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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 33

Verse 1

This chapter is described by Jamieson as the final prophecy of Isaiah relative to the destruction of Sennacherib's army encamped before Jerusalem. The date of the prophecy is just prior to 701 B.C., when the death of the Assyrian army occurred. Unbelieving, critical scholars as a general rule date the prophecy "after the Babylonian captivity,"[1] but it is refreshing that one of their number raised a flag of caution on the blind acceptance of such speculations regarding the date of Isaiah's prophecies, and commented that it is "very precarious." He even mentioned, "Our almost complete ignorance"[2] of vast stretches of the pre-Christian history. He declared that, "If the prophecy is Isaiah's, the date Isaiah 701 B.C."[3]

With regard to "whose prophecy this is," it can only belong to Isaiah. That great mythical scholar and most famous writer of a thousand years, the imaginary redactor and editor of Isaiah who was recently invented by critics and is falsely alleged by them to have existed in later ages and who managed to impose his personal writings as having been produced by the great eighth century prophet, Isaiah, - that character is simply a hoax. He never existed anywhere on earth except in the imaginations of critics; and Christians who are willing to believe in such "phantoms" need to rely upon their own God-given intelligence for just a few minutes to behold the fraud in such postulations as those of destructive critics trying to discredit the Bible. Christ himself found no problems with Isaiah's prophecy and frequently quoted from every section in it.

Not even the unbelieving hypocrites of Jesus' day would have denied that all of Isaiah was written by Isaiah. It is incredible that critics could have supposed that "some unknown author" could be substituted by the critics for the real author.

We like the way certain scholars (and remember that these scholars already knew all of the critical arguments, this being true simply because there has been no new argument in centuries) have stated unequivocally the date of this prophecy. Cheyne said, "The date is the 27th year of the reign of Hezekiah, in 701 B.C."[4] Barnes, Hailey, Lowth, Rawlinson, Gleason, and literally hundreds of other scholars long ago rejected the forced and illogical arguments resorted to by critics in their vain efforts to destroy the Bible. As Barnes noted, the historical, political, and geographical situation in Isaiah, "Agree far better with the times of Sennacherib's invasion (701 B.C.) than with: (1) either the Babylonian period, or (2) with the judgments that came upon the Syrians in the Maccabean period."[5]

Isaiah 33:1

"Woe to thee that destroyest, and thou wast not destroyed, and that dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! When thou hast ceased to destroy, thou shalt be destroyed; and when thou hast made an end of dealing treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee."

The historical situation here is reflected in every line of the verse. Sennacherib had already destroyed the outlying cities of Judah, and he had lyingly promised Hezekiah that for a tribute of 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold, he would spare Jerusalem. At great cost and hardship Hezekiah had complied with the demand, even cutting off the gold decorations of the temple doors in order to meet the tremendous burden of the tribute. But no sooner was the tribute received than Sennacherib demanded the surrender of the city; and this prophecy was uttered, probably from the walls of Jerusalem and was addressed to Rabshakeh or to Sennacherib himself by Isaiah, who fearlessly denounced the invader and prophesied his ruin and destruction.

"Thou that destroyest, and thou wast not destroyed ... dealt treacherously, etc. ..." (Isaiah 33:1). Sennacherib had brutally betrayed and devastated all of the cities of Judah, and no harm had as yet come to him; but God sent him a message through Isaiah: "Thou shalt be destroyed ... They shall deal treacherously with thee!" Was this fulfilled? It was literally fulfilled when God put his hook in the nose of that evil pagan ruler and dragged him back to Nineveh. His army had perished in a night, and on the way back home, "they" despoiled him, taking advantage of him at every post on the way back. Who were the "they"? They were the remnants of those betrayed and mined cities. He even lost all of that gold and silver tribute, because, as Lowth explained, "Hezekiah, after the destruction of the Assyrian army, had exceeding much riches, and that he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones. He was so rich that, out of pride and vanity, he displayed his wealth before the ambassadors from Babylon. This cannot be otherwise accounted for, than by the prodigious spoil that was taken upon the destruction of Sennacherib's army."[6] See 2 Chronicles 32:27.

And we may ask, who was it that "dealt treacherously" with Sennacherib? It was his own sons. "And it came to pass when he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhadon his son reigned in his stead" (2 Kings 19:36-37).

Not only is all of this remarkable; but there is also absolutely nothing that corresponds with any of this in any of the erroneous dates proposed by critics.

Verse 2

"O Jehovah, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou our arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble. At the noise of the tumult the people are fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations are scattered."

This mingling of prayer and prophecy is somewhat strange; but the situation was one of great emergency and extremely high levels of emotion. The first verse of this alone may be properly understood as the prayer of Isaiah and the Jews to Jehovah for his help. Isaiah 33:3 is a reference to Sennacherib's lifting up of himself with the consequential fear and scattering of the nations; and according to Lowth, Isaiah 33:3 is actually answered in Isaiah 33:10, where God lifts himself up with doleful consequences for Sennacherib.

Verse 4

"And your spoil shall be gathered as the caterpillar gathereth: as locusts leap shall men leap upon it. Jehovah is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with justice and righteousness. And there shall be stability in thy times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge: the fear of Jehovah is thy treasure."

In these verses, God addresses Sennacherib directly in Isaiah 33:4, sentencing him to the same brutal treatment he had imposed upon others and promising particularly that all of his spoils would be taken from him in a manner comparable to the devastation caused by a swarm of locusts. Isaiah 33:5,6 promise stability in "thy times," that is, the times of Hezekiah, his treasures being the fear of the Lord.

The prophecy turned at once from the contemplation of victory and stability foreseen in the future to the disastrous situation revealed in Isaiah 33:7-9.

Verse 7

"Behold, their valiant ones cry without; the ambassadors of peace weep bitterly. The highways lie waste; the enemy hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth not man. The land mourneth, and languisheth; Lebanon is consumed and withereth away; Sharon is like a desert; and Bashan and Carmel shaketh off their leaves."

Cheyne pointed out that "their valiant ones" is derived from the Hebrew "Ariels."[7] However, Isaiah 29:1 speaks of Ariel as the city where David encamped, Jerusalem; and this justifies the conclusion that the valiant ones here are the brave soldiers of Hezekiah. They cry because of the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. The weeping ambassadors of peace are those who delivered the heavy tribute of gold and silver to Sennacherib in return for his promise to spare the city. They have at this time returned home, and they are astounded and grieved at Sennacherib's treachery and his demand that the city be surrendered. Incidentally, all of the circumstances mentioned here apply only to the situation in 701 B.C. and to no other. "He hath broken the covenant" is a comment on the treachery of Sennacherib.

"The highways lie waste ..." (Isaiah 33:8). This is a comment on the condition of the whole land, where it is no longer safe to travel. The cities and villages have all been laid waste; and the terrible desolation of the whole land is indicated.

The mention of Lebanon, Sharon, Bashan, and Carmel, the most favored and fruitful portions of the whole land, are here mentioned (Isaiah 33:9) in order to show the extent of the general destruction.

Verse 10

"Now will I arise, saith Jehovah; now will I lift up myself; now will I be exalted. Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath is a fire that shall devour you. And the peoples shall be as the burnings of lime, as thorns that are cut down, that are burned in the fire."

Isaiah 33:5,10 both stand in contrast with what is said of Sennacherib in Isaiah 33:3. The meaning is simply that God has at last had enough of this evil ruler's depredations and will now rise up and put an end to them. "God has now determined that the time for action has come; he will exert himself in his deeds; and he will be exalted in the eyes of the peoples."[8]

Isaiah 33:11,12 are addressed directly to the Assyrians. All of their schemes and plans against Jerusalem shall be worthless; and they themselves shall be burned up like dry stubble, chaff, or a pile of thorns. The fulfillment of this came literally enough when 185,000 corpses of Sennacherib's army had to be disposed of, and fire was by far the most practical way of taking care of an emergency like that.

Barnes pointed out that the burning of such things as chaff, thorns, and stubble produces a very quick fire of intense heat, "Denoting that the destruction of the Assyrian army would be sudden and entire."[9]

Verse 13

"Hear, ye that are afar off, what I have done; and ye that are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling hath seized the godless ones; Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings. He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from taking a bribe, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil: he shall dwell on high; his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; his bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure."

Isaiah 33:13 speaks of God's mighty work in the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem by the destruction of a whole army in a single night as an event already accomplished, a frequent phenomenon in prophecy.

Isaiah 33:14 notes that the sinners in Jerusalem itself are also extremely frightened by what happened to the Assyrians. Perhaps the sinners who had opposed trusting in God and preferred a foreign alliance with Egypt were led to wonder if God would also destroy them!

"Ye that are afar off ..." (Isaiah 33:13). "This indicates that the destruction of the Assyrians would be such a signal event that it would be known to distant nations."[10]

Isaiah 33:15 reveals six elements of righteousness, namely, (1) righteous conduct; (2) upright and honorable speech; (3) hatred of oppression; (4) refusal to take bribes; (5) rejection of all thoughts of murder; and (6) refusal to look upon shameful and evil things.

Isaiah 33:16 records God's love for the righteous and his provision for their needs. Such promises as these do not apply solely to the righteous people of Isaiah's times, but to the saved of all generations. Of course, as Rawlinson noted, "There are Messianic ideas mingled with these later verses (Isaiah 33:16-21)."[11]

Verse 17

"Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold a land that reacheth afar. Thy heart shall muse on the terror: Where is he that counted, where is he that weighed the tribute? where is he that counted the towers? Thou shalt not see the fierce people, a people of a deep speech that thou canst not comprehend. Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem, a quiet habitation, a tent that shall not be removed, the stakes thereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there will Jehovah be with us in majesty, a place of broad rivers and streams, wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. For Jehovah is our judge, Jehovah is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; he will save us. Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not strengthen the foot of their mast, they could not spread the sail: then was the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame took the prey. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity."

"The king in his beauty ..." (Isaiah 33:17). Who is this? Some three different opinions are sustained by scholars. On account of the mention of Jehovah as the judge, lawgiver, and king in Isaiah 33:22, some believe the "king in his beauty" is a reference to Jehovah. Others suppose that the reference is to Hezekiah; and still others believe the reference is to the Messiah. We prefer the third interpretation; because (1) the Jerusalem of this passage is the capital of a worldwide land (Isaiah 33:17). (Palestine is not so), (2) she is a "quiet habitation" and inviolable (Isaiah 33:20), (3) God is the acknowledged ruler there (not so of the literal Jerusalem who officially declared that, "We have no king but Caesar" - John 19:15), (4) the Jerusalem of this passage was situated in a land of broad rivers and streams (Isaiah 33:21), which was never true of the literal Jerusalem, (5) The Jerusalem-Zion here spoken of was inviolable. Spoken of as a tent whose stakes could never be plucked up nor have any of its cords broken, the literal Jerusalem would last little more than a century before it would be utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and its peoples made captive for seventy years. (6) Finally, the citizens of the Jerusalem-Zion in view here would even have their sins forgiven (Isaiah 33:24), a blessing which is limited, absolutely, to the New Covenant.

"Therefore, the king of Isaiah 33:17 must be the Christ in his regal splendor, reigning over a worldwide domain."[12] The New Testament confirmation of this is: "In the regeneration (that is, in the times when people are being born again, in this present dispensation of the Lord Jesus Christ) when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory (Christ is now ruling over all things, Matthew 28:18-20), ye also (the Twelve) shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28).

Hailey, it appears to us, is correct in his declaration that, "The total context of this passage (Isaiah 33:17-24) points to the Messiah."[13] Another statement in this paragraph which should be noted as more evidence that it was the times of the Messiah to which the passage points is the reference to the absence of any galley with oars or any gallant ship (Isaiah 33:21). These ships were obviously instruments of war; and their absence in that future Jerusalem-Zion shows that war shall not be a policy of Messiah's holy Church. It will not even have any "Swiss Guards." The thought here is parallel to the statement about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4).

Despite this, there are vivid remembrances by the saints of God in all generations of the great deliverances and the mighty interpositions of God in human affairs for the protection and blessing of his people. Isaiah 33:18 in this passage is just such a remembrance by God's people of God's interposition in the case of Sennacherib.

"Where is he that counted?...that weighed the tribute? ... that counted the towers? ..." (Isaiah 33:18). He that counted refers to the clerk who marked off the 300 talents of silver and the 30 talents of gold on the tally sheets when Hezekiah's ambassadors delivered all of that tribute to the servants of Sennacherib. The one who weighed the tribute was the one who weighed the silver and gold; and the one who counted the towers was the chief engineer who surveyed the walls and towers of Jerusalem as preliminary to their assault on the city, which they confidently expected to begin immediately. What a glorious thought that such hated and obnoxious characters, in the scene presented here, were no longer in existence! God's people would not even see the fierce people.

Also, the harsh and brutal language with which God had threatened to speak to this people (Isaiah 28:11), a language they could not comprehend, could no longer be heard blaspheming the true God and demanding the surrender of their city.

"The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick ..." (Isaiah 33:24) The scholars have little to say about this; and some have admitted the difficulty; and we must confess that we cannot tell exactly what it means. However, there is an interesting speculation about this, the origin of which this writer does not know, and therefore it must remain merely a speculation without any proof at all, repeated here merely because it is interesting. The destruction of Sennacherib's army was due to a fatal sickness that struck instantly and was immediately fatal; and there were some of the "sinners in Zion" (perhaps those who sought the alliance with Egypt) who were also destroyed simultaneously with the invading army. If there was any truth in this, it would account for the fear and trembling mentioned in Isaiah 33:14. "I am not sick" would thus be a reference to the safety of the righteous.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.