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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.
By Christina M Wilson. Published simultaneously at The Holy Spirit Comes: Isaiah Devotional Journal 71 – justonesmallvoice.com.
Isaiah 32:9-20 Septuagint Modernized NETS
Judah Stumbles and the Holy Spirit Blesses
Romans 11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (ESV)
Overview of Chapter 32
Chapter 32 of Isaiah contains both an indictment of God’s Old Testament people and God’s blessing of his New Testament people (1). The blessing comes through the reign of Messiah, the righteous King. (See posts 68, 69, and 70). It continues by means of God’s pouring out his Holy Spirit during the King’s reign. Verses 9-20 continue the pattern previously established in the earlier portion of the chapter. This portion includes pronouncements of both desolation and further blessing.
Outline of Chapter 32
- The blessings of Messiah: verses 1-4
- Contrast between the foolish wicked and the godly wise: verses 5-8
- Warning of the desolation to come: verses 9-14
- Messianic blessings: verses 15-20
Warning of the Desolation to Come: Time Indicators and Their Difficulties
There are three time markers in this section. They occur in verses 10, 14, and 15. Yet, each of these markers presents difficulties to a concrete-literal understanding.
FIRST TIME MARKER
10 Remember for a full year in pain, yet with hope; the vintage has been cut off; it has ceased, it shall by no means come again. (CAB, LXE)
Verse 10 provides the only numerical time marker in all of Chapter 32. The “one year” would seem to indicate the siege of Judah and Jerusalem by the Assyrian general Sennacherib in the days of king Hezekiah. However, because God intervened, the nation experienced another long period (many decades) of relative prosperity during the remainder of Hezekiah’s reign. Then began a period of decline as Babylon began to invade the land. Approximately 100 years after Isaiah made the pronouncement in verse 10, the nation fell completely and was carried into exile. So, it is difficult to find the reality of this verse (a persistent lack of vintage after one year) in Jerusalem’s actual history.
SECOND TIME MARKER
14 As for the rich city, the houses are deserted; they shall abandon the wealth of the city, and the pleasant houses; and the villages shall be caves forever, the joy of wild donkeys, shepherds’ pastures; (CAB, LXE)
Verse 14 provides a second, non-numerical time marker. The text states, “… the villages shall be caves forever.” Here again, the word “forever” presents difficulties. The villages of Jerusalem and Judah did not remain caves forever. Commentators step around this difficulty by saying that “forever” doesn’t mean “forever,” but a very long time. But even that has problems.
First, the exile lasted 70 years. That is a shorter time than the period after this prophecy and before the exile began (about 100 years). It hardly qualifies for use of the word “forever” in its description. And yes, it is true that after the exile, complete prosperity never returned to an independent Israel. Yet, during the Second Temple period, it would not be true to say that the villages remained caves. When Jesus of Nazareth was born, for example, Jerusalem was a bustling city with visitors from all over the world. Witness the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-6).
THIRD TIME MARKER
14 and the villages shall be caves forever, … 15 until the Spirit shall come upon you from on high, and Carmel shall be desert, and Carmel shall be counted for a forest.
Verse 15 qualifies the “forever” of verse 14. “The villages shall be caves forever … until the Spirit shall come upon you from on high.” But even this presents problems to a concrete-literal understanding.
The first problem is that Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E. This was just a few years after the coming of the Holy Spirit. History reveals that destruction of the land continued until Israel completely ceased to exist as a nation. And yet, the Spirit has stayed with us continually. So in conclusion, there exists a contradiction between the material blessings described in verses 15-20 and the reality of Israel’s history.
THE GREAT DIVIDE BETWEEN THE TWO TESTAMENTS
What is the great difference between life lived in the Old Testament and life lived in the New Testament? Of course, the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the King is the correct answer. There is a second answer, however.
Galatians 3:14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
Not only Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, but believing Jewish people, as well. All believers in Christ receive his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s blessing to both the church, his people, and to this fallen humanity. Old Testament saints received the Holy Spirit occasionally, externally, and for specific prophetic purposes. Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, the Holy Spirit did not dwell in close communion with people. Now that Christ has come, fellowship between God and humans has been restored (Hebrews 4:16).
GOD’S LANGUAGE ALSO CHANGED
1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. (ESV)
John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (ESV)
Some examples will help. First, when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John 4, Nicodemus could not understand his words. Why not? God had not yet given the Spirit. Nicodemus was a “natural person,” as Paul would say.
As a second example, when Jesus taught in parables, he used concrete metaphors to describe spiritual realities to his “natural” listeners. Is there a Christian anywhere who does not understand that when Jesus says in John 4:35, “‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest,” he is not speaking of concrete-literal grain that one boils and bakes? He is speaking of human souls. And, when Jesus called to his future disciples in Matthew 4:13, “‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,'” which Christian among us truly believes he was speaking of fishing hooks or nets with human beings in them?
If Jesus and the New Testament writers describe spiritual realities with concrete-literal words, why do so many academics and biblical interpreters insist that readers first and foremost understand nearly every word of Old Testament prophecy in a concrete-literal way? Do we truly believe that God would not give Isaiah concrete-literal words to describe New Testament spiritual realities?
THE GOSPEL OF ISAIAH
There is a reason why Isaiah is one of the most often quoted books in the New Testament. Isaiah was a prophet who straddled both testaments. God gave him visions and insights into his own era and also into the new era. Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, and he reported it.
John 12: 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (ESV)
In his book, Isaiah writes of two topics: 1) the coming Messiah and 2) the dismal failure of Israel as a whole to embrace God as their King. Chapter 32 encompasses both of these topics. Because the time markers fail to represent accurately the concrete-literal history of Israel, it is good biblical hermeneutics to interpret the language of this chapter spiritually. Using concrete-literal language, Isaiah prophesies the spiritual demise of one kingdom and the arrival of a new King. The new kingdom will be eternal.
To be continued…verse 19: another variation between the Septuagint and the Masoretic textual traditions
1 Of course, Isaiah didn’t think in terms of two biblical testaments. Nor did he have an exact means to measure the times involved.
Before leaving Psalm 132, I want to comment on one of the most amazing differences between Old Testament faith and New Testament faith–the experiencing of the Holy Spirit.
Saints of the Old Testament received the saving grace of God through faith, just as New Testament believers do. It is and always has been God’s grace through faith.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (ESV)
There is a great difference in salvation experience between the Testaments, however. When Paul came to Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7, why did he ask the believers there, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (Act 19:2)?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (vs 2) They had been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. Paul then baptized them in the name of “the Lord Jesus.” “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (vs 6) Right in these verses is the difference between salvation in the Old Testament and the New Testament: the location of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit played a significant role in the Old Testament.
- All Israel knew the presence of the Lord in the wilderness, since he manifested as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
- The Ark was revered because it contained the presence of the Lord.
- When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness to speak with God before the Ark, he would place a veil over his face when he left, to hide the fading glow he received in his encounter with the Lord there (Exodus 33:7-11; 34:33-35).
- God’s Holy Spirit inhabited the First Temple of Solomon as a cloud, “10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
- In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes his vision of the Glory of the Lord leaving this same temple.
The common denominator in all the prior biblical scenes is that the presence of the Lord, his Holy Spirit, was external. He manifested in a visible, concrete-literal way. By literal I mean real. These events really happened; they are true. Concrete means apparent to the physical senses. Spiritual means of the Spirit of God, who is himself invisible. The Holy Spirit accompanied the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament, and his presence was concrete-literal. This is why, I believe, prophecy played such an important role in the Old Testament. David needed a prophet like Nathan to walk up to him and tell him what the Lord was saying, because David did not have the Holy Spirit within him to speak to him directly in his heart.
It is impossible to overstate the change from the Old Testament to the New in the shift from external to internal of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a change from a concrete-literal manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the people to a spiritual-literal. John the Apostle previews this change in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in John 3 and with the woman at the well in John 4. To understand the prominent position Scripture gives this change we can recall Jesus’ last directions to his disciples before he ascended.
Luke 24:49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” and “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8)
Acts chronicles the multiple occasions when believers received the Holy Spirit, and Paul in his letters again and again proclaims the Spirit’s presence in a new way within the church corporately and within believers singly.
For example, see:
Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (ESV)
Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
New Testament believers currently experience the fulfillment of God’s statement in Psalm 132:13-14.
13 For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews sums up the effect of the difference between the concrete-literal experiencing of God’s Holy Presence in the Old Testament and what New Testament believers experience now:
Hebrews 12:20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
As New Testament believers in Jesus Christ join with Old Testament believers in the hope of Messiah by singing the prayer of Psalm 132, may we feel fortunate (blessed) and joyful to know that we are part of the psalm’s fulfillment in grace. Praise God for having restored and even increased the close, intimate fellowship of humans with their Creator.