For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, "Do not see," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."
A choice for spiritual self-deception characterized the people of Israel and Judah as God prepared to reach them through judgment. The message of Isaiah is penetrating in its analysis. The nation has rebelled against God. It is characterized by lying and deceit. The people are like disobedient children who turn their heads away from parental instruction. They are bent on doing wrong and will not listen to the Word of God.
But they are in a rebellion that wants to keep some semblance of spirituality. They instruct the prophets on exactly which messages they want to hear. This is "survey the crowd" theology and it zeroes in on "felt needs" homiletics as the message of the day. I am sure it was remarkably successful for those false prophets who practiced it. The people wanted smooth sermons and illusive visions for the future. They wanted to be entertained. And false prophets did this all the way up to the point where Jerusalem was reduced to smoldering embers. But these "smooth messages" were rebellion. Yes, pleasing the crowds with captivating sermons was outright rebellion against God.
Cue up Sade singing Smooth Operator. That is what the people wanted. Easy listening, palatable, "positive and encouraging" messages from the prophets made them happy. They did not want to necessarily hear from God. They just wanted inspiration to carry on with their lives. And it seems that is what they got to the very end.
Pablum proceeds judgment. And Israel's rebellion ultimately did not end until Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers burned Jerusalem to cinders. And only at the rivers of Babylon did the survivors weep and repent and accept the hard reality of God's call to them for repentance. Smooth messages were worthless disasters.