The Punishment Strikes the Adversary
v. 1. Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled, the hostility of the Assyrian invader being a type of the world-power's enmity toward the Church of God; and dealest treacherously, in invading the country for the purpose of robbery, and they dealt not treacherously with thee, the hostile act being altogether unprovoked. When thou shalt cease to spoil, when the measure of damage which the plans of God included had been reached, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee. The text clearly indicates that the punishment of him who had been unpunished would certainly come upon him. The prophet's threat now turns into a pleading petition to the Lord.
v. 2. O Lord, be gracious unto us! For the grace and mercy of tile heavenly Father is the believers' only stay. We have waited for Thee, trustfully expecting the help which He alone can give; be Thou their arm every morning, for the danger is new every day, our salvation also in the time of trouble, bringing deliverance as the severest affliction looms up before the people. This intercessory prayer is made with the proper confidence, and therefore the prophet in spirit sees the fulfillment of his desire.
v. 3. At the noise of the tumult, as Jehovah makes ready to punish the enemy, the people fled, as before the onset of a powerful army; at the lifting up of Thyself the nations were scattered, their armies fleeing in hopeless confusion.
v. 4. And your spoil, so the prophet tells the adversaries, shall be gathered like the gathering of the caterpillar, that is, the treasures which the invaders had robbed would be abandoned by them, to be collected by the Jews with the same eagerness exhibited by the wingless locust as it devours the vegetation; as the running to and fro of locusts shall He run upon them, as when hordes of grasshoppers clear off a harvest-field to the very last blade of grass. The consequence of all this would be that Jehovah is exalted.
v. 5. The Lord is exalted, He who occupies the throne on high is given all glory for His triumph over the world-power, for executing righteousness and justice in the world; for He dwelleth an high, His victory is a glorious exhibition of His divine power; He hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness. Cf. Isa_32:15-16.
v. 6. And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times and strength of salvation, literally, "And there shall be security, a firm and lasting prosperity, of thy times, a treasure of salvation, of wisdom and knowledge"; that is, the times, the period here referred to, will be characterized by an absence of all disturbing and unstable elements, as the effect of the treasure of salvation given to the believers, and by wisdom and knowledge from on high; the fear of the Lord is his treasure, the treasure-trove of Judah, out of it all the other spiritual gifts and graces flow, as they are enumerated in this verse. Cf. Isa_11:2.
v. 7. Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without, namely, the men of rank sent to the Assyrian general at Lachish, to offer presents and sue for peace, 2Ki_18:14-18; the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly, since their proposals were treated with duplicity and scorn.
v. 8. The highways lie waste, travel had been discontinued on account of the desolation spread by the invaders, the wayfaring man ceaseth, for the life of no traveler was safe on the roads; he, the enemy, hath broken the covenant, in accepting the ransom offered, yet refusing to retire to fulfill its stipulations, he hath despised the cities, his superior forces making a mockery of their resistance; he regardeth no man, rather sacrificing human lives without the slightest compunction.
v. 9. The earth mourneth and languisheth, on account of the wickedness committed on its surface and in consequence of the devastation wrought by the invading hordes. Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down, its mighty forests withered; Sharon, the fertile plain along the Mediterranean, south of Mount Carmel, is like a wilderness, for it was through its rich fields that the invaders marched; and Bashan and Carmel, the two fruitful elevations in the eastern and western part of the Promised Land, shake off their fruits, so that their great forests stand bare. This condition, which the Lord had apparently viewed sitting down, as though He were not interested in the devastation, He wants to change with a mighty arm.
v. 10. Now will I rise, saith the Lord, getting up from the throne of His might; now will I be exalted, showing Himself in the might of His greatness; now will I lift up Myself, as a champion preparing for battle. He now addresses the enemies directly.
v. 11. Ye shall conceive chaff, dry grass or hay, since the plans which they laid were not fresh and full of life, but utterly dry, without strength and sap, ye shall bring forth stubble, to which their futile ideas might well be compared; your breath, their own snorting anger, as they fretted and fumed, as fire, shall devour you, so that they would be destroyed as a result of their own foolish counsels.
v. 12. And the people shall be as the burnings of lime, which consumes itself as it comes in contact with water; as thorns cut up, which burn with a bright flame, with loud crackling, and much smoke, shall they be burned in the fire. Thus are the adversaries of the Lord consumed by the fire of His anger, while His salvation shelters those who place their confidence in Him alone.
The Sinners Alarmed, the Pious Comforted
v. 13. Hear, ye that are far off, all the distant nations of the world, what I have done; and, ye that are near, the Jews and the nations near them, acknowledge My might, so Jehovah calls out through His herald.
v. 14. The sinners in Zion, those who falsely professed the religion of Israel, though their heart was not in their worship, are afraid, terrified because their hypocrisy is about to be revealed; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites, who were often addicted to secret idolatry while they continued their outward membership in the true Church. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Such is the cry of the sinners as they contemplate the devouring fierceness of Jehovah's anger. Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? They themselves realize and must admit it that they cannot endure the flames of God's divine anger which is bound to strike them in righteous judgment. The prophet himself, on the basis of Psalms 15; Psa_24:3-6 answers their question:
v. 15. He that walketh righteously, practicing the proper righteousness of life in every respect, and speaketh uprightly, without a trace of hypocrisy; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, repudiating the very idea of enriching himself by means which savor of blackmail, that shaketh his hands, interlocking them tightly, from holding of bribes, his act being conducive to that end, helping him to refrain from accepting bribe money, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, refusing to listen to any plan which involves revenge, hatred, or violence, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil, sanctioning wickedness or yielding to lust, in short, one who "rejoiceth not in iniquity" in any form, 1Co_13:6,
v. 16. he shall dwell on high, in places inaccessible to the foe, his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks, the fastnesses of the mountains, where he dwells under the protection of Jehovah; bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure, he will have both food and drink in rich abundance. Thus the prophet draws a sketch of one who, under the guidance and by the power of Jehovah, does not need to fear the judgment of wrath which will came upon those who delight in wickedness. The description causes the prophet to forget the sordid present and to look forward to the time when the congregation of the Lord would consist entirely of such desirable members.
v. 17. Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty, the Messiah in the glory of His redemptive work; they shall behold the land that is very far off, for the Messiah's kingdom would extend over the whole earth.
v. 18. Thine heart, once more conscious of the mournful condition of the present, so unlike the future glorious state, shall meditate terror, considering what fearful things have been left behind. Where is the scribe? the man who supervised the paying of tribute according to the assessments entered in his books. Where is the receiver? the weigher, who weighed the valuables received as tribute and was most exacting in his demands. Where is he that counted the towers? making a plan of the city, which was to be taken by storm. All these officers in the employ of the enemy were well known to the Jews, the mere mention of whose names filled their hearts with terror. But the prophet comforts his people with reassuring words.
v. 19. Thou shalt not see a fierce people, for the terrible enemies will then have disappeared forever, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive, whose language is difficult to understand; of stammering tongue, indistinguishable to those not familiar with the dialect, that thou canst not understand. It is a picture of happy deliverance which the prophet paints before the eyes of the true Israel.
v. 20. Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities, where Jehovah dwells and the people assemble for worship, to praise the Lord and to keep his feasts; thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down, as was the case with the Tabernacle in the wilderness; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken, both the tent-pins and the guy-ropes remaining intact forever. The reference is to the security and stability of the Church of God, as established upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the entire passage reminding one strongly of Psalms 46.
v. 21. But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams, that is, by virtue of the indwelling of God in the midst of His people the Church would be like a great city, which is both defended and watered by rich streams, wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship, one of the mighty sail-ships which ventured out on the mighty ocean, pass thereby, Jehovah Himself being the defense of His people and protecting them against all enemies.
v. 22. For the Lord is our Judge, who watches over His people's rights and honor; the Lord is our Lawgiver, He who wields the general's staff in their midst; the Lord is our King, His throne of power and mercy being established in their midst; He will save us, to Him they could confidently look for deliverance from all harm and danger. And so the chapter concludes with a description of the City of God, the Church of Christ, its present distress being contrasted with its future glory.
v. 23. Thy tacklings are loosed, Jerusalem being considered a ship whose cables and rigging have been torn by adverse winds; they could not well strengthen their mast, for the mast had no hold without the cables, they could not spread the sail, for the same reason, their vessel thus practically being at the mercy of wind and waves. Then is the prey of a great spoil divided, immense booty is distributed, at the very moment of the greatest helplessness the Lord grants victory; the lame take the prey, the very cripples being able to share in the plunder.
v. 24. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick, not one of them shall be subject to illness or weakness; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity, this, in fact, being the secret of their strength. And thus the Church of God is constitutedâ€”it consists of people who have come to the full realization of their own helplessness, who are deeply repentant, and who, as a consequence, have received the gift of the forgiveness of their sins and draw upon the Lord alone for all their strength. That is the abiding comfort of all believers.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany