Notes on Isaiah 30-32

 

David H. Linden    University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM   USA       (revised July 2011)

 

The prophecies of Isaiah 28 & 29 are closely related to this section, but Egypt and Assyria were not named in those chapters; now they are. Isaiah continues with the spiritual issues, but in chapters 30 & 31, he applies them in specific historical situations. He also looks to the future when God’s purposes will be completely fulfilled.  These chapters should be studied together.

 


30:1-5   Jerusalem had turned to Egypt for protection. They sent delegates there so they could have Egypt’s help to resist the Assyrian threat. God’s children were obstinate because they did this contrary to warnings from the Lord.  God says their plans were not His, not of His Spirit, not helpful and not profitable.  Alliance” is better translated “protective covering”, the same word for the “blanket” in 28:20 that could not protect or cover. Earlier the Lord said whoever trusts in the Stone He would set in Zion would not be dismayed or “put to shame” (Romans 10:13). Those who look to Egypt will be disgraced. (“Looking to” is a synonym for faith; see also 31:1). The people preferred the protective shade of Egypt rather than the Lord Who is the real refuge, shelter, and shade of 25:4. It is a double disgrace: unbelief in their reliable Lord, and disappointment that will come from trusting in unfaithful Egypt. 

 

30:6,7   An Oracle re the Negev   Jerusalem’s emissaries were already in Egypt.  They had to travel through the Negev, the desert region to the south of Jerusalem. They carried gifts to win Egyptian favor, and endured the danger and hardship of that journey, another example of sinners exhausting themselves for nothing, (Jeremiah 51:58). That kind of journey was in the opposite direction of the Exodus from Egypt. In their unbelief they were returning to the oppressor from which the Lord had delivered His people some 700 years earlier. The entire enterprise was a slap in the face of God. For all their effort they gain nothing. ‘Rahab’, which means ‘arrogant’, refers to Egypt (Psalm 87:4, Isaiah 51:9).

 

30:8   It is wonderful that God has committed so much to writing. Some people will not sign what they say, so their word on another day cannot be compared with their previous promise. Isaiah was to write down his message, (perhaps the oracle of vv.6 & 7), as a witness that he had said what he did. It is vital in a book like Isaiah that we connect the time of a prophecy to an event fulfilled later. The Lord shows His deity by His ability to say in advance what will happen. God’s predictions are a witness that God is God (43:9,10). Isaiah’s written word was to be “an everlasting witness”. 2700 years later we are still going over every word recorded in his book. God’s people are doing this all over the earth!

 

30:9-14   Isaiah’s ministry of the Word was rejected, as in 28:9,10. In vv.10,11 Isaiah puts their attitudes into words, just as in 28:15. The people were willing to hear something as long as they could control what was being said. The message they preferred would be morally unchallenging, devoid of the holiness of God, new in the sense of not being the old message of His previous revelation. They wanted the message to be pleasant to them. By asking for illusions, they wanted to have error; they chose to be deceived. (See Zechariah 1:2-6.)  Isaiah said they were unwilling to listen. 

 

There is a big difference between the one who is blind with no exposure to the Word of God, and the person who is willfully blind, by consciously choosing illusions in rejection of the truth of the Word of God. (Later in Isaiah 42:18-22, God will declare that Israel is blind.)  

 

Rejecting the Message   Isaiah says of those seeking to be free of God’s path that they rely on oppression, an indication that rebels get the opposite of what they seek. They want freedom and get bondage. The penalty is given in vv.12-14 in illustrations of a wall collapsing and pottery being smashed. Again as in 29:5, where judgment is as sudden as an earthquake, the wall will collapse “suddenly, in an instant”. Often God gives no further warning to those already warned (Proverbs 29:1; Matthew 24:36-39). His warnings may be an irritation to those whose hearts are hard, but such warnings are mercy ignored.  

 

The rejection was not only of a message and the messenger Isaiah; it was a rejection of the Lord, described twice in vv.11,12 as “the Holy One of Israel”.  The mind of human flesh is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). Salvation cannot occur without hearing the Word, but for the Word to be accepted, there must be a change of heart, i.e., being born of God (John 1:13) by the cleansing Spirit, (John 3:5) in a birth that is from above” (John 3:3).  (The Greek word anothen, anwqen, translated ‘again’, may also be translated ‘from above’ as it is in John 3:31.)   The opposite of the intransigence of 30:9-14 & 16 is found in v.21, “your ears will hear”. Such hearing shows salvation has actually begun.

 

30:15-17   In this paragraph we are given the message Isaiah gave, which they rejected.  Notice they would have none of it. Our sinful condition apart from God’s grace is frightful.  They despised salvation and strength. In their delusion they hoped for salvation from Assyria through reliance on Egypt; they hoped for strength from military strength. That was to be frustrated. Isaiah called them to salvation by repentance, which means they should turn back to the Lord and His Word. He expressed faith as “rest”, a wonderful way to present it. (See Hebrews 3:16-4:11). It was not rest to send envoys to Egypt for their help. The trip through the Negev and its dangers, carrying gifts to win the favor of liars was not rest. It was a strenuous and worthless effort to secure safety. Quietness is the absence of frenzy and anxiety.  Such quietness is trust in Israel’s Almighty God.

 

Their faith was in fast horses, but the enemies’ horses would be faster. God promised them in Leviticus 26:6-8 peace in their land without fear.  This is what quietness is like. He promised to remove wild beasts (Leviticus 26:6), but Jerusalem chose to travel in the presence of lions and snakes (30:6). He promised the sword would not pass through their land, but their rebellion meant foreign armies would roam through it (1:7; 5:26).  He promised five would chase a hundred (Leviticus 26:8), and now Isaiah says five of them will make the Jews run in fear. Their weakness is described as a thousand fleeing at the threat of one (v.17). They would end up as deprived of people as a left behind flag on a hill after all the soldiers were gone.

 

30:18-26   Good News   This paragraph is one of the most encouraging in the Bible.  Vv.18-26 show that human sin cannot stop God from being gracious to His people. The section holds out both blessings and abundance. In verses 1-17 there is rejection of the Word, but vv.18-26 show the opposite:  a receptive spirit to God’s Word, and an obedience that rejects idols. 

 

30:18   Compassion and Justice   Human sin will be treated in God’s justice; He cannot overlook sin and be Himself. The cross of Christ is the great evidence that God does not excuse sin. He may pardon it, but He never fails to punish it. When the penalty for sin is lifted from us, it is only because it was laid on Christ (53:6). 

 

V.16 had a double “therefore” as does v. 18 (though the NIV unfortunately does not show it in v.18). This is a link between the verses. In v.16 the “therefore’s” are related to judgment; in  v.18, to compassion. The judgment had to come first since the grace of God does not circumvent the justice of God.  Grace works by justice being satisfied, not by justice avoided.  V.18 could be translated “He will wait in order to be gracious.”  Here God stresses devotion to His purpose using the language of longing. When we read that one ‘rises’, as in getting up early from desired sleep, it shows motivation and strong desire (Jeremiah 7:25).

 

30:19   By stating Jerusalem and Zion, it commits God to the specific place under threat.  This is not a promise to some unidentified place. Knowing this, the people could live in quietness and trust (v.15). 

 

30:20,21   First their bread was adversity; later there will be plentiful food (v.23). The contrast is between bread of adversity (i.e., suffering) and the presence of their teacher.  Everyone who sins suffers the adversity that comes from sinning. That will change in this new day when instead of sinning, the Lord their Teacher will be present to give constant instruction.  (Teachers could be singular or plural here.)  The Lord will no longer hide His face from them (8:17; 45:15). They will see Him, because they have close contact. He will watch over them so carefully that He will keep them from sinning.  If they stray to the right or the left, they will have immediate correction.

 

 

So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.  Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you… so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess”.  

 

This is the commandment in Deuteronomy 5:32,33, a command tied to teachers in Deuteronomy 17:11, and to other gods in 28:12-14. But here in Isaiah 30 we have a situation where one can no longer stray. Isaiah speaks of the glorified state where His people are held to holiness by their divine Teacher and are finally in full conformity to Christ (Romans 8:29). An immediacy in answered prayer, instruction, and of God’s presence among them, describes the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21,22).

 

30:22   At one time Israel was devoted to the worship of the gods of their neighbors. This will change to a revulsion toward those idols, in spite of the work put into making them and the value of the gold and silver on them.  In 2:20 men throw away their idols because the idols disappointed them, but in 30:22 they will reject idols out of love for God. 

 

30:23,24   This is the result of redemption of the earth itself from the curse on it in Genesis 3:17-19.  God will give rain (i.e., proper conditions), and the earth will give in abundance. (See Amos 9:13-15.) Even the animals will eat well.  In broad meadows they will be undisturbed. Suffering from Adam’s sin will be over for both man, animal, and all creation (Romans 8:18-25).

 

30:25,26   A great slaughter is in the future but not for God’s people, thus this reference to falling towers (see 2:12-18). For them there will there be no more tears, the water of affliction of v.20. God’s blessing is deliberately exaggerated as if water actually flowed on the top of mountains, and the sun and moon would give greatly magnified light; there will be an awesome change. It is the picture of a creation that no longer holds back its benefits of water and light; both are released in their full power. This is in conjunction with the Lord healing His people. Once He inflicted them for their sin; now having redeemed them, He heals them.  Full redemption includes the inanimate creation and the sinful creature.   (Only fallen angels have no redemption at all.)

 

30:27-33   Back to Assyria    This section begins with the name of the Lord and ends with the breath of the Lord (v.33). His Name is the summary of His revealed character. The wrath of the Lord is against those who harmed His people, with a special focus on punishing Assyria in v.31. 

 

30:27,28   All three stanzas of this section have consuming fire or burning in some form, with a climax in the prepared fire, Topheth.  This is like the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). While this is a figure of speech, fire is the metaphor most used for the wrath of God on sinners. The notion now being promoted that hell is only the consequences of man’s choices, is a half-truth which devalues the Biblical emphasis that eternal judgment is the direct punishment of God.  Here the burning anger is presented as from His lips, His tongue, His breath and He is the one who sifts the nations. Shaking or sifting is another metaphor of God’s judgment. (Note how Hebrews 12:25-29 repeats this description of judgment from Haggai 2:6,7, 21,22.) 

 

God shakes the nations is a sieve of destruction.  As in Matthew 13:47-50, this passage may also be teaching that there is a sifting in the day of judgment to separate the wicked from the righteous. In Matthew 13 angels separate the evil from the righteous. In this Isaiah text, it is God shaking the sieve.

 

30:29,30   Celebrating Judgment   This stanza contains singing and musical instruments (also found in v.32). In Revelation 19:1-4 there is cheering and praise to the Lord over the destruction of Babylon. Here they rejoice in His judgment. This is not the same as gloating, but when evil men finally face justice, it is always a matter of rejoicing, even if sorrow accompanies it. In this stanza, the arm of the Lord is God acting directly.

 

As Isaiah progresses there are more and more references to the Lord’s arm. Eventually it is the Lord’s Arm, because in 53:1 this is a term for Christ. When the arm is revealed (52:10), it is Christ. (See also 51:5,9; 59:1,16.)

 

30:31-33   The music and judgment continue without any apology for God’s enthusiasm in dealing with Assyria so severely.  Assyria may march confidently to Jerusalem, but it is God who has prepared the funeral pyre for the Assyrian king.  Assyria was God’s punishing rod against others, including Judah (10:5).  Now for his sin he and his army will face the consuming fire, “the Light of Israel”. Thus divine flame (10:17) will incinerate the ample supply of wood when God sets the whole pile ablaze in His anger. The word Topheth may be a combination of the words for fire-place and shame.  (See 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31,32).  

 


 

 

Isaiah 31

 

This section has many parallels with Isaiah 29:1-14. Chapter 31 opens with the fifth of six woes in 28-35, in the NIV or six “ah’s” in the ESV. Some go down to Egypt for help (v.1) and the Lord comes down (v.4) to Mount Zion to do His work.

 


31:1  Isaiah keeps up the theme that trust in Egypt is evil. Faith hopes for what is not seen, (Hebrews 11:1). The thinking of man who has no thought of God, is to rely on what he can see. In this verse it is horses, chariots, and horsemen. Maybe when they came near the Lord in worship (in the sense of 29:13), with good words such as Psalms 33 & 76 (both of which mention horses), they sang truth which, nevertheless, did not affect them. In time of trouble, they would not choose the Lord but the horses of Egypt to be their savior.

 

The Same False Trust   Isaiah speaks of relying on Egypt, not the Lord, in the face of the Assyrian threat. Ezekiel prophesied over a century later. The threat then was Babylon, but the trust was Egypt again. The King of Judah in Ezekiel’s day rebelled against the King of Babylon “by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant [made with the King of Babylon] and yet escape? …  Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war …” (Ezekiel 17:15-17)

 

 

31:2,3   It was the Lord Who brought the Assyrian disaster (10:6). It was the Lord Who promised the preservation of the throne of David (He does not take back His words). It is the Lord Who will rise up against the help of the evil-doers of Egypt, because their help competes with His. These Egyptians are men and not God.  God’s people failed to think of the Lord as God. Once the transcendent God faded in their thinking, their faith naturally sought other trust – no matter how unworthy. When they lost the distinction between flesh and spirit; they were left with only flesh – in this case, horse flesh.  God has no pleasure in the strength of a horse (Psalm 147); His delight is in those that fear Him. By simply moving His hand, God can make the helper (Egypt) to stumble and the one seeking such help (Judah) to fall. True faith believes in One we cannot see (1 Peter 1:3-9).

 

31:4,5   Two animal illustrations   For their sin, God fights against Mount Zion by using the Assyrians to chasten them. The Egyptians can no more prevent God doing that than a group of shepherds can frighten a lion growling over its prey. With the kind of abruptness we see in Isaiah (compare 29:5), the text turns to the Lord protecting His people. Punishment and protection can come together. (See 1:24-26.)  Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord will shield and protect Jerusalem. 

 

31:6-9   Not believing in such a wonderful Lord is a terrible sin, so Isaiah calls for repentance. A misdirected faith will always lead to terrible disappointment. Strong feeling against idols will come for all who trust false gods. “The Lord will be exalted in that day; the idols will totally disappear” (2:17,18). Isaiah probably means by “in that day” the Judgment Day. Then it will be horribly clear to idolaters that their idols are worthless. The appeal of the Bible is to turn from idols before their helplessness is evident to all the world in that great day when all shall see that only God is God (Philippians 2:9-11).

 

The deliverance from Assyria would not be one where any idol can claim credit. It would happen in such a plain way that Jerusalem will realize that it was the Lord alone Who rescued them.  The sword of man would not be allowed on this occasion to have even the appearance of saving them. The Savior is not mortal man but the living God. He used a disease to devour the Assyrian horde (10:16). Later, after whatever Assyrians still alive returned home, Assyria deteriorated till the day its young men became slaves of others.  Their rock was their king who, at the walls of Jerusalem, did not crash into a stone wall but into the Rock of Israel (30:29) and was destroyed. He ran into the stone that causes men to stumble (8:14,15). He ran into Jesus Christ the Stone (1 Peter 2:8, 1 Corinthians 10:4). Christ, in protecting His people, made the mighty King of Assyria fall. Just as He hovered over Jerusalem to save them from Assyria, He later offered His protective wings in His days on earth. But Jerusalem would not have it, so the rejected Lord left them unprotected to be overrun by a different horde, the army of the Romans (Luke 13:34).

 

The Assyrian defeat is one of terror because the Lord is in Zion and His fire is holy fire. Assyria approached the city where God had placed His Name and found there that the God of Israel is a consuming fire. The Lord Who lived in Jerusalem is holy. As covenant keeper, God could be trusted to keep His promise; as holy, He would never approve of sin. Thus He is both a Savior of sinners and the danger to sinners still in their sin. The King of Assyria marched with blasphemous confidence into the consuming fire and learned truth about the God of Israel. Israel’s God is the real God. No man on earth is safe from God unless His only hope is the Lord Jesus Who for His people underwent the fire of divine wrath against our sin on the cross. 


 

 

Isaiah 32

 

In 31:6-9 there were two judgments, the ultimate one at the end and the one near in time against Assyria. Two kings are also mentioned: one was the evil king of Assyria (31:9); the other is Christ, the good King to come (32:1). I will argue vigorously in my comments below on Isaiah 32:1 & 2 that this passage presents Christ as the promised shelter and shade. This chapter then turns to the transformation of the world itself. It shows the conduct of a people whose lives are radically changed when the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord (11:9). In His Word God often holds together what is with what should be, and then what will be when the Lord returns. (See 2:5 after the astounding prediction of 2:2-4!)

 


32:1   The Messianic King of chapters 9 & 11 will reign in righteousness, and so will the princes under Him. This chapter does not dwell on the righteousness of His reign but in the resulting righteousness to be found in His subjects vv.3,4. 

 

32:2   How this is translated obviously affects whether it speaks of the one man, Christ as the shelter and shade, or other men as well – such as the princes of v.1. We may say, “A man would be wise to do this.” When we speak that way, we do not have one person in mind. But while it is possible in the grammar of 32:2 to speak of “each man” without having a specific soul in mind, Isaiah 32:1 is describing a king in the singular. I say the text ahs in mind one king,  Christ. The prophet is not speaking of a number of men in v.2. He spoke of a king and then of a man to describe Him further. Would Isaiah really say that a number of men are each a shelter and refuge, when the Bible presents only the Lord Himself that way? So I urge this understanding: Isaiah spoke first of “a king” (v.1) with princes under Him. The he spoke of this great king with the righteous rule as “a man”, referring only to Christ. Please note that those who translate 32:1,2 have not denied that Christ is in view in v.1. No one in history fulfills v.1 but Christ.

 

Other weighty reasons to say “a man” as in the KJV for v.2 rather that “each man” referring to multiple persons:

 

1)   In chapter 4 it is very clear that the overarching glory is the shekinah presence of the Lord shading His people. In that context He is “a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain” (4:6). This should affect how we read chapter 32. But Isaiah 25 does the same thing! “For you have been a stronghold to the poor … a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat” (25:4). Such is the clear language of Isaiah prior to the words of chapter 32.

 

2)   The message of Isaiah in its early chapters relates to the throne and line of David, corrupted by his sons. Ahaz feared from his life and his city, ignoring the covenant with David, of which he was the chief beneficiary. In this context, the Lord promised the son of the virgin for the House of David ouse of David House in Isaiah 7, the son to assume the throne of David in chapter 9, the human shoot from the stump of Jesse in chapter 11. All of this and more points to the King of 32:1 being a man, the singular man of 32:2. It is nothing bless than a crying shame (pardon my exaggeration) for us to lose the Isaiah 32 gem in its reference to Christ. To do so is like the expert who comes in when a movie is half over and has missed the early story line.

 

In other words, we should interpret Isaiah by reading Isaiah.

 

This picture of Christ as protector and provider comes as protection from the driving wind and water, and protection from the scorching heat of the sun. He supplies water to sustain life. Having such a King has positive results as the following verses show. Vv.1,2 should be seen this way. The Lord Himself is a shelter and refuge from eternal danger brought on us by our sin. The danger to every sinner is the Lord God Himself, because in His holy justice, He must reward our sin with death. But the Lord has become our saving Refuge, because in His grace God has provided Christ. Since Christ took the guilt and punishment of our sin, we have in Him full forgiveness and shelter from the wrath of God. Apart from Christ that wrath would be upon us. Christ, and only Christ, is our Shelter and Shade.

 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism holds to a sense of shelter and shade in the ministry of Christ that fits 32:1,2 well:

 

Q. 26. How does Christ execute the office of a king? 

A. Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

 

32:3-5   The reign of Christ will bring about change in those who enjoy His reign.  These changes are perception (eyes), reception (ears), grasp of truth (mind), and communication of it (tongue). Blindness to God’s truth (6:10; 29:9,10) will be removed. His people will no longer be rash; they will not talk without knowledge. No longer will fools be admired.

 

32:6-8   The future day will have no fools, but till then they are still with us.   Isaiah describes in vv.6,7 how godless men speak and of the ruin they bring to others. They teach error concerning the Lord.  We must beware of false teachers.  (See Acts 20:29-31; all of 2 Peter and Jude; Philippians 3; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Timothy 3-4:5; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, and Galatians). False teachers are noted for immoral lives and deceit.  Following them brings emptiness, dissatisfaction, and destruction. This is a powerful Scripture to show us that doctrine is important. False doctrine and ungodly conduct are the devil’s trade. This must be answered by truth proclaimed and godly lives. When this is so, the quality of a noble man will be revealed.  The wicked will not stand in the judgment; his way will perish, (Psalm 1).

 

32:8   V.1 anticipates quality princes who will rule in justice. Christ has others ruling with Him (Revelation 3:21). The righteousness of the right King results in righteousness in those allied with Him. So v.8 announces that noble colleagues (of Christ) will plan noble things. In v.15 we will see that the Spirit is poured out. That Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), Who will produce the character of Christ in His people.

 

32:9-14  Isaiah addresses different segments of society from prophets to priests to old and young. Here he speaks again, as in chapter 3, to complacent and selfish women. A failure to take serious things seriously is a sin. These women feel secure because they do not believe the prophet’s warning and cannot sense the famine that is coming. But the trouble is worse than a crop failure; the fields that produce the grapes will be overrun and the city itself will be deserted. Since Jerusalem did not fall to Assyria, Isaiah refers in this paragraph to the later Babylonian captivity when the people of Jerusalem would go into captivity. Then the animals could move in and live where people used to live. Unaware of all this, the women were confident of good times, but it was a false confidence. The stripping of clothes here probably refers to being taken as slaves.

 

32:15-18   Another great blessing is still ahead for God’s people. God will pour out His Spirit upon those who are truly His people. Vv.6-14 show how bad it can be among the covenant people. God cannot be defeated in accomplishing His purposes. To bring righteousness among us, He had to send Christ, our Refuge from wrath, the Redeemer of His people from their sin. This same chapter promises the other great ‘sending’, the sending of the Holy Spirit. The language used is “pouring” because the Spirit’s work of bringing life is sometimes compared to water poured on dry ground (44:3,4).    

 

Just as water brings life to plants in desert and forest, the Holy Spirit will bring justice, righteousness, and peace, the opposite of the disaster in vv.9-14. No longer is the new earth under a curse but blessing. The gospel is of salvation by resting in God’s promise (30:15).  The Spirit produces righteousness in God’s people and that brings peace, quietness and confidence. In the new earth there will be no more war or conflict. The prophecy is not intended to inform us of what our houses will be like, but of peaceful life undisturbed by any external threat or internal sin. In the future kingdom of the Righteous King, Who pours His Spirit upon His own (Acts 2:33) there will be no threat to peace and righteousness.

 

32:19,20  The section ends with an epilogue.  The world shall experience the wrath of God, shown by a destroyed forest and a leveled city.  That judgment is real and is ahead for all who will not believe. The other experience is of the peace and happy fulfillment of one who can go about his business in safety. He is blessed and thus not under wrath. Even his animals live in security and without fear.

 

The Work of the Spirit    We should note that the Spirit is poured out. Water is used a number of times as a way to describe the giving of life. Everyone born of the Spirit is born of water (John 3:1-8). The new life is like water on dry ground; nothing can live without new life from the Spirit. (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Christ’s work on the cross is outside us, but no one would ever believe in Him unless born of the Spirit, (John 1:13). Our salvation depends on a work entirely outside us (Christ’s finished work on the cross), and entirely on a work in us (the Holy Spirit’s continuing work). The Spirit is from “on high”, (heaven), a point emphasized in Luke 24:49 and Acts 2:33. Since Christ and the Father sent the Spirit, it was essential that our Lord should first ascend to heaven. John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11), Whom He poured out from heaven on His church on the Day of Pentecost.  (See Acts 10:44-48.)