Isaiah 29 - The Sadness of Stagnation

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The Sadness of Stagnation

Good evening church! We definitely don’t have the same size Wednesday night crowd as we have participating in our Growth Groups. Great to see you folks, I’m excited to be back in an Old Testament study and to be able to share communion together this evening.
You can open your Bibles to Isaiah chapter 29. My Bible has a chapter title here that says The Blindness of Israel. Some of yours might say woe to Jerusalem. The title I’ve chosen for tonight’s message is The Sadness of Stagnation. Oxford Languages on line dictionary defines stagnation as the state of not flowing or moving. A lack of activity, growth, or development. We will see that being a fitting description of Israel in our text tonight, and it is a grave danger for the church today.
What happens when things stay stagnant for too long? They start to stink and breed mosquitoes, they send out pests not prophets.
I won’t recap the whole of the 28 preceeding chapters, but just a little bit about the book of Isaiah. It is often said to be like a miniature Bible because there is much to compare in this Book to the entire Bible. There are 66 chapters in this book, and how many books in our Bibles? 66. There are 39 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament books. What divides the two is the coming of the Messiah Jesus.
Our Old Testament largely speaks about the nation of Israel before Messiah as do the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah. There is much about the Law of God and justice. Our New Testament largely speaks about Jesus... as do the last 27 chapters of the book of Isaiah speak of the coming Messiah, His kingdom, and grace. The name Isaiah means, “Jehovah is salvation” so it is appropriate for us to return here during the season where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, as it was prophesied about in this book. Isa 9:6
Isaiah 9:6 NKJV
6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
What makes the prophecies found in this book so profound is that the ministry of Isaiah occurred from around 740 to about 690 B.C. hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The section that we are picking up in actually began in chapter 28 and continues on through chapter 33. We won’t cover all of that this evening, I just want to give you some context. Isaiah is pronouncing 5 woes on the people of the Lord. Their hearts had grown stagnant and they began just going through the motions. Chapter 28 the woe was upon the drunkards and the scoffers, chapter 29 is on Jerusalem and the deceivers. So, lets pray and begin.
Isaiah 29:1 NKJV
1 “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add year to year; Let feasts come around.
Now Ariel is not the Little Mermaid, but it says the city, it is talking about the City of Jerusalem. I should tell you that commentators are fairly evenly divided upon the meaning of the word here. It is the only place that it is used in reference to the City of Jerusalem, but some say the literal translation is “Lion of God” and others say that there is a word that is very close to this that is translated as “alter of burning” in other places in the Bible. Unlike other points of disagreement, they seem to be fairly cordial to each other and not overly dogmatic, which tells me that probably a pretty strong case can be made for either position.
Considering the context of the word in this passage, I tend to think it is being used as “Lion of God” but more in the tone of sarcasm or maybe in the way they wrongly appraise themselves, especially with the repetition in which it is used. Look again at verse one, Ariel the city where David dwelt, their pride is in their past. I know a lot of Christians like that. Those that appraise themselves based upon who they once were or how they used to serve God, but it is a different place than they are today.
It goes on…add year to year; let the feast come around, I get the feeling of repetition here, vs. 2 Isa 29:2
Isaiah 29:2 NKJV
2 Yet I will distress Ariel; There shall be heaviness and sorrow, And it shall be to Me as Ariel.
God puts them on alert here that He will deal with their disobedience and their misplaced pride. Isa 29:3-4
Isaiah 29:3–4 NKJV
3 I will encamp against you all around, I will lay siege against you with a mound, And I will raise siegeworks against you. 4 You shall be brought down, You shall speak out of the ground; Your speech shall be low, out of the dust; Your voice shall be like a medium’s, out of the ground; And your speech shall whisper out of the dust.
This judgement of reckoning will be severe and rather than being the Roaring Lion of God they perceive themselves to be, it will be like a whisper, it says here like a medium. I think of that like a ventriloquist, because a medium is just pretending to be speaking in the voice of someone else. He says your speech shall whisper out of the dust and then continues with this idea of dust. Isaiah 29:5-8
Isaiah 29:5–8 NKJV
5 “Moreover the multitude of your foes Shall be like fine dust, And the multitude of the terrible ones Like chaff that passes away; Yes, it shall be in an instant, suddenly. 6 You will be punished by the Lord of hosts With thunder and earthquake and great noise, With storm and tempest And the flame of devouring fire. 7 The multitude of all the nations who fight against Ariel, Even all who fight against her and her fortress, And distress her, Shall be as a dream of a night vision. 8 It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams, And look—he eats; But he awakes, and his soul is still empty; Or as when a thirsty man dreams, And look—he drinks; But he awakes, and indeed he is faint, And his soul still craves: So the multitude of all the nations shall be, Who fight against Mount Zion.”
Understand this was written before Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians came, actually before he was even born. We’ve talked about God using the wicked Assyrians as a hand of His Judgement, but this passage speaks of a multitude of enemies against Israel. If you look throughout history, Jerusalem has been involved in over a 100 conflicts and completely destroyed more than once. But, they have not been put down, and Jerusalem will not die. I think verse 6 refers to these enemies against Jerusalem. God will use them, but will also punish them for what they do against His people. They will come and attack, but in the end, it won’t satisfy because it will be just like a dream, like it didn’t ever really happen.
Isaiah 29:9–10 NKJV
9 Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink. 10 For the Lord has poured out on you The spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
The Lord poured out upon them sleep, lethargy, exactly what they wanted. And because they are sleeping, they become all the more vulnerable, and has closed even the eyes of the prophets, so they no longer are speaking truth for the people to hear. That happened then, and it is happening today to many pastors in America. He continues on with a colorful description of them. Isa 29:11-12
Isaiah 29:11–12 NKJV
11 The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.”
When I read this it made me think back to buying a new cd at the store and wanting to play it in your vehicle, having forgotten to bring your chain saw to open it. But you can imagine if we passed out Bibles at the beginning of the service that looked like this, Or I tried to teach from this Bible instead of this Bible. Or giving the book to someone who can’t read. If I hold a book up in front of my granddaughter she can’t read any of the words. She can look around at the pictures, maybe get some entertainment out of the little bit that she can see in it, but right now her eyes are closed to the richness, the message, and treasure that understanding brings.
God’s Word that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and illuminated by the Holy Spirit to give us understanding,…it became like a book that they had no understanding of. Because they had lost their spiritual discernment...
1 Corinthians 2:12–14 NKJV
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Notice, it is not a lack of intelligence, but more-so of wisdom. The Bible tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I’ve told you guys that in my studies I’ve come across academic scholars that have knowledge of the Bible, but seem to be blind to the One who wrote it. Wisdom that comes from God is essential. Look at our current economy, not just the United States, but the world economy and the markets, crypto currency, etc. Our nation has access to the smartest economists, the most decorated financial advisors in the world. How are we doing, flying blind?
Why would God allow this to happen to Israel? Why would He give them Spiritual blindness? He tells us… Isa 29:13
Isaiah 29:13 NKJV
13 Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
Jesus actually quoted this passage from Isaiah when he was addressing the religious leaders of His day. Mark 7:6-7
Mark 7:6–7 NKJV
6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Teaching the thoughts and opinions of men as if it were the truth of God. Truth only comes from God. St. Augustine did a good job of summarizing several points of teaching in the Bible when he said, “All truth is God’s truth.”
I was having a conversation with someone on Sunday after Dr. Benjamin’s presentation on creation vs. evolution and their response to me was that they personally tend to go with the majority of concensus. And I will tell you that in most cases, in this world, that is a lack of wisdom.
Andrew Greeley, in the book Religious Change in America, reports on a survey of religious attitudes among young adults who were coming into their forties. To paraphrase his findings, Greeley reports that this is the first generation in American history to come into adulthood and the child-rearing years without a word of Scripture in their minds, a verse of a hymn in their hearts, and a memory of prayer in their homes. If Greeley is right, it means that the spiritual destiny of our society depends almost exclusively upon our prophets and seers for seeing God’s vision, hearing God’s Word, and speaking God’s truth.”
Read that last part as, “it means that the spiritual destiny of our society depends almost exclusively upon our pastors and all Christians sounding forth the Word of the Lord like the Thessalonian church did.
If the people in our world are making their decisions based upon the majority concensus, and all truth comes from God, but the majority concensus has not a Scripture in their mind, a hymn in their heart, or memory of prayer in their homes, those decisions are not being made from a foundation of truth. By the way, that book was published a generation or two, depending upon how you calculate that, in 1996. I don’t think the stats have gotten any better, they’re not in Old Town, Maine.
Briscoe, Stuart. The The Preacher's Commentary - Vols. 1-35: Genesis – Revelation . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Continuing on…Isaiah 29:14-16
Isaiah 29:14–16 NKJV
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.” 15 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord, And their works are in the dark; They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?” 16 Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
Vs. 15 Remember there is nothing hidden from the Lord.
Vs. 16 Matt the blacksmith, Paul pulls from this in Romans when he writes about the potter and the clay. Humanity, image bearers of God, saying he did not make me!
We just read the Truth of God’s Word on this in the book of Colossians when speaking of Jesus it says, Col 1:15-17
Colossians 1:15–17 NKJV
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
I have to say that this Scripture regarding man thinking he is smarter than His creator is terrifying. Many people are fearful about the sovereignty of God, but what is more fearful is the sovereignty of man. That God gives us free will. Sovereignty over our own eternity. To accept Him or reject Him....My counsel would be to receive Him, make Him Lord and give that sovereignty right back.
Isaiah 29:17–19 NKJV
17 Is it not yet a very little while Till Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, And the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest? 18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. 19 The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, And the poor among men shall rejoice In the Holy One of Israel.
Vs. 17 in a little while God will turn this upside down world upright. There is coming a day when He will make all things right.
Vs. 18-19 When God restores His people, they will once again hear and see and have understanding. Just as much as we think of the deaf hearing and the blind seeing as being miracles, what I read about from 1 Cor. Spiritual blindness being healed is equally so a miracle. When we are humbled we have a proper view of who God is and who we are in relation to Him.
Isaiah is turning their attention here away from the judgement and onto the Kingdom blessings that are still yet to come, the incredible glory that is still future.
Isaiah 29:20–21 NKJV
20 For the terrible one is brought to nothing, The scornful one is consumed, And all who watch for iniquity are cut off— 21 Who make a man an offender by a word, And lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, And turn aside the just by empty words.
So the corrupters, the deceivers, will be destroyed.
Isaiah 29:22–24 NKJV
22 Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: “Jacob shall not now be ashamed, Nor shall his face now grow pale; 23 But when he sees his children, The work of My hands, in his midst, They will hallow My name, And hallow the Holy One of Jacob, And fear the God of Israel. 24 These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, And those who complained will learn doctrine.”
There is coming a day of restoration, when there will be no shame for Israel, and there will be no shame for us that know the Lord.
I want Pastor Jim to come back up to lead us in a song, to give us time for reflection as we prepare our hearts for communion.
Before you play I want you to consider these words from later in the book of Isaiah, chapter 53, Isaiah 53:4-7
Isaiah 53:4–7 NKJV
4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
Isaiah 53:8–11 NKJV
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
The Scriptures instruct us to examine our hearts before we share communion together. That we wouldn’t take it in an unworthy manner. The instruction isn’t there so much as a restriction as it is an instruction to get things right so you can receive communion. That means as Jim leads us in this song... we should pray, and ask God to examine us, it means we should ask forgiveness for unconfessed sin. It means if you have something you need to ask a brother or sister forgiveness of, then you do it now before you share in communion. Please hold the elements until the song is over and we will all take it together.
Communion when we share in communion we are remembering and proclaiming the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That God provided Himself, a lamb, to be the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. On the same night that He would be betrayed, "26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."" - Matthew 26:26-29 NKJV
Let’s pray....Eat together, drink together.
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