Isaiah 29:11-12 graphically shows how inflated intelligence and ignorance can combine to deprive people of the Word of God. On the one hand we have those that claim the Word is so mystic that it cannot be revealed and on the other those that are content to be unable to even read the words. Isa 29:13 then shows that the lack of the Word of God is then replaced by the word of men. This paper will briefly describe this situation and then tackle the Lord's response to it.
Isa 29:11 The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, "Read this, please." And he says, "I cannot, for it is sealed."
Isa 29:12 Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, "Read this, please." And he says, "I am not literate."
Isa 29:13 Therefore the Lord said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
The first thing to note is that this is a state that developed. The Word of God was not presented as a sealed book and initially there was a willingness and ability for it to be comprehended. But over time the vision became like the words of a sealed book.
Next we should note that it is delivered to those that are literate. This is not a false literacy; the Word itself declares the people literate and thus able to read. It is interesting as well that the literate person is requested to read the book. There can be no excuse of people unwilling to listen. However the person's response is that the book is sealed.
This cannot be literally true or the requester would not then have bothered to hand it to someone else. Instead I suggest that the book was deemed too hard to comprehend. There are many Biblical passages that suffer the same fate today. Even some of the reformers had Biblical books that they would rather have sealed. It is sad indeed when those capable of opening the books to those that would listen choose not to do so.
I am not sure whether it is encouraging or discouraging that the book is then handed to an illiterate. It is good that the person attempting to hear is persistent; it is unfortunate that they are forced to resort to those that cannot help. I do not think the tenor of this passage however is attempting to decry those that may have what we would term 'low education' or 'learning difficulties.' I think the point is that the responder was content to be illiterate. They did not try to pick out a few words or work at it. Ignorance of the Word of God was considered ok. This is all too often the case today. I know elders training for PhDs in their own field that are content to admit that they are not 'Bible Scholars.' The logical retort is: why not?
The answer comes in the thirteenth verse. Whilst this was a nation that honored God verbally and possibly even thought they did physically they had actually strayed far from God. The reason was that the fear of God was taught from the commandment of men and not from the Word of God. This should be a sobering thought for us. We have many gifted speakers in our churches that are capable of dispensing much good, logical advice. However what we need are people that will simply open the Word of God, read it and exposit it.
The good news is that God was going to do something about it. The shocking news is that what He is going to do is essentially obliterate human logic and wisdom. Both human wisdom and prudent understanding will be taken away. Those that attempt to conceal their logic will also find it searched out by God . However well meaning those that seek to use their own wisdom to help people comprehend God have got the equation back to front. In the metaphor of Isa 29:16 the clay does not need to try to out-think or out-guess the potter; good clay simply needs to be pliable.
The result is that once God takes control the deaf will hear the Word; the blind will be able to see the truth of it. The humble will be joyful and the poor will rejoice. These are of course blessed facts but the lesson should be that God was forced to intervene because those able to read the Word to others chose to seal it. Those for whom a little work was required to read chose not to do so. May we pray that it will not be so in our own churches.