We come to our sixth and final woe in this section of Isaiah’s book (chapters 28-33). This woe is different from all the other woes. Let’s understand why it is different.
The first woe is against the drunkard Israelites of the northern kingdom (Isaiah 28:1) who are lost in idolatry and the ways of the world.
The second woe is against Ariel, the city of Jerusalem. (Isaiah 29:1). They are religious, but not from the heart. They worship God because of tradition and they do not love God.
The third woe is against the leaders of Judah who hide their plans from the Lord thinking God is unaware of what they are doing. They say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:15)
The fourth woe is against God’s people who seek help from Pharaoh and Egypt and fail to seek God for counsel. (Isaiah 30:1-2)
The fifth is against those who put their trust in the protection of horses, chariots, and horsemen, and do not look to Almighty God for help! (Isaiah 31:1)
The significance of the first five woes is that they are proclamations against God’s people, the Israelites. The sixth woe is not against the Israelites but against the Assyrians.
“Woe to you, O destroyer” (Isaiah 33:1) is a woe against Assyria who leaves a path of destruction in their wake. God’s anger turns from Judah and is aimed at Assyrians who destroy and are treacherous for no reason. Their destructive motives are evil, unprovoked, and driven by a desire to dominate the world.
What prompted the change? Why is God redirecting His pronouncement of woe from the Israelites to the Assyrians? The reason is God’s people turn to Him in repentance and faith. God is willing to come to their aid because they repent.
A change of heart comes over the people of Judah. They went to Egypt for help, and Egypt refuses. As a last resort, King Hezekiah of Judah asks King Sennacherib of Assyria, what will it take for him and his army to go away. Sennacherib responds three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold (approximately $47 million). Hezekiah removes gold and silver from the house of the Lord and the king’s treasuries (tax dollars) to pay the bribe. The king of Assyria takes the money, and then blasphemes God and tells the people to surrender.
The people of Judah are helpless. Hezekiah calls upon the Lord. We can read his prayer in 2 Kings. His prayer ends with these words:
King Hezekiah and the people of Judah turn to God. They are desperate. Isaiah describes what the people say. “O Lord be gracious to us; we have waited for You.” They ask God to be their strength every morning and their salvation in the time of distress. (Isaiah 33:2)
The people of Judah were once a people with God as their King. In the time of David, Jerusalem is built on the rock of Christ. The temptation to stray away from God begins during the time of Solomon, when things are going great. They are the richest and most powerful nation on earth. They are well fed and cared for by God. They have nice homes, and their nation is the envy of all the other nations.
They replace the rock of Christ with the sand of the world. Pride fills their heart. Temptations lead them down the long slippery slope of the sins we have read about, sins of idolatry, corruption, immorality, complacency, and more.
Pride is a house built on sand. Idolatry and drunkenness is a house built on sand. The love of money is a sand foundation. Immorality is a house built on sand. When the storm comes, the wind and waves wash away the sand, and the house tumbles.
Isaiah describes the heartbreak and despair before they call upon God. Brave men cry in the streets. Ambassadors of peace weep because there is no peace. Commerce is at a standstill. The highways are desolate, and the traveler ceases to bring goods from afar. The land stops producing. Places that were once fruitful are desolate. The cedars of Lebanon wither. Sharon is a desert. Bashan and Carmel are trees without leaves. (Isaiah 33:7-9) They are helpless.
The condition of Judah is their doing. They have no one to blame but themselves. They think they don’t need God until things are falling apart at the seams. They call upon God at the last minute (sound familiar).
Thankfully, God does not hold grudges. He could easily say, “Judah, you should have asked for My help twenty years ago.” But, God is gracious.
God loves His children. Just as we strike out against those who seek to hurt our children, those who set out to rob our joy and peace become God’s enemy. Judah does not deserve God’s favor. It is by grace that God promises defeat of Judah’s enemies.
God tells the people of Judah that they will look out over the walls of Jerusalem and wonder, where are the enemies plotting the overthrow of Jerusalem? Where are the guys counting the protective towers or counting the horses, chariots, and men we have? The fierce people who speak a foreign tongue will be gone. (Isaiah 33:18-19) Notice, it is a mysterious disappearance!
God speaks, and the enemies flee. God stands, and the evil nations disperse. God ravages the enemy like a swarm of locusts picking leaves off every bush and tree. (Isaiah 33:3-4)
Assyria is consumed by the fire of God’s breath. God looks upon Assyria as a worthless nation having no contribution to the world. Their evil gives birth to chaff and stubble. They are like a ship with loose tackle, an unstable mast, and sails that will not spread (Isaiah 33:23). They are burned so finely that the ash left from the fire will be a white powder. Isaiah 33:10-12).
The best way for God to restore His people is to restore their heart and soul. God restores His people by instilling in them the fear of the Lord. Nothing is better for our well-being than fearing God.
God calls upon His people who are far and near to look upon His handiwork and tremble (Isaiah 33:13). God opens their eyes to behold the beauty of His glory.
As the people of Judah see the King in His beauty, they see the glory of God’s holiness and judgment. Seeing the King in His beauty brings the fear of the Lord to their soul.
Isaiah describes what happens when God restores the fear of the Lord in His people. Sinners in Zion are terrified; they tremble as God seizes the godless. They ask themselves, “Who among us can live with the consuming fire of God? (Isaiah 33:14)
The people of Judah have an experience like Isaiah’s when he sees God in His holy temple (Isaiah 6:1-5). They ask one another, who among us can live before such a mighty and holy God? They determine that only people who may stand in the presence of God must have clean hands and a pure heart (Isaiah 33:15).
When people fear God, God dwells in their presence and establishes His kingdom. When people exalt God, justice, righteousness, stability, salvation, wisdom, and knowledge spread everywhere. When God is lifted-high and His people fear Him, treasure abounds. (Isaiah 33:5-6)
When God’s people have a fear of Him, God is head over all things. He is Lord.
Nothing goes wrong when God is the supreme justice, dictating legislation, and King administrator. Isaiah describes what happens when verse 22 is the reality.
God’s justice and righteousness are not empty platitudes, but they bring practical benefits for us to enjoy. When the Lord is judge, lawgiver, king, and savior, needs are met. There is plentiful bread to eat and water to drink. They live in high-places. The people dwell with permanence in a tent with stakes that will never be pulled up. There is no threat of attack. The city is protected like a giant moat that protects a castle. The moat never has a boat with oars or mighty ships approaching Zion. The weakest among the people share in the plunder and abundant spoil of the enemy. Sickness is vanquished. Every resident dwells with forgiveness of sin. They live as people with clean hands and a pure heart. God’s work of restoration is thorough and everlasting. (Isaiah 33:16-24)
Isaiah 35 is a picture of how God longs for His people to call upon Him for help. God longs to be gracious to us just as He is gracious to His people during the time of Isaiah.
The temptation to stray from God is common to us all. Temptation often happens when life is going well. Our enemy knows how to tempt us with the world. We need to take heed, lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
Let’s learn from the common temptations of the people of Judah. Temptations fit in three categories.
The lust of the flesh seeks to gratify the senses. It takes many forms. For some, it is gluttony, or alcohol or drugs. For others, the lust of the flesh is immoral sexual gratification. It is a lack of self-control and moderation. The opposite of the lust of the flesh is to die to self and the lust of the flesh.
Lust of the eyes is coveting. We see the worlds material goods, and we can’t get enough. We covet houses and cars and even trivial things like collecting coins and dolls. The opposite is to be a generous giver.
The pride of life is to seek power and control, often at the expense of others. It wants to be congratulated by everybody. Pride of life seeks a pat on the back. It is a desire to be important. It is seeking popularity on social media. The opposite of the pride of life is to be humble and to see others as more important.
Our heart of flesh will lead us away from God. The sand of world looks like shiny glitter. The sand is fool’s gold. Before we know it, temptations pile bucket upon bucket of sand and the rock of Christ fades.
We are often blind to the sand piling up when things are going great. In our pride, we forget about God. Our prayer life dwindles. Church attendance becomes secondary to family events. We give little regard for the Bible. We enjoy the independence of doing things our way. The success of life and getting what our heart craves is intoxicating.
All of God’s children know the story. We are getting along great in life. We trust in our abilities and plans. But, the storms of life come. Illness, misfortune, and heartbreak strike. Finances crash. A terrorist attack occurs. Relationships fall apart. A church splits. These things may not be our fault.
But, sometimes it is our fault. Personal failure and sin is exposed. The DUI is published in the newspaper. An affair is uncovered. Somebody finds the porn stash. We get fired from a job. Stolen goods are discovered. Our fit of anger cause us to hurt someone. All we once held dear slips through our fingers.
Despair and depression sets in. We question the meaning of life. We become anxious. Life becomes days of deep sadness. We arrive in a position of helplessness.
I don’t know your story, but I can look back at times of having failed plans and asking God to clean up my mess. In those times, God becomes my priority, and everything else fades away. Sometimes it is an afternoon of crying out to God. Other times it is a week of begging for mercy.
In our helplessness, we repent and pray to God for help. In His grace, God always helps.
God never promises to fix the financial mess. He doesn’t promise to restore relationships. He doesn’t promise to fix the verdict, so we are found innocent. God lets the chips fall where they may, and we must live with the seeds that we sow.
In His grace, God gives us what we need most. He restores our soul. God replaces despair with hope. He calms our anxiety by giving us peace. He exposes deception and lies with His truth. He turns our sadness into joy and hate into love.
The stories are many.
David is a bright young man from a Christian home. He does well in high school and is accepted to a state university. He learns much about the world and enjoys spreading his wings. Philosophy is exciting. Arguments about evolution make sense. Religion is old-fashioned. He takes up partying. Before long, he becomes an alcoholic. Life is no longer about Christ, but his next drink. He skips classes because of hangovers. He is failing. In his despair, he cries out to God for help. David returns to Christ and rededicates his life. God graciously helps.
Bill and Joan are a middle-aged couple with two children. Joan is raised in a Christian family. She marries an unbeliever, her high-school sweetheart. For the first few years, everything is great. Now, they constantly fight. Nothing is working. They try everything from going on vacations to sending their kids to summer camp to be alone for a few weeks. But, all they do is look at one another, and an argument breaks out. The former high-school couple in love is now the suburban couple in conflict. The subject of divorce comes up. In desperation, Joan tells Bill about Jesus, and how their marriage needs the rock of Christ as a foundation. They go to church and God graciously intervenes.
Philip is a successful salesman for a large company. He is a great provider for his family. They live in an affluent neighborhood, and their children attend a private school. Phillip gets a promotion to vice president of sales. He and his wife start looking at bigger homes. Unbeknownst to everyone but Philip is secretly embezzling funds through shady sales deals. While away on a business trip, Philip gets a call from his company and he learns they are on to his corruption. Philip is devastated. His success is his identity. He is full of shame. He doesn’t know how he will face his wife. He knows he will lose everything. He sees no way out. He eyes the bottle of sleeping pills in his luggage and contemplates taking them all. At least his family will receive his insurance. Then, for a reason he doesn’t recall, he opens the desk drawer in the hotel and finds a Gideon Bible. After reading a few pages about God’s plan of salvation, Philip cries out to God for help, and God hears his cry.
There are centuries of stories just like these. People come face-to-face with threatening illnesses and death, financial ruin, loss of a job, relationship difficulties, or other challenging situations which bring them to their knees before God. In desperation, they cry out to God, and God hears their cries with abundant grace.
The hero of these stories is not David, Bill, Joan, or Philip. The people of Judah are not the heroes in the book of Isaiah. King Hezekiah is not a hero. We are not heroes because we repent and return to God. All people are guilty of sin. When we stray from God and disobey His commands, we deserve to fall.
Not one of us may say, “I don’t deserve the hand which life deals me. I deserve better, I am always good. I never say a bad word, never think a sinful thought, and I never do anything wrong.” We are all guilty.
We cry out to God asking for underserved favor. God hears our cries. In His grace, our eyes see the King in His beauty; and we behold a far-distant land called heaven. (Isaiah 33:17)
God is the hero of the story. His beauty is His glory. God looks upon sinners and gives mercy and grace. When we wander, He stands ready to restore our soul. He is longing and desiring to be gracious, compassionate, and merciful. He forgives us thousands of times. Every time He forgives, He casts our sin as far as the east is from the west. We sin all day on Tuesday, and His mercy is new Wednesday morning. We may dip a million empty buckets into the well of His grace, and each bucket will always come out full, and the well of His grace overflows.
I almost don’t want to preach on such grace. I fear that we all will take advantage of God’s grace. The fear is that our church will fall apart as people trample on God’s grace. But, this chapter is clear. God is gracious to Judah, and the people do not deserve such goodness. If God wants to extend His grace to us even if we sin a million times, what is it to me! The message which must be preached is God’s grace is beautifully glorious.
God looks at our lost soul, and He looks about heaven at His resources. His eyes fall upon His Son. He gives His beloved Son to us as a gift. His Son pays the ultimate price for the redemption of our soul. God the Son is the Champion who pours out His blood in the battle to defeat the enemies of sin and death. He conquers our foes and casts them into the pit of hell eternally. And, the Son grants to us the blessings of heaven. We are coheirs with Christ. Our eyes behold a far-distant land.
God takes our weakness and failures, and He works all things for good. He takes us sinners and makes us glorious by conforming us into the image of His Son. He makes those who are dead and gives everlasting life. He takes away our sin and gives us His righteousness. God makes us who are weak more than conquerors.
We serve an amazing, loving, gracious God.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.