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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 33

This chapter comprises a new and distinct prophecy, though manifestly relating to the same general subject as the preceding. In Isaiah 33:19 of the previous chapter, the prophet had foretold the destruction of the army of Sennacherib and this chapter is designed still further to set forth the circumstances and the effects of that destruction. That it refers to Sennacherib is apparent front the whole structure of the prophecy. So it is understood by Lowth, Rosenmuller, Grotius, and Calvin, though Vitringa supposes that it refers to the destruction of the Syrians, instead of the Assyrians, and particularly after the time, and for the crimes of Antiochus Epiphanes. All the circumstances, as well as the connection, however, agree with the invasion by Sennacherib, and agree far better with that than either with the destruction of Babylon, or the judgments that came upon the Syrians. The design of the prophecy is to assure the Jews that their nation and city would be safe notwithstanding the invasion of the Assyrian, and that Yahweh would be to them a source of constant protection and consolation Isaiah 33:21. The object of the prophecy, therefore, is to comfort them in this threatened invasion, and to lead them to look up to God.

The prophecy, or poem, is one of uncommon beauty in its structure, and is especially elegant in its expressions. It abounds, indeed, in transitions; but they are easily seen, and can be distinctly marked. The structure and design of the poem may be seen in the following analysis:

I. Woe is denounced against the Assyrian; who had invaded Judea without provocation, and who was spreading desolation over a nation that had not injured him Isaiah 33:1. This contains the general scope and purport of the chapter.

II. The Jews are introduced Isaiah 33:2 as offering up supplications to Yahweh in view of the threatened invasion, and beseeching him to be mercifull to them, and expressing their confidence in him.

III. God himself is introduced declaring the overthrow of Sennacherib Isaiah 33:3-4. This he represents Isaiah 33:3 under the image of the people - that is, the people in his army - fleeing at the noise of the tumult caused by the desolating tempest that should sweep them away, and at the act of God’s lilting up himself to scatter the nations.

IV. A chorus of Jews is introduced Isaiah 33:5-6 extolling the greatness and mercy of God Isaiah 33:5; and also celebrating the wisdom and piety of Hezekiah, who had put his confidence in God Isaiah 33:6.

V. In Isaiah 33:7-9, the despair and alarm of the Jews are described on the approach of Sennacherib. This is exhibited in the following manner:

1. The messengers whom Hezekiah had sent to Sennacherib with three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, to propitiate his favor 2 Kings 18:14-16, return without success and weeping bitterly Isaiah 33:7.

2. The desolation is described that attended the march of Sennacherib - a desolation that extended to the highways, the cities, and to the most beautiful and fertile places, represented by hewing down Lebanon, and turning Cannel into a wilderness, Isaiah 33:8-9).

VI. God is now introduced Isaiah 33:10-13 as saying that he would take the work of the destruction of the Assyrian into his own hand, and showing that he would be himself exalted Isaiah 33:10; that he would disappoint their expectations Isaiah 33:11; that they should be totally destroyed as if by fire Isaiah 33:12, and calling on the nations near and remote to hear what he had done Isaiah 33:13.

VII. The various effects of the invasion on the inhabitants of Jerusalem are described Isaiah 33:14-19.

1. The effect on the hypocrites, producing consternation and alarm of the highest degree Isaiah 33:14.

2. This is finely contrasted with the confidence and security of the righteous in that time. They would confide in God Isaiah 33:15-16; they would see the king in his beauty Isaiah 33:17; and they would see their foe completely destroyed Isaiah 33:18-19.

VIII. The whole account is closed with a statement of the fact that Jerusalem was safe, and that the enemy would be completely destroyed Isaiah 33:20-24.

Verse 1

Wo to thee that spoilest - This description accords entirely with Sennacherib and his army, who had plundered the cities and countries which they had invaded, and who were about to advance to Jerusalem for the same purpose (compare Isaiah 29:7-8; Isaiah 37:11).

And thou wast not spoiled - That is, thou hadst not been plundered by the Jews against whom thou art coming. It was because the war was so unprovoked and unjust, that God would bring so signal vengeance on them.

And dealest treacherously - (See the note at Isaiah 21:2). The treachery of the Assyrians consisted in the fact that when their assistance was asked by the Jews, in order to aid them against the combined forces of Syria and Samaria (see Isaiah 7:1-2), they had taken occasion from that invitation to bring desolation on Judah (see Isaiah 7:17, Isaiah 7:20; Isaiah 8:6-8, note; Isaiah 10:6, note). Hezekiah also gave to Sennacherib thirty talents of gold and three hundred talents of silver, evidently with an understanding that this was all that he demanded, and that if this was paid, he would leave the nation in peace. But this implied promise he perfidiously disregarded (see 2 Kings 18:14-15).

When thou shalt cease to spoil - This does not relier to his having voluntarily ceased to plunder, but to the fact that God would put an end to it.

Thou shalt be spoiled - This was literally fulfilled. The Assyrian monarchy lost its splendor and power, and was finally merged in the more mighty empire of Babylon. The nation was, of course, subject to the depredation of the conquerors, and compelled to submit to them. “When thou shalt make an end.” The idea is, that there would be a completion, or a finishing of his acts of treachery toward the Jews, and that would be when God should overthrow him and his army.

They shall deal treacherously with thee - The words ‘they shall,’ are here equivalent to, ‘thou shalt be dealt With in a treacherous manner.’ The result was, that Sennacherib was treacherously slain by his own sons as he was ‘worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god’ Isaiah 37:38, and thus the prophecy was literally fulfilled. The sense of the whole is, that God would reward their desire of plundering a nation that had not injured them by the desolation of their own land; and would recompense the perfidiousness of the kings of Assyria that had sought to subject Jerusalem to their power, by perfidiousness in the royal family itself.

Verse 2

O Lord - This is a solemn prayer to Yahweh, made by the Jews in the apprehension of the invasion of the Assyrian. It is not meant that this prayer was actually offered, but it is a prophetic representation indicating the alarm of the Jews at his approach, and their disposition to throw themselves upon the mercy of God.

We have waited for thee - That is, we have looked for deliverance from this threatened invasion from thy hand (compare the note at Isaiah 26:8).

Be thou their arm - The arm is a symbol of strengh. It is used in the Scriptures as emblematic of the divine protection, or of the interposition of God in time of calamity and dancer Exodus 15:16; Job 40:9; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 77:15; Psalms 89:21; Psalms 98:1. Lowth proposes to read ‘our arm instead of ‘their arm;’ and the connection would seem to demand such a reading. The Vugate and the Chaldee read it in this manner, but there is no authority from manuscripts for a change in the text. The truth seems to be, that Isaiah, impelled by prophetic inspiration, here interposes his own feelings as a Jew, and offers his own prayer that God would be the strength of the nation. The form, however, is immediately changed, and he presents the prayer of the people.

Every morning - Constantly; at all times.

In the time of trouble - Referring particularly to the trouble consequent on the invasion of the Assyrians.

Verse 3

At the noise of the tumult - Lowth supposes that this is addressed by the prophet in the name of God, or rather by God himself to the Assyrian, and that it means that notwithstanding the terror which he had caused the invaded countries, he would himself fall and become an easy prey to those whom he intended to subdue. But probably it should be regarded as a part of the address which the Jews made to Yahweh Isaiah 33:2, and the word ‘tumult’ - המון hâmôn, sound, noise, as of rain 1 Kings 18:41, or of music Ezekiel 26:13; Amos 5:23, or the bustle or tumult of a people 1 Samuel 4:11; 1 Samuel 14:19; Job 39:7 - refers here to the voice of God by which the army was overthrown. Yahweh is often represented as speaking to people in a voice suited to produce consternation and alarm. Thus it is said of the vision which Daniel saw of a man by the side of the river Hiddekel, ‘his words’ were ‘like the voice of a multitude’ (המון hâmôn), Daniel 10:6. And thus, in Revelation 1:10, the voice of Christ is said to have been ‘like the voice of a trulupet;’ and in Isaiah 33:15, ‘like the sound of many waters.’ It wilt be recollected also that it was said that God would send upon the Assyrian army ‘thunder, and an earthquake, and a great noise, with storm and tempest, and a flame of devouring fire’ (Isaiah 29:6; compare Isaiah 30:30); and it is doubtless to this prediction that the prophet refers here. God would come forth with the voice of indignation, and would scatter the combined armies of the Assyrian.

The people fled - The people in the army of the Assyrian. A large part of them Were slain by the angel of the Lord in a single night, but a portion of them with Sennacherib escaped and fled to their own land (Isaiah 37:36-37.

At the lifting up of thyself - Of Yahweh; as when one rouses himself to strike.

The nations - The army of Sennacherib was doubtless made up of levies from the nations that had been subdued, and that composed the Assyrian empire.

Verse 4

And your spoil - The booty that the Assyrian army bad gathered in their march toward Jerusalem, and which would now be left by them to be collected by the Jews.

Shall be gathered like the gathering of the caterpillar - The grammatical construction here is such that this may admit of two interpretations. It may either mean, as the caterpillar or the locust is gathered; or it may mean, as the caterpillar gathers its spoil. It often occurred that in countries where the locust was an article of food, they were scraped together in large quantities, and thrown into ditches, or into reservoirs, and retained to be eaten. This is the custom in some parts of Africa. But the meaning here is, undoubtedly, that the plunder of the Assyrian army would be collected by the Jews, as the locust gathered its food. The sense is, that as locusts spread themselves out over a land, as they go to and fro without rule and without molestation, gathering whatever is in their way, and consuming everything, so the Jews in great numbers, and without regular military array, would run to and fro collecting the spoils of the Assyrian army. In a country where such devastation was made by the caterpillar and locust as in Palestine, this was a very striking figure. The word rendered ‘caterpillar’ here חסיל châseyl from חסל châsal to cut off, consume), properly denotes the devourer, and is applied usually to a species of locust. So it is understood here by most of the versions. The Septuagint renders it, ‘As if one were gathering locusts, so will they insult you.’

Verse 5

The Lord is exalted - (compare Psalms 97:9). The prophet here introduces a chorus of the Jews, celebrating the praises of God for delivering them from the Assyrian.

He hath filled Zion with judgment - That is, the effect of his destroying his enemies will be to fill Jerusalem with reverence for his name. The deliverance would be so signal, and the manifestation of the divine mercy so great, that the effect would be that the nation would turn to God, and acknowledge his gracious interposition (see Isaiah 30:22-26, Isaiah 30:29; Isaiah 31:6; Isaiah 32:15-18).

Verse 6

And wisdom and knowledge shall be - This verse contains evidently an address to Hezekiah, and asserts that his reign would be characterized by the prevalence of piety and knowledge. This chapter abounds in sudden transitions; and it accords with its general character that when Yahweh had been addressed Isaiah 33:5, there should then be a direct address to Hezekiah.

The stability - This word denotes firmness, steadiness, constancy; and means that in his times knowledge and the fear of the Lord would be settled on a firm foundation. The whole history of the virtuous reign of Hezekiah shows that this was fulfilled (see 2 Kings 18:0)

And strength of salvation - Or saving strength; that is, mighty or distinguished salvation. Thy times shah be distinguished for great reforms, and for the prevalence of the doctrines of salvation.

The fear of the Lord is his treasure - The principal riches of Hezekiah. His reign shall not be distinguished for wars and conquests, for commercial enterprise, or for external splendor, but for the prevalence of piety, and the fear of the Lord.

Verse 7

Behold - This verse introduces a new subject by a very sudden transition. It is designed, with the two following, to exhibit the desolation of the land on the invasion of Sennacherib, and the consternation that would prevail. For this purpose, the prophet introduces Isaiah 33:7 the ambassadors who had been sent to sue for peace, as having sought it in vain, and as weeping now bitterly; he represents Isaiah 33:8 the desolation that abounded, and the fact that Sennacherib refused to come to any terms; and Isaiah 33:9 the extended desolations that had come upon the fairest portions of the land.

Their valiant ones - The ‘valiant ones’ of the Jews who had been sent to Sennacherib to obtain conditions of pence, or to enter into a negotiation with him to spare the city and the nation. The word which is rendered here ‘valiant ones’ (אראלם 'ere'elâm) has given great perplexity to expositors. It occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. The Septuagint renders the verse, ‘With the dread of you shall they be terrified; they, of whom you have been afraid, will, for fear of you, raise a grievous cry.’ Jerome renders it, ‘Behold, they seeing, cry without,’ as if the word was derived from ראה râ'âh, to see. The Chaldee renders it, ‘And when it shall be revealed to them, the messengers of the people who went to announce peace, shall cry bitterly.’ The Syriac, ‘If he shall permit himself to be seen by them, they shall weep bitterly.’ Symmachus and Theodotion render it, Ἰδοὺ ὀφθήσομαι αὐτοῖς Idou ophthēsomai autois - ‘Lo, I will appear to them.’ So Aquila, Ὁραθήσομαι αὐτοῖς Horathēsomai autois. Most or all the versions seem to have read it as if it were compounded of לם אראה 'ere'eh lm - ‘I will appear to them.’ But probably the word is formed from אראל 'ăre'el, the same as אריאל 'ărı̂y'êl (Ariel), ‘a hero’ (see the note at Isaiah 29:1), and means “their hero” in a collective sense, or their heroes; that is, their men who were distinguished as military leaders, and who were sent to propose terms of peace with Sennacherib. The most honorable and valiant men would be selected, of course, for this purpose (compare the note at Isaiah 30:4), but they had made the effort to obtain peace in vain, and were returning with consternation and alarm.

Shall cry without - They would lift up their voice with weeping as they returned, and publicly proclaim with bitter lamentation that their efforts to obtain peace had failed.

The ambassadors of peace - When Sennacherib invaded fife land, and had advanced as far as to Lachish, Hezekiah sent messengers to him with a rich present, having stripped the temple of its gold, and sent him all the silver which was in his treasury, for the purpose of propitiating his favor, and of inducing him to return to his own land 2 Kings 18:14-16. But it was all in vain. Sennacherib sent his generals with a great host against Jerusalem, and was unmoved by all the treasures which Hezekiah had sent to him, and by his solicitations for peace 2 Kings 18:17. It was to the failure of this embassy that Isaiah refers in the passage before us.

Verse 8

The highways lie waste - This verse contains a description of the desolations that had been caused by the invasion of Sennacherib. Some have understood it as containing the account which the ambassadors sent by Hezekiah gave of the effects of the invasion. Thus Grotius interprets it. But it is probably a description made by the prophet himself, and is designed to state one cause why the messengers that had been sent out wept bitterly. They had not only failed of inducing Sennacherib to abandon his purpose of attacking Jerusalem, but they had witnessed the effects of his invasion already. The public ways were desolate. In the consternation and alarm that was produced by his approach, the roads that had been usually thronged were now solitary and still. A mournful desolation already prevailed, and they apprehended still greater calamities, and hence, they wept.

The wayfaring man ceaseth - Hebrew, ‘He that passes along the road ceases.’ That is, there is a cessation of travel. No one is seen passing along the streets that used to be thronged.

He hath broken the covenant - This may either mean that the Assyrian king had violated the compact which had been made with him by Ahaz, by which he was to come and aid Jerusalem against the allied armies of Syria and Samaria (see the notes at Isaiah 7:0), or it may mean that he had violated an implied compact with Hezekiah. When Judea was threatened with an invasion by Sennacherib, Hezekiah had sent to him when he was at Lachish, and had sought for peace 2 Kings 18:14. In that embassy Hezekiah said, ‘I have offended, return from me; that which thou puttest on me I will bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.’ To pay this, Hezekiah exhausted his treasury, and even stripped the temple of its golden ornaments 2 Kings 18:15-16. A compact was thus made by which it was understood that Sennacherib was to withdraw his army, and depart from the land. But notwithstanding this, he still persisted in his purpose, and immediately despatched a part of his army to lay siege to Jerusalem. All the treaties, therefore, had been violated. He had disregarded that which was made with Ahaz, and that which he had now himself made with Hezekiah, and was advancing in violation of all to lay siege to the city.

He hath despised the cities - That is, he disregards their defenses, and their strength; he invades and takes all that comes in his way. He speaks of them with contempt and scorn as being unable to stand before him, or to resist his march. See his vain and confident boasting in Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 36:19.

He regardeth no man - He spares no one, and he observes no compact with any man.

Verse 9

The earth mourneth - The land through which he has passed. For the sense of this phrase, see the note at Isaiah 24:4.

Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down - For the situation of Lebanon, see the note at Isaiah 10:34. Lebanon was distinguished for its ornaments of beautiful cedars. Here iris represented as being stript of these ornaments, and as covered with shame on that account. There is not any direct historical evidence that Sennacherib had advanced to Lebanon, though there are some intimations that this had occurred (see the note at Isaiah 14:8), and it was certainly a part of his boast that he had done it (see Isaiah 37:24). There is no improbability in supposing that he had sent a part of his army to plunder the country in the vicinity of Lebanon (see Isaiah 20:1).

Sharon is like a wilderness - Sharon was the name of a district south of mount Carmel along the coast of the Mediterranean, extending to Cesarea and Joppa. The name was almost proverbial to express any place of extraordinary beauty and fertility (see 1 Chronicles 5:16; 1 Chronicles 27:29; Song of Solomon 2:1; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 65:10). There was also another Sharon on the east side of the Jordan, and in the vicinity of Bashan, which was also a fertile region 1 Chronicles 5:16. To this, it is more probable that the prophet here refers, though it is not certain. The object seems to be to mention the most fertile places in the land as being now desolate.

Bashan - For an account of the situation of Bashan, subsequently called Batanea, see the note at Isaiah 2:13.

And Carmel - (see the note at Isaiah 29:17).

Shake off their fruits - The words ‘their fruits,’ are not in the Hebrew. The Septuagint reads this: ‘Galilee and Carmel are made bare’ (φανερὰ ἔσται, κ.τ.λ. phanera estai, etc.) The Hebrew word נער no‛ēr probably means to shake; to shake out or off; and refers here to the fact probably that Bashan and Carmel are represented as having shaken off their leaves, and were now lying desolate as in winter.

Verse 10

Now - This verse commences another transition. In the previous verses, the desolation of the land had been described, and the hopelessness of obtaining any terms of favor from Sennacherib, or of binding him to any compact, bad been stated. In this state of things, when inevitable ruin seemed to be coming upon the nation, God said that he would interpose.

Will I rise - To vengeance; or to punish the invading host. The emphasis in this passage should be placed on ‘I,’ indicating that Yahweh would himself do what could not be effected by people.

Now will I be exalted - That is, God would so interpose that it should be manifest that it was his hand that brought deliverance.

Verse 11

Ye shall conceive chaff - An address of God to the Assyrians. The figure is one that denotes that their counsels would be in vain. Chaff and stubble are used in the Scriptures, in contrast with grain, to denote anything which is not solid, nutritious, or substantial; then anything which is frivolous, useless, vain. A similar image occurs in Isaiah 26:18 (see the note on that place; compare Isaiah 59:4).

Your breath as fire shall devour you - The word ‘breath’ here (רוח rûach, spirit) is evidently used in the sense of the Θυμός thumos, and denotes anger, as in Isaiah 30:28. It refers to the haughty and arrogant spirit of Sennacherib; the enraged and excited mind intent on victory and plunder. The sense is, that his mind, so intent on conquest - so proud, excited, and angry, would be the means of his own destruction. Lowth proposes to read ‘my spirit,’ but for this change there is no authority from manuscripts (see the notes at Isaiah 1:31).

Verse 12

And the people - In the army of Sennacherib.

As the burnings of lime - As if placed in a burning lime-kiln, where they must certainly be destroyed (see Isaiah 30:33; compare Amos 2:1).

As thorns cut up - As thorns, or small brushwood, that has been long cut up and perfectly dried are speedily consumed, so shall it be with the Assyrian army. This is an image like many that are employed, denoting that the destruction of the army of the Assyrians would be sudden and entire.

Verse 13

Hear, ye that are far off - This is an address of Yahweh, indicating that the destruction of the Assyrian army would be so signal that it would be known to distant nations, and would constitute an admonition to them.

Ye that are near - Ye Jews; or the nations immediately adjacent to Judea. The phrase ‘far and near,’ is equivalent to all.

Verse 14

The sinners in Zion are afraid - This verse is evidently designed to describe the alarm that was produced in Jerusalem on impenitent sinners and hypocrites by a view of the judgment of God on the army of Sennacherib. They would see his wrath on his enemies then, and in view of the terrors of his indignation in relation to that army they would be alarmed, and would ask how it would be possible for them to endure such wrath forever. If the effect of the wrath of God even for a night, when it should blaze against that great army, was so terrible, how could it be borne forever? This seems to be the general idea of the passage. A great variety of interpretations have been proposed, which may be seen in Vitringa and Poole. The phrase, ‘sinners in Zion’ here refers to the wicked and rebellious in Jerusalem.

Fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites - Those who professed to serve God, and yet who were secretly depending on the aid of Egypt (see Isaiah 31:1-9; compare the note at Isaiah 9:17). The sentiment here is, that those who professedly are the friends of God, but who are secretly and really his enemies, are often alarmed at his judgments. When the judgments of God overtake sinners, they are conscious that they deserve also his wrath, and their minds are filled with consternation. So in a time of prevailing sickness, or of pestilence, they who have really no confidence in God, and no evidence that they are prepared to die, are filled with alarm. A true friend of God will be calm in such scenes; a hypocrite will show by his consternation that he has no religion.

Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? - Some have understood this as referring to the fires which they supposed the Assyrian would kindle in Jerusalem, apprehending that he would take and burn the city. But the more probable interpretation is that which refers it to the judgment that would be brought upon the Assyrians - the burning wrath of God like fire that would consume them. The destruction of the Assyrians is repeatedly represented under the image of a storm and tempest, where there would be the ‘flame of devouring fire’ (see the note at Isaiah 29:6). The sense is this: ‘God has suddenly consumed that immense army of his foes. Such must be the awful punishment of the wicked. How can we abide it? We also, through among his people, are his foes, and are exposed to his wrath. How can we endure the terrors of that day when his burning indignation shall also overtake us?’

Shall dwell with everlasting burnings - Who among us could endure to suffer amid such burning wrath forever? If that wrath is so fierce as to consume such an immense host in a single night, who could abide it should it be continued forever and forever? This is the obvious sense of this passage; and it implies:

1. That hypocrites will be greatly alarmed when they see punishment come upon the open and avowed enemies of God.

2. That in such times they will have none of the peace and quiet confidence which his true friends have.

3. That such an alarm is evidence of conscious guilt and hypocrisy.

4. That the persons here spoken of had a belief of the doctrine of eternal punishment - a belief which hypocrites and sinners always have, else why should they be alarmed?

5. That the punishment of hypocrites in the church will be dreadful and terrific. This seems to have been the conviction here. They saw that if such judgments came upon those who had no knowledge of the true God, it must be infinitely more terrible on those who had been trained amidst the institutions of religion, and who had professed attachment to Yahweh. And so it will be in a preeminent degree among those who have been trained in the Christian church, and who have been the professed but insincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 15

He that walketh righteously - In this and the following verses the prophet presents, in contrast, the confidence and the security of the righteous. He first, in this verse, describes the characteristics of the righteous, and in the following verses their confidence in God, and their security and safety. The first characteristic of the righteous man is that he walks righteously; that is, he lives righteously; he does right.

And speaketh uprightly - The second characteristic - his words are well-ordered. lie is not false, perfidious, slanderous, or obscene in his words. If a private individual, his words are simple, honest, and true; if a magistrate, his decisions are according to justice.

He that despiseth the gain of oppressions - Margin, ‘Deceits’. The third characteristic - he abhors the gain that is the result of imposition, false dealing, and false weights. Or if it mean oppressions, as the word usually does, then the sense is, that he does not oppress the poor, or take advantage of their needy condition, or affix exorbitant prices, or extort payment in a manner that is harsh and cruel.

That shaketh his hands from holding of bribes - The fourth characteristic - this relates particularly to magistrates. They adjudge causes according to justice, and do not allow their judgment to be swayed by the prospect of reward.

That stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood - This is the fifth characteristic. It means, evidently, he who does not listen to a proposal to shed blood, or to any scheme of violence, and robbery, and murder (see the note at Isaiah 1:15).

And shutteth his eyes from seeing evil - He does not desire to see it; he is not found in the places where it is committed. A righteous man should not only have no part in evil, but he will keep himself if possible from being a witness of it. A man who sees all the evil that is going forward; that is present in every brawl and contention, is usually a man who has a fondness for such scenes, and who may be expected to take part in them. It is a remarkable fact that very few of the Society of Friends are ever seen in courts of justice as witnesses. The reason is, that they have no fondness for seeing the strifes and contentions of people, and are not found in those places where evil is usually committed. This is the sixth characteristic of the righteous man; and the sum of the whole is, that he keeps himself from all forms of iniquity.

Verse 16

He shall dwell on high - See the margin. Heights, or high places, were usually places of safety, being, inaccessible to an enemy. The sense here is, that such a man as is described in Isaiah 33:15, should be preserved from alarm and danger, as if his habitation were on a lofty cliff or rock. The particular and special meaning is, that he should be safe from the anger, wrath, and consuming fire, which the sinner and the hypocrite dreaded Isaiah 33:14.

The munitions of rocks - The literal translation of this place would be, ‘The strongholds of the rocks shall be his lofty fortress’ (compare the note at Isaiah 2:21).

Bread shall be given him - He shall be sustained, and his life shall be preserved.

Verse 17

Thine eyes - The eyes of the righteous, described in Isaiah 33:15.

Shall see the king in his beauty - Some understand this of the Assyrian king. Thus Kimchi understands it, and supposes it means that they shall see him at the walls of Jerusalem; that is, shall see him destroyed. Vitringa supposes it means Yahweh himself as the king of his people, and that they should see him in his glory. Others suppose it relates to the Messiah. But the immediate connection requires us to understand it of Hezekiah (compare the note at Isaiah 32:1-2). The sense is, ‘You shall be defended from the hostile army of the Assyrian. You shall be permitted to live under the peaceful and prosperous reign of your pious monarch, and shall see him, not with diminished territory and resources, but with the appropriate magnificence which becomes a monarch of Israel.’

The land that is very far off - You shall be permitted to look to the remotest part of the land of Judea as delivered from enemies, and as still under the happy scepter of your king. You shall not be confined by a siege, and straitened within the narrow walls of Jerusalem. The empire of Hezekiah shall be extended over the wide dominions that appropriately belong to him, and you shall be permitted to range freely over the whole land, even over the parts that are now occupied by the forces of the Assyrian. Virgil has a beautiful passage remarkably similar to this:

- jurat ire, et Dorica castra,

Desertosque videre locos, litusque relicturn.

AEn. ii. 28.

Verse 18

Thine heart - The heart of the people of Jerusalem.

Shall meditate terror - This is similar to the expression in Virgil:

- forsan et haec olim meminisse jurabit.

AEn. ii. 203.

The sense here is, ‘You shall hereafter think over all this alarm and distress. When the enemy is destroyed, the city saved, and the king shall reign in magnificence over all the nation then enjoying peace and prosperity, you shall recall these days of terror and alarm, and shall then ask with gratitude and astonishment, Where are they who caused this alarm? Where are now they who so confidently calculated on taking the city? They are all gone - and gone in a manner suited to excite astonishment and adoring gratitude.’ ‘Sweet is the recollection,’ says Rosenmuller, ‘of dangers that are passed.’

Where is the scribe? - How soon, how suddenly has he vanished! The word scribe here (ספר sı̂phēr) evidently refers to some prominent class of officers in the Assyrian army. It is from ספר sâphar, to count, to number, to write; and probably refers to a secretary, perhaps a secretary of state or of war, or an inspector-general, who had the charge of reviewing an army 2 Kings 25:19; Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 52:25.

Where is the receiver? - Margin, as in Hebrew, ‘Weigher.’ Vulgate, ‘Where is he that ponders the words of the law?’ The Septuagint, ‘Where are the counselors (ουμβουλεύοντες sumbouleuontes)?’ Probably the word refers to him who weighed the tribute, or the pay of the Soldiers; and means, doubtless, some officer in the army of the Assyrian; probably one whose office it was to have charge of the military chest, and to pay the army.

Where is he that counted the towers? - That is, who made an estimate of the strength of Jerusalem - either Sennacherib, or someone appointed by him to reconnoitre and report on the means which the city bad of defense (compare Isaiah 36:4).

Verse 19

Thou shalt not see a fierce people - Or, rather, ‘this fierce and boasting people you shall not see.’ They shall not enter the city; but though they are advancing with so much confidence, they shall be suddenly cut, off and destroyed. The word rendered “fierce,” (נועז nô‛âz from נעז yâ‛az), probably means strong, or wicked. Lowth renders it, ‘barbarous people,’ as if it were לועז lô‛ēz. Michaelis also adopts this reading by supposing an error in transcribing, a change of the Hebrew letter נ (n) into the Hebrew letter ל (l). Such a change might have easily occurred, but there is no authority from the manuscripts for making an alteration in the text The word strong, or mighty, agrees well with the connection.

A people of a deeper speech - A people whose language is so deep, that is, so dark, or obscure, that it cannot be understood by you. This refers to the army of the Assyrians, who spoke the Syrian language, which was understood by some of the Jews, but which was unintelligible to the mass (see Isaiah 36:11).

Than thou canst perceive - Than you can understand.

Of a stammering tongue - (see the note at Isaiah 28:11). Margin, ‘Ridiculous;’ a sense which the Hebrew will bear, but the more appropriate meaning is that of a barbarous, or unintelligible foreign language.

Verse 20

Look upon Zion - Lowth renders this, ‘Thou shalt see Zion,’ by Changing the Hebrew text in conformity with the Chaldee. There is no doubt that this accords with the sense of the passage, but there is no authority for the change It stands in contrast with what had been said in Isaiah 33:19. There, the prophet had said that they should no more see those foreign armies that were coming to invade them. Here he directs them to look upon Zion, implying that they should be permitted to behold Zion in a situation such as he proceeds to describe it. ‘You shall not see that foreign army carrying desolation as they design through the city and the land. They shall be destroyed. But behold Zion! Her you shall see quiet, prosperous, happy, peaceful.’

The city of our solemnities - Where the religious solemnities of the nation were celebrated.

A quiet habitation - Free from invasion, and from the terrors of war.

A tabernacle - A tent; a dwelling, such as was common in the nomadic mode of life in the East. The whole city is described under the image of a tent that is fixed and undisturbed, where the family may reside in safety and comfort.

Not one of the stakes thereof - The ‘stakes’ here refer to the poles or fixtures which were driven into the ground in order to fasten the tent, to enable them to spread it, or to the small stakes or pins that were driven in the ground in order to secure the cords by which the tent was extended. The drawing in the book will give you an idea of the mode in which tents were commonly pitched, and will serve to explain this passage, as well as the similar passage in Isaiah 54:2.

Shall ever be removed - It shall be a fixed and permanent habitation. The word ‘ever’ must mean an indefinite period of duration. Sennacherib had designed to blot out the name of the people of God, and destroy their separate and independent existence. The prophet says that that should never be done. Jerusalem, the residence of his people and the emblem of his church, would be safe, and would not be destroyed. There would always be a safe and quiet abode for the friends of the Most High. In this sense it accords with the declaration of the Saviour, that the gates of hell should not prevail against his church.

Neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken - Cords were used in tents to fasten the cloth to the poles, or to fasten it to the pins which had been driven into the ground, in order to extend the cloth, and to make it firm.

Verse 21

But there - In Jersalem; or in his church, of which Jerusalem was the emblem.

The glorious Lord - Lowth renders it, ‘The glorious name of Yahweh,’ שׁם shâm to be a noun, as if it were pointed שׁם shēm. So the Syriac and the Septuagint read it. The word ‘glorious’ (אדיר 'adiyr) means magnificent; denoting that Yahweh would manifest himself there as magnificent or great in the destruction of his enemies, and in the protection of his people.

Will be unto us a place - It seems to be harsh to say that Yahweh would be a place; but the meaning is, that he would be to them as such a place; that is, his presence and blessing would be such as would be represented by broad rivers and streams flowing through a land, or encompassing a city. Rivers and streams are sources of fertility, the channels of commerce, and objects of great beauty. Such seems to be the idea here. The presence of Yahweh would be to them a source of great prosperity and happiness; and a beauty would be thrown around the city and nation like majestic and useful rivers. It is possible that there may have been some allusion here to cities that were encompassed or penetrated by rivers and canals, like Babylon, or Thebes in Egypt. Such cities derived important advantages from rivers. But Jerusalem had nothing of this nature to contribute to its prosperity or beauty. The prophet says, that the presence of Yahweh would be to them what these rivers were to other cities.

Of broad rivers and streams - Hebrew, ‘Rivers, streams broad of hands.’ The sense seems to be, broad rivers that are made up of confluent streams; or rivers to which many streams are tributary - like the Nile - and which are therefore made broad, and capable of navigation. The phrase used here in the Hebrew, ‘broad of hands’ - properly denotes broad on both hands, or as we would say, on both sides; that is, the shores would be separated far from each other. The word hand is often used in Hebrew to denote the side, the shore, or the bank of a river. The following extract will show the importance of such rivers: ‘In such a highly cultivated country as England, and where great drought is almost unknown, we have not an opportunity to observe the fertilizing influence of a broad river; but in South Africa, where almost no human means are employed for improving the land, the benign influence of rivers is most evident. The Great, or Orange River, is a remarkable instance of this. I traveled on its banks, at one time, for five or six weeks, when, for several hundred miles, I found both sides of it delightfully covered with trees of various kinds, all in health and vigor, and abundance of the richest verdure; but all the country beyond the reach of its influence was complete desert. Everything appeared to be struggling for mere existence; so that we might be said to have had the wilderness on one side, and a kind of paradise on the other.’ (Campbell)

Wherein shall go - The mention of broad rivers here seems to have suggested to the prophet the idea that navigable rivers, while they were the channels of commerce, also gave to an enemy the opportunity of approaching easily with vessels of war, and attacking a city. He therefore says that no such consequence would follow, from the fact that Yahweh would be to them in the place of broad rivers. No advantage could be taken from what was to them a source of prosperity and happiness. While other cities were exposed to an enemy from the very sources from which they derived their wealth and prosperity, it would not be so with them. From what constituted their glory - the protection of Yahweh - no danger ever could be apprehended. It had all the advantages of broad rivers and streams, but with none of their attendant exposures and perils.

No galley with oars - That is, no small vessel - for larger vessels were propelled by sails. Still the reference is doubtless to a vessel of war; since vessels of commerce would be an advantage, and it would not be an object of congratulation that none of them should be there. “Neither shall gallant ship.” No great (אדיר 'adiyr) or magnificent ship; no ship fitted out for purposes of war. The sense is, therefore, that though Jerusalem should be thus favored, yet it would be unapproachable by an enemy.

Verse 22

For the Lord is our judge - Yahweh will be to us nothing but a source of happiness, truth, and prosperity. His presence will be to us only a blessing, and a means of success and joy. The repetition of the name Yahweh three times is common in the Scriptures.

Verse 23

Thy tacklings - This is evidently an address to Sennacherib. The mention of the war-galley and the ship seems to have suggested the application of the figure to the enemies of the Jews, and particularly to Sennacherib. The prophet, therefore, compares the Assyrian to a ship that was rendered unserviceable; whose sails were unfastened, and whose mast could not be made firm, and which was therefore at the mercy of winds and waves. The Hebrew which is rendered here ‘thy tacklings are loosed,’ means ‘thy cords are let go;’ that is, the cords or ropes that fastened the sails, the masts, and the rudder, were loosened. In such a condition the ship would, of course, go to ruin.

They could not well strengthen their mast - They could not fix it firm or secure. It is evident that if the mast cannot be made firm, it is impossible to navigate a ship. It is to be observed here, however, that the word which our translators have rendered ‘well’ (כן kên), not only signifies ‘well’ as an adverb, but is also used as a noun, and means a stand or station Genesis 40:13; Genesis 41:13; Daniel 11:20-21; and also a base or pedestal (Exodus 30:18, Exodus 30:28; Exodus 31:9; Exodus 35:16; Exodus 38:8; Leviticus 8:11; 1 Kings 7:31. It may be used here to denote the socket or base of the ship’s mast; or the cross beam which the mast passed through, and which held it firm. This was called by the Greeks ἱστοπέδη histopedē (Odyssey xii. 51), or μεσόδμη, ἱστοδόκη mesodmē, histodokē. The translation, therefore, ‘They could not make fast the base of their mast,’ would better express the sense of the Hebrew. The Septuagint renders it: ‘Thy mast gave way.’

They could not spread the sail - Of course, as the ropes were all loosened, and the mast could not be made firm, it Would be in vain to attempt to spread a sail. The sense is, that the plan of the Assyrian would be disconcerted, his scheme discomfited, and his enterprise would come to naught. He and his army would be like a vessel at sea without sails.

Then is the prey of a great spoil divided - The word ‘divided’ here means shall be distributed or apportioned, as plunder was usually among victors. The sense is, that much booty would be taken from the army of the Assyrian and distributed among the Jews (see the note at Isaiah 33:4). It is certain that Hezekiah had given to Sennacherib three hundred talents of silver, and thirty talents of gold, and had stripped the temple, and given the gold that was on the temple to him 2 Kings 18:14-16, and tiffs treasure was doubtless in the camp of the Assyrians. And it is certain that after this invasion of Sennacherib, the treasures of Hezekiah were replenished, and his wealth so much abounded, that he made an improper and ostentatious display of it to the ambassadors that came from Babylon 2 Kings 20:13-15; and there is every presumption, therefore, that a great amount of spoil was collected from the camp of the Assyrian.

The lame take the prey - It shall be so abundant, and shall be so entirely abandoned by the Assyrians, that even the feeble and the defenseless shall go forth to the camp and take the spoil that is left.

Verse 24

And the inhabitant - The inhabitant of Jerusalem.

Shall not say, I am sick - That is, probably, the spoil shall be so abundant, and the facility for taking it so great, that even the sick, the aged, and the infirm shall go forth nerved with new vigor to gather the spoil.

The people that dwell therein - In Jerusalem.

Shall be forgiven their iniquity - This is equivalent to saying that the calamities of the invasion would be entirely removed. This invasion is represented as coming upon them as a judgment for their sins. When the Assyrian should be overthrown, it would be a proof that the sin which had been the cause of the invasion had been forgiven, and that God was now disposed to show them favor and mercy. It is common in the Scriptures to represent any calamity as the consequence of sin, to identify the removal of the calamity and the forgiveness of the sin. Thus, the Saviour said Mark 2:5 to the man afflicted with the palsy, ‘Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.’ And when the scribes complained, he urged that the power of forgiving sins and of healing disease was the same, or that the forgiveness of sin was equivalent to the removal of disease Mark 2:9.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.