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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 33


God's judgments against the enemies of the church. The privileges of the godly.

Before Christ 713.

THE third and last part of the third section of this discourse, is comprised in the present chapter; which is immediately connected with that preceding, and in some respect explanatory of it. The former part contains a proposition or luminary enarration, wherein we have, first, a prophetic denunciation directed to a great destroyer, in which the divine judgment is intimated to him as if present, by the prophet; Isaiah 33:1. Secondly, an apostrophe, first, to GOD, both supplicatory, wherein his aid is implored with respect to the whole church, and to some particular persons who had undertaken an expedition for the safety of the rest; Isa 33:2 and also declaratoy of the glorious event granted by God to these prayers: Isaiah 33:3. Secondly, to the conquered enemies, containing the desired consequence of the victory to the church, Isaiah 33:4. Thirdly, doxological again to GOD, celebrating the benefits conferred upon the church, Isa 33:5 and fourthly, monitory to the brethren, concerning the means of preserving the divine favour now obtained: Isaiah 33:6. The latter part, or the exposition, contains, first, an enarration of a great calamity to be brought upon the people of God by a spoiler; Isaiah 33:7-9. Secondly, the benefit of deliverance, and of the punishment of the enemy, to be conferred upon the church; Isaiah 33:10-12. Thirdly, the celebration of this benefit, with a defence of the justice of God, Isaiah 33:13-16. Fourthly, remarkable blessings to be conferred by God upon the delivered church; among which are, the glorious presence of a king and ruler in that church, Isaiah 33:17-18.; freedom from enemies, Isaiah 33:19.; the duration of that state, to be absorbed by the new oeconomy, Isaiah 33:20.; the immediate kingdom of God over the church, Isaiah 33:21-22.; the weak state of the enemy, compared with the firmness and felicity of the state of the people of God, Isaiah 33:23-24. This part also, like the former, consists of continued apostrophes, directed to those objects whose attributes are described; and the apostrophes in each part very well suit to a chorus or company of the elders of the church, whom our prophet may be supposed to represent. It is generally thought, that the spoiler here intended is Sennacherib; though Vitringa is of opinion, that Antiochus Epiphanes is rather referred to. It is possible the prophesy may have a two-fold reference to each; and in its mystical sense both to antichrist and Satan.

Verse 1

Isaiah 33:1. Woe to thee that spoilest, &c.— The prophet so orders his discourse, as if he had found this great spoiler to whom it is directed, in the very act of spoiling, and face to face denounces the divine judgment upon him. He addresses him therefore with the hateful appellation of perfidious spoiler and robber, and declares to him the decrees of the divine avenging justice, to be inflicted upon him according to the strict laws of retaliation. History abounds with the names of the mighty spoilers, robbers, and murderers of mankind, great heroes and warriors. One of these was Sennacherib, (see chap. Isaiah 37:18.) to whom this denunciation may with great propriety be applied; but with still greater to Antiochus Epiphanes, the most inveterate enemy of the people of God, who brought a much more extensive and fearful desolation upon them than Sennacherib; and the consequences related in the latter part of this chapter seem to refer most properly to the times succeeding his devastation. See Ezekiel 38:0. Daniel 8:13; Dan 8:24 and Vitringa.

Verses 2-3

Isaiah 33:2-3. O Lord, be gracious unto us In this apostrophe to God, the first part contains the supplication; the other, the salvation obtained in consequence thereof. In the supplication there is that difference of persons which shews that they prayed both for the present and absent: for the present and the whole community in these words, Be gracious unto us; for the absent, Be thou their arm every morning. They who pour forth this supplication suppose part of their community to be absent; that is to say, according to our hypothesis, the zealous, who under the command of the Maccabees went forth to fight in defence of their state and religion, while the weaker part of the true worshippers of God remained in desarts, and caves, and other hiding-places. The meaning of the next verse is, that upon the display of God's interposing power, and wonderful succour granted to his people, their enemy fled, and they obtained the victory. There is a remarkable passage in Zec 9:13-14 respecting the Maccabees, which well explains this; and very agreeable to it are the words of Judas, The victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven: see 1Ma 3:19; 1Ma 4:32. 1Sa 7:10 and Vitringa.

Verse 4

Isaiah 33:4. And your spoil shall be gathered In this apostrophe to the enemy, we have the consequence of their overthrow; which should be the collection of their spoils, without order or distinction; just as locusts, without order or fear, run over the fields and plunder them, every one of them claiming to itself what it first seizes. There are some who understand the first clause thus, Your spoil shall be gathered, as the caterpillar is gathered; that is to say, as the husbandmen collect them from their plants, &c. to destroy them; but others, and with more propriety, understand them as expressive of the depredations of the caterpillars themselves. Concerning the depredations of locusts we have had occasion to speak heretofore. See Isa 33:23 and 1Ma 4:23.

Verse 5

Isaiah 33:5. The Lord, &c.— JEHOVAH is exalted; yea, he dwelleth on high. Lowth. See Psalms 99:0.

Verse 6

Isaiah 33:6. And wisdom and knowledge, &c.— And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, the possession of continued salvation: the fear of JEHOVAH, this shall be thy treasure. Lowth. Vitringa supposes this apostrophe to be directed to the prince or head of the nation, wherein the prophet teaches him, and consequently the people, in what manner that prosperity and felicity are to be preserved which the Lord had conferred upon them. He shews, that the only way to preserve the state in prosperity is by wisdom, and knowledge, and the fear of the Lord; these are the support of a state, the stability of prosperous times, the strength and riches of perfect salvation, and the hidden good, the treasure to be preferred to all others; which when found in a state, that state is rich and stable. See Proverbs 8:18. Though this is to be understood of the times of the Maccabees, yet the blessings of those times are to be considered as having their full completion only in the spiritual blessings of the day of grace. Nothing is more true, than that this is commended as the chief prerogative in the kingdom of grace, where nothing is of equal estimation with wisdom, knowledge, the faith and fear of God: on these depend all other blessings; these are the only true treasures enriching mankind. See Vitringa.

Verses 7-9

Isaiah 33:7-9. Behold, their valiant ones Behold their valiant ones, they cry without: the ambassadors of peace, they weep bitterly. Isaiah 33:8. The highways lie desolate; the traveller ceaseth: he hath broken, &c. Isaiah 33:9. Lebanon is ashamed, withers away: Sharon is become like a wilderness, &c. The prophet, seeing as it were immediately before his eyes, that spoiling and devastation of the land of the people of God mentioned Isa 33:1 seeing it with all its consequences, such as the desolation of the public ways, the infrequency of travellers, the uncultivated state of the withering and mourning fields, the deplorable sterility of the most fruitful places, such as Bashan, Carmel, Sharon, together with a remarkable circumstance of this devastation, namely, the public lamentation of the heroes without Jerusalem, and the bitter lamentation of the messengers of peace; that is to say, of the leaders and priests in the times of the Maccabees; seeing all this in vision, he paints it to the life, and gives in these verses the most lively description of it. Nothing can more exactly agree to the universal desolation in the land of Canaan by Antiochus, than this description. See 1 Maccabees 1 :

Verses 10-12

Isaiah 33:10-12. Now will I rise, saith the Lord We are taught in this period, that when the calamity of the people, as well as the insolence of their enemies, should be full, God would interpose, and severely punish the oppressors; for that this was the true and proper time wherein he had determined to exalt his glory before the eyes of the nations. When this time should come, he would no longer delay, or endure the pride and arrogance of his enemies; on the contrary, all their counsels should vanish into smoke, and they themselves should shortly be consumed by the divine judgment. The last clause in the 11th verse may be rendered, Your breath shall be the fire that shall consume you: the meaning of it is, that the arrogance, pride, rage, and blasphemies which they vented against God, should be their destruction. The people shall be as the burnings of lime, Isa 33:12 means, that they should be reduced to nothing, or burned by the wrath of God, like stone burned in a lime-kiln. The metaphor is expressive of that severe indignation of God which should utterly destroy them, as the fire of a burning furnace reduces a stone, and entirely changes its form.

Verses 13-16

Isaiah 33:13-16. Hear, ye that are far off This period is immediately connected with that preceding; wherein the divine judgment just mentioned is celebrated, and its severity defended against those hypocrites who misinterpreted it. The prophet, using still the same figure, adapts words to God agreeable to the present circumstance. He supposes that God had now executed that judgment upon his enemies, which in the words preceding he had said that he would execute. Here, therefore, as the order required, he introduces God; first, as inviting the people near and afar off, Jews and Gentiles, wisely to consider this display of the divine judgment, that they might either be brought to a belief in the truth of God, or might be confirmed in that truth, and learn in future wholly to confide in it, Isaiah 33:13. And secondly, as defending this judgment against the murmurs and whispers of hypocrites who maliciously traduced it: Isaiah 33:14, &c. For they said, that these remarkable judgments afforded not an argument for men to desire communion with this God; but on the contrary deterred from such communion: for who could seek and love a God whose severity was so great, whose punishments so rigid? Who would not rather fly from and abhor him? for he was a devouring fire, whom it was not wise to approach, if we wished to avoid destruction. The prophet, in the name of God himself, to give the greater weight to his words, refutes these calumnies. He teaches, that God is not terrible but to the wicked, to men of corrupt minds and consciences; that he is thoroughly amiable to the just and good; for that he loves from his own nature truth and holiness and virtue, and will reward them most amply. Such men may pass unhurt in the nearest communion with God; they may be cherished, purified, inflamed by God, as a fire, to the love of his perfection, and be, as it were, changed into the substance of the like purity, and yet not consumed; nay, God is to them that seek him a rock of defence; he is their security and protection, as well as the gracious supplier of all necessaries, to their present being and comfort, and their future happiness. This is the sum of the present passage; which however, in a mystical sense, may undoubtedly refer to the terrors of that future and devouring fire prepared for the sinners and hypocrites in Sion; as may the 15th and 16th verses to the future blessedness of those who obey the commandments of their God.

Verses 17-18

Isaiah 33:17-18. Thine eyes shall see the king, &c.— By the king to be seen in his beauty, Vitringa understands God himself, the king of the Jews, shewing himself with the brightest demonstrations of his majesty, in the deliverance and salvation of his believing people; temporal, under the Maccabees; spiritual, in and by the Messiah. For the ancient prophets generally speak of these two conjointly; because the external deliverance and salvation by the Maccabees was a type of the spiritual deliverance to be procured by the Messiah. The meaning of the verse is, that the people, thus delivered, should see and acknowledge their God and king, as the great judge and avenger, the sole support and protector of their church; and should behold their land extended; that is to say, no longer shut up and confined by their enemies, but extending its limits. See chap. Isaiah 26:15. The clause should be rendered, They shall behold the land which is of a large extent. He adds in the next verse, Thine heart shall meditate terror, or, the terror; that is to say, the terrible effect of the divine power and justice in the destruction of his enemies, which no mortal could have thought of, or have collected from his own reason? Where is the scribe? that is to say, "The man of carnal and worldly wisdom?" Where is the weigher, the balancer? that is to say, "The man of exercised understanding;" who is accustomed to weigh, in the balance of his judgment, the reasons of every thing, and is held more prudent than others? Where is he that counteth the towers? that is to say, "The subtle logician, who produces various arguments for the opinion which he espouses, and by these fortifies and strengthens his reasonings?" Our prophet calls arguments of this kind, strengths, strong arguments, chap. Isaiah 41:21. This worldly wisdom, says the prophet, God hath confounded and put to shame, by saving his church, contrary to the expectation of all such men.

They thought that there was no hope of salvation left; or if there were any, that it was to be sought for from other causes, and effected by other means. But God hath confounded and put to shame the wisdom of the wise. The three benefits referred to in these verses,—seeing God in his beauty—the land and church extended—and carnal wisdom put to shame, evidently refer to the Gospel period. See Luk 1:51-52. 1Co 1:20 and Vitringa.

Verse 19

Isaiah 33:19. Thou shalt not see a fierce people While the people of God should see the king in his beauty, while they should see their land widely extending itself, they should no more see a barbarous enemy, or one of a stammering tongue and foreign speech, which they could not understand. They should be freed from a cruel and troublesome enemy, whose aspect and commerce had been a terror to them. Compare Dan 8:23 where Antiochus Epiphanes is called a king of fierce countenance; and see Jeremiah 5:15. This, likewise, though primarily referring to the times of the Maccabees, has, mystically, its full completion only in the oeconomy of the Gospel.

Verse 20

Isaiah 33:20. Look upon Zion The prophet here, representing the chorus of teachers comforting the people of God, commands this people to turn their attention to Jerusalem, after its restoration flourishing greatly; and promises to them the durable stability of that state, under the metaphor of a tent sustaining itself by stakes and cords against winds and storms, and affording a safe and secure shelter to those within it. In this passage he is generally thought to refer to the spiritual Jerusalem; that is to say, to the church of the New Testament, which should be the last dispensation of grace. At least, if the state of Jerusalem under the Maccabees be referred to in the letter, there can be no doubt of its secondary and typical reference to the church of Jesus Christ, founded on the day of Pentecost.

Verses 21-22

Isaiah 33:21-22. But there the glorious Lord, &c.— But the glorious name of JEHOVAH shall be unto us a place of confluent streams, of broad waters. Lowth. Our prophet always rises in his figures: the meaning of those in this second period is, that the church, at the time here specified, shall immediately depend upon God alone. He alone shall be acknowledged, worshipped, celebrated as the true King, Teacher, Judge, and Saviour of his church: he alone shall be esteemed excellent; and under his protection the people shall enjoy an abundance of all things, in the utmost security from any hostile incursions. To express which, the prophet compares the church to a city, built in a happy country, near rivers and streams, in which no great and mighty, that is, no warlike or commanding ship, except that of Jehovah's, should be seen: this seems to be the genuine meaning of the figure. See ch. Isa 30:25 Isaiah 51:3. 1Ma 14:8.

Verses 23-24

Isaiah 33:23-24. Thy tacklings are loosed Two things are to be supposed in the interpretation of these words; first, that this apostrophe is directed to the government of the hostile nation: secondly, when the state is described under the image of a ship, whose tacklings are loosed, we are to understand it in a bad sense. The metaphor in the 23rd verse is taken from a ship; and the meaning of it is, that the public means and supplies, which sustain the state of the nation, or the prince who represents that state, are wanting, broken to pieces, or become useless; the consequence whereof is, the desolation of that state; whose weakness is so great, that even the lame carry off the prey; a parabolic phrase like that in 2 Samuel 5:6. The prophet adds, And he that lieth down, shall not say, I am sick: because the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity. Which words, Vitringa thinks, are not to be connected with the 23rd verse, but with the whole prophesy; Isaiah herein declaring that the state of that city of God, that Zion whereof he is speaking, shall admit no languor or disease, no spiritual disease; because the Spirit of God at that time shall rejoice in the blessing of forgiveness of sins. See Psa 103:3 and Joel 3:10. This passage has its full completion in the New Testament.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The subject of this prophesy is variously interpreted; some refer it to the state of the Jews under Hezekiah, when Sennacherib distressed them and was destroyed; others to the desolations made by Antiochus, and to the victorious arms of the Maccabees over him; others to the church of Christ oppressed by the antichristian foe, and to the final ruin of antichrist; and all these may be comprehended herein, and the former deliverances of God's church prefigure those of the latter day. See the Critical Annotations. Here is,

1. The woe denounced on the spoiler and treacherous dealer: for a while his politics would succeed, and his power prevail, however cruelly or unjustly exercised; but God will return his evil upon his own head, and at the appointed time visit upon him his wickedness: and this was the case with Sennacherib and Antiochus, as it will be of the Romish antichrist, whose politics, craft, and deceivableness of unrighteousness, are well known; and by these, long did he make a prey of men's goods, bodies, and souls; but at last God will visit him according to his deserts. See Revelation 17:12-16. Note; (1.) To compass their ends, the wicked hesitate not at falsehood, fraud, or violence; but God knows how to repay them in their own coin. (2.) There are appointed bounds to set to men's wickedness; and when they have filled up the measure of their iniquities, God will awake to judgment.

2. The people of God in prayer fly to him in the day of their calamity. O Lord, be gracious unto us, interpose to save us from every enemy; we have waited for thee, not fainting in the time of adversity, but expecting thy salvation: be thou their arm every morning; which either is a request for Hezekiah and his princes, or for the Maccabees, that they might be strengthened for their work; or rather it is the intercession of the members of the church one for another, every morning offered, for grace to enable them for the work of every day; be thou our salvation also in the time of trouble, from all the persecutions and distress under which in body or soul we groan, being burdened. Note; (1.) When we have a gracious God to go to, there is comfort under every affliction. (2.) They who cleave to him will never be forsaken by him. (3.) Every morning our prayer must be renewed, for every day we may expect fresh trials, and need renewed supports, for we have no power as of ourselves to help ourselves. (4.) We must be advocates for each other, and especially remember in our prayers those who are afflicted. (5.) The stronger the storm of temptation blows, the faster should we cling to the rock of our salvation.

3. An answer of peace is given. Their enemies, the Assyrians, shall be terrified before the destroying angel; and while some flee, and more are slain, they have nothing to do but rush on the spoil without resistance, as when a flight of locusts devours the field. Or this may be applied still more properly to the Maccabees and their conquests. And thus shall it be in the last days, when the ruin of the antichristian armies is completed, the conquerors shall devour the spoil. See Revelation 17:16. Note; God not only answers our prayer, but often exceeds all our expectations.

4. The people of God celebrate the praises of their deliverer; they adore him for the manifestation of his glory, made in the destruction of the Assyrians, or of the enemies of Judah under the Maccabees, and for the blessed effects which his mercy produced among themselves, filling Zion with judgment and righteousness. From what they had experienced, they encourage Hezekiah and the Maccabees to proceed in their pious works of reformation, since wisdom and knowledge of God's will and worship, by their care diffused, would be the stability of their times, and the blest means of securing their present happy state, and the strength of salvation, their security against every invader: and the fear of the Lord, either in their own hearts, or in the hearts of the people, is his treasure; a better portion, and a surer protection against their enemies, than all other riches: such will also be the praises ascribed to their Redeemer, when the antichristian foe is fallen, and the kingdom of Christ eminently established; then wisdom and knowledge will be abundantly diffused, and those times be blessed with durable peace and joy, and the hearts of God's people enriched with the best treasure, even the fear and love of God. Note; (1.) Wherever the kingdom of Jesus is established in any heart, there justice towards men, and righteousness towards God, will immediately take place. (2.) A true knowledge of the grace of God is the great liability of the soul. (3.) The fear of God is the christian's best treasure.

2nd, When the eternal Jehovah speaks, let every mortal hear, and all the world acknowledge his power and glory; which appear especially,
1. In the terror and destruction of the wicked and the hypocrite. As the sinners and hypocrites in Zion have peculiar guilt, they may well tremble at their full measure of judgment: when they see Jerusalem ready to be besieged, and expect to have their houses fired, they are in distraction, have no hope in God, and Egypt hath failed them; or when they saw the Assyrians so terribly consumed, they trembled lest the devouring fire should also reach them. Note; (1.) Of all men they are most guilty, who amidst the light of Gospel-truth persist in the ways of sin and formality. (2.) The day will come when the most secure sinner will be startled. (3.) If men would seriously put the question to their souls, how they can dwell with devouring fire, and endure the everlasting burnings, it might awaken their consciences, and prevent their ruin. (4.) This terrible portion must they shortly and surely receive, who neglect to fly from the wrath to come to that Redeemer who alone can hide them in the day of judgment.

2. In the salvation of the righteous, whose character is here displayed—He that walketh righteously, making God's word his rule, conscientious in all his dealings, and persevering in the worship of the Lord; and speaketh uprightly, his word is sacred, his conversation gracious, and suited to minister edification to others: he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, who thinks it infamous to fatten upon the spoil of the injured, and mean as wicked to commit injustice; that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes; rejects them, when offered, with indignation; that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, cannot be brought to listen to any cruel or oppressive proposal; and shutteth his eyes from seeing evils, cannot bear to see others sin, and stops up that dangerous avenue at which temptation might enter: he shall dwell on high secure in the love of God from all those evils which terrify the wicked: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks, even Christ the rock of ages, the impregnable fortress of the faithful soul, against which the gates of hell, and the floods of temptation, rage in vain; bread shall be given him, and his waters shall be sure; when famine rages, he shall not want in the siege, or under any distress; or rather he shall eat the living bread, of which the world knoweth not, and be refreshed with the streams of divine love and consolation, when the sinner and hypocrite in flames cannot obtain one drop of water to quench their raging thirst.

3. Many great and distinguishing mercies are here promised, applicable not only to the Jews, but more generally to all the faithful.
(1.) They shall see the king in his beauty, the great Jehovah in his glory, and the land that is very far off—their land extended, and their limits enlarged. And how much greater joy will it afford to faithful souls, in that distant realm of eternal day, to see Jesus, their king, brighter than the sun, sitting on the throne of glory, and themselves as stars shining around him?

(2.) Their fears shall be at an end, and serve them but for matter of grateful meditation; the terrors that compassed them are fled; they hear no more the voice of commanders within, collecting the supplies, or numbering the people for the battle, or the captains and engineers without, threatening their ruin. They see no longer a fierce nation, whose speech they could not understand, and whose voice spread dismay. Thus when our souls shall reach the heavenly Zion, our past trials, however grievous, shall be remembered with delight; and all our foes, which bred in us so many fears, be for ever sunk in darkness, and incapable of ever more troubling our repose.

(3.) They shall look with transport on Zion, the city of their solemnities: during their great distresses these had been interrupted, and they might fear never would be restored; but lo, once more in peace, their habitation is quiet, and God promises long to preserve his tabernacle among them, and to disappoint the malice of those who should seek to destroy it. The earthly Zion, indeed, is long since demolished; but we look for a city which hath foundations, whose maker and builder is God, even the new Jerusalem, to which this prophesy hath especial regard; where God's saints night and day shall serve him, and go out no more for ever, having found their glorious rest, and dwelling safe from fear of evil. See Revelation 3:12.

(4.) They shall have the Lord, glorious in power and holiness, for their protector, law-giver, judge, and Saviour. Though Jerusalem had no navigable river to further commerce, or serve for a security against their enemies, God would be all that to her in his blessing; no galley, or gallant ship, could bring an invading army against her; and inaccessible would he preserve her from every foe: their judge to avenge his people's wrongs; their lawgiver to direct their conduct; their king to govern with gentleness, and protect them from danger; in short, their Saviour to the uttermost. Note; (1.) If God be ours, all things are ours. (2.) The Lord Christ is this judge, lawgiver, king, and Saviour, to his faithful people; and if, as his subjects, our souls are yielded up to his government, who can pluck us out of his hands?

(5.) Their enemies, like a ship in a storm, dismasted, and the rigging torn in pieces, a perfect wreck, and ready to be dashed in pieces against the rocks, should see all their hopes blasted, and themselves a prey; so helpless to defend themselves, that even the lame should divide their spoil.
(6.) Sickness shall be removed, and sin pardoned. The diseases of Jerusalem, arising from their various distresses, would be at an end; and the people, returning to God under a sense of divine mercy, obtain pardon and acceptance with him: and this will be emphatically fulfilled in the days of the church's prosperity; when, with the pardon and grace then abundantly dispensed, Christ will heal all the sickness of the souls of his faithful people; and at last, when mortality shall be swallowed up of life, sin, sorrow, sickness, pain, and death shall be for ever banished from the eternal state of bliss and glory.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 33". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.