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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Isaiah 33

Verse 1


Isaiah 33:1. Woe to thee that spoilest, &c.

Dr. Geikie says: As a nation the Assyrians are branded as treacherous, untruthful, and lawless (Nahum 3:1; Jonah 3:8). No treaty could bind them; might was right; and when interest seemed to demand it, they “regarded no man” (Isaiah 33:8). Their pride was that of a race which looked on all others as their natural inferiors (Zephaniah 2:15; Ezekiel 31:10-11; Isaiah 10:7-14; Isaiah 37:24-28). [1213]

[1213] Some time before the return of the Assyrians, Hezekiah had sought to deprecate the wrath of Sennacherib, of which terrible rumours had reached him from Lachish. For this end he had sent ambassadors, in the hope that they might possibly convince the great king that no treachery was intended, and save the country from a second invasion, or possibly even obtain favourable terms for Lachish itself. The embassy had found him at the city, which was soon after taken by storm, and delivered to the tender mercies of the soldiery. A slab from his palace at Nineveh, now in the British Museum, shows him in state “receiving plunder of the town of Lachish.” He sits on a throne before his tent, two arrows in one hand and his bow in the other, while prisoners are being brought before him, an officer, attended by a guard, stating the facts respecting them. Two eunuchs stand with feather flaps to wave over him for coolness, and to keep away the flies. Two horses, ready for his use, are behind, soldiers with tall lances attending them. The front rank of prisoners before him kneel to implore mercy, and behind them is a long file of their unfortunate companions. Some whose fate has already been decided have been led a short way off and killed; others may be spared as slaves. A chariot with two horses stands near—perhaps that of Sennacherib—and numerous fruit-trees over the whole slab show the fruitfulness of the country. A strong force of horse and foot on the right of the picture guards the king.—Geikie.

The text brings before us the doctrine of an overruling Providence.

We see an overruling Providence at work—

1. In meting out punishment to the wicked (H. E. I. 4604, 4612).

2. In accomplishing a just retribution. The Assyrian is paid back by the Babylonian (Revelation 13:10); Jacob’s treachery is returned to him in his son’s deceit (1 Timothy 5:24; P. D. 2995).

3. In bringing good out of evil. Wicked men overreach themselves; the devil is outwitted. The short-sighted vengeance of man becomes an instrument of perfecting the higher nature of the people of God, whom they oppress; the fire of man’s wrath is transformed into the refining fire of Divine purification (Malachi 3:3).—J. Macrae Simcock.

Verse 2


Isaiah 33:2. O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for Thee: be Thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.

Like its predecessor, this prophecy belongs to the time of distress and fear incident on the threatened Assyrian invasion. Dependence on Egypt had failed. So had Hezekiah’s present to the invader. He had accepted the present, but had still pressed on. The south of Judah was covered with his soldiers. Isaiah lifts up this prayer for his country. An example to Christians to interest themselves in the politics of their country, and to include them in their prayers. We have never known the terrible presence of an invader; but there is always occasion for appeal to the divine Governor and Helper. It is no mark of spirituality of mind to exclude national affairs from thought, as belonging to a sphere that has nothing to do with God or with prayer.

The prophet’s eye saw, in the immediate future, the frustration of the invader’s plans. The God of Israel would interpose. The invasion was unjust; the negotiations had been conducted deceitfully by the enemy; ruin would fall on his head (Isaiah 33:1). But the certainty of deliverance was no reason for the relaxation of effort, or for abstinence from prayer. God’s promise is the encouragement and directory of prayer. Therefore he cries, “O Lord, be gracious unto us,” &c.

The prayer of the text is applicable to any time of trouble in the personal experience of any Christian. It is a time that may come to any one. It should enter into our calculations about the future, however exempt from it at present. It should be prepared for, as for old age, or death. We never know when it bangs over us, nor in what form. To all it comes occasionally; to some frequently; to some constantly; to some severely. Often from quarters whence least expected. Things and persons most precious to us are sometimes the occasion of bitterest grief. The common lot. We can only really prepare for it by the possession of resources which it cannot diminish. This is one of the points at which Christians have so largely the advantage over others. God is always with them, and always accessible.
Our text represents the saint’s attitude in “the time of trouble.” He cries to God and waits on God. He cries as he waits, and waits as he cries.
How precious to have a friend so interested in you that anything you say about your trouble will find an interested listener. It is a relief to speak to such a friend. Many of God’s people find this relief every day. Many a trouble can be told to none but Him who keeps every secret and sympathises with every distress (P. D. 462, 463).
What do we need in the time of trouble? It is all in this prayer: GOD HIMSELF. Each petition resolves itself into something that God is, and is to us.

1. His Graciousness. The root of everything must be the divine disposition. He might be malevolent, unpitying, unmerciful. There might be a cause of separation sufficient to prevent any favourable access to Him. In the case of multitudes there is such a cause. Many live without God, ignore Him, disregard His authority, yet in the time of trouble imagine they may fly to Him, in the face of His word, which says until sin is abandoned there can be no friendship with Him. He has provided a gracious way of reconciliation. The first step we must take is the coming to Him through the Saviour for the mercy that obliterates all past transgressions. In many cases the time of trouble is sent as the means of leading us to the Saviour. To be assured of His gracious disposition while He permits the trouble, goes far towards the comfort of the troubled heart. He loves you although you are under discipline. The sun shines in full splendour although it is hidden behind a cloud. We may wait patiently for the trouble to pass away, so long as we can confidently ask the Lord to be gracious unto us.

2. His Strength. “Be Thou their arm every morning.” The time of trouble reveals our weakness. Mental energy, courage, bodily power often succumb under the pressure of heavy trouble. We realise the value of a strength beyond our own. It is better to pass through “the time of trouble” with God for our arm every morning, than to be exempt from trouble and left without Him. Paul groaned under the pain of his thorn in the flesh and besought the Lord thrice to take it away. But Christ’s assurance, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” together with his experience of its sufficiency, made him glory in his infirmity. We need the arm of God for defence against the enemy; to lean upon when ready to faint; to strengthen us for the work that may be necessary to our extrication from trouble.

3. His Salvation. From some troubles salvation cannot be in the shape of restoration of the previously existing state of things. The young man loses his precious wife and child; and in their grave it seems that every interest for him is buried. They cannot be restored. But God’s salvation can come to him in the form of a richer spiritual experience, a deeper acquaintance with His word and way, a completer consecration to His service, and a larger inflowing of divine consolation than he could have known without it. But there are some troubles from which salvation comes by their cessation: sicknesses, and business reverses. They are severe while they continue. But deliverance comes. In some cases greater prosperity is realised than formerly, to which, in God’s wonder-working Providence, the trouble was necessary. Joseph in Egypt Job. The trouble may have been severe temptation. If saved, you are the stronger for it. Cry to God in trouble. Let it be the time of special prayer.

“We have waited for Thee.” This ever accompanies true prayer. The believer looks for the blessing he has asked. It implies,

1. Faith. That God hears. Faith has a very close relation to prayer.

2. Expectation. There may be degrees of confidence, but there must be more or less of expectancy. The sailor’s mother watches at the window for the ship in which her son is coming.

3. Patience. Wait God’s time. Until His end is accomplished. Thus let the Church wait for the coming of Christ, which will be full salvation.

May we know by experience the blessedness of knowing God in time of trouble! Blessed is the people that is in such a case. Come and enjoy this blessedness. Decide for the Lord Jesus Christ. The world is insufficient. Renounce it.—J. Rawlinson.

Verse 6

(Sunday School Anniversary.)

Isaiah 33:6 And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation.

Primarily these words seem to have been spoken of Hezekiah, of the happiness and security which the Jews experienced under his reign,—a reign which was evidently blessed of God to their good; but, like many other predictions, it has a larger application. It refers to the kingdom of the Messiah; to the blessings resulting from the reign of Christ over His redeemed people (chap. Isaiah 32:1-2). The declaration is, that in the time of the Messiah there should be a diffusion of knowledge so wide and efficacious that society should be rendered stable and tranquil by it; that this wisdom and knowledge should produce salvation, or deliverance from temporal and spiritual calamities; and that this salvation should be a strong one. This has been already in part fulfilled; but only in part. Christianity introduced religious light; and that light became the parent of every other kind of useful and excellent knowledge. So little opposition is there between Christianity and true science, that all the most important discoveries of a scientific nature, all the knowledge whence nations derive power and refinement, have occurred in Christian nations, and Christian nations only. It is now generally agreed that it is only from the diffusion of wisdom and knowledge that we can expect settled and tranquil times. But we must remember that there is no real connection between mere scientific knowledge and moral influence. The proposition which I shall endeavour to establish is, that no moral influence is exerted, except by the truths revealed to us in the Scriptures; and that whatever effects are produced by knowledge of any other kind, those effects do not constitute a real moral improvement, either of society or of individuals.

I. I APPEAL TO THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE. The Bible is favourable to knowledge. Every Jewish parent was commanded to teach his children diligently the laws and statutes which God had given, and the historical circumstances with which they were connected; that so they might be, in the sight of all the nations, a wise and understanding people. The New Testament likewise commands all believers diligently to study the facts and doctrines of their faith. Neither the Mosaic nor the Christian religion was founded in ignorance. But throughout the Old Testament, where any moral influence is ascribed to wisdom, it is the true knowledge of God that is to be understood, and that only. So in the New Testament, so far from finding any intimation that mere knowledge, of any and every kind, is sufficient to exert a moral influence on the heart and mind, we find passages in which it is represented as operating to the hindrance of salvation (Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 2:8).

II. I APPEAL TO REASON. Reason shows—

1. That religious knowledge tends to produce moral results. This is the natural effects of the truths it presents to the mind, and of the standard of duty which it holds up before us.

2. That all kinds of knowledge which exert no power upon the conscience must leave the life unreformed. He who expects a moral result from mere worldly knowledge, looks for an effect without a cause; as well might he expect a man to become a skilful botanist by studying astronomy. To improve the morals you must give moral instruction; and this is what no branch of science even professes to do. We take nothing from the just value of science by confining it to its proper objects. One science only can improve your morals, even that divine philosophy which describes, with authority, the manner of life to which God, your Sovereign and Judge, requires you to conform.

III. I APPEAL TO EXPERIENCE. Reason shows that between religious knowledge and morality there is a connection, and that between morality and any other knowledge there is no connection whatever [1216] And this is also the testimony of experience in all times and countries [1219]

[1216] What connection is there between the knowledge of mechanics and morality? What moral duty have you impressed on the conscience when you have taught a man to make a table? So with the knowledge of numbers, or of language, whether ancient or modern. In none of these sciences is there any principle that can connect itself with moral feeling.—Watson.

[1219] The Gospel was first preached, beyond the limits of the Jewish church, to a very refined, but to a very immoral people. Even with what they had learned from tradition, the wisest among them—I may not even except Socrates—could contemplate with perfect indifference, and even practise, the most abominable vices. The same results are found in our own day. Wherever infidelity prevails, we witness the decay and destruction of moral principle. We find, perhaps, some exceptions in Christian countries; but let us see how they are produced, and we shall find that they prove the rule. They proceed from awe of public opinion; from a feeling of shame with regard to personal honour and character. But what provides that standard whose elevated purity men thus practically acknowledge, even while they reject its source? It is this book, it is the faithful preaching of the Gospel, which so keeps up the standard of public opinion that even infidels are obliged to acknowledge its authority. Even among our peasants who have been carefully instructed in religious truth—men without a single ray of science—we find the practice of all the Christian virtues; whilst, too often, we see the brightest beams of human philosophy gilding and giving splendour to baseness and corruption.—Watson.


1. Morality must have a religious basis. Man must be taught not only what is right, but why it is right; and he must be shown that he is bound to do it. The term “duty” refers not merely to the action which is to be done, but to the obligations to do it. Take away the morality of the Bible from that with which God has connected it, and you make it powerless. Moral influence and power come only from the whole truth of God.

2. The whole truth of God is used by the Holy Spirit as an instrument to effect moral reformations, and that truth only. We have here another most important reason for looking for the advancement of morality from the diffusion of such truth only [1222]

3. Religious truth benefits only those who make it their earnest study. It does not operate necessarily. The Bible must be diligently read, with much prayer that its teachings may be applied to your conscience; that they may be in you a good seed sown in good ground.

4. The duty of parents is thus made plain.

5. We see also the true aim and the extreme value of Sunday schools.—Richard Watson: Works, vol. ix. pp. 458–471.

[1222] Along with the truth of God there goes an accompanying influence. The words that are spoken to you are “spirit and life:” this is because the illuminations of the Holy Ghost go along with them. We may not overlook the fallen state of man; he is dead in trespasses and sins. The very law is weak through the flesh; it gives direction, but it cannot give life. The Spirit must convince men of sin and righteousness; and if He be removed, the Agent is taken away by whom only our moral renovation can be effected. Now, this blessed, this mighty Spirit only works on our hearts in connection with His own revealed truth; it is not with human science that He works for the amendment of our principles and tempers.—Watson.

I. What constitutes “stability of times?”

1. Civil order and subjection to law.
2. A regular flow of commerce, and employment for the several orders of men.
3. Freedom from war, defensive or aggressive.

II. What influence has the “wisdom and knowledge” of Christianity on “the stability of times?”

1. The principles and rules of Christianity are those of practical “wisdom and knowledge,” and must, if acted on, give “stability of times.” Look at its instructions in relation to civil government (Romans 13:1-2; Romans 13:6-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3); to the domestic and social duties of life (Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1); to integrity, industry, and love of our fellow-men (Romans 13:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:2). Universal conformity to such precepts would produce universal harmony, industry, and confidence. With equal clearness it denounces oppression, insubordination, and war. Were these injunctions and prohibitions heeded, a new era of settled prosperity would begin (H. E. I. 1124–1132, 1134).

2. Christianity gives “stability of times” by the intellectual wisdom and knowledge it imparts. What a contrast in this respect between Christian and heathen nations! Christianity promotes intellectual strength by the grandeur of the subjects which it brings before the mind, by the freedom it enjoins in the exercise of every right, and by the rules it gives for the government of nations and the guidance of individuals. All its instructions are those of wisdom and mental strength. Moreover it enlarges the conceptions of those who receive it, by leading them to strive to promote the welfare of the whole world.

3. By its sanctifying influence. The real causes of peace and permanent prosperity are moral; and the very tendency of Christianity is to promote civil order, integrity, industry, and benevolent conduct (H. E. I. 4164–4166).

4. By leading men to that obedience to the laws of God which brings down upon them His blessing.

From all this it follows,

1. That it is the wisdom of every nation that has the knowledge of Christianity to retain and improve it, and to guard against its corruption and abuse. Whatever diminishes its purity weakens its practical influence.
2. That we should gratefully acknowledge how much we owe to God for “the wisdom and knowledge” which He has imparted to us. Let us trace our prosperity to its true cause.
3. That national ruin will be the result, if we reject “the wisdom and knowledge” God has vouchsafed to us.
4. That every one who seeks for himself the “wisdom and knowledge” of the Bible is a patriot. He adds, in his own personal religion, to the stability and wealth of the nation.
5. That true patriotism will lead us to value and support those institutions which exist for the diffusion of the Gospel in our own and other lands.—John Johnson, M.A.: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 156–177.

I. Wisdom and knowledge both resemble and differ from each other, and should be carefully distinguished. Many have great knowledge and no wisdom. Some have wisdom and little knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge digested and turned to account; knowledge is the food swallowed; wisdom is the food changed into chyle and blood, and sent through the system. Knowledge is often a mere chaotic mass; wisdom is that mass reduced to order. Knowledge may remain inactive in the memory and understanding; wisdom is the same turned to practice and incarnated in life. Many men possess great knowledge, but hold it in unrighteousness; hold it along with folly, indolence, and a host of other counterbalancing elements. The wise man may err like others; but his general conduct and the general course of his mind are well regulated. “Wisdom is profitable to direct.” Knowledge puffeth up; but wisdom is too calm and moderate, too wide in its views, and too sober in its spirit to be often found in alliance with undue self-esteem. The man of knowledge resembles Dr. Kippis, of whom Hall said that he put so many books in his head that his brains could not move. In a mind like Burke’s, the more books that were heaped upon the fiery and fertile brain the better; it turned them into flame (H. E. I. 3091, 3092, 3112–3120).

II. Knowledge and wisdom, when combined, give stability to persons, states, and churches.

1. To individual character. Knowledge is being increased at a wonderful ratio. The learned man of a century ago would now be thought a sciolist. But there have been many drawbacks: many incapable of grasping all kinds of knowledge are not incapable of pretending that they have grasped them; hence the desire of intermeddling with all knowledge becomes pre-eminent folly, and hence generally the preference given to men of showy attainments, glib talk, and immodest assurance, above those of solid strength and genuine insight. And it is the same, too often, in the Church. In reference to this, let the words of the wise man be pondered: “With all thy getting, get understanding.” Even though our knowledge be less wide, let it be accurate. Let us ballast knowledge with common-sense; let our piety be manly; let our attitude be that of calm but constant progress. And let our motto be, “The greatest of these is charity.” Such a combination of knowledge and wisdom would give, as nothing else can, stability to individual character (H. E. I. 3075–3078).

2. In reference to states and kingdoms. Here, too, knowledge must meet with wisdom ere genuine stability can be secured. This was manifested in the last French and German war. Indeed, the whole history of France shows the evil of knowledge being separated from wisdom. We see this in its brilliant, but rash and dangerous science; in its literature—splendid in form, inferior in substance; in its raging love for display and thirst for war; in its popular idols—Henry IV., Mirabeau, Voltaire, and Napoleon—all men as full of ability as they were destitute of true wisdom.

3. The Church. The whole Bible has been taken to pieces. All the conceivable knowledge on the subject has been amassed. Now, here comes in the place for the exercise of wisdom. Let us not leap to conclusions; let us rather ask: “Where does wisdom dwell, and where is the place of understanding?” There is at present a divorce between knowledge and wisdom in spiritual matters; and seldom were manly morality and true religion in a feebler condition than in some quarters. There are noise and sound enough and to spare; but there is a lack of stability,—no progress at once in piety and intelligence (H. E. I. 3153–3155). Out of that gulf into which one-sidedness has plunged us, all-sidedness, broad charity, and wisdom can alone deliver us. Let us pray that these may abound, and introduce a period when wisdom and knowledge, walking hand in hand, shall be the stability of a better and nobler era!—George Gilfillan: The Study and the Pulpit, New Series, vol. iv. pp. 9–11.

These were the words of comfort by which Hezekiah was prepared to meet the invasion of the conquering Assyrians. In other times Judah fled for protection into the arms of Egypt. They thereby incurred God’s displeasure, and were invariably overtaken by the calamities from which they sought refuge. Hezekiah put his trust in Jehovah, and was not disappointed.
The text contains, at the same time. a general principle, viz., that wisdom (or practical religion) and knowledge are the best elements of the stability of any people. As patriots let us carefully consider it.

I. Christianity promotes wisdom and knowledge.

1. Christianity promotes wisdom.

(1.) The God whom the Bible reveals is the fit object of reverence and love. It reveals the Divine attributes in forms the most fitted to fill the soul with solemn awe and reverence. It ascribes to Him eternal and unchangeable love, and reveals that love in forms of ineffable grace and mercy. It does not efface any of the more awful attributes of Godhead, or merge them in a perverted view of the parental relation; nor does it degrade His more amiable attributes into the tenderness, or rather weakness, which loses sight of the criminal’s guilt in the consideration of his misery—the world’s conception of the Divine! That character, however, is not enough to rekindle the flame of piety in a fallen world (James 2:19). But

(2.) Christianity provides, in the great facts through which it conveys the knowledge of God, the means of reducing men to contrition and restoring them to hope. The Gospel is adapted to convert the soul. How? In its adaptation the element of hope occupies no mean place. Any scheme of regeneration must contain a provision of mercy. By its mode of opening the door of hope, it impresses sinfulness on the mind; it moves to repentance, and inspires obedience on the ground of conscious obligation to Divine grace. The tendency of the doctrine of the cross is no doubtful matter (Romans 1:16).

2. Christianity promotes knowledge. It points out the only true way to the knowledge of God; but further it promotes general knowledge.

(1.) Revealing God, it makes known the highest truths; and, making known the highest truths, it promotes and facilitates inquiry into every other. The uncovered heavens reflect their light on all earthly things.
(2.) By the healing power which it applies to the heart and conscience, it fits the soul for vigorous and healthful action. The Christian can have no reason to dread the advances of knowledge—he may tremble for the temporary evils resulting from philosophy, falsely so called [1225]

[1225] I fear it is incontrovertible that what is denominated polite literature, the grand school in which taste acquires its laws and refined perceptions, and in which are formed, much more than under any higher, austerer discipline, the moral sentiments, is, for the far greater part, hostile to the religion of Christ; partly by introducing insensibly a certain order of opinions unconsonant, or, at least, not identical with the principles of that religion, and still more by training the feelings to a habit alien from its spirit. And in this assertion I do not refer to writers palpably irreligious, who have laboured and intended to seduce the passions into vice, or the judgment into the rejection of Divine truth, but to the general community of those elegant and ingenious authors who are read and admired by the Christian world, held essential to a liberal education, and to the progressive accomplishment of the mind in subsequent life, and studied often without an apprehension, or even a thought, of their injuring the views and temper of spirits advancing, with the New Testament for their chief instructor and guide, into another world.—John Foster.

II. By promoting wisdom and knowledge, Christianity establishes a people.

1. It purifies and elevates society.

(1.) It is an acknowledged fact that the Gospel makes man unfit for a state of slavery. It may teach submission to the bond, but it will create a moral influence whose fire will melt his chains.
(2.) The Gospel civilises the savage. It produces dissatisfaction with his abjectness, and creates the desire and imparts the means of rising in the scale of intelligence.
2. If Christianity thus elevates, how much more will it establish! If it imparts life, how much more will it maintain it! If it gives existence, how much more will it give it the elements of perpetuity! But what are the means of the stability of a nation?

(1.) Religion. This is the foundation of all others. An irreligious and wicked nation has the elements of misery and dissolution within itself; a righteous nation, like a righteous individual, may be afflicted, but, as in the one case, so in the other, “all things work together for good.” Knowledge has an indirect influence. Galileo could sacrifice truth and honour to escape imprisonment; the tale of Bacon’s moral weaknesses is a humbling page of human history; but the diffusion of knowledge tends to correct a taste for low and sensual habits.

(2.) Virtue. Religion produces the best morals; here the connection is direct and immediate. The Gospel provides an authoritative principle—wanting elsewhere—which responds to its moral precepts, and renders it a matter of moral necessity to give a ready and cheerful obedience.

(3.) Freedom. The foundation of this is in the virtue which Christianity creates and promotes. If the ark of God were in danger, we might well tremble for the ark of liberty; religious degeneracy endangers the existence of freedom.

(4.) Good order. This follows, as the natural and necessary consequence from the promotion of virtue and freedom.

CONCLUSION.—British society, with all its boasted civilisation, is only in a state of childhood; it speaks as a child and it acts as a child. We expect better days, not as the result of a natural and inherent tendency to progress and improvement, but as the result of the operation of Divine principles implanted in the midst of us, under the blessing of a favourable Providence. That we may put forth our strength to accomplish this change, we must have an adequate impression of existing evils and of our obligation to apply a remedy. Christianity is the lever by which we can raise man (Ephesians 5:14).—John Kennedy, D.D.: Weekly Christian Teacher, vol. iii. pp. 760–764, 777–781.

Verses 7-12


Isaiah 33:7-12 Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without, &c.

The picture has two distinct points of interest—

1. Man (Isaiah 33:7). Desolation receives nowhere so strong and pathetic expression as in the strong cries and tears of a man. The purer and nobler the man, so much the more affecting is it to hear his despairing cry and look upon his tears. The child cannot bear to see his father weep, because his father is to him the ideal man. Eliakim’s grief, on returning from the interview with Rabshakeh, would be more grievous to Hezekiah than Shebna’s. Peter’s repentant tears were bitter; but by the cry of the Christ, “Eloi! lama sabacthani?” and His tears at the grave of Lazarus, we are much more affected.

2. Nature (Isaiah 33:8-9). The world is partly bright and beautiful, because noble men of God dwell in it; Nature reflects and interprets man. The Assyrian invader weighed heavily on Jewish hearts (Isaiah 36:22, Isaiah 37:1) and the Jewish land.

“Now will I rise, saith the Lord,” &c.

1. God rules the world in the interests of His people. “Now will I rise.” Democrats are fond of saying, “The Queen may reign, but she does not govern;” but the reins of government are firmly held by the great I Amos

2. God’s interposition comes at the right moment:Now will I rise.” Man’s extremity is often God’s opportunity; because not until his case is desperate, will he cast himself unreservedly upon God. So man often retards the arrival of the right moment. Meanwhile the innocent (comparatively) suffer for the guilty, the good for the bad, the just for the unjust. If it is the teaching of Scripture that God’s people are “the salt of the earth,” preserving it from destruction, it is no less the doctrine of the Bible that untold sorrows are to the righteous because they dwell on the earth with the wicked. The Isaiahs and Hezekiahs of the world feel something of the weight of the world’s sin. But there is always a “thus far and no farther.” “Now will I rise, saith the Lord.”


Cf. Luke 18:8; Isaiah 42:1. The greater wickedness is employed by God to be the scourge of the less, until its own time comes to be scattered as chaff, and destroyed as fire destroys (Isaiah 33:11-12). To one whose “eyes are in his head,” it is sad to hear the ambassador of Sennacherib saying, “The Lord said unto me, Go up against this land and destroy it.” In the midst of this judgment of God—in which the righteous suffer most—meted out instrumentally by wicked hands, we do well to remember the words of Christ: “Knowest thou not, said Pilate to Him, that I have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above.”

Note that where the avenging is pictured in this passage, the two sides spoken of in the former part of it—man and nature—are summed up in the terrible destruction of the human. So terrible is this, that a burning world is lost sight of! The first picture of desolation is as nothing to the second; and the woe is seen to reach its intensity in this regard.—J. Macrae Simcock.

Verses 15-17


Isaiah 33:15-17. He that walketh righteously, &c.

This is a gleam of bright sunshine after a heavy storm. It describes a truly happy, holy life, such as we may all attain, and may all well desire to be ours.

1. It is a gracious life. This is not specially mentioned here. We have only what is outward and visible described. But this always implies an inward hidden life. When we see such a great, green, spreading, fruitful tree of righteousness as this, we may always assuredly conclude that, deep in the heart out of sight, there must be a great, strong, living Lebanon-root of faith and love (Titus 2:12). This is the secret or source of all that follows (H. E. I. 2840, 2841, 4092–4095).

2. It is an upright life. “He that walketh righteously.” A man’s “walk” is his whole conduct in all the positions and relations in which he stands. All that this man does is conformed to the law of God and the example of Christ (Luke 1:6). “He speaketh uprightly.” Most important (James 3:2; James 1:26; P. D. 3384, 3394). “He despiseth the gain of oppressions.” He will not take advantage of his neighbour’s distress; will not be hard upon him when his back is at the wall; will not abuse his ignorance or simplicity by charging more than a commodity is worth. “He shaketh his hands from holding of bribes.” He abhors such temptations. Judas, from an awakened conscience, horror-struck at what he had done, cast the blood-money which he had received on the ground; but this man, from a clear, enlightened conscience, at peace with God, casts from him all that would offend the Lord. “He stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood.” There is a killing of character by slander and insinuation, but he will have none of it (P. D. 3108). “He shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.” He is like God; he cannot look upon sin. He hates it; can find no amusement in it; knows its tendency and its fearful end. Through the unguarded eye comes ruin (Joshua 7:21; 2 Samuel 11:2). Pictures and descriptions of evil often destroy. Have we not here a beautiful, noble character? and yet this is what believing in Christ and walking in His footsteps will always produce. But there must be the root, Christ dwelling in the heart by faith, else the outward life, however fair and seemly, will be only a make-believe, a wretched caricature, that will break down in the time of trial, and be rejected in the day of the Lord.

3. It is a heavenly life. “He shall dwell on high.” His heart is set on things above (Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 3:1-3; Philippians 3:20). He has already come to Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem: he really dwells on high (H. E. I. 2766–2779).

4. It is a safe life. His real all is above, beyond the reach of chance and change. He is still beset by foes, but he is safe. “His place of defence is the munitions of rocks” (Psalms 18:2-3, &c.)

5. It is a well-supplied life. “His bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure” (Psalms 34:10). But man needs more than bread to eat and raiment to put on; like the Master, the servant has meat to eat of which the world knows not (Psalms 4:6-7; Psalms 53:5-6). He has growing light, increasing life, fuller assurance, and fresh Ebenezers from day to day.

6. It is a hopeful life. “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty.” There is a blessed beginning of the fulfilment of this promise now (John 14:21-23; H. E. I. 974, 975). “They shall behold the land that is very far off.” To Christ’s friends things to come are revealed by the Holy Ghost. They see Jesus, already crowned with glory and honour, and fairer than the sons of men. Like the patriarchs, they see the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Like Moses, they gaze the landscape over and gird their loins; they take courage and press on (H. E. I. 2771–2779).

Such a life leads to a blessed death. The two go together. We cannot have the one without the other. Balaam thought he could, but it was in vain. Such a life prepares for a happy meeting with the Lord, if He should come while we are still present on the earth (Matthew 24:46).—John Milne: Gatherings from a Ministry, pp. 325–331.

Verse 16


Isaiah 33:16. He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure.

This is part of the answer to the question proposed in Isaiah 33:14. The overthrow of Asshur has been predicted; but the judgment of Asshur is a lesson for Israel as well as for the heathens. For the sinners in Jerusalem, there is no abiding in the presence of the Almighty. They must repent. “God is a consuming fire.” His furnace was in Jerusalem. Therefore they inquire, “Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”

The prophet answers their question in Isaiah 33:15. It is the description of a God-fearing man from the Old Testament point of view. Because of the predominating religion of his heart, he avoids the sins of his times. A Christian, in like manner, renounces sin, and, so far as the world’s principles and practices are sinful, sets himself against the world. Instead of being afraid of the Divine anger, as sinners and hypocrites are, he dwells in blessed security, with God for his Friend (Isaiah 33:16). Three things distinguish him from the unbelieving world: elevation, provision, and security.

I. ELEVATION. “He shall dwell on high.” Leaving out of view the temporal advantages that sometimes accrue from true religion as being only incidental, let us look at the elevation it secures with regard to—

1. Thought. Christianity directs the mind to the most elevated themes, fosters the habit of thought upon them, and through them refines and elevates the mind itself. When a man is converted he generally becomes interested in topics beyond the requirements of his daily life. Mind is awakened. Mental activity is required. In any number of uneducated men, some Christians and some not, the Christian section will probably be the more intelligent and thoughtful. If an educated man is converted, the influence is equally marked. His previous attainments remain, and his mind receives a new impetus from the world of spiritual thought now discovered. He thinks of God, Christ, redemption, holy influences on men from on high, the invisible, heaven, eternity. The mind cannot fail to be uplifted by contact with such themes as these.

2. Character. Doubtless much excellence exists among men apart from personal religion. The civil, social, and commercial virtues are often exemplified by men who make no pretension to religion. Even in these respects the best man without it would be better with it. But we must rise higher. Men never rise above their ideal. The ideal of a man without religion does not rise above his obligations to man; but the ideal of a man in Christ is to be like Christ. It comprehends all dispositions, sympathies, duties that either look God ward or manward. It is Divine perfection. It is not yet realised; but the entertaining and striving towards it will lift him to a loftier moral altitude than if his ideal were lower; when all allowance has been made for human imperfection, it remains true that the Christian is “the highest style of man.”

3. Relationship. Believers are closely connected with Christ, their Saviour, their Head, their Elder Brother. They are “united to Him,” “in Him.” Terms are employed that give the idea, not, indeed, of personal identity, but of such close relationship that whatever concerns Him concerns them, and whatever glorification. He attains they are to share. Through Him they are “the children of God,” and heirs of the celestial inheritance. Is it possible for relationship to be loftier?

4. Companionship. The man is known by his chosen associates. The young man that keeps low company makes it plain that his tastes are low. Fine natures can only enjoy congenial society. When a man becomes a Christian, he seeks the society of Christians. And not only are his human companionships superior to those he previously courted, he enjoys a Divine companionship which is the supremest dignity. “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Is it not dwelling “on high” to have free access at all times to the King of kings?

5. Influence. God has made us kings of men. The time is coming when the principles we hold shall, by our means, pervade the mass of humanity. Already, in a thousand quiet ways, in families, in schools, in churches, in populations, the influence of individual Christian men is felt to be good and gracious as far as it extends. Christian fathers and mothers will live in the recollection of their children and their children’s children when the memory of the wicked shall rot (H. E. I. 1089–1095).

6. Destiny. He is to be crowned and enthroned in the abiding glory. “He shall dwell on high” (H. E. I. 1073–1076, 1106, 1112–1119).

II. PROVISION. “Bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure.” His wants shall be supplied in his elevation. All necessary temporal supplies and spiritual provision. Christ the bread of life.
III. SECURITY. “His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks.” There is an enemy who would gladly attack and overcome him; but he has retired to a place of perfect safety. Inaccessible to the adversary. Will endeavour to dislodge you by various means; such as:

1. Temptation, which assumes many forms. Grows out of everything. Keep before you the lofty ideal; constant effort, watchfulness, government of thought and desires, Divine aid.

2. Trouble. It becomes temptation. It tries faith. Cry to God.

3. Death. It is the last enemy. Christ, our defence, will triumph.

What a privilege to be a Christian! For what would you exchange it? Not the world’s sins, pleasures, possessions.—J. Rawlinson.

Verse 17


Isaiah 33:17. Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off.

The literal application of this prophecy is generally supposed to have reference to the deliverance of the Jews from the Assyrian army. They would then have the joy of seeing Hezekiah in his goodly apparel, and, freed from the presence of the invader, would be left at liberty to enjoy their own pleasant and goodly land. The deliverance was accomplished (2 Chronicles 32:21). But there is another application of the text—to the beatific vision of the King of kings in the heavenly land. Let us then consider—

I. THE GLORIOUS PROSPECT BEFORE THE CHILDREN OF GOD. “Thine eyes,” &c. The prospect respects—

1. The vision of Christ. Christ is King. Of Him Melchisedec, David, and Solomon were types (Psalms 2:6, &c.; John 18:36; Hebrews 2:9; Revelation 1:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). Patriarchs and prophets saw Him in human form. The Jews saw Him in His humiliation, as “a man of sorrows,” &c. The apostles and disciples saw Him in His risen glory. John saw Him in the vision of Patmos (Revelation 1:13, &c.) Hereafter all His people shall see Him “in His beauty,” in all His regal splendour and magnificence. They shall see Him clearly, fully, eternally.

2. The vision of heaven. “The land,” &c. Of heaven Canaan was a type. It was a land of beauty and abundance; of freedom, after the slavery of Egypt; of triumph, after warfare; of rest, after the toils of the desert. Its crowning distinction was the Temple, which God filled with His presence and glory. But heaven is all temple.


1. This was contemplated by Christ in our redemption. He designed our emancipation from the dominion of sin, our deliverance from this present evil world, and also our elevation to His glorious kingdom (Hebrews 2:10; John 17:24).

2. This is repeatedly the subject of the Divine promises (Luke 22:29; Luke 12:32; John 14:2-3, &c.)

3. To this tends the work of grace in all its influences on the soul. See what our calling is (1 Peter 5:10); to what we are begotten (1 Peter 1:3-4); why we are sanctified (Revelation 3:4).

4. A goodly number are now enjoying the fulfilment of these promises (Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:14).

5. The glory and joy of Christ would not be complete without the eternal salvation of His people (Isaiah 53:11).

III. THE PREPARATION NECESSARY FOR ITS ENJOYMENT. Nothing is necessary in the way of merit, price, or self-righteousness. But if we would see the King, we must make Him the object of our believing, affectionate regard now.

2. If we would see “the land,” &c., we must seek and labour for its attainment (Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 4:10).—Jabez Burns, D.D.: Pulpit Cyclopædia, vol. ii. pp. 154–157).


Isaiah 33:17. Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty.

There is a difference between the worthiness and the beauty of a character. A poetic beauty adorns the worth of Christ’s character.

I. Sensibility. This is a word to be preferred to sensitiveness, for it includes sensitiveness; it has the passive quality of sensitiveness with activity of soul in addition exercised upon the impressions received. The more perfect the manhood, the more perfect is this sensibility. The total absence of it is the essence of vulgarity. The presence of it in its several degrees endows its possessor, according to the proportion of it, with what Chaucer meant by “gentilness.”

(1.) It does not seem wrong to say that there was in Christ the sensibility to natural beauty. He also, like us, wished and sought that Nature should send “its own deep quiet to restore His heart.” We find His common teaching employed about the vineyard and the wandering sheep, the whitening corn and the living well, the summer rain and the wintry flood and storm.

(2.) Still higher in Him was an intense sensibility to human feeling. He saw Nathaniel coming to Him, and in a moment frankly granted the meed of praise (John 1:47); when the malefactor on the cross appealed to Him, Christ saw at once that the fountain of a noble life had begun to flow (Luke 23:43). It was the same with bodies of men as with men; He wove into one instrument of work the various characters of the Apostles; day by day He held together vast multitudes by feeling their hearts within His own; He shamed and confuted His enemies by an instinct of their objections and their whispers; men, women, and children ran to Him, as a child to its mother.

How did the sensibility of Christ become active?

1. As sympathy with Nature. There are many who never employ either intellect or imagination on the impressions which they receive. Remaining passive, they only permit the tide of the world’s beauty to flow in and out of their mind; they do nothing with it. In Wordsworth, each feeling took form as a poem. As Christ walked silently along, He lifted up His eyes and saw the fields whitening already to harvest; and immediately He seized on the impression and expressed it in words. It marks a beautiful character to be so rapidly and delicately impressed; but the beauty becomes vital beauty when, through sympathy with and love of what is felt, one becomes himself creative of new thought. Sometimes such sympathy is shown through the imagination, as when Christ, seeing the cornfield by the shore of the lake while He was teaching, looked on the whole career of the field, and combined impressions taken up by the imagination into the Parable of the Sower. Sensibility becoming sympathy is discriminating. Praise without distinctiveness is wearisome. We find perfect discrimination in the illustrations Christ drew from Nature. How exquisite the passage beginning, “Consider the lilies!” This distinctiveness appears still more in the choice of places for certain moods of mind,—the temptation in the wilderness, the hill-side for prayer. In all this, Christ recognises natural religion as His own, and bids us believe in its beauty, and add it to the spiritual.

2. As sympathy with human feeling. Examples of this are numerous. His tenderness stayed Him on the wayside to satisfy the mother’s heart and to bless the children; touched by the widow’s weeping, He gave her back her son. “Jesus wept” even at the moment when He was about to give back the lost, because those He loved were weeping. How discriminating the sympathy which gave to Martha and Mary their several meed of praise! How unspeakably beautiful the words, “Woman, behold thy son!” Friend, “behold thy mother!”

This, then, is loveliness of character.
Remember, we have no right to boast of our sensibility to the feelings of others; nay, it is hateful in us till we lift it into the beauty of sympathising action. Remember, too, its wise discrimination. Christ, while feeling with all the world, sanctified distinctiveness in friendship and love.

II. Simplicity. Milton tells us that poetry must be “simple.” The beautiful character must also possess this quality. But by simplicity is not meant here the simplicity of Christ’s teaching. What is meant is the quality in His character which corresponds to that which we call simplicity in poetry; and that which is simplicity in art is purity in a perfect character. The beauty of Christ’s purity was first in this, that those who saw it saw in it the glory of moral victory. His purity was not the beauty of innocence in a child; it was purity which had been subject to the storm, which had known evil and overcome it. And from this purity, so tried and victorious, arose two other elements of moral beauty—perfect justice and perfect mercy. Innocence cannot be just, nor is the untempted saint fit to judge; but Christ is able to be just and yet merciful, because He is entirely pure.

III. Passion, defined as the power of intense feeling capable of perfect expression. Milton tells us that poetry must be “passionate.” We may transfer it directly to character as an element of beauty. It was intense feeling of the weakness and sin of man, and intense joy in His Father’s power to redeem, that produced the story of the “Prodigal Son.” “Come unto Me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” How that goes home! How deep the passion which generalised that want into a single sentence! It is a beauty of character, whether seen in words or action, which passes into and assumes the diadem of sublimity. Christ’s words to the Pharisees have all the marks of indignation and none of the marks of anger. Passion and energy limited by temperance imply repose of character. Activity in repose, calm in the heart of passion, these things are of the essence of beauty. And in Him in whom we have found the King in His beauty, this peacefulness was profound. This is the final touch of beauty, which gathers into itself and harmonises all the others, and hence no words are so beautiful as those in which Christ bestows it as His dying legacy on men, “Peace I leave with you,” and repeats it as His resurrection gift, “Peace be unto you.” All moral and spiritual loveliness lies in knowing what He meant when He said, “Come unto Me … and I will give you rest.”—Rev. Stopford A. Brooke, M.A.: Christ in Modern Life (Three Sermons, pp. 89–131).

Verse 20


Isaiah 33:20. Look upon Zion, &c.

It is probable that when this prophecy was delivered the city of Jerusalem was threatened with an immediate siege; but Jehovah engages to defend it from the attacks of its enemies, the Assyrians, and to render it at once quiet and secure. But yet the text appears to have a direct reference to the privileges and stability of the Gospel Church, for Jerusalem, after this period, was never long preserved from hostile invasions; therefore our attention is turned from it to that glorious city against which the gates of hell shall never prevail. (See pp. 228, 229.)

I. The Church of Christ is “the city of our solemnities.” Jerusalem was thus described because of the solemn assemblies that were there held, the solemn feasts that were there celebrated, and the solemn sacrifices which were there offered. And it is in the Church that individual believers come together, and unite in the enjoyment of divine grace, and in the presentation of “sacrifices” with which “God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16) [1228]

[1228] As the earth’s loftiest peaks rise not in their snows on some isolated hill that stands like a lonely pyramid on a level plain, but where the mountains, as in the Alps, or Andes, or Himalayan range, are grouped and massed together, so the saint’s most heavenly happiness is not attained in solitude, nor even amid domestic scenes, but where religious life exists in its social character.—Guthrie.

II. The Church of Christ is “a quiet habitation” [1231] All genuine believers dwell in it, and peace is at once the bequest of Christ (John 14:27) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

[1231] See THE PEACEABLE HABITATION, chap. Isaiah 32:18, page 368.

III. The Church of Christ is “a tabernacle that shall not be taken down.” “A tabernacle” in contrast with the superior glories of the New Jerusalem in heaven. A tabernacle, because it may often change its place, as in fact it has already done. But it shall never be “taken down” in the sense of being destroyed (H. E. I. 1246–1251).
IV. Such a contemplation of Zion as our text calls for will awaken—

1. In angels complacency and delight;

2. In sinners astonishment at its wondrous preservation, in spite of all their efforts to destroy it, and desire to share in its privileges; and

3. In Christians wonder, love, and praise.—Thomas Spencer: Twenty-one Sermons, pp. 196–206.

Verse 21


Isaiah 33:21. But there the glorious Lord shall be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.

The prophet here speaks for the encouragement of God’s Church; and he appears to overstep the boundaries of time, and gives a glimpse of the blessedness and safety of the Church triumphant. In our interpretation let us take a large view, and refer, as the course of thought may require, both to the Church militant and the Church triumphant. And let it be deeply impressed on the mind that the promises of God can be realised only by those who belong to the true Israel.
I. THE ATTRACTIVE TITLE PROCLAIMED. “The glorious Lord.” God is glorious in His own perfections, and as the source of all the glory and beauty in this and every other world. Our knowledge of God is gathered from His manifestations in nature and revelation. How resplendent in glory is the Being thus revealed to us! Especially we may say, with immediate reference to our subject, He is glorious in the vastness of His resources. In the summer the streams of the Holy Land were either entirely dried up, and converted into hot lanes of glaring sands, or reduced to narrow streamlets. But no summer’s heat can dry up the broad streams of Divine love and mercy. God is glorious in the abundant nature of His supplies, and in His willingness to make ample provision for His Church.

II. THE BLESSED COMPARISON INSTITUTED. “The glorious Lord shall be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams.” That is, all that such rivers and streams are to a country, God would be to His people.

1. Broad rivers and streams give beauty to the land scape. All beauty is from God, and is a revelation of Him; but especially is it true that He is the source of all the moral beauty of His people.

2. Broad rivers give fertility and prosperity. In such a highly cultivated country as England, where great droughts are unknown, we have no opportunity of properly observing the fertilising influence of a broad river. But remember what the Nile is to Egypt. So does God enrich and fertilise the soul, causing it to bring forth “the fruits of righteousness.”

3. Broad rivers afford protection. Babylon had its Euphrates, which was a source of power. “Hundred-gated Thebes,” celebrated by Homer, also had its river. Almost all great modern cities are built on the banks of rivers. But Jerusalem had no great river running through it. In fact, it was badly supplied with water. Large cisterns were constructed in which to catch and preserve the rain that came down plentifully in its season. The prophet makes use of this fact for the encouragement of the Church. The glorious Lord will be unto it as broad rivers and streams. He is the sure defence of His people.

III. THE DISTINCTIVE MARK OF DIVINE BLESSINGS HERE SYMBOLISED. “Wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.” Earthly blessings have attendant evils; heavenly blessings alone are pure and perfect. Rivers may prove a source of weakness as well as of strength to a nation [1234] But along the broad rivers of Divine blessing no foe shall advance to assail God’s people. The presence of God at once confers blessings and averts evils.—W. Burrows, B.A.

[1234] Rivers are highly important as the outlets and inlets of commercial enterprise; but the merchant ship, though richly laden, may carry the seeds of physical and moral disease, and inflict untold injury. Rivers give security to the cities built on their banks, but they may also prove the means of destruction. Cyrus made use of the Euphrates when besieging Babylon, and thus captured the city. The strength of Babylon became its weakness. The same river that bears on its tidal waves the merchant ship laden with the precious products of distant lands may also bring the war-ship laden with the instruments of destruction and death. But the city of our solemnities is secure. No mischief can come to us along the broad river of Almighty grace.—Burrows.

[See also outlines, Rivers of Waters, Isaiah 30:25-26, and Rivers of Water in a Dry Place, Isaiah 32:2.]

Verse 22


[1237] See H. E. I., 374–399.

Isaiah 33:22. For the Lord is our Judge; the Lord is our Lawgiver, &c.

There are here two propositions, the one affirming that Jehovah sustains a certain relationship to us, the other declaring that in that relationship, and therefore in a manner perfectly consistent with it, He will save us. The same thing substantially is repeatedly asserted in the Scriptures. The very prophet in whose writings these words occur elsewhere speaks thus in God’s name: “There is no God else beside me, a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside” (Isaiah 45:21); “I bring near my righteousness, my salvation shall not tarry” (Isaiah 46:13); “My righteousness is near, my salvation is gone forth” (Isaiah 51:5). All this has been translated into New Testament language in that remarkable utterance of Paul’s, “Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).

Let us endeavour to unfold the harmony of salvation with the law, the justice, and the royalty of God.

I. Let us look at the relationship indicated by the three terms Judge, Lawgiver, and King. We say relationship, for although the words are three, the thing is substantially one, each term giving us only a modification of the same idea. The judge is the king on the bench, the lawgiver is the king writing the statute-book, and the king is the judge and lawgiver on the throne of government. The three things so run into each other that it is difficult to keep them distinct, each of the three terms brings before us one distinct phasis of the governmental relationship which God sustains towards us. The judge is set to see that the guilty shall not escape, and that the innocent shall not be punished; the lawgiver has to secure that the majesty of the law is upheld, and its authority recognised; and the king has to take care that the best interests of his subjects as a whole are not interfered with but advanced. Now it is here affirmed that Jehovah stands to us in this threefold relation, and that as a judge He saves us criminals, as a lawgiver He forgives us law-breakers, as a king He pardons us rebels.

We are not denying that God is willing and anxious to show Himself as a father, even to sinners. Our affirmation is, that now, when man has sinned, if God is to be to him precisely as he was before, if the liberty of God’s son is to be enjoyed by him, then some means must be taken to secure that in all this no dishonour shall be put upon the law of God, no blot be made upon His judicial character, and no peril result to His throne or to the interests of His holy subjects.

II. The means by which God the Judge, Lawgiver, and King saves man. If we take the Scriptures for our guide, the answer will not be difficult to discover, for we are there uniformly taught that God seeks to save us through a substitute. At first this principle was revealed through animal sacrifices, then through the more definite offerings of the Mosaic institute, and then through the still more definite teachings of the inspired prophets. The high priest laid his hand upon the head of his victim, confessed over it all his iniquities and all the sins of all the people, and it was to bear their iniquity. But in the remarkable oracle contained in Isaiah 53:0 the very same phraseology is used in reference to the expected Messiah; for we are there told that God “hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all,” that “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities,” and that “He shall bear our iniquities.” To this corresponds the language of the New Testament; for when John the Baptist pointed out the Messiah, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh (beareth) away the sins of the world;” and Jesus Himself declared that “the Son of man came to give His life a ransom for many,” and that “the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And in perfect harmony with all this are the utterances of the Apostles. It seems perfectly clear that the principle of substitution is the very thread round which all the other declarations of the Scripture crystallise. The Bible, from its beginning to its close, is “dipped in blood;” the atoning death of Christ is the foundation on which its whole system rests, and if that be rejected, the whole book must go with it as a dead and worthless thing.

III. Is this arrangement in harmony with the regal and judicial character of God? Gathering up the scattered statements of the Word of God into one systematic treatment of this subject, it seems clear that the following things need to be secured in order that substitution may harmonise with and subserve the ends of justice:—

1. That the substitute shall be himself free from all taint of sin, and be a voluntary victim. Christ was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners” as He was God-Man, and did not need to put Himself under the law except He had chosen to be the sinner’s friend. He is thus qualified to be our substitute. And there was no compulsion. “Lo, I come! I delight to do Thy will, O my God.”

2. That the sacrifice he offers be of such value as to preserve the majesty of the law, and cover the case of those for whom it was designed. The sacrifice offered must be something which the person making it can call his own property; and it must be something which is in itself adequate to the end contemplated. This is precisely what we have in the case of Christ. He could say His life was His own, for He was God as well as man. Again, it was such a sacrifice as met the case, for it was offered in the person of a Divine Man. As God-man, He infinitely transcends all other men, and therefore, when standing as a substitute, His personal dignity and worth give infinite value to His substitution.

3. That the persons set free thereby should be so changed in character that their after conduct shall not in any way interfere with or interrupt the happiness of God’s other holy children and subjects. This is secured in connection with Christ’s work; for when, by the eye of faith, the love of Jesus is seen as manifested on the cross, its power is such that it constrains the sinner to live to Him who loved him and gave Himself for him. The criminal who is pardoned through faith in the substitution of Christ is also reformed, and no detriment results from his deliverance to the other citizens of Jehovah’s empire.

4. That the substitute himself have such compensation given him, that in the end he shall not lose, but rather gain, through the sacrifice he has made. Even although a substitute should willingly offer himself, it would be injustice to allow him to suffer if no adequate return could be made for it. Christ received as the reward of His sufferings that which is by Himself admitted and declared to be a thoroughly satisfactory recompense for the sacrifice he made. As He sees of the travail of His soul, He is satisfied.

5. That the substitute be accepted by both parties. That He is accepted by God is evident from the resurrection of Christ from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and He becomes accepted by the sinner when he believes in Jesus. Christ is not my substitute until I accept Him as such.

Two remarks in conclusion:—

1. It follows that Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour. His work is such that any sinner choosing to avail himself of it may be saved through it.
2. It also follows that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour; for if all these requirements needed to be satisfied, who is there that can meet them but Himself?—W. M. Taylor, D.D.: Life Truths, pp. 1–20.

Verse 23

(A Sermon to Seamen.)

Isaiah 33:23. Thy tacklings are loosed, &c.

Seas, rivers, and ships have for ages afforded the world the mainstay of commerce. Not only so; the imagery of many of our best books would have been very much the poorer had not visions and dreams of the sea been present to the writers. Isaiah makes good use of these. In Isaiah 33:21 he says, “The glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams,” &c. Jerusalem was badly off, compared with Babylon and other cities, in that it had neither sea nor river, but only a small rivulet. Large and deep rivers near great towns have their advantages and disadvantages in time of war. The prophet here says that God would be to Jerusalem a place of broad rivers and streams, wherein no ship of war should be allowed to approach to injure His people. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in seas or war-ships (Isaiah 33:22).

Jerusalem, at this time, was in danger from a great power, and in the text that power, Assyria, is compared to a ship whose “tacklings are loosed,” &c. A sad plight surely for a ship to be in! But not only great powers like Assyria are, in reality, in a bad way, as abettors of wickedness, but individuals also, like the disabled vessel spoken of by the prophet; for,

1. A wicked man is like a ship whose tacklings are loosed. The tackle of a ship is of immense service in many ways; but a ship whose tackle has got loosed from her masts is not fit for a voyage. No seaman would dream of sailing in such a ship. Every rope must be in its right place and securely fixed. But how many men are out on the voyage of life, with the gear of mind and heart all loose! In fine weather, even, they make no real headway; in storms they are in peril of being cast away. They are at the mercy of every wind that blows; for,

2. A wicked man is like a ship whose masts will not stand upright. The tackle of a ship is of service in strengthening its masts. But men are out voyaging on the sea of life: they would fain stand upright, but they cannot; for their thoughts and feelings are not made use of to sustain them in an upright life; they sway under the blast; the crash of ruin is always impending.

3. A wicked man is like a ship without sails. On a mast, unstrengthened by good tackle, it is worse than useless to attempt to spread a sail. But without sails to catch the heaven-sent breezes, how shall the distant haven be reached? Even men of some moral ballast are at best like poor toilers at the oars. The port is a long way off, and they need sails—wings filled with spiritual energies—to carry them onward over miles of sea day by day.

4. A wicked man is like a dismantled ship which plunderers attack. “Then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame take the prey.” How poor sailors are plundered by the weakest of mankind and womankind!

CONCLUSION.—Sin, iniquity, that is, in-equity, is at the root of the godless man’s loose thoughts and passions, tottering steps and wingless spirit. The ship wants a thorough overhauling; nay, it wants remaking (John 3:3).

We should be homeward-bound for the kingdom of God; but it is vain to dream of reaching port as an unseaworthy vessel.—J. Macrae Simcock.

Verse 24


Isaiah 33:24. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick.

In a besieged city, from watching, anxiety, and scarcity of food, there is usually considerable sickness. When an epidemic disease is prevalent, sickness becomes the general experience. There is in any large population always a considerable amount of sickness, more or less serious. Nor is it confined to the city. In the country it is much the same. At the best it is only somewhat less. Medical men are everywhere required. Sanitary arrangements, temperate habits, and medical skill may diminish the extent and alleviate the severity of sickness, but they cannot uproot it. When, therefore, we read of a city in which there shall be no sickness, our thoughts turn from earth to heaven. The text is a beautifully poetic representation of the termination of the conscious weakness that rested on Jerusalem while the Assyrian army lay before it. But there is a sense in which the words may be literally understood. We believe in “the holy city, the new Jerusalem.” Let us meditate on that new condition of our life.

I. Sickness is weakness. We give the name to all states of the body other than sound and perfect health. How numerous! Our condition here is one of constant liability to it. At every period of life we are exposed to it. It may be borne to us by the air we breathe; taken with the food we eat and the water we drink; received by contact with our fellows; lurk secretly in some part of our body unsuspected; develop itself from the slight cold, the result of carelessness, or in spite of the utmost thoughtfulness; it may attack the youth as well as the old man, those who boast the fulness of their strength as well as those who know themselves to be less firmly built. But it always supposes weakness. Under the name of weakness it holds its victim with a firm grasp. While he persuades himself that he has conquered, it secretly spreads through every vein, and eventually lays him prostrate. The strongest man becomes powerless when sickness holds him in its grasp. As he is too weak to throw off the weakness, he is too weak to perform the tasks which at other times he performs with perfect ease. The student, the mechanic, the merchant. Visit some sick-bed and your confidence of perpetual strength will depart. Sickness is humiliating because it is weakening. It is often attended with pain. Pain increases weakness. In the grasp of pain the sufferer may be held for days, with no power of resistance, no prospect of relief.

Have you not sometimes thought what a contrast it would be if you could be entirely free from sickness and from liability to it? We may indulge the thought. That will be the condition of the resurrection body in the celestial city. It will be fashioned like to the body of Christ’s glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). As Christ on the cross endured the last sickness and pain He was ever to know, so shall all His followers rise, as He did, to a life from which sickness and pain are for ever excluded. Are you one with Him? Then in pain, weariness, languor, sickness, let all impatience be subdued as you remember that it is only a little longer. “Neither shall there be any more pain.”

II. Sickness is sorrow. Sorrow because of lost time and business, fear that the end of life is near, the leaving behind not only all pleasant earthly things and persons, but especially those dependent on the patient’s life, to whom his loss may be ruin. Not to the patient only is it a time of sorrow. Enter the house. All is gloom. Rooms darkened. The family tread softly and speak under their breath, as if every sound would not only disturb the sufferer, but be out of harmony with their own feelings. It is the little one that has come home sick from school (2 Kings 4:19). His mother takes him on her knee. Soon she perceives the signs of one of the sicknesses that are the terror of childhood. Medical aid is procured. The sickness deepens. Every one watches with aching heart, for the child is a universal favourite. And if he is taken, oh, what distress! Or it is the young man who has grown to maturity. He is active in business. His father, under the burden of advancing years, is gradually devolving responsibility on him, that he may himself enjoy a few years’ rest after a life of hard and anxious work. But sickness comes. It passes by those you would expect it to strike. It singles out the young and strong. Gradually that fine young man wastes away. Day and night the mother, whose advancing years and infirmities demand the attention, watches over him with a breaking heart. All is done that strong affection can inspire. It is vain. Oh! what sorrow through these months! And when the end comes, what tongue can describe the agony?

We wonder if it will ever cease to be true that “man was made to mourn.” Thank God we can entertain the prospect of the complete cessation of sorrow. “Neither sorrow.” “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” For “the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick.”

III. Sickness is the prelude to death. It usually precedes. Any sickness may end in it. Death changes everything: the body different; the soul different. But there shall be no more death. There will be the perpetuated life of paradise regained; for there will be the tree of life; there will be the resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

IV. Sickness, sorrow, and death are the fruit of sin. Does not Scripture thus trace them? There was no sickness before sin. Sin was the seed. The heavenly city is free from sin. There is perfect holiness. It is the completion of the redeeming work of Christ from sin, sorrow, death. The seed which bears sickness is taken out of the soil.

Shall we dwell in that city of immortal health? Are we travelling towards it? If not, we cannot reach it. Jesus is the way. Come to Him (Revelation 21:27). It is a prepared place for a prepared people.—J. Rawlinson.

(Sermon to the Young.)

Isaiah 33:24. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick.

Our sun-dial is not that of Hezekiah: its shadow has no backward movement; the last enemy must soon challenge the traveller to pay the tax imposed on his pilgrimage. When all the pains and illnesses of the flesh are over, there remaineth a place purchased, prepared, and furnished for the children of God, and in which “the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick.” Where is this healthy spot? Not in any place in this country; not in the world of which our land is so favoured a portion. To be able always to say, “I am not sick,” is one of the privileges of heaven alone.
Sickness is certainly not a pleasant thing—necessary, profitable, if you please, but not pleasant. It cannot be pleasant; for it is the punishment for sin. Angels are never sick, because they are of that world of which the inhabitant shall not say, “I am sick.” Sickness helps to crumble us into death; diseases are Death’s servants. Death sends them out in their different liveries as his couriers and forerunners; they apprise sinners that their Master is coming into their country, passing by that way, will perhaps “stand at their door and knock,” warning each to be ready to leave all and follow death, as Peter said he and his fellow-apostles had done for Christ (H. E. I. 1561).

1. Bodily pain often accompanies sickness. This is sometimes felt in so grievous and dreadful a degree that the sufferer wishes and prays for death to be relieved from his agonies. When David was tried in this way he said, “The pains of hell gat hold upon me”—a strong expression, meaning very excruciating pains. Who can tell but those who have felt them what sufferings belong to the burning fever, the tormenting headache, &c.? The curious machine is out of order; the wheels grind and grate against each other; “the harp with a thousand strings is out of tune and full of discords.” The very means taken for recovery often, for a time at least, increase pain and suffering. We admire the wisdom which God has given to man to discover the healing virtues concealed in Nature’s works. But most of these, excellent in their effects, are nauseous to the taste. It seems as if Providence had ordained this on purpose that everything should conspire in sickness to make it a suffering, uncomfortable time, in order the more deeply to impress on us the salutary lessons it is intended to teach us.
2. The interruption it causes to the active duties of life. Health is the one thing needful, not only to the enjoyment of life, but to the vigorous and successful discharge of its duties.
3. One might mention a third evil, viz., the trouble one gives in sickness to those around us, only you might be ready to cry out, “We cannot allow this to be either a trouble or an evil; what sister or affectionate brother would think this a trouble?” But often the sufferer feels it keenly.

Begin by thanking Jesus Christ that sickness is not a punishment and nothing else—not a certainty and foretaste of hell. His sacrifice has taken away its sting; it bears the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby. It withdraws us from the world. We follow too hotly and incessantly the things of the world. Some years ago a satire was written upon us called “The World Without Souls,” and the author, without exaggerating, nearly proved that most of us live as if we thought this was really to be the case.

CONCLUSION.—So improve the sickness of earth as to make it the path to the health of heaven. In health often look back to the time of sickness: consider what were then your feelings, your fears, your good resolutions. Have you kept your word? Have you done your part? Is the Great Physician paid? He seeks not gold, but the coin of gratitude, love, and obedience. Every sickness should urge us to secure the country without pain; to win the new heavens and the new earth in which Christ’s redeemed people shall be crowned with unfading youth and unbroken health.—George Clark, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 59–68.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.