I remind you once again that Isaiah’s larger point in the huge section that began at 13:1 is that God is the master of the nations. In the last essay we studied chapters 30-31, a segment that John Oswalt called, “Woe to Those Who Trust in Egypt.” In that segment Isaiah very specifically denounced Judah’s treaty with Egypt. In chapter 30 Isaiah revealed that Israel’s decision to enter into a treaty with Egypt would bring humiliation and shame. And in chapter 31 Isaiah repeated the basic message of chapter 30 in shorter form.
In this essay we are studying chapter 32. From Isaiah’s perspective the treaty with Egypt was an unrighteous way to rule. In chapters 32-33 we shall see that God is the source of righteous rule. And he begins in 32:1-8 by describing the true leadership of the Messiah.
Now it is not absolutely clear that “the King” here is the Messiah, though I believe that is the case. At any rate, his “princes” will rule righteously, “with justice.” Notice in verse two that they will provide protection and support. They will be like a hiding place from the wind. If you have ever been in a biting wind, you know how wonderful it is to get a hiding place from it. They will be a refuge from the storm, a similar image. They also will be “like streams of water in a dry place” and “the shade of a great rock.” All of these images were particularly appropriate for a Middle Eastern context, where wind, sudden storms, lack of water, and a hot sun were constants.
As verses 3-4 indicate, these “princes,” the true leaders, also will provide spiritual transformation. One could argue for a literal interpretation of these verses; but I believe that would be a mistake. The big problem for Isaiah’s ministry was spiritual blindness and deafness. As you know Isaiah had faced spiritual blindness and deafness on the part of Judah’s leaders from the beginning of his ministry. Judah’s leaders simply would not accept his message.
`But when the King comes, those who have been blind spiritually will begin to see; and those who have refused to hear will begin to listen. Moreover rash minds will begin to exercise good judgment, and stammerers will speak clearly. This will be a complete reversal of the predicted response to Isaiah’s preaching back in 6:10.
Of course people who do not respond positively to the King are fools. So in verses 5-7 Isaiah points out the faults of a fool. In the Old Testament a “fool” is one who consciously rejects the ways of God. As a result the fool does the things listed. He speaks folly, plots iniquity or sin, practices ungodliness, utters errors concerning the Lord, refuses food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, and ruins the poor with lying words.
There are several important things to notice about this list. First, notice that plotting sinful things is on the list. Rejecting the ways of God always leads to sin. Second, notice the errors concerning the Lord. Rejecting the ways of God always leads to bad theology, even heresy. Certain modern radical theologians who think they are smarter than the ancient thinkers who established Orthodox theology illustrate this truth. And third, notice the social aspects of the listed items. Rejecting the ways of God always leads to suffering on the part of the poor.
In verse eight Isaiah, with a very general statement, contrasts the “noble” ones with the fools. The noble ones are those who are not fools. And they do noble things, like the true leaders.
Moving on, verses 9-20 contain both a warning and a promise. So Oswalt gives the sub-section the title, “Deserted or Fruitful?” Verses 9-17 contain the warning. Isaiah gives it in the form of a warning to the women of Judah.
As you can see, Isaiah made a major shift here from the promise of renewal in verses 1-8 to the disaster that will come prior to the renewal. He addresses women who seem to be enjoying a harvest festival. It is hard to say why he chose to address the women. Oswalt suggests it may have been because of Isaiah’s failure to convince the men. And perhaps he hoped that the women could influence them. In any case, in verse 10 Isaiah warns that the abundant harvest that the women are celebrating will not be there to celebrate the following year. So in verses 11-12 he calls them to mourn instead of celebrate. He tells them to tremble, shudder, strip off their finery and replace it with sackcloth, and beat their breasts. All of those things were signs of mourning in the culture. Then verses 13-14 give reasons for the mourning. The soil will become unproductive, the palace will be forsaken, the city deserted, and watchtowers dens of wild animals.
As always in Isaiah, the judgment is followed by a promise of restoration. Those horrible conditions laid out in verses 13-14 will end when the Holy Spirit is poured out on the people (v. 15). The Holy Spirit will turn things around. The wilderness will become a fruitful field and the fruitful field a forest. We saw very similar imagery used by Isaiah in 29:17. Notice in verses 16-18 that that the important blessings of the new order will be spiritual in nature—justice, righteousness, peace, quietness, and trust.
Verse 19 is difficult. It simply appears without any transition, and its content would go much better with verses 13-14 that with these verses of restoration. Oswalt suggests that it could refer to the destruction of Israelite pride that must accompany the restoration of righteousness. The NIV translators, on the other hand, take it with verse 20 and understand it to mean that God will save his people regardless of the many upheavals round about. Another view is that of Delitzsch, who suggests that the forest represents Assyria and the city represents Jerusalem. You can decide which interpretation you prefer.
The segment ends in verse 20 with a figure of great blessing based on the nearness of water. The plants will be so abundant that the livestock can graze as much as they want to.
As we apply this chapter to our lives, the key, I believe, is verse 15. Although the Old Testament has a developing understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it is clear that an outpouring of the Spirit was a central facet of the Old Testament hope. If you would like to look up some additional passages, see Is. 44:3; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26-27; and Joel 2:28-29.
The point for us in verse 15 is that Isaiah was declaring to Judah that an outpouring of the Holy spirit would be the key to her spiritual turn around. And the same is true for us. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be the Christians we ought to be and want to be. It is the Holy Spirit who moves masses, as he did during the American great awakenings and in other revivals. Our role is to pray and be faithful. When the Lord himself comes, all of the promises will be fulfilled.