When Jerusalem Becomes the Altar of God
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles to the book of Isaiah, chapter 29. Please keep in mind that we are in what we have referred to as the fourth division of the first half of the book of Isaiah. That fourth division, we have suggested to you, is known as the Book of Woes for every chapter in this particular section, beginning with chapter 29 and going on through chapter 33, begins with the word woe . This little section, complete in itself, is referred to as the Book of Woes .

The woe that we are going to look at today in chapter 29 is a twofold woe, so to speak. Some people refer to six woes in this particular section of the book of Isaiah; and if you did want to follow that procedure, you would find one of them in chapter 28, two of them in chapter 29, and then one in each succeeding chapter. But we believe that these two woes are related, and that is the reason that they are found in the chapter before us. Notice verse 1:

Isaiah 29

1Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.
2Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.
3And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.
4And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.

Glance over at verse 15, and notice these words:

Isaiah 29

15Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?

May I suggest to you one or two things, practically speaking, that we need to keep in mind as we look at this chapter. One of them is that word woe indicates that God is going to pronounce judgment upon the city or the individuals involved. Then may I remind you that in many of these chapters—in this chapter it is particularly true—we find what we call a near and a far fulfillment of the prophetic Word. For example, the immediate danger to the nation of Israel when Isaiah was writing was the Assyrian, and when God said, “Woe is woe,” there was no question about it; it was related to the Assyrian. But when you read what is described as the woe , you realize that it could not have possibly been fulfilled by the immediate Assyrian, Sennacherib by name. You realize then what you have learned in the study of the prophetic Word—that the Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, deals with the immediate problem and then looks down through the corridors of time, even beyond our own day, and speaks of a day when this woe will be fulfilled even to a greater degree.

Let me suggest this other thought. If you are not willing to accept this interpretation of the prophetic Word that we have just suggested, you are left with an alternative that to my mind is unacceptable. When we began our study of the book of Isaiah, I told you that liberalists, so called, adopt the idea of the Deutero theory of interpreting the book of Isaiah.

The Deutero theory of interpreting the book of Isaiah is to suggest that there was more than one man by the name of Isaiah—at least two—and they say that Isaiah wrote about the things that he knew about, and then another fellow came along and wrote about things that happened in his day and signed Isaiah's name to it. Then somebody else came along and put it all together. Of course, that will work up to a point, but then you have got a real problem. That problem is that there are some things contained here in the book of Isaiah that they can't find a fellow that lived in a certain time that could have possibly written it. So they say, “Of course, that part of the book of Isaiah is not authentic. It is not part of the Scripture.”

I much prefer to think that a man could be used as an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit to write down things which he himself could not understand, but which we are able to see as we compare Scripture with Scripture.

The Pronouncement of Woe

Let's look at the first woe . Here we have a rather strange name. We haven't come across it in the book of Isaiah before: “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel.” The natural question in our mind is, “What is Ariel? Who is Ariel?” We look at the second statement of verse 1 and we see that it is the city where David dwelt. Of course, the city where David dwelt was the city of Jerusalem, and immediately we say, “Why is Jerusalem called Ariel here? It is the only place that it is called Ariel . I wonder why.”

Our answer, I think, is found in the fact that the word Ariel means the altar of God.” Of course, Jerusalem was the place where the altar of God was, but that's not the only reason God addressed this city as Ariel . Remember, He was pronouncing a woe upon it, and if you will look at verse 2, you will read:

Isaiah 29

2Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: [notice carefully] and it shall be unto me as Ariel.

If we translate the word Ariel , what do we read? We read, “It shall be unto Me as an altar.” What are we reading? According to verse 1, year after year the sacrifices were made unto God on the altar of Jerusalem, but they were not pleasing in His sight. So, God said one day, “In my wrath I am going to make an altar out of the entire city of Jerusalem, and there will be so many people slain that the animal sacrifices will be a minimum by number in comparison.”

The Near Fulfillment

Does that remind you of anything? Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Revelation, chapter 19. The city of Jerusalem once more comes into view, and the city of Jerusalem this time, as in Isaiah, chapter 29, is surrounded by armies. They are a beleaguered people. They have nowhere to look but up, and they do. God hears their cry, and He comes back in the person of His Son to fight the mighty battle, and so great is the slaughter of the nations of the world, so many are sacrificed on the altar of God at the city of Jerusalem, that you read in verse 17:

Revelation 19

17And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;
18That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

That is why the city of Jerusalem was called Ariel . God was preparing a great slaughter. The immediate slaughter that He referred to was the proposed slaughter when Sennacherib camped against the city of Jerusalem, as described in verse 3 with mounts and forts.

Those two words, mounts and forts , describe ancient battering rams which were placed against the walls of the city with the purpose of breaking them down that invasion might be made. God said, “Sennacherib is going to be encamped against the walls of the city, ready to make an invasion.” In verse 4: “You are inside the city. You have been talking awfully loud. You have been boasting. You have been bragging, but your heart will be so filled with fear that you shall be brought down to the ground and you will be speaking low out of the dust. You will even sound like one who has a familiar spirit, one who speaks out of the depths of the earth and whispers out of the dust because your heart is so filled with fear.”

A Time of Probation

That was the sad state of the nation of Israel in that day. As in the portion of the Word to which we looked in Revelation, chapter 19, the people of Jerusalem had nowhere to look but up. They looked up this time, and what do we read in verse 5?

Isaiah 29

5Moreover the multitude of thy strangers [enemies] shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.

Those of you who are familiar with Hebrew history and have read of the siege of the city by Sennacherib remember how quickly God dispersed the enemy. So, this does have a near fulfillment. How near to Isaiah's day? Look at verse 1 again:

Isaiah 29

1Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.

This is not as happy a translation as it might be. A more literal translation is, “For one more year offer your sacrifices.” What was God doing? He was putting them on probation. He said, “One year you have, and if you don't begin to get right with Me, if you don't begin to acknowledge your sin, if you don't begin to recognize the error of your ways, then I am going to make an altar out of the city.” One year of probation. Yes, God did it that way. He dealt that way then, and He deals that way now.

May I digress for a moment to say that perhaps some of us here are on probation. Perhaps we have been stubborn and self-willed, and we are going on our own way, and God has said to us in so many words, “I'll give you a year, and if you don't get right, judgment is going to come.” I don't know your heart, but if that applies, Beloved, get right with God before the year is out, figuratively speaking at least.

The Far Fulfillment

Notice verse 6. Here we go from the near to the far fulfillment, for we read:

Isaiah 29

6Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.
7And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.

You read carefully the history of Sennacherib's invasion, and the manner in which it was stopped, and you will not find anything like this. Only the Assyrian nation was encamped outside the walls of Jerusalem. The Lord Himself did not make an appearance, and certainly there was no earthquake that shook the entire area and caused the nations of the world to begin to fight against one another. They had gathered to fight against the city of Jerusalem. No, when Sennacherib was encamped against the city of Jerusalem, it was not a case of a nation on nation having a dream of world conquest and that dream being an empty dream, as is described here.

My, this is an effective description. Did you notice it in verse 8? Maybe you have dreamed something like this yourself. Look at verse 8:

Isaiah 29

8It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite…

Have you ever had a dream like that? You dream during the night that you ate a great big turkey dinner, then when you woke up you wondered why you were hungry. Well, you were just dreaming. You didn't really eat it. Then we have another figure of speech. You dream that you have just had a drink of cold water, and you wake up thirsty. You wonder why. Well, you have just been dreaming. Look at the last part of verse 8:

Isaiah 29

8…so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.

The Return of Jesus to Earth

All down through history, one nation after the other has attempted to take the city of Jerusalem and conquer the land of Palestine because it is a strategic point in the center of the world. But the time has not come when the nations of the world—not one, but all of them—will be gathered around the city of Jerusalem and they will be dispersed by a personal appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ and an earthquake that sets them one against the other, but that time is coming. Isaiah wrote about it. So did Zechariah. Look in your Bible to the book of Zechariah, chapter 14, verses 1-4:

Zechariah 14

1Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
2For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
3Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
4And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…

Somebody says, “Surely not. You don't believe in a literal return of Jesus Christ to this earth?” Well, it is a whole lot easier for me to believe in a literal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth than to believe some of the explanations that are offered to explain it away. If this doesn't mean what it says, God would have made it much easier on us by saying what He meant. He said, “The feet of the Lord Jesus Christ shall stand on the Mount of Olives when He comes back.” Isn't that what the angels told the disciples? “This same Jesus shall so come in like mannner as ye have seen Him go” (Acts 1:11).

Notice what happens now in the last part of verse 4:

Zechariah 14

4…and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

Why? Literally, the mountain is going to split in two and a great valley will be between the two? Yes. Why? Look at verse 5:

Zechariah 14

5And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
6And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark:

We will stop our reading there, because the rest of the chapter goes into a blessed time that is yet to come. But, you see there is a day coming when the city of Jerusalem will be protected by the interference of the Lord Jesus Christ as the earth is wracked by the tremors of an earthquake.

The Blindness of Israel

Go back to Isaiah, chapter 29. God is dealing not only with the woe that is to come, but the reason it has to come. You see, judgment is a strange work with God, and He never visits in judgment unless He has to, so we read in verse 9:

Isaiah 29

9Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.

Isaiah said, “Do you see what I see? Look at the nation of Israel. They are reeling. They are staggering, but they haven't had anything to drink.” They are not reeling and staggering from the effects of an intoxicating beverage. Why, then, are they reeling and staggering? Why are they aimlessly wandering to the far corners of the world? Well, here it is in verse 10:

Isaiah 29

10For 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.
11And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
12And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.

What is he talking about? He is talking about the message of the Word of God. If we are going to limit our discussion for the moment to the nation of Israel, you take this Bible to the average Jew and ask him to read it and tell you what it says. If he is an educated man—one of the Rabbis—he will say that the book is sealed and we don't understand what it means. Of course, they are not talking about the New Testament. They don't countenance it at all. You take it to one of the unlearned and ask him to read it and he will tell you, “I haven't had an education; only the Rabbi interprets the Scripture.”

What's wrong with them? It isn't their lack of education. It isn't that the Book is sealed. It is that God has sent a blindness to cover their eyes so that they cannot see spiritual truths. May I remind you that the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans, chapter 9, took up this very thought and said to the Jews in his day, “Your eyes are blinded. When you read the Word of God, there is a veil over your face.”

Empty Worship Brings Judgment

May I remind you that this punishment is not related solely to the Jewish nation. May I remind you that God will visit this judgment upon any individual, whether he be Jew or Gentile, if the following paragraph is true. Look at verse 13:

Isaiah 29

13Wherefore 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:
14Therefore, 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.

We will stop there for a moment. Why did God send this spirit of blindness upon them? Because they had an empty form of worship. They drew near to God with their mouths. With their lips they honored Him, but their heart was removed far from Him, and their fear toward God was taught by the precept of men.

That phrase, “precept of men,” is a mere word formula. We have come to this day and have seen a partial fulfillment. Our churches are filled with people today who give a lip service to God. What they say as far as their relationship to God is concerned has been taught by the precepts of men—a little formula that men have taught them—and they have repeated the formula and have united with these visible church organizations. They go merrily on their way supposing that all is well, and when they try to understand the Word of God, it is as a sealed book to them.

We try to preach the Word of God, and I have been interested from time to time at some of the comments we have had. You understand that I am aware of my incapacities. You understand that I am aware of the fact that there are many better preachers than I. I am not talking about that just now, but I have had individuals say to me, “I couldn't stand a steady diet of that. That's too heavy. I don't like that kind of preaching. I like something a little lighter than that.” I have had some people say to me as they left the door, “I was glad I came, but I have no idea what you were talking about.” I have had other people say to me, “That's too deep, too deep for the average man to understand. You're wasting your time.”

Beloved, I'm not deep. All that I have endeavored to do is to present the Word of God, but to the average person who does not give God a chance in his life, who gives mere lip service to Him, the Word of God is a sealed book. There are some sincere folk, genuinely born-again, who have lived on such meager diets, spiritually speaking, for so long that when they come here they have said to me, “You know, for the first four Sundays that I came, I sat in utter confusion. I didn't have the slightest idea what you were driving at, but gradually the light began to filter through.”

Of course, there is always the temptation to make it so people will take it, but it won't help much. God says that individuals who are willing only to give God lip service are never going to be able to understand the Word of God.

Work of Darkness

Look at the next paragraph. This is another reason the blindness has been sent. We read in verse 15:

Isaiah 29

15Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?

What about that? Here are individuals who try to hide what they are doing from God. They say, “After all, God doesn't know what is going on. He is not interested in a little ordinary human being. He has too much to do to be worried about what I do individually.” How did Isaiah respond to that. The King James text says in verse 16:

Isaiah 29

16Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay…

The original text is much more vital than that. The original text has Isaiah exclaiming, “What perversity!” Then he describes the perversity. “Shall you esteem the potter as the clay? Shall the works 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.' What perversity! How dare you,” Isaiah says, “reverse the thing. How dare you make the clay where the potter is, and the potter where the clay is. How dare you turn things upside down! How dare you, a little bit of lifeless clay, look up into the face of the potter and say, ‘Did you make me? What right have you to tell me what to do?'!”

The Apostle Paul agreed with Isaiah, whether a lot of other folk do or not, for in Romans, chapter 11, he quotes the very same passage of Scripture and he says, “Say, shall the vessel say to the potter, ‘Why hast thou made me?' What perversity” (Romans 9:20)!

We are living in a day of perversity. We are living in a day of perversion where men dare to look in the face of God and tell God what to do instead of bowing their hearts before Him in silent submission to His revealed will. But, thank God, such will not always be the case when men shall say to the potter, “Why hast Thou made me?”

A Spiritual Awakening

Look at verse 17. Isaiah said:

Isaiah 29

17Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?

It is a wonderful figure of speech. You see, the Assyrians had come in and they had cut down all the trees of Lebanon. It takes a long time for a forest to grow up, but he said, “It won't be long until that area that has been razed by the enemy shall become a fruitful field, and it won't be long until the fruitful field shall be like the forest again.” When will that be? Look at verse 18:

Isaiah 29

18And in that day [end-time] shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.

Thank God that is happening individually everywhere, even in this hour, but not on a worldwide scale. Thank God that people who are spiritually deaf are awakened by the Spirit of God and they do hear the words of the Book. People who are spiritually blind see out of obscurity and out of darkness.

The Day of the Meek

What do we read in the next verse?

Isaiah 29

19The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

This is not the day of the meek. Do you know that? The Bible says that the meek will inherit the earth, and if you think that that is going to happen now, you had better give it another thought. The meek are not going to be in charge of things now, and God never intended that they would be. God never intended that you should lay down your arms and expect your meekness to conquer the earth. When the Lord Jesus Christ left His disciples, He said, “A few days ago I sent you out without a sword, without scrip, without an extra coat, but I was conducting a special experiment. I'm leaving you now, and I want to tell you this: You take your purse with you because you are going to need it. You take some scrip with you, and if you don't have a sword, you go sell that second coat that you have and borrow a sword because you are going to need it while I'm gone” (Matthew 10).

There is no pacifism in the Bible. “You are going to need that sword while I am gone, but when the Lord Jesus Christ comes, the sword will be beaten into plowshares, the spears into pruninghooks, and the meek shall increase their joy in the Lord.” Why? Look at verse 20:

Isaiah 29

20For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:
21That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.

My, that sounds up to date, doesn't it? You have to be awfully careful what you say now. If you are not really careful what you say, someone will add a word or two to what you've said, and they will make you an offender for a word. We are living in that day but, thank God, the day is going to come to an end. The Lord Jesus Christ is going to return, and we read in verse 22:

Isaiah 29

22Therefore thus saith the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale.

Sometimes when you see the word Jacob in the Bible, it is talking about the man Jacob; sometimes it is talking about the nation, and only the context will determine which. It is talking about the man here, and it suggests a wonderful truth. It says, “concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob [the person] shall not be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale.” Look at verse 23:

Isaiah 29

23But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.
24They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.

There is a day coming when God will be recognized by the nation of Israel, and Christ will be known by His people, and the whole world who have erred in spirit shall come to understanding. They that have talked about sealed books and things too hard to be understood shall learn doctrine.

Rejoicing In Heaven

What do we read in this paragraph? Jacob is looking down on the whole scene. I am not going to be dogmatic about this. I won't insist, if you don't want me to, that he was literally looking, but I think that he was. Maybe it is only a figurative expression, but I believe that there is ample evidence in the Bible to be able to indicate that the people in Heaven know what's going on on the earth. If that is true, this passage of Scripture says that Jacob has looked down on his descendants and he has been ashamed. He has looked down on his descendants and his face has waxed pale at what he has seen, but it will not always be like that. One day they will stand in Jacob's presence and Jacob will rejoice in the fact that they which have erred have come to their senses and have believed the truth of God's Word.

“We are compassed about by a great cloud of witnesses,” said the Apostle Paul speaking to the very same people and to us. He even named some of them, and he said, “Since we are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Yes, I believe the folk in Heaven see what is going on on the earth. You say, “Now, wait a minute. How could they be happy if they see some of the things they see?” Well, you read your Bibles again, and you will find out that happiness in Heaven is not a complete thing until after the Lord Jesus Christ comes back to earth. The tears are not all wiped away until after Jesus comes.

If there are tears in Heaven, what do you suppose those tears in Heaven are about? I suspect that it is because they see some of the things that are going on down here. They feel bad about it. My Bible says that there is rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents on the earth” (Luke 15:7). It doesn't say that after he gets to Heaven he says, “Ten years ago, I was saved. Aren't you glad?” No, it says that the very moment he comes to Christ, the folk who are looking down say, “Isn't it wonderful,” and there is rejoicing.

I believe that there is many a mother in Heaven, who prayed all her life long and died without seeing her boy come to Christ, able to look down over the battlements of Heaven and see him come to Christ many years after she's been with the Lord. Do you think that she is going to rejoice? Of course, she is.

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