Isaiah 33
Pulpit Commentary
Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee.
Verses 1-6. - THE JUDGMENT ON ASSYRIA AND DELIVERANCE OF JERUSALEM, STATED GENERALLY. Events had progressed since the preceding prophecies were delivered. The negotiations carried on with Sennacherib had been futile (ver. 7), the heavy fine imposed and paid (2 Kings 18:14) had been of no avail (ver. 18); the Assyrian monarch was still dissatisfied, and threatened a second siege. Already he was upon his march, spoiling and ravaging (ver. 1). The people of the country districts had removed into the town (ver. 8) - in a little time the vast host might be expected to appear before the walls. All was terror, grief, and confusion. Under these circumstances, Isaiah is once more commissioned to declare the approaching discomfiture of the mighty conqueror, and deliverance of Jerusalem out of his hand (vers. 3, 4). The deliverance ushers in a reign of righteousness (Vers. 5, 6). Verse 1. - Woe to thee that spoilest. The "spoiler" is here, evidently, Assyria - the world-power of this entire group of prophecies (see especially Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 31:8), and the greatest "spoiler" of Isaiah's time. Thou wast not spoiled; i.e. "that hast not yet been spoiled thyself." A covert threat is conveyed in the words. And dealest treacherously; rather, usest violence (compare the comment on Isaiah 21:2). When thou shalt cease to spoil, etc. Conquering nations cannot with safety pause on their career. Their aggressions have roused so many enmities that, let them cease to attack, and at once they are attacked in their turn. Every man's baud is against the spoiler whose hand has been against every man.
O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.
Verse 2. - O Lord, etc. The mingling of prayer with prophecy is very unusual, and indicative of highly excited feeling. Isaiah realizes fully the danger of his people and nation, and knows that without prayer there is no deliverance. His prayer is at once an outpouring of his own heart, and an example to others. We have waited for thee (comp. Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 26:8). Their Am; i.e. "the Arm of thy people." Every morning. Continually, day by day, since their need of thy support is continual.
At the noise of the tumult the people fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations were scattered.
Verse 3. - At the noise of the tumult the people fled; rather, the peoples; i.e. the contingents from many nations which made up the huge army of Sennacherib. The "noise" is that caused by God "lifting up himself" (comp. Psalm 29:3-9).
And your spoil shall be gathered like the gathering of the caterpiller: as the running to and fro of locusts shall he run upon them.
Verse 4. - Your spoil shall be gathered. The "spoiling" of Assyria would commence with the discomfiture of the great host. In the historical narrative (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36) nothing is said of it; but, beyond a doubt, when the host was to a largo extent destroyed, and the remainder fled, there must have been an enormous booty left behind, which the enemies of the Assyrians would naturally seize. A further spoiling of the fugitives probably followed; and, the prestige of the great king being gone, marauding bands would probably on all sides ravage the Assyrian territory. Like the gathering of the caterpillar. The "caterpillar" (khasil) is probably the grub out of which the locust develops - a very destructive insect. Shall he run. It would be better to render, shall they run. The word, indeed, is in the singular; but it is used distributively, of the various spoilers.
The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.
Verse 5. - The Lord is exalted. His destruction of the Assyrian host is an exaltation of God; i.e. it causes him to be exalted in the thoughts of those who have cognizance of the fact (comp. Exodus 15:14-16; Psalm 96:3-10, etc.). It is an indication to them that he has his dwelling on high, and is the true King of heaven. He hath filled Zion with judgment, etc. (comp. Isaiah 32:15-17). The destruction is, in part, the result, in part the cause, of the Jews once more turning to God, putting away their iniquities, and establishing the reign of justice and righteousness in the land (see Isaiah 1:26).
And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.
Verse 6. - Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times; literally, and the stability of thy times shall be (i.e. consist in) a rich store of salvations, wisdom, and knowledge. The prophet here addresses the people of Judah in the second person, though in the next clause he reverts to the third. Such transitions are common in ancient compositions, and especially characterize the writings of Isaiah. The fear of the Lord is his treasure; i.e. the wisdom intended is that which is based upon "the fear of the Lord" (Psalm 111:10). This will be at once Judah's "treasure," and a guarantee of stability to her government and institutions (compare the Homiletics on Isaiah 32:15-17).
Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without: the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly.
Verses 7-12. - THE PROPHET ENTERS FURTHER INTO PARTICULARS. Having "sketched the main outlines of his revelation," Isaiah proceeds to "fill in and apply the details" (Cheyne). He first describes the despair and low condition of Judah: the men of war wailing aloud; the ambassadors just returned kern Laehish weeping at the ill success of their embassy; all travelling stopped; the land wasted and made a desert; the Assyrians still ravaging and destroying, despite the peace which had been made (2 Kings 18:14-16). Then suddenly he sees Jehovah rousing himself (ver. 10), and the Assyrians con-stoned, as if with a fire (vers. 11, 12). Verse 7. - Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without. "Their lion-hearts "(Cheyne); "heroes" (Delitzsch). Literally, lions of God (comp. Isaiah 29:1). They raise a cry of mourning in the streets, with child-like effusiveness (comp. Herod., 8:99; 9:24). The ambassadors of peace. Hezekiah probably sent several embassies to Sennacherib in the course of the war. One went to Lachish, offering submission, in B.C. 701 (2 Kings 18:14); another to Nineveh, with tribute and presents, in the same or the following year (2 Kings 18:15; comp. 'Eponym Canon,' p. 135). A third probably sought to deprecate Sennacherib's auger, when he made his second invasion (2 Kings 18:17) in B.C. 699 (?). These last would seem to be the "ambassadors" of this verse.
The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth: he hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man.
Verse 8. - The highways lie waste {croup. Judges 5:6). The meaning is that' they were unoccupied. Fear of the Assyrians restrained men from travelling. He hath broken the covenant. Sennacherib, when he accepted the sum of money sent him by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:15; 'Eponym Canon,' p. 135), must have consented to leave him unmolested for the future. But in a very short time we find him, apparently without any reasonable pretext, sending a fresh expedition against Jerusalem, requiring it to be admitted within the walls, and even threatening the city with destruction (2 Kings 18:17-35; 2 Kings 19:10-13). Isaiah, therefore, taxes him with having broken his covenant. Despised cities. "Sennacherib," says Delitzsch, "continued to storm the fortified places of Judah, in violation of his agreement." Regardeth no man; i.e. "pays no attention to the protests that are made against his infraction of the treaty - does not care what is said or thought of him."
The earth mourneth and languisheth: Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down: Sharon is like a wilderness; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits.
Verse 9. - The earth mourneth; rather, the land. Lebanon is... hewn down; rather, as in the margin, is withered away (comp. Isaiah 19:6). Lebanon, Sharon, Carmel, and Bashan are the four most beautiful regions of the Holy Land, taking the word in its widest extent. Lebanon is the northern mountain-range, one hundred and twenty miles in length, clad with cedars and firs, and generally crowned with snow, whence the name (from laban, white). Sharon is "the broad rich tract of land" which stretches southwards from the foot of Carmel, and melts into the Shefelah, noted for its flowers (Song of Solomon 2:1) and forests (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 14:13, § 3). Carmel is the upland dividing Sharon from the Esdraelon plain, famous for its "rocky dells" and "deep jungles of copse." Finally, Bashan is the trans-Jordanic upland, stretching from the flanks of Hermon to Gilead, celebrated for its "high downs" and "wide-sweeping plains," for its "forests of oak," and in ancient times for its herds of wild cattle. All are said to be "waste," "withered," and the like, partly on account of the Assyrian ravages, but perhaps still more as sympathizing with the Jewish nation in their distress - "ashamed" for them, and clad in mourning on their account. Shake off their fruits; rather, perhaps, shake down their leaves. Mr. Cheyne conjectures that the prophecy was delivered in autumn.
Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself.
Verse 10. - Now will I rise. Judah's extremity is Jehovah's opportunity. "Now" at length the time is come for God to show himself, tic will rise from his throne, and actively display his power; he will exalt himself above the heathen - lift himself up above the nations.
Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you.
Verse 11. - Ye shall conceive chaff. The Assyrian plans against Jerusalem shall be mere "chaff" and "stubble." They shall come to naught. Nay, the fury of the foe against Jerusalem shall be the fire to destroy them.
And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.
Verse 12. - The people; rather, the peoples, as in ver. 3; i.e. the nations composing the Assyrian army. As the burnings of lime; as thorns. Things that fire consumes utterly and quickly.
Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.
Verses 13-24. - REFLECTIONS ON ASSYRIA'S OVERTHROW VIEWED AS ACCOMPLISHED. The prophet's first thought is, how wonderfully the overthrow has manifested the might of God (ver. 13). Next, how it must thrill with fear the hearts of the wicked among his people (ver. 14). Thirdly, how the righteous are by it placed in security, and can look back with joy to their escape, and can with confidence look forward to a future of happiness and tranquil lily (vers. 15-24). Messianic ideas intermingle with these latter thoughts (vers. 17, 23), the image of a happy, tranquil Judah melting into that of Messiah's glorious kingdom. Verse 13. - Hear, ye that are far off, etc. Jehovah speaks by the mouth of his prophet, and calls on the nations of the earth, far and near, to consider and acknowledge his might, as shown in his judgment on Assyria (comp. Exodus 15:14-16).
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
Verse 14. - The sinners in Zion are afraid. The prophet proceeds to speak in his own person. The judgment on Assyria, he says, cannot but strike terror into the hearts of the immoral and irreligious in Zion. They cannot fail to realize their own danger, and to tremble at it. Who among us, they will say, can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? They will recognize God as "a consuming Fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24), whose next outbreak may be upon themselves, and will shudder at the prospect.
He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;
Verse 15. - He that walketh righteously, etc. The prophet answers the question which he has supposed to be asked. None can endure the revelation of the presence of God but the holy and the upright - "he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully" (Psalm 24:4; comp. 15:2-5). Uprightness is then explained as consisting in six things mainly -

(1) Just conduct;

(2) righteous speech;

(3) hatred of oppression;

(4) rejection of bribes;

(5) closing the ear against murderous suggestions;

(6) closing the eye against sinful sights.

We may compare with this summa, y those of the Psalms above quoted. No enumeration is complete, or intended to be complete. Isaiah's has special reference to the favorite sins of the time - injustice (Isaiah 3:15; Isaiah 5:23), oppression (Isaiah 1:17, 23; Isaiah 3:12, 14; Isaiah 5:7; etc.), the receiving of bribes (Isaiah 1:23; Hosea 4:18; Micah 3:11), and bloodshed (Isaiah 1:15, 21; Isaiah 59:3).
He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.
Verse 16. - He shall dwell on high; literally, inhabit heights - live, as it were, in the perpetual presence of God. His place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; rather, strongholds of rocks (i.e. rocky strongholds) shall be his refuge. He shall fly to God, as his "Rock and his Fortress" (Psalm 18:2), not from him, as his "Enemy and Avenger" (Pc. 8:2). Bread... waters; i.e. all that is necessary for his support and sustenance. Shall be given him... shall be sure; rather, is given him... is sure. Godliness has "the promise of the life that now is," as well as that of the life "which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8).
Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.
Verse 17. - Thine eyes. Another transition. Here from the third person to the second, the prophet now addressing those righteous ones of whom he has been speaking in the two preceding verses. Shall see the King in his beauty. The Messianic King, whoever he might be, and whenever he might make his appearance. It has been said that beauty is not predicated of the heavenly King (Cheyne); but Zechariah 9:17; Psalm 45:2; and Canticles, passim, contradict this assertion. "How great is his beauty;" "Thou art fairer than the children of men;" "His mouth is most sweet; yea, he is altogether lovely." The land that is very far off; literally, the land of far distances. Bishop Lowth renders, "Thine own land far extended," and so Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne. But if "the King" is Messianic, so doubtless is "the land" - the world-wide tract over which Messiah will reign (Revelation 21:1).
Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?
Verse 18. - Thine heart shall meditate terror; i.e. "thou shalt look back upon the past time of terror, the dreadful period of the siege, and contrast it with thy present happiness." Mr. Cheyne quotes as an illustration, appositely enough, Virgil's "Et haec olim meminisse juvabit." Where is the scribe... the receiver?.... he that counted the towers? Where now are the Assyrian officials - the scribe, who registered the amount of the tribute and booty ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1. p. 476); the receiver, who weighed the gold and silver carefully in a balance (Layard, 'Nineveh and its Remains,' vol. 2. p. 377); and the engineer officer who surveyed the place to be besieged, estimated its strength, and counted its towers? All have perished or have fled away in dismay.
Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.
Verse 19. - Thou shalt not see a fierce people, etc.; rather, thou shalt see no more that barbarous people - the Assyrians - a people gruff of speech that rhea caner, or hear them, stammering of tongue that thee caner not understand them (comp. Isaiah 28:11). The generation which witnessed the destruction of Sennacherib's army probably did not see the Assyrians again. It was not till about B.C. 670 that Manasseh was "taken with hooks by the captains of the King of Assyria, and carried to Babylon" (2 Chronicles 33:11).
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
Verse 20. - Look upon Zion, etc.; i.e. turn thy thoughts, O Judah, from the past to the present - from the time of the siege to the time after the siege terminated. The city of our solemnities; or, of our festal meetings; the city where we celebrate our Passovers, our Feasts of Weeks, our Feasts of Ingathering, and the like. A tent that shall not be taken down. There is, perhaps, a reference to Sennacherib's threat to remove the entire population from Jerusalem to a far country (Isaiah 36:19). This threat should not take effect. Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed. By "the stakes" are meant "the tent-pegs," to which the ropes are fastened which keep the tent firm (comp. Exodus 27:10; Exodus 38:18, 31; Judges 4:21). The promise that they shall "never" be removed must be understood either as conditional on the people's walking uprightly (ver. 15), or as a promise of a long continuance merely.
But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
Verse 21. - But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a Place of broad rivers; rather, there in majesty the Lord is ours; [the Lord who is] a Place of broad rivers, etc. Some critics think that "a place of broad rivers" may be exegetical of sham, "there," and so apply it to Jerusalem; but the majority regard the phrase as applied directly to Jehovah. As he is "a Place to hide in" (Psalm 32:7; Psalm 119:114), so he may be "a Place of broad rivers," full, i.e. of refreshment and spiritual blessing. Wherein shall go no galley. The river of God's grace, which "makes glad the city of God, "shall bear no enemy on its surface, allow no invader to cross it.
For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not well strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail: then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame take the prey.
Verse 23. - Thy tacklings are loosed. The comparing of God to a river has led to the representation of Judah's enemies as warships (ver. 21). This causes Judah herself to be viewed as a ship - a badly appointed ship, which has to contend with one whose equipment is perfect. The prophet's thoughts have traveled back to the existing state of things. They could not well strengthen their mast; rather, they cannot hold firm the lower part of their mast. The mast had its lower extremity inserted into a hole in a cross-beam, and required to be kept in place by the ropes. If they were loose, it might slip out of the hole and fall overboard. They could not spread the sail; rather, they cannot spread the ensign. The ensign would seem to have been attached to the top of the mast. If the mast fell, it would no longer be spread out, so as to be seen. Then is the prey of a great spoil divided. The word "then" is emphatic. Now the disabled ship seems incapable of coping with its enemy. Then (after Assyria's overthrow) Judah will obtain an immense spoil (see ver. 4). Even the lame shall have their portion.
And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.
Verse 24. - And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick. There shall be no sickness in the restored Jerusalem at least, no "sickness unto death." The people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity. Once more the prophet floats off into Messianic anticipations.

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