Isaiah 29–33: Rogues & Rest

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 6: Friday

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very mighty,
But they do not regard at the Holy One of Israel, nor seek Yahweh!
Isaiah 31:1 LSB

Today’s Bible reading is Isaiah 29–33. These chapters contain verses that have convicted me and guarded me from my early days as a Christian. When facing a problem or seeing a need, my tendency has always been to plunge ahead, try to figure out a solution, and do something before first praying and seeking God’s help and guidance. When I do this, I act out of a mix of insecurity, fear, and a desire to be in control. I still fall short, however, nowadays any woman I teach or work with will find I underscore dependence upon God and bringing everything to Him in prayer. The circumstances of life still challenge me to trust in God, and these chapters in Isaiah are both a reminder of where I’ve been and, as Alec Motyer’s calls them, a summons for what to do now.

Derek Kidner labels chapter 28–31, “The Assyrian Crisis: God’s Help or Man’s?”1 Alec Motyer has these insight to help us understand this section of Isaiah:

“Chapters 28–35 contain six sections, each opening with the word ‘ho’ or ‘woe’ (28:1–29; 29:1–14; 29:15–24; 30:1–33; 31:1–32:20; 33:1–35:10). These ‘summons’ match each other in pairs (the first with the fourth; second with the fifth; third with the sixth). The first three contain no names of nations, dealing with the situation in principle; the second come to grips with names and events.”2

Here are the sections with Motyer’s title for each summons:3

1. Isaiah 28:1–29 The Word of God and the ways of God
2. Isaiah 29:1–14 A problem solved, a problem raised
3. Isaiah 29:15–24 Spiritual transformation
4. Isaiah 30:1–33 Faithless people, faithful God
5. Isaiah 31:1–32:20 Righteous king, new society
6. Isaiah 33:1–35:10 Ultimate realities, ultimate proclamations

Here are exerpts from his comments on each summons and their parallel. Not only did I find his organization helpful, but his insights were powerful as he applied Isaiah’s words.

First summons (principle):
Isaiah 28:1–29 The Word of God and the ways of God

“The ways of God are past understanding, but that does not mean they lack planning, point and purpose. It just means that not only are his ways not our ways but neither are our thoughts his thoughts…So when we ask why am I in this place and circumstance? Why is life so hard? Why these blows, at this moment, with this severity? — think of the farmer [Isaiah 28:23–29]…We are where we are by his design; the roughnesses of life are the only ways which lead to the harvest he desires.”4

Fourth summons (names and events):
Isaiah 30:1–33 Faithless people, faithful God

“The first summons (28:1-29) insisted that there is only one sure foundation for life in this uncertain world: Yahweh, his promises, and the monarchy and city of David in which those promises are set. There is no security—only certain death—in worldly securities and human wisdom. The fourth summons matches this by ‘earthing’ it in the actual situation in Isaiah’s day. Assyria was on the march, threatening to sweep little Judah into its empire. Egypt was promising protection. Jerusalem’s politicians were negotiating an Egyptian alliance. Isaiah knew this to be a fatal choice, a way of death, but he never lost his grip on the glorious ultimate future.”5

Second summons (principle):
Isaiah 29:1–14 A problem solved, a problem raised

“The first summons left a question hanging in the air: Jerusalem deserves to be treated as Samaria, but will the divine Farmer, who deals knowledgeably with each crop, simply follow one pattern for both cities? 29:1-8 says, ‘No, it will be different from Jerusalem’, but that leaves a different problem as yet unsolved—Jerusalem’s spiritual blindness and spiritual need…

“Spiritual blindness is a deliberate decision (v. 9) and also a divine judgment on that decision (v. 10). It is refusal of the truth (vv. 11-12) and can only be cured by divine action (vv. 13-14).”6

Fifth summons (names and events):
Isaiah 31:1–32:20 Righteous king, new society

“This is the fifth summons, parallel to the second (29:1-14). There the principle was asserted that there is still hope in Yahweh when all earthly hope is gone—the hope of circumstantial and spiritual transformation. Isaiah now applies this to the actual situation in 701 BC when the politicians were trusting Egypt and the aggressive Assyrians were triumphing on all fronts. He wants to show that the Lord’s principles of action and his promises really hold for life in the actualities of this world…

“Where are you going and what are you looking at? In principle these are the questions Isaiah asked his people and now asks us. They were going to Egypt for military resource in a day of military threat; they were looking to Pharoah for shelter in a day of national emergency (31:1-3). Where are we going? What are we looking at? Every day brings its threats and needs, great and small, and Isaiah’s questions remain vital. What direction are we moving in? Where are our eyes fixed? Are we ever and always getting closer to Jesus, ever and always ‘seeing him more clearly, loving him more dearly’, turning our eyes on Jesus, looking full in his wonderful face?…it is not always (or usually) the ‘big’ occasions that defeat us. Very often they send us fleeing to Jesus in a more determined way. It is the small daily decisions. There is the silly-sounding decision whether to get out of bed to read our Bible and seek our Saviour or to have another twenty minutes under the blankets. Silly-sounding, but actually deadly serious. Do we fill our eyes with him before the world clamours for our attention? Do we sit in his presence and commit ourselves to holiness for the day ahead, winning the battle before we reach the field? Where are we going? What are we gazing at?”7

Third summons (principle):
Isaiah 29:15–24 Spiritual transformation

“The second summons dwelt on the fact that no matter how great and impressive are the Lord’s earthly interventions and deliverances they leave the deeper question of spiritual blindness still to be solved. The third summons insists that this deeper need is within the Lord’s competence. It does not say how he will act but what he will achieve…

“The first—and major—sign that the Lord is working a spiritual transformation in people is their new awareness of the truth (v. 18), a new ability to understand and appropriate, and a growth in discernment and grasp (v. 24). After their walk to Emmaus in company with the unrecognized Jesus, they testified that their heart burned while he opened the Scriptures. The instructed mind led to the burning heart; the mind was opened to and by the truth and the emotions followed. That, incidentally, is the biblical order of things: mind first, emotions to follow.

“When Isaiah dealt with the same topic he reverts to his ‘book’ illustration of 29:11-12. Now, as the Lord works his miracle of renewal, the book becomes precious and the blocked ear becomes able and avid to hear—a transformation as dramatic and humanly impossible as turning Lebanon into a garden…

“The first and major indication of a transforming work of God is a new need for the truth, a conviction where the truth is to be found, a zeal for the Word of Truth, an appetite for God’s Book. And not just the first sign, but also God’s recipe for progress to maturity.”8

Sixth summons (names and events):
Isaiah 33:1–35:10 Ultimate realities, ultimate proclamations

“The sixth is the longest summons, extending from 33:1–35:10. Like its partner, the third summons (29:15-24), it is wholly visionary and eschatological. We can ‘read’ historic events between the lines, but our eyes are held throughout on the undated future.

“Even the least nautical of us find ourselves warming to Isaiah’s beautiful word-picture of the Zion that is yet to be, with its far horizons, and its calm vista of rivers and streams wherever the eye may roam…The reality and certainty of it is secured solely by the Lord and his salvation. Once sin is forgiven the heavenly city lies open, fully furnished in all its security, loveliness and peace, and we, once lame and sick in our sin, now enter its gates without restriction—and without contribution on our part. The Zion that was…is our pre-history, we who belong to Jesus Christ; the true Zion to which we have come in Christ—the Jerusalem that is above—is our present home and citizenship (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22–24), and our eternal expectation is the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven (Rev. 21:10)…we are (literally) ‘the people carried away in respect of our sins’ (v. 24). We have a sin-bearing Saviour, and the sins he carried away into the awful desert place of Calvary (Mark 15:34) are never to be seen again (Lev. 16:21–22).”9

What a wonderful, sure and certain hope we have!

Motyer impressed me anew with how crucial God’s Word is and to fix my eyes on Jesus because God is the “sure foundation for life in this uncertain world.”

As I read through these chapters I’m brought up short against the question whom do I trust in crisis? When things fall apart or I’m threatened, where do I turn for help? Isaiah’s answer then and now is don’t trust in Egypt; trust in God.

The promises in Isaiah help me trust God. How? Here’s one example. When I read in Isaiah of a king who reigns righteously, and I see this verse—

“No longer will the wicked fool be called noble,
Or the rogue be spoken of
as generous.”
Isaiah 32:5 LSB

—it helps me endure. I see injustice in the way I’m treated or I see the kind of rogues Isaiah speaks of, “who destroy the afflicted with slander,” and I see God’s promises that He will make wrongs right and the wicked will be judged. It helps me to be able to wait for His help and trust Him in this time I live in right now. I also see God’s promises in these verses, as I’m reminded to rest and trust in Him:

“For thus Lord Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your might.”
Isaiah 30:15a LSB

When I have felt unstable and unmoored, these verses are God’s promise.

Raised high aloft is Yahweh,
for he resides on high;
He has determined to fill Zion with judgment and righteousness.
and He will be the stability of your times,
A wealth of salvation in full and plenty,
wisdom, and knowledge;
The fear of Yahweh is his treasure.
Isaiah 33:2–6 AM10

In this uncertain and unstable world, we have a sure and certain God. May God enable us to hunger for and heed His Word—and to rest and trust in Him.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Ancient Temples at Abu Simbel, Egypt: Daniel Csörföly. Public Domain.
1Derek Kidner, “Isaiah,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 606.
2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10Alec Motyer, Isaiah By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Scotland, U.K.: 2011) 135; 135, 141, 144, 147, for this fifth summons Motyer labels Isaiah 31 as Prologue: disaster and deliverance  (153), using the main title for Isaiah 32 (154), 158–159; 140; 147; 141–142; 153, 157; 145–146; 158, 161; 158, Motyer’s translation. The phrase in verse 6, and He will be the stability of your times, means, “Either ‘he is the one who provides stability at all times’, or ‘in every conceivable situation he remains his reliable self'” (159).

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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