Isaiah 33-35: It's time.
Updated: Apr 12
Woe to you, destroyer,
you who have not been destroyed!
Woe to you, betrayer,
you who have not been betrayed!
When you stop destroying,
you will be destroyed;
when you stop betraying,
you will be betrayed.
Remember when King Hezekiah attempted to buy off the king of Assyria with the treasures of the temple (2 Kings 18:13-18)? It didn’t work. In fact, Hezekiah’s generous gift may have given King Sennacherib the idea that there was much more booty to be had. So instead of honoring their agreement, Sennacherib put Jerusalem under siege. Isaiah addresses his bad behavior in chapter 33. It’s time for Assyria's reward.
“The Lord’s perfect management of human affairs guarantees that for every trickster there is a trickster to outdo him, until in the end all alike perish in their cleverness.”
Motyer, Alec J., The Prophecy of Isaiah, pg. 263, InterVarsity Press
We know Assyria won't be the only betrayer of God’s people. History, as well as prophecy, testifies of Israel’s enemies promising peace but delivering destruction. Isaiah’s prayer for deliverance in his time—“Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress”— has become the prayer of the remnant throughout time.
With eyes fixed on the future, Isaiah declares the coming of a king who will replace what King Hezekiah gave away, with treasures far more precious than gold: justice, righteousness, salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. All of this, Isaiah says, is stored up for those who fear the Lord. (verses 5-6)
Then Isaiah, as he is known to do, draws his contemporaries’ attention back to a more pressing concern: the foolishness of King Hezekiah and its consequences for Judah. He recounts the embarrassment of the envoys who negotiated the covenant (2 Kings 18:14), Jerusalem’s lockdown during the Assyrian siege, and the great forests of Lebanon, Carmel’s lush pastures, and Sharon’s fruitful plains wasting away because of human foolishness. (verses 7-9)
But, the Lord says, it’s time:
” Now will I arise,” says the Lord. “Now will I be exalted; now will I be lifted up.“
Because of His everlasting covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17), the Lord rises up against those who rise up against His people, no matter how foolish His people have been. And it's for a purpose.
You who are far away, hear what I have done;
And you who are near, acknowledge My might.
Isaiah’s sober pronouncement wasn’t just for the Assyrians. “Far” may mean in geography or in time, but since God is eternal, omnipresent, and unchanging, I’d say both. And the “near”? Both, perhaps? The writer of Hebrews said this to God's New Covenant people:
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
God's rising isn't a cause for celebration in Zion, but rather the cause of holy fear: the “consuming fire” of the LORD Almighty is in their midst. (verse 14)
A consuming fire? Who can withstand it, they ask. Who could possibly live in His presence?
One who walks righteously and speaks with integrity,
One who rejects unjust gain
And shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe;
One who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed
And shuts his eyes from looking at evil.
These, says Isaiah, will live with the eternal protection and provision of the Lord. (verse 16) Rather than living in a land continually parceled out to the nations around them, the descendants of Abraham will be heirs of a land two million miles square at ground level and stretching far beyond Earth’s atmosphere out into space. Rather than looking over their shoulders for the approach of the next oppressor, God’s people will fix their eyes on “the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.” (verses 17-19)
Peaceful, permanent, protected. And no more war.
(You’ll appreciate that when we get into the next chapter.)
And no resident will say, “I am sick” and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.
No more sickness and sin. None. Nada.
But before that, the Lord’s judgment: the utter destruction of the nations for the sake of Zion.
I would rather skip over chapter 34. Isaiah paints God in such a...I don’t know…such a violent, merciless light. But I have to remember that it is sin at the tip of God’s sword, and those who choose darkness have put themselves out of the reach of His mercy.
Notice verse 2 says the LORD’s anger is against all the nations, yet Edom seems to be singled out as a special subject of God’s great wrath. Why?
Edom, remember, was the nation that sprang up from the seed of Esau. And although Esau was gracious to his trickster brother Jacob (Genesis 32-33), it’s evident his descendants held a grudge. When the Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land, Edom wouldn’t even let them walk across their property—the Israelites had to take a detour (Numbers 20:14-21). Eight hundred years later, when Babylon came to destroy Judah, Edom joined in the plundering of Jerusalem. And in between, the Edomites were a constant source of trouble for Israel. None of this is surprising. God told Rebekah it would be so even before the twins were born (Genesis 25:23). In eschatological terms, “Edom” is synonymous with “perpetual pain.”
So here we go: God’s retribution.
First, there is the blood. Man and beast alike will suffer under the sword. Then there is the fire. Blazing, smoking and stinking, the land of the antagonist will be deserted forever, and—isn’t this interesting—no one will ever pass through it again. Then there are the animals. I really don’t think God has anything against owls or wild goats (they are some of my favorites), and maybe not even hyenas (although I really don’t like them). There’s got to be some symbolism here. Some commentators say Isaiah is referring to demonic entities, and that goats and owls just get a bad rap. I don’t know, but I do know that hyenas, goats, and owls are all animals that inhabit desolate places, and that’s what Edom will be: empty, with “nothing there to be called a kingdom” (verse 12). Thorns and weeds and thistles, tree snakes and ostriches and hawks—all of them will be there, but the Edomites will not.
Whew... On to chapter 35.
Now, the Promised Land has a different destiny:
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
As the remnant walks through the wilderness, the land will rejoice as it’s released from the bondage of the curse. It will be a bountiful garden again, filled with the strong cedars of Lebanon, the lush pastures of Carmel, and the fertile plains of Sharon, all bringing glory to God.
In the meantime, though, Isaiah has some words of encouragement for those facing the current reality:
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
All that His people are now: failing, fearful, impaired, and infirm, will be reversed by the Lord’s retribution.
A highway will be there, a roadway,
And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.
And the redeemed of the Lord will return
And come to Zion with joyful shouting,
And everlasting joy will be on their heads.
They will obtain gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Everybody dance now!