What good are our ceremonies and customs? They may in fact be very valuable, but not to earn salvation. We do not trust in our own actions at all, but wholly rest on Christ, the one who has worked out salvation for His people. This is nothing new. It’s foreshadowed in Isaiah 29.
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 16, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 1-39. St. Louis: Concordia, 1969. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 29” pp. 238-251
As he introduces Isaiah chapter 29, Luther makes it clear that he understands the place spoken of to be Jerusalem. It is the city of David, though it is called “Ariel,” meaning “lion of God” (LW 16, 238). Though the city seems blessed of God the ceremonies of the people will not guarantee their safety (v. 2). The city will be full of mourning. This is God’s rejection. Luther compares this attitude in Jerusalem to the Roman church of his day. They too were self-assured (LW 16, 239). God’s promise is to beseige and humble the people (vv. 3-4). Even the preaching is pounded into the dust. Luther takes this to threaten the loss of kingdom and priesthood together (LW 16, 240).
Verse five is slightly cryptic. Luther notes that if it refers to the enemies of Jerusalem after Jerusalem has been overthrown, it would be hardly seen that Jerusalem woujld overcome enemies. He cites Jerome who takes “dust” to refer to the number of enemies who come. Luther then suggests it could be applied to irresistible enemies, such as the Muslims of his day (LW 16, 240). The outcome is clear. God will visit his enemies, those who have harmed his people (vv. 6-7). Luther applies this to Rome, which will pass away, though Christ will remain (LW 16, 241). Those who attempt to oppress God’s people will be disappointed. This is like the hungry man who dreams of food (v. 8). He remains hungry when he wakes.
In verse 9 the prophets are told to be dismayed. All their efforts have been overcome by God. He has blinded the false prophets. They will not understand (LW 16, 243). The leaders of the people also fail to understand the Scripture. Luther applies this, as usual, to the Roman church of his day (LW 16, 243). Verse 12 describes two ways of misunderstanding. While some say the Bible is special secret knowledge, others simply do not read it (LW 16, 244). Those who approach God for their own gain in v. 13 are far from God. They have a man-made religion. Luther sees this rampant in the monastic orders (LW 16, 245).
In verse 14 God says he will do amazing things. He will find ungodly and undiscerning people. Their own human wisdom will perish (LW 16, 246). Luther elaborates on the folly of trusting our own opinions, comparing several biblical passages (LW 16, 247). Yet in verse 17 God’s promises to take that which was unfruitful and make it bear fruit. Luther takes this to be God’s reception of the Gentiles (LW 16, 248). God reveals his word to those who were in darkness. In his revelation of his word, God will bring confidence and joy to those who trust him (LW 16, 250).
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