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Blog Series - Isaiah, Prophet of Salvation, Book 5View All Parts
Lachish was an important frontier fortress on the south side of Judah (Joshua 15:39). It was also near the border of Egypt and served as a communications center between Judah and Egypt. There is evidence that it was the site of an Egyptian garrison with horses and chariots. In fact, it appears to have been the site of Israel’s first defense treaty with Egypt, for Micah 1:13 reads,
13 Harness the chariot to the team of horses, O inhabitant of Lachish—She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion—because in you were found the rebellious acts of Israel.
The entire region of Israel, Judah, Philistia, and Phoenicia were under threat and had appealed to Egypt for help. King Sennacherib’s army was in the process of subduing Lachish, according to their own records of the siege. But on their way to Lachish, they were quickly taking all of the walled cities in Judah and Philistia, devastating the land and deporting the people to Assyria. So Isaiah 33:7, 8, 9 says,
7 Behold, their brave men cry in the streets, the ambassadors of peace weep bitterly. 8 The highways are desolate, the traveler has ceased, he has broken the covenant, he has despised the cities, he has no regard for man. 9 The land mourns and pines away. Lebanon is shamed and withers; Sharon is like a desert plain, and Bashan and Carmel lose their foliage.
One can only imagine the scene that the prophet was describing. Jerusalem was packed with refugees from the surrounding towns. Men were crying as they reported death, destruction, and captivity of neighbors, friends, and family. Hezekiah’s ambassadors of peace wept bitterly, having failed first to secure help from Egypt and then failed to bribe Sennacherib.
All hope had perished, travel was too dangerous, the country was on lockdown with the Assyria virus. The Assyrian king had “broken the covenant” he had made with Hezekiah, having no regard for cities or for his fellow man. Life was cheap, and the king’s only concern was to extend his territory and build his empire to the glory of men.
God Rises to the Challenge
Isaiah 33:10-13 says,
10 “Now I will arise,” says the Lord, “Now I will be exalted, now I will be lifted up. 11 You have conceived chaff, you will give birth to stubble; My breath will consume you like a fire. 12 The peoples will be burned to lime like cut thorns which are burned in the fire. 13 You who are far away, hear what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge My might.”
The prophet does not tell us when He received this word, but presumably he received it before God destroyed the Assyrian army outside of Jerusalem. At any rate, Isaiah was preparing his readers for the climax of the story of the siege of Jerusalem in Isaiah 36-39. God had already told the prophet that He would deliver Jerusalem, but the prophet did not know precisely when the king would send word to him requesting prayer. Meanwhile, the destruction would continue until Hezekiah had run out of all military options.
When the fire of God had consumed the Assyrian army overnight, God was indeed exalted while King Sennacherib was humbled. This “fire” was not literal, of course, for it was simply the manifestation of God Himself (Deuteronomy 4:24) and His nature expressed in His “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV).
Hence, when God said, “My breath will consume you like a fire,” the outworking of His word shows that the “fire” was not literal. It was simply the judgment of the law—in this case, on account of Sennacherib’s broken covenant. So also, when Jesus died on the cross, He did not have to be burned with fire to fulfill the law of the red heifer (Numbers 19:5) or any of the sacrifices that were burned upon the altar.
Yet God says that the Assyrian army “will be burned to lime like cut thorns which are burned in the fire.” The people of Jerusalem may have burned their bodies so as to prevent stench and disease, but the judgment of God had already struck the army.
Isaiah 33:13 seems to have been directed at the Egyptians, Philistines, and Phoenicians in particular, for they too would have benefited from God’s deliverance. Except for Egypt, these neighboring nations had already been subdued. So when God says to them, “acknowledge My might,” plain logic should have caused them to seek the God of Israel. They should have recognized that their own gods were inadequate and had done nothing to stop the Assyrian army.
There may have been a few individual foreigners who placed themselves under covenant with the God of Israel, but the nations themselves did not do so. Perhaps these foreigners who joined themselves to the Lord are the ones that the prophet had in mind in Isaiah 56:6, 7.
How To Survive the Consuming Fire
Isaiah 33:14 says,
14 Sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling has seized the godless. “Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?”
Many have wrenched this verse out of its context and used it to prove the literal nature of “hell.” This is what I was taught early in my life. But the context clearly shows that the “fire” was a reference to God as the all-consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24) that burns the flesh as chaff (Matthew 3:12).
Isaiah’s answer is given in Isaiah 33:15,
15 He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity. He who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil.
It is clear that those who “live with continual burning” are not being confined to perpetual torture in “hell” but are those who walk with God, having received the baptism of fire. Their good works are not the cause of their salvation but the evidence of the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The fire on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18) was the presence of God. It was not “hell,” but rather the visible manner in which God expressed His own nature. The Israelites who witnessed this fire were afraid to go near it (Exodus 20:18), but Moses entered that fire fearlessly (Exodus 20:21). The flesh fears the fire, knowing that it cannot survive the all-consuming fire of God.
But we know that the old man must submit to the fire of God, which is described by the Apostle as a crucifixion of the flesh (Romans 6:6). The “sinners in Zion” were terrified by the fire of God, as were their forefathers in the time of Moses. From their fleshly perspective, they did not think that they could approach God and still live. They did not know how to transfer their identity from the old man to the new man, for they were “sinners” and “godless,” and even those who believed in the God of Israel most likely were Old Covenant believers full of fear.
We, however, as New Covenant believers, know the answer to the questions in Isaiah 33:14. Who can live with the consuming fire? The New Creation man can. Who can live with continual burnings? The New Creation man can. But one must be willing to put the old man to death in the all-consuming fire of God in order to walk in newness of life, as Paul put it.
The Inheritance of New Covenant Believers
Such New Covenant believers are described further in Isaiah 33:16, saying,
16 He will dwell on the heights, his refuge will be the impregnable rock; his bread will be given him, his water will be sure.
Those who are in a covenant relationship with God are divinely protected, for they may take refuge in “the impregnable rock.” So also we read in Psalm 46:1, 2,
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.
Whereas an Old Covenant relationship with God is based on fear, a New Covenant relationship is based on love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). One’s level of fear, then, is the barometer of an Old Covenant relationship with God. One’s level of love is the barometer of a New Covenant relationship with God. Most of us, in practice, live in the realm of mixture and (hopefully) are progressing toward “perfect love.”
Isaiah 33:17 says,
17 Your eyes will see the King in His beauty [yophiy, “beauty, brightness, splendor”]; they will behold a far-distant land.
This prophecy was certainly referring to Jesus Christ, the King. However, it was not a reference to His first coming, because He came not to “a far-distant land” but to Judea and Jerusalem. It is, therefore, a reference to the glory of His second coming, where He comes not as the Lamb to be sacrificed but as the King to rule the earth.
This prophecy is quite astonishing, for it does not present the splendor of the coming King coming to Jerusalem, as one might expect, but in “a far-distant land.” No doubt the prophet was speaking of the country that Abraham sought, “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). In view of the exile of the Israelites which Isaiah himself had witnessed, the prophet seemed to know that they would not return to the old land from which they had gone into exile. Hebrews 11:14, 15, 16 says,
14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out [i.e., Canaan], they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Yet Isaiah alluded to this “far-distant land” only briefly and without any details. Much more revelation about this would be given to us in the New Testament writings, where John and Paul distinguished between the two Jerusalems and, by extension, the two countries that men seek to inherit. The Old Jerusalem and the old land of Canaan were temporary inheritances given to the Israelites under the Old Covenant. The New Jerusalem and the “better country, that is, a heavenly one” is the permanent inheritance prepared for New Covenant believers.
Blog Series - Isaiah, Prophet of Salvation, Book 5View All Parts