Isaiah Chapter 33 Notes

Isaiah Ch 33 Commentary // larryhuntbiblecommentary.wordpress.com

Notes on Isaiah Thirty-three

v. 1: It is interesting that the destruction of this person (or these people) is predicted in this way:  “when you have ceased to destroy, you will be destroyed.”  Obviously, the destroyer here will not cease to destroy because he repents of his behavior; it would not be in keeping with God’s nature to destroy such a person.  Perhaps the destroyer will stop because he is too weak to continue or because he is glutted for the moment and trying to enjoy his accomplishments.

Although this chapter has many abrupt transitions, I believe it refers broadly to the events surrounding the Assyrian invasion and the siege of Jerusalem.  I believe this because the chapters immediately preceding this one seem to concern the Assyrian invasion and because of references to things such as Ariel in distress (see note on verse 7), siege warfare (verse 16), and the destruction of the destroyer (which I interpret as Assyria) here in verse 1.

Here are the transitions of the chapter…

Verses 1-6 have a common theme: the people of God will be delivered and their oppressor destroyed by the intercession of God.

Verse 1 addresses the destroyer.

Verses 2-4 address God.

Verses 5-6 address the people of God.

Verses 7-9 are tied together by a new theme: the people of God will suffer at the hands of their destroyer.

Verses 10-14 have yet another theme: God’s wrath against the wicked.

The final theme (verses 15-24) reemphasizes the chapter’s initial theme: the deliverance and subsequent peace of the people of God.

v. 7: What the NRSV translates as “valiant” and footnotes as uncertain here it transliterates as Ariel in 29:1.  Luther transliterates the word here as well as in 29:1.  The fact that the word appears in a similar context in both chapters makes me think that it references something similar in both, and since the reference in chapter 29 seems to be to Jerusalem during the Assyrian invasion, I am inclined to believe the reference here is also to that invasion.

v. 11: This self-destructive fire is a result of the choice to be evil.  The wicked destroy themselves by their own free will choices, and at the same time, God destroys the wicked for those same choices; paradoxically, he seems to take both a passive (“Your breath is a fire that will consume you”) and an active (“Now I will arise….”) role in their destruction.  Compare this verse with 10:7 and 9:18-19.

v. 14: Fire is a multilayered metaphor in Isaiah.  One common feature of all its occurrences, however, is its danger.  Here it is dangerous to the “sinners in Zion,” but I do not know who these sinners are.  I would have thought that they were the Assyrians, but saying that they are in Zion seems a little odd, unless being in Zion refers to their being in the vicinity of Jerusalem during the siege.  The wording makes me wonder if these sinners are Jews.  That is Barnes’ opinion.  If the sinners are Assyrians, then they are being burned (metaphorically) by the fire even as they ask, “who can live with the devouring fire?”  If the sinners are Jews, then they are not being burned (metaphorically or literally), but are being made aware of their potential to be burned by seeing God’s wrath against the Assyrians.  Compare this verse with Deuteronomy 5:4-5 where Moses says, “The LORD spoke with you [the Hebrews] face to face at the mountain, out of the fire.  (At that time I was standing between the LORD and you to declare to you the words of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.)”

Barnes brings up an interesting point regarding this verse.  He says the words imply “that the persons here spoken of had a belief of the doctrine of eternal punishment”  (483).  If this is an intentional reference to hell, or if other intentional references to hell are alluding to this verse, then “everlasting flames” and “devouring fire,” as they are used here, could give some clues as to the nature of hell.  I believe the immediate reference of this verse (which would then have ultimate metaphorical significance as a symbol of hellfire) is to the fire of the temple altar in Jerusalem, the Holy City where God chose to dwell.  Both Barnes and the Oxford commentary agree that 31:9, “the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem” alludes to the altar of God.  It seems reasonable to me to interpret the everlasting, devouring fire of 33:14 as another reference to the altar fire.  Also, if this is ultimately a reference to hell, consider this verse in light of 33:11 and the role free will plays in the self-destruction of sinners; (surely the fire of v. 11 and that of v. 14 have the same immediate and ultimate reference).

One last note: I do not believe that the fact that the flames are everlasting requires us to believe that thepunishment of burning would be everlasting, only that the flames themselves (as emblems of the nature of God) are everlasting.  The flames here are also “devouring,” i.e., destructive.  Compare this with what Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell[1].” Christ’s words suggest to me that the punishment of hell is finite; it ends with the annihilation (by burning) of both body and soul.

v. 16: This verse describes all the material required for surviving a siege and makes me think that the prophet had the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in mind when he wrote it.

v. 19: Compare this verse with 28:11; the language is very similar.  Given the context of 28:11, I do not believe that the prophet means for the “alien tongue” mentioned in that verse to refer to the Assyrian tongue.  Since “alien tongue” or other synonymous expressions[2] so often signify the good advice of God in the ears of those who cannot appreciate it, I suspect that the “obscure speech” of the “insolent people” mentioned here signifies the same thing; nevertheless, the context of this chapter (33) allows for the possibility that the obscure language, in this particular instance, refers to that of the Assyrians, which the Jews in Jerusalem might have heard beyond the city walls.  Perhaps this is why the Oxford commentary interprets the “alien tongue” of 28:11 as the speech of the Assyrians.

v. 21: Both Barnes and the Oxford commentary interpret these waters as symbolic or mythological because there have never been literal “broad rivers” in the vicinity of Jerusalem.  I am inclined to agree with them, especially since there are other, more obviously symbolic, references to such waterways in the Bible.  Compare this passage, for instance, with Ezekiel 47:1-12, and Revelation 22:1-2.  Here in Isaiah I believe the waters symbolize the presence of God.  Just as the waters of a river provide life to a city, so the presence of God will provide life to Jerusalem, but God’s presence has only the good qualities of a river, none of the bad ones: a river brings life with its water but also death sometimes by acting as a conduit for warships (“galleys,” and “stately ships”) of invaders, but God’s presence does not have this double edge.  He brings life to Jerusalem, and he protects it at the same time.

It is interesting to note that Luther translates the Hebrew for “broad rivers” as Wassergraben (“water-ditches,” as best I can tell).

v. 23: Luther’s version reads “His cables [riggings] hang loose,” [3] not “Your rigging hangs loose.” I am not sure why.

[1] It is true that Christ refers to hell by using Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom) to signify it rather than by using the temple altar, but if the altar is in fact the symbol Isaiah uses to refer to hell, and if the two metaphors (the altar and Gehenna) do not contradict one another, then I do not understand how the “everlasting flames” in Isaiah do not refer to the eternal suffering of sinners.

[2] See notes on Isaiah 6:9.

[3]Seine Taue hangen lose.”


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