Isaiah 28-30
(Sav Lasav Sav Lasav)
July 22nd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Can no one be taught anything?
Can no one understand the message?
Must one teach barely weaned toddlers,
babies just taken from the breast,

so that [one has to use nursery rhymes]? —
Tzav la-tzav, tzav la-tzav,
kav la-kav, kav la-kav
z‘eir sham, z‘eir sham
[Precept by precept, precept by precept,
line by line, line by line,
a little here, a little there].

- Isaiah 28:9-10 (Complete Jewish Bible)

Summary of Chapters

Isaiah is back after a brief interval of chapters from an unknown author. The three chapters for today’s study begin a six-chapter section referred to by some experts as “Oracles from Isaiah’s Later Ministry." We will conclude this brief section in tomorrow's study. The focus in today's chapters is on the transgressions of the two kingdoms of Israel. For example, chapter 28 is subtitled “Woe to Ephraim.” In this chapter, Isaiah describes the consequence for this nation (Northern Kingdom of Israel) due to their lack of devotion to the LORD.

Isaiah admonishes the people of Ephraim for their drunkenness and he mocks them for their mindless repetition of God’s rules and their disregard for the prophets’ warnings. He hints that because of their belligerence they will be taught by the merciless people of Assyria. The passage below begins with Isaiah quoting the bad attitude of the people of Israel:

    “Who is it he is trying to teach?
      To whom is he explaining his message?
    To children weaned from their milk,
      to those just taken from the breast?
    For it is:
      Do this, do that,
      a rule for this, a rule for that;
      a little here, a little there.”

    Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
      God will speak to this people

    - Isaiah 28:9-11 (NIV)

In verse 21, Isaiah recalls the locations of great victories by Joshua in Perazim and David in Gideon, but implies that this time, because of its transgressions, Israel will be the defeated one rather than the victor. Isaiah also reminds the people that after the destruction there will be an opportunity for redemption and each of the redeemed will be groomed according to their unique attributes. Isaiah uses the analogy of the farmer who has a separate place for each crop to make this point: “After they've prepared the ground, don't they plant? Don't they scatter dill and spread cumin, plant wheat and barley in the fields and raspberries along the borders (Isa 28:25 - MSG)?”

In chapter 29, Isaiah turns to his own nation and city and delivers a similar reprove: “Wherefore 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 (Isa 29:13 - KJV).” He warns those who attempt to hide from the LORD, and calls out those who foolishly believe that it’s possible God won’t see their evil deeds. Isaiah points out that the LORD is the Creator, who sees and controls – he cannot be controlled. Isaiah adds that the day will come when the word will be heard by those who previously had turned a deaf ear.

Chapter 30 is a “Woe to the Obstinate Nation,” which is another critique of his own nation. He condemns Judah for seeking protection from Egypt during time of war instead of seeking refuge with the LORD. Isaiah warns that “Pharaoh’s protection will be your shame, Egypt’s shame will bring you disgrace (Isa 30:3 - NIV).”

Because of their disobedience, the LORD will allow the people of Judah to be pursued by enemies and will inflict them with exaggerated fears: “A thousand will flee at the threat of one, at the threat of five, you will all flee away (Isa 30:17 - NIV).”

After this dramatic warning, Isaiah tells them that the LORD will be gracious when they cry to him for help. Then they will finally be able to be heard and see their teachers.

    Truly, the LORD is waiting to be gracious to you,
    truly, he shall rise to show you mercy;
    For the LORD is a God of justice:
    happy are all who wait for him!

    Yes, people of Zion, dwelling in Jerusalem,
    you shall no longer weep;
    He will be most gracious to you when you cry out;
    as soon as he hears he will answer you.

    - Isaiah 30:18-19 (NAB)

Isaiah says that at that point the people will throw away their idols and will be able to sow their seed and once again succeed in their agrarian pursuits. Finally, he describes a divine judgment for Assyria who had conquered the Northern Kingdom and had been an oppressor against Judah. The images seen and described by Isaiah include multiple references to fire and other natural weapons. He describes the LORD's arm coming down in "raging fury and consuming fire (Isa 30:30b -NAB)" and depicts the "breath of the LORD, like a stream of sulfur (Isa 30:30b - NAB)" which acts as an accelerant for a fire pit that has been prepared for the Assyrians.

Reflection and Application

The original text of Isaiah is in Hebrew. In some cases, it’s particularly revealing to understand the word play and connotation of the original words. For example, in the NIV translation of Isaiah 28:10, we read the English phrases “Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that.” The phonetic version of original verses in Hebrew is something like this “sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav (source”

If we say those phrases in our head a few times we hear the sing-song rhythm and mocking tone of Isaiah when he condones the Ephraimites. In our generation, a similar phrase might be any number of stringed collection of words, such as, “etc., etc., etc.” You might recall the sarcastic use of this phrase exhibited by the King of Siam in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, “The King and I.” At one point in the story the King explained the rules of the house to Anna, the visiting tutor from England: “When I sit, you sit. When I kneel, you kneel. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!” And in another scene, he debates with Anna regarding the romantic responsibilities of men and woman: “Now you understand about women! So, many English books talk about love Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, ha!”

Another often used phrase in our time is “Blah, blah, blah, blah,” which is used in the The Message translation of this passage: "We're not babies in diapers to be talked down to by such as you—'Da, da, da, da, blah, blah, blah, blah (Isa 28:9-10 - MSG)." For fans of the TV show, "Seinfeld," the equivalent phrase might be “yada, yada, yada.”

Pick the translation you like best and ask yourself if our study and prayers sounds to God more like “etc, etc, etc, yada, yada, yada” or more like a sincere discussion. This concept of mindless repetition and prayer is one reason that we don’t need to worry about properly structuring our prayer. God understands us when we speak in raw, ungrammatical form or even if we just cry and groan. He would rather hear this type of honest plea then hear a prepared prayer that we can say while thinking about our plans for tomorrow.

In a number of cases, Jesus pointed to the Pharisees as examples of people who give lip service to God, but do not follow his rules with their heart. On one occasion recorded by both Mark and Matthew, Jesus quoted from this section of Isaiah to describe the attitude of the Pharisees:

    So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

    He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

         'These people honor me with their lips,
         but their hearts are far from me.
      They worship me in vain;
         their teachings are merely human rules.'

    You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

    - Mark 7:5-8 - NIV (Isaiah 29:13 - NIV)

At first glance, the Old Testament appears to be full of fire, brimstone, judgment, and destruction, while the New Testament seems to be all about forgiveness. You certainly can find those themes in each section, but we can read about judgment from Jesus in the New Testament, such as in the passage above. And when we closely study the Old Testament we also see that there are many threads of redemption, like the ones we see in chapter 28 and 30. The truth is that there really is a consistent message of justice and mercy throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible.

Chapter 28 of Isaiah explains that God clears the fields of weeds so that he can plant the good seeds and care for them. Likewise, we can allow ourselves to be cleansed of our past transgressions, and begin anew, like a fresh field in the spring. In chapter 30, God condemns the people for turning to Egypt for protection, but then a few verses later Isaiah describes God's mercy as he waits to be gracious to us.

In many instances the book of Isaiah describes how the people will not be able to see or hear what he is writing and saying, but then at some point they will hear clearly. One example is captured chapter 30, in which Isaiah describes a forthcoming surround-sound presentation of the LORD’s voice and then uses a very earthy description to emphasize the 360 degree turn in people’s lives:

    Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

    - Isaiah 30:21-22 (NIV)

What people once worshipped will be thrown away like the most unclean rubbish in the house. It might not be clear to us if our inability to hear is fully within our control or is somehow part of God’s design. In either case, we should make sure that we do all we can to avoid falling into the category of spiritually deaf people. The LORD’s word is available to us in many forms:

  1. Printed Bible
  2. Hymns, poetry, and praise music in a variety of styles
  3. Worship services
  4. Certain TV shows
  5. Bible on the Internet
  6. Bible on Mobile Devices
  7. Certain Radio Shows
  8. Commentaries and analysis of the Books of the Bible
  9. Prayer
  10. Etc

Wherever we are, we can connect to God’s word, either through one of our amazing human inventions, like a printed book or an iPhone or by conversing directly with the Man.

The problem often is that we are busy with all of the other aspects of our lives. What would it take for us to throw away our idols and put the other aspects of our live into their proper perspective? That will help to give us a clean slate to focus on our Creator. We can’t hide from him when we submerse ourselves in other activities, but we can come out from our assumed hiding place and re-unite with the one who created us.

"Blessed be Your Name," written and performed by Matt Redman

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

Related Questions
  1. What is one of your favorite catch phrases?
  2. What are some of the ways you communicate to God in prayer?
  3. What are some of the ways that God is addressing you and directing you this week?

Recommended Prayer
Father in heaven, we know your instructions to us are wise and worthy of serious study. Help us remain quiet to listen with an open heart and reply with sincerity.

Suggested Prayer Concerns
Hollywood Producers

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow's reading: Isaiah 31-33 (Folly and Redemption for Judah)

Comments and Questions
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