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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Isaiah 33

Verses 1-24

God Is a Consuming Fire

Isaiah 33:14-16

This passage contains a question, and the reply to the question, and an assurance over and above the reply.

I. Consider the answer here given to the inquiry about dwelling with God. The possession of spiritual life shown to be spiritual life by the external manifestations of walking righteously, and speaking uprightly, and holding aloof from evil is the one thing which enables a man to stand without being consumed in the consuming fire of the presence of God.

II. We advance to consider our second point the question asked by the sinners and hypocrites, or rather the statement involved in their question, that the God with whom we have to do is a consuming or devouring fire.

So long as we are in this world there is a sort of screen or veil interposing itself between our souls and God. God deals with us through the intervention of intermediate agencies, and thus there is no special distress, no very pungent misery experienced, if we are out of harmony with the Divine nature. But in the world of the future this state of things is altered. The screen is dropped, and the soul comes into direct, immediate contact with Deity, is hemmed round, and clasped in every direction, by Him Who is a consuming fire. To the purified soul, then, which has consented willingly, gladly, consented to be detached from its sin, and which, whilst on earth, has been changed into the image of Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit, such close proximity to the Godhead is the source of indescribable gladness. But to the soul which has clung to its sin, and has identified itself with its sin, and has refused to be disentangled from its sin this plunging into an element for which it is not prepared, and with which it has no affinity, this coming into direct contact with the purity and holiness of God brings intolerable torment.

III. Something is promised us if we be of the number of those who walk righteously, and speak uprightly, and dwell in the presence of God. What is it? We may call it 'inaccessibility' the being placed high beyond the reach of anything that can really harm us.

Gordon Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi. No. 926, p. 129.

References. XXXIII. 14. F. Ferguson, Peace With God, p. 1. XXXIII. 14, 15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 189. XXXIII. 15, 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1764. XXXIII. 16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 199. XXXIII. 16, 17. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 132.

The Invisible Presence of God (Advent)

Isaiah 33:17

There is a peculiar feeling with which we regard the dead. What does this arise from? that he is absent? No; for we do not feel the same towards one who is merely distant, though he be at the other end of the earth. Is it because in this life we shall never see him again? No, surely not; because we may be perfectly certain we shall never see him when he goes abroad, we may know he is to die abroad, and perhaps he does die abroad; but will anyone say that, when the news of his death comes, our feeling when we think of him is not quite changed? Surely it is the passing into another state which impresses itself upon us, and makes us speak of him as we do I mean, with a sort of awe. We cannot tell what he is now, what his relations to us, what he knows of us. We do not understand him, we do not see him. He is passed into the land 'that is very far off'; but it is not at all certain that he has not some mysterious hold over us. Thus his not being seen with our bodily eyes, while perchance he is present, makes the thought of him more awful. Apply this to the subject before us, and you will perceive that there is a sense, and a true sense, in which the invisible presence of God is more awful and overpowering than if we saw it. And so again, the presence of Christ, now that it is invisible, brings with it a host of high and mysterious feelings, such as nothing else can inspire. The thought of our Saviour, absent yet present, is like that of a friend taken from us, but, as it were, in dream returned to us, though in this case not in dream, but in reality and truth.

J. H. Newman.

Worship, a Preparation for Christ's Coming (Advent)

Isaiah 33:17

Year after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befell us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out; spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that 'the night is far spent, the day is at hand,' that there are 'new heavens and a new earth' to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will 'soon see the King in His beauty,' and 'behold the land which is very far off'. These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

J. H. Newman.

Far Off, Yet Nigh

Isaiah 33:17

Heaven is shown as a land of glory and peace and joy and rest. There is no darkness, no parting, no pain, and no sorrow. And yet we are given to understand from the words of the text that it is a land from which we are far off. A shadow of disappointment passes over us, a feeling of pain when we remember that the life of the blessed ones is far off, and we have a lone, hard road to travel before we can be safe safe and sure in the presence of the King. That long road which we have to travel is life, and there is no cutting the distance short Although this life contains many comforts, luxuries, and pleasures, the beauty of the vision of the King outshines them all. And to us, even with the vision of that far-off land, there comes a feeling of disappointment. We want safety and happiness now. Why does God keep it all for that land which is so far off? It is we that are making a mistake.

I. God Does not Keep it for that Far-off Distant Land. We are far too ready to think of God as a far-off God; we are teaching our children to believe in Him as such. We teach them that God's angels spread their wings around them as they sleep, that He hears them and He loves them. Yet when the child asks, Where is God? we answer, Up there, above the sky. Are we not teaching the child wrongly? Are we not teaching him just that which we should not teach him, just that which we should not let ourselves think or believe that God is a distant God? We think of God as One Who will meet us face to face in a distant world. Would it not be better to teach our children that God is always with them; that He is with them in their room; that if they go into another room He is there also; and that if they go out into the street He is with them still.

II. It is only by God's Help that our Soul's Enemies can be Overcome. God sends us temptations to see what metal we are made of. Scientific men will not trust an untested instrument, and so it is that God would have us perfect. Perhaps never at any time in the history of Christianity has the study of faith in the face of difficulties been more wanted than now. Men are using their intellects and their physical powers more than ever before. Men require and want an answer where perhaps an answer cannot be given. God does not always see fit to tell us everything. Not till we get to the next world shall we see things clearly. The mysteries of life and death are mysteries still, and we are to wait for the far-off land before we can have all things clear.

References. XXXIII. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 752. D. MacGregor, The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 74. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 23. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 106. H. D. Rawnsley, ibid. vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 379. J. Hamilton, Faith in God, p. 213. J. W. Horsley, Church Times, vol. xlvi. 12 July, 1901. H. E. Manning, Sermons, p. 431. F. Ferguson, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 249; Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 101. XXXIII. 20-23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 489. XXXIII. 21. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 206.

The Lord Our Judge (Advent)

Isaiah 33:22

These four sentences seem to sum up all the great lessons of Advent

I. The Lord is our Judge. That is the beginning, and the condition of all spiritual progress lies in realizing the absolute and everlasting distinction between good and bad the absolute importance of being on the side of good. Christ tells us of the everlasting distinction between those on the right hand and those on the left. Yes, in spite of the vice and wickedness of the good, in spite of the virtues of the bad, there runs a line, invisible, but as profound as can be conceived, in amongst us as we gather together, that distinguishes between those who at the bottom of their wickedness are serving God, and those who, at the bottom, in spite of all their attractiveness, are serving their own flesh, their own lusts, and their own selfishness.

The answer to the question 'Who among us shall dwell in the everlasting fire'? is, He that walks uprightly; he who has done no wrong; for him this consuming and awful fire of the Divine presence shall be a vision of beauty and of the land that is very far off. But for those who have done wrong, what punishment must it be to simply find themselves in God's presence unfit! They will find nothing else but the everlasting burning and devouring fire, with no other fate than weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those will be the horrible consequences of making the one irretrievable mistake. 'The Lord is our judge.' That is the beginning to believe it in our hearts.

II. The Lord is our Lawgiver. Surely if God loves us, He must have given us some guidance as to how we should walk, be able to know His character, and to come at last into His presence to behold the King in His beauty. We know God legislated for the people of the old covenant. He was their lawgiver. He gave them their ceremonial law to know how to approach Him, their social law that they might regulate their social life agreeably to God and for their own well-being. All that has been deepened and sterilized for us into those great moral laws illustrated in the writings of the Bible from our Lord's own character. We know what is right and what is wrong conduct. More than that, the Lord has given us the laws of the Church, the requirements and ordinances whereby those who need education are taught and trained for God. 'The Lord is our lawgiver.'

III. The Lord is our King. That means He requires our deliberate service. In all things, and in all parts of life the kingdom of God is to be promoted. All members of society should realize that because they belong to Christ they are to work for Christ, because they belong to society they are to work for society. 'The Lord is our King.'

IV. He will Come to Save Us. If you search into your consciences you know that you want something which your own nature cannot supply, a cleansing profound, which reaches into the very roots of your being. You must be delivered not from the results, but from the very power of sin. 'He shall save His people from their sins' the same Lawgiver, the same King, He is our Saviour 'He will come to save us'. He gave not only His love, but Himself.

Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 72.

References. XXXIII. 22. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 213. C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xliv. 1900, p. 743; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 36. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 144; see also Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 266.

Victorious Crippledness

Isaiah 33:23

This is a proverb amply verified in history and experience, 'The lame take the prey'.

I. This is Seen in the Overcoming of Disadvantages. 'The survival of the fittest' is man's motto, but the Lord often disproves our mottoes; He shows how unaxiomatic our axioms are, for frequently it is the survival of what we deem unfittest which we are called to witness.

No man need make his disadvantages a reason of despondency, nor need any make them an excuse for spiritual ineffectiveness. Disadvantages become advantages at the transfiguring touch of Jesus.

II. This is True of Providential Supply. Your course in life may be sadly hedged in, but God shall clear it. Your lot may be a barren one, but God shall fertilize it. 'Have faith in God.' Cry, oft as the day dawns, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' and it shall be given.

III. This is Illustrated in Triumph Over Temptation and Sin. We are all lame spiritually. The tragedy of many lives is their temptations, but the Lord turns the tragedy into glory.

So in respect of our besetting sin. It has ofttimes laid us low. And we never feel our humiliating lameness as we do in its presence. But how many have received superhuman power so that they have taken the prey! Look to the exalted Christ Think less of your lameness and more, far more, of His power.

IV. In Christian Service we see this Verified. How lame we all are who minister for Christ! But the ministry of lame men need not be a lame ministry. Power Divine is an overmatch for human crippledness. This has been signally demonstrated in the history of the Church of Christ. 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings' God has perfected praise.

V. This is Discernible in the Spiritual Blessings which Abound Amid Trials. One of Lord Lytton's most celebrated characters said, 'Pain does not conquer me,' but what Eugene Aram vainly said the Christian truly declares. Pain does not conquer Christ's people. They conquer their pain, and they often conquer by their pain. Think of all maiming as an opportunity of winning a great prize.

VI. This is a Parable of the Winning of Eternal Blessedness. By human merit heaven was never won. Those crowned victors were all lame on a time. They thought that with their cruel limitations they would never gain that glory. But they overcame 'because of the blood of the Lamb'. The lame who trust their Saviour shall all at length shout with the shouting of them that take the prey.

VII. This is a Gospel of Individual Salvation.

Dinsdale T. Young, The Travels of the Heart , p. 193.

Isaiah 33:23

I. The Lame. It is clear that Israel, in her cleansed and forgiven remnant, is here indicated by this word lame. Impoverished in captivity, she had not regained her strength; but since God has wrought on her behalf there is to be no waiting; but, lame as she is, she may enter into the full enjoyment of that deliverance which, by the strong hand of God, has been accomplished.

Are we not here introduced to one of God's great principles? The deliverances of life have been conspicuously of God. He has gotten unto Himself the victory. 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.' And the victories of God have so often been won, not merely for the lame, but through the lame, as to constitute a law of God in human affairs.

II. The Lame Take the Prey. May we not inquire concerning the prey which they take. 'Then is the prey of a great spoil divided,' says the Prophet. It was, in the first instance, the prey of their conqueror Sennacherib and the Assyrian power.

( a ) It was the prey of conquest. These people had been for many years in captivity. Now, though so feeble, so weak, so impoverished, they have taken the prey of conquest, even their liberty.

St. Paul speaks about our deliverance from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Christ said: 'If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed'. It is given unto us, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to possess the prey of conquest, the freedom of the 'law of liberty'. And in this respect it is the lame who take the prey. It is the man who is lamed by sin and who knows it: beaten by his temptations, and tempest-tossed with his many difficulties, who, relying upon the finished work of Jesus Christ, through love to Him, gets the mastery over the sin which doth so easily beset, and enters into the liberty of God, while many another, seemingly stronger, but often self-righteous, remains still in bondage.

( b ) It is the prey of a rich experience. A bitter one 'tis true, but a rich one nevertheless. We think that there is nothing like the sunshine, nothing like prosperity. But it is often the intervening cloud which makes the shining of the sun more precious, and the period of adversity which makes us value all the more prosperity. 'I have got the sunshine on the sensitive plate,' says the photographer. 'Shut out the light now, close the door, blot out the sun, let me remain in darkness. What light I must have for to see at all must be subdued, broken up.'

See, in the darkness, how the form develops, how the impressions of the sunlight are revealed! God has shone forth, in the face of Jesus Christ, upon the soul of man, and away into the darkness, like St. Paul, that soul is driven that Christ may be formed, developed within. It may be that all along the sorrowful way that soul must pass in the shadows. But in that day, when the clouds and the mists will all have been dissolved, what a prey, a spoil, of rich experiences that soul will have taken.

J. Gay, Common Truths from Queer Texts, p. 122.

References. XXXIII. 23. F. B. Cowl, Straight Tracks, p. 18. XXXIII. 23, 24. F. B. Meyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 4. XXXIII. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1905. XXXIV. 5. W. D. Ross, The Sword Bathed in Heaven, p. 5. XXXV. 1. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part i. p. 69. XXXV. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 243. XXXV. 4. W. M. Taylor, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 196. F. Hastings, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 38. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2815. XXXV. 5. S. A. Barnett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 52. XXXV. 5, 6. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 215. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2635. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 90. XXXV. 6, 7. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 221. XXXV. 6-10. C. Voysey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 4.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.