Isaiah Chapter 33

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

The sixth woe. Spoiler and crafty are not the same individual. The
kings of the four points of the compass. The weeping ambassadors.
The broken covenant. Jehovah takes the place of a broad river.


This brings us to the sixth and last "woe," which, being directed against some power hostile to the Remnant of Israel, is virtually the redemption of that Remnant, and the very "woe" being thus directed, includes many strains of joy which swell in volume till they reach the complete triumph of chapter 35. The first main division of the book thus closes with the note with which all God's ways with penitent man end—with perfect blessing!

Here we have again the "Salvation of Jehovah," or, as we may say in very truth, the one word "Isaiah," and the three chapters, 33, 34, 35, give precisely the characteristic divisions thus:

Chapter 33: The woe coming on the foes in the land.
Chapter 34: Extending to the whole earth.
Chapter 35: Its full effect in millennial blessing.

The first verse of chapter 33 stands by itself, as majestic a pronouncement of woes as by the same Speaker in Matthew 23:

1: Woe to thee, spoiler, for thou wast not spoiled!
Woe to thee, crafty,1 for none did deceive1 thee!
Ceasing to spoil, then thou shalt be spoiled!
Ending deceit, thou shalt be deceived!
Commentators have seen in this verse, with practical unanimity, a reference to Sennacherib, his raid into Judah in Hezekiah's fourteenth year, and Jehovah's intervention. But whilst this gives the substratum, it will assuredly not account for the way the prophecy continues; and still less for its final outcome, as can be easily seen from chapter 35that has never yet been fulfilled. The definitive final fulfilment of the prophecy is necessarily future; and we must discern, if possible, who shall then be addressed as "spoiler" and "crafty." But the question at once comes up: is it one person here? Are the "spoiler" and the "crafty" one individual? Or, is it possible that, while these evil qualities may have been united in Sennacherib of old, they may still characterize two distinct individuals in the future? Naturally we are inclined to refuse this at once, and assume that the whole verse is addressed to one and the same individual.

But the godly remnant of Israel shall have two enemies in that last terrible day called the Great Tribulation: the one external, and head of the revived world-empire, the man of violence, or the "spoiler"; the other, internal, coming up from the nation, who gains his ends by craft, as Daniel 8:25 tells us. So our chapter must be considered as a whole before we can decide as to this.

That the "Assyrian" of the future must take the place of Sennacherib of the past is sure, and therefore we are quite safe in asking, Where is he to be found? As we have seen, Assyria simply stands for whatever power may be in that same place of political authority in the future and which inherits, with that place, the responsibilities and threatenings directed against it in the far-seeing eye of divine prophecy.

That this Assyrian "spoiler" is to be found in the "Gog" of Ezekiel 38 is more than questionable. In the first place Gog is never called the "Assyrian"—that is assumed—but he is plainly termed "Prince of Rosh" (R.V.), or Russia; nor, whilst the motive of powerful military chiefs is always to "spoil," Gog seems to have no success whatever in Ezekiel, as this one has here. Again, Gog comes up against "the land of unwalled villages"; that does not harmonize at all with the clear prophecy of a future successful siege of Jerusalem immediately preceding the revelation and millennial reign of our Lord, up to which these three chapters directly lead. We may be fully assured that Gog comes upon the scene long after this Spoiler, and therefore the Spoiler being the Assyrian, Gog is not.

This may possibly turn us from following a wrong clue, but does not necessarily give us a right one. Let us then go a step further and seek for that.

If our consideration of this book has done nothing else, it has shown us Jehovah's profound interest in His earthly people Israel, an interest that goes down to the very end, and does not leave them until they are, as a nation, fully restored to His forgiving favor. Jerusalem becomes the very centre of His dealings, and that is especially the case in the final few years. Let us then in thought transport ourselves to that city, and thus throwing ourselves forward to those last days, we hear of a foe at every point of the compass. There is a "King of the South," in whom we have no difficulty in discerning Egypt, but in the light of Daniel 11:40-43, we note that he becomes of comparatively little importance after his utter defeat by the "King of the North." Further explanation would take me too far from Isaiah. It must suffice to say that Daniel 11:40 reads: "And at the time of the end shall the King of the South push at him." At whom? Who but the same one who has been the object of every "pushing" of the southern king all through the chapter, i.e., "the King of the North." It is as inadmissible as it is unnecessary to drag in here, as many do, a king of whom nothing whatever has been said. "And the King of the North shall come against him" (that is, not against this mythical third king, but against his old opponent, the King of the South) "like a whirlwind." They do not push at an unknown third, but at each other.

Turning from the south to the west, we find a mighty empire, inclusive of all that is now termed Christendom, inclusive of the Americas. With this western power the mass of the Jews are in alliance, but the remnant is not. That accounts for two points of the compass, south and west. Going to the opposite quarter, the east, we have already considered Gog, who is found there. Thus we have accounted for three out of the four cardinal points of the compass, leaving the quarter of ominous darkness, the north, still open to some prominent personage. Where shall we find him?

There is one who takes up a very large place in those terrible closing days of this era; and, for a time at least, he even forms a link with the apostasy from Christianity, as in 2 Thess. 2:3, where he is called "the son of perdition," but in Revelation bears the title of "False Prophet," and, as being a Jew, the "Beast from the land." He is the Antichrist, and as such makes his claim to all the offices belonging to the true Christ, of Prophet, Priest and King. It is he who at the head of the large majority of the returned Jews—the mass—leads them to ally with the mighty power to the West.

We have then a vacant space, the North, unfilled, and there is no one sufficiently prominent in evil to fill it but this man of many evil titles, whose pre-eminent name is the Antichrist. So, as with our illustration of a modern picture-puzzle, we ask, Will this, the only piece that we have remaining, fit into the space that is left, for our piece is a "prophet," whilst the space demands a "king"? Can one person be both prophet and king? Beyond a question he can, for as the true Messiah is both Prophet and King, so will the false Messiah make a claim to be both—he will be both "King of the North" and the False Prophet.

As a strong confirmation of this, I note that the inspired writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does not hesitate to use an incident in chapter 11:35 that is only recorded in the apocryphal 2 Maccabees, chapter 7, which justifies our making use of the same authority, and find in Antiochus Epiphanes a striking prototype of the future Antichrist. He was then the "King of the North," and "aided by the apostate Jews" he set up "an abomination of desolation"—a statue of Jupiter—in the Holy Place, to which he compelled worship. Were it not for the Lord's words in Matt. 24, one might easily assume that this Epiphanes had fulfilled all that could be expected from any extreme hater of the truth of Jehovah. But it would seem inexplicable that we should not make use of him and these his acts, at least, in finding the final future Antichrist in the "King of the North" of the future, for he would thus fill the last point of the compass, the north!

Turning back to our chapter, we have then, in the "spoiler" and the "crafty" of the first verse, the two allied leaders found at the end in Satanic antagonism to Jerusalem (Zech. 14) and to the Lamb (Rev. 19); the second filling perfectly the space left vacant for him in the north quarter—both King of the North, Antichrist, False Prophet and other titles that express his pre-eminence in crafty religious wickedness.

2: Jehovah, be gracious; for Thee have we waited.
Be a strong arm for them morning by morning;
Yea, our salvation in time of sore trouble.
3: At the noise of the tumult the peoples do flee:
At Thine uprising the nations are scattered.
4: Your spoil shall be gathered as when caterpillars
Do make a clean riddance:
As the leaping of locusts they leap (on their prey).
5: Jehovah's exalted, for, dwelling on high,
Zion He filleth with judgment and justice.
6: By wisdom and knowledge thy times are made stable,
(And these shall be to thee) the wealth of salvation:
The fear of Jehovah's the treasure (of Judah).
This little section records the pleading of Israel's remnant, voiced by the prophet; but behind him, by the Spirit of Christ, Himself, who identifies Himself with this oppressed people. It is He who says, "Be Thou a strong arm for them," etc. It is for Jehovah, and for Jehovah alone, that they have waited. If He should refuse to hear, then they will turn nowhere else. If He leaves them, then they will be left—they will have no other salvation.

Morning by morning the danger may threaten; then morning by morning Jehovah must be the strength of His people in the renewed conflict. Is that not vitally true today, only substituting God in Christ, for Israel's Jehovah?

Through all dispensations the new nature is ever Godward in its confidences and hopes, and we may well thus learn this way of beginning every day, and so doing we, too, shall find that, "His compassions fail not; they, also, are new every morning." "Oh, be our arm," let us cry, "this morning, for we too will expect help from no other or inferior source!"

Verse 3 anticipates the answer. Jehovah rises, and with a terrifying commotion, as the sound of many waters, strikes fear to the hearts of the hostile nations, and they scatter in flight. At once the tables are turned; the spoilers become spoiled. With the thoroughness of a host of caterpillars, that soon strip bushes of every leaf, and with the quickness of the locusts, those who were but just now captives and spoiled, spring on the spoil of their foes.Verses 5 and 6 show there is a moral change in Israel now. No longer does even the Jew count material prosperity to be his real wealth, for it is Jehovah dwelling in Zion—the Holy of holies again anointed, as Daniel 9:24 speaks—who has filled that ancient city with judgment and justice which make her times stable at last, after all the vicissitudes of the ages; and she has learned that the fear of the Lord is her true wealth.

In accord with the characteristic of prophecy, which ever goes swiftly to the end, and then returns to take up some special thread, the prophet goes back to the stress of his people, before the deliverance he has just foreseen. The past history affords a pattern, which must, if we would profit by it, be used as a pattern, and not the end and substance of the prophecy. Hezekiah had sent ambassadors to the threatening Assyrian who put him under a fine of 300 talents of gold. This the king raised with difficulty, impoverishing the Lord's house, even to cutting off the gold from the doors and pillars. Notwithstanding this, Sennacherib did not retire, but treacherously sent his generals to assault the cities of Judah, and the effect of this breach of faith is now told:

7: Listen, O list, for their heroes are crying:
Those who were sent on an errand of peace
Are bitterly weeping!
8: The highways are desolate: no trav'ler passes!
He hath broken the covenant!
He hath made light of cities!
He hath counted frail men2 as nothing of worth!
9: The land is all mourning, and sadly doth languish!
Lebanon stands all parched in its shame!
Sharon is now as the desert all barren!
Bashan and Carmel both shake off their leaves!
10: Now will I rise! saith Jehovah:
Now will I lift Myself up!
Now will be highly exalted!
11: Ye are pregnant with chaff, shall give birth to stubble!
Your own breath of anger, the fire that shall eat you.
12: And the peoples shall be as lime-burnings,
As brambles cut down they are kindled in fire.
In verse 7 we hear the wails of the ambassadors returning from their unsuccessful mission to Sennacherib, who, in spite of the "covenant" that he had made, takes the gold, but continues his march on Jerusalem, capturing city after city on the way, and making very little of human life. What wonder that the highways become desolate without a passenger! The very land itself reflects the misery of its inhabitants; the cedars of Lebanon droop as if weeping; the flowers of Sharon wither in shame, and the falling leaves of Carmel and Bashan are in perfect, if sad, accord with the people's falling tears.

But "now"—three times repeated—the due time has come; not one moment behind the "day appointed" doth Jehovah rise. He has borne long with the evil conditions, but He comes at last, always as it seems when His people are in extremis. The sisters must weep, and Lazarus die, but at the precise moment of His purpose He is there!

Note too the orderly progression in these three "nows." First, like a sleeper awakened, Jehovah rises from the couch; then He takes His place in the tumult, and it is ever a commanding one; and finally He is alone dominant, exalted above all.

Nor is this description of Israel's evil case an incorrect foreshadowing of the condition of His Church at the moment of His coming for her! Her glories, too, are lying waste! Her walls of separation from the world are all broken down; shame and confusion of face is also her portion. But the "now" approaches, when He shall arise, and till that happy moment, we can but "hold fast," and let "no one take our crown," which is our very dependence on, and glorying in, the Lord, as the Holy and the True!

Note the cutting sarcasm of verse 11. The enemy has conceived great purposes! They are but chaff! When these magnificent purposes have come to fruition, or when what has been conceived is brought forth—what is it? Stubble! That is well adapted for burning, and for nothing else. The enemy's own hot breath of wrath shall start the flame; for had he not burned with wrath against God's saints, he would not have suffered himself. Again we have two figures, corresponding to the caterpillar and the locusts of verse 4, in lime and thorns; lime suggesting the completeness, thorns the speed of the infliction.

One word as to the "broken covenant." In the day near approaching there will also be a covenant between the revived fourth world-power on the one side, and the mass of Jews returned to their land on the other (Dan. 9:27). Its term will be as beneficent as the spirit of Christendom is today towards Zionism,3 and this is reflected in the restoration of the temple-worship in Jerusalem. But in the "midst of the week," or three and one-half years after the signatures have been affixed to the treaty, it is broken; sacrifice and oblation cease, and a violent persecution rages to the end. But (and this is what we must bear in mind) the accord between the forces of evil, whether on the side of Jew or Gentile, is not broken, for we see them still united at the end (Rev. 19:20). Another covenant is made, which from its extreme God-defying, Satanic character is said to be "with death and hell" (chap. 28); this binds together the evil forces of earth, but it is the "covenant" that protected the remnant that is broken.

13: List ye, that are far off, to what I have done;
Learn, ye that are near, My limitless might.
14: The sinners in Zion are shaking with terror.
Hypocrites (now) with trembling are seized.
Who 'mong us shall dwell with fire so devouring?
Who 'mong us shall dwell with burnings ne'er ending?
15: The doer of right!
The speaker of truth!
The loather of gain from oppression,
Who shakes from his fingers the bribes that would stick there,
Who stoppeth his ears from the counsel of murder,
And closes his eyes from looking at evil.
16: 'Tis he who shall dwell in places exalted,
The fortress of rocks his strong castle (shall be),
His bread shall be given, his water be sure.
Let us note here again that the call is to both those afar off (that is, the Gentiles) and those who are near (the Jews in the land), and this double form of address confirms the conviction that the whole prophecy from verse 1 has the same double application to Jew and Gentile. The next verse is further confirmation of this, for whilst the Gentile enemy is distinctly recognized in the Spoiler, typified by Sennacherib, "sinners in Zion" could never refer to any but apostate Jews.

Then comes a question and its answer that recalls Psalm 15, where the same question has the same reply. Who can estimate the importance of heeding what is thus reiterated in the Old Testament and renewed in the New, for the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds Christians that "Our God is a consuming fire." Who can dwell with such a God?

Let us not turn away wearied with reiteration, from a word that is thus surely marked as of the weightiest importance. The reiterated words "among us" (ver. 14) surely suggest a mass of profession among which is the true. How are the few to be discerned? By much intelligence in the Scriptures? No. By much activity in "church-work"? No. By much denouncing of the evil in others? Not at all; but by lowly penitence (Isa. 57:15; 66:1, 2), and being led of the Spirit in paths of love and holiness. Let us not be deceived in this day of much high knowledge and low conduct. It is still true that only those "among us" who are "led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God."

Such shall be well guarded, and even though some of them shall be put to death, yet not a hair of their heads shall perish (Luke 21:16-18). So the apostle Paul was ready to be offered up, yet he too knew that the "Lord would deliver him from every evil work"; strange paradoxes apart from having a life that no tyrant can touch.

Another promise follows:

17: Thine eyes shall behold the King in His beauty,
The land of far distances they surely shall see.
For this last line does not mean, as our Authorized Version intimates, that the land is far away; but when in it, the boundaries shall not be contracted, but as far as their eye can see or foot can carry, shall be theirs: as it was said to their father Abraham, "Lift up now thine eyes, for all the land that thou seest, to thee I will give it" (Gen. 15:14, 15).

We may have no personal part in that land; that is not our country but this promise is of the deepest interest to us, for we too shall see the King. He is ours by more than one indissoluble tie. He has literally loved us, bought us with His blood: we are infinitely precious to Him as the dear purchase of those sufferings: to Him we are united by the Holy Spirit; identified with Him by sharing His very life, we are thus the members of His Body. Ours too is His present position, cast out by this world, whilst all the love of God the Father in which He is enwrapped, enwraps us too in Him. His future too we fully share. And, to come back to our scripture, our own very eyes shall see Him in His beauty, with eyes adapted to that glory, as are these to the inferior beauties of this scene. We shall see Him in His perfect loveliness, and greatly shall we desire Him, a desire that He will be there to fill. This was patterned for us in the holy mount, where, although Peter, James and John might then fear, Moses and Elias did not; and our place shall be that of those heavenly visitants.

He, the King, was then to be the Object of every eye; every ear was to be attentive to His lips; so ever today, do we not get at times (but so rarely, alas, if one may speak for others), foretastes of that time when we shall see with our eyes without a cloud, the beauty of the King, and hear the music of that Voice whose faintest whisper gives us here joy for many days.

In our prophet we have to do with Israel and the earth, and in that day of deliverance this is foretold of the dweller in Zion:

18: Thine heart shall muse on past terror.
Where is the scribe?
Where the collector?
Where the counter of towers?
19: The insolent folk thou shalt never see more—
A folk of strange lip thou canst not interpret;
Of barbarous4 tongue thou canst not understand.
The terror is gone forever, and is now but such a matter of memory as gives sweetness to the present peace. Those happy dwellers in that future Jerusalem muse on the time when they were trembling with fear, and ask, "What has become of the man who took stock of our goods? Where is he who followed him in taking those goods in the way of taxes? And as to the enemy who rode around our city counting its defensive towers before the attack—where has he gone? All have departed never to return."

The Holy Spirit uses this same language in 1 Cor. 1:20, but in quite a different bearing; nor is the quotation precise, for the word "wise" is substituted for "scribe," "scribe" for "collector," and "disputer of this world" for "counter of towers." But as peaceful Salem shall say: "Where are all my foes?" so in view of Christ, our foes, no longer flesh and blood, but our own proud thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of that same Lord Christ, are forever abased and annihilated. But we must ever remember that we still have that same old nature derived from Adam the first, to keep us watchful and dependent, and the very first evidence of its activity is proud self-esteem.

20: Look now upon Zion, our city all festal;
Thine eyes shall see Salem, a dwelling all restful;
A tent nevermore to be struck,
Whose stakes shall never be drawn,
Whose cords shall never be loosed.
21: For there, all-majestic, Jehovah is for us;
A place of broad rivers; of streams deep and wide,
Whereon never galley, propelled by oar, ventures,
Nor strong man-of-war can ever pass by.
22: For Jehovah our Judge is!
Jehovah our War-prince!
Jehovah our King!
'Tis He who will save us!5

Here we are called to use the eye of faith, forget the poverty of "Jerusalem that now is and is in bondage with her children," and see her in quite another guise, as made beautiful, the joy of the whole earth, with solemn feasts again held, each in its appointed time as the year revolves. She will be well worth looking at, and many a long journey will be taken to see her. There was a time when she was the scoff of the tourist, who only brought back word of her squalor. No joy did any derive from seeing her in that day; but now in her beauty, she shows what divine grace can do with a city on earth; and, as principalities and powers shall be invited to consider, in the glories of the Church, what God can do in heaven, so shall the nations and powers of earth be invited to regard Jerusalem.

Nor shall she (identified with her people) ever wander more. Never again shall her stakes be pulled up, nor cords be loosened. The "wandering Jew" has finished his Cain-like vagabondage for ever, and restful peace has taken her abode in Zion. Long has that been desired, for we know Him who hath said: "Here will I dwell, this is My rest" (Ps. 132).

But more. Let Babylon boast her Euphrates; let Egypt boast her Nile; it is true that Jerusalem has no river at all—what of it? Jehovah shall be to us in the place of the broad river of the one, and the broad floods of the other. He, and He only, shall be all the defence that a river would be. Nor on that "river" of ours dare any galley attempt invasion, no hostile battleship pass over.

Then in verse 22 there is a triumphant chant of anticipative faith, with its divine fingerprint of "three"; Jehovah our Bishop,6 or ecclesiastical Head; Jehovah our Commander, or military Head; Jehovah our Monarch, or political Head; He, and none other, shall be our salvation!

23: How loosely thy ropes hang!
Thy mast they support not!
The flag cannot wave,
Nor can the sail spread!
Then is the prey of a great spoil divided:
Even the lame take part in the spoiling.
24: He who abides there ne'er wails, I am sick!
The people there dwelling from guilt are all freed!
There is a divergence among commentators as to the bearing of these verses. Many, as Delitzsch, insist that Jerusalem is addressed in verse 23; but others, with whom I must agree, see the enemy of Jerusalem. The prophet has just said that while the beloved city is defended by no literal broad river, Jehovah Himself takes that place, and then what vessel dare attack? One does: it is the mighty world-power, the Assyrian, "the prince that shall come" (Dan. 9:26), with all the munitions of that revived Empire at his back, and in league with the False Prophet; these have dared to attempt to cross that "river" and in their attack on Jerusalem, really make war against our Lord (Rev. 19:19). Look at that presumptuous vessel now! "Torn cordage, shattered deck," its mast unshipped, all the ropes attached to it hang loosely down, its colors are fallen and droop in shame; its sails flap idle and useless—a wreck! The cargo is at the mercy of others, and is so abundant that even he who on account of being lame only arrives long after the others, still finds plenty of booty. Turn now to the "holy city"; can the ear catch one complaint of sickness? No, not one single wail; for the very bodies of the dwellers in Zion evidence redemption by power. And what is the basic blessing on which all others are built? All iniquity is forgiven!

Footnotes:


1 The word rendered in A.V. "deal treacherously" is primarily "to cover," hence, to "act covertly." If one individual be addressed, he is distinguished by both rapacity and craft; if two, then these two are thus distinguished from each other.

2 Heb., Enosh: frail, mortal man.

3 Written before the Anti-Semitism of Hitler in Germany, but that is due solely to the internal prominence that the Jews have won in Germany, but would not follow them when there was no such reason.

4 First meaning "stammering," but it comes to mean "ridiculous," and so "barbarous" seems the closest to its intent.

5 Note rhyme, rhythm, and the swing of the last verse in the original:

"Jehovah shephtehnu!
 Jehovah m'choqehnu!
 Jehovah malkehnu!
 Hoo yoshiehnu!"
6 "Judge," very much as in the word "overseer"; one who sees that all is in order, as is the force in our word "Bishop."