The context is Israel under the control and tyranny of Sennacherib the Assyrian. Date: Autumn, possibly sometime between 713-25 B.C.* Hezekiah is king of Judah and he has led a rebellion against Assyria along with support from Egypt and Babylonia. This was a mistake and drew the wrath of Sennacherib against them. Hezekiah is in sackcloth as they seek the Lord for deliverance. Hezekiah had sued for peace with a recorded, ‘30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver, and diverse treasures, a rich and immense booty’, most of which came from the temple treasures (2 Kings 18:14-15). However, Sennacherib took the tribute and sent his army against Jerusalem anyway under the Rabshakeh (his supreme commander, Isaiah 33:8), while he himself marched on Egypt. During this siege the Lord spoke to Hezekiah through Isaiah the prophet and told him that He, the Lord, would deal with Sennacherib and the army at their door. (2 Kings 19:6-7, 20 and following, Isaiah 33:10-12). That night, the Angel of the Lord slew 185,000 Assyrian troops (2 Kings 19:35) and the people of Judah went out and gathered the spoil they left behind (Isaiah 33:4). There was so much that Hezekiah got carried away and made the mistake of showing off his wealth to the Babylonian ambassador some time later –a fateful and foolish act that eventually brought about the total destruction of the kingdom (2 Kings 20:12, 16).
Future Prophetic Fulfillment: Isaiah’s words in verse 16 quoted above however, constitute a beautiful prophecy of the future of Israel that goes way beyond their moment of trial and trouble in those long ago years, as terrible as it was for those who had to live through it. The king Isaiah speaks of is certainly Hezekiah in the first instance, but it is also, and without doubt, a clear reference to He who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords whose advent at that time was indeed ‘very far off’, but for us is very much closer, even imminent. Hezekiah was not beautiful because he was very fearful and clothed in sackcloth and ashes as he desperately sought the mercy and favour of the Lord. He did come through, by the mercy of God, to a time of joy following the defeat of the Assyrian army. But that was only a faint portrayal of the joy and the glory awaiting all true believers and followers of the Lord Jesus when we ‘see the King’ in His very great glory and beauty in that day when we are caught up to ‘meet the Lord in the air’, when we ‘shall forever be with the Lord’. 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
The rest of the chapter builds on this wonderful prospect –both for the Jews of Isaiah’s day, all Israel, and you and I today. Isaiah 33 is a truly wonderful chapter I urge you to meditate on and spend some time in. Every verse has significance and application for us today, as indeed does so much of Isaiah. This whole event in Hezekiah’s reign is prophetic and applicable for us and to us in this day in which we live. It is an immense encouragement. It builds hope and faith, joy and excitement in our anticipation of the final victory over all the forces of sin, Satan, disease, sickness and death. There will come a day when we will be able to think back and say, “Where is the tyrant, the exactor, the scribe and the receiver who took advantage of us and exacted from us (v18)? V19 speaks of the same tyranny. For the Jews of that day it was the Assyrian, but for you and I it is the spiritual forces of Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8 etc. V20, ‘Look upon Zion…’ both literally and figuratively. National Israel may be threatened and besieged, hated and vilified (today this takes the form of an orchestrated assault against Israel that includes military and terrorist aggression and also economic oppression referred to as, ‘BDS’ or, ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), but the day will come when she will be most glorious and the nations of the world will pay tribute to her and the Great King, the Lord Jesus, will sit visibly and physically enthroned there. Then, figuratively, ‘Look upon Zion’, the ekklesia of God. We may not be the wisest people on the planet, from a human perspective, not mighty, not particularly noble (i.e. impressive etc), 1 Corinthians 1:26. But ‘watch out world’, because, ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but WE KNOW, that when He shall appear, we shall be LIKE HIM, for we shall see Him as He is’. 1 John 3:2. V21, ‘there the Glorious Lord will be to us…’. In Hezekiah’s day they saw a foreshadowing of this great deliverance when the Angel of the Lord fought for them. For us and for all faithful Israel (see Rom 11:26), the final and complete deliverance, of which this event in Hezekiah’s day is but a foreshadow, will be fulfilled when Jesus returns in power and great glory. Math 24:30, Mk 13:26, Lk 21:27. This will be a day when ‘the Glorious Lord will be to us…’ all that has been promised. In the mean time, for Hezekiah, as for us, we have to ‘live by faith, not by sight’ (2 Cor 5:7). The land was not, for the Jews in that long ago time a place of ‘broad rivers and streams…’, as v21 says. A place where ships could easily come and go and bring wealth, food, treasure and luxuries. Rather, it was for them, and is for us in our age, a time of challenge, difficulty and contradiction as we ‘fix our eyes NOT at (on) the things which are seen, but at (on) the things which are not seen’. 2 Cor 4:18. V22, ‘For the Lord is our judge…lawgiver…and king; He will save us’. Not Egypt (a type of the world), not Babylon (a type of compromise with the spirit of Antichrist and his deceptions) and certainly not a peace treaty with the Assyrian. He, Jesus, is our Saviour and our Deliverer, just as the Angel of the Lord,the preincarnate manifestation of the eternal Christ, was theirs. In v24 Isaiah prophecies, ‘the tacklings are loosed; they could not well strengthen their mast…
…then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame (the Jews of Hezekiah’s day and you and I who were ‘lame’ until Jesus delivered us) take the prey (Just as in that first half of the 7th Cent. B.C. the besieged Jews got to gather the treasure after the Angel of the Lord had wrought their deliverance, so WE get to enjoy the rich and eternal blessing ‘…every spiritual blessing…’ Ephesians 1:3 of the Lord in our lives forever and ever). And (in that glorious day) the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.’ Isaiah 33:24. (Note: Healing, ‘the children’s bread’, Matt 15:26, Mk 7:27, is a ‘foretaste’ of this glory that shall follow and is available for us to press into and believe for in this day in which we live as a testimony and a witness to the truth of the Gospel of Grace. Consider 2 Corinthians 1:20 in light of this and indeed all the blessings of the New Covenant.)
Don’t let any of the trials and challenges and difficulties and disappointments of this life rob you or distract from that heavenly vision. Walk in that victory ‘wherewith Christ has made us free…’ Galatians 5:1.
'Your eyes SHALL see the King in His beauty. Your eyes SHALL behold a (the) land that is (while we live here) very far off (still in the future -though much closer than in Hezekiah's day)'.
(*Note re dating: I know the modern dating system uses B.C.E. (Before Common Era), however, I choose to use the old method that acknowledges Christ (B.C., Before Christ).