Visualizing Isaiah 29: a book that is sealed

Sealed documents were common in Bible times. Isaiah had already used this figure in chapter 8:16. Here the same illustration is used to show that because of Israel’s blindness of heart, no one was able (or willing) to accept and understand the will of God (see 6:9-10).

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.”(Isaish 29:11-12 ESV)

The photo below was taken in the archaeological museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. It shows a rolled up document with three strings held by clay seals. It appears that the document is modern with three ancient seals, but it illustrates what Isaiah is writing about.

The illiterate man says, “I cannot read.” The man who is literate says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” The illiterate man does not try to find someone who can read, and the literate man does not find someone with authority to break the seal. Blindness, darkness, and spiritual insensitivity prevent either man from finding out what is in the document. No wonder Jesus cited Isaiah’s statement to explain why he used parables (Matthew 13:13-15).

A sealed document displayed in the Gaziantep Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sealed document displayed in the Gaziantep Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Walton, Matthews & Chavalas) has this explanatory note about sealed documents in Bible times.

Official documents were written on scrolls of papyrus or vellum and then, when stored or dispatched by messenger, were rolled up and sealed with string and an affixed seal (see 1 Kings 21:8; Jer 32:10–11). The seal, either a ring or signet, was impressed into either wax or a lump of clay known as a bulla (Job 38:14). Archaeologists have found many of these clay bullae with the names of Israelite officials.

I am aware of one ancient document with as many as seven seals. It is the Wadi ed-Daliyeh Aramaic papyrus document dating to the 4th century B.C. The seals are currently displayed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. This document provides an illustration for Revelation 5 and 6.

Visualizing Isaiah 28: the threshing sledge

Toward the end of Isaiah 28 several agricultural illustrations are used. Notice the references to the threshing sledge in verses 27 and 28.

Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod. Does one crush grain for bread? No, he does not thresh it forever; when he drives his cart wheel over it with his horses, he does not crush it. (Isaiah 28:27-28 ESV)

A threshing sledge was made of wood with sharp stones placed in the bottom. The sledge was pulled around and around over stalks of wheat or barley to cut the stalks into small pieces. The sledge was pulled by oxen or another animal. A young man, with perhaps some weights would be placed on top of the sledge to make it more efficient. The photo below shows an antique threshing sledge at Aphrodisias, Turkey.

Threshing sledge with most of cutting stones gone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Threshing sledge with most of cutting stones gone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows another sledge with many of the stones still in place. Every time the sledge went over the grain the pieces became smaller.

A threshing sledge with most of the cutting stones gone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A threshing sledge with many of the cutting stones in place. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The entire process of threshing, winnowing, and sifting, is shown in the art by Balage at Archaeology Illustrated.

Araunah's threshing floor. Art by Balage, Archaeology Illustrated.

Araunah’s threshing floor. Art by Balage, Archaeology Illustrated.

 

Visualizing Isaiah 27: women make a fire of dry boughs

The judgment upon Israel will become severe before the redemption comes. Here is one illustration of the bad conditions.

For the fortified city is solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness; there the calf grazes; there it lies down and strips its branches. When its boughs are dry, they are broken; women come and make a fire of them. For this is a people without discernment; therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them; he who formed them will show them no favor. (Isaiah 27:10-11 ESV)

Our photos were made at Haran, the home of Abraham and his family before they departed for the promised land (Genesis 11:31 – 12:5). Haran is a few miles north of the Syrian border in Southeastern Turkey. The beehive mud houses have been in use here for several hundred years. The first photo shows a woman bringing in dry branches to her house to use for building fires.

Woman carrying dry boughs at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Woman carrying dry boughs at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And the photo here shows a large supply of dried boughs and a large stack of dung cakes which will be used to make fires for cooking and heating.

Dry boughs gathered for fire at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dry boughs gathered for fire at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament

Those who preach and teach might enjoy, and profit by, Preaching and Teaching From the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The 2003 book is $3.99 today in Kindle format. It is normally $22.00. Click on the book for more information.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ESV)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.(Romans 15:4 ESV)

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.(1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

 

 

Visualizing Isaiah 26: strong city, walls, bulwarks, gates

Isaiah’s readers should find consolation in the fact that the city that was to be devastated by the Babylonians would eventually be rebuilt.

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. (Isaiah 26:1-2 ESV)

A remnant of Judeans returned from Babylonian exile in 536 B.C., with a second group returning in 458 B.C. (Isaiah 10:21-22; 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1; 9:13-15). Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in 444 B.C. to lead in the rebuilding of the walls of the city.

The photo below shows the foundation of a large wall thought to be the “Broad Wall” of Nehemiah 3:8 (see 12:38). The wall, excavated after 1967, was originally about 25 feet high.

Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. (Neh 3:8 ESV)

The "Broad Wall" in Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The “Broad Wall” in Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Prof. Eilat Mazar believes she has discovered a wall dating to the time of Nehemiah (Persian Period) in the City of David excavations. If so, this would mean we have portions of the wall on the west and on the east side of the ancient city.

Possible portion of wall from time of Nehemiah in the City of David. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Possible portion of wall (right) from time of Nehemiah in the City of David. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Visualizing Isaiah 25: “on this mountain”

Isaiah continues the apocalyptic description of the judgment of the LORD and the return from captivity. The city that will be destroyed by the Babylonians will become a place of great feasting for all nations.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.(Isaiah 25:6 ESV)

Early in the book Isaiah has informed us that “the mountain of the LORD” would become a place for blessing all men through the word which would go forth from Jerusalem.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV)

Jerusalem is not directly on the top of the central mountain range that runs from the north to the south in the land of Canaan/Israel. It is situated on the eastern slope of the mountain ridge. Even then there are mountains that are higher. In the photo below you see the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Temple of Solomon once stood. But you see that Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives are higher than Jerusalem. In God’s plan Jerusalem would become the highest of all. We see the fulfillment of this in Acts 2.

Notice Jerusalem in the mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notice Jerusalem in the mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo above was taken from the Haas Promenade south of Jerusalem. Click on the photo for a larger image and a better view of the city.

Visualizing Isaiah 24: the tambourines

In the apocalyptic account of the LORD’S judgment upon the earth, Isaiah says…

The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. (Isaiah 24:7-9 ESV)

The normal activities of life will cease when the judgment of God comes upon Judah.

The photo below shows clay images of women playing tambourines. These items are part of the Bethlehem Group of mostly pillared figurines, now displayed in the British Museum.

Musicians from Bethlehem. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Female musicians from Bethlehem. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.