1 Ah, you destroyer,
who yourself have not been destroyed,
whom none has betrayed!
When you have ceased to destroy,
you will be destroyed;
and when you have finished betraying,
they will betray you.
2 O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
our salvation in the time of trouble.
3 At the tumultuous noise peoples flee;
when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered,
4 and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers;
as locusts leap, it is leapt upon.
5 The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
6 and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. – Isaiah 33:1-6 ESV
This entire chapter, while obviously dealing with the very real and immediate threat of the Assyrian invasion, is actually highly eschatological in nature. It provides a sweeping panorama of God’s decisive victories over all of His enemies, all the way to the end of time. But the chapter opens up with a very specific woe against the nation of Assyria.
What sorrow awaits you Assyrians, who have destroyed others
but have never been destroyed yourselves.
You betray others,
but you have never been betrayed.
When you are done destroying,
you will be destroyed.
When you are done betraying,
you will be betrayed. – Isaiah 33:1 NLT
They were the most eminent threat facing Judah. But while they were powerful and had proven themselves quite capable of destroying any who stood opposed to them, God let them know that their days were numbered. What they had been doing to others would soon be done to them. God Almighty would turn the tables on them and give them a taste of their own medicine. While it may not appear to be so, God is always looking down on His creation and dispensing justice. He sees the inequities and injustices happening in the world and, in His time, He metes out His form of justice. It may not happen according to our timing or liking, but we can rest assured that nothing escapes God’s notice no injustice will go unpunished.
God reminds us of His unceasing vigilance and unwavering commitment to right all wrongs.
“The Lord says, ‘Am I not storing up these things,
sealing them away in my treasury?
I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
and their destiny will overtake them.’” – Deuteronomy 32:34-35 NLT
The apostle Paul quoted this very passage when writing to the believers in Rome. But he added a twist, including another Old Testament quite found in the Psalms.
Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. – Romans 12:19-21 NLT
And Isaiah uses a similar pattern, addressing God’s coming vengeance against the Assyrians, but following it up with a prayer that God would have mercy on His sinful and rebellious people.
But Lord, be merciful to us,
for we have waited for you.
Be our strong arm each day
and our salvation in times of trouble. – Isaiah 33:2 NLT
In a real sense, the people of Judah had become the enemies of God, because they had refused to remain obedient to God. They had treated their position as His chosen possession with disdain and aligned themselves against Him. In doing so, they had become His enemies. Paul speaks of mankind’s hostile relationship with God in several of his letters.
You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. – Colossians 1:21 NLT
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV
As His enemies, the people of Judah deserved God’s wrath, but Isaiah prays for mercy. He begs for God to give them what they don’t deserve: His compassion, forgiveness, and salvation. While Isaiah’s prayer could not have represented the hearts of all the people of Judah, he prayed it on their behalf. He interceded for those who could not or would not call out to God. And Isaiah was not alone in this ministry of intercession. The prophet Jeremiah pleaded with God as well, voicing his desire that God not reject His people. Jeremiah knew that their sins were deserving of God’s judgment, but He asked God to look past their sin and graciously keep the covenant He had made with them.
Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
Lord, we confess our wickedness
and that of our ancestors, too.
We all have sinned against you.
For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us,
and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:19-21 NLT
Both of these men cared deeply for the people of God. They longed to see the hearts of their people restored to a right relationship with God. So, they prayed and the pleaded. They interceded. And what makes their prayers particularly significant is that both of these men had suffered at the hands of the people to whom God had called them to minister. Neither Jeremiah or Isaiah were well-liked. Their messages were unpopular and their treatment by their fellow Jews, unpleasant. But rather than respond in anger, they prayed. Because they knew the only hope the nation had was to found in God.
Their prayers were intended to bridge the gulf that existed between God and His rebellious people. Their sins had separated them from God. Their rebellion had alienated them from God. And, it didn’t help that God was transcendent, physically separated from His people, and living in perfect holiness in heaven. But Isaiah knew that God is not limited by space or time. He is fully capable of stepping into the immediate context of His people and performing great wonders on their behalf.
Though the Lord is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness. – Isaiah 33:5 NLT
Isaiah is counting on the fact that God will intervene on behalf of His people. He will step into their world and pour out His mercy and grace. Isaiah may not have known the when or the how, but he was confident nonetheless. And he speaks prophetically of a coming day when God will restore the fortunes of His people.
In that day he will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. – Isaiah 33:6 NLT
While God did provide an immediate answer to Isaiah’s prayer, providing rescue from the threat of the Assyrian invasion. There is a sense in which his prayer remains as yet unfulfilled. But every prayer that has ever been prayed, asking God to intervene and rescue, will ultimately be answered. He will rescue. He will restore. And one of the greatest proofs of God’s willingness to answer mankind’s plea for rescue is found in the life of Jesus Christ.
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 NLT
Jesus became the rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge Isaiah spoke of. He became the ultimate solution to mankind’s sin problem, including the sins of Israel and Judah. And Isaiah, while not fully comprehending the exact nature of God’s redemptive plan, and unaware of the details concerning Jesus’ incarnation, fully believed God would restore and redeem. He wasn’t exactly sure how or when, but he believed. And it is amazing to realize that God had placed within Isaiah an awareness of what was to come that allowed him to pen these words concerning the future Messiah of Israel.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT
Judah’s Savior was going to come. And He would pay the price for their rebellion against God Almighty. He would take on their sin debt so that they might one day be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. Isaiah’s prayer for mercy was answered. And it happened centuries later in the little town of Bethlehem, when Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. God entered into the world of man by taking the form of a man. He became incarnate. He became Immanuel, God with us.
“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” – Luke 2:10-11 NLT
And in doing so, God was gracious to us, and became our salvation in the time of trouble.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.