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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 33

A.M. 3279. B.C. 725.

In this chapter, which is a triumphant ode upon the destruction of Sennacherib’s army before Jerusalem, the prophet sets forth the several scenes of that transaction with all the beauties of a poetical description.

(1,) He addresses himself to Sennacherib, briefly, but strongly and elegantly, expressing the injustice of his designs, and the sudden disappointment of them, Isaiah 33:1 .

(2,) He introduces the Jews, with himself, offering up earnest supplications to God in their present distressful condition, Isaiah 33:2 .

(3,) Foretels, as an answer to their prayers, the discomfiture and dispersion of the Assyrians, and that they should become an easy prey to those whom they intended to subdue, Isaiah 33:3 , Isaiah 33:4 .

(4,) Introduces a chorus of Jews, acknowledging the mercy and power of God, who had undertaken to protect them, and extolling the wisdom and piety of their King Hezekiah, who had placed his confidence in God, Isaiah 33:5 , Isaiah 33:6 .

(5,) He describes the distress and despair of the Jews upon Sennacherib’s marching against Jerusalem, and sending his summons to them to surrender, Isaiah 33:7-9 .

(6,) God is introduced, declaring that he will interpose in this critical situation of affairs, and disappoint the vain hopes of the enemies of his people, by utterly consuming them, Isaiah 33:10-13 .

(7,) We have a description of the dreadful apprehensions of the wicked in those times of distress and danger, finely contrasted with the confidence and security of the righteous, Isaiah 33:14-22 . The ode concludes with a description of the security of the Jews, under the protection of God, and of the wretched state of Sennacherib and his army, wholly discomfited, and exposed to be plundered, even by the weakest of the Jews, Isaiah 33:23 , Isaiah 33:24 . “Could a translation,” says Lowth, “be made of this chapter, that should come up to the original, it would appear to be as noble a piece of poetry as is to be found in the most admired writings of the ancients.”

Verse 1

Isaiah 33:1. Wo to thee that spoilest To Sennacherib, who wasted the land of Judah. The prophet speaks “as if he had found this great spoiler,” to whom he addresses himself, “in the very act of spoiling, and was face to face denouncing the divine judgment upon him.” And thou wast not spoiled Hadst not received the like injuries. “It is the practice of the great oppressors of the world to make war upon their neighbours without any just provocation, or having received any real injury from them; and it is against such practices that this wo is denounced.” Lowth. And dealest treacherously So Sennacherib dealt with Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18:14; 2 Kings 18:17. And, or when, they dealt not treacherously with thee Hezekiah and the Jews did not. “We read, indeed, (2 Kings 18:7,) that Hezekiah rebelled against the king of Assyria; but the meaning is no more than that he would not stand to those dishonourable terms of slavery, to which his father Ahaz had submitted, when he professed himself the servant of the king of Assyria,” (2 Kings 16:7,) begging his assistance against the Syrians and Ephraimites, for which he paid him well; but the king of Assyria did not keep his agreement with him, for he distressed him, but strengthened him not, 2 Chronicles 28:20. When thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled When thou hast performed the work of chastising my people, to which I have sent thee, thou also shalt be spoiled by thine enemies. The further meaning of this prediction may be, that when the Assyrians, glutted, as it were, with their conquests, should cease to make any further conquests, and give themselves up to luxury and pleasure, then other nations, either mindful of the injuries which they had received from them, or out of rapacity, would attack them in their turn, and spoil them, as they had spoiled others: which came to pass accordingly. Their calamities seem to have begun from the times that Dejoces, king of the Medes, shook off their yoke, about seven hundred years before Christ: for other nations soon followed his example.

Verse 2

Isaiah 33:2. O Lord, be gracious unto us The prophet and the pious Jews, contemplating the calamity coming upon their country, here direct their prayer unto God for themselves and their people. Be thou their arm That is, their strength, namely, the strength of all that trust in thee, and wait for thee, Psalms 25:3; every morning Hebrew, לבקרים , in the mornings; that is, every day seasonably and speedily; on all occasions as they need. In mentioning the mornings, the prophet is thought to refer to the time of the morning sacrifice, which was the morning hour of prayer with the pious Jews; but he includes all other times of prayer, in all which he desires God to hear and answer his people, and to be their salvation all the day long, and especially to support them in the time of trouble.

Verses 3-4

Isaiah 33:3-4. At the noise of the tumult Which shall be made upon the angel’s destroying the army; the people fled Namely, those of the army who escaped that stroke. At the lifting up of thyself To execute judgment; the nations were scattered The people of divers nations which made up Sennacherib’s army. And your spoil That treasure which you have raked together by spoiling divers people; shall be gathered By the Jews at Jerusalem, when you shall be forced to flee away with all possible speed, leaving your spoils behind you; like the gathering of the caterpillar As caterpillars gather and devour all the fruits of the earth, which was a common plague in those countries; as the running to and fro of locusts, &c. As locusts, especially when they are armed by commission from God, come with great force, and run hither and thither devouring every thing before them; shall he run upon them Namely, Hezekiah, with his people, shall thus eagerly run to the spoil of the Assyrian camp, and shall take it.

Verses 5-6

Isaiah 33:5-6. The Lord is exalted By the destruction of so potent an army, and by the defence of his people. For he dwelleth on high He is, and will appear to be, superior to his enemies, both in place and power. He dwelleth in heaven, whence he can easily and irresistibly pour down judgments upon his enemies. He hath fulfilled Or, he will fill Zion

Or Jerusalem; with judgment and righteousness That is, either, 1st, With a glorious instance of his just judgment against the Assyrians; or, 2d, With the execution of justice by good Hezekiah, and the practice of righteousness among the people, as before the same city was filled with impiety and injustice under Ahaz. The city shall not only be delivered from that wicked enemy, but shall also be established and blessed with true religion and righteousness; which was a great addition to that mercy. And wisdom and knowledge To govern thyself and the people well. The words seem to be addressed to Hezekiah, either by the prophet, or, as Bishop Lowth thinks, by a chorus of the Jews. Shall be the stability of thy times Of thy reign; times being often put for the things done in those times, The sense is, thy throne shall be established upon the sure foundations of wisdom and justice; and strength of salvation Thy saving strength, or thy strong and mighty salvation. The fear of the Lord is his treasure Thy chief treasure and delight shall be in promoting the fear and worship of God, which shall be a great honour and safeguard to thyself and people.

Verses 7-9

Isaiah 33:7-9. Behold, &c. That the mercy here promised might be duly appreciated and magnified, he gives a lively representation of the great danger and distress in which it found them. Their valiant ones “Three MSS.,” says Bishop Lowth, “read אראלים , lions of God, or strong lions; so they called valiant men, heroes; which appellation the Arabians and Persians still use.” The Hebrew doctors, however, understand by the word, their heralds, or messengers, namely, those whom Hezekiah sent to treat with the Assyrian commissioners, 2 Kings 18:18. Shall cry without Through grief and fear: the ambassadors of peace Whom Hezekiah sent to beg peace of the Assyrian; shall weep bitterly Because they cannot obtain their desire. The wayfaring man ceaseth Because the Assyrian soldiers possessed and filled the land. He hath broken the covenant Sennacherib broke his faith given to Hezekiah, of departing for a sum of money, 2 Kings 18:14; 2 Kings 18:17. He hath despised the cities The defenced cities of Judah, which he contemned and easily took. He regardeth no man Either to spare, or to fear, or keep faith with him. He neither feareth God nor reverenceth man. The earth mourneth, &c. Being desolate and neglected. Lebanon is hewn down By the Assyrians. Or, as קמל rather signifies, and is here rendered by some withereth, or languisheth, because its trees are spoiled and destroyed by the Assyrians. Sharon is like a wilderness Although before it was a pleasant and fruitful place. Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits Are spoiled of them. These two places, eminent for fertility, and especially for good pastures, are here put for all such places.

Verses 10-13

Isaiah 33:10-13. Now will I rise In this extremity I will appear on the behalf of my people and land. Ye shall bring forth stubble Instead of solid corn. Your great hopes and designs, O ye Assyrians, shall be utterly disappointed. Your breath, as fire, shall devour you Your rage against my people shall bring ruin upon yourselves. Or, the arrogance, pride, wrath, and blasphemies which you vent against God shall be your destruction. Dr. Waterland renders the clause, “Your breath shall be the fire that shall consume you.” The people shall be as the burnings of lime Shall be perfectly consumed, as when chalk-stones are reduced to lime; calcining, or reducing to ashes, being one of the last effects of fire. Thus we learn from this period, that when the calamity of the people, as well as the insolence of their enemies, should be come to the height, God would delay no longer, but immediately interpose and severely punish the oppressors, and thereby exalt his glory before the eyes of the nations, whom he calls upon, in the next words, to consider his doings. Hear, ye afar off, &c. So remarkable a judgment as this deserves to be known, and laid to heart, by all men, both far and near.

Verse 14

Isaiah 33:14 . The sinners in Zion are afraid This is spoken, not of the Assyrians, but of the Jews. The prophet, having foretold the deliverance of God’s people, and the destruction of their enemies, for the greater illustration of that wonderful work, may be here considered as returning to the description of the dismal condition in which the Jews, especially such of them as were unbelieving and ungodly, should be before this deliverance came. For, although the pious Jews would be, in some measure, supported by a sense of God’s favour, and by his promises, delivered to them by Isaiah, yet very many of them, probably the generality, he foresaw, would be filled with horrors, and expectations of utter destruction. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? How shall we be able to abide the presence, and endure, or avoid, the wrath of that God, who is a consuming fire; who is now about to destroy us utterly by the Assyrians, and will afterward burn us with unquenchable fire? Or, the prophet may be considered as describing, in these words, the consternation with which the sinners in Zion would be struck, when they should see the Assyrian army destroyed; for the destruction of that is the fire spoken of immediately before, (Isaiah 33:11-12,) and they were conscious to themselves of having provoked this God, by their secret worshipping of other gods, as well as by many other sins. As if he had said, This miraculous destruction of the Assyrians shall strike even the most profane among the Jews, who used to scoff at God’s threatenings, with terror, lest he should proceed in wrath against themselves; so that they shall say, Who among us shall dwell with this devouring fire Before which so vast an army is as thorns? Who shall dwell with these everlasting burnings Which have made the Assyrians as the burnings of lime? How shall we be able to endure the wrath of this God, which, if it once seize upon us, will utterly consume us, and will also be a pledge and forerunner of eternal torments in hell, if not prevented by timely repentance? For, since it is sufficiently evident from both the Old and New Testaments, that the Jews, except the Sadducees, did generally believe in the rewards and punishments of a future life; it is not strange if their guilty consciences made them dread both present judgments here, and the terrible consequences of them hereafter.

Verses 15-16

Isaiah 33:15-16. He that walketh righteously He who, being first made righteous by the justification of his person, and the renovation of his nature, (see on Genesis 15:6, and Psalms 32:1-2,) afterward practises righteousness in all its branches: (1 John 3:7-8,) and particularly in all his dealings with men, of which the following clauses explain it; and speaketh uprightly Hebrew, מישׁרים , uprightnesses, who speaks what is true and right, and with an holiest intention. Who does not think one thing and speak another, but whose word is to him as sacred as his oath; that despiseth the gain of oppressions Who is so far from coveting gain unjustly gotten, that he despises it; thinks it a mean and sordid, as well as a wicked thing, to enrich himself by any injustice done to, or hardship put upon, his neighbour; that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes Or, from taking, or receiving them, as תמךְ is often rendered; who will not receive, much less will retain bribes; that stoppeth his ears, &c. Who will not assent, or even hearken, to any counsels or practices tending to shed innocent blood; or to any kind of cruelty toward any one; or to any suggestions inciting him to revenge; and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil That abhors the very sight of sin committed by others, and who himself watches against the occasions of it. Those that would preserve the purity of their souls, must keep a strict guard on the senses of their bodies; stop their ears to temptations, and turn away their eyes from beholding vanity. He shall dwell on high Out of the reach of danger; his place of defence the munitions of rocks The divine power will keep him safe, as though he were in a tower, strong and impregnable, fortified by nature as well as art. God, the Rock of ages, will be his place of defence. Bread shall be given him, &c. God will furnish him with all things needful. They that fear the Lord shall not want any thing that is good for them.

Verses 17-18

Isaiah 33:17-18. Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty Hezekiah, in a more prosperous condition than formerly. Having put off his sackcloth, and all the sadness of his countenance, he shall appear publicly in his beauty, in his royal robes, and with a pleasing aspect, to the great joy of all his loving subjects. Thine eyes shall see the King Messiah, (typified by Hezekiah,) triumphing over all his enemies, and ruling his own people with righteousness. Those that walk uprightly shall not only have bread given them, and their water sure, but they shall see, by faith, the King of kings, in his beauty, the beauty of holiness, and that beauty shall be upon them. They shall behold the land that is very far off The siege being raised, by which they were kept close within the walls of Jerusalem, they shall be at liberty to go abroad without danger of falling into the enemies’ hands, and they shall visit the utmost corners of the nation, and take a prospect of the adjacent country, which will be the more pleasant after so long a confinement. Bishop Lowth renders it, They (thine eyes) shall see thine own land far extended. We may apply the words to the heavenly Canaan, that land which is very far off, which believers behold by faith, and comfort themselves with the prospect of it in evil times. Thy heart shall meditate terror Bishop Lowth reads, Thy heart shall reflect on the past terror. Thou shalt call to mind, with delight and thankfulness, the former troubles and distresses in which thou wast involved. Where is the scribe, &c. Every one shall, with pleasure, reflect on the dangers they have escaped, and shall ask, in a triumphant manner, Where is the scribe, or muster-master, of the Assyrian army? Where is the receiver Their weigher, or treasurer? Where is he that counted the towers “That is,” says Bishop Lowth, “The commander of the enemy’s forces, who surveyed the fortifications of the city, and took an account of the height, strength, and situation of the walls and towers; that he might know where to make the assault with the greatest advantage.” Thus understood, the words are considered as containing Jerusalem’s triumph over the vanquished army of the Assyrians; and the rather, because the apostle alludes to them in his triumphs over the learning of this world; when it was baffled by the gospel of Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:20. The virgin, the daughter of Zion, despises all their military preparations. Poole, however, with some others, thinks these words are rather to be considered as the language of the Jews in the time of their distress, and that they are here recorded to give a lively representation of it; the officers here mentioned not seeming to be those of the Assyrian army, but rather those of the Jews, who, upon the approach of the Assyrians, began to be more active in making military preparations for the defence of the city, and to choose such officers as were necessary and useful for that end, such as these, here mentioned were; namely, the scribe, or, muster-master, who was to make and keep a list of the soldiers, and to call them together as occasion required; the receiver, who received and laid out the money for the charges of the war, and he that counted the towers, who surveyed all the parts of the city, and considered what towers or fortifications were to be made or repaired for the security of it. And unto these several officers the people resorted with great distraction and confusion, to acquaint them with all occurrences, or to transact business with them, as occasion required.

Verse 19

Isaiah 33:19. Thou shalt not see a fierce people As Moses said of the Egyptians, (Exodus 14:13,) The Egyptians, whom you have seen to- day, you shall see them again no more; so I say of the Assyrians, that fierce and warlike people, whom thou hast seen, with great terror, near the walls of Jerusalem, thou shalt see them again no more; a people of a deeper speech, &c. A foreign nation whose language is unknown to thee. Of a stammering tongue, &c. Of which see on Isaiah 28:11.

Verses 20-22

Isaiah 33:20-22. Look upon Zion Contemplate Zion’s beauty and safety, and her glorious and peculiar privileges; the city of our solemnities This was the chief part of Zion’s glory and happiness, that God was solemnly worshipped, and the solemn assemblies and feasts kept in her. Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, &c. What is here predicted was but very obscurely and imperfectly fulfilled in the literal Zion; but was, and will be, clearly and fully accomplished in the mystical Zion, the church of God, in the times of the gospel, against which we are assured the gates of hell shall not prevail, Matthew 16:18. There In and about Zion, the glorious Lord will be a place of broad rivers Though we have nothing but a small and contemptible brook to defend and refresh us, yet God will be as sure a defence, and source of consolation to us, as if we were surrounded with great rivers. Wherein shall go no galley No ships of the enemies shall be able to come into this river to annoy us. For the Lord is our judge To judge for us, to plead our cause against our enemies, as the ancient judges of Israel did. The Lord is our lawgiver, &c. Our chief governor, to whom it belongs to give laws, and to defend his people.

Verses 23-24

Isaiah 33:23-24. Thy tacklings are loosed This apostrophe of the prophet is directed to the hostile nation. Having designed their army under the notion of a gallant ship, (Isaiah 33:21,) he here represents their undone condition by the metaphor of a ship, tossed in a tempestuous sea, having her cables broke, and all her tacklings loose, so that she could have no benefit of her masts and sails; and therefore is quickly swallowed up. They could not strengthen their mast Namely, the Assyrians could not, of whom he still speaks, as in the first clause he spake to them. The lame take the prey They who came to spoil and prey upon my people, shall become a prey to them, and shall be forced to flee away so suddenly that they shall leave so many spoils behind them, that, when strong and active men have carried away all that they desired, there shall be enough left for the lame, who come last to the spoil. Thus God would bring good out of evil; and not only deliver Jerusalem, but enrich it, and abundantly recompense the losses it had sustained. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick As the lame shall take the prey, so shall the sick, notwithstanding their weakness, make a shift to get to the abandoned camp, and seize something for themselves. In this sense the clause is understood by Bishop Lowth, and many other interpreters. Or, the sense may be, There shall be such a universal transport of joy upon this occasion, that even the sick shall, for the present, forget their sickness, and the sorrows of it, and join with the public in its rejoicings; the deliverance of their city shall be their cure: or, they shall have no cause to complain of any sickness or calamity; they shall be fully delivered from all their enemies and troubles; and shall enjoy perfect tranquillity and prosperity. The people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity This may be added, either, 1st, As the reason of the foregoing privilege; their sins, the main causes of their distresses, shall be pardoned; and therefore their sufferings, the effects of sin, shall cease: or, 2d, As an additional favour. They shall not only receive from me a glorious temporal deliverance, but, which is infinitely better, the pardon of all their sins, and all those spiritual and everlasting blessings which attend upon that mercy. Observe here, reader, sin is the sickness of the soul: when God pardons sin, he heals the disease; and when the diseases of sin are healed by pardoning mercy, the sting of bodily sickness is taken out, and the cause of it removed: so that either the inhabitant shall not be sick, or, at least, shall not say, I am sick If iniquity be taken away, we have little reason to complain of outward affliction: Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". Benson's Commentary. 1857.