Isaiah 28–29. Who Can Learn From God?

Key Notes: How do farmers and children learn? Four modes of deception.

Isaiah continues to hammer home his threat of punishment, with hope for God's grace in a future far off. In this lesson, Isaiah asks why people do not simply respond to God's appeal.

28:1–4 The northern kingdom (Ephraim) is again warned of disaster. It was a beautiful land, but the kings and leaders were proud and drunk. Ephraim would be soon eaten like a ripe fig---chewed up by the Assyrians.

28:5–6 In That Day The Lord of Hosts (JHWH Sabaoth) will be a crown of glory and beauty to the Remnant, giving justice and strength.
28:7–8 But now the priests and prophets of Judah are drunk.
28:9–13 To whom can God explain the message? Babies? The adults complain that Isaiah's message is too sketchy---here a little, there a little. God is offering rest to the weary, but they will not hear of it.

28:11–22 The scoffers of Judah have made a deal with death. They think they will not be killed by the Assyrian army. But they have taken refuge in lies; their covenant against death will be broken. They had made a bed too small to lie on and a cover to small to wrap in. There is no rest and no protection for them.

God, on the other hand, has laid a sure foundation in Zion, a precious cornerstone and he who believes will not be anxious.

28:23–28 A farmer knows how much to plow and level the field, where to plant wheat, barley and spelt. He knows that harvesting practices used for herbs are different from those for grains. How does he know? God teaches him."This also comes from the Lord of Hosts; He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom."

29:1–8 Ariel, where David camped, Ariel (City of God) will be distressed, besieged, blazing like an Ariel (altar hearth). (Both interpretations of "Ariel" are permitted.)  People will go underground. But the multitude (Sennecharib and the Assyrians) that fight against Jerusalem will go away unsatisfied.
"The multitude of all of the nations" suggests another, far-distant siege of Jerusalem mentioned in Zech.14:2 which says "I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle". As is often the case, the prophet describes a near and a distant fulfillment in the same passage.

29:9–11 God is pouring out a spirit of deep sleep on Israel. They won't open the Book because it is sealed and they can't read anyway. The Book is probably the Law of Moses.

29:13–14 Israel has learned its religion by rote, and its heart is far from God. Jesus quoted this passage to the scribes and Pharisees. The Exile had not been effective in bringing Israel back to God.
"...this people draw near Me with their mouth and hear Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me, and the fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote." (Matt.15:8,9)

29:15–16 They have the common affliction of denying that God knows what they are doing, as if the pot could refuse the attentions of the potter: He did not make me; He doesn't understand.

29:17–24 But in the future Lebanon will again be a beautiful land. The deaf will hear, the blind will see. Recall that Jesus healed a man born blind. (Jn.9:1-). Evil-doers will come to naught. Israel will not be ashamed. The name of the Holy One of Israel will be sanctified.

Several commentaries find traces of Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, for example) in these chapters. The question, "Whom will He teach knowledge, and to whom will He explain the message?" (28:9) is covered in some detail.

First, there are those who do learn. Babies (28:9) learn speech, line upon line, precept upon precept. Farmers (28:23–28), use effective crop methods. We do not understand that God is involved in their learning. We think babies learn from their mothers, and that farming is learned by trial and error. It is amazing to watch little children learn, driven from within to master themselves and the things around them. And we also falsely think that the animals find their habitats by chance. Psa.104 says God provides their ecologic niches.

Job.39 says the wisdom of God is involved everywhere in the animal world. In biology God is not "in the gaps", the things that cannot be explained. God is in all biology. We think fetal development is just embryology, a well-known science. Psa. 139 says God forms the baby in the womb. God is involved even in the defects of human beings---speech and hearing impairment. (Ex.4:11). All that appears to be spontaneous or random---tornadoes, floods, plagues---is under the hand of God and the insurance companies correctly call them "acts of God".

But the Prophet describes four ways that we humans deceive ourselves:
a. wine, strong drink, drunkenness 28:7
b. the illusion of invulnerability---a deal with death 28:15
c. rote religion 29:13
d. believing we are invisible to God 29:15

a. Alcohol and other drugs of abuse stimulate denial, denial of dependency, and denial of disability. Alcoholics go to absurd lengths to convince themselves and others that they are doing well and need no help. AA's primary task is to get the alcoholic to acknowledge that things are not going well, and that help from God is necessary. Then recovery can begin.

b. Invulnerability is a trait of young people that is usually lost after age 40. Invulnerability makes good athletes and soldiers. It is a major factor in the death of young people--motorcycles, fast cars on country roads, no seat-belts. Fortunately, most of us survive long enough to outgrow it.

c. Rote religion is very common. Memorized prayers, Latin or Hebrew or Hindu liturgy, even our worship songs can be done without heart involvement. On TV we can watch religious people sleep-talking through an hour of memorized prayers. When there is no heart involvement, there is only vain religion, empty form. We innovate to avoid sameness in our church service so that people can be open to God's presence. Can we be sure our hearts are right toward God? Paul encourages us to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the Faith. (IICor.13:5)

d. We will probably never completely surrender the "right" to pull the curtain around ourselves and hide from God. That we are deluding ourselves is obvious:

"Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?"Psa.139:7).
"...and before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Heb.4:13).
To live in conscious transparency before God is a high spiritual goal.

There are two consequences of self-deception in this passage:
a. A spirit of deep sleep comes from God. (29:9–11). When we put our feet up  and shut our eyes, we fall asleep. When we shut our eyes to God long enough, we fall spiritually asleep and no longer react to His pleading. It is called judicial hardening.

b. Unwillingness and inability to learn from Scripture go together. (29:9–11). Carnal and worldly people do not want to go the trouble of investigating. It is easier to assume that everything will turn out all right. And they do not want to be reminded of their sins. On the other hand, it is not rare for new believers to discover that the Bible can be understood whereas only weeks before it was impenetrable.

Scripture study is a hard discipline, and being eager to do it is a spiritual gift. The rewards are great.