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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Isaiah Chapter 33

Isaiah 33:1

isa 33:1

We are now in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign. The threatenings of the first years, which the repentance of the people had delayed, are now so far in force again, and so far actually realized, that the Assyrians are already in Judah, and have not only devastated the land, but are threatening Jerusalem. The element of promise now gains the upper hand, the prophet places himself between Asshur and his own nation with the weapons of prophecy and prayer, and the woe turns from the latter to the former. "Woe, devastator, and thyself not devastated; and thou spoiler, and still not spoiled! Hast thou done with devastating? thou shalt be devastated. Hast thou attained to rob? men rob thee." Asshur is described as not devastated and not spoiled (which could not be expressed by a participle as with us, since bâgad is construed with Beth, and not with the accusative of the person), because it had not yet been visited by any such misfortune as that which had fallen upon other lands and nations. But it would be repaid with like for the like as soon as כּ indicating simultaneousness, as in Isa 30:19 and Isa 18:5, for example) its devastating and spoiling had reached the point determined by Jehovah. Instead of בך, we find in some codd. and editions the reading בו, which is equally admissible. In כּהתימך (from תּמם) the radical syllable is lengthened, instead of having dagesh. כּנּלתך is equivalent to כּהנלותך, a hiphil syncopated for the sake of rhythm (as in Isa 3:8; Deu 1:33, and many other passages), written here with dagesh dirmens, from the verb nâlâh, which is attested also by Job 15:29. The coincidence in meaning with the Arab. verb nâl (fut. i and u), to acquire or attain (see Comm. on Job, at Job 15:29 and Job 30:24-27), has been admitted by the earliest of the national grammarians, Ben-Koreish, Chayug, etc. The conjecture כּכלּותך (in addition to which Cappellus proposed כנלאותך) is quite unnecessary. The play upon the sound sets forth the punishment of the hitherto unpunished one as the infallible echo of its sin.

Isaiah 33:2

isa 33:2

In Isa 33:2 the prophet's word of command is changed into a believing prayer: "Jehovah, be gracious to us; we wait for Thee: be their arm with every morning, yea, our salvation in time of need!" "Their arm," i.e., the power which shelters and defends them, viz., Thy people and my own. "Yea," 'aph, is emphatic. Israel's arm every morning, because the danger is renewed every day; Israel's salvation, i.e., complete deliverance (Isa 25:9), because the culminating point of the trouble is still in prospect.

Isaiah 33:3

isa 33:3

While the prophet is praying thus, he already sees the answer. "At the sound of a noise peoples pass away; at Thy rising nations are scattered. And your booty is swept away as a swarm of locusts sweeps away; as beetles run, they run upon it." The indeterminate hâmōn, which produces for that very reason the impression of something mysterious and terrible, is at once explained. The noise comes from Jehovah, who is raising Himself judicially above Assyria, and thunders as a judge. Then the hostile army runs away (נפצוּ = נפצּוּ, from the niphal נפץ, Sa1 13:11, from פּץ = נפוץ, from פּוּץ); and your booty (the address returns to Assyria) is swept away, just as when a swarm of locusts settles on a field, it soon eats it utterly away. Jerome, Cappellus, and others follow the Septuagint rendering, ὃν τρόπον ἐάν τις συναγάγη ἀκρίδας. The figure is quite as appropriate, but the article in hechâsı̄l makes the other view the more natural one; and Isa 33:4 places this beyond all doubt. Shâqaq, from which the participle shōqēq and the substantive masshâq are derived, is sued here, as in Joe 2:9, to signify a busy running hither and thither (discursitare). The syntactic use of shōqēq is the same as that of קרא (they call) in Isa 21:11, and sōphedı̄m (they smite) in Isa 32:12. The inhabitants of Jerusalem swarm in the enemy's camp like beetles; they are all in motion, and carry off what they can.

Isaiah 33:5

isa 33:5

The prophet sees this as he prays, and now feasts himself on the consequences of this victory of Jehovah, prophesying in Isa 33:5, Isa 33:6 : "Jehovah is exalted; for, dwelling on high, He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness. And there will be security of thy times, riches of salvation, of wisdom, and knowledge. Fear of Jehovah is then the treasure of Judah." Exalted: for though highly exalted in Himself, He has performed an act of justice and righteousness, with the sight and remembrance of which Zion is filled as with an overflowing rich supply of instruction and praise. A new time has dawned for the people of Judah. The prophet addresses them in Isa 33:6; for there is nothing to warrant us in regarding the words as addressed to Hezekiah. To the times succeeding this great achievement there would belong 'emūnâh, i.e., (durability (Exo 17:12) - a uniform and therefore trustworthy state of things (compare Isa 39:8, "peace and truth"). Secondly, there would also belong to them חסן, a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge (compare the verb in Isa 23:18). We regard these three ideas as all connected with chōsen. The prophet makes a certain advance towards the unfolding of the seven gifts in Isa 11:2, which are implied in "salvation;" but he hurries at once to the lowest of them, which forms the groundwork of all the rest, when he says, thirdly, that the fear of Jehovah will be the people's treasure. The construct form, chokhmath, instead of chokhmâh, is a favourite one, which Isaiah employs, even apart from the genitive relation of the words, for the purpose of securing a closer connection, as Isa 35:2; Isa 51:21 (compare pârash in Eze 26:10), clearly show. In the case before us, it has the further advantage of consonance in the closing sound.

Isaiah 33:7

isa 33:7

The prophet has thus run through the whole train of thought with a few rapid strides, in accordance with the custom which we have already frequently noticed; and now he commences afresh, mourning over the present miserable condition of things, in psalm-like elegiac tones, and weeping with his weeping people. "Behold, their heroes weep without; the messengers of peace weep bitterly. Desolate are roads, disappeared are travellers; he has broken covenant, insulted cities, despised men. The land mourns, languishes; Lebanon stands ashamed, parched; the meadow of Sharon has become like a steppe, and Bashan and Carmel shake their leaves." אראלּם is probably chosen with some allusion to 'Ariel, the name of Jerusalem in chapter 29; but it has a totally different meaning. We have rendered it "heroes," because אראל is here synonymous with אראל in the Nibelung-like piece contained in Sa2 23:20 and Ch1 11:22. This 'ărı̄'ēl, which is here contracted into 'er'el (compare the biblical name 'Ar'ēlı̄ and the post-biblical name of the angels, 'Er'ellı̄m), is compounded of 'arı̄ (a lion) and ‛El (God), and therefore signifies "the lion of God," but in this sense, that El (God) gives to the idea of leonine courage merely the additional force of extraordinary or wonderful; and as a composite word, it contents itself with a singular, with a collective sense according to circumstances, without forming any plural at all. The dagesh is to be explained from the fact that the word (which tradition has erroneously regarded as a compound of להם אראה) is pointed in accordance with the form כּרמל (כרמלּו). The heroes intended by the prophet were the messengers sent to Sennacherib to treat with him for peace. They carried to him the amount of silver and gold which he had demanded as the condition of peace (Kg2 18:14). But Sennacherib broke the treaty, by demanding nothing less than the surrender of Jerusalem itself. Then the heroes of Jerusalem cried aloud, when they arrived at Jerusalem, and had to convey this message of disgrace and alarm to the king and nation; and bitterly weeping over such a breach of faith, such deception and disgrace, the embassy, which had been sent off, to the deep self-humiliation of Judah and themselves, returned to Jerusalem. Moreover, Sennacherib continued to storm the fortified places, in violation of his agreement (on mâ'as ‛arı̄m, see Kg2 18:13). The land was more and more laid waste, the fields were trodden down; and the autumnal aspect of Lebanon, with its faded foliage, and of Bashan and Carmel, with their falling leaves, looked like shame and grief at the calamities of the land. It was in the autumn, therefore, that the prophet uttered these complaints; and the definition of the time given in his prophecy (Isa 32:10) coincides with this. קמל is the pausal form for קמל, just as in other places an ē with the tone, which has sprung from i, easily passes into a in pause; the sharpening of the syllable being preferred to the lengthening of it, not only when the syllable which precedes the tone syllable is an open one, but sometimes even when it is closed (e.g., Jdg 6:19, ויּגּשׁ). Instead of כּערבה we should read כּערבה (without the article), as certain codd. and early editions do.

(Note: We find the same in Zac 14:10, and כּערבים in Isa 44:4, whereas we invariably have בּערבה (see Michlol, 45b), just as we always find בּאבנים, and on the other hand כּבנים.)

Isaiah having mourned in the tone of the Psalms, now comforts himself with the words of a psalm. Like David in Psa 12:6, he hears Jehovah speak. The measure of Asshur's iniquity is full; the hour of Judah's redemption is come; Jehovah has looked on long enough, as though sitting still (Isa 18:4). Isa 33:10 "Now will I arise, saith Jehovah, now exalt myself, now lift up myself." Three times does the prophet repeat the word ‛attâh (now), which is so significant a word with all the prophets, but more especially with Hosea and Isaiah, and which always fixes the boundary-line and turning-point between love and wrath, wrath and love. ארומם (in half pause for ארוממא is contracted from עתרומם (Ges. 54, 2, b). Jehovah would rise up from His throne, and show Himself in all His greatness to the enemies of Israel.

Isaiah 33:11

isa 33:11

After the prophet has heard this from Jehovah, he knows how it will fare with them. He therefore cries out to them in triumph (Isa 33:11), "Ye are pregnant with hay, ye bring forth stubble! Your snorting is the fire that will devour you." Their vain purpose to destroy Jerusalem comes to nothing; their burning wrath against Jerusalem becomes the fire of wrath, which consumes them (for chashash and qash, see at Isa 5:24).

Isaiah 33:12

isa 33:12

The prophet announces this to them, and now tells openly what has been exhibited to him in his mental mirror as the purpose of God. "And nations become as lime burnings, thorns cut off, which are kindled with fire." The first simile sets forth the totality of the destruction: they will be so completely burned up, that nothing but ashes will be left, like the lump of lime left at the burning of lime. The second contains a figurative description of its suddenness: they have vanished suddenly, like dead brushwood, which is cut down in consequence, and quickly crackles up and is consumed (Isa 5:24, cf., Isa 9:17): kâsach is the Targum word for zâmar, amputare, whereas in Arabic it has the same meaning as sâchâh, verrere.

Isaiah 33:13

isa 33:13

But the prophet, while addressing Asshur, does not overlook those sinners of his own nation who are deserving of punishment. The judgment upon Asshur is an alarming lesson, not only for the heathen, but for Israel also; for there is no respect of persons with Jehovah. "Hear, ye distant ones, what I have accomplished; and perceive, ye near ones, my omnipotence! The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling seizes the hypocrites: who of us can abide with devouring fire? who of us abide with everlasting burnings?" Even for the sinners in Jerusalem also there is no abiding in the presence of the Almighty and Just One, who has judged Asshur (the act of judgment is regarded by the prophet as having just occurred); they must either repent, or they cannot remain in His presence. Jehovah, so far as His wrath is concerned, is "a consuming fire" (Deu 4:24; Deu 9:3); and the fiery force of His anger is "everlasting burnings" (mōkedē ‛ōlâm), inasmuch as it consists of flames that are never extinguished, never burn themselves out. And this God had His fire and His furnace in Jerusalem (Isa 31:9), and had just shown what His fire could do, when once it burst forth. Therefore do the sinners inquire in their alarm, whilst confessing to one another (lânū; cf., Amo 9:1) that none of them can endure it, "Who can dwell with devouring fire?" etc. (gūr with the acc. loci, as in Psa 5:5).

Isaiah 33:15

isa 33:15

The prophet answers their question. "He that walketh in righteousness, and speaketh uprightness; he that despiseth gain of oppressions, whose hand keepeth from grasping bribes; he that stoppeth his ear from hearing murderous counsel, and shutteth his eyes from looking at evil; he will dwell upon high places; rocky fastnesses are his castle; his bread is abundant, his waters inexhaustible." Isaiah's variation of Psa 15:1-5 and Psa 24:3-6 (as Jer 17:5-8 contains Jeremiah's variation of Psa 1:1-6). Tsedâqōth is the accusative of the object, so also is mēshârı̄m: he who walks in all the relations of life in the full measure of righteousness, i.e., who practises it continually, and whose words are in perfect agreement with his inward feelings and outward condition. The third quality is, that he not only does not seek without for any gain which injures the interests of his neighbour, but that he inwardly abhors it. The fourth is, that he diligently closes his hands, his ears, and his eyes, against all danger of moral pollution. Bribery, which others force into his hand, he throws away (cf., Neh 5:13); against murderous suggestions, or such as stimulate revenge, hatred, and violence, he stops his ear; and from sinful sights he closes his eyes firmly, and that without even winking. Such a man has no need to fear the wrath of God. Living according to the will of God, he lives in the love of God; and in that he is shut in as it were upon the inaccessible heights and in the impregnable walls of a castle upon a rock. He suffers neither hunger nor thirst; but his bread is constantly handed to him (nittân, partic.), namely, by the love of God; and his waters never fail, for God, the living One, makes them flow. This is the picture of a man who has no need to be alarmed at the judgment of God upon Asshur.

Isaiah 33:17

isa 33:17

Over this picture the prophet forgets the sinners in Zion, and greets with words of promise the thriving church of the future. "Thine eyes will see the king in his beauty, will see a land that is very far off." The king of Judah, hitherto so deeply humbled, and, as Micah instances by way of example, "smitten upon the cheeks," is then glorified by the victory of his God; and the nation, constituted as described in Isa 33:15, Isa 33:16, will see him in his God-given beauty, and see the land of promise, cleared of enemies as far as the eye can reach and the foot carry, restored to Israel without reserve, and under the dominion of this sovereign enjoying all the blessedness of peace.

Isaiah 33:18

isa 33:18

The tribulation has passed away like a dream. "Thy heart meditates upon the shuddering. Where is the valuer? where the weigher? where he who counted the towers? The rough people thou seest no more, the people of deep inaudible lip, of stammering unintelligible tongue." The dreadful past is so thoroughly forced out of mind by the glorious present, that they are obliged to turn back their thoughts (hâgâh, meditari, as Jerome renders it) to remember it at all. The sōphēr who had the management of the raising of the tribute, the shōqēl who tested the weight of the gold and silver, the sōpher 'eth hammigdâl who drew up the plan of the city to be besieged or stormed, are all vanished. The rough people (נועז עם, the niphal of עזז, from יעז), that had shown itself so insolent, so shameless, and so insatiable in its demands, has become invisible. This attribute is a perfectly appropriate one; and the explanation given by Rashi, Vitringa, Ewald, and Frst, who take it in the sense of lō‛ēz in Psa 114:1, is both forced and groundless. The expressions ‛imkē and nil‛ag refer to the obscure and barbarous sound of their language; misshemōă to the unintelligibility of their speech; and בּינה אין to the obscurity of their meaning. Even if the Assyrians spoke a Semitic language, they were of so totally different a nationality, and their manners were so entirely different, that their language must have sounded even more foreign to an Israelite than Dutch to a German.

Isaiah 33:20

isa 33:20

And how will Jerusalem look when Asshur has been dashed to pieces on the strong fortress? The prophet passes over here into the tone of Psa 48:1-14 (Psa 48:13, Psa 48:14). Psa 46:1-11 and Psa 48:1-14 probably belong to the time of Jehoshaphat; but they are equally applicable to the deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of Hezekiah. "Look upon Zion, the castle of our festal meeting. Thine eyes will see Jerusalem, a pleasant place, a tent that does not wander about, whose pegs are never drawn, and none of whose cords are ever broken." Jerusalem stands there unconquered and inviolable, the fortress where the congregation of the whole land celebrates its feasts, a place full of good cheer (Isa 32:18), in which everything is now arranged for a continuance. Jerusalem has come out of tribulation stronger than ever - not a nomadic wandering tent (tsâ‛am, a nomad word, to wander, lit., to pack up = tâ‛an in Gen 45:17), but one set up for a permanent dwelling.

Isaiah 33:21

isa 33:21

It is also a great Lord who dwells therein, a faithful and almighty defender. "No, there dwells for us a glorious One, Jehovah; a place of streams, canals of wide extent, into which no fleet of rowing vessels ventures, and which no strong man of war shall cross. For Jehovah is our Judge; Jehovah is our war-Prince; Jehovah is our King; He will bring us salvation." Following upon the negative clauses in Isa 33:20, the next v. commences with kı̄ 'im (imo). Glorious ('addı̄r) is Jehovah, who has overthrown Lebanon, i.e., Assyria (Isa 10:34). He dwells in Jerusalem for the good of His people - a place of streams, i.e., one resembling a place of streams, from the fact that He dwells therein. Luzzatto is right in maintaining, that בּו and יעברנּוּ point back to מקום, and therefore that mekōm is neither equivalent to loco (tachath, instead of), which would be quite possible indeed, as Kg1 21:19, if not Hos 2:1, clearly proves (cf., Kg1 22:38), nor used in the sense of substitution or compensation. The meaning is, that, by virtue of Jehovah's dwelling there, Jerusalem had become a place, or equivalent to a place, or broad streams, like those which in other instances defended the cities they surrounded (e.g., Babylon, the "twisted snake," Isa 27:1), and of broad canals, which kept off the enemy, like moats around a fortification. The word יארים was an Egyptian word, that had become naturalized in Hebrew; nevertheless it is a very natural supposition, that the prophet was thinking of the No of Egypt, which was surrounded by waters, probably Nile-canals (see Winer, R.W. Nah 3:8). The adjective in which yâdaim brings out with greater force the idea of breadth, as in Isa 22:18 ("on both sides"), belongs to both the nouns, which are placed side by side, ὰσυνδέτως (because permutative). The presence of Jehovah was to Jerusalem what the broadest streams and canals were to other cities; and into these streams and canals, which Jerusalem had around it spiritually in Jehovah Himself, no rowing vessels ventured בּ הלך, ingredi). Luzzatto renders the word "ships of roving," i.e., pirate ships; but this is improbable, as shūt, when used as a nautical word, signifies to row. Even a majestic tsı̄, i.e., trieris magna, could not cross it: a colossal vessel of this size would be wrecked in these mighty and dangerous waters. The figure is the same as that in Isa 26:1. In the consciousness of this inaccessible and impenetrable defence, the people of Jerusalem gloried in their God, who watched as a shōphēt over Israel's rights and honour, who held as mechoqēq the commander's rod, and ruled as melekh in the midst of Israel; so that for every future danger it was already provided with the most certain help.

Isaiah 33:23

isa 33:23

Now indeed it was apparently very different from this. It was not Assyria, but Jerusalem, that was like a ship about to be wrecked; but when that which had just been predicted should be fulfilled, Jerusalem, at present so powerless and sinful, would be entirely changed. "Thy ropes hang loose; they do not hold fast the support of thy mast; they do not hold the flag extended: then is booty of plunder divided in abundance; even lame men share the prey. And not an inhabitant will say, I am weak: the people settled there have their sins forgiven." Nearly every commentator (even Luzzatto) has taken Isa 33:23 as addressed to Assyria, which, like a proud vessel of war, would cross the encircling river by which Jerusalem was surrounded. But Drechsler has very properly given up this view. The address itself, with the suffix ayikh (see at Isa 1:26), points to Jerusalem; and the reference to this gives the most appropriate sense, whilst the contrast between the now and then closes the prophecy in the most glorious manner. Jerusalem is now a badly appointed ship, dashed about by the storm, the sport of the waves. Its rigging hangs loose (Jerome, laxati sunt); it does not hold the kēn tornâm fast, i.e., the support of their mast, or cross beam with a hole in it, into which the mast is slipped (the mesodme of Homer, Od. xv 289), which is sure to go to ruin along with the falling mast, if the ropes do not assist its bearing power (malum sustinentes thecae succurrant, as Vitruvius says). And so the ropes of the ship Jerusalem do not keep the nēs spread out, i.e., the ἐπίσημον of the ship, whether we understand by it a flag or a sail, with a device worked upon it (see Winer, R.W. s. v. Schiffe). And this is the case with Jerusalem now; but then ('âz) it will be entirely different. Asshur is wrecked, and Jerusalem enriches itself, without employing any weapons, from the wealth of the Assyrian camp. It was with a prediction of this spoiling of Asshur that the prophet commenced in Isa 33:1; so that the address finishes as it began. But the closing words of the prophet are, that the people of Jerusalem are now strong in God, and are עון נשׂא (as in Psa 32:1), lifted up, taken away from their guilt. A people humbled by punishment, penitent, and therefore pardoned, would then dwell in Jerusalem. The strength of Israel, and all its salvation, rest upon the forgiveness of its sins.

Next: Isaiah Chapter 34