CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 33.
The context for this chapter is 2 Kings 18 and 19. This is when the nations have tried to ally against Assyria by refusing to pay taxes, provoking Assyria into attacking. When the southern kingdom of Judah sees Assyria conquer the nations surrounding them, including the northern kingdom of Israel, the king (Hezekiah) tries to appease the Assyrian king by sending a letter promising to pay all that is owed. The Assyrian king (Sennacherib) demands 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold, and the only way for Hezekiah to come up with so much is to give up his own personal treasury – and to strip the temple of its gold and furnishings. While the Assyrian king was busy accepting this tribute, the Hezekiah was finally listening to the prophet and doing what the Lord commanded. So the Lord intervened in behalf of Judah, and almost all (185,000) of Sennacherib’s soldiers died overnight without even a battle. This scared off Assyria, who fled back to Nineveh and left Judah alone.
Isaiah warns Assyria that they will be dealt with as “treacherously” as they themselves have dealt with the nations they have attacked, and that many will die (verse 1). This will happen because the righteous remnant. Isaiah saw the people returning to the Lord, crying out to Him, repenting, and waiting in faith for the Lord to deliver them (verse 2). He knew that when When Assyria did flee after the plague that killed so many in one night, they left not only Judah’s tribute behind but the other wealth they had gathered along the way (see 2 Kings 20:12-13). The people of Judah went through the abandoned Assyrian camp and gathered the riches the way caterpillars gather food (verse 3), bringing the treasures back for the national treasury and for the temple (verse 4). When they had to pay the price of all they had to do the right thing, the Lord rewarded them with far more abundance than they could imagine or even contain (2 Kings 20). This showed the people that the Lord would keep His promises as soon as they would obey. He can be their righteous King soon as they will be His righteous people (verse 5).
When we are righteous people of holiness, we have stability and provision and protection – even “abundance” – both temporally and spiritually (verse 6). But until we become righteous by choosing holiness (which is greater than choosing “good”), even our best efforts at being “valiant” will not be enough and our “allies” will betray us in the same ways we betray the Lord (verse 7). We will not be able to prosper or even function well physically or temporally, much less spiritually without depending on the Lord to give us His righteousness (verse 8, see also Isaiah 22).
Isaiah then sees a vision hundreds of years into the future, and his vision once again has both temporal/literal (Aaronic) and spiritual (Melchizedek) applications (verse 9). There was a time after the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians, when the land was just stripped – used up, decimated by war, and destroyed by earthquakes. The people could not prosper because their provision for themselves and their livelihood for business was ruined. But the trees of Lebanon are also a symbol of strength, and Bashan (the Jordan River) a symbol of the ordinances, and Mount Carmel is a symbol of priesthood power. Isaiah saw the days when the Jews would so reject the Lord that they would lose access to these vital things that kept them alive as a people. The land would be desolate, physically, but the people would have no “fruit” – no life, no evidence of covenant keeping, no seeds for new life, no testimony, no converting others.
Only their return to the Lord could restore the people (verse 10).
But those who would not return to the Lord would be destroyed by their own choices (verse 11). Their own spirits would consume them, so completely lost in their choices and those consequences that it would be clear and obvious to all, just like a brush fire that all can see (verse 12). Even they themselves will not be able to clean up their own messes, manage things as they have before, or maintain their rebellious lifestyle; they will become weak and helpless until finally acknowledging the true King and His government (verse 23).
All will know for themselves who the Lord is and whether they have chosen His righteousness or not (verse 13). It is not our righteousness, and it is not that we are “good”. It is that we choose His righteousness in exchange for the not-of-God in us (see Isaiah 22:23,25). Immortality is offered to all, but un-righteousness cannot be in His presence. The quality of our immortality is determined by the choices we make now.
His love for humanity is overwhelming, but the economy of heaven does not allow blessings to be poured out upon the wicked, nor can exaltation be granted to the rebellious.
(Skousen, p. 462)
Isaiah says that people will not be able to fake righteousness, and that all sin not repented of will be revealed and all hypocrites found out (verse 14). When the history of each dispensation is taught to all of us, the life of each of us will be revealed – except for those things “covered” or “blotted out” by His atonement and our repentance (D&C 88:108-110).
It is the Spirit that “burns” us now, calling us to repentance, confirming truth to us, correcting our way, and instructing us how to proceed. The “fire” is the presence of God, and His words are the “sword” (Revelation 2:16), meaning that those with His presence and His words are the “flaming sword”, or prophets speaking the truths which the Spirit does confirm to us. Isaiah is how – if we cannot do what the Spirit prompts, or cannot do what the prophets tell us – how will we ever live in His actual presence in our celestial home?
The only ones who can will be those who have traded what is not-of-God in them for His righteousness (Isaiah 22:23,25). The only ones who can will be those who have demonstrated by righteousness their acceptance of His mercy, provided by His grace to meet the demands of justice. The only ones who can are those Isaiah describes in verse 15:
He that walketh righteously,
and speaketh uprightly;
he that despiseth the gain of oppressions,
that shaketh his hands from holding bribes,
that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood,
and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.
Those who live this life of holiness (again, beyond just what is “good” compared to the evil of the world) will be blessed in this life as well as in the eternities (verse 16). These blessings will come through the Church, the restored gospel, and ordinances of the temple as restored in this dispensation through modern day prophets (verse 17). The righteous will be aware of the “terror” spreading throughout the world (verse 18); but when the Savior returns as King, there will be no more foreign enemy and we will be united in His kingdom (verse 19). He will reign from New Jerusalem (in America) and Jerusalem (in Israel), reigning with peace and righteousness instead of war and oppression (verse 20, see also Isaiah 2:3). We will no longer be removed, oppressed, or driven about (verse 21); our stakes will be established and remain strong (verse 20). He will redeem us all politically with a righteous government, and this will help prepare us to live celestial law for future exaltation (verse 22). Living His law will change us and our lifestyles so drastically that we will enjoy good physical health as much as the spiritual joy of being forgiven (verse 24).