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Isaiah 33


The Judgment of God A Prayer of Deep Distress A Prophetic Liturgy A Prayer for Help The Expected Deliverance
33:1 33:1-16
  (2-4) (2-6) 33:2-4  
  (7-9) (7-12) 33:7-9 (7-16)
  Impending Judgment on Zion   The Lord Warns His Enemies  
  The Land of the Majestic King   The Glorious Future The Return to Jerusalem
(17-22) 33:17-24 33:17-24
  (23b-24) (23b-24)    

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. The paragraphing is ambiguous (because of the composite nature of these poems) in this chapter. Several different groups are addressed.

1. Assyria, v. 1

2. covenant people, v. 2

3. brave men who cry in the streets, v. 7

4. ambassadors of peace who weep, v. 7

5. the traveler, v. 8 

6. the people, v. 12

7. you who are far away, v. 13

8. you who are near, v. 13

9. sinners in Zion, v. 14

10. he who walks righteously, v. 15

11. He. . .His, v. 16

12. your heart, vv. 18-20

13. your tackle, v. 23

14. resident. . .people, v. 24

It is difficult to identify the groups to which each of these relate.


B. Notice how many names/titles and characterizations of Deity are mentioned in this chapter.

1. YHWH, v. 2

2. YHWH is exalted, vv. 5,10

3. He shall be the stability (lit. "faithfulness"), v. 6

4. a wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, v. 6

5. the fear of YHWH, v. 6

6. King in His beauty, v. 17

7. the majestic One, v. 21 

8. several, "The Lord is. . .," v. 22 


C. It is possible that the first section of Isaiah ends after this chapter because in the DSS scroll of Isaiah a double space appears after this chapter, but not after chapter 39.


D. "Possible" outline of the poem's order/arrangement

1. God judges Assyria who He used to judge Judah, v. 1

2. Judah prays for help, v. 2

3. God responds, vv. 3-6,10-12

4. Judah's current state, vv. 7-9

5. the godly spared, vv. 13-16

6. a recapitulation of the Assyrian period, vv. 17-20

7. the reign of the righteous king, vv. 21-24



1Woe to you, O destroyer,
While you were not destroyed;
And he who is treacherous, while others did not deal treacherously with him.
As soon as you finish destroying, you will be destroyed;
As soon as you cease to deal treacherously, others will deal treacherously with you.
2O Lord, be gracious to us; we have waited for You.
Be their strength every morning,
Our salvation also in the time of distress.
3At the sound of the tumult peoples flee;
At the lifting up of Yourself nations disperse.
4Your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers;
As locusts rushing about men rush about on it.
5The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
6And He will be the stability of your times,
A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge;
The fear of the Lord is his treasure.
7Behold, their brave men cry in the streets,
The ambassadors of peace weep bitterly.
8The highways are desolate, the traveler has ceased,
He has broken the covenant, he has despised the cities,
He has no regard for man.
9The land mourns and pines away,
Lebanon is shamed and withers;
Sharon is like a desert plain,
And Bashan and Carmel lose their foliage.
10"Now I will arise," says the Lord,
"Now I will be exalted, now I will be lifted up.
11You have conceived chaff, you will give birth to stubble;
My breath will consume you like a fire.
12The peoples will be burned to lime,
Like cut thorns which are burned in the fire.

33:1 "Woe" Chapters 28-33 form a unit often called the "Unit of Doom" because of the recurrent use of the term "woe," (cf. 28:1; 29:1,15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1). See note on "Woe" at 5:8.

▣ "O destroyer" Verse 1 speaks of Assyria, as do vv. 3,4,7-9,11-12,17-19,23; even v. 21 may refer to the cities located on the Tigris and Euphrates. This chapter follows a common theme pattern of Isaiah.

1. the current rebellious state of God's people

2. God's judgment by foreign powers

3. God's judgment of these foreign powers (here Assyria)

4. the future glorious conditions of His people through the righteous king (cf. 32:1)

Both "destroyed" (BDB 994, KB 1418 twice, Qal active participle, negated Qal passive participle) and "treacherous" (lit. "act faithlessly," BDB 93, KB 108 twice, Qal active participle, negated Qal perfect) are also used in 21:2 about the fall of old Babylon. In a theological sense Isaiah's ambiguity is purposeful. He intentionally makes the identity of Israel/Judah's aggressors fuzzy so that his poems can function as "multiple-fulfillment" prophecies. Enemies come and go by YHWH's hand and purpose, but YHWH Himself and His eternal redemptive purpose, using Abraham's seed, does not!

33:2 The content of Judah's prayer is listed.

1. be gracious to us, BDB 335, KB 334, Qal imperative, cf. 30:18,19

2. we have waited for You, BDB 875 I, KB 1082, Piel perfect, cf. 8:17; 25:9; 26:8; 40:31; 49:23; 51:5; 60:9

3. be our strength (lit. "arm") every morning, BDB 224, KB 243, Qal imperative

4. be our salvation in time of distress ("be" verb assumed)

YHWH is Judah's only hope (cf. 59:16; 63:1,5), not Assyria (alliance) and not Egypt (alliance), only YHWH. Humans tend to panic and lose trust in times of crisis and uncertainty. They try to save themselves using their resources or the resources of other humans, to no avail!

▣ "strength" It is literally "arm" (BDB 283). This is a biblical anthropomorphic metaphor to describe God's presence and power on a daily basis.

▣ "salvation" This term (BDB 447) is used in the OT for physical deliverance (cf. 12:2 [twice], 3; 25:9; 26:1,18; 33:6).


33:4 In this verse "spoil"(BDB 1021) is a metaphor which denotes the destruction of YHWH's enemies.

The verb "gathered" (BDB 62, KB 74, Pual perfect) is also used in 32:10 to describe the judgment of Jerusalem. It is also used in 24:22 (same stem) to denote world-wide eschatological judgment. Humans "gather" for self, greed, and power, but God gathers for judgment. The NT describes the end-time gathering of

1. the redeemed, Matt. 13:48; 24:31

2. the wicked, Matt. 13:40-41


▣ "locusts" Locust invasions were common in the ANE. They are often compared to an invading army (cf. Deut. 28:38,42; Joel 1:4; 2:25; Amos 7:1-2). God directs armies as He directs all things! These locusts gather the ill-gotten spoils of Assyria.

There are many Semitic words for this insect which apparently denote (1) different species or (2) different stages of growth.

33:5 "He dwells on high" This phrase is a metaphor for heaven (cf. 32:15; Job 16:19; 31:2). The ANE viewed heaven as above. For the Israelites the smoke from their sacrifices rose to God, therefore, He must be up. There was also the theological contrast with "down" as a metaphor for death. Sheol was down, but heaven was up. In our modern era these spacial metaphors seem inaccurate, but remember they are ancient metaphors never intended to carry a literalness. The language of the OT is phenomenological, which means the language of description using the five human senses. The Bible is not anti-scientific, it is pre-scientific! Taking ancient metaphors literally is not a sign of biblical conservatism, but of missing the intended meaning of the original historical setting of inspired authors.

▣ "justice and righteousness" See note at 32:16.


NRSV"He shall be the stability of your times"
NJB"You can count on this all your days"
Peshitta"Faith shall be the stability of your times"
REB"her strength will be in your unchanging stability"

YHWH brings "stability," lit. "faithful," BDB 53, cf. 25:1. Judah's hope and stability is the faithful character of her God (cf. Deut. 32:4; Ps. 36:5; 89:1-2,5,24,33,49; 88:11; 92:2; 143:1). This is the answer to the prayer of v. 2. Because of His faithful character He gives to His wayward people

1. a wealth (BDB 340) of

a. salvation (BDB 447)

b. wisdom (BDB 315 with change of final consonant from ת to ה, cf. 11:2)

c. knowledge (BDB 395, cf. 11:2)

2. the fear (BDB 432, in the sense of reverential awe, cf. 11:2; Pro. 1:7,29; 2:5) of YHWH is his treasure (BDB 69, in the sense of a full storehouse, cf. I Chr. 27:27-28; II Chr. 11:11)


33:7-9 This reflects the sad state of the impending siege because negotiations have failed (cf. II Kgs. 18:13-16).

33:7 These two poetic lines are not synonymous. Biblical scholars have been influenced by Robert Lowth, who tried to fit all Hebrew parallelism into three or four categories. Today scholars are understanding the multiplicity of poetic parallelism. Currently it is best to say that the second line "adds something" or "goes beyond" (Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism: Revised and Expanded, p. 64).

Two different groups are addressed.

1. line one - soldiers of Jerusalem

2. line two - the ambassador of peace sent to Egypt by Hezekiah (cf. v. 8)

They do similar/parallel things

- "cry," BDB 858

- "weep," BDB 113

Parallelism is one of the main keys in interpreting Hebrew poetry, but we must recognize it is used in many forms and at many literary levels.

33:7 "brave men" This is possibly related to the root ariel, (NJB, cf. 29:1,2,7; 31:9).


NRSV, DSS"oaths"
NJB, RSV"witnesses" 

The MT has "cities" (ערים, BDB 746), but because of the parallelism, "witnesses" (םידע, BDB 729) fits better. This could be another "R" - "D" confusion. The UBS Hebrew Text Project gives "witness" a C rating (i.e., considerable doubt).

33:9 This verse uses agricultural metaphors for the problems involved in the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 b.c. These types of agricultural metaphors are common in Isaiah (cf. 16:8; 24:4,7). YHWH controls the weather for His purposes (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28). There is no distinction between the "natural" and "supernatural" in the Bible, as in the ANE. Deity is intimately involved in His creation. Be careful of your modern, scientific worldview placing a theological grid over Scripture!

33:10-12 These possibly relate to Assyria as in v. 1.

33:11-12 The imagery of "chaff" and "fire" are common in Isaiah (cf. 1:7; 5:24; 9:18-19; 10:16-19; 26:11; 29:6; 30:27-28; 33:11-14; 47:14, also Joel 2:3). See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE at 1:31.

Isaiah uses imagery from human reproduction.

1. here, conception, BDB 247 I, KB 255, Qal imperfect, 8:3; 26:18; 59:4,13

2. giving birth, 9:6; 13:8; 21:3; 23:4; 26:17,18; 39:7; 51:18; 54:1; 59:4; 66:7,9


▣ "My breath" This is the term ruah (BDB 924) used as an anthropomorphic metaphor for the wind of judgment from YHWH's nostrils (see Special Topic at 6:1). It is obviously a metaphor of YHWH's personal participation (cf. Exodus 15:18; II Sam. 22:16; Ps. 18:15) in judgment (cf. 11:4; 30:28; 40:7).

13"You who are far away, hear what I have done;
And you who are near, acknowledge My might."
14Sinners in Zion are terrified;
Trembling has seized the godless.
"Who among us can live with the consuming fire?
Who among us can live with continual burning?"
15He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity,
He who rejects unjust gain
And shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe;
He who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed
And shuts his eyes from looking upon evil;
16He will dwell on the heights,
His refuge will be the impregnable rock;
His bread will be given him,
His water will be sure.

33:13 "You who are far away. . .you who are near" In context, this refers to God's people in exile in Assyria and to God's people still in Judah (cf. Dan. 9:7). However, seen in the wider context of the new age, it may be related to the Gentile and the Jewish people (cf. 49:1; it is idiom for all, cf. Jer. 25:26).

33:14 "Sinners in Zion are terrified" Again the reality of a mixture of the faithful and unfaithful within the people of God is acknowledged. Sinners

1. are terrified, BDB 808, KB 922, Qal perfect, cf. noun - 2:10,19,21; 24:17,18; verb - 12:2; 19:16,17; 44:8,11; 51:13

2. trembling has seized the godless, BDB 28, KB 31, Qal perfect, cf. 13:8; 21:3

The "godless" (BDB 338) are described in 32:6 as those who practice godlessness and speak error against the Lord (cf. 9:17; 10:6).

▣ "Who among us can live with the consuming fire?

Who among us can live with the continual burning" This refers to God's holiness as seen through the metaphor of fire connected with His righteousness and His judgment (cf. Deut. 4:24; 5:24; Isa. 30:27,30).

For "continual" (lit. "forever") see Special Topic at 32:14.

33:15 This reflects the character of YHWH as seen in His people.

1. walks righteously

2. speaks with sincerity

3. rejects unjust gain

4. does not take a bribe

5. does not listen to evil plans (i.e., bloodshed)

6. does not look upon evil


33:16 The person who lives the life described in v. 15

1. will dwell on the heights 

2. will take refuge in the impregnable rock

3. will have an abundance of food

4. will have a sure water supply

This describes the new age person. The ideal of Deuteronomy is actualized!

17Your eyes will see the King in His beauty;
They will behold a far-distant land.
18Your heart will meditate on terror:
"Where is he who counts?
Where is he who weighs?
Where is he who counts the towers?"
19You will no longer see a fierce people,
A people of unintelligible speech which no one comprehends,
Of a stammering tongue which no one understands.
20Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts;
Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an undisturbed habitation,
A tent which will not be folded;
Its stakes will never be pulled up,
Nor any of its cords be torn apart.
21But there the majestic One, the Lord, will be for us
A place of rivers and wide canals
On which no boat with oars will go,
And on which no mighty ship will pass -
22For the Lord is our judge,
The Lord is our lawgiver,
The Lord is our king;
He will save us -
23Your tackle hangs slack;
It cannot hold the base of its mast firmly,
Nor spread out the sail.
Then the prey of an abundant spoil will be divided;
The lame will take the plunder.
24And no resident will say, "I am sick";
The people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.

33:17 "Your eyes will see" This verb (BDB 302, KB 301) is often used to refer to spiritual insight (cf. 26:11; 33:17,20; 48:6; Job 23:8-9; Ps. 46:8; 63:2). Humans were created to function in two realms.

1. the physical (i.e., nephesh, this planet)

2. the spiritual (i.e., ruah, fellowship with God)

The Fall of Genesis 3 has disrupted both!

▣ "the King and his beauty" This is a purposeful ambiguity, much like 32:1, where the context fits both Hezekiah in his day and the coming Messiah of 7:14.

33:18 "Where is he who counts" This refers to Assyrian scouts reconnoitering Jerusalem for the coming siege.

33:19 "unintelligible speech" This refers to the Assyrian language (cf. 28:11).

33:20 This is Isaiah's theology that Jerusalem will never fall (cf. Isaiah 36-37). For a full discussion of "city" see notes at 24:10 and the chart at the Introduction to chapter 26, D. This prophecy must be understood in context because in Jeremiah's day, God gave exactly the opposite prophecy.

The imagery of "a tent" is an anachronistic allusion back to the Exodus. It may also denote "the tabernacle" built as a portable tent. The same allusion (i.e., tent) is used in 54:2 for a worldwide expansion.

33:21 The metaphor of "rivers and sailing ships" seems to be a play on their alliances with Egypt (cf. v. 23). Instead of Egypt, YHWH (the Majestic One) will be their provider and protector (cf. v. 22).

33:22 Jerusalem (cf. v. 20) is again the city of the Great King (YHWH Himself) as represented in His righteous surrogate (the Davidic Messiah).

33:23 Poetry is ambiguous. This could refer to

1. the destruction of Assyria

2. the empowering of Jerusalem

3. or both

In v. 17, both "your eyes" and "they will behold" have uncertain antecedents. Verse 18 seems to refer to Assyria checking out Jerusalem for invasion and siege. Verse 19 seems to allude to the strange-sounding language of the Assyrian invaders. Yet at v. 20 the scene changes to an undisturbed Jerusalem. Therefore, vv. 21 and 22 could refer to Jerusalem, obviously v. 24 does.

Some see the "plunder" (BDB 1021) in v. 23 as related to the items that the Assyrian army abandoned before the walls of Jerusalem in 701 b.c. and not the sack of Nineveh itself, which occurred in 612 b.c.

33:24 YHWH is characterized as the healer. This is an allusion to chapter 1 where God's people are characterized as ill (cf. 1:5-6). Illness is a metaphor for "sin" and "rebellion" (cf. Ps. 41:4; 103:3; Isa. 53:5). The NT continues the Jewish concept of sickness relating to sin (cf. John 5:14; James 5:14-15). The term "save" in the OT denotes physical deliverance (see Special Topic at 33:2).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How are chapters 32 and 33 related to 28-31?

2. Are these two chapters Messianic or historical?

3. List the blessings of the Spirit described in 32:15-18.

4. Give the historical context of 33:7-9.


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