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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 33

Verses 1-9

Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee.

describe the Assyrian spoiler: strong as he is, he shall fall before Yahweh, who is stronger (Isaiah 33:2-6; Isaiah 33:10-12). The time is the autumn of 713 BC

Verse 1 Woe to thee that spoilest and thou (wast) not spoiled ie Though thou wast not spoiled though Verse 1. Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou (wast) not spoiled - i:e., Though thou wast not spoiled-though thou wast not dealt treacherously with (note, Isaiah 24:16); thy spoiling and treachery are therefore without excuse, being unprovoked.

When thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled - when God has let thee do thy worst, in execution of His plans, thine own turn shall come (cf. Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 14:2; Habakkuk 2:8; Revelation 13:10).

Verse 2. O Lord, be gracious unto us ... He speaks interceding for His people, separating Himself in thought for a moment from them, and immediately returns to his natural identification with them in the word our.

Every morning - each day as it dawns: "The Lord's mercies are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23), especially during our danger, as the parallel, "time of trouble," shows.

Verse 3. At the noise of the tumult the people fled. The approach of Yahweh is likened to an advancing thunderstorm (Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27), which is His voice (Revelation 1:15), causing the people to flee.

The nations - the Assyrian levies.

Verse 4. And your spoil shall be gathered. The invaders' "spoil" shall be left behind by them in their flight, and the Jews shall gather it.

(Like) the gathering of the caterpillar - rather, the wingless locust: chaciyl (H2625), from chaacal (H2628), to consume. The locust in its larva state. The destructive kinds of locusts that visited Bible lands are probably but two or three species, the most destructive being the Acridium peregrinum and the OEdipoda migratoria. Some of the nine or ten different Hebrew names for locusts must therefore stand for different stages in the life of the locust. Yekeq (H3218) also is translated in the English version "caterpillar." 'As it gathers'-the Hebrew word for "gathering" [ 'ocep (H625)] is properly used of the gathering of the fruits of harvest (Isaiah 32:10).

As the running to and fro of locusts - namely, in gathering harvest-fruits.

Shall he run. "He" is Yahweh, who has 'lifted up himself' (Isaiah 33:3: cf. Isaiah 33:5, beginning). A continuous, uninterrupted, and irresistible assault is implied, such as is that of locusts. Calvin, Maurer, etc., translate, 'they (the Jews) shall run upon.' The English version better accords with the Hebrew singular ( showqeeq (H8264) bow (H871a)), and with the context (Isaiah 33:3; Isaiah 33:5).

Upon them - `it;' i:e., upon the prey.

Verse 6. Wisdom - sacred; i:e., piety.

Shall be the stability of thy times - Hezekiah's, or rather Zion's (Isaiah 33:5).

The fear of the Lord (is) his treasure. "His" refers to the same. Such changes from the pronoun possessive of the second person to that of the third are common in Hebrew poetry.

Treasure - not so much material wealth as piety shall constitute the riches of the nation (Proverbs 10:22; Proverbs 15:16). Treasure - not so much material wealth as piety shall constitute the riches of the nation (Proverbs 10:22; Proverbs 15:16).

Verse 7. Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without; the ambassadors of peace. From the vision of future glory Isaiah returns to the disastrous present: the grief of the "valiant ones" (parallel to, and identical with, "the ambassadors of peace"), men of rank: Eliakim, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Zoah the recorder, sent with presents to sue for peace; but standing "without" the enemy's camp, their suit being rejected (2 Kings 18:14; 2 Kings 18:18; 2 Kings 18:37). The "highways" deserted through fear, "the cities" insulted, the lands devastated.

Cry - (Isaiah 15:4.)

Verse 8. He hath broken the covenant. When Sennacherib invaded Judea, Hezekiah paid him a large sum to leave the land; Sennacherib received the money, and yet sent his army against Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:14; 2 Kings 18:17).

He hath despised the cities - he makes light of them, as unable to resist him (Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 36:19). He easily captures them.

Verse 9. The earth mourneth - (Isaiah 24:4.)

Lebanon - personified.

Is ashamed (and) hewn down. The allusion may be to the Assyrian cutting down its choice trees (Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 37:24).

Sharon - south of Carmel, along the Mediterranean, proverbial for fertility (Isaiah 35:2).

Bashan - afterward called Batanea (Isaiah 2:13).

Shake off (their fruits) - or, understand their leaves; they lie as desolate as in winter.

Verse 10

Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself.

Now will I rise, saith the Lord. The sight of His people's misery arouses Yahweh. He has let the enemy go far enough.

I - emphatic. God Himself will do what man could not.

Verse 11

Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you.

Ye - the enemy.

Shall conceive chaff - (Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 59:4).

Your breath - your own spirit of anger and ambition, which impelled you against Jerusalem, shall be the cause of your being devoured by the fire of God's anger (2 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 18:33-35; 2 Kings 19:22-28). The fire which you kindled and fanned with your breath, to devour others, shall devour yourself.

(As) fire, shall devour you - (Isaiah 30:28.)

Verse 12

And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.

The people shall be (as) the burnings of lime; (as) thorns ... burned in the fire - (Isaiah 9:18; Amos 2:1.) Perhaps alluding to their being about to be burnt on the funeral pyre (Isaiah 30:33).

Thorns - the wicked (2 Samuel 23:6-7).

Verse 13

Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.

Hear, ye (that are) far off - distant nations.

And ye (that are) near - the Jews and adjoining peoples (Isaiah 49:1).

Verse 14

The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?

The sinners in Zion are afraid - false professors of religion among the elect people (Matthew 22:12).

The hypocrites (chaneephim) - the profane, the abandoned (Horsley). So the Septuagint, 'the impious;' and Chaldaic, Arabic, and Syriac. But the Vulgate as the English version. There may be primarily an allusion to a party in Jerusalem itself disposed to treachery toward King Hezekiah and submission to the Assyrian foe. Shebna may have been their leader, (Isaiah 22:1-25.)

Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? If Yahweh's wrath could thus consume such a host in one night, who could abide it if continued for ever? (Mark 9:46-48.) Fire is a common image for the divine judgments (Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30).

Among us. If such awful judgments have fallen on those who knew not the true God, how infinitely worse shall fall on us who, amidst religious privileges and profession, sin against God! (Luke 12:47-48; James 4:17.)

Verse 15

He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;

He that walketh righteously. In contrast to the trembling "sinners in Zion" (Isaiah 33:14), the righteous shall be secure amidst all judgments. They are described according to the Old Testament stand-point of righteousness (Psalms 15:2; Psalms 24:4).

That stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil - "Rejoiceth not in iniquity" (1 Corinthians 13:6: contrast Isaiah 29:20; Psalms 10:3; Romans 1:32). The senses, especially the eyes, are avenues for the entrance of sin (Psalms 119:37).

Verse 16

He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.

He shall dwell on high - heights inaccessible to the foe (Isaiah 26:1).

Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure - image from the expected siege by Sennacherib. Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure - image from the expected siege by Sennacherib. However besieged by trials without, the godly shall have literal and spiritual food, as God sees good for them (Isaiah 41:17; Psalms 37:19; Psalms 37:25; Psalms 34:10; Psalms 132:15). So Jeremiah in the siege of Jerusalem was provided with "a piece of bread daily," though in prison (Jeremiah 37:21).

Verse 17

Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.

Thine eyes - the saints' eyes.

Shall see the king in his beauty - not as now, Hezekiah in sackcloth, oppressed by the enemy, but King Messiah (Isaiah 32:1) "in His beauty" (Song of Solomon 5:10; Song of Solomon 5:16; Revelation 4:3).

The land that is very far off - rather, the land in its remotest extent (no longer pent up as Hezekiah was by the siege). See margin, 'the land of far distances:' 'erets (H776) marchaqiym (H4801). For Jerusalem is made the scene of the king's glory (Isaiah 33:20, etc.), and it could not be said to be "very far off," unless the far-off land be heaven, the Jerusalem above, which is to follow the earthly reign of Messiah at literal Jerusalem, (Isaiah 65:17-19; Jeremiah 3:17; Revelation 21:1-2; Revelation 21:10: cf. Revelation 20:1-15.)

Verse 18

Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?

Thine heart shall meditate terror - shall meditate on the "terror" caused by the enemy, but now past.

Where (is) the scribe? - the language of the Jews exulting over their escape from danger.

Scribe - who enrolled the army (Maurer); or who prescribed the tribute to be paid (Rosenmuller); or who kept an account of the spoil. "The principal scribe of the host" (2 Kings 25:19; Jeremiah 52:25). The Assyrian records are free from the exaggerations of the Egyptian records. Two scribes are seen in every Assyrian bas-relief, writing down the various objects brought to them-the heads of the slain, prisoners, cattle, sheep, etc.

The receiver - margin, weigher. Layard mentions, among the Assyrian inscriptions, 'a pair of scales for weighing the spoils.'

He that counted the towers - he whose duty it was to reconnoitre and report the strength of the city to be besieged.

Verse 19

Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.

Thou shalt not see a fierce people - The Assyrians shall not be allowed to enter Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:32). Or, Thou shalt not any longer see fierce enemies threatening thee as previously: such as the Assyrians, Romans, and the last antichristian host that is yet to assail Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 28:49-50; Jeremiah 5:15; Zechariah 14:2).

A people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive - i:e., of unintelligible language.

Of a stammering tongue - foreign, barbarous. The Assyrian tongue differed only in dialect from the Hebrew; but in the Assyrian levies were many of non-Semitic race and language, as the Medes, Elamites, etc. (note, Isaiah 28:11.)

Verse 20

Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.

Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities - of our solemn assemblies at the great feasts (note, Isaiah 30:29; Psalms 42:4; Psalms 48:12).

A tabernacle (that) shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed - image from captives "removed" from their land (Isaiah 36:17). There shall be no more 'taking away' to an enemy's land. Or else, from nomad livers in shifting tents. The saints who sojourned once in tabernacles as pilgrims shall have a "building of God ... eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 11:9-10: cf. Isaiah 54:2).

Stakes - driven into the ground: to these the "cords" were fastened. Christ's Church shall never fall (Matthew 16:18). So individual believers (Revelation 3:12).

Verse 21

But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.

But there - namely, in Jerusalem.

The glorious Lord (will be) unto us a place of broad rivers - Yahweh will be as a broad river surrounding our city (cf. Isaiah 19:6; Nahum 3:8) and this, too, a river of such a kind as no ship of war can pass (cf. Isaiah 26:1). Jerusalem had not the advantage of a river: Yahweh will be as one to it, affording all the advantages, without any of the disadvantages of one.

Wherein shall go no galley with oars - war-vessels of a long shape, and propelled by oars; merchant-vessels were broader, and carried sail.

Neither shall gallant ship pass thereby - the same Hebrew word, addir, as for "glorious" previously: mighty will suit both places: a ship of war is meant. No 'mighty vessel' will dare to pass where the 'mighty Lord' stands as our defense.

Verse 22

For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.

The Lord ... the Lord ... the Lord - thrice repeated, as often; hinting at the Trinity (Numbers 6:24-26).

Judge ... lawgiver ... king - perfect ideal of the theocracy, to be realized under Messiah alone: the judicial, legislative, and administrative functions as king, to be exercised by Him in person (Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 32:1; James 4:12).

Verse 23

Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not well strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail: then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame take the prey.

Thy tacklings are loosed. Continuing the allegory in Isaiah 33:21, he compares the enemies' host to a war-galley, which is deprived of the tacklings or cords by which the mast is sustained and the sail is spread; and which therefore is sure to be wrecked on "the broad river" (Isaiah 33:21), and become the prey of Israel.

They - the tacklings.

Could not well strengthen their mast - or, 'they hold not firm the base of the mast.' The Hebrew for "well" (Keen) or 'rightly' is thus taken as a noun, 'the basis' or receptacle of the mast below. Then - when the Assyrian host shall have been discomfited.

Is the prey of a great spoil divided. Hezekiah had given Sennacherib 300 talents of silver and 30 of gold (2 Kings 18:14-16), and had stripped the temple of its gold to give it to him: this treasure was probably part of the prey found in the foe's camp. After the invasion, Hezekiah had so much wealth that he made an improper display of it (2 Kings 20:13-15); this wealth, probably, was in part gotten from the Assyrian.

The lame take the prey - even the most feeble shall spoil the Assyrian camp (cf. Isaiah 35:6; 2 Samuel 5:6).

Verse 24

And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.

The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick. Smith thinks the allusion is to the beginning of the pestilence by which the Assyrians were destroyed, and which, while sparing the righteous, affected some within the city ("sinners in Zion"). It may have been the sickness that visited Hezekiah, (Isaiah 38:1-22.)

The people that dwell therein (shall be) forgiven (their) iniquity. In the Jerusalem to come there shall be no 'sickness,' because there will be no "iniquity," it being forgiven (Psalms 103:3). The latter clause of the verse contains the cause of the former (Mark 2:5-9).

Remarks: The violent are repaid with retribution in kind. The 'spoiler' is sure at last to be "spoiled" by death; and often even before it God leaves the wicked, like the Assyrian, to develop fully their gratuitous wickedness, and then makes it and them together to "cease" for ever from tormenting His people. It is the cry of prayer which brings down the "gracious" interposition of Yahweh. When in our "time of trouble "we have waited for" the Lord continually He will be our "arm" of "salvation," each day as it comes. As 'the Lord dwelleth on high,' so will He cause His children to 'dwell on high.' "The fear of the Lord" is true "wisdom and knowledge." Such "wisdom and knowledge" are the true 'stability of the times' of any dynasty, and are the only solid and lasting "treasure." Material wealth often corrupts a people, and prepares the way for their decay; but this treasure purifies and invigorates, and lays the basis for permanent endurance.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.