In the last of the Slinky Chapters, the Lord now turned God’s gaze from the people of God to the those who were seeking to destroy God’s people
Woe to the destroyer,Isaiah 33:1 (NRSV)
who yourself have not been destroyed;
you treacherous one,
with whom no one has dealt treacherously!
When you have ceased to destroy,
you will be destroyed;
and when you have stopped dealing treacherously,
you will be dealt with treacherously.
Here is what happened.
In unbelief Hezekiah had tried to attain détente with the Assyrians through costly tribute, as recorded in 2 Kings 18. But Sennacherib had broken that agreement. After all, the northern kingdom of Israel had been easy to conquer and deport even though Israel had been the more powerful of the divided kingdoms, with more diplomatic alliances, a much larger army, and considerably more land.
Isaiah knew Judah’s greatest ally Egypt would not come to their aid, so there would seem nothing to prevent Sennacherib from taking the less-defended capital city of Jerusalem after he had so easily captured the far mightier capital city of Samaria. And Sennacherib had a reputation for being a thief, a traitor and a tyrant. He was happy to be known as a destroyer.
But Sennacherib had not bargained for how powerful the Lord of Hosts would be.
God’s Call to the People
All throughout these chapters the prophet Isaiah had been the Lord’s voice calling the people to repentance. In Chapter 30 God had said, I’ll wait for you. I long to be gracious to you. I will come to you as soon as I hear your cry. Now, in Isaiah’s vision, he pictured how the people would be when they finally realized Assyria’s dread threat would become a reality. At long last, the people would finally turn to their Lord and cry out,
O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.Isaiah 33:2 (NRSV)
Be our arm every morning,
our salvation in the time of trouble.
Without resources, without allies, without recourse, the people of God would find themselves terribly vulnerable and terrified. Evidently, only in this dire hour would their hearts be broken open to the Lord.
In his vision, Isaiah witnessed the Lord being exalted in God’s victory on the day this prophecy would be fulfilled.
During the time of the Assyrian invasion, the situation in Judah would become desperate.
Listen! The people of Ariel cry out in the streets;Isaiah 33:7-9 (NRSV)
the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted;
travelers have quit the road.
The treaty is broken;
its oaths are despised,
the people are disregarded.
The land mourns and languishes;
Lebanon is confounded and withers away;
Sharon is like a desert,
and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.
Judah’s bravest soldiers would weep as they saw one city after another fall to the enemy. Judah’s diplomats would weep as all their negotiations would fall apart. The people would weep as all the roads would become dangerous, with everything ruined and no way of escape.
But the Lord would indeed rise up in defense of God’s people.
“Now I will arise,” says the Lord,Isaiah 33:10 (NRSV)
“now I will lift myself up;
now I will be exalted.
God will always receive overdue repentance, even when it is our last resort. Even after, in absolute failure, we have committed every imaginable sin, when we are in the middle of disasters of our own making, God will provide a way out.
All you and I have to do is cry out to the Lord, our Savior.
The miraculous deliverance that God provided would spread the Lord’s fame far and wide.
The sinners in Zion are afraid;Isaiah 33:14-16 (NRSV)
trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can live with the devouring fire?
Who among us can live with everlasting flames?”
Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly,
who despise the gain of oppression,
who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it,
who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shut their eyes from looking on evil,
they will live on the heights;
their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks;
their food will be supplied, their water assured.
This was a near-term picture of God’s gracious salvation from the armies of Assyria. But it was also a far distant prophecy of the immense victory the Lord will one day have over all the enemies, worldwide, of God’s people, and the restoration God will bring to the whole earth, and to all society.
When you and I trust God, we will find the Lord is there for us
When there is nowhere else to turn, and God is all we have, you and I discover that God is also all we need. This is how trusting the Lord changes our experience of God. When we respect God enough to let the Lord have the ascendency—when we relinquish our insistence on
- doing things our way,
- in our own strength,
- and in our own timing,
and instead lean into
- God’s wisdom,
- willingly cooperating with God’s will,
- moving forward in God’s strength,
the Lord will be the stability of your times,
- and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.Isaiah 33:6 (NRSV, modifications mine)
No one else can give those treasures to us. You and I cannot even procure them for ourselves. This is all God’s doing.
Perhaps the people did not feel ready to hear the prophet’s predictions of peril, penitence, pardon, and preservation. But Isaiah knew the people needed a vision of God that would inspire them, that they would remember in their hour of intense need. So he described God in all God’s glory.
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty;Isaiah 33:17 (NRSV)
they will behold a land that stretches far away.
Nowhere would they see those whose intent had been to destroy them. There would be no enemy galleys rowing up their rivers, no dangers lurking in their fields. Unlike the citizens of sacked Samaria, when they gazed upon their own capital city, they would see the streets filled with joyful celebrants,
Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,Isaiah 33:20 (NRSV)
a quiet habitation, an immovable tent
whose stakes will never be pulled up
and none of whose ropes will be broken.
The Lord of Majesty would be there with them, in a land so safe and so full of wealth even the blind would divide abundant spoils, the lame would have their own plunder, and no inhabitant would experience illness.
But the greatest gift from God would be their redemption.
The people who live there will be forgiven their iniquity.Isaiah 33:24 (NRSV)
Though the people had complained about Isaiah’s oracles and orations, that he was predictable and boring, the truth is, the prophet did not preach the same message again and again. Instead, Isaiah’s oracles, given to him by God, were like an eagle wheeling in the sky, visiting the same vital points from different levels. Until the people listened to him, and acted on God’s word to them through Isaiah, they were not going to get any new messages.
Centuries later, James explained why the Lord is this way.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.James 1:5-8 (NRSV)
There are times when I have myself wondered, kneeling before the Lord in prayer, why it seemed I was not hearing something new from God. Each time I have realized it was because I had not acted on what the Lord had already given me. The way to receive from the Lord is to open our minds, hearts, spirits, and hands and then put to use by faith what the Lord gives.