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Lowell Brueckner

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Zion’s Sinners and Righteous Ones


31. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 33

God’s cup for measuring evil
Throughout the book of Isaiah, we find the prophet taken up with the development and the advance of the Assyrian Empire and army. It was establishing its dominance on the world scene of that day. God informs His people concerning it and encourages them by referring to its ultimate destruction. His word reaches out to the Assyrian himself to warn him of the coming judgment. As I have mentioned previously, these prophecies stretch beyond the immediate situation to the rising Babylonian Empire and to other world powers, which will take their place in the future, and sometimes they reach to the end of the age.

Therefore in verse 1, the subject addressed is primarily Assyria, but takes in any oppressive human system that exerts its power over weaker nations. They are characterized as destructive and treacherous and they attack without provocation. They are not seeking to recover, what has been taken from them, or to take revenge on harm done to them. Those under their attack have not betrayed or hurt them in the past. That is not necessary to an army made up of fallen human beings. They are inherently evil.

God allows them to progress up to a certain point and carefully measures the level of their evil deeds. He makes a curious statement in the book of Genesis, stating that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen.15:16), giving this as a reason why He would delay the beginning of His plan to use Abraham’s descendants to conquer the Amorites and Canaan, for four generations. On the other hand, Christ stated that the generation had come and the time was ripe for rebellious Jews to “fill up, then, the measure of your fathers” (Mt.23:32). The prophecy before us declares that the time will come, when all evildoers will be visited with the same treachery and destruction that they have dealt to others.

Waiting for God to arise

Isaiah utters the prayer of his people, as the threat of the Assyrian enemy becomes a reality and Judah turns to its God, imploring Him to treat them with grace. Old Testament or New, the only way to obtain the favor of God is through grace and never by the worthiness of His people or their deeds. As in verse 2, from time to time, Isaiah expresses the need to wait upon or to wait for God. We look forward to contemplating that famous promise in chapter 40: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…” If we intend to be His followers, we must learn to wait patiently. The deceitful world is quick to offer its solutions, especially in this push-button age, but God’s ways remain the same. They require that we wait, in order to receive from His hand that which is the very best.

The Lord’s people should be consistently conscious of their daily dependency upon Him, in order to expect His help in the time of trouble, which is soon to come. His help is described and this is what is to be expected, as an answer to prayer: At the tumultuous noise peoples flee; when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered, and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers; as locusts leap, it is leapt upon” (v.3,4). When Jesus spoke peace, the wind and the waves were stilled, but when the voice of the Lord roars in thunder, armies are scattered and leave behind a spoil to be gathered by the Jews in the coming Assyrian conflict.

More than deliverance for those who are His, the Lord performs His mighty works to the exaltation of His name. What follows are the manifestations of His attributes on earth among His people. The first evidence of His kingdom is the establishment of a department of justice and righteousness (v.5). The condition of Zion will stabilize, there will be multiplied testimonies of His salvation, carried out through His wise ways and His perfect knowledge of every situation. The fear of God rules in society, called in verse 6, a treasure. Those, who have experienced the moral poverty of a society that lacks the fear of God, can appreciate that treasure.

Isaiah tends to switch from prophecies concerning the future to descriptions of the present condition in Judah. The word behold introduces such a change in his account, as he now writes of the cries of the courageous and the weeping of ambassadors, who have failed in their negotiations with the enemy. Travel ceases, highways are deserted, treaties are meaningless, individual life has no value and regard for the population of the cities is also despised (v.7,8). In the rural areas, the land is neglected and the great forests of cedars and oaks are bared and wasted (v.9).

Now the measure is full and the Lord arises to perform His unique work in such a way that no one can explain it as anything less than divine intervention. Thereby, He alone can be exalted (v.10). God turns and speaks to the enemy and His word is a declaration of truth, regardless of the measures that men will take in reaction to it. “You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you. And the peoples will be as if burned to lime; like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire” (v.11-12). Man’s finest plans and greatest efforts produce nothing more than chaff, stubble, lime and thorns to be burned. As stated in verse 1, their treachery and destruction turn against them to consume them. All the earth, near and far, must hear His voice, because His fame must be known everywhere (v.13).

The sinners and righteous in Zion

Then the Lord turns to those “among us”. Zion may be a moderate hill in the physical eyes of mankind, but it is the highest summit that gets His closest attention on earth. Even there, however, are sinners and hypocrites. Jesus taught us the imperfections of the Kingdom on earth in the parables of the ten virgins, the wheat and the tares, the mustard seed, the leaven, and the net that collects good fishes and bad. I want us to catch the force of this statement: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” (v.14).

The very best thing that can happen to the unconverted and hypocritical among the people of God is for them to experience eye-opening reality that causes fear and trembling. They have been finding comfort by extracting life and spiritual benefits from the genuine people of God. They lay claim to the outward perimeters of the Kingdom. They are Judeans, they think, and they dwell in Zion, the spiritual height of Jerusalem. There is no more dangerous position than that in this world. It is God’s mercy that awakens them to His wrath and judgment, as it falls upon the Assyrian army. They see the wrath of God poured out upon the enemy during one night, but these are people, who know the Hebrew doctrine of the eternal fires of hell. How will they endure the everlasting burnings?

I notice that the good commentators, true theologians that they are, are eloquent concerning this passage. It is no wonder that hypocrites in the church hate theology and the truth that it proclaims, as the Jews hated the true prophets. They are faithful to reveal to us the God of wrath and the Lake of Fire, which He has created, in order that those, who heed their warnings, might escape His wrath and the eternal flames. The sinners and hypocrites are among us today, as they were among the Jews. Pay attention, for a moment, to Matthew Henry: “There are sinners in Zion, hypocrites, that enjoy Zion's privileges and concur in Zion's services, but their hearts are not right in the sight of God; they keep up secret haunts of sin under the cloak of a visible profession, which convicts them of hypocrisy. Sinners in Zion will have a great deal to answer for above other sinners; and their place in Zion will be so far from being their security that it will aggravate both their sin and their punishment.

Then, the servant of God turns to point to the faithful in Zion. “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous,” declares the Apostol John, “whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil…” (1 Jn.3:7,8) There is no true grace that does not produce righteousness. Isaiah obviously sees the same principle:  “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil…” (v.15). His depiction of their destiny is beautiful and I want to be sure that you read it right from The Book: “He will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar (v.16-17).

There is always protection at all times for the righteous. We read of their impenetrable position, the rock and the heights throughout the Psalms, especially, but it is part of the total Covenant, whether New or Old. The Bible promises sustenance, as well as protection, all part of God’s provision in defense of His people. Benefits and blessings follow, beyond anything that an earthling can expect.

The righteous will see the King and His Kingdom, the greatest beauty found in the person of the King, beyond that found in His land. Don’t make the mistake of becoming overawed by the things of God and miss the greatest glory of Himself. Isaiah is speaking of the circumstances of his day, but is obviously pointing to the Kingdom of God in its millennial glory and, beyond that, He is speaking of the eternal inheritance of the believer. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Pr.4:18).

God’s strength in earthly weakness

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” asked the apostle (1 Co.1:20). Looking back, after victory is won, all the important men and their offices become small. The vicious intentions of the enemy, which once seemed so frightening and real, have lost all their power. The captive sat in the darkness under a strange, incomprehensible language, which was used by the foe, and his terror was heightened by the unknown. These now only live in fading memories, their reality erased by experiencing the lasting purpose of God. (v.18,19).

The Jew has been brought up from childhood under the tutorship of the Omniscient, whose festivals are a fixture throughout his history and extend into a secure future. Mount Zion, the city of Jerusalem, the habitation of peace, the tent pitched by immovable stakes, never to be pulled up, and its unbreakable cords are fixed by the Omnipotent. The unimpressive hill and the city surrounding it, the tents without foundation stones, are stable and sure under the watchful eye of their Protector (v.20).

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is for them and who can be against them (Ro.8:31). That which seems weak and small to the natural man has been provided for them, so that they would not trust in their natural position, but in their supernatural God. They must see things from His standpoint and learn of His surpassing regal majesty. The lowly Jordan was the river of cleansing power for the Syrian general and heaven broadens the water resources of the Promised Land and makes them impassible for the greatest of ships (v.21).

What makes the Jew unique among the nations of the world is the power and presence of his God. Their final government is a pure theocracy with a judicial system consisting of one Judge, their legislative branch of one Lawgiver, and their administration ruled by one King: “The Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us” (v.22).

The lessons from the Holy Spirit in this chapter are so clear to the sensitive spirit, enlightened by His anointing. They culminate in verse 23, showing the worldly insecurity of the people of God by using a ship to illustrate their plight: “Your cords hang loose; they cannot hold the mast firm in its place or keep the sail spread out.” The words seem to describe a coming disaster, but it is not so. Just the opposite, it is the depiction of a victor, who, in his weakness, will divide an abundant spoil after the battle (v.23). “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Co.12:10)… that was the divine principle, learned by the Apostle Paul.

The principle, which we are contemplating, comes to its perfection, when a revived Zion becomes the ruling center of a millennial kingdom. Behold this Zion, which Prophet Isaiah is describing once again.  It is the place, where, in its time, the spirit of man will be strong. Sins will be forgiven and the inner man will be whole, saved by the blood of the Messiah (v.24).   

Remember this, believer: The doctrine of Paul teaches that the Jews are a natural olive tree and that we, the Gentile believers in Christ, have been grafted into it (see Romans 11:11-27). Our God is the God of Israel. Therefore, the spiritual principle of His strength through human weakness, given to Israel and exemplified through them, also applies to us. The promises to the righteous in Zion are also promises to the righteous in Christ Jesus. It must also be recognized that the sinners and hypocrites, who dwell in Zion, also dwell in the church in this 21st Century. We have become partakers of eternal truth. The spiritual sickness of sin has been healed, because our sins are forgiven through the blood of the Lamb. We will follow the Jew into the Millennium and experience Christ’s reign in righteousness and peace.  


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