By Christina M Wilson. Published simultaneously at The Enemy Cast Out: Isaiah Devotional Journal 74 – justonesmallvoice.com.
Isaiah 33:14-24 Septuagint Modernized NETS
Where Is the Enemy?
The latter portion of Isaiah 33 contrasts the Zion that had been occupied by a foreign power with a Zion under the King’s rule.
The Enemy Has Been Cast Out
These Septuagint verses tell that the enemy no longer occupies Zion. (CAB, LXE)
- 14 The sinners in Zion have departed; trembling shall seize the ungodly.
- 18 Your soul shall meditate terror. Where are the scribes? Where are the counselors? Where is he that numbers them that are growing up, 19 both the small and great people? With whom he took not counsel, neither did he understand a people of deep speech, so that a despised people should not hear, and there is no understanding to him that hears.
- 23 Your cords are broken, for they had no strength; your food has given way, it shall not spread the sails, it shall not bear a signal, until it is given up for plunder; therefore shall many lame men take spoil.
Yes, the English text appears difficult to decipher. The NETS translation includes a footnote to that effect in verse 19. However, when comparing the various English translations of both the Septuagint and the Masoretic, the overall sense of the chapter unfolds.
Description of the New Kingdom
Isaiah describes the new kingdom after the enemy has departed (verse 14).
Characteristics of Its Inhabitants
- the righteous person (vs 15): walks in righteousness, speaks uprightly, hates lawlessness and wrongdoing, refuses bribes, is against capital punishment, shields his eyes from the enjoyment of evil
- he will live “in a high cave of a strong rock,” where he will be fed with bread and water (vs16), i.e., the basic food of life
- they will meditate on the past and the things and people who used to cause them fear, but are no longer present (vs 18)
- they revere the name of the Lord (v 21)
- not weary (v 24)
- their sins forgiven (v 24)
15 He that walks in righteousness, speaking rightly, hating transgression and iniquity, and shaking his hands from gifts, stopping his ears that he should not hear the judgment of blood, shutting his eyes that he should not see injustice. (CAB, LXE)
Characteristics of the Place
- foreign authorities will no longer be present (vs 19)
- a place of safety (vv 14, 16, 18-19, 20, 21, 22)
- a place of provision (vv 16, 20, 21)
- spacious, providing room for all (v 21)
- a place for the poor and injured (vv 23, 24)
- a place of permanence (v 20)
20 Behold the city of Zion, our refuge; your eyes shall behold Jerusalem, a rich city, tabernacles which shall not be shaken, neither shall the pins of her tabernacle be moved forever, neither shall her cords be at all broken; (CAB, LXE)
Characteristics of Its King
- glorious (v 17)
- he is Lord, God, judge, ruler, King (v 22)
22 For my God is great; the Lord our judge shall not pass me by; the Lord is our prince, the Lord is our king; the Lord, He shall save us. (CAB, LXE)
Concrete-Literal or Spiritual-Literal?
Why do I use hyphens in concrete-literal and spiritual-literal? Why use the words concrete in concrete-literal and literal in spiritual-literal? Why not just say literal and spiritual?
A Definition of Terms
In common, everyday language, “literal” tends to mean real, actual, concrete, and historical. And, in much theological jargon, spiritual tends to mean abstract, not historical, and not really happening in the “real” world, the concrete world. Theology tends to be divided between those who think every prophecy of the Old Testament needs to have a “literal” fulfillment and those who see spiritual fulfillment in many of the same prophecies. Some theologians might even be thinking “imaginary” when they use the term “spiritual.” When they accuse another theologian of “spiritualizing” a text, it’s as if they were accusing them of erasing the truth of that text and replacing it with abstract imagination.
Those using the term “literal” as a direct synonym of true and real usually mean that Old Testament prophecy needs to have a historical, three dimensional, physical fulfillment in the world we see, hear, and touch. In order for a biblical prophecy to be true, it must have a physical, three-dimensional fulfillment.
But, if “literal” means “true” and “real,” then spiritual realities are also real and true. They literally exist. God is Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus Christ occupies believers’ hearts. The rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and forces of evil in the heavenly places that Paul describes in Ephesians 6 are real and true. They also happen to be spiritual beings, made of spirit rather than flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).
To cast the conversation about fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy with the terms literal vs spiritual is to introduce bias from the beginning. Therefore, I use the word “concrete” to mean that which can be physically seen with physical eyes, heard with physical ears, and touched with physical hands. The cities we live in, for example, are concrete. So, the term “concrete-literal” means a true reality within the physical world. And likewise, the term “spiritual-literal” means a true reality within the realm of spirit.
Repeating the Question
So, the question becomes, must every prophecy of the Old Testament have a physically concrete fulfillment? Or, did God intend that some of what appears to be physical description in Old Testament prophecy would have a spiritual-literal fulfillment rather than a concrete-literal fulfillment? Is Chapter 33 of Isaiah one of these times?
A Partial Concrete-Literal Fulfillment
I postulate that some portions of Isaiah 33 have already had a concrete-literal fulfillment. And further, when Isaiah spoke these words, God intended that these portions would be physically fulfilled relatively quickly in Isaiah’s lifetime. The context within chapter 33 and the context of its surrounding chapters speak of a concrete-literal fulfillment of the prophecies against Judah’s enemy Assyria.
For example, throughout Isaiah’s writing, a physical Israel had many physical enemies. In Isaiah’s lifetime, the greatest of these was Assyria. Isaiah repeatedly prophesies Assyria’s downfall (for example, see Isaiah 30:31). In terms of fulfillment, chapters 36 and 37 describe in detail how God miraculously defeated the Assyrians on behalf of Jerusalem and Judah. Chapter 33 contains strong indications that Isaiah refers to this time and event. It seems fair and likely that God through Isaiah intended the portions of Isaiah 33 dealing with the defeat of Assyria to have a concrete-literal fulfillment. Biblical history, as related in 2 Kings 18:17-19:37 and Isaiah 37, records such a fulfillment.
Obstacles to a Complete Concrete-Literal Fulfillment
But what about the portions of Isaiah 33:14-24 that speak of the new kingdom and the King who will rule there? Have these prophecies already found a concrete-literal fulfillment? Not really. Judah before and after its exile had some good kings (Hezekiah and Zerubbabel) who experienced some years of peaceful prosperity. But Israel’s independence ended. Not too long after the return from exile, the Old Testament ceased. God added no books to Scripture after Malachi. Throughout the entire Second Temple period various foreigners again ruled in Jerusalem, alongside the Jewish kings.
Then at the turn of the millennium, in New Testament times, Rome occupied Israel. Israel had no independent king seated on its throne. Further, within a few decades after Jesus’s ascension, Rome leveled Jerusalem (70 CE). Over the next century Rome oppressed the remainder of the Judean territory through bloody wars. Israel ceased to exist as an independent nation.
Currently, the physical Israel in today’s news does not match the description given by Isaiah in Chapter 33. It has no king, it is not entirely safe, and it is no more righteous than any other country on earth. It is not a Christian nation, nor do its citizens all necessarily believe in the God of their Scripture. It appears to be a secular country, rather than a country of faith.
Approximately 2,800 years have passed since Isaiah prophesied of a righteous Zion ruled by a glorious King. Have his prophecies not found fulfillment?
A Spiritual-Literal Fulfillment
I believe that Isaiah’s prophecies of a righteous Zion and a glorious, righteous King have received a spiritual-literal fulfillment in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” John 18:36. By this he meant that his kingdom was not concrete-literal but spiritual-literal. Christians around the world have been living in and enjoying the benefits of Christ the King’s heavenly Zion for over 2,000 years.
Why does Isaiah use concrete words to describe a spiritual reality? The best answer I can give is to point the reader to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:1-16. Could Isaiah possibly have known these spiritual-literal realities? The heart of faith must surely answer, “Yes.” The Apostle John writes, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him,” (John 12:41). As we progress further in Isaiah’s book, we will find him more and more describing the spiritual-literal realities of Christ’s kingdom.