In this section of Isaiah, we find a glorious description of the turn from the old to the new covenant, and from the corrupted covenant to the incorruptible.
“Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off, who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right. Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: “Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction”” (Is. 29:17–24, ESV)
Summary of the Text:
In the previous section (28 & 29), we have numerous portions of Isaiah’s prophecy that are quoted in the New Testament, showing us that this section is all about the failure of the Old Israel, and the supplanting of the Old Israel by the New Israel. And in that supplanting we find that the greatest achievement of the Old Israel was the establishment of the New Israel in Christ.
In just a very short time, everything will be established as lush and green (v. 17). You know what that means—lots of CO2. This is a metaphor for the spiritual awakening that will be occurring—the deaf will hear, and the blind will see (v. 18). The meek will be strengthened in their joy, and the poor in spirit will rejoice in God (v. 19). The tyrant will be thrown down, the scorner annihilated, and those who look for opportunities to do wickedness will be cut off (v. 20). These are the evil ones who make mountains out of molehills, who play gotcha questions, and act that way to ruin men’s lives (v. 21). So God promises good things for the house of Jacob, the new Jacob (v. 22). He will have the great glory of seeing his children glorify God (v. 23). He will have the great blessing of seeing the wandering straightened out, and the grumblers coming to learn sound doctrine (v. 24). This is the era in which we now live. This is our heritage.
The Set Up:
We know how to handle Old Testament passages, in part, by how surrounding Old Testament passages are handled in the New Testament. Picture the New Testament as an overlay, and every citation of the Old in the New is a nail driven through the two testaments. What range of motion do you now have?
“For with stammering lips and another tongue Will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; And this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear” (Is. 28:11–12; cf. Dt. 28:49).
Paul teaches us in 1 Cor. 14:21 that the gift of tongues was a sign of pending judgment on unbelieving Jews. If you did not understand when it was spoken to you in plain Hebrew, maybe you will understand when your streets are full of soldiers speaking Babylonian. And the ultimate fulfillment of this warning was Pentecost.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, A tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: He that believeth shall not make haste” (Is. 28:16; cf. 8:14).
We are taught in multiple places in the NT that Christ is this cornerstone, which means that in the Christian era, the cornerstone has already been laid (1 Pet. 2:6; Rom. 9:33 Rom. 10:11).
And then a promise, anticipating our text, is found in Is. 28:17-18.
But alongside those lifted up, there is a judgment declared upon the rulers of Israel at that time.
“For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, And hath closed your eyes: The prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered” (Is. 29:10; Dt. 29:4).
Paul quotes this passage in order to explain the obstinacy of unbelieving Jews in his day (Rom. 11:8).
“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, And with their lips do honour me, But have removed their heart far from me, And their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Is. 29:13).
The hypocrisy of the rulers of Israel was prophesied long before, and is recorded in two of the gospels, using these words of Isaiah (Mark 7:6-7; Matt. 15:8-9).
“Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, Even a marvellous work and a wonder: For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” (Isaiah 29:14)
The great work that God was going to do was going to happen right alongside an obstinate refusal to understand the glory of that work (1 Cor. 1:19). We see that, according to Paul, the mystery was all bound up in the work of a substitutionary cross.
“Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: For shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9).
Some do not like this kind of sovereign display (Rom 9:20)
So Back to the Blessing:
And so then Isaiah turns back to the anticipated promise of our text. So to repeat:
In just a very short time, the wilderness will become a garden (v. 17). A spiritual wilderness will become a spiritual garden—the deaf really will hear, and the blind really will see (v. 18). The meek (who have been waiting patiently) will be strengthened in joy; the poor in spirit will be filled with joy (v. 19). The despot will be deposed, the mocker consumed, and those who hunt out mischief will be judged (v. 20). These are the gnat-stranglers (v. 21). So God promises glory for the new Jacob (v. 22). He will have the amazing blessing of seeing his children glorify God (v. 23). He will have the great blessing of seeing the wandering straightened out, and the grumblers coming to learn sound doctrine (v. 24). This is the era in which we now live. This is our heritage.