Upside Down

When viewed in the light of Scripture, human arrogance is quite astounding. I mean to think that ignoring God, disagreeing with God, or trying to manipulate God is a rational thing to do simply displays the depth of our depravity. Consider Isaiah 29:15-16.

            Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel,
                        whose deeds are in the dark,
                        and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
            You turn things upside down!
            Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
            that the thing made should say of its maker,
                        “He did not make me”;
            or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
                        “He has no understanding”?

These verses are in the middle of a chapter in which Isaiah prophesies to Ariel. (Ariel refers to Jerusalem, not the mermaid.) Verses 1 through 4 relate that Jerusalem will be threatened by a foreign power (Assyria), and then in verses 5 through 8 God promises to deliver Jerusalem from that power. The fulfillment of this is seen in 2 Kings 18-19 and in Isaiah 36-37. The Assyrians took the fortified cities of Judah then threatened Jerusalem; however, the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrians, and they withdrew from Jerusalem.

The problem is the people do not receive the message from God of his promised deliverance. They believe their plans to rely on Egypt for protection and deliverance is better than relying on the Lord. Isaiah says this is because God has blinded their eyes.

            Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
                        blind yourselves and be blind!
            Be drunk, but not with wine;
                        stagger, but not with strong drink!
            For the LORD has poured out upon you
                        a spirit of deep sleep,
            and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
                        and covered your heads (the seers).

 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

            And the Lord said:
            “Because this people draw near with their mouth
                        and honor me with their lips,
                        while their hearts are far from me,
            and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
            therefore, behold, I will again
                        do wonderful things with this people,
                        with wonder upon wonder;
            and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
                        and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

 (Isaiah 29:9-14 ESV)

The people cannot accept the word from the Lord. God has put them to sleep, closed the eyes of the prophets, and covered the heads of the seers. His word is like a sealed book that can’t be read, or if they can open the book they are unable to read. This is God’s judgment on his people.

Paul refers to verse 10 in Romans 11 where he is discussing whether Israel has been rejected. Paul says God has not rejected his people Israel because, by grace (which means they did not deserve it), he has elected a remnant of Israel, but the rest he has hardened.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

            “God gave them a spirit of stupor,
                        eyes that would not see
                        and ears that would not hear,
            down to this very day.”

(Romans 11:7-8 ESV)

Jesus quotes verse 13 when speaking to the Pharisees.

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

            “This people honors me with their lips,
                        but their heart is far from me;
            in vain do they worship me,
                        teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

(Matthew 15:7-9 ESV)

So Isaiah is saying to people of his day and Jesus is saying to the Pharisees of his day they are hypocrites in that their hearts are far from God and they value tradition over God’s word. In verse 14 of Isaiah chapter 29 God says he will again show the people wonderful things to astound them and to shut them up (my paraphrase). Paul quotes the last part of verse 14 in 1 Corinthians 1 when referring to the cross.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 

            “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
                        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

(1 Corinthians 1:18-20 ESV)

Verses 9 through 14 of Isaiah 29 emphasize God’s sovereignty in giving rebellious creatures the ability to understand their true state. Unless God gives us ears to hear and understand what he is saying and eyes to see and discern what he is doing we are without hope.

This brings us to the verses I quoted at the beginning. The people claim that God does not see what they do, meaning the people do not consider themselves accountable to God. God, through Isaiah, says they have turned things upside down. We understand what that means. If something is upside down that means it is backwards or is the opposite of the way it is intended to be seen or used. If a chair is upside down it is still a chair but it cannot be used for the original intent for which it was built. You cannot sit in an upside down chair. The phrase can also refer to a drastic change of circumstances. Divorce can turn a child’s life upside down. What was normal no longer is normal. Here in Isaiah 29:16, though, upside down refers to a role reversal. The clay thinks it can mold the potter instead of the other way around.

What really makes this tragic is Isaiah is prophesying to those who claim to be God’s people. It is no surprise when unbelievers turn things upside down regarding God’s revelation. As Paul says in Romans 1:18 (ESV) these folks “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” They “exchange the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25 ESV). Here in Isaiah 29, though, Isaiah is prophesying to those who should know better than that. The Jewish leaders had the outward marks of piety in that they went to the temple and continued the sacrifices, but in their hearts they thought they could manipulate God. In their hearts they ignored God’s word through the prophet. They did not want to rely on God for protection and deliverance but made their own plans to rely on Egypt. The people scoffed at the idea of complete reliance on the Lord. They had forgotten David’s confession in verse 7 of Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Giving lip service to God and performing religious rituals is no substitute for true trust in God as he has revealed himself in his word. They loved works righteousness.

This was my condition before the Holy Spirit opened my ears to hear and understand God’s word. Apart from the grace of God my normal thinking pattern was what God calls upside down. I looked at the world as if I was hanging from the ceiling, and I thought everything was just fine. Unfortunately, though, I still am tempted to ignore God’s word, to turn things upside down. Every time I refuse to submit to the word of God I am claiming to be the potter. Every time I attempt to bargain with God I am rejecting my role as the clay. When I sin I am pretending the God who sees all does not see. When I worry and scheme I am not relying on God’s protection and deliverance; I am trying to rely on my own efforts.

Fortunately, though, no matter how I think or what I do, the roles are never really reversed. God is always the potter, and I am always the clay. The potter sovereignly opens deaf ears and opens blind eyes. He turns us right side up. This is exactly what God promised to do in Isaiah 29:17-24. Verses 17 through 19 say

            Is it not yet a very little while
                        until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
                        and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
            In that day the deaf shall hear
                        the words of a book,
            and out of their gloom and darkness
                        the eyes of the blind shall see.
            The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD,
                        and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

            (Isaiah 29:17-19 ESV)

God says there is a day when the deaf hear and the blind see. There is a day when his people rejoice in him and glorify him. Paul says that day is today.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

            “In a favorable time I listened to you,
                        and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

(2 Corinthians 6:1-2 ESV)

Now is the day of salvation. Now is when the sovereign potter crushes our arrogance, opens our eyes, and turns us “right side up” through the power of the gospel. He brings us from death to life.

Isaiah finishes by saying that Jacob will no longer be ashamed of his children.

Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

            “Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
                        no more shall his face grow pale.
            For when he sees his children,
                        the work of my hands, in his midst,
                        they will sanctify my name;
            they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
                        and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
            And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
                        and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

(Isaiah 29:22-24 ESV)

Jacob’s children “will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel” (verse 23), and verse 24 says “those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.” So even though at times we try to hang from the ceiling again, God, by his word and Spirit, flips us back over and sets us straight. The potter does not leave his works of salvation incomplete.

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