blindness02Acts 28 Part 3

25. So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers,

It seems that much discussion must have gone on between those who were persuaded and those who disbelieved. As each side became solidified in these two opinions, it became clear that further discussion was not going to bring them into harmony regarding this. It has probably been a long day at this point, and these men prepare to depart from Paul’s house. The Companion Bible suggests that this literally means “were being sent away,” and suggests that the chief men who did not believe broke up the group and dismissed them, fearing lest others should also be persuaded. At any rate, their meeting with Paul ends now. As they go, however, Paul has one last thing to say to them, and Luke has recorded for us this final, momentous proclamation of Paul here.

Paul turns their minds to Scripture, acknowledging the truth of what the Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah the prophet to their fathers. Paul could certainly call them that, for both he and the men who had been meeting with him this day are descendants of the very same people Isaiah prophesied to in his day. The phrase “the Holy Spirit” here is “to pneuma to hagion” in Greek, or “the Spirit the Holy.” As we have discussed before, this means this is a reference to the Person of the Holy Spirit, and so speaks to us of the inspiration of Scripture. Though Isaiah was the one who spoke and wrong these words, the reality is that the Holy Spirit was the One Who spoke through him. These words were not the prophet’s own, but were the very words of God.

26. saying,
‘Go to this people and say:
“Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;
And seeing you will see, and not perceive;

Paul now quotes the words of Isaiah that he is commenting on as being especially appropriate to this moment. The words he quotes are from Isaiah 6:9-10. As is true with all Old Testament quotations, the context for this is most important. Let us consider what is going on in that most important chapter of Isaiah 6.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

Isaiah 6:1 orients us.

1. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

First, we learn that this happened in the year that King Uzziah died. From II Kings 15:1-7, where he is mentioned by his other name of Azariah, we learn that he was a good king. He took the throne at 16, and reigned 52 years. He followed the LORD as his father had done, we learn in verse 3. Well, that is questionable praise, for we learn in II Chronicles 25 that Amaziah his father served the LORD well at first, but later brought the gods of Edom home with them and worshipped them. So if Uzziah followed his father’s pattern, he obeyed the LORD at first, but ended badly. Moreover, II Kings 15:4 tells us all was not perfect in the land, for we read, “except that the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” This was not how God wanted it, yet they did it anyway.

II Chronicles 26 gives us a more complete record of King Uzziah’s reign. There, we learn of his great strength and the great success God gave him. However, in II Chronicles 26:16, we learn that this did not last, for we read, “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.” So we learn that he was struck with leprosy, and lived as a leper until the day of his death.

When King Uzziah died, his righteous son Jotham took over from him, as we learn from II Chronicles 27:2. “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah had done (although he did not enter the temple of the LORD). But still the people acted corruptly.” Notice this last phrase, “But still the people acted corruptly.” It is clear from this that, though they had a righteous king, the people were not righteous, and were not what God wanted them to be. They were corrupt, and acted corruptly. This is God’s assessment of them at this time, when Uzziah had just died, and his son Jotham was just taking over. And this is when Isaiah had the great vision we read of in this verse.

Now in this very year when the throne of Judah was being transferred from one king to another, Isaiah sees a vision of a different and much higher King on an altogether different throne. He sees the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. What a vision this must have been! Surely it was a staggering thing to see the LORD on His seat of power, high and lifted up. Apparently this vision was of a figure of majestic size, for we read that just the train of His robe filled the temple! Apparently, Isaiah was at the temple when this vision came upon him. It is interesting that he speaks more of the robe than of the One on the throne. No doubt the LORD in all His glory, high and lifted up, is beyond description.

2. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

Above the throne, Isaiah describes the seraphim. This word means “fiery ones” or “burning ones.” These are elsewhere called the cherubim. They are described here as having six wings. Only two are used for flight, however. Two are used to cover his face, perhaps from his feeling of unworthiness to look upon the One on the throne. Two are used to cover his feet, perhaps from humility from being a created being and yet standing in the presence of such a mighty Creator.

3. And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

The seraphim cry to one another, and speak of the thrice-holy LORD of hosts. They acknowledge that the whole earth is full of His glory. This may be true, but it pales in comparison to how the earth will be full of His glory when His kingdom comes to earth and fills this world with yet more and more glory!

4. And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

When one seraphim cries this to another, the posts of the door of the temple are shaken by his mighty voice, and the house, that is, the temple, is filled with smoke.

5. So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”

Isaiah is stricken by this mighty sight, and stricken most of all by his own sin and unworthiness. He cries out woe upon himself, and proclaims himself undone! This is ever the response of sinful men when they finally get a glimpse of the glory of the LORD. They are always struck by their own unworthiness, and utterly discouraged from any thought that they could ever do or say anything that would change this or in any way make them worthy of standing before such a God. So it is with Isaiah. He realizes the uncleanness of his own lips, staining every word he speaks. He recognizes the uncleanness of the lips of the people around him, among whom he dwells and of whom he is a part. And now, this unclean man has seen the true King (greater by far than Uzziah!) the LORD of armies.

6. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar.

Immediately, there is a response to Isaiah’s broken cry. One of the seraphs flies to him, having in his hand a live coal which he has taken with tongs from off the altar. Whether this was the altar in the temple in which Isaiah stood or the altar corresponding to it in heaven, we are not told. All we can know for sure is that this was from the bronze altar, the altar of sacrifice, where all the sacrifices and offerings to the LORD were made.

7. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

The seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with this coal, and assures him that since this has touched his unclean lips, his iniquity has been taken away, and his sin has been purged. So it is in our day too. When we at last realize our own sinfulness and God’s holiness, when we finally acknowledge our own powerlessness to do anything to make ourselves right in the sight of God, then we are ready for Him to offer us His free pardon and forgiveness of sins that only He can give.

8. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Isaiah now hears Jehovah talking. He asks this questions, though whom he asks it of we cannot tell from the passage. Isaiah is obviously meant to hear the question, however, and he quickly and eagerly responds to it. Now, cleansed of his sin by the coal, he is eager to serve the God Who has forgiven him. The same is true of men today. Once forgiven, they have a God-given desire to serve. Isaiah was given the opportunity he asked for, and became a great servant of Jehovah indeed.

It is interesting here that Jehovah asks “Whom shall I send,” and then follows that up with “And who will go for Us?” We have here that interesting interplay between singulars and plurals that indicates the plurality that exists in the Godhead. This is a common mystery in the Old Testament: that God can be talked about in the singular and then in the plural in the same breath. This mystery is revealed to us in the New Testament, when we learn the truth about the Son of God. Of course, even then we cannot say that we understand this strange truth fully!

9. And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Now begins the portion we have quoted for us in Acts 28:26-27. Immediately upon Isaiah offering to go, Yahweh gives him this message to go and tell the people. He is to tell them to keep on hearing, but not understanding; to keep on seeing, but not perceiving. God is obviously frustrated with His people. He has been speaking to them again and again, yet they have refused to hear it. They have been seeing Him prove the truth of His word over and over again, and yet they have refused to perceive what is right before them.

10. “Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”

Isaiah is commanded to make the heart of his people of Israel dull, their ears heavy, and their eyes shut. This sounds like the LORD is telling Isaiah to do this, yet this cannot be. These people already were refusing to hear and already were refusing to see. Isaiah could not make them this way, for they already were this way. What the LORD seems to mean here is that Isaiah is to make them out to be this way, or to show and display that this is the way they are. He is to show how stubborn they are, and how rebellious. His work to reveal the truth to them will only solidify them in their wickedness and display to everyone how blind and deaf and without understanding they are. If they had been willing to see and hear and understand, they might then have returned to the LORD and been healed. As it is, though, they will not do this, and so healing will not come for them.

11. Then I said, “Lord, how long?”
And He answered:
“Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,

Isaiah was doubtless upset by this grim and hopeless message he was commanded to bring to the people. He asks Jehovah wonderingly how long this sad state of things will be allowed to continue? The answer is far from reassuring. He is told this will continue until the cities of Judah are laid waste and without an inhabitant, until the houses are empty and without one of Adam’s race to inhabit them, and until the land is utterly desolate. This is the sad condition of things that Judah came to during the Babylonian captivity, during which the land sat empty and desolate. Adam’s race was all but perished from the land, though certainly it was still inhabited by many animals and wild beasts.

12. The LORD has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

This sad state of things will continue until Yahweh has removed those in Judah of Adam’s race far away, and the places in the land that are completely forsaken by men are many. Notice here that there is a note that this situation will not be total over the land. Many places will be forsaken completely, yet there will be a few places where men still dwell. The situation described above is put in very severe and extreme terms, but from this verse we learn that this situation will not be complete, and the abandonment of the land will not be total. There will still be a few places not forsaken.

13. But yet a tenth will be in it,
And will return and be for consuming,
As a terebinth tree or as an oak,
Whose stump remains when it is cut down.
So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

Having hinted that there will be a few left in the land, Yahweh now goes on and describes them. There will be a tenth in the land, He reveals, made up of those few who never were carried away in the first place, and of those who slowly trickled back and returned to the land from elsewhere. Their fate there will not be good, however, for they will appear to just be there for consuming, to be swept away once again. Like the stump of a terebinth or oak, however, whose stumps maintain some life even after the tree is cut down, so those surviving of the holy seed will remain and be like such a stump.

So this is Isaiah 6, the chapter that the Holy Spirit through Paul quotes here in Acts 28:26-27. We can see that the passage was originally spoken by the Lord in frustration at the hearts of the people, who served Him outwardly under Uzziah and Jotham, yet who refused to really listen to His words or to see and understand His truth. Therefore, the Lord predicts the captivity, when the people would be scattered from the land, and the land would remain all but uninhabited. This, total destruction of the nation, is the only final cure for the malady that is in the hearts of these rebellious people, Yahweh assures Isaiah.

Now Paul, looking at the Roman rulers who had rejected the message he had given them from God, sees them through the Lord’s eyes, and realizes that these are the same kind of men that the LORD had spoken of through Isaiah some seven hundred years before. They have heard God’s words, but they have not really listened to them. They have seen God’s truth, but they have not really perceived it.

This passage is an example of the use of the Greek double negative ou me. When these two Greek words for “no” are used together, they mean the strongest possible no, or “by no means.” So in Greek the idea is “hearing you will hear, and shall by no means understand; and seeing you will see, and by no means perceive.” Those who rejected heard and saw, but by no means did they understand and perceive.

27. For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”’

Just like the men of Isaiah’s day, the hearts of these Roman leaders had grown dull, unable to respond to God’s truth. Their ears were hard of hearing, not taking in the truths Paul had taught them from God. They had closed their eyes, unwilling to see the truth of God that was right before them. They did not wish to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, or understand with their hearts. If they had, they would have been like the other half of the Roman rulers. They would have turned and been healed by the Lord. Now, however, no such healing would come to them.