This chapter describes interactions that the Assyrians had with Israel. A reference that provides context in detail can be found in II Kings 18:13-37.
However, even though the template of the discussions is the Assyrians and Judah, the chapter is also meant to be understood as an allegory of the righteous and the wicked in general. This perspective is what we will take for this study of Isaiah 33. Also, the prophecies of salvation are unique, symbolic and memorable in the latter part of the chapter. We will discuss this chapter in three parts, starting with verses 1-9.
Verses 1-9: Isaiah begins with warnings to those that would take advantage of others. The prophet Isaiah warns that those who would plunder will in turn be plundered by those they victimize. It is reminiscent of Matthew 7:2 where Jesus said: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
The next section until verse 6 reads like a prayer of the righteous remnant that we have encountered before in this book of prophecy. God is asked for strength for the righteous and His strength is praised.
The last three verses of this section (7-9) portray the condition of those who would not worship and honor God as described in the previous verses. The description is a dejected visage of the land, reflecting the condition of the hearts of those that were not to be part of the holy remnant through which Christ would come.
Verses 10-16: Here is a very powerful group of verses that embody the idea of prophecy as one who speaks for God. Because in these verses, God appears to be speaking directly through Isaiah to us. God makes himself known and proclaims His dominance over His creation by saying that they will be devoured (burned) by their own breath. The people that are close to God’s revelation of Jesus the Savior (those that lived when He lived) and those who are afar off (us, for example) will know of God.
The burning mentioned in verse 11 occurs to those who foolishly endeavor to live without God and seek their own desires above the commandments of the Almighty. But those who would seek to escape these consequences will seek righteousness and avoid evil. These faithful few will be blessed and confident in their life.
Verses 17-24: This final section contains beautiful descriptions of the protection and absolute confidence that God provides to the faithful. Indeed, verse 18 mocks those who would attempt to attack the stronghold of God. They would have no hope due to His incomparable power. The people that live in the protection of God’s city (prophecied here to be the saving grace through Jesus Christ) are respected, intelligent and holy. This safe place cannot be broken into or corrupted. Once God has provided us with a way to salvation, He will not remove it and will not allow for another to tear it down. This is not to say that the faithful saved cannot “leave” the city (by sinning), but it does say that God will build a condition within which the faithful will be sure of their condition: “(For the LORD is our Judge, The LORD is our Lawgiver, The LORD is our King; He will save us);” Isaiah 33:22
This last beautiful passage of the chapter describes a city that lives in peace, in harmony, in confidence. Outsiders that would work to invade or overthrow will fail. The citizens of this city will never be sick and they will never be in danger. This city is salvation through Jesus Christ.
In the final statement of the chapter, Isaiah ties the figurative symbol of the city to the actual reality of salvation: “The people who dwell in it will be forgiven their iniquity.”
What an impressive and masterful union of the figurative prophecy and the actual event! Praise God for the excellence of His Word to us through the prophet Isaiah.