Isaiah: Chapter 29 | The Wolfe Notes

Welcome, Family! We're spending 2024 with the prophet Isaiah. While we claim no expertise, we're excited to sit with you as we both learn at the feet of Jesus. Each month, we offer a calendar that outlines daily exercises (adapted from Jenn Wilkin's Women of the Word Bible study process) to progress through Isaiah. Download  June's calendar to begin with us and witness what we uncovered in our weekly "Wolfe Note" postings.

A potter works with clay. Text overlay quotes Isaiah 29:16


  1. Different Versions Noting and clarifying differences between KJV NIV.
  2. Annotation My thoughts, connections, clarifications, and questions.
  3. Research Speaking from the ground and familiar spirits.
  4. Summary An approximately twenty word overview of the chapter.
  5. Memorize Why I chose to memorize Isaiah 29:16.
  6. Cross References Of Isaiah 29:16.
  7. Respond Based on reflections on God's character and my own.

Different Versions

I read Chapter 29 in the King James Version (KJV) and the New International Version (NIV). The KJV is a word-for-word translation and the NIV is a thought-for-thought translation.

Major differences I noticed (*My thoughts alone are in italics and designated with an asterisk.):
  • Isaiah 29:5
    • Comparisons:
      • KJV: Moreover the multitude of thy (1) strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the (2) terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.
      • NIV: But your many (1) enemies will become like fine dust, the (2) ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, 
    • Discrepancy: 
      1. Is it foreigners (KJV) or enemies (NIV)?
      2. Powerful inhabitants (KJV) or invading armies (NIV)?
    • Clarifications:
      • In Hebrew, zuwr, or stranger, often describes an outsider but not an enemy.
      • In Hebrew, arits: awe-inspiring, terror striking, often describes an enemy or oppressor who is ruthless, but not necessarily an army.
      • Commentators generally agree it does describe an enemy that is camped against Israel. Pulpit notes that in primitive societies, a stranger was an enemy. Also, that God typically joins threats with promises, cheer with warning. This verse being a promise that God will protect Israel from its enemies.
  • Isaiah 29:9
    • Comparisons:
      • KJV: Stay yourselves, and wonder; (1) cry ye out, and cry: (2) they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.
      • NIV: Be stunned and amazed, (1) blind yourselves and be sightless; (2) be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer.
    • Discrepancy: 
      1. Are they crying (KJV) because of what they observe or blind (NIV) by what they see?
      2. The second part of this verse reads like a description in the KJV but a command in the NIV. 
    • Conclusions/Clarifications:
      • sha'a': stare, to be smeared over, blinded. Sometimes staring in delight other times because they are unable to see.
      • *Either describing or commanding could work as the Hebrew doesn't add pronouns. To interpret it as a series of commands would be more congruous. The overall meaning of the verse seems to be that they are so stunned by what they see (or are unable to see) that they act as though drunk - bewildered and staggering (trembling or quivering)
      • Commentators suggest this verse describes the Israelites' inability to see what God is doing. *Yet I wonder if it could be Isaiah prompting them to notice what God is doing. Delight yourselves! Be drunken on what you see, tremble with what He is doing.


Notes on my process*Denotes my thoughts alone. ! Denotes a connection. Researched quick answers are in italics. *Indicates a topic with more extensive notes under the research heading.
  1. Caution to the Complacent (v1-2)
    1. Pay attention! You who think you've earned righteousness through tradition and ritual.
      1. 🎵Not because of who I am, but because of what You've done. Not because of what I've done, but because of who You are.🎶 ("Who Am I" performed by Casting Crowns)
      2. 🎶I don't wanna go through the motions. I don't wanna go one more day without Your all consuming passion inside of me.🎵 ("The Motions" performed by Matthew West)
    2. With heaviness and sorrow, I will bring heaviness and sorrow to you.
      1. *Sacrifice is required to bring about holiness.
  2. God Fights Against You (v3-8)
    1. God will encircle you, siege, you, and build defenses against you.
    2. All that we will hear from you are faint mumblings.
      1. *We are made from dust, the only reason we have speech is because of God's breath. So, does this verse references those without God? The demonic? As also suggested by the familiar spirit? A ghost?
      2. ! And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Matthew 27:52-53
    3. In an instant, everyone among you, weak and strong, will be affected.
    4. You will know God is there. His power will be made known to you.
    5. The enemies that you've known before will feel like a dream.
      1. Compared to God, your enemies will be nothing.
    6. You'll feel like you've gotten what you wanted, but then awaken to discover you lack what you need.
  3. Description of the Current State (v9-13)
    1. Pause and ponder it. Express your sorrow over it. You are lost, but not by a momentary affliction. 
    2. No, your stupefaction is by God's hand. He stops you from feeling, seeing, and understanding.
      1. ? Why does God cause confusion? 
      2. ! It's like the dulled minds of Isaiah 6:9-10 - so God's judgment will stand.
    3. You long to understand, so seek help from the knowledgeable. But they cannot help. The revelation is sealed.
      1. ! And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals...Who is worthy to open the book...And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. Revelation 5:1-3
    4.  So you turn to the ignorant who also can't help. 
    5. You're only playing a part. You say you are for God, but your heart is not really for God. You accept man's philosophies of God instead of God in actuality.
      1. ! God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:24 
      2. ! In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel in truth. Isaiah 10:20
      3. ! But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. Isaiah 28:13
  4. God's Work Within You (v14-19)
    1. God will rid the earth of man's deception.
      1. "Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work..." Isaiah 29:14
      2. ! "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well." Psalm 139:14
      3. ! Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I Corinthians 2:13
    2. If you think you've been successful in hiding your evil, you're wrong.
    3. The One who made you, knows you.
      1. 🎵You are the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, this is what I pray🎶 ("Change My Heart Oh God" performed by Maranatha! Music) 
    4. Take heart, soon His work within you will be accomplished.
      1. ! Is it not yet a very little while and Lebanon...shall be esteemed as a forest? Isaiah 29:17
      2. ! And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan. Isaiah 2:13
      3. ! ...the cedars of Lebanon gloat over you and say, "Now that you have been laid low, no one comes to cut us down." Isaiah 14:8
    5. Then, all will see the truth.
  5. The Result (v22-24)
    1. The meek and poor will rejoice in God, for men will no longer oppress, ridicule, or condemn them.
      1. *Meekness is a deference to God's justice instead of imposing your own will.
      2. *Poor is knowing you're destitute; you know you need Jesus.
      3. ? Does 'the terrible one' reference Satan or the influential on earth?
    2. God's chosen will no more feel shame or hopelessness but will exalt and fear God for the work He's done in their children.
    3. Truth will come to all. Those who were deceived will understand truth, and those who lead others astray will learn to walk the paths of righteousness.
      1. ! Isaiah 29:13 NIV: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.


*Thoughts that are mine alone are marked with an asterisk and italicized.
What is the meaning of speaking from the ground in Isaiah 29:4? Are the people dead and speaking beyond the grave?

In Hebrew

  • ob, translated as "familiar spirit" in the KJV or "ghostlike" in the NIV, actually means necromancer.
  • It is also used in:
    • Isaiah 8:19 NIV: "When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?
    • Leviticus, as warnings not to turn to mediums or spiritists (19:31; 20:6-7)
    • Deuteronomy 18:10-11 which describes types of soothsaying: human sacrifice, divination, astrology, enchanters, witchcraft, spell casters, mediums, wizards, or necromancers.
    • I Samuel 28:1-20 When Saul consults the witch of Endor to speak with Samuel from beyond the grave.

Practices of Soothsayers and Necromancers in Israel

  • Soothsayers were in great demand in Israel to help them see into the future. (Ellicott)
  • It was a common practice of soothsayers to "peep" or "mutter" to thrill the nerves with a sense of expectant awe. (Ellicott)
  • Necromancers likely employed ventriloquism (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown) to make sound that seemed to come from the ground when they claimed to raise a ghost (Pulpit).

Meaning in this Verse

  • Israel goes from war cries to feeble tones (Ellicott) of fear and alarm (Barnes).
  • It was a fitting consequence for a people that trusted in necromancers to be made like them. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown)
  • Now weakened by famine and lying in the dust, their tones fade to faint and feeble tones. (Gill)
*Conclusions: No, they weren't dead. It is an analogy that describes how low they will be brought. It does interest me, though, the idea of them being from the dust and returning to the dust where they are unable to speak well. God is the reason we can speak: the breath in our lungs. The reason we are more than dust. So, to me, mumblings in the dust represents souls without God.


God will correct those who think tradition and ritual will save them. He labors for the works of His hands.


I chose to memorize Isaiah 29:16.
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him who made it: he made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it: he had no understanding?

This verse reminds me that my Maker knows me. Inside and out. Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows me and loves me.

Cross References

*Thoughts that are mine alone are marked with an asterisk and italicized.

Of Isaiah 29:16.

Surely your turning of things upside down...
  • Acts 17:6 KJV: And when [the Jews] found them out, they drew Jason and certain brethern unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; 
  • Isaiah 24:1 KJV: Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turned it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.
  • Matthew 21:12 KJV: And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bout in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

...shall be esteemed as the potter's clay:...

  • Isaiah 45:9 NIV: "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'The potter has no hands'?
  • Isaiah 64:8 KJV: But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.
  • Jeremiah 18:2, 4 KJV: "Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words...and the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it."
...for shall the work say of him that made it,...

  • Isaiah 10:15 NIV: Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it, or the saw boast against the one who uses it? As if a rod were to wield the person who lifts it up, or a club brandish the one who is not wood!
  • Isaiah 45:11 NIV: "This is what the Lord says - the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?
  • Psalm 94:8-9 NIV: Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? 

... He made me not?...

  • Psalm 139:13 NIV: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
  • Genesis 2:7 KJV: And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
...or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it,...

  • Romans 9:20 NIV: But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'"
  • Psalm 103:14 KJV: For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
...He had no understanding?

  • Proverbs 9:10 KJV: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
  • Proverbs 3:5 KJV: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

*Conclusions: We think that we understand life, our purpose, and how to get what we want without God. And we think we do it pretty well. In fact, sometimes we think He stands in our way and that we can do whatever we want because He won't see, doesn't care, can't stop us, or doesn't exist. But Your Maker does exist, He sees you always, cares about you deeply, and never stops His work within You. But, He won't stop you from making your own choices because He knows and understands you. He knows you need choice. And until we choose to include God - Our Maker - in everything, we really do have it all turned upside down. 


  1. God is not mocked. (Galatians 6:7Isaiah 29:1Isaiah 29:15) He knows my heart better than I do. (Jeremiah 17:9-10) I sometimes fall into believing that my acts and history can save me. That if I just repent enough and live perfectly enough, then I can be saved. Or, reassure myself that I accepted Jesus as my savior, so He is mine, and nothing can take away my salvation. But what God wants is our hearts. And He knows our hearts better than we do. There are no actions that are good enough, no words that are perfect enough to save us. He demands all of us. I must ask myself: Am I honestly admitting my sinfulness, or do I act like I'm perfect, hiding the reminders that I need Jesus? Am I living in a way that reflects the change He's made in me or do I believe that words spoken once require no further commitment? I can live every moment for God in spirit and truth. I can love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and might (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 & Mark 12:30) and acknowledge that my sinful nature constantly needs Jesus.
  2. God turns it around. His ways will prevail. Truth will remain. I get lost in lies that I tell myself, that others tell me, and that society tells me about who God is. But I can rest knowing God is truth. I can turn to Him in every uncertainty and trust He will lead me to truth. 
  3. God knows us. We are the works of His hands. I can trust Him to keep making me and to guide me to His green pastures because all His ways are good. He is for me. So, I'm done fighting Him. I surrender.

In Closing

Oh, Father, we are so lost. We fool ourselves, believing You don't see what we do so we can do as we please without any consequence. We fool ourselves, denying Your existence and refusing to read the truth taught in Your word. We fool ourselves, thinking we're Yours simply because of who we are or what we've done instead of who You are and what You've done. I'm done fooling myself. I'm done just going through the motions. I want to worship You in spirit and truth. I surrender to you. Call out what I do in darkness so I can walk boldly in Your light. You made me, keep making me. Mold me to sanctify You, Lord, and only You, Lord.

Learning with You,

Ready for Chapter 30?

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Image Credit: Pottery by Alexalf2 at Pixabay.



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