William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee.Isaiah Chapter 33
The Spirit of God, having given us a blessed picture of the King-Messiah reigning in righteousness, here contrasts with it a certain spoiler who is not expressly named by our prophet. But we need not find much difficulty in identifying him, if we remember the last prophecy of Ezekiel that describes a hostile Gentile power. It is remarkable that he there describes Gog as one who had been predicted before. Hence it is certain that this marauding power is not peculiar to the later prophet, who tells us in Isaiah 38:8-13, "After many days thou shalt be visited . . . at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought, and thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will come to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to seize a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thy hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon a people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to seize a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?" The next chapter comes in to show in detail that, if there be that which might seem inconsistent with their security, if God permits that there should be a dark cloud gathering for a while over Palestine, it at length falls on their foes themselves, not on Israel. This appears to be the same enemy who is here introduced by Isaiah. It is the last effort of the great coalition against Israel, which leads to the overwhelming destruction of the assembled nations, especially of the East. Then Israel will help themselves to their arms; and their mere burial will occupy the conquerors, still more the spoiling of their arms and appurtenances.
One need not doubt that the policy of the Assyrian, or king of the north, at the end is thus described. Gog will presumably have then accomplished his long-cherished designs on Constantinople and the Turkish empire in its chief dominions. Now "the Assyrian" is a familiar subject of prophecy. This may account for the statement that they were known before. There must clearly have been predictions of him previously to Ezekiel's time, though some may have prophesied things not committed to writing.
By the way, some have been too anxious to show that the apostles never wrote anything but what we have got. It is quite enough to know that all intended to be of permanent use to the church and for God's glory is preserved. Certainly apostles taught (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and it is possible they may have written, things which were not meant of God to be preserved as part of the scriptures. But there is a character of perfectness about what we have, which to my mind precludes more. That this is not at all an exorbitant idea is evident from the fact that the apostles preached many discourses that are not recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Of course we have only a very small part of what the apostles preached, as the evangelists were led only to select from what our Lord did. To have added more would have been rather to encumber scripture. Had more communications even of the apostles been added, it would have marred the perfectness of God's written word. We must have confidence in Him. He manifested His will in that all, which He designed for the permanent instruction of the church, was kept by His power in the midst of thousands and myriads of enemies who would have gladly destroyed the scriptures if they could. Never more in Christendom has this dislike of the word of God betrayed itself than now. But the efforts of the enemy only bring out God's power, wisdom, and goodness for all who love Him, as they will to the ruin of those who hate and despise Him.
To return, however: it is only Isaiah 33 which plainly connects itself in character with the northern leader of Ezekiel, unless we identify the Assyrian also with that power, which seems perhaps within certain limits to be true at the close. However that may be, the moral traits of this foe are sufficiently plain. "Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou [wast] not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee" (v. 1). This covetous foe appears to be the last which comes up, and so far distinct from "the king of the north," which title is not limited to the end. But assuredly it is a ruler of the same sort, insatiable and treacherous.
The Spirit now draws out the prophet, as personifying the godly in Israel, to supplicate, "Jehovah, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble. At the noise of the tumult the peoples fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations were scattered. And your spoil shall be gathered [like] the gathering of the caterpillar: as the running of locusts shall they run upon them (or, it)" (vv. 2 4). How blessed to have Jehovah as the arm to lean on and do valiantly for us! How complete the reversal when the proud and countless foes yield their spoil to be gathered like that of the caterpillars or locusts! It is Jehovah's doing, and may well be marvellous in our eyes. "Jehovah is exalted, for he dwelleth on high; he hath filled Zion with judgement and righteousness. And the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times: the fear of Jehovah [shall be] his treasure" (vv. 5, 6). Thus Jehovah Himself has taken them in hand, and all becomes a spoil for Israel, and their proud hopes are blasted for ever. Note that at this very time Zion shall be filled with righteousness and judgement. The doom which swallowed up the Beast and the false prophet, with the chivalry of Europe, is a lesson heard in vain. Blinded by superstition as well as the lust of universal empire, Gog dreams of destroying Israel, not believing in the presence of Christ, or thinking Him a mere human king. Thus they too will come to their own destruction.
The next verses portray the straits of the people of God and their despair before deliverance appears; nor is danger ever apt to be more felt than when blessing, that seemed to be ours, is once more in jeopardy. "Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without; the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly. The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth. He hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man. The land mourneth, it languisheth; Lebanon is ashamed, is withered, the Sharon is become as a wilderness, and Bashan and Carmel are stripped" (vv. 7-9). But man's extremity is God's opportunity, as they say; and so will the Jews then prove. "Now will I arise, saith Jehovah; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself" (v. 10). Had He chastened His people sore, and should the insolent foe be unpunished? "Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble; your breath [as] fire shall devour [not Israel, but] you, and the peoples shall be [as] the burnings of lime; [as] thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire" (vv. 11, 12). It is Jehovah Who undertakes to dispose of their enemies and thus addresses them. Lime may be hard, but fire ere long reduces it to powder; and thorns, let them be ever so troublesome to those with whom they come into collision, are notorious, when cut up, for burning with singular rapidity.
Next, attention is drawn (v. 13) to the notable display of God's ways, as well as to the effects of these trials in showing out the true character of men even in Zion. "Hear, ye [that are] far off, what I have done; and ye [that are] near, acknowledge my might," followed by the most animated description of the alarm of the ungodly, and of the divine assurances to those that fear His name and walk in righteousness. "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from taking hold of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil: he shall dwell on high, his high retreat [shall be] the fortresses of the rocks; bread shall be given him; his waters [shall be] sure" (vv. 14-16).
Then follows (vv. 17-22) a sublime picture of Israel in their conscious blessedness. They should behold the King in His beauty, no longer cooped up within the beleaguered city, but free to look at the most distant part of the land or the earth. Their hearts should meditate on terror, now happily and for ever past; but then it is the more sweet to look back and think of the never-to-be-forgotten rescue, when every expert failed in his calculations, the scribe, or the receiver. The wisest were at fault - at fault in counting up human resources, as if they could avail - at fault in overlooking the only sure Deliverer, though He be not far from every one of us. On the other hand they should see no more and hear no more the foreign foe, but look upon Zion, the Mount Zion, which Jehovah loved. "Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold a far stretching land. Thy heart shall muse on the terror: where [is] he that counted, where [is] he that weighed [the tribute? where [is] he that counted the towers? Thou shalt no more see the fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive, of a stammering tongue that cannot be understood. Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tent [that] shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there Jehovah [will be] with us in majesty, a place of rivers, of broad streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. For Jehovah [is] our judge, Jehovah [is] our lawgiver, Jehovah his] our King; he will save us" (vv. 17-22).
Is it not utterly vain to apply words like these to the days of Hezekiah with some ancients and of the Maccabees with others, or to gospel times with thoughtless moderns? Even supposing that the rest of the circumstances of the Jews at either of these epochs approached the strength of the prophet's language, which is not at all admitted, who, in the face of approaching captivity, of a continual servitude to the Gentile powers, of a still more calamitous dispersion under the Romans, the effects of which last to this day - who can affirm that Jerusalem has been seen a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down? How can one hitherto apply to that city, yet trodden down of the Gentiles, the precise and most precious declaration, "Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be pulled up, neither shall any of its cords be broken"?
Let in the light of the future for that people and place, and all is changed: the difficulty is at an end, and no wonder; for indeed "there Jehovah is unto us glorious; a place of rivers, of broad streams." And thus there is not the smallest necessity for dislocating the prophecy from all connection with its historic basis, or diverting its consolations from those whose sorrows it was given to assuage and dispel in proportion to their simplicity or strength of faith. No, whatever of comfort we justly glean, whatever hopes of future triumph from its bright anticipations we may gather, let us rejoice that God is here speaking of afflicted tempest-tossed Israel, who in that day will find in Jesus of Nazareth their long-estranged Lord Jehovah of hosts, Who will prove Himself to be a better safeguard than those rivers and streams, of which Babylon or Nineveh might boast against Jerusalem. But even a river has its dangers as well as its beauty, facilities, and sources of protection: so both these cities proved in opposite ways to their cost. Jerusalem has all these privileges without the perils, has incomparably more, in Jehovah. What if no galley with oars went there, what if no gallant ship passed by, will not Jehovah be their judge, Jehovah their lawgiver, Jehovah their king, and so save them pre-eminently of all nations on the earth? And why should we weaken their claim to advance our own - we who are called into heavenly seats of glory, the object of the Saviour's love as His bride on high?
To Jerusalem the King then will be their delight and boast and tower of strength. Had not the mightiest of old been broken when but a typical son of David was there, looking onward to Him Who will surely reign in Zion ere long? And what will it be when the Assyrian in his last phase - when Gog - essays to take Zion at the close of this age? "Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not strengthen the socket of their mast; they could not spread the sail: then was the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame took the prey." The triumph of Israel is complete, and the more so because it is Jehovah's hand for them, more than their own. "And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein [shall be] forgiven [their] iniquity" (vv. 23, 24). Happy the people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is Jehovah! Thrice happy are they who now can rejoice in Israel's prospect, conscious themselves of a still higher portion in Christ, and in a still better country, that is, a heavenly! May we be content meanwhile to share His rejection, glorying in His cross, not as in an idol or vanity, but by faith graven on our hearts, and therefore proving it by the Spirit in our ways, each crucified to the world and the world crucified to each! For if we be dead together, we shall also live together; if we suffer, we shall also reign together. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.
At the noise of the tumult the people fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations were scattered.
And your spoil shall be gathered like the gathering of the caterpiller: as the running to and fro of locusts shall he run upon them.
The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.
And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.
Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without: the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly.
The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth: he hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man.
The earth mourneth and languisheth: Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down: Sharon is like a wilderness; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits.
Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself.
Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you.
And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.
Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;
He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.
Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.
Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?
Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not well strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail: then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame take the prey.
And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.