ISAIAH 28, 29 and 30
Isaiah prophesies a series of six ‘woes’ on various nations in the vicinity of Judah. Firstly, he rounds on Samaria, the capital of the Northern kingdom and generally acknowledged to be beautiful, built on a hilltop and full of luxury and fine living. Like a stunning bunch of flowers, it will soon fade and be trampled underfoot, in God’s judgement. The so-called priests and prophets there are filled with a rather different kind of ‘spirit’ than they should have been: beer and wine, making them incapable of ministering either to God or to mankind. As a result, they mock the true word of God that comes their way, labelling it as pedantic, petty, and over-demanding of their so-valuable time! In response, the Lord says: “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people…” (28:10-11). This passage is quoted in 1 Corinthians 14:21 as a proof text for the gift of tongues in the New Testament. God is, in effect, saying: “If you won’t listen to my plain instructions and choose to pretend that you don’t understand me, then I will send you some language that is really incomprehensible: the speech of the Assyrians!”
Israel has a sense of invincibility – born of arrogance – almost as though they had a bargain with Death itself. God laughs at that arrogance and points Israel to the real ‘anchor’ of certainty that they should be trusting in – the Lord’s Messiah. “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic”.
And so, to move the prophetic focus to ‘Ariel’, the ‘City of God’ – the city of David. “Woe to you too!”. God himself will encamp on every side and lay siege to this city, whilst at the same time attacking those nations that attack Judah. It has become blind and drunk, unable to make sense of what God is saying to it. It is full of “show” – putting too much value on externals and not the heart. The Lord says to them: “These people come near to me with their mouth (only) and honour me with their lips (only), but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught”. (29:13). This verse is quoted in Mark 7:6 by Jesus too, to show up the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
Later on: “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’?” We live in a society where God’s own creation (the humans, at least) mostly denies even the existence of its creator, happily giving the credit instead to so-called blind, random chance in a contorted effort to avoid giving God any glory!
After destruction comes restoration: “The deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel”.
Jumping to Isaiah 30:15 we hear the words that are probably key in any restoration of spiritual state: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”. God does not want us to work for our salvation – He does that – but to change our minds and our allegiance towards him, to realise that our works do not improve our status in his sight, and to trust quietly in his provision for our forgiveness. For he longs to be gracious to us and rises up quickly to show us compassions – just like the father did in the Prodigal Son parable. “As soon as he hears, he will answer you”.
If we want direction, then move in His direction! “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’”. From obedience comes clarity! And after that comes spiritual blessing. Prosperity and security. Life and joy. No more ‘woe’!