Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Since chapter 33 is among the “woe oracles” extending from Isaiah 28-33, it seems best to place these events around 704-701 B.C., during the time the Assyrians invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem.
Isa. 33:22 – For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. He will save us.
The Assyrian army, the “destroyer never destroyed,” is warned of imminent divine judgment. Even though Assyria is terrifying Judah and surrounding nations, the Lord will soon rise up and show His might. As for the citizens of Judah, only those who pursue righteousness and justice will be spared. Finally, the glories of the Messianic Kingdom are previewed, with the King making Jerusalem secure.
Some commentators have pointed to verse 22 as a model for America’s founding fathers in establishing the three branches of government: executive (king), legislative (lawgiver), and judicial (judge). While only the Messiah assumes these three roles with perfection, the “balance of power” suggested by this model serves as an excellent guide to sinful people striving to govern well.
Woe to Assyria and Judah (Isa. 33:1-16)
Isaiah begins by addressing the “destroyer” and the “traitor.” The “destroyer” is Sennacherib who, along with his Assyrian army, is breathing down the necks of God’s people. Powerful, boisterous, swift and cruel, the Assyrians are sweeping across Judah, conquering the fortified cities and closing in on Jerusalem. They are building siege ramps and sealing off the city so that no one may enter or leave. It is becoming increasingly clear that unless God intervenes, all is lost. The “traitor” refers to those within Judah who want to buy off the Assyrians, as King Hezekiah once tried unsuccessfully to do (2 Kings 18:13-15), or form alliances with Egypt or other nations to protect them against the advancing Assyrian hoards. God’s word through Isaiah is clear: The destroyer will be destroyed and the traitor betrayed. Sennacherib has broken his agreement with Judah and invaded the country, and the Egyptians will prove unable to rescue the Jews. Yet in a single night God will strike 185,000 Assyrians dead on the hills surrounding Jerusalem.
While the clamor of Assyrian soldiers rings the city, a righteous remnant in Jerusalem prays for deliverance. Warren Wiersbe describes the scene as it unfolds in verse 2: “Isaiah had promised that God would be gracious to them if they would only trust Him (30:18–19), so a few devout people turned His promise into prayer. God spared Jerusalem for David’s sake (37:35) and because a believing remnant trusted God and prayed. Never underestimate the power of a praying minority” (Be Comforted, S. Is 33:1). Verses 3-6 speak of the righteous remnant’s confidence in God and their praise for His salvation. Although Hezekiah had acted foolishly by using the temple treasury to pay off Sennacherib, the Lord forgave him and now Isaiah reminds him that “[t]he fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure” (v. 6).
Verses 7-9 describe the dire circumstances in Judah during the Assyrian invasion. Judah’s bravest soldiers stand in the streets and weep bitterly as one fortified city after another falls. The nation’s envoys shed tears of helplessness as their diplomatic missions come to naught. The roads are treacherous, the fields and orchards are barren, and there’s no avenue of escape – except with the Lord. “Now I will rise up,” He declares. “Now I will lift Myself up. Now I will be exalted” (v. 10). Although the Assyrians are “pregnant” with plans to conquer Jerusalem, the Lord says they will “conceive chaff” and “give birth to stubble” (v. 11). Chomping at the bit, panting for yet another devastating military victory, the Assyrians will find their hot breaths to be like fire that consumes them in a back draft (vv. 11-12). As a result, people far and near will know that the shocking death of 185,000 Assyrians in a single night is the Lord’s doing and a demonstration of His supernatural strength (v. 13). “God is long-suffering with His enemies, but when He decides to judge, He does a thorough job” (Wiersbe, S. Is 33:1).
The miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem does more than bring glory to God among the Gentiles. It also causes fear and conviction in the hearts of the ungodly in Judah. The Lord does not free us of danger so we may continue in sin. Rather, “with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered” (Ps. 130:4). When the Jews awaken one morning to the sight of 185,000 Assyrian corpses on the hills outside Jerusalem, they realized the God of Israel is “a consuming fire” (v. 14; see Isa. 10:17; Heb. 12:29).
Isaiah then describes the kind of person God will bless: the one who “lives righteously and speaks rightly, who refuses gain from extortion, whose hand never takes a bribe, who stops his ears from listening to murderous plots” (v. 15). That person will “dwell on the heights; his refuge will be the rocky fortresses, his food provided, his water assured” (v. 16). This is not a universal promise of prosperity, for surely many godly people suffer extreme hardship and persecution (see Heb. 11:35b-38). It is, however, a reminder of God’s promise to bless Israel, contingent upon the people’s faithfulness to Him.
The Reign of God in Zion (Isa. 33:17-24)
The prophet now describes the prosperous land in which the redeemed one day will live, safely and securely in the majestic presence of the Messiah. They will remember the dark days of oppression at the hands of foreign invaders, including the Assyrians, and rest in the knowledge that their nation and its capital city are free from attacks by land or sea. Assyria’s defeat will be like a shipwreck, leaving abundant spoils for the Jews to plunder. In fact, the booty will be so great after the Lord strikes the Assyrian army (Isa. 37:36) that even the lame will have ample time to take their fill (v. 23). Peace and prosperity will come by the Lord’s doing, not by human strength or political alliances.
Verse 17 offers a marvelous contrast. While the residents of Judah now see King Hezekiah in sackcloth, harassed and humbled by the Assyrians, one day they will see Messiah in His beauty – a righteous King to whom the world is drawn, preventing the unrighteous from entering His city. Three times in verse 22 He is called “the Lord,” and three titles are given to Him: Judge, Lawgiver and King. This is the “perfect ideal of the theocracy, to be realized under Messiah alone; the judicial, legislative, and administrative functions as king to be exercised by Him in person (Is 11:4; 32:1; Jam 4:12)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 33:22).
Jerusalem during the messianic kingdom is described as “a peaceful pasture.” How different from Isaiah’s day in which Sennacherib surrounds the city with barbarous troops, seals it off and builds siege ramps against it. The day is coming, the prophet assures God’s people, when Jerusalem will be like a tent pitched by a broad river inaccessible to warships. “Jerusalem is one of the few great cities of antiquity that was not built near a river, but that will change during the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 47). Of course, the river symbolizes the peace that the Lord gives to His people (Isa. 48:18; 66:12; Ps. 46:4)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 33:1).
Matthew Henry comments: “When things are brought thus to the last extremity, God will magnify himself. He had seemed to sit by as an unconcerned spectator: ‘But now will I arise, saith the Lord; now will I appear and act, and therein I will be not only evidenced, but exalted.’ He will not only demonstrate that there is a God that judges in the earth, but that he is God over all, and higher than the highest. ‘Now will I lift up myself, will prepare for action, will act vigorously, and will be glorified in it.’ God’s time to appear for his people is when their affairs are reduced to the lowest ebb, when their strength is gone and there is none shut up nor left, Deu. 32:36. When all other helpers fail, then is God’s time to help” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 33:1).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips