Notes on Isaiah 33-35
This section of Isaiah is similar to
29:15-24 and stresses that God not only has a plan in mind, but that He acts on
it in history. This section often places
together what God did in Isaiah’s day and what He will do at the end of
history. Thus the downfall of
33:1 The destroyer is Assyria, a nation that
Now God’s people are no longer blind; they see clearly that God is the
exalted Lord. Both things come together: the defeat of the wicked and the
salvation the Lord gives. He is determined to fill
This chapter is so focused on Assyria’s immediate betrayal that the
immediate crisis. The brave men of
33:10-12 In man’s terrible plight, God loves to show His glory. Three times we read ‘now’. ‘Now’ is a word of time, the decay precedes the ‘now’ of God’s intervention. When the wrong counsel of their wise men is shown to be worthless – mere chaff and straw – there is a ‘now is the time’ for God in His exalted role. For God to be truly high, man must be brought low (2:9-11). In their supposed wisdom they left God out of their thinking (29:1; 30:1,2; 31:1).
They brought on themselves consuming fire. Isaiah is very clear that God does not save people by avoiding condemnation and the active wrath of God on our sin. The consuming fire is never an option for either sinners in their sins or those being saved from sin. The consuming fire is a necessity, a necessity for God to be God. The cross of Christ is not merely an illustration of self-giving love; it was Christ enduring from the Father all that our sins deserved. Then when the consuming fire has done its holy work, the benefits of God’s kindness to us may flow unimpeded.
can live in the Presence of the Lord?
Vv. 13-24 are a proclamation, “Hear!” This is followed by a second
proclamation, “Listen; pay attention” (34:1-17). The first says more of the salvation of
33:13 The Book of Isaiah opens with a call to heaven and earth to hear God’s complaint about His rebellious people (1:2-4). Here in v.13 all who are far and near must hear. (When Isaiah refers to extremities, such as “near & far”, it is a literary device to indicate all everywhere). The Lord has something to say! Beginning an announcement this way indicates its importance. The Lord Jesus sometimes used “truly, truly” to begin a very important statement (John 5:24). What is this very important message in vv.13-16? It is a word to sinners that God will not allow sin in His presence. Sinners should heed this; if they do not, they will be terrified.
I think the question, “Who of us can dwell in the consuming fire?” must
be answered, “None of us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God” (Romans 3:23). But the Bible teaches that there is forgiveness and that
God does produce righteousness in His people. He gives righteousness as a gift (Romans
5:17 to secure our status, and He also produces holy living in us. Here in vv.13-16
the text speaks of the holiness that must be in the life of everyone in God’s
presence. “Without holiness no one will
see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). The godless are “sinners in
They are unaware of God’s purity and hatred of sin, a holiness which responds to sin as a consuming fire. Those who live in sin are not His true people (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:5-7) and will be consumed, (Revelation 21:7,8). Isaiah 33 is meant to sober everyone, because we all have sins. It should make us take confession of sin and repentance very seriously. It should also make us keenly aware that it is Christ we need, and in the gospel, Christ that we have. He died for the sins of His people; He gives the Holy Spirit who produces righteousness in us. At His coming that transformation will be complete, so that in the New Jerusalem we will be without sin. Then God, the consuming fire, will walk with all His redeemed children without consuming them. In later verses, the Lord is the one who saves (v.22) and forgives (v.24), so it is clear that “he who walks righteously” is a sinner who has been forgiven. The Lord Jesus is the only man in heaven Who can be in the presence of God in His own righteousness.
Remember, if God should mark our sins and charge us for them, none of us could stand, (Psalm 130:3). Thank the Lord, with Him there is forgiveness (Psalm 130:4, Micah 7:18) and purification from all our sin (1 John 1:9). Salvation includes justification in which we are forgiven, and sanctification in which we are made holy. The two are never separated; if one is absent, so is the other, for God heals the waywardness of His justified people (Hosea 14:4).
One terrible error some make in reading a text like Isaiah 33:13-16 is that they see clearly that the justified are holy. From this they make a false conclusion, they think people are justified by being holy. This is the old error of telling people that a person becomes a Christian by being one. The Bible teaches that justified persons are saints and become saints, so they suppose that people are justified because they are saints. That confuses cause and result. We are justified only because of the obedience of Christ for us; this new status results in God declaring us righteous and giving us the Spirit Who makes us obey.
33:15,16 So we are warned in vv. 13-16 that how we walk and speak, how we treat others concerning money, whether we will pervert justice for a bribe, whether we will respect the life of our neighbor, and whether we plan evil – all these reveal whether we are true covenant people or sinners who live in Zion, who will be consumed in the holy fire of God. The man who shuns his sin will dwell safely on high with the Lord, enjoying the Lord’s care and provision forever. A text like this must be read in the light of Revelation 21,22.
preceding verse places the righteous man “on the heights” with the Lord; now the
dwelling of God is with men (Revelation 21:3).
Like Job, in our flesh we shall see God (Job 19:25-27). We know from
v.22 the king of v.17 is the Lord Himself. The spacious land not divided or
restricted (the way the
33:18,19 When that day comes, people will reflect on what it was once like. They will remember foreigners who occupied their land; now they are gone! No longer will the sounds of an alien language be among them, as in 28:11-13. They are free from oppressors.
The festivals represent their
religious life; the Lord will be worshipped.
33:21-23 These verses combine the Lord’s presence with the mention of ships. I think it is a picture of God’s might protecting them from a foreign warship. The land is safe (v.1); now Isaiah adds that no enemy will approach by sea and go upstream to attack. The enemy vessel lies dead in the water, destroyed, and its goods the possession of all God’s people. (Even the slow ones, the lame, go home with plunder.) The Lord is Mighty, the Judge who delivers and the Lawgiver who directs into His will. In that day, His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
33:24 Sin afflicts us physically and in our relationship with God. The future experience is that all will be well in body, and all sins are removed.
note on hermeneutics The prophets often spoke in expressions
familiar to their day. In 33:20 it used festivals for worship. The Bible is not teaching that those
festivals will be instituted again, but that worship will continue. Likewise,
33:21-23 spoke of sailing ships with oars, unlike our ocean ships today. The
Bible is not teaching a return to that kind of ship, nor even that in
34 does a similar thing. It repeatedly (vv. 5,6,9, & 11) uses
34:1-17 This second announcement is of judgment; all nations must pay attention. There is not one word of appeal and not one word of mercy in it. When final judgment finally comes, there will be no opportunity for repentance. If they call, God will not answer (Proverbs 1:28-33). The mercy of God is that he tells us all this in advance. So v.1 calls on the nations to listen. Why should they listen? Four reasons are given:
1) The Lord has indignation, 34:2-4 Strong words are used for the heat of wrath and anger. The wrath of God is always on those who do not believe (John 3:36). Often God in patience restrains His wrath, but this wrath will be released in acts of judgment, when sinners get what they deserve. When God’s wrath is released, there is a pile of bodies, those He will kill in His anger. This text includes the smells and sights. It is so drastic it is like the entire universe caving in with stars falling from their place (an example of apocalyptic language).
2) The Lord’s
sword is active 34:5,6 God’s
sword is not mounted on a wall unused. It is full as if it could drink blood,
and bathed as if covered with blood.
3) The Lord has a sacrifice 34:6,7 This is one of the saddest things in the Bible to read. So often the sacrifice of animals is given to teach the grace of God in providing a substitute who would be sacrificed for us. Christ is the sacrifice Who has suffered the wrath of God for His people (1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:26 and Hebrews 10). But that sacrifice may be rejected, as Hebrews 10:26 warns,
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”
In Isaiah 34 the Lord has a sacrifice different from all the sacrifices in His Temple. No longer is there a sacrifice in the place of sinners; this one is the sacrifice of sinners themselves.
4) The Lord has
a day of vengeance 34:8 This
great slaughter is a day of vengeance (v.8) and retribution. In Isaiah 34 there
is a memory of
part ends with the words “generation to generation”. The
It is desolate because no man will be part of
This chapter is one of the highlights of all of
Isaiah. It is the homecoming; their
pilgrimage is over. Sin is gone; all who make any claim of being the Lord’s are
holy. No more hypocrites. This is the Old Testament speaking of the New
Jerusalem, a place that is clean.
Neither sin nor sinners enter.
The new world is presented as one of lush vegetation in the environment,
and a life of joy, gladness, and song in the heart. Because this is the true promise
of God, we are to know it and believe it and thereby be encouraged. Isaiah has
not yet written of the atoning work of the Messiah to come. Here he shows the results of our Lord’s
atonement and uses two strong atonement words to speak of those who enter
Under the judgment of God, the dust of
35:3,4 Here is a call to be encouraged. We are responsible for our own encouragement by heeding the things God has said to promote it. This chapter just gave a picture of a renewed earth as an expression of God’s glory, plus the assurance that we shall see the glory of God and His majesty. This is a promise of more than what God allowed when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18). In the light of what God will do, we are called upon to strengthen feeble hands. (See Hebrews 12:12.) Discouragement is related to a refusal to keep in mind God’s promises. Encouragement is related to obeying the Lord who directs our minds into His ways and His purpose. Faith believes that what He says, He will do. Faith looks to the city Isaiah 35 reveals. Faith gives hope for the future, and sees in the distance what God has promised (Hebrews 11:10,13,14). Faith obeys the command to look to the Lord. V.4 says, “Behold your God” and pays attention to what He will do. (See 40:9.) God will set things right in relation to our adversaries, and in relation to His own, bring about a completed salvation. We cannot ask for more.
35:5,6 Then – we must be patient till the then comes – THEN will all our weaknesses be removed. Eyes and ears are receptive organs; legs and tongues are tools needed for activity. Incapacity will be gone, enabling greater enjoyment of the Lord, as in v.2. Joy (v.6) is already a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23), but God has not yet given the Spirit to all in the fullness of His power. (To this, Christ was the exception, John 3:31-35). God presently makes love, joy and other fruit of the Spirit increase; in the Day of the Lord it will be complete (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13) with no more sorrow, (v.10).
35:6,7 Why will this happen? The reason is that water will gush in the desert. Water is mentioned in four ways. The message is that new life – always from the Holy Spirit – is being generated in nature again. In vv.5,6 this new life affects people. The change is the opposite of desolation, the opposite of the judgment of God in Isaiah 34. In this new setting, there is a Highway. It will “be there”. It is the Way of Holiness, but who will travel this road? Before he tells, Isaiah says who will not be there: no unclean, no fools. (In Proverbs fools reject the word and wisdom of the Lord.)
God says we have sin; if we say we have no sin, we make God
a liar (1 John 1:8-10). If the unclean cannot enter, who then can be on this
There and then, there will be safety; no lion can attack. In this life,
danger is with us (1 Peter 5:8). In vv.9,10 the text is explicit on who will
make it safely all the way to