Salvation in Isaiah 33
In the writings of John Bunyan he describes a man called Mr Face-both-ways. This man is the image of indecision, a man who makes decisions and then changes his mind. There is a creature called an Amphipod – its feet are arranged in two directions. There are also sandhoppers which can go as easily backwards as forwards. Sennacherib the gifted king and commander in chief of the Assyrians was not so much a man of indecision as a man of broken promises. He had demanded tribute from King Hezekiah of Jerusalem, besieged in the mighty city, and Hezekiah had paid it in full, buying freedom for his people – he thought.
But Mr Face-both-ways Sennacherib became greedy and with his 185,000 soldiers he did not withdraw from Jerusalem – he continued to threaten and besiege God’s people. He demanded that they surrender to him. He sent his bullying generals to tell Hezekiah of his hopeless position. You can find the details in 2 Kings 18.
Have you ever noticed that bullies seldom keep their word? Their lust for power and domination seems unstoppable even by negotiation. This was Hitler’s style when he conquered other nations around Germany by trickery and treachery, even breaking a peace treaty with Russia.
Verse 1 of Isaiah 33 is Isaiah’s denunciation of such truce-breaking and perjury. One commentator suggests that Isaiah the Prophet stood on the city wall and flung these very words into the teeth of the Assyrian Ambassadors. God wanted these men to know, and to tell Sennacherib, that the destiny of the Assyrian King and of his nation was not in his own hands, but in the hands of the sovereign Lord God Jehovah of Israel. He is the one who determines the bounds and the seasons of nations as Paul so ably made the point in Acts 17 v 26
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
Even though the state of the world seems to be in such disarray with wickedness on every hand – when we almost feel that things cannot get any worse – we need to cast our minds back to this 33rd Chapter of Isaiah and see what God did. Israel was hopeless – it seemed. But, as ever, the Sovereign Lord God was one step ahead of the enemies of God’s people – and He acted in their favour – despite their rebellion and unbelief! Let us not become disheartened – but rather let us have confidence in the Lord God and in His wonderful Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 2 Isaiah prays
2 O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.
What a wonderful prayer this is! If the city is to be saved then only God can do it through His graciousness and mighty power.
This also is for us to notice. If men and women and boys and girls are to be saved from the grip of the enemy – sin – then it can only be through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ coming upon them by His Holy Spirit. But notice too that God causes His servant to pray – to pray in faith. To believe that God can and will save. This is how we are to come to Him – believing that He will save His people even in the prevailing times in which we live. He IS saving souls today! He is releasing people from Satan’s captivity and they are repenting of their sins and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ to live for Him. We need to be patient and wait for God in His time to do His work. As Jonah said from inside the fish – “Salvation is of the Lord!”
Verse 3 – 4 is God’s answer to Isaiah’s prayer. Isaiah believes that God will act and deal with the Assyrians. He describes how men from Jerusalem will seize the spoil, the booty, WHEN the army is defeated! Remember that at this point the defeat had not happened – but Isaiah outlines what will happen. The Assyrians may have dismissed this as valiant boasting to encourage the people. Isaiah knew it as predictive truth – and the mark of his prophetic office was that it happened as God told him it would happen.
Verses 5 & 6 are precious thoughts. The people of Judah will have stability and security – but only because God secures it for them. Military might, either their own or that of Egypt’s, could not help them – only the exalted Lord God could rescue them! This is the confidence that should be shown in God.
Verses 7 – 9 describe the broken covenant between Sennacherib and Hezekiah. Weeping Ambassadors who had taken the tribute to Sennacherib, wept as they returned. They had taken gold and silver in the hope that disaster could be averted – but they came back with bad news – treasure taken – but no peace!
Empty roads where no one dares to travel because of the security situation. With the majority of Judah’s cities destroyed most of the people had come to Jerusalem.
So there was grief throughout the land – utter dejection and woe – verse 9.
These were the effects of the broken agreement by Sennacherib.
Jehovah says, “Enough is enough!” verse 10. He stirs and says that the time for action has come! And in His action He will be exalted amongst the people.
Verses 11 – 12 are Jehovah’s words to Assyria again – their plans will come to nothing. A graphic picture of the futility of their empire building. God says that they will conceive chaff – worthless cellular material; they will bring forth stubble – the short worthless stalks of grain that remain after the harvest. Such material is usually burnt up as waste – such will be their end – a fire of fury!
Verse 13 speaks of Jehovah’s warning to the nations to take note of what He does with the Assyrians. What He can do to them He can do to any nation.
And now the doubters and rejecters of God amongst the people of Jerusalem, called sinners here in verse 14, need to tremble. Sinners are those who miss the mark of God’s standards that He has set before them. The hypocrites (another word for the godless) are those who are impious – that is they esteem very lightly that which is holy and hold nothing to be sacred. Both disregard God and His way, preferring their own.
Are we surprised that in the Holy city Jerusalem, amongst the chosen people of God, the people of Judah, there could be such sinful and godless people?
Perhaps we should ask this question – are we surprised to find godless, impious and sinful people amongst this nation that has known so much blessing at God’s hand down the centuries? We have had revivals and times of great and godly prosperity in our past. But where is our society now? We see the same kind of godlessness and materialism, rejection of God and trust in self rather than God today. Human nature does not change. With every child born there exists another person who is ready to refuse to have God to reign.
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3 v 23) There is none righteous no not one. (Romans 3 v 10)
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
Isaiah says that God reveals Himself as a fire – a devouring fire. The everlasting burnings are the wrath and anger which emanate from Jehovah’s very being.
Psalm 97 v 3 A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. 4 His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. 5 The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
If only people knew what God was like – a judge who judges with fire! It is awesome to think of Jehovah like this – a God of terror and terrifying majesty.
But wait a moment. These thoughts of terrible judgement may be true – but has not the Lord God Jehovah also revealed Himself in another gracious and tender way?
God now comes to answer the question posed by the sinners and godless in verse 14. They asked who shall dwell with the devouring fire. Or as it says in Malachi 3 v 2
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
And Isaiah’s answer from God is in the form of a description of a righteous person who needs to have no fear of the devouring fire but rather will be a person who dwells on high. Verse 15 has the description
1. A person who walks righteously. Walking is a metaphor for the whole life of an individual – in this case it is a life that reflects the righteousness of God. This person need not fear the fire.
2. A person who speaks righteous words. Who speaks the truth not only with his mouth but also in his heart. This refers to uncompromisingly high moral principles so that there is harmony between actions and speech. This person need not fear the fire.
3. A person who has righteous finances. One who holds in contempt the very idea of extortion or acquiring gain by oppressing another person, who is honest in all his dealings. This person need not fear the fire.
4. A person who cannot be corrupted by bribery or unfair persuasion. There is a graphic description here of someone who has a bribe put into his hand; he realises what it is, he opens his hand and shakes the money out onto the ground. Or if he is offered a bribe he shakes his hands in order to indicate his refusal to take it or be involved in such business. This person need not fear the fire.
5. A person whose behaviour is such that he refuses to listen to plans or plots that involve bloodshed. One who refuses to listen at the very outset has taken the first step to being protected from the consequences of crime. This person need not fear the fire.
6. A person who shuts his eyes and refuses to see sin. By this is meant that he refuses to look favourably or even indifferently on sinful things, but keeps his eyes looking straight ahead towards a righteous goal. How this kind of godliness is needed today with the many visual examples of sin that abound today. This person need not fear the fire.
Isaiah has listed righteous conduct, upright speech, purity of heart, honesty, and ears and eyes turned towards divine principles of righteousness.
Where can we find such people – people whose characters fit this description?
We can find one character in the whole of human history who perfectly fits the criteria – the Lord Jesus Christ. His life was perfect as a man – righteous in all his ways and thoughts. No blemishes of character and always desired to do the will of Him that sent Him.
The amazing thing is my friends, that this perfect character of a man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is also the very same judge who will come with fire to judge men and women! He has the right to judge because He himself is righteous. And yet He came to humble himself and become obedient unto death even the death of the cross. He came to make the supreme sacrifice of himself so that ordinary sinful rebellious human beings, through a miracle of regeneration, may be made perfect like Him and live lives that please him.
Believers, those who have been born again by the Spirit of God, have no need to fear the fire. They have been made safe – through the salvation bought by the righteous man, Jesus Christ. They have been made into new creatures. They have repented of and renounced their old evil lifestyle and begun to walk in Christ’s righteous ways. He has given them the power to overcome their original sinful nature.
Do you fear the fire my friend? We have just had a new gas fire fitted in the manse. It is far more efficient than the previous one and produces much more heat so much so that we will have to purchase a guard to protect visiting children. Children need to learn to fear fire so that they may avoid terrible injury.
But there is only one way to avoid God’s fire of judgement – and that is to be right with God through the Lord Jesus Christ – repent of your sins – believe in the Lord – trust Him with your life – then there need be no fear of the fire of judgement for you!