Isaiah 33 – The LORD Delivers Zion
A. The LORD comes in judgment and graciousness.
1. (1) Woe to plundering Assyria.
Woe to you who plunder, though you have not been plundered;
And you who deal treacherously, though they have not dealt treacherously with you!
When you cease plundering,
You will be plundered;
When you make an end of dealing treacherously,
They will deal treacherously with you.
a. Woe to you who plunder: This prophecy, spoken before the Assyrian invasion, shows that this seemingly unstoppable army will in fact be stopped. Those who did the plundering will be plundered and will be dealt with treacherously by others.
b. They will deal treacherously with you: Jesus spoke of this same principle in Matthew 7:1-2: Judge not, that you not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. God has every right to deal with us as we have dealt with others.
2. (2-4) The prayer of God’s people.
O LORD, be gracious to us;
We have waited for You.
Be their arm every morning,
Our salvation also in the time of trouble.
At the noise of the tumult the people shall flee;
When You lift Yourself up, the nations shall be scattered;
And Your plunder shall be gathered
Like the gathering of the caterpillar;
As the running to and fro of locusts,
He shall run upon them.
a. O LORD, be gracious to us: In light of the Assyrian threat and the longed-for deliverance of a righteous king, God’s people no longer look to the Egyptians, they no longer look to themselves. Now, they look to the LORD, and cry out, “O LORD, be gracious to us.”
b. We have waited for You. Be their arm every morning: God’s people aren’t trusting in themselves anymore. They are waiting on the LORD and looking to His arm every morning.
c. When You lift Yourself up, the nations shall be scattered: God’s people have a confident expectation in the LORD. Their prayer is filled with wonderful expectancy.
i. Like the gathering of the caterpillar: “Verse four may already have had an initial fulfillment after the death of the Assyrian soldiers, for undoubtedly the inhabitants of Jerusalem congregated like caterpillars around the corpses and the implements of war.” (Bultema)
3. (5-6) The praise of God’s people.
The LORD is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times,
And the strength of salvation;
The fear of the LORD is His treasure.
a. The LORD is exalted: The tough times were hard, but they brought God’s people to a different, better view of who He is. Because they have been brought low, they see that the LORD is exalted.
b. He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness: God’s people pray this in anticipation of the answer. You don’t have to wait until God does it all to give Him thanks. You can, by faith, give Him thanks ahead of time.
c. The fear of the LORD is His treasure: Honor, respect, and reverence towards the LORD is His treasure. It is a gift God gives us, not so we will cower in fear, but so we will rightly honor Him.
4. (7-9) The LORD’s judgment brings the earth low.
Surely their valiant ones shall cry outside,
The ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly.
The highways lie waste,
The traveling man ceases.
He has broken the covenant,
He has despised the cities,
He regards no man.
The earth mourns and languishes,
Lebanon is shamed and shriveled;
Sharon is like a wilderness,
And Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits.
a. Their valiant ones shall cry outside…. The earth mourns and languishes: When the judgment of the LORD comes to the earth, everyone is brought low before Him. The valiant ones shall cry, and the ambassadors of peace – who trusted in other nations instead of the LORD – shall weep bitterly. Even the mighty Lebanon, with her majestic forests of cedar, is shamed and shriveled.
b. Their valiant ones: The Hebrew word translated valiant ones appears only this one time in the Bible.
i. “The word erellam, which we translate valiant ones, is very difficult; no man knows what it means. Kimchi supposes that it is the name of the angel that smote the Assyrian camp! The Vulgate, and my old manuscript translate it seers; and most of the Versions understand it this way. None of the manuscripts give us any help.” (Clarke)
B. The fire of the LORD.
1. (10-13) The LORD announces His fire of judgment.
“Now I will rise,” says the LORD;
“Now I will be exalted,
Now I will lift Myself up.
You shall conceive chaff,
You shall bring forth stubble;
Your breath, as fire, shall devour you.
And the people shall be like the burnings of lime;
Like thorns cut up they shall be burned in the fire.
Hear, you who are afar off, what I have done;
And you who are near, acknowledge My might.”
a. Now I will rise: As the whole earth is brought low by the judgment of the LORD, at the same time, the LORD lifts Himself up.
b. And the people shall be like the burnings of lime; like thorns cut up they shall be burned in the fire: God’s judgment will come like fire, and the wicked and worthless works of man will be like chaff and stubble that is quickly and ferociously burned in the fire.
i. “To lime stresses the intensity of the blaze.” (Motyer)
2. (14-19) Fearful sinners and blessed saints.
The sinners in Zion are afraid;
Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites:
“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?
Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes,
Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed,
And shuts his eyes from seeing evil:
He will dwell on high;
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks;
Bread will be given him,
His water will be sure.
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty;
They will see the land that is very far off.
Your heart will meditate on terror:
“Where is the scribe?
Where is he who weighs?
Where is he who counts the towers?”
You will not see a fierce people,
A people of obscure speech, beyond perception,
Of a stammering tongue that you cannot understand.
a. The sinners in Zion are afraid: Of course they were afraid. They were afraid because judgment of the LORD was coming. Those who were not afraid to practice their sin were now afraid when righteous judgment comes upon their sin.
b. He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly…He will dwell on high: Though the sinners and hypocrites are terrified at the coming judgment of the LORD, the LORD’s righteous ones are comforted that God is coming to set things right.
c. Your eyes will see the King in His beauty: The LORD will bless His righteous ones. They will have a place of defense, a fortress, and bread and water will not fail them. But far above these material blessings, they will see the King in His beauty. In the most immediate sense, this referred to Hezekiah; but in the ultimate sense, to our Beautiful Savior Jesus Christ.
i. Beyond all the material glory, splendor, and comfort of heaven, this is the greatest glory of heaven: not to be personally glorified, but to see the King in His beauty.
ii. It isn’t only seeing the King; it is seeing Him in His beauty. It can be said that we occasionally catch a “glimpse” of our King Jesus, and even sometimes have a glance at His beauty. But the highest experience we could have now is like nothing compared to what we will experience when we see the King in His beauty. Paul said of our present walk, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Today, when we look in a good mirror, the image is clear. But in the ancient world, mirrors were made out of polished metal, and the image was always unclear and somewhat distorted. We see Jesus now only in a dim, unclear way, but one day we will see Him with perfect clarity.
iii. Heaven is precious to us for many reasons. We long to be with loved ones who have passed before us and whom we miss so dearly. We long to be with the great men and women of God who have passed before us in centuries past. We want to walk the streets of gold, see the pearly gates, see the angels round the throne of God worshipping Him day and night. However, none of those things, precious as they are, make heaven really “heaven.” What makes heaven really heaven is the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our LORD, and to see the King in His beauty will be the greatest experience of your eternal existence.
iv. Part of the beauty of the King in heaven will be the scars He retains from His suffering for our sake on this earth. After Jesus rose from the dead in His glorified body, His body uniquely retained the nail prints in His hands and the scar on His side (John 20:24-29). In Zechariah 12:10, Jesus speaks prophetically of the day when the Jewish people, turned to Him, see Him in glory: then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. Zechariah 13:6 continues the thought: And one will say to him, “What are these wounds between your arms?” Then he will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
d. Your heart will meditate on terror: The revealing of the King will be the greatest glory for the child of God, but it will be the greatest terror for the one who has set their heart against or apart from God. In vain, they will look to the scribe or he who weighs or he who counts the towers for help, but there will be none.
e. You will not see a fierce people, a people of obscure speech: Though the northern nation of Israel was demolished by the Assyrians (a people of obscure speech, beyond perception), the southern nation of Judah would be delivered (you will not see). Isaiah mixes the pictures of the LORD’s ultimate deliverance on the day of judgment, and the soon coming deliverance from the Assyrians.
3. (20-24) Zion is delivered and blessed.
Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts;
Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet home,
A tabernacle that will not be taken down;
Not one of its stakes will ever be removed,
Nor will any of its cords be broken.
But there the majestic LORD will be for us
A place of broad rivers and streams,
In which no galley with oars will sail,
Nor majestic ships pass by
(For the LORD is our Judge,
The LORD is our Lawgiver,
The LORD is our King;
He will save us);
Your tackle is loosed,
They could not strengthen their mast,
They could not spread the sail.
Then the prey of great plunder is divided;
The lame take the prey.
And the inhabitant will not say, “I am sick”;
The people who dwell in it will be forgiven their iniquity.
a. Look upon Zion…Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet home: In the midst of the Assyrian threat, God will preserve Jerusalem. Not one of its stakes will ever be removed.
b. A place of broad rivers and streams: God’s blessing on Zion would bring broad rivers and streams to this once barren, desert land.
i. “This chapter, so full of compelling imagery, presents a picture of Jerusalem as a kind of Near Eastern Venice or Amsterdam, or, to place it in its historical context, like the great cities of Egypt or Mesopotamia. Most great civilisations have grown up around important rivers. Israel, in general, and Jerusalem, in particular, were exceptions to this.” (Grogan)
c. There the majestic LORD will be for us…no galley with oars will sail, nor majestic ships pass by. For the LORD is our Judge…He will save us: A wide river will not give a path to an enemy coming on a ship. God will saveand protect.
i. Those majestic ships turned out to be not so majestic after all. Your tackle is loosed, they could not strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail. It was foolish to ever fear the majestic ships instead of trusting the majestic LORD.
ii. “Although they shall have from God the security of a great river, yet they shall be freed from the disadvantage of it; which is, that the enemies may come against them in ships; for no galleys nor ships of the enemy’s shall be able to come into this river to annoy them.” (Poole)
d. The lame take the prey…. The people who dwell in it will be forgiven their iniquity: When God saves, He does it in unlikely ways. It is an unexpected blessing that the lame take the prey. It is an unexpected blessing that people can be forgiven their iniquity. The majestic LORD brings unexpected blessing.
i. “They shall not only receive from me a glorious temporal deliverance; but, which is infinitely better, the pardon of all their sins, and all those spiritual and everlasting blessings which attend upon that mercy.” (Poole)
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org