IN THE THIRD MAJOR SECTION of his book (chaps. 28-35), Isaiah focuses on the central issue that the Jerusalem monarch faces. Will the southern kingdom turn to Egypt as it seeks to withstand the aggression of Assyria, or will it trust the Lord? The nature of the crisis and the abysmal voices circulating in the court occupy chapters 28-29. Chapters 30-31 pronounce woes on all who rely on Egypt: in that direction lies only disaster. Chapters 32-33 depict the godly solution: trust the living God who reigns as King in the midst of his people. The last two chapters of the section, 34 and 35, display respectively the scorched earth of judgment that will result from trusting pagan nations, and the garden of delight that awaits those who trust the Lord.
Isaiah 29, then, is part of the description of the crisis. Jerusalem is addressed as "Ariel" (Isa. 29:1, 2, 7). We know this stands for Jerusalem, because it is described as "the city where David settled" (Isa. 29:1). The coinage is almost certainly Isaiah's; there is no record of any earlier use of this word for Jerusalem. "Ariel" is a pun on "altar hearth"---the flat surface on the altar where the fire consumed the sacrifices (cf. Ezek. 43:15). God says he is going to "besiege Ariel," which will be to him "like an altar hearth" (Isa. 29:2): God will ignite the fires of judgment under Jerusalem.
The tragedy of the situation lies in the sheer blindness of the people. This is simultaneously their perversity and God's judgment (Isa. 29:9-10). No matter what God discloses through Isaiah, the people simply blank out when they hear his words. The truth they cannot fathom; they have no categories for it, for their hearts are far removed from God's ways (Isa. 29:13). For them, all that Isaiah says remains like words sealed up in a scroll they cannot read (Isa. 29:11-12). Even their worship becomes little more than conformity to rules (Isa. 29:13b). So when God does finally break through, it will be with "wonder upon wonder," all designed to overthrow the pretensions of the "wise" and "intelligent" (Isa. 29:14) who counsel the king to do what God forbids.
The ultimate fulfillment of this pattern takes place in gospel times. Paul understands perfectly well how the person without the Spirit of God finds the truth of the Gospel largely incoherent, how the "wise" and "intelligent" broach many schemes, none of them consistent with the Gospel (1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2:14). Here, too, God destroys the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14), for his own way is what none of the wise had foreseen: the sheer "foolishness" of the cross.