17 Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;Isaiah 33:17-22
they will see a land that stretches afar.
18 Your heart will muse on the terror:
“Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute?
Where is he who counted the towers?”
19 You will see no more the insolent people,
the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand.
20 Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be plucked up,
nor will any of its cords be broken.
21 But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
nor majestic ship can pass.
22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.
It’s that time of year again. Lord willing, a new year approaches. We have just moved out of a time of eating and gathering, and now, we move on to a time of resolutions and restarts.
For some, this is a time of regret, looking back over a year that just did not seem to go their way. For others, it is a time of remembering loss. And for some, although this seems to be the smallest group, this is a time of looking back at achievement and growth while looking forward to whatever challenges and victories await them on the horizons of 2023.
I am not quite sure which group I fall into regarding 2023, but I do know that my outlook regarding the future is changing.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had big plans. I was with the love of my life, and anything seemed possible. We were setting out to achieve our goals. She was going to be a pharmacist. I was going to be a teacher. We would get married and use her (much higher) income to pay off whatever student loans we incurred in pursuit of our goals while living off my salary. Once the loans were paid off, we would buy a nice house, fill it with kiddos, and I would head towards my Ph.D. and becoming a principal. From there, the sky, and my ambition, would be the limit.
Out of that list, I am blessed to get to still be with the love of my life, and we have filled a much smaller and less nice house with two kiddos. I cannot fathom what my life would be like with out them. I did eventually become a teacher, but neither a Ph.D. nor becoming a principal are ambitions anymore.
There was a time when these changes were regrets, like ghosts of Christmas future. But God’s plan has been much better than mine. My wife did not become a pharmacist because she got to realize she was a gifted teacher. Her impact on children (with math, no less) is incalculable. I became (and quit and became again) a pastor. My time in the classroom, although it took a decade to get there, meant and means more to me than any of the hypotheticals or the draw of being wealthier ever had. The allure of such things is no longer there.
I get to be a husband. I get to be a daddy. I get to serve the Lord as a teacher, pastor, and even a writer. If the Lord tarries His return, I look forward to whatever He lets me do, and I am excited to follow Him – an excitement that was missing in my earlier ambitions. But more than all those things, I look forward to His return. I look forward to that day when the clouds will part and Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. I anxiously await the return of the King!
The King is Coming (vv. 17-20)
In Isaiah 33, God was using His prophet to deliver the promise of some woes against Israel’s foes and peace to His people. Assyria was and had been waylaying Israel, but God was coming to their rescue. It is important to note that this rescue is not because of the righteous way in which Israel worshipped and followed the Lord. No, this rescue is in spite of their unrighteous rebellion against Him. Much of Isaiah is written prophesying the eventual downfall of Israel and Judah and their eventual capture by and captivity in Babylon. Even with that future coming, this rescue is a picture of the love that God had for His people – and has – despite their rebellion and idolatry.
Isaiah 33:1-2 set the stage and give context for our passage for today:
1 Ah, you destroyer,
who yourself have not been destroyed,
whom none has betrayed!
When you have ceased to destroy,
you will be destroyed;
and when you have finished betraying,
they will betray you.
2 O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
our salvation in the time of trouble.
Isaiah was declaring this on behalf of the Lord over Assyria, but He was also praying on behalf of the people to the Lord that they would receive grace in their time of need.
The problem is that Israel did not take the words of God’s prophet warning them of their own future seriously. God had told them through Isaiah what was coming. They knew what the Lord said about sin and what His Law said about it. Isaiah’s ministry telling people “Thus saith the word of the Lord” lasted thirty-nine years and was filled with calls to repentance and pleading with God’s people to listen to what God was saying and look to Him. All that got Isaiah was a martyr’s death (Hebrews 11:32, 37) at the hands of His people, at the hands of God’s people. Yet here, he asked God to give them grace. He asked God to be their strength “every morning” and to be their “salvation in the time of trouble”. And, consistent to who He is, God was “gracious and merciful” to Israel while pouring out His strength on Assyria; He was “slow to anger” toward His people despite their idolatry because He is always “abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).
Isaiah’s prophecy here stretches beyond the conflict with and rescue from Assyria. It even stretches beyond Babylon, which was only a few decades away on the horizon. He told them what their eyes “will behold” despite what their heart will “muse” on and their eyes could currently see. Their hearts were musing – meaning their thoughts were absorbed – on terror because that is what they were currently experiencing. They failed to look toward what Isaiah was telling them because their eyes currently beheld the “insolent people” who rained “terror” down on them. Isaiah wanted them to “set their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2) and see what came beyond their field of vision. He wanted them to “behold the King in His beauty”!
Isaiah was not talking about any earthly king of Israel or Judah. The people would have long since been over the allure of their earthly kings because they had suffered – and would suffer again – because of their foolish and idolatrous pursuits. The best of their kings was plagued by the same sin and faults as the people. David, Solomon, and Josiah all suffered injuries and loss at the hands of their enemies, too, with no ability within themselves to turn the tide of battle. And David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), was still a sinner who fell “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) just as all men do. Isaiah was talking about the King!
While Isaiah did not know fully what He was talking about, we can now. He was talking about the “Child” who would come to shine a “great light” on “the people who dwelt in a land of deep darkness” (Isaiah 9:2, 6). He was talking about the “man of sorrows” who would bear “our griefs”, carry our “sorrows”, get “pierced for our transgressions”, and be “crushed for our iniquities” – the one whose “wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). He was talking about the Savior who was coming in their future, Him who would be “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29) and “give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He was talking about the King who would enter Jerusalem, greeted by palm branches and cries of “Hosanna!” and “King of Israel!” (John 12:13) a week before He “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures”, who “was buried”, who “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In fact, it was because God’s Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah that Paul spoke of when He said, “in accordance with the Scriptures” (Isaiah 53)!
Neither Israel nor Isaiah could understand then, but God used Isaiah to point them to a greater hope in Jesus than they could imagine – greater than the threat the Assyrians were that day or than Nebuchadnezzar would be in their near future. The eyes of God’s people will eventually see “the King in His beauty”. Their eyes will a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-11) that will be “untroubled” (v. 20) and truly a city of peace because it will be graced with the presence of the “Prince of peace” and because of whom “the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).
Those who trust in Christ today need to keep in mind that our “eyes will behold the King in His beauty”. We “will see a land that stretches afar”.
The King Will Save Us (vv. 20-22)
Verse 21 starts with the phrase “But there”, speaking of the Jerusalem of the future. The conjunction “but” carries in it everything that comes before and cancels it out in favor of what comes after it. In this case, the before is different than the descriptions of this new Jerusalem found in vv. 20-21. What it says would be “there” will cancel out what is there at the time Isaiah was written.
Israel, namely Judah, during the time of Isaiah 33, could celebrate all the “appointed feasts” in Jerusalem, but there would be a time coming after Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem that no feasts – not Passover, the feast of tabernacles, etc. – would be observed. For a few centuries after they returned from Babylonian exile, they could observe the appointed feasts, but they would gradually morph into celebrations that are pale imitations of what is laid out in the Bible. Even today, there is much turmoil in Jerusalem and many who claim to be children of Abraham but who have denied His Christ, His Messiah. But there will come a day when a greater feast will be celebrated – the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9)!
Isaiah speaks of the future Jerusalem as being “an immovable tent”. In the wilderness, God’s people did not have a temple but a tabernacle. It was portable and crude compared to Solomon’s temple – even the temple after Babylonian captivity or Herod’s temple. When God moved His people around in the wilderness, they would take up its stakes and cords and move it, too. Later, Israel rejoiced greatly when the tabernacle was replaced with the temple. The temple was not meant to be portable and did not need cords or stakes to hold it down.
Both the tabernacle and temple represented the presence of the Lord. Both held the holy of holies hidden behind a veil where the ark of the covenant – and the Mercy Seat – was kept. This was the representation of the throne of God where atonement was made for the sins of Israel. Yet the temple turned out to be as movable as the tabernacle. It was destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt after the return from exile, and destroyed again in 70AD. There is currently no temple. Well, a temple does reside on the temple mount, but it is the Dome of the Rock and devoted to Allah instead of Yahweh.
That is the sad reality of those looking to the current Jerusalem to be their hope. There is no hope in Jerusalem today nor has there been in nearly two millennia.
What Isaiah was talking about here in Isaiah 33 was better than the tabernacle or temple because he is pointing to what the holy of holies pointed to: the presence of God in Jesus! In Jesus, God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). That phrase “dwelt” (Gr. eskenosen) can be translated “to have one’s tent” or to tabernacle. God left His throne on high and came to tabernacle with His people! Look at the significance of this in Matthew 27:50-51:
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
When Jesus – God become flesh – died on the cross, the curtain (veil) separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was ripped “from top to bottom” (see footnote  for some cool word-nerdiness). Man had access to God as never before because God came to them! That’s good news! Jesus tabernacling with His people means that He is the “immovable tent”!
But there’s greater news yet! Look at the way Revelation 21:1-5 describes the Day we will “behold the King in His beauty”:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
That is the place Isaiah spoke of where “there the Lord in His majesty will be for us”. It is a land where none of the troubles of the earth can reach us – even the most advanced and dangerous “galley with oars” or “majestic ship” of the most terrible enemy – because the King will have already struck down the nations and “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15)! This is the Day when all of the sad things of this earth come untrue because God will be dwelling with His people. The eyes that were once blurry with tears will be able to look upon the King face to face!
I do not know if these words were a comfort for Israel during this time. I know the Assyrians were sent packing and were unable to overtake Israel. By Isaiah’s day (which was also Jeremiah’s, Amos’, etc.), their idolatry had already reached a point of no return. The Father had promised punishment for their sake and was to fulfill His word to them. They, just like our children, had a penchant for ignoring warnings of punishment until it is too late or forgetting former punishments after their sting has faded. What about us?
There is no shortage of troubles. And no matter our plans or hopes for 2023, the only sure hope is that there will be a day when we “behold the King in His beauty”. But we have yet to deal with v. 22: “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our King; He will save us.” If we belong to Him – if we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus, that is good news for us.
When He comes to judge, He will see Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 2:1-2). Jesus came to fulfill the Law because we cannot (Galatians 4:4-5), so our faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:2-4).
When Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords on that glorious future Day (Revelation 19:11-16), His enemies will fall, but those who have been redeemed – purchased – and reconciled by the death of Christ will no longer be enemies but part of His Kingdom (Romans 5:9-10)!
I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite hymns that is based out of today’s passage:
“I know I shall see in His beauty / The King in whose Law I delight / Who lovingly guards my footsteps / And gives me songs in the night // Redeemed, redeemed / Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb / Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it / His child and forever I am!”
So, today’s Bible study can either be good news for you or bad – not both. Just as there will be days in 2023 that are good or bad, the Day of the Lord will only be good if you can look forward to the coming of the King. If you have been redeemed, then you can look forward to seeing “the King in His beauty”, but if you do not know Him, you get the rider on the white horse – the full wrath of God in His might and strength. A few decades after today’s passage, there were people who understood this more than they had hoped. They stopped receiving grace and mercy and experienced wrath. The saving and powerful hand of God was lifted, and Nebuchadnezzar was allowed into Israel. What will it be for you?
But for those whose boast is in being redeemed by the King…. Their entire life is altered changed because of what He has done for them and in them. His Spirit dwells within them, and He is on the throne interceding on their behalf. And His return is promised.
But just because He has not yet returned does not mean He is distant. Just as God became flesh and tore the veil that separated us from Him, He is still approachable today! No other king on the face of the earth gives access to all his subjects. Even the prime minister of England cannot waltz into Buckingham Palace, roll into King Charles’ private quarters, and merely ask him for whatever he needs. There are protocols. He is the king of England, after all. But the King gives His people access.
In Hebrews 4:16, we are told: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We can fix our eyes upward where He is and look forward to His return, but in the meantime, He gives us access to Him on His throne! The grace Isaiah prayed for is available to us today. All we must do is approach.
That is my prayer for you and yours, me and mine, in 2023. I want every day that the Lord tarries to be one of anticipating His return. I want my actions, hopes, and desires to be dripping with longing for Him and obedience to His great commandment and commission. I want my life to exude gospel at every opportunity. But I am so thankful that the King is available in my waiting.
I know there will be days when I will fail and be filled with doubts and fears, but I also know that I can approach His throne with confidence because I know it is not empty.
The King who sits there cares for me. He is approachable. He has the grace and mercy I need and will give it to me when I need it.
The King redeemed me, loves me, and is coming again. Hallelujah! And amen!
 Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
 But wait, there’s more! In case you like interesting tidbits (or are nerdy like me), there is another layer to this. In Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews is describing the elements of the tabernacle/temple in order to show how Jesus is the substance to their shadow. The mercy seat was on the lid of the ark of the covenant and was representative of the throne of God. It is where the priest would sprinkle the blood each year on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). The word translated “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 (hilasterion) is only used in that form one other place in the NT. In Romans 3:25, it is translated “propiatiation” – the sacrifice made to trade our sins for Jesus’ righteousness! Written right into the fabric of Scripture by God’s Holy Spirit is the beautiful truth of Emmanuel – God with us – showing us that Jesus is the mercy seat and He is the sacrifice!