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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Those who see the coming King in His beauty are those who “behold a far-distant land.” They, like Abraham, are those who see by the eye of faith a “better country” than the physical land in which they live. Such people will meditate on some vital questions.
Isaiah 33:18 says,
18 Your heart will meditate on terror: “Where is he who counts [safar, “scribe, record keeper, numberer”]? Where is he who weighs [shaqal, “weighs” (silver to pay for goods)]? Where is he who counts the towers?”
The one meditating is not terrified but is wondering how the terror disappeared so quickly. Of course, even in the midst of terror, we who behold the face of the King can live without fear, for we are changed by beholding Him (2 Cor. 3:18). So whether we now live without fear or are among the many who will attain to a life without fear in the future, we may ask for a scribe to read us the record of terror that others claim to have seen.
The prophet paints a picture of a man of faith who seems ignorant of the terror that others are seeing, a man who does not understand their fear. Thus, he needs a scribe to inform him of what is terrifying other people, because he himself does not see it.
From a historical perspective, Isaiah was foretelling the destruction of the Assyrian army, whose scribes enlisted the soldiers and kept the records. On their stone monuments they always pictured two scribes keeping a record of the spoils of war that had been captured, including cattle, sheep, prisoners, and even the heads of the slain. Hence, Isaiah also asks, “Where is he who weighs.” The word is shaqal, which is related to the shekel. It speaks of a merchant buying or selling goods and weighing out the silver payment.
Thirdly, there were those whose job it was to count the towers. These were responsible to report the strength of the fortified city that was to be captured. These too had disappeared from the scene, at least from the perspective of the men of faith who could only behold the beauty of their King. Isaiah thus prophesies that the Assyrian army would suddenly evaporate and men would wonder where it went and how they could have been so afraid.
Isaiah 33:19 continues,
19 You will no longer see a fierce people, a people of unintelligible speech which no one comprehends, of a stammering tongue which no one understands.
This, of course, brings us back to Isaiah 28:11,
11 Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue.
In our earlier study of this verse, we showed how “the drunkards of Ephraim,” drunk on the wine of false teaching, refused to hear the word of the Lord in their own language. For this reason, God raised up foreigners to speak to Israel and Judah in an unintelligible language. This was also prophesied in the law in Deut. 28:49 as part of the divine judgment upon a disobedient people.
We also saw how the Apostle Paul quoted Isaiah in his discussion of the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 14:21). Paul understood that the soul (“old man”) could not receive (or hear) the word of the Lord, for it was incapable of comprehending spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). Hence, the fleshly soul was judged through the gift of tongues, for it could not accept prophecy, which is the word spoken in an intelligible language.
Isaiah probably knew nothing of the gift of tongues as Paul understood it, but yet he prophesied of tongues in Old Covenant terms set forth in the law of tribulation. Paul had an advantage in that he lived and wrote in the early years of the Pentecostal Age, where more light had been given through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Hence, Paul was able to see and apply the law and prophets in a greater way.
Getting back to Isaiah’s prophecy and his immediate context, the prophet foresaw the deliverance of Jerusalem and the removal of the army that had been speaking the words of judgment in a foreign tongue. The prophet was setting the stage for the actual history of the siege that his readers would be reading just a few chapters later.
When the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, Rabshakeh tried to get the city to capitulate. We read in Isaiah 36:10, 11,
10 “Have I now come up without the Lord’s approval against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it’.” 11 Then Eliakim and Shebna and Joah said to Rabshakeh, “Speak now to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak with us in Judean in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.”
Rabshakeh was prophesying inadvertently by telling the people the word of the Lord: “Go up against this land and destroy it.” (He spoke the truth.) He prophesied in plain Hebrew, i.e., “in Judean,” but the people again refused to hear the word of the Lord in their own language. They requested that Rabshakeh should speak in Aramaic, the language of Babylon, and in so doing they inadvertently prophesied of their captivity to Babylon a century later.
All of this plays into the New Covenant application of this law of tribulation. The gift of tongues was requested by carnally-minded men who refused to hear the word of the Lord in their own language and who therefore requested to hear His word in a foreign tongue. In fact, I have learned by experience that it is only when a person is able to hear the word of the Lord coming from an enemy that one truly has ears to hear. If one is able to hear the word of the Lord only through a believer, that person has not yet developed his ability to hear.
This is the New Covenant lesson presented through the words of Rabshakeh.
Rabshakeh’s name means “chief of the cupbearers.” He was Sennacherib’s butler. He was to Sennacherib what Nehemiah was to Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:11). The king’s butler was probably the most trusted position in the realm, for if the chief cupbearer could be bribed, the king would be in danger of being poisoned.
Rabshakeh’s name is also prophetic in this story, for although Jerusalem was spared at that time, the city was later taken by the Babylonians in the days of Jeremiah. So we read in Jer. 25:15-18,
15 For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. 16 They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.” 17 Then I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: 18 Jerusalem and the cities of Judah….
In Isaiah’s day, Rabshakeh, the king’s cupbearer, was called by God to bring judgment against Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. In a prophetic sense, Rabshakeh was God’s cupbearer who was sent to cause the people of Jerusalem to drink “this cup of the wine of wrath.” Of course, we know that this cup of wrath was postponed at the last minute after King Hezekiah appealed to Isaiah and repented in sackcloth. Nonetheless, we see the prophetic principle at work here.
Isaiah 33:20 says,
20 Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; your eyes will see Jerusalem, an undisturbed habitation, a tent which will not be folded; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its cords be torn apart.
Zion was the government of Jerusalem, “the city of our appointed feasts.” The law mandated that the feasts were to be kept in the place where God had chosen to place His name (Deut. 16:2, 11, 16). The first such place was at Shiloh (Josh. 18:1). God later forsook Shiloh and moved to Jerusalem (Psalm 78:60, 67, 68). Still later, God would forsake Jerusalem as well (Jer. 7:12, 13, 14) and ultimately move to the heavenly Jerusalem, inhabiting a temple made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5).
The Old Testament prophets never distinguish between the two Jerusalems, even though the Hebrew name of the city (Ierushalayim) literally means “two Jerusalems.” It was left to the New Testament writers to distinguish between the earthly city and the heavenly city, for this was a Pentecostal revelation. Hence, whenever the Old Testament prophets speak of “Jerusalem,” we must discern which city is meant.
Likewise, when the prophets speak of “Zion,” we must discern if it is about the Zion in the earthly city or the Sion associated with the heavenly city where God has now chosen to place His name (Heb. 12:22, KJV). Sion is Mount Hermon (Deut. 4:48), where also Jesus was transfigured and proclaimed from heaven to be “My beloved Son” (Matt. 17:5). We no longer gather at the earthly Jerusalem, for this is the bondwoman who cannot bring forth the inheritors of the Kingdom (Gal. 4:25, 30, 31).
Neither is it lawful to keep an appointed feast in the earthly Jerusalem, for God’s name is no longer there. The law mandates that we should keep all of the feasts only in the place where He has placed His name. To go to the earthly Jerusalem to keep a feast is now the equivalent of going back to Shiloh, which God forsook in earlier times.
Hence, the “undisturbed habitation” in Isaiah 33:20, which is the permanently-established city, is not the earthly Jerusalem but the heavenly city that Abraham himself sought. This is the city whose “stakes will never be pulled up.”
Though Isaiah does not try to distinguish between the two cities, we ourselves can discern the truth through the revelation of the apostles, who spoke under the greater revelation of Pentecost.
The church would do well to learn this Pentecostal revelation.
In describing the heavenly Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom, Isaiah 33:21-24 says,
21 But there the majestic One, the Lord, will be for us a place of rivers and wide canals on which no boat with oars will go, and on which no mighty ship will pass— 22 for the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us— 23 Your tackle hangs slack; it cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, nor spread out the sail. Then the prey of an abundant spoil will be divided; the lame will take the plunder, 24 and no resident will say, “I am sick”’ the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.
The prophet says that God Himself will be for Jerusalem “a place of rivers and wide canals,” referring to a great defensive moat to protect the city—something that the earthly Jerusalem did not have. This is not to say that the New Jerusalem would ever need such a moat in a literal sense. The prophet was again using metaphoric language to tell us that God’s own presence would defend the city.
Just as it was impractical to build ships on a moat to attack a city, so also no enemy would be able to besiege the city with a “boat with oars” or with a “mighty ship.” In those days warships were long and narrow, built for speed and equipped with oars. Merchant ships were much wider for carrying cargo.
The prophet speaks of both types of ship. No enemy will be able to lay siege to the city with a warship, and a merchant ship was pictured as being deprived of tackling and ropes by which the mast is sustained. Neither can it spread any sail. In fact, Isaiah says, even a lame Israelite would be able to “take the plunder” from such a ship.
No doubt the prophet had Assyria in mind, for its ship of state had run aground on the shore of Jerusalem, so to speak. The “abundant spoil” from the destroyed Assyrian army was divided among the remnant that had taken refuge in Jerusalem. We do not know if the 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold, which Hezekiah had sent to the king of Assyria, was among the spoils of war, but this is likely.
Whatever the case, later King Hezekiah had sufficient wealth to show the envoys of Babylon. We read in 2 Kings 20:13,
13 Hezekiah listened to them, and showed them all his treasure house, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and the house of his armor and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them.
Where did all this wealth come from? Recall that Hezekiah had emptied his treasury earlier, giving it to the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:15, 16). What was in his treasury was insufficient to meet the Assyrian demand, so he even had to strip the gold off the temple doors to satisfy the king. And yet afterward, when the friendly Babylonian envoys came to wish him well, Hezekiah had a huge amount of wealth in his treasury. No doubt it came from the Assyrian army that had been destroyed, leaving great wealth to replenish the treasury.
When we view this miraculous deliverance as a prophetic type foreshadowing our own final deliverance at the end of the age, it seems to indicate a great transfer of wealth that is to take place. Assyria as a nation is long gone and has been replaced with successors in this long captivity.
Daniel foresaw four beast empires with various extensions (“horns”), ending with the “little horn” (Dan. 7:8, 29). John described this “little horn” in Rev. 13:5, 6, 7, calling it “a beast coming up out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1). But he saw also a second beast, one which was not revealed to Daniel, “another beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev. 13:11). This was described as a financial beast, which prophesied of the modern banking system that arose at the same time that the first beast received its fatal wound that was healed (1798-1804).
The two beasts were to work together (Rev. 13:12, 14) at the end of the age until the time came for the saints to receive the dominion (Dan. 7:21, 22).
To this prophecy, then, we can add that of Isaiah, where the spoils of war are taken from the overthrown Assyrian army to replenish the treasury of the Lord and to refresh the saints who are given dominion. Isaiah’s prophecy supports the idea of a great transfer of wealth, along with a warning not to show off that wealth.