“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. And their worship of me amounts to nothing more than human laws learned by rote.” - Isaiah 29:13
The house that Ruth built” is Yankee Stadium in New York city. Babe Ruth was neither the architect who designed the imposing structure nor the contractor who built it. But his baseball exploits put the stadium on the map. Not that the fans entering “the house that Ruth built” talk about New York City. It’s “The Big Apple.” In the same way, New Orleans is “The Big Easy” and London, England, is “the Smoke.”
“The City of David,” as every Old Testament scholar knows, is Jerusalem. But King David didn’t design or found the city. The Jebusites did that before Israel arrived from Egypt. But David conquered them, occupied the city, and put Jerusalem on the front pages of history (see 2 Sam. 5:6-7).
In keeping with the tendency to give major cities nicknames, Isaiah called Jerusalem, the City of David, “Ariel.” He explained that Ariel means “an altar covered with blood” (Isa. 29:2)—certainly an odd name for a city!
In the temple, the altar was a constant reminder of the need for sin to be confessed and dealt with by sacrifice—a clear pointer to the eventual death of Christ as a sacrifice for our sin. But the altar was also a continual source of encouragement because it spoke of divine forgiveness and restoration. In the same way “Ariel”—that is, Jerusalem—would be a historical reminder of both divine judgment and heavenly restoration.
Unfortunately, the people of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time had rejected the Lord’s constant reminders of their sin and his offers of forgiveness for so long that they had become stupefied. You can only reject truth for so long before you become hardened and blinded to it. “Ariel” was about to see the judgment of God, yet it was in no mood to welcome the forgiveness of God. The promises of God were “a sealed book to them” (29:11). They continued with their worship activities but they were “nothing more than human laws learned by rote” (29:13). The people of Jerusalem were practicing religious rites devoid of reality, and they were professing a faith without performing it. The Lord complained, “They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away” (29:13).
The judgment promised for Jerusalem finally came, but the promised blessing came, too. Seven hundred years after Isaiah, the angels announced Christ’s birth “in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11). Bethlehem was the “city of David.” It was there that David had been born and there that, in Christ’s coming, hope for promised blessings was born anew.
For Further Study: Isaiah 29:1-14