In 1919, American writer Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union to see what the Communist revolution was accomplishing; and in a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I have seen the future, and it works.” If he were alive today, he would probably be less optimistic; but in those days, “the Russian experiment” seemed to be dramatically successful.
In the four chapters that conclude the first section of his prophecy, Isaiah invites us to look at four future events to see what God has planned for His people and His world. These chapters are not human speculation; they are divinely inspired revelation, and they can be trusted.
1. The King will Reign (Isa. 32:1–20)
At the beginning of its history, the nation of Israel was a theocracy. God was their King. But in the days of Samuel, the people asked for a king; and God gave them Saul (1 Sam. 8). As you know Saul failed in his divinely appointed role and the Lord raised up David who established both the dynasty for Israel’s throne and the ancestry for Israel’s Messiah (2 Sam. 7). Every Jew knew that the future Messiah-King would be the Son of David (Matt. 22:41–46). In Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah writes about “a king”; but in 33:17, he calls him “the king.” By the time you get to verse 22, He is “our king.” It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ is “a King” or even “the King.” We must confess our faith in Him and say with assurance that He is “our King.” Like Nathanael, we must say, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49, NKJV)
In contrast to the evil rulers of Isaiah’s day (Isa. 1:21–23), the Messiah will reign in righteousness and justice (32:1, 16; 33:5; see 9:7; 11:1–5). In addition, this future King is described as a rock of refuge for the people (8:14; 17:10; 26:4; 28:16) and like a refreshing river in the desert (8:5–8; 33:21; 41:18; 48:18; 66:12).
Isaiah 32:3–4 describes the wonderful transformations that will occur because of Messiah’s reign. Before he came the people are described as spiritually blind, deaf, and ignorant (6:9–10; 29:10–12); but in the kingdom, Isaiah promises, all will see and hear God’s truth as well as understand and obey it. (See 29:18 and 42:7.) This will happen because they will have a new heart and enter into a New Covenant with the Lord (Jer. 31:31–34).
But in Isaiah’s day, as in our own, people admired “the rich and famous,” even though the character and conduct of these “celebrities” deserved no respect. They had money, fame, and influence; and in the eyes of the people, that made them important. But in the kingdom, there will be no such deception. “Wealthy cheaters will not be spoken of as generous, outstanding men! Everyone will recognize an evil man when he sees him, and hypocrites will fool no one at all” (vv. 5–6, TLB).
Not only will their character and motives be exposed and judged, but so will their ungodly methods (v. 7). No longer will the poor and helpless be cheated.
Isaiah warned them that “in little more than a year [NIV],” the land and the cities would be desolate. This took place in 701 B.C. when Sennacherib’s Assyrian army invaded Judah and devastated the land. The Jews confined in Jerusalem were greatly concerned about future harvests, and Isaiah had a word for them (Isa. 37:30–31). But before the siege ended and God delivered Jerusalem, the worldly people of Jerusalem had to sacrifice not only their luxuries, but also their necessities.
In 32:15–20, the prophet returns to his description of the messianic kingdom and emphasizes the restoration of peace and prosperity. None of these changes took place after the deliverance of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. or when the remnant returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, so we must assign these prophecies to the future kingdom.
Judah could have enjoyed safety, quietness, and assurance had they trusted wholly in the Lord and not turned to Egypt for help (Isa. 30:15–18; 32:17–18). Righteousness is the key word in verse 17, for there can be no true peace without a right relationship with God (Rom. 5:1; James 3:13–17). When sinners trust Christ and receive the gift of righteousness, then they can have peace in their hearts and peace with one another. Isaiah promises, the king will reign.
2. Jerusalem will be Delivered (Isa. 33:1–24)
This is the sixth and final “woe” in this section (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1), and is directed against Sennacherib because of his treachery against Judah. In unbelief, King Hezekiah had tried to “buy off” the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13–15); but Sennacherib had broken the agreement and invaded Judah anyway. He was a thief, a traitor, and a tyrant; and God promised to judge him. He had destroyed others, so he would be destroyed. He had dealt treacherously with nations, so they would deal treacherously with him. God is not mocked; sinners reap what they have sown (Gal. 6:7). Isaiah 33:2 is the prayer of the godly remnant when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army. Isaiah had promised that God would be gracious to them if they would only trust Him (30:18–19).
God spared Jerusalem for David’s sake (37:35) and because a believing remnant trusted God and prayed. Never underestimate the power of a praying minority.
Assyria was proud of her power and the spoils she had gathered in battle. The Assyrian army swept through the land like devouring locusts, but that would change. The day would come when Judah would strip the dead Assyrian army and Sennacherib would be assassinated in the temple of the god he claimed was stronger than Jehovah (vv. 36–38). The Lord was indeed exalted in the defeat of Assyria (33:5), for no human wisdom or power could have done what He did. We must remember that nations and individuals can have stability in uncertain times only when they trust God and seek His wisdom and glory. King Hezekiah did a foolish thing when he took the temple treasures and tried to bribe Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13–16), but God forgave him and reminded him that “the fear of the Lord is [your] treasure” (Isa. 33:6). Unbelief looks to human resources for help, but faith looks to God.
During the time of the Assyrian invasion, the situation in Judah was grim (vv. 7–9). Judah’s bravest soldiers wept when they saw one city after another fall to the enemy. The official Jewish envoys wept because their negotiations accomplished nothing.
The roads were dangerous, the fields and orchards were ruined, and there was no way of escape.
Except for—God! “ ‘Now will I rise,’ says the Lord, ‘now will I be exalted, now will I lift up Myself’ ” (v. 10). In verses 11–12, Isaiah uses several images to describe God’s judgment on the Assyrians. The Assyrians were “pregnant” with all sorts of plans to conquer Jerusalem; but they would give birth to chaff and straw, and their plans would amount to nothing. Their army was panting to attack, but their hot breath would only become a fire that would destroy them like dead bones or cut bushes. God is long-suffering with His enemies; but when He decides to judge, He does a thorough job.
The account of the amazing deliverance of Jerusalem not only brought glory to God among the Gentiles, but it also brought fear and conviction to the Jews (Isa. 33:14–16). When those in Jerusalem saw 185,000 Assyrian soldiers slain by God in one night, they realized anew that the God of Israel was “a consuming fire” (Isa. 10:17; Heb. 12:29). Isaiah 33:15 describes the kind of person God will accept and bless. By ourselves, we cannot achieve these qualities of character; they come only as we trust Jesus Christ and grow in grace.
In 33:17–24, Isaiah lifts his vision to the end times and sees Jerusalem ruled by King Messiah. Both sickness and sin will be absent from the city. Messiah will be their Redeemer and Saviour, and the nation “shall be forgiven their iniquity” (v. 24).
Isaiah promises, the king will reign. Jerusalem will be delivered
3. The World will be Judged (Isa. 34:1–17)
Israel’s ancient enemy Edom is singled out in verses 5–6, but this judgment will come upon the whole world. Edom is only one example of God’s judgment because of what they have done to His people Israel. “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause” (v. 8, NIV).
In the Day of the Lord, the Gentiles will be repaid for the way they have treated God’s people. Isaiah begins with a military picture of the armies on earth (Isa. 34:2–3) and in heaven (v. 4). This is a vivid description of the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11–21), the humiliating defeat and destruction of the armies of the world that dare to attack the Son of God. It is possible this will be associated with vast cosmic disturbances although it is possible this is figurative language. (Isa. 34:4; see Matt. 24:29; Joel 2:10, 30–31; 3:15; Rev. 6:13–14).
In Isaiah 34:5–8, the prophet moves from the battlefield to the temple and sees this worldwide judgment as a great sacrifice (See Jer. 46:10; 50:27; Ezek. 39:17–19.) The practice was for the people to kill the sacrifices and offer them to God, but now it is God who offers the wicked as sacrifices. God sees His enemies as animals: Rams, goats, lambs, oxen, and bulls are all sacrificed, along with the fat (Lev. 3:9–11). These nations sacrificed God’s people, so God used them for sacrifices.
The picture changes again, and Isaiah compares the Day of the Lord to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 34:9–10; Gen. 18–19). This is a significant comparison because, just before the coming of the Lord, society will be “as it was in the days of Lot” (Luke 17:28). We should also remember that the fires of eternal hell, the lake of fire, will never be quenched (Mark 9:43–48). While Isaiah focused especially on Edom (Isa. 34:5–6), he was using that proud nation as an example of what God would do to all the Gentile nations during the Day of the Lord. “But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). Why is God waiting? Because “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
We have seen, so far how, Isaiah promises, the king will reign. Jerusalem will be delivered and the world will be judged.
4. The Glorious Kingdom will be Established (Isa. 35:1–10)
But the wilderness will not remain a wilderness, for the Lord will transform the earth into a Garden of Eden. All of nature eagerly looks for the coming of the Lord (55:12–13; Rom. 8:19; Pss. 96:11–13; 98:7–9), for nature knows that it will be set free from the curse of sin (Gen. 3:17–19) and share the glory of the kingdom. Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon were three of the most fruitful and beautiful places in the land, and yet the desert would become more fruitful and beautiful than the three places put together! There will be no more “parched ground” (Isa. 35:7), because the land will become a garden of glory.
Isaiah uses the promise of the coming kingdom to strengthen those in his day who were weak and afraid (vv. 3–4). In the kingdom, there will be no more blind or deaf, lame or dumb; for all will be made whole to enjoy a glorious new world. (In 32:3–4, the prophet wrote about spiritual deficiencies, but here he is describing physical handicaps.) Our Lord referred to these verses when he sent a word of encouragement to John the Baptist (Luke 7:18–23). The King was on earth and sharing with needy people the blessings of the coming kingdom.
Isaiah 35:8 expresses one of Isaiah’s favorite themes: the highway (11:16; 19:23; 40:3; 62:10). During the Assyrian invasion, the highways were not safe (33:8),
but during the Kingdom Age it will be safe to travel. There will be one special highway: “The Way of Holiness.” In ancient cities, there were often special roads that only kings and priests could use; but when Messiah reigns, all of His people will be invited to use this highway. Isaiah pictures God’s redeemed, ransomed, and rejoicing Jewish families going up to the yearly feasts in Jerusalem, to praise their Lord.
When Isaiah spoke and wrote these words, it is likely that the Assyrians had ravaged the land, destroyed the crops, and made the highways unsafe for travel. The people were cooped up in Jerusalem, wondering what would happen next. The remnant was trusting God’s promises and praying for God’s help, and God answered their prayers. If God kept His promises to His people centuries ago and delivered them, will He not keep His promises in the future and establish His glorious kingdom for His chosen people? Of course He will!
Praise God that Isaiah promises, the king will reign, Jerusalem will be delivered, the world will be judged and the glorious kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ will be established.
The future is your friend when Jesus Christ is your Saviour and Lord.
Adapted with grateful thanks, from Warren Wiersbe’s Be comforted. An Old Testament study. (79–89). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.