Isaiah 29:15
Woe to them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who sees us? and who knows us?
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(15) Woe unto them . . .—The words sound like an echo of Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18, and show that Isaiah had not lost the power of adding to that catalogue of woes. The sins of which he speaks here may have been either the dark sensualities which lay beneath the surface of religion, or, more probably, their clandestine intrigues with this or that foreign power—Egypt, Ethiopia, Babylon—against the Assyrian invader, instead of trusting in the Lord of hosts.

Isaiah 29:15-16. Wo unto them that seek deep — Hebrew, המעמיקים, that make, or dig deep; a metaphor from persons digging deep into the earth, that they may hide what they wish to keep safe and unknown. To hide their counsel from the Lord — Who vainly imagine that they can conceal their hypocrisy and secret wickedness from him, and can deceive, not only men, but God, by their external professions and services; or, who think they can carry on their projects without the observation or interposition of Providence. And their works are in the dark — Their wicked counsels are contrived, and their idolatry is practised, in secret and dark places, of which see Ezekiel 8:12. And they say, Who seeth us? — Neither God nor man can discover us. Surely your turning of things upside down — “Your giving things unexpected turns, or false appearances, to hide your true designs, shall signify no more toward producing the intended effect, than the clay does without the artificer.” Dr. Waterland renders the verse, “This perverseness of yours is as if the potter were reputed as clay; that the work should say of its maker. He made me not; or the thing framed, say of him that framed it, He hath no understanding.” Bishop Lowth reads the passage in the interrogative form, and thereby gives it still more force: “Perverse as ye are! shall the potter be esteemed as the clay? Shall the work say of the workman, He hath not made me?” &c. “We, and all our works are in the hands of God, as clay in the hands of the potter, to give what form and fashion to them he pleases; and when the finest schemes are laid, he can work things to a quite contrary end.” — Lowth.29:9-16 The security of sinners in sinful ways, is cause for lamentation and wonder. The learned men, through prejudice, said that the Divine prophecies were obscure; and the poor urged their want of learning. The Bible is a sealed book to every man, learned or unlearned, till he begins to study it with a simple heart and a teachable spirit, that he may thence learn the truth and the will of God. To worship God, is to approach him. And if the heart be full of his love and fear, out of the abundance of it the mouth will speak; but there are many whose religion is lip-labour only. When they pretend to be speaking to God, they are thinking of a thousand foolish things. They worship the God of Israel according to their own devices. Numbers are only formal in worship. And their religion is only to comply with custom, and to serve their own interest. But the wanderings of mind, and defects in devotion, which are the believer's burden, are very different from the withdrawing of the heart from God, so severely blamed. And those who make religion no more than a pretence, to serve a turn, deceive themselves. And as those that quarrel with God, so those that think to conceal themselves from him, in effect charge him with folly. But all their perverse conduct shall be entirely done away.Woe unto them that seek deep ... - That is, who attempt to conceal their "real" intentions under a plausible exterior, and correct outward deportment. This is most strikingly descriptive of the character of a hypocrite who seeks to conceal his plans and his purposes from the eyes of people and of God. His external conduct is fair; his observance of the duties of religion exemplary; his attendance on the means of grace and the worship of God regular; his professions loud and constant, but the whole design is to "conceal" his real sentiments, and to accomplish some sinister and wicked purpose by it.

From the Lord - This proves that the design of the hypocrite is not always to attempt to deceive his fellowmen, but that he also aims to deceive God.

15. seek deep to hide—rather, "That seek to hide deeply," &c. (compare Isa 30:1, 2). The reference is to the secret plan which many of the Jewish nobles had of seeking Egyptian aid against Assyria, contrary to the advice of Isaiah. At the same time the hypocrite in general is described, who, under a plausible exterior, tries to hide his real character, not only from men, but even from God. That seek deep, Heb. that make deep. A metaphor from men who use to dig deep into the earth, that they may hide any thing there which they would keep safe and unknown.

To hide their counsel from the Lord; vainly imagining that they can keep all their hypocrisy and secret wickedness out of God’s sight, and that they can deceive, not only man, but God, by their external professions and services. Their works are in the dark; their wicked counsels are contrived, and their idolatry is practised, in secret and dark places, of which see Ezekiel 8:12.

Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? we act so cunningly, that neither God nor man can discover us. Woe unto them,.... Or, "O ye",

that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord; which they consulted against Christ, to take away his life, to persecute his apostles, and hinder the spread of his Gospel; which though they consulted in private, and formed deep schemes, imagining they were not observed by the Lord, yet he that sits in the heaven saw them, and laughed at their vain imaginations, Psalm 2:1,

and their works are in the dark; in the dark night, as if the darkness could conceal them from the all seeing eye of God; such works are truly works of darkness, but cannot be hid, though they flatter themselves they will:

and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? as no man, they imagined, did, so not God himself; into such atheism do wicked men sink, when desirous of bringing their schemes into execution, they have taken great pains to form; and which they please themselves are so deeply laid, as that they cannot fail of succeeding; but hear what follows Isaiah 29:16.

Woe to them that {n} 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?

(n) This is spoken of them who in heart despised God's word, and mocked at the admonitions but outwardly bore a good face.

15. Cf. Isaiah 30:1, Isaiah 31:1. that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord] that hide a plan deep from Jehovah. The Egyptian party at court had done their utmost to conceal their project from Isaiah; this attempt to deceive God’s prophet is an act of rebellion, an attempt to steal a march on Jehovah. That they had other reasons for working in the dark is no doubt true; but these were of small moment compared with the sin of refusing to Jehovah a voice in their counsels of state.

Ch. Isaiah 29:15-24 A Messianic forecast

The third “Woe” (Isaiah 29:15), directed against the political intrigue with Egypt, merely serves as a point of attachment for a glowing description of the regenerated Israel. The course of thought is as follows:—

The prophet, having unmasked the designs of the conspirators, expostulates with them for pitting their foolish plans against the purpose of the Almighty (Isaiah 29:15-16).

Ere long, Jehovah will prove His power by a marvellous transformation of nature and society; the word of the Lord will be received by the people, now deaf and dumb to spiritual things; the poor and oppressed shall rejoice in their God (Isaiah 29:17-19).

In that glorious age there shall be neither tyrant nor scoffer,—neither oppression from without, nor injustice within the state (Isaiah 29:20-21).

The time of Israel’s humiliation shall soon pass away, never to return; and those who at present are perplexed and discontented shall accept the instruction of true religion (Isaiah 29:22-24).Verse 15. - Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord. The allusion is to the schemes which were afloat for calling in the aid of Egypt. As Isaiah had long since denounced these schemes as the height of folly (Isaiah 19:11-17), and prophesied their failure (Isaiah 20:5, 6), every effort was made to conceal them from his knowledge end from the knowledge of all who were like-minded (comp. Isaiah 30:1, 2). Steps were probably even now being taken for the carrying out of the schemes, which were studiously concealed from the prophet. Their works are in the dark. Underhand proceedings ere at all times suspicious. "Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." The very fact of concealment was an indication that the works in which the rulers were engaged were evil, and that they knew them to be evil. They say, Who seeth us? (comp. Psalm 73:11, "Tush, they say, How should God perceive? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"). The wicked persuade themselves that God does not see their actions. This enigma of the future the prophet holds out before the eyes of his contemporaries. The prophet received it by revelation of Jehovah; and without the illumination of Jehovah it could not possibly be understood. The deep degradation of Ariel, the wonderful deliverance, the sudden elevation from the abyss to this lofty height - all this was a matter of faith. But this faith was just what the nation wanted, and therefore the understanding depending upon it was wanting also. The shemu‛âh was there, but the bı̄nâh was absent; and all שׁמועה הבין was wrecked on the obtuseness of the mass. The prophet, therefore, who had received the unhappy calling to harden his people, could not help exclaiming (Isaiah 29:9), "Stop, and stare; blind yourselves, and grow blind!" התמהמהּ, to show one's self delaying (from מההּ, according to Luzzatto the reflective of תּמהמהּ, an emphatic form which is never met with), is connected with the synonymous verb תּמהּ, to be stiff with astonishment; but to שׁעע, to be plastered up, i.e., incapable of seeing (cf., Isaiah 6:10), there is attached the hithpalpel of the same verb, signifying "to place one's self in such circumstances," se oblinere (differently, however, in Psalm 119:16, Psalm 119:47, compare Isaiah 11:8, se permulcere). They could not understand the word of God, but they were confused, and their eyes were, so to speak, festered up: therefore this self-induced condition would become to them a God-appointed punishment. The imperatives are judicial words of command.

This growth of the self-hardening into a judicial sentence of obduracy, is proclaimed still more fully by the prophet. "They are drunken, and not with wine; they reel, and not with meth. For Jehovah hath poured upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and bound up your eyes; the prophets and your heads, the seers, He has veiled. And the revelation of all this will be to you like words of a sealed writing, which they give to him who understands writing, saying, Pray, read this; but he says, I cannot, it is sealed. And they give the writing to one who does not understand writing, saying, Pray, read this; but he says, I do not understand writing." They were drunken and stupid; not, however, merely because they gave themselves up to sensual intoxication (יין, dependent upon שׁכרוּ, ebrii vino), but because Jehovah had given them up to spiritual confusion and self-destruction. All the punishments of God are inflicted through the medium of His no less world-destroying than world-sustaining Spirit, which, although not willing what is evil, does make the evil called into existence by the creature the means of punishing evil. Tardēmâh is used here to signify the powerless, passive state of utter spiritual insensibility. This judgment had fallen upon the nation in all its members, even upon the eyes and heads of the nation, i.e., the prophets. Even they whose duty is was to see to the good of the nation, and lead it, were blind leaders of the blind; their eyes were fast shut (עצּם, the intensive form of the kal, Isaiah 33:15; Aram. עצּם; Talmud also עמּץ: to shut the eyes, or press them close), and over their heads a cover was drawn, as over sleepers in the night. Since the time of Koppe and Eichhorn it has become a usual thing to regard את־הנּביאים and החזים as a gloss, and indeed as a false one (compare Isaiah 9:13-14); but the reason assigned - namely, that Isaiah's polemics are directed not against the prophets, but against the stupid staring people - is utterly groundless (compare Isaiah 28:7, and the polemics of his contemporary Micah, e.g., Isaiah 3:5-8). Moreover, the author of a gloss would have been more likely to interpret ראשׁיכם by השּׂרים or הכּהנים (compare Job 9:24). And Isaiah 29:11, Isaiah 29:12 are also opposed to this assumption of a gloss. For by those who understood what was written (sēpher), it is evident that the prophets and rulers of the nation are intended; and by those who did not understand it, the great mass of the people. To both of them, "the vision of all," i.e., of all and everything that God had shown to His true prophets, was by the judgment of God completely sealed. Some of them might have an outward knowledge; but the inward understanding of the revelation was sealed to them. Some had not even this, but stared at the word of the prophet, just as a man who cannot read stares at what is written. The chethib has הסּפר; the keri ספר, though without any ground, since the article is merely generic. Instead of נא־זה קרא, we should write זה קרא־נא in both cases, as certain codices and old editions do.

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