Today’s Passage: Isaiah 33
In this chapter, as in many other places, Isaiah contrasts God’s stability with man’s insecurity. He prays, “O Lord, be gracious to us; we have waited for You. Be their strength every morning, our salvation also in the time of distress” (33:2). And he expects that, in time, God will deliver his people from the uncertainty and threats around them. “He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness. And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge” (33:5-6), Isaiah prophesies. There is societal stability in God’s justice and wisdom, his moral and noetic goodness, his omnibenevolence and omniscience; where God is king, he brings peace.
But peace doesn’t come overnight. Right on the heels of the bit about “He will be the stability of your times”–and by “right on the heels” I mean the very next verse–Isaiah declares, “The ambassadors of peace weep bitterly” (33:7). By my interpretation, they’re crying their way through the growing pains of God rooting out Israel’s sources of instability and strife. Like a foolish man building a house on sand in a certain parable that won’t be told for another eight hundred years, the people have built their social order on things that won’t last, and consequently they’re producing things that won’t last. Speaking through Isaiah, God says, “You have conceived chaff, you will give birth to stubble; My breath will consume you like a fire” (33:11). The lies, violence, decadence, and evil in their society are useless at best, like giving birth to tumbleweeds, and they cannot withstand the fire of God’s judgment.
The fire theme comes up again a few verses later. The people ask, ““Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?” (33:14). Their question recalls narrative passages from the Torah where God takes the form of a burning bush or a pillar of fire illuminating the night, and other passages use the exact phrase “a consuming fire” to describe God (Exodus 24:17, Deuteronomy 4:24, Deuteronomy 9:3). But Isaiah goes on to answer the question of who can endure the searing heat of God’s presence! “He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity, he who rejects unjust gain…” (33:15), and the list goes on. The guy who builds his life on what will last instead of contributing to the problem of shoddy foundations will reap the benefits, as Isaiah describes: “He will dwell on the heights, His refuge will be the impregnable rock; His bread will be given him, His water will be sure” (33:16). He’ll have somewhere to stay, something to eat, something to drink, and he can count on it.
The “impregnable rock” that forms this righteous man’s refuge, I believe, refers to God himself. The Bible is rife with metaphors and similes comparing God to a rock: just for example, Deuteronomy 32:4, 2 Samuel 22:32, and Psalm 18:2. As the chapter nears its end, Isaiah asserts, “”For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us” (33:22). Ultimately, God the Creator is the foundation of every good and lasting thing, and where he reigns, he saves from chaos and fear.
But I’d be lying if I told you it doesn’t take time.