Please begin with prayer for an open heart, before you read the passage below. Isaiah 29:13-16 – The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?
You may want to read the full context of Isaiah 29---God uses the prophet to speak against Jerusalem in this chapter and warn them of impending doom, because of their disobedience. We see throughout the Old Testament, God speaking through prophets to His covenant people. These messages were a mixture of warning of judgment and then hope of restoration and the book of Isaiah is no different. The first 39 chapters are warnings against disobedience and the last 27 are chapters of hope and restoration, despite the judgment.
Jerusalem (the City of David) that Isaiah was writing to had wandered from God and lived in a spiritual blindness. Jerusalem was the center of the Southern Kingdom and they had just witnessed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians. They knew that God’s judgment was real, but paid no attention to the prophet’s words and remained in their disobedience. The destruction was in 722 B.C. and the Assyrians also threatened the Southern Kingdom. Isaiah’s writings were completed around 700 B.C. and he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. This would be fulfilled in 586 B.C., when the Babylonians (who conquered the Assyrians) destroyed the city, the Temple, and exiled the majority of the Israelite people back to Babylon.
Jesus used the text above to speak truth and warning into the lives of the teachers of the law and religious leaders in Matthew 15. They would have been familiar with the text, history of the Israelites, and God’s repeated response of judgment and grace to humanity. They had dismantled faith through the creation and elevation of external rituals above the word of God and lived through an external righteousness that was hypocritical and oppressive at the same time. Jesus continues His warning of judgment in the rest of His ministry and it reaches its climax in Matthew 23. He is calling them to submit humbly to God and turn from their religiosity.
We have to understand that God still works in this manner today and ‘destruction and exile’ are an option for God to awaken a person that is spiritually sleeping. God was willing to subject the Israelites to great amounts of suffering and pain, because He saw the potential benefit of them turning from their ways and coming back to the True God. In my own life and the lives of people I have seen, pain can be a huge wake-up call to turn from our ways and return to Him. God understands that things or people, other than Himself, do not make good gods at all. He realizes the current and eternal consequences of us following something else and will go to great lengths to turn us back to Him.
This is not God being mean---this is actually an extremely loving thing. If my kids are into something that can hurt them in any number of ways, I would be an unloving father if I didn’t step in and do whatever I could to get them away from that and back on track. This is multiplied exponentially when we are talking eternity!! God would not be loving, if He did not try to bring the wayward sheep back to Him and sometimes pain is what gets our attention (Hebrews 12:7-11). We complain about pain in our lives and the world around us, but maybe pain is God’s megaphone in speaking truth into our lives. Finally, Isaiah ends up his writing with predicting the suffering Messiah---this is the God’s greatest demonstration of love (Romans 5:8) for us and He went through tremendous pain to allow the possibility of us to know Him and experience His love now and eternally.
Have you seen pain in your life as an instrument that turned you back to God? Can you see how God introducing pain in someone’s life as a loving thing or is this a challenging concept? I would love to hear your journey and how this passage impacted you.