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Isaiah 33: Judge, Lawgiver and King

Isaiah 33: Download or listen to the audio

Isaiah 33: Download notes and worksheet for further study

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

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.

Key verse:

Isa. 33:22 – For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. He will save us.

Quick summary:

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.

Take note:

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).

Closing Thought

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

Isaiah 26: We Remember Your Name

Isaiah 26: Listen to an audio file

Isaiah 26: Download a worksheet for further study

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which it is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 26:13 – Lord, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone.

Quick summary:

In the context of chapters 24-27, Isaiah uses an analogy of the future destruction of all God’s enemies (chaps. 24-25) to urge the people of Judah to trust Him now (chaps. 26-27). Although God is using the Assyrians as the rod of His judgment against Judah, those who place their faith in the Lord and endure the childbirth-like pains of His correction (vv. 17-18) will rejoice in His salvation: “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown” (v. 8).

Take note:

Some would argue there’s a contradiction in chapter 26. In verse 14 Isaiah declares that “the dead do not live, departed spirits do not rise up.” Then, in verse 19, he states that “your dead will live; their bodies will rise.” How can both be true? The Apologetics Study Bible explains: “This apparent conflict vanishes when the statements are placed in context. He [Isaiah] referred to past oppressors of Israel, the ‘wicked’ who act ‘unjustly’ (v. 10), the ‘other lords’ who had ruled over God’s people and whom God had already ‘visited and destroyed’ (vv. 13-14). These oppressors could no longer attack God’s people. The situation changed with verse 19; in the future God’s people who die will live … a person can have life after death. The fact that Elijah and Elisha brought to life two boys who had died (1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 4:18-37), and that a dead man came back to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kg 13:20-21), indicates that individual resurrection from the dead was known and experienced long before the time of Isaiah” (pp 1024-25).

The Song of Judah (Isa. 26:1-6)

Although Jerusalem will be surrounded in Isaiah’s day, and vanquished a century later by the Babylonians, the day is coming when Israel’s remnant will sing of their glorious reversal of fortune as they enter the impregnable New Jerusalem. The humble will be exalted and the oppressors crushed. Because of Messiah’s presence there, the city figuratively is said to have salvation as its walls and ramparts (v. 1). While other nations will have places in the kingdom, believers in Israel will hold special positions.

The Lord promises perfect (genuine, complete) peace to those who trust Him – now, as well as in the Millennium (v. 3). The apostle Paul reminds us of this great truth in Phil. 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck write, “This availability of inner tranquility encourages believers to continue trusting the Lord (Isa. 26:4) because He is firm like a Rock … and He is eternal” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1074). For other Scriptures that describe the Lord as a Rock, see Ps. 73:26 (“strength” literally means rock); Isa. 17:10, 30:29, and 44:8.

“The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. ‘What is your peace?’ is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, ‘My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!’ Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3″ (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).

In contrast with the righteous who enter the city are the arrogant who “live in lofty places” (v. 5); the Lord will bring them down. Those who used their wealth and privilege to oppress the poor will be on the business end of God’s rod of justice. This does not mean that poverty itself is a virtue. Isaiah simply repeats an oft-repeated message that God has special concern for the poor who seek Him (Isa. 25:4; Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).

The Long Night of Waiting (Isa. 26:7-18)

Isaiah describes a level and straight path for the righteous, cleared by God Himself. “In the Yukon of old, one man was often sent ahead to ‘break trail’ for others or a dog sled. This passage reminds us that a righteous God has already broken trail for those who follow Him because they are committed to righteousness too” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 424). As a result, God’s redeemed “wait” for Him, “desire” His name and renown, “long” for Him in the night, and diligently “seek” Him in order to “learn righteousness” (vv. 8-9). What a dramatic change occurs in the hearts of men and women when they learn to trust God above all else.

The struggles of Judah returning to God are like the pains of childbirth. Isaiah writes that the nation is writhing in anguish beneath the punishing hand of God. Like a pregnant woman giving birth to wind, Judah experiences emptiness and defeat through its sinful acts. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “ruled over” gives us the noun baal, the Canaanite storm god whose worship caused so much trouble in Israel. But the word also means “husband,” so the message is that God’s people were not faithful to Him, preferring to pursue their lust for idols. The same image is given in James 4:4: “Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” Even so, the Lord graciously carries His people through and keeps His covenant. For other comparisons of spiritual struggle to childbirth, see Isa. 13:8, 42:14; John 16:21; Gal. 4:19.
Isaiah’s comment about the dead tyrants who have troubled Judah (v. 14) do not contradict the doctrine of universal resurrection supplied in verse 19 and elsewhere in Scripture (see, for example, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 17:15; Dan. 12:1-3; John 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 20:11-15). The prophet simply is emphasizing that the rulers who wrought so much terror and destruction on God’s people can no longer do them harm. Lawrence O. Richards comments in The Bible Readers Companion: “Storms of judgment may sweep over our earth. Wars may devastate, and disease may ravage. Famines may decimate the land, while starvation stalks our families. There are indeed dread fates that are to be feared. But these are not history’s last words! At the end of history – both the history of nations and the personal history of each individual – the shout of God’s promise echoes. ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise!’ What a truth to hold fast in troubled times” (S. 424).

Resurrection and Judgment (Isa. 26:19-21)

This is a most revealing Old Testament passage on future resurrection and judgment. While these verses focus on the resurrection of the just – the “first resurrection” of which John wrote in Rev. 20:5-6 – Daniel adds that the unjust also will be raised and that all people will experience eternal life or eternal shame (Dan. 12:2). What a comfort these words are to those experiencing warfare, captivity, injustice, and even death. The promise that God will raise all people one day and pronounce final judgment with absolute justice should spur fear in the hearts of the wicked as it does hope in the hearts of the righteous.

Although views differ on the order of events, the New Testament clearly teaches future resurrection and final judgment for all people:

  • Jesus often speaks of His return and final judgment. For example, in John 5:28-29 He says all people will be raised from the dead and experience either everlasting life or condemnation.
  • The apostle Paul writes in detail about the rapture (“catching up” / “snatching away”) of the church in 1 Cor. 15:50-58 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18, as well as judgment and reward for all believers (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
  • The apostle John refers several times to resurrection and final judgment in the book of Revelation. He alludes to the rapture by not mentioning the church from Rev. 4-18, chapters depicting the tribulation. He also speaks of the “first resurrection,” or resurrection of the just, in Rev. 20:5-6. And he writes in some detail about the raising of the wicked to stand before the great white throne, from which they are cast into hell (Rev. 20:11-15).

Verse 20 urges God’s people to “hide for a little while until the wrath has passed.” “When God is about to take vengeance on the ungodly, the saints shall be shut in by Him in a place of safety, as Noah and his family were in the days of the flood (Ge 7:16), and as Israel was commanded not to go out of doors on the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born (Ex 12:22, 23; Ps 31:20; 83:3). The saints are calmly and confidently to await the issue (Ex 14:13, 14)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments,  S. Is 26:20).

Finally, verse 21 gives Judah the assurance that God will deal with her oppressors – Assyria in the near term and Babylon in the long term. Even more, this verse previews the glorious appearing of the Messiah one day to execute judgment upon the earth’s wicked (see Rev. 19:11-21).

Closing Thought

Commenting on the phrase in verse 21, “The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will no longer conceal her slain,” Matthew Henry writes: “Secret murders, and other secret wickednesses, shall be discovered, sooner or later. And the slain which the earth has long covered she shall no longer cover, but they shall be produced as evidence against the murderers. The voice of Abel’s blood cries from the earth, Gen. 9:10, 11; Job 20:27. Those sins which seemed to be buried in oblivion will be called to mind, and called over again, when the day of reckoning comes. Let God’s people therefore wait awhile with patience, for behold the Judge stands before the door” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 26:20).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Jesus in the Feasts of Israel: Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) – Part 2

Download or listen to the audio file (part 2)

Download of listen to the audio file (part 1)

Israel’s four springtime feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost – were fulfilled in the first coming of the Messiah. The three fall festivals – Rosh Hashanah, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles – will be fulfilled at the Messiah’s second coming.

For Israel, the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets will be a dark day. Just as Rosh Hashanah occurs at the new moon, when the sky is darkest, Israel’s prophets warn of a coming day of judgment for the nation. For example, Amos 5:18-20, Zeph. 1:14-16, and Joel 2:31 all speak of the day in which the Lord will turn off the heavenly lights, pour out His wrath on the wicked, and bring Israel to repentance and into the new covenant. Ancient Jewish tradition held that the resurrection of the dead would occur on Rosh Hashanah. As a result, many Jewish grave markers feature a shofar.

God’s last trump and the resurrection of the dead are tied to the rapture of the church in the New Testament. Consider these key passages:

  • 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
  • 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Remember the reasons for trumpet blasts in the Old Testament? They will be the same in the days to come:

  • To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
  • To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan’s rebellious followers throughout the tribulation and at Christ’s return).
  • To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips

The birthday of the church: Jesus in the Feast of Pentecost (part 2)

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On the Day of Pentecost, Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem. They read, among other Scriptures, Ezek. 1:1-28 and 3:12; and Hab. 2:20 – 3:19. These passages speak of the brightness of God’s glory. Ezekiel heard wind and voices, and saw fire; later, he witnessed the departure of the Shekinah glory. There was expectation on this special day that the Shekinah glory would return and take its rightful place in the Temple’s Holy of Holies. But instead, as Luke records in Acts 2, there was wind, fire, and voices (the 120 speaking in tongues). Rather than returning to reside in the Temple, the Holy Spirit took up residence in the “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16), the bodies of believers in Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Everyone can see Jesus in the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot / Pentecost) by observing His promises about the coming Holy Spirit:

  1. His promise to depart and return to the Father (John 16:7). The coming of the Holy Spirit was contingent upon Jesus completing His work of redemption and returning to His Father. See also John 7:39; Acts 2:32-3.
  2. His promise to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is said to be a gift from the Father (John 14:16, 26) sent by the Son (John 14:26; 15:26: 16:7). Roy B. Zuck, in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, comments: “Whatever else is meant by the difficult statement that the Spirit ‘goes out from the Father’ (John 15:26), it implies that the Spirit shares the same essential nature as the Father. In fact, John was indicating here the parallelism between the mission of the Son, sent from God (3:17, 34; 5:36-38; 6:29, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21), and the mission of the Son’s replacement, the Holy Spirit, who would be ‘another Paraclete’ to the disciples and who would enable them to carry on Jesus’ mission after He returned to the Father.”
  3. His promise of the Spirit’s ministry to unbelievers (John 16:8-11). Without the Spirit’s work to convince unbelievers of the sin of unbelief, the righteousness of Christ, and the judgment that will fall upon them if they persist in their rejection of Jesus, no one could be saved.
  4. His promise of the Spirit’s ministry to believers, specifically:
    • To regenerate us, or make us spiritually alive (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5).
    • To indwell us, or take up permanent residence in our human spirits (John 14:17).
    • To baptize us, initiating our relationship to Him and establishing our connection with Christ and other believers (Acts 1:5; 1 Cor. 12:13).
    • To seal us, a guarantee that God will take us fully into His presence on day (Eph. 1:13-14).
    • To teach us, or give us divine assistance (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:12; 1 John 2:27).
    • To empower (fill) us for witnessing (Acts 1:8).
    • To empower (fill) us for service (Act. 6:5; Eph. 5:18). As Paul S. Karleen writes in The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System, “Filling is the result of a consistent walk with God, and depends on a genuine and mature relationship with the Holy Spirit, Simply asking to be filled will not bring it.”
    • To equip us with spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Eph. 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11).

5.   His promise to identify His Body (the church) by the Spirit (John 14:16-18; Rom. 8:9-11).

Read more about Jesus in the Feasts of Israel