = Hypocrisy (cf. Matt. 15:8-9)

a. Feigned Devotion = Lip Service

“Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words

And honor Me with their lip service,

But they remove their hearts far from Me,’”

Ezek. 33:30-33 Jews in exile pretended to enjoy hearing the words of the prophet; but they would not take it to heart and obey; their heart pursues sinful lusts and greedy gain;

Matt. 15:1-11 Jesus takes this passage and applies it to the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders

John 9:38-41

2 Thess. 2:11-12 “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”

How do we remove our hearts from God vs. how do we draw near to God in our hearts?

b. Rote Tradition = Going Through the Motions

“And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,”

Bomkamp: Whenever God’s people turn away from Him, external religion replaces the internal, and external rites and observances pass as legitimate regardless of the state of the heart of the individual.

2. (:14) The Pronouncement of Judgment = Hiding of God’s Truth

a. Marvelous Nature of God’s Judgment

“Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people wondrously marvelous;”

same language used at end of chap. 28:21 (has Messianic tinge to the language – Is. 9:6)

Is this speaking of grace with the emphasis on God saving a remnant by way of the purification process of judgment

Or is this more of a negative connotation of God judging His own people?? [my view]

b. Deadening of All Wisdom and Discernment

“And the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,

And the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed.”

Constable: Therefore He would again deal with them in a way that would cause others to marvel, as He had done in the past when they sank to this level. Their wise men would not be able to view life from God’s perspective, and their discerning men would not be able to see through things to the real issues (cf. 28:29). Inability to see would be their punishment for choosing not to see (cf. 5:21; 11:2; 26:7-10; 1 Cor. 1:19).

Verse quoted directly by Paul in 1 Cor. 1:18-25

Don’t ever be impressed by human wisdom – it will only block you from understanding the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ


If the Bible is an open book to you, then you need to give thanks. If the Lord continues to bless you with the spiritual discernment to understand His truth, you need to give thanks. But the only way to perpetuate that position of privilege is to continue to draw near to God with your heart. We must reverence Him by continuing to develop biblical convictions that guide our obedience in every area of life. We cannot fall into the snare of religious tradition.

If this message isn’t hitting home to you, then you need to beware – WOE – Watch Out Earthlings! The Lord will judge rote religious tradition.