17 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?
18 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.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
20 For the ruthless shall come to nothing
and the scoffer cease,
and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off,
21 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.
22 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.
23 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.
24 And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
and those who murmur will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:17-24 ESV
The people of Judah were under the delusion that they could somehow fool God into believing that they were faithfully keeping His commands. They were observing all the annual rituals and celebrating each of the prescribed festivals on schedule, just as God had commanded. But they were just going through the motions. And, all the while, they were worshiping false gods and failing to pursue justice and righteousness. So, God described their so-called worship of Him as nothing more than lip-service. It was all an act designed to trick God into believing they were faithful and true. And, in their arrogance, they dared to say, “The Lord can’t see us. He doesn’t know what’s going on!” (Isaiah 29:15 NLT). But they were wrong.
God was the potter, and they were the clay. He knew exactly what was happening. He could even see into the deep recesses of their hearts, where the root of their problem was contained. And, while God was going to bring judgment against His people for their disobedience and unfaithfulness, Isaiah reveals that God had other plans for them as well. Their immediate fortunes would involve defeat at the hands of their enemies, the destruction of their city and the desecration of the temple. But God had more in store. He had plans for them of which they were totally unaware.
In just a very short time Lebanon will turn into an orchard, and the orchard will be considered a forest. – Isaiah 29:17 NET
This verse, while difficult for us to understand, would have been quite clear to Isaiah’s original audience. It speaks of a reversal of fortunes, a radical change in the status quo. In Isaiah’s day, Lebanon was renowned for its forests, but the day was coming when the trees once used for building ships, palaces, and siege engines would be replaced with fruit trees. The fame of Lebanon would no longer be its vast forests filled with stately cedar trees, but its orchards. A day was coming when things would be radically different.
Isaiah describes a day when the blind will see, and the deaf will hear. But there appears to be more to this than the restoration of sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Notice that Isaiah states, “the deaf will hear words read from a book” (Isaiah 29:18 NLT). Just a few verses earlier, God had mentioned a sealed book that contained insights into future events.
All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT
The people of Judah had been unable to see what God had in store for them. And, it was because God had blinded their eyes to the truth. Even their prophets and seers were incapable of seeing the future plans of God.
Then go ahead and be blind.
You are stupid, but not from wine!
You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT
But Isaiah informed them that a day was coming when God would open their eyes to see and their ears to hear. The unforeseen future would become a present reality. And the ones who will benefit from God’s goodness and graciousness on that day will be the lowly and humble.
The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:19 NLT
God has a particular disdain for the prideful and arrogant. There is no place in God’s kingdom for the self-made man, the individual who sees themselves as the master of their own fate. And the Scriptures are replete with God’s outlook on the proud.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT
Toward the scorners he is scornful,
but to the humble he gives favor. – Proverbs 3:34 ESV
But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12 NLT
The day is coming when there will be no place in God’s Kingdom for those whose lives are marked by scoffing, mocking, pride, and self-sufficiency. Like the cedars of Lebanon, they will be replaced with trees that produce fruit in keeping with God’s will. And when Isaiah shared this news, everyone in his audience knew the ones at whom his words were aimed.
The scoffer will be gone,
the arrogant will disappear,
and those who plot evil will be killed.
Those who convict the innocent
by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
and who tell lies to destroy the innocent. – Isaiah 29:20-21 NLT
God was going to hold the leaders of Judah responsible. They had misled the people and caused them to stray away from Him. As Isaiah stated in the last chapter, these men were like drunks, intoxicated by their own self-worth, and staggering around under the influence of false gods and faulty counsel.
Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT
But, in spite of their lousy leadership, God was going to do something remarkable for His people.
“My people will no longer be ashamed
or turn pale with fear.
For when they see their many children
and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob.
They will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Then the wayward will gain understanding,
and complainers will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:22-24 NLT
In that future day, when God restores the fortunes of His people, they will see, they will recognize, the will stand in awe, they will gain understanding, and they will accept instruction. Things will be radically different. Not because they will have changed their minds, but because God will have changed their hearts. And the prophet Ezekiel records the words of God explaining just how He will accomplish this amazing transformation.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-28 NLT
You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine that this day has not yet arrived. The people of Judah and Israel have not yet experienced this amazing transformation. And while there are those who teach that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus appeared the first time and the gospel was taken to the nations, it is hard to ignore that this promise was delivered to the people of Israel. Yes, those of us who have experienced the life-transformative power of the Gospel message are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot assume that God’s promises, made to the people of Judah and Israel have been transferred, wholesale, to the church.
Paul reminds us that we were grafted into the tree of Abraham.
So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. – Romans 11:17 NLT
But we don’t replace the nation of Israel. We are simply grafted into the tree and are allowed to share in the promises God has made to them. And Paul goes on to explain that God has a future plan for His chosen people, Israel.
And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:23-24 NLT
Yes, there have been many Jews who have come to faith in Christ over the centuries. But that does not appear to be what Paul is talking about. Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, he seems to be referring to a future time when God will do something entirely new and unique for His chosen people. Why? Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.