7 Behold, their heroes cry in the streets;
the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
8 The highways lie waste;
the traveler ceases.
Covenants are broken;
cities are despised;
there is no regard for man.
9 The land mourns and languishes;
Lebanon is confounded and withers away;
Sharon is like a desert,
and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.
10 “Now I will arise,” says the Lord,
“now I will lift myself up;
now I will be exalted.
11 You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble;
your breath is a fire that will consume you.
12 And the peoples will be as if burned to lime,
like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”
13 Hear, you who are far off, what I have done;
and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions,
who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
16 he will dwell on the heights;
his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks;
his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.
17 Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;
they will see a land that stretches afar.
18 Your heart will muse on the terror:
“Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute?
Where is he who counted the towers?”
19 You will see no more the insolent people,
the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand.
20 Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be plucked up,
nor will any of its cords be broken.
21 But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
nor majestic ship can pass.
22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.
23 Your cords hang loose;
they cannot hold the mast firm in its place
or keep the sail spread out.
Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
even the lame will take the prey.
24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity. – Isaiah 33:7-24 ESV
In the opening verses of this chapter, Isaiah expressed his desire that God show mercy to His people. He knew that the only hope Judah had, in the face of the coming Assyrian invasion, was for God to come to their aid. Salvation would not come from Egypt or by any other human means. The only way Judah would be spared the judgment of God would be if God relented and chose to spare His people out of sheer grace.
But verse seven reveals that God has not yet acted. The situation is dire, and the people are living in fear for their lives. The Assyrians are near, and the fall of Jerusalem appears near. As a result, Isaiah describes Judah’s “brave warriors” weeping in public and her “ambassadors of peace” crying in bitter disappointment. The soldiers realize they are no match for the Assyrian forces gathered outside the city walls. The king’s negotiators, who had attempted to barter a peace agreement with the Assyrians, mourned over their failure. Everything in which they had placed their hope for salvation had failed. Their human efforts had produced no peace and had brought no relief.
We know from the book of 2 Kings, that Hezekiah, the king of Judah had attempted to persuade King Sennacherib to call off the invasion by paying him a substantial tribute.
King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 18:14-16 NLT
But King Sennacherib, while receiving the tribute, rejected Hezekiah’s plea to call off the invasion. He told the emissaries from Judah:
“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT
King Sennacherib even mocked their trust in God, claiming, “do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” (2 Kings 18:25 NLT).
So, it is easy to understand the demoralized state of the people of Judah. Things were not looking good. Everywhere they looked, they saw the undeniable results of Assyria’s power. Isaiah describes the devastation of Bashan and Lebanon in the North and the Plain of Sharon and Mount Carmel to the West. Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. Now, it was just a matter of time before Judah became the next victim of their seemingly unstoppable army.
But God had other plans. Just when things looked like they could not get any worse, God decided to act. He speaks up and delivers a clear statement regarding His intentions: “Now I will stand up. Now I will show my power and might” (Isaiah 33:10 NLT).
The people of Judah trembled in fear at the overwhelming power of the Assyrians. From their perspective, their fate was sealed, and their defeat was inevitable. Isaiah describes them as sinful and godless, quaking in fear at the thought of being consumed like grass before a raging fire.
The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear.
Terror seizes the godless.
“Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry.
“Who can survive this all-consuming fire?” – Isaiah 33:14 NLT
But God had other plans for Assyria. While they had left plenty of burned-out fields and charred cities in their path, Jerusalem would not fall victim to their flames. Instead, God would turn the tables on them.
Your own breath will turn to fire and consume you.
Your people will be burned up completely,
like thornbushes cut down and tossed in a fire. – Isaiah 33:11-12 NLT
The mighty would prove to be no match for the Almighty. The consumer would end up being the consumed. The destroyer would become the destroyed. God was going to do for the people of Judah what they could not accomplish on their own. He would become for the people of Judah what they had hoped to find in Egypt: Salvation.
The people of Judah had lost all hope. They were left mourning and crying over their inevitable fall, even asking themselves, “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?” And God gave them the answer.
Those who are honest and fair,
who refuse to profit by fraud,
who stay far away from bribes,
who refuse to listen to those who plot murder,
who shut their eyes to all enticement to do wrong. – Isaiah 33:15 NLT
This statement raises some significant issues. First of all, it describes a person who lives in obedience to the commands of God. Those people were few and far between in Isaiah’s day. And there is no indication that God was sparing Judah and Jerusalem because there was a remnant of believing Jews living in covenant faithfulness to Him. This statement by God would seem to be making the point that no one in Judah deserved to be spared the all-consuming fire that was coming upon them. They were all guilty. They shared a corporate culpability for all that was happening to them. And, while the consuming fire was coming in the form of the Assyrian army, its true source was God Almighty. The book of Deuteronomy reminds us, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV). And the author of Hebrews quotes from this same verse when he writes, “let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 28-29 ESV).
The people of Judah had not changed. They were still disobedient and rebellious. Their hearts were still far from God. But, in His mercy, He was going to spare them. He was going to prevent their enemies from destroying them. But the remaining verses of this chapter reveal that the complete fulfillment of God’s promise lies in the future.
The picture Isaiah paints in verses 17-24 stands in stark contrast to the actual situation in Judah during his day. He describes a king attired in splendor, ruling over a kingdom that stretches far beyond the modern-day boundaries of Judah. And the residents of that kingdom have to rack their collective brains to remember when the Assyrians posed a threat to their safety and security. It will be a time of peace and prosperity.
Instead, you will see Zion as a place of holy festivals.
You will see Jerusalem, a city quiet and secure.
It will be like a tent whose ropes are taut
and whose stakes are firmly fixed. – Isaiah 33:20 NLT
God will be their Mighty One – their king, judge, and lawgiver. This is a clear description of Jesus, the Son of God, ruling and reigning over Jerusalem and the world during the Millennium. He will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to David. The enemies of Israel will stand defeated, having been completely destroyed by the Messiah upon His return to earth. And the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, will once again enjoy a restored relationship with God Almighty. And it will all be God’s doing.
The people of Israel will no longer say,
“We are sick and helpless,”
for the Lord will forgive their sins.” – Isaiah 33:24 NLT
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.