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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 33

The woe against destroyers of God’s people ch. 33

There is general correspondence between this sixth "woe" and the third one (Isaiah 29:15-24), but this one deals more with application and the third one more with principles. It is the most eschatological of the "woes," though it contains many references to the Assyrian invasion. It is the only "woe" directed against a foreign power, the others being addressed to the Judahites. This is a woe against Assyria for its destructive opposition to Yahweh and His plans. The first six verses anticipate the salvation of Zion and contain a prayer for deliverance.

Verse 1

The destroyer and treacherous one in view is Assyria. So far Assyria had practiced destruction and treachery without having them come back on her, but eventually they would (cf. Deuteronomy 19:18-19). Sennacherib accepted a large sum of money that King Hezekiah sent to him so he would not besiege Jerusalem, but Sennacherib accepted the money and attacked Jerusalem anyway (2 Kings 18:13-17). That is treachery. Yahweh was the opposite of the Assyrian king. He was always true to His promises, and the Davidic kings were to follow His example as His vice-regents. To behave the opposite from how God behaves is to court divine discipline.

"As the royal annals demonstrate, Assyria took great pride in her capacity to destroy anyone who had the temerity to stand against her. By the same token, she had no qualms about breaking agreements which were not to her advantage, all the while punishing with great severity any who broke agreements with her." [Note: Oswalt, p. 592.]

Verses 1-6

The hope of the Judahites 33:1-6

Verse 2

The faithful remnant in Judah prayed to the Lord, evidently as the enemy approached Jerusalem. These godly Judeans asked for Yahweh’s grace on the ground that they had trusted in Him (cf. Isaiah 30:18-19). They asked Him to be the daily strength of those who opposed the destroyer, Assyria. They also requested deliverance for the Jerusalemites when Assyria attacked.

"Never underestimate the power of a praying minority." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 40.]

Verse 3

The prayer continues as the remnant anticipated the Lord creating a tumult and rising up to defend His people. When He would do that, enemies would flee and their nations disperse.

Verse 4

When the Lord arose against Israel’s enemies, the battle would be over almost as soon as it had started (cf. Revelation 19:19-20). The Jerusalemites would loot the spoils of war as voraciously as caterpillars and as swiftly as locusts (cf. Isaiah 37:36-37).

Verse 5

The result would be glory for God. He is the sovereign ruler of the world. He would fill Zion with justice and righteousness (cf. Isaiah 1:26-27; Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 32:16). Here Isaiah began to look into the distant future.

Verse 6

The Lord Himself would be the sure foundation of the blessed Zion. His people would then enter into their time in history, a time marked by salvations (pl.) of many kinds, wisdom in following God’s ways, and knowledge of the truth.

"Wisdom is the true and correct evaluation of things, whereas knowledge is the true recognition of what things are. It emphasizes the objective, whereas ’wisdom’ brings to the fore the subjective aspect." [Note: Young, 2:409.]

Fearing the Lord will be the key to the treasures that He has laid up for His people. The practical meaning of the fear of the Lord is admitting that one’s destiny lies in His hands.

Verse 7

The siege of Jerusalem is underway. The brave warriors are weeping in the streets of the city, and the ambassadors who had returned from peace talks (probably with Sennacherib at Lachish, 2 Kings 18:13-16; cf. Isaiah 36:22) also grieve publicly. Both "hawks" and "doves" realize that trust in humans rather than in God proved ineffective.

Verses 7-12

Judah’s lament and Yahweh’s response 33:7-12

Isaiah 33:7-12 provide the background for the hope just articulated. This pericope describes Judah’s judgment by the Assyrian invaders. It contains a lament (Isaiah 33:7-9) and God’s response (Isaiah 33:10-12).

Verse 8

People are afraid to go out onto the highways to travel about the land (cf. Judges 5:6). The enemy has broken his treaty, having no regard for the cities or the individuals he is now attacking.

Verse 9

All parts of Israel suffer because of the invading Assyrians. Lebanon was a forested region in the north, Sharon a beautiful plain to the west, and Bashan and Carmel were fertile areas to the east and north respectively. Assyria had decimated all the best (most fruitful) parts of the land.

Verse 10

God’s people having been punished in measure, it was time for the Lord to arise in their defense. The critical moment for Him to act had arrived, and He would now exalt Himself by delivering them.

Verses 11-12

The Judahites had done their best to bring forth victory through their own efforts, but all they yielded was chaff and stubble, nothing substantial. Now God would thoroughly consume the little that they were able to produce. It is possible that the Lord addressed Assyria in these verses, but I think Judah is the more probable "you." He would also destroy Israel’s enemies as thoroughly as limestone and thorns.

"The tragedy of sin is that it ruins the life of the sinner; the danger of sin is that it excites the wrath of God." [Note: Motyer, p. 265.]

Verse 13

God summoned, through His prophet, the entire earth, those far and near, to pay attention to what He had done to His people. It has worldwide significance. God’s powerful acts toward Israel in the past will cause the nations to stream to Zion in the future.

Verses 13-16

The people of Zion 33:13-16

Isaiah now turned to focus on one aspect of the future hope of the nation: Zion. It will consist of a people and a king. The prophet concentrated on the people first (Isaiah 33:13-16) and then their king (Isaiah 33:17-24).

Verse 14

The spectacular demonstration of God’s holiness in Assyria’s defeat would terrify sinners in Zion, those Jews who were unrepentant in Isaiah’s day. They would realize that they could not reside in His holy presence because of their sins.

"That Yahweh is a devouring fire is understood throughout the OT as a symbol of his holiness. The essence of worship is to recognize the gift of his mercy which makes it possible and even desirable to live in near contact with the Holy One." [Note: Watts, p. 427.]

Verse 15

Only the righteous may dwell in Zion where God resides. Various activities mark the righteous person (cf. Psalms 15; Psalms 24:3-6); they do not make him righteous before God. His righteousness is not just private but public. His speech is pure, he does not extort money from others, and he does not take bribes (because he does not love money). He does not listen to anything connected with hurting other people, and he will not look at anything vulgar, evil, or perverted (cf. Psalms 119:37). That is, he will not participate in these things. These last two characteristics are particularly challenging to us who live in an age of motion pictures, television, and Internet.

Verse 16

Such a righteous person will dwell with God, who dwells on the high places (Isaiah 33:5). He will be safe from attacks by enemies since God is his refuge. And God will provide for his needs (cf. Matthew 6:33). In other words, he will enjoy God’s fellowship, protection, and provision (cf. Psalms 15; Psalms 24:3-6).

"This is the picture of a man who has no need to be alarmed at the judgment of God upon Asshur." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:63.]

Verse 17

The prophet now assumed that his audience was righteous. Not only will the righteous be with God in the future (Isaiah 33:16), but they will even see the excellent king (cf. Psalms 45:3). They will also see a broad land in which there can be freedom of movement. An amillennial interpretation follows.

"It is the Messiah in the glory of His wondrous reign over His Church that is here in view." [Note: Young, 2:421.]

Verses 17-24

The King of Zion 33:17-24

The subject now shifts from the people who will inhabit the future Zion to the king who will rule there. This is a revelation of Messiah’s universal rule. It is a picture that stands in stark contrast to the one Isaiah painted of the present Jerusalem in chapters 28-31.

Verses 18-19

There will be no fear there of enemy officials who noted things down, weighed things out, and assessed Israel’s strength by taking inventories. Neither will there be terror caused by invading armies that used incomprehensible speech (cf. Isaiah 28:11; Isaiah 28:19). Foreign tax collectors who spoke an alien language may also be in view. These were all fears that the Judeans had when the Assyrians invaded.

Verse 20

Zion had a future that Isaiah’s audience needed to contemplate. It would be a place where God’s people would feast and rejoice in fellowship with Him. It would be a peaceful, secure, durable habitation-in contrast to the temporary and vulnerable tents of their nomadic forefathers, and of all the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings. The seemingly endless pilgrimages of the Israelites would finally be over.

Verse 21

The mighty king over this Zion will be Yahweh Himself, a divine ruler-even Messiah (cf. Isaiah 53:11).

"The meaning is, that, by virtue of Jehovah’s dwelling there, Jerusalem had become a place, or equivalent to a place, of broad streams, like those which in other instances defended the cities they surrounded (e.g. Babylon, the ’twisted snake,’ ch. xxvii. 1), and of broad canals, which kept off the enemy, like moats around a fortification." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:64-65.]

Verse 22

Messiah will be the Judge (leader and governor), lawgiver (legislator and chief), and (permanent) ruler of His people. He will be the head of all branches of government-judicial, legislative, and executive. He will provide deliverance in every situation.

This verse, which is a climax to chapters 28-33, was the basis for the Mayflower Compact, the covenant that the Pilgrims made when they left England for America in A.D. 1620. It was also the basis for the government of the United States, which had its roots in the Mayflower Compact.

Verse 23

The enemy of Israel, represented here as a disabled ship, would not be able to overcome other cities or pursue trade by normal means. [Note: Harold R. Holmyard, III, "Does Isaiah 33:23 Address Israel or Israel’s Enemy?" Bibliotheca Sacra 152:607 (July-September 1995):273-78.] Some interpreters believe the ship refers to Israel or Jerusalem, [Note: E.g., Delitzsch, 2:65-66.] but this seems less likely. Zion would take the spoil of a conquest that her king had gained that was now past. The physically weak would take the plunder of the strong (cf. Matthew 5:5). Assyrian kings boasted of the spoil that they took in war, but even the lame among God’s people will take plunder.

Verse 24

Physical sickness and spiritual sin will be totally absent from eschatological Zion (cf. Psalms 103:3). This description pictures the absence of all disabilities. Iniquities will also be forgiven (cf. Leviticus 16:21-22). The basis for this forgiveness is the sacrifice of Christ (cf. Isaiah 53:4; Hebrews 10:17-18).

This is one of the grand pictures of life during the coming reign of Jesus Christ on earth. That kingdom will begin following His second coming, continue for 1,000 years, and then extend forever into eternity (cf. Revelation 19-22).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.