Woe to the Spoiler
Dr. Joe Temple


In our study of the book of Isaiah, we have been following the natural outline of the book. When I refer to the natural outline of the book, I am referring to the outline that I believe the Holy Spirit has placed there. An outline of any book in the Bible that we might make is helpful and beneficial, but in every book in the Bible, there are natural divisions which we believe that the Holy Spirit has made. When we find those natural divisions, our understanding of the book is clearer.

As we pursued the natural divisions in the book of Isaiah, we discovered that it fell naturally into two parts. The first part constitutes chapters 1-39 and the second part constitutes chapters 40-66. You can remember that very well if you remember that the book of Isaiah has the same divisions as does the books of the Bible, the Old Testament being composed of thirty-nine books and the New Testament being composed of twenty-seven books.

We found that the first division of the book fell naturally into a number of other divisions which we referred to as books, much as the Old Testament is divided up into books such as the Books of the Law or the Books of Moses , the Books of Poetry , and the Books of Prophecy .

As we think back over these first thirty-nine chapters of the book of Isaiah, we told you that the first six chapters might be referred to as the Book of Prophetic Utterances , because those six chapters constitute six prophetic sermons that Isaiah preached during the reign of King Ahaz and King Jotham.

The next book we referred to as the Book of Immanuel , and it embraces chapters 7-12, because in each one of those chapters the name Immanuel or its translation, which means “God with us,” is found.

We looked at another book in this section, and that book we referred to as the Book of Burdens . lt began with chapter 13 and concluded with chapter 23. In each chapter of this section a burden was pronounced upon some nation that had passed across the stage of world history in connection with the nation of Israel. We would re-emphasize to you that when we speak of the nations of the world, we are not necessarily referring to those nations which are of first importance as far as secular history is concerned, because the Bible does not primarily concern itself with those nations. We are thinking of those nations that were closely related to the history of the nation of Israel.

The next book of this first division we referred to as the Little Apocalypse, keeping in mind that the word Apocalypse means “revelation” or “unveiling.” This section embraces chapters 24-27, and we referred to it as the Little Apocalypse because each chapter represents what we refer to as a miniature revelation . As a matter of fact, if you were to take those chapters out of the book of Isaiah and put them in a little pamphlet by themselves, you would feel like you were reading the major portion of the book of Revelation in Old Testament language.

The last section in the list that we are in at the moment we refer to as the Book of Woes . This comprises chapters 28-33. We refer to it as the Book of Woes because in this particular section, once in each chapter and twice in another, there are pronounced woes upon certain cities, individuals, nations, and personalities.

As we come to chapter 33 in this lesson, we are going to notice the sixth and last woe. This particular woe, if you will notice verse 1 of chapter 33, is pronounced upon an unidentified individual:

Isaiah 33

1Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee.

Before we consider the woe pronounced upon this unidentified character—unidentified for the moment, but will be identified later—we might remind you that as we look at the chapter as a whole, we find it difficult to outline or divide because it is a highly emotional chapter. You find Isaiah uttering a cry of victory such as is described in verse 1, but down further on in the chapter, you find him sobbing a cry of disappointment and despair. It would seem that that is the order of the chapter. First, a cry of victory and everything that is related to that victory, then a sob of despair, which if we stopped there we would be disappointed. But with that sob of despair, there is a progression towards victory, and the chapter closes with a scene that should bring joy to all of our hearts.

Recognizing the Law of Double Reference

I would like to remind you of a principle related to the interpretation of the prophetic Word which must always be kept in mind if—notice what I am saying—we get the most out of it. This principle to which I refer is the law of double reference or the principle of near and far fulfillment .

When I use the terms the law of double reference , and the principle of near and far fulfillment , I am suggesting to you that the chapter deals with something near to the time of the prophets, but that does not exhaust the entire meaning of the chapter; rather, the chapter is one of double reference. It refers not only to a time that is near at hand as far as the prophet is concerned, but because the prophet was a prophet and, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could look down the corridors of time, he was able to tell not only the something close at hand, but the something at a great distance which has all the earmarks of even deeper identification than the thing close at hand.

If we do not recognize the law of double reference, there will be many things that will be a mystery to us. For example, when we look at verse 1 and read, “Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee!”, and go no further than many of the commentators go, we see that this first verse refers to the enemy of Israel in Isaiah's day by the name of Sennacherib. That is sufficient for the first verse, because Sennacherib was certainly their enemy. He was one who did spoil them. He was one who did deal treacherously with them, and God spoiled him, and God dealt treacherously with him. When we come to other verses to which we will call your attention, we are at a loss to know what they mean, because they do not fit into the character of Sennacherib, nor do they fit into that period of history in which Sennacherib lived.

We have three alternatives. We can spiritualize the truth of the Word of God. I mean by that that we can say that this has a spiritual meaning and only a spiritual meaning. We can seek the spiritual meaning and nothing more, or we can follow another practice which is to say that the Bible was written by human men without divine guidance and therefore is subject to error and that Isaiah, in some portions of the book, did not have his historical facts as accurate as he might have. The third alternative is the one to which I adhere, and that is that the Word of God, particularly the prophetic Word, is Word based upon the law of double reference, the principle of near and far fulfillment. Yes, I believe that verse 1 was referring to Sennacherib, the Assyrian. I also believe that verse 1 is referring to an individual who will in the future, as far as we are concerned, walk across the stage of the world. This individual is known by various names in the Scripture, but the more familiar name or title is the Antichrist . If you will keep that in mind, I think you will be able to understand the chapter.

Let us notice the paragraph which begins with a note of victory because in verse 1, Isaiah cries, “The individual who has given us so much trouble, Sennacherib or the Antichrist of the final day, will someday be brought to naught. You can be sure of that. God will give us ultimate victory.”

The Prayer of Isaiah's People

Then Isaiah explains why that victory is forthcoming by mentioning a prayer. It is a very brief one, but it was heard at the throne of Heaven and, being heard, had to be answered. Notice the words:

Isaiah 33

2O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.

Yes, I believe the people of Isaiah's day prayed this prayer. I believe that the people who will be living in the day when the last great spoiler makes his appearance will pray this prayer. I believe, because every passage of Scripture has one interpretation and as many applications as is consistent with the Word of God, that we can pray this prayer in times of great emergency. Look at it again:

Isaiah 33

2O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee…

They waited for God; they asked Him to act in grace. We can do the same.

The second thing they said was:

Isaiah 33

2…be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.

The word their might present a problem to you. You might wonder why the prophet changes the number of the pronoun at this particular point, speaking of their and our . The answer has a twofold possibility. The word for their and the word for our are so much alike in the Hebrew, the jot and the title making the only difference, that many Bible scholars are of the opinion that what Isaiah meant to say was, “Oh LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: Be thou our arm every morning, our salvation or our deliverance in the time of trouble.”

There are others who say, “No, the word their was intended to be there. What Isaiah was saying was twofold. He was praying for the men at the front of the battle and he was praying for the folk at home.” If that is true, may I say to you, by way of application, that it provides an excellent prayer for us to pray, or for any nation to pray, in time of distress.

We have been very fortunate indeed, as a nation, that war has not troubled our own shores to any great extent. Most of the major battles have been fought on foreign soil, and we may think that that is somewhat of a sacrifice. It is, and I would not belittle it for a moment, but we might remember that God has been gracious in that the devastation of war has not come to our own land, but remember, it could. As we remember that it could, I think it would be wise for us to pray, “Be Thou our salvation also, in the time of trouble.”

God's Answer to Israel's Prayer

I said that this is a prayer that was heard, and the answer is found in verse 3, where we read:

Isaiah 33

3At the noise of the tumult the people fled…

What people? The people who were gathered outside the city of Jerusalem in Isaiah's day—Sennacherib and his army—ready to tear down the walls of the city and lay the city of Zion waste. You can read the historical account of it in II Kings.

When we read, “At the noise of the tumult,” we can ask, “What tumult?” The answer is found in the last part of the verse:

Isaiah 33

3…at the lifting up of thyself [Oh God] the nations were scattered.

Here we have an illustration of the law of double reference. Remember, Sennacherib and his Assyrian army constituted one nation that opposed the nation of Israel at this particular time, but when God rises up in answer to the prayers of His people, then will the nations be scattered. At the end of the age when the Antichrist leads all the nations of the world against the city of Jerusalem, the nations of the world will be scattered.

The natural conclusion to any battle which is lost is the acquiring of the spoilS by the victor, so we are not at all surprised to read, in verse 4, Isaiah addressing the Assyrian host or the Antichrist and his nations as the case may be, as he says:

Isaiah 33

4And your spoil shall be gathered like the gathering of the caterpiller: as the running to and fro of locusts shall he run upon them.

That is certainly expressive, is it not? Have you ever seen a caterpillar or the locusts start on a field of grain? Around here, you see grasshoppers, and how quickly everything of value is gone, and the stalk stands stripped in the midst of the field. That is how quickly the people of God are going to take the spoils of their enemy after God takes control.

Praise for Answered Prayer

In verse 5, we see Isaiah exalting and praising the LORD, when he says:

Isaiah 33

5The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.
6And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.

Glance at verse 6, and recognize that the translation of the King James version is not a happy translation. I mean by that that there is nothing drastically wrong with it, but it does not present the entire truth. Instead of just saying, “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times,” it misses approximately a half-dozen things which will characterize the times that the prophet had in mind. It will be a time of wisdom; it will be a time of knowledge; it will be a time of stability; it will be a time of abundant deliverance; it will be a time of reverence for the LORD as the most important thing in the lives of men, and so referred to as treasure .

Here again we have another illustration of the need for the recognition of the principle that we laid before you, because Isaiah said, “This is true of the city of Zion.” This was not true in Sennacherib's day. It has never been true. It is not true today. There is nothing that faintly resembles stability and abundance of deliverance, and certainly nothing resembles full wisdom and knowledge, but Isaiah is telling them that it will be, because when the Antichrist, the final spoiler of Israel, is destroyed and the Lord Jesus Christ has established His permanent residence for 1,000 years, these things will be true of the city.

The Sound of Weeping

This has been an exultant cry, but it becomes sad now. It is a rather solemn sound as you look at verse 7, because Isaiah says:

Isaiah 33

7Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without: the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly.

The great men of Israel are weeping openly, and the ambassadors are standing without the city walls sobbing. Why? Look down at verse 8:

Isaiah 33

8The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth: he hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man.

Yes, this was true of Sennacherib. Read it in II Kings. Hezekiah stripped the temple of all of its gold and its silver and sent ambassadors of peace to Sennacherib, saying, “Don't come up against us in battle any more. Accept our peace offerings.” Sennacherib did all of that. He said, “You make your bounty high enough and I will.” Hezekiah did as he said, but hardly had the ambassadors gotten back home when news came that Sennacherib was approaching the walls of the city, ready to lay it waste. The ambassadors wept because their mission was fruitless.

You will notice in verse 8 that so sad was the condition of the area that the highways lay waste, and the wayfaring man (the traveler) wasn't able to travel anymore. The highways were no longer safe. This is a sad and solemn thing indeed, but go on to verse 9:

Isaiah 33

9The earth mourneth and languisheth: Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down: Sharon is like a wilderness; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits.

Notice the phrase, “The earth mourneth and languisheth,” and recognize that the prophecy goes deeper than the historical incidents to which I just referred, for the sad conditions depicted in Isaiah's day had developed into the sad condition that enveloped the whole world, and such will be the case when the Antichrist is on the earth. Read Daniel, chapter 9, when you have time, and you will discover that this individual called Antichrist will make a treaty with the nation of Israel to guarantee them peace within their land, and right in the middle of the period for which the treaty is made, he will break it. He will turn against them, and he will persecute them as no people have ever been persecuted.

Warfare Directed At the Enemy

There is no record that they prayed, but there is a record that God heard it. You should recognize the possibility of that experience in your own life. There are times when we have needs and we talk to God about our needs, and He meets our needs. There are other times when we have needs, and we do not need to talk to God about them. He already sees them, and He already acts. We find in verse 10, God saying:

Isaiah 33

10Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself.

All of these phrases are phrases of warfare directed at the eternal enemy of the people of God, for we read in verse 11:

Isaiah 33

11Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you.

What does that mean? That means that they are going to be destroyed by their own breath, as fire whips back on the person that starts it, and consumes them. Notice in verse 12:

Isaiah 33

12And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.

God will cause the armies who oppose the nation of Israel to be destroyed by their own swordsmen. Read Revelation, chapter 19, and you will find the prophetic incident referred to. Read II Kings and you will find the historical incident referred to. Sennacherib was frightened to death and went back to his own place of abode and was slain by his own sons as he was kneeling at an altar praying to the god of his nation. He was destroyed, figuratively speaking, by his own breath. So great will be the wrath of God when the Antichrist and the armies of the world gather around the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem that, according to the book of Revelation, they will be filled with consternation and will turn one upon the other, and with their own swords will slay men of their own army.

That shouldn't seem so strange to you. That has happened, though not for the same reason. In Vietnam, our own men killed our men by mistake, because of consternation, because of fear, because of improperly given orders. It can be done, and it will occur again. Look at verse 13, where God says:

Isaiah 33

13Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.

“Everybody listen,” God said, “to what I have done against the eternal enemy of Israel.” Isaiah says in verse 14:

Isaiah 33

14The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. [the people are so filled with fear at what they had seen by divine intervention that they declared] Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?

The phrases, devouring fire and everlasting burning , are other names for the Eternal God. You will remember that the Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, said, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

Those Who Dwell In the Eternal City

The question is asked, “Who will be able to live with a God like that? We read the answer in verse 15. Because we spend so much of our time in the New Testament talking about the grace of God, recognizing that mankind cannot save himself by his righteous deeds and must be saved by the finished work of Christ, we are prone to shy away from any passage of Scripture that speaks of righteous living. We shouldn't. Look at verse 15:

Isaiah 33

15He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly…

How is your walk? How is your talk?

Isaiah 33

15…he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes…

I ask you. How is your heart? How are your hands? Recognize that much of what our hands do, they do because our heart prompts us so to do. Notice again in verse 15:

Isaiah 33

15…that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;

The hearing of evil and the seeing of the eyes carries with it the idea of participation, so I ask you in what condition are your ears and in what condition are your eyes? An individual whose walk and talk and an individual whose heart and hand and whose ears and eyes are right will dwell on high. Look at verse 16:

Isaiah 33

16He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.

He shall be dwelling in a high and lofty place. He will be dwelling in the eternal Jerusalem.

The King In His Beauty

Isaiah closes this chapter with a description of the things that will be true of those who have the privilege of dwelling in the city to which we have been referring. Notice verse 17:

Isaiah 33

17Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.

Some people limit that verse and say that is a reference to Hezekiah. We cannot believe that that is the fulfillment of the verse for there was nothing beautiful in moral character or physical stature about Hezekiah, but there is a beauty to be held in relation to the King. You remember in Isaiah, chapter 53, that the nation of Israel said concerning the King, “There is no beauty that we should desire Him.” But someday they, and we, too, shall see the King in His beauty.

If you glance down farther in the chapter, you will find another reference to that very fact. You will discover that the Lord Jesus Christ, in verses 21-22, will be seen literally upon the earth:

Isaiah 3

21But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
22For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.

You may spiritualize that if you like, but I think that you will be doing violence to the Scripture if you do. I think that it refers to the fact that someday men will be able to behold the Lord Jesus Christ on this earth in all of His glory, and when they do, they will recognize Him as judge, lawgiver, and they will recognize Him as delivering King.

A Time of Peace

Isaiah, you will remember, does wax poetic throughout the entire book, and I think that he takes advantage of a beautiful metaphor in verse 21, when he tries to describe what the Lord will be to the people who are living in that day. Notice what he said there:

Isaiah 33

21But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams…

Jerusalem, which was an inbound city, practically speaking, someday will find itself sitting at the head of a river, figuratively speaking; but there would never be a galley with oars on that river, nor would there be any gallant ships pass thereby. A galley with oars, and a gallant ship refer to the warships of the day in which Isaiah lived. It is just another interesting way of saying that it will be a time of peace, for our Lord, the Prince of Peace, will be upon the earth.

Israel Occupies the Land

Go back to verse 17, and notice the last part:

Isaiah 33

17…they shall behold the land that is very far off.

We have an unhappy translation, because this would lead you to believe that these people would be delivered to some far distant land. This is not what it means at all. What it says, literally, from the original text is: “Thou shalt behold the land with its wide boundaries.”

We do not have time in this lesson, but you need to read chapter 15 of the book of Genesis and recognize that the nation of Israel has never occupied all of the land of Israel that God had promised to them. They had occupied a little strip of land. They did not occupy the land from one sea to another as God said they would, but now they will for God, in His Son, has returned. Look at verse 18:

Isaiah 33

18Thine heart shall meditate terror. Where is the scribe? where is the receiver? where is he that counted the towers?

The sad experiences of the past will be but a memory. They will think about them, and they will talk about them, but only from the standpoint of past experience. They will just think about the terror they used to know. The scribe was the individual who counted the people and taxed them by the head. The receiver was the man who held out his hand for the money. When Israel was subjected by the enemy, she was not allowed to be a fortified city, and if they attempted to build walls or towers, word was sent to the king immediately, and of course men were sent out to tear down the towers. Nobody will count the towers any more. Notice verse 19:

Isaiah 33

19Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand.

No longer will a conquering people hold them in subjection, but rather in verse 20:

Isaiah 33

20Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities…

The real meaning of the word solemnities is “feast days.” They would look upon the city of many observances and religious festivals, and they would see it as a quiet habitation. I repeat, the city has never been thus seen, so the prophecy awaits fulfillment. Notice again verse 20:

Isaiah 33

20Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down…

Here he uses another metaphor. How often had the Pilgrims taken down their tents and moved on to a new location? The tent will never have to be taken down any more. Notice:

Isaiah 33

20…not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.

They will be living in a permanent dwelling place. Glance down at verse 24:

Isaiah 33

24And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.

You read here what you have read many times over in various places in the Word of God, because the Word of God corroborates itself. There will be no sickness in that city. No one will ever say, “I'm sick.” It would be wonderful if that could be true now, but it isn't, and it is never going to be until Jesus comes. Until Jesus comes, we will need our doctors, and we will need our hospitals.

Someone says, “Oh, aren't you ruling out the possibility that God is able to heal?” No. I'm speaking of the healing power of God. God heals with means or without means, as it seems good to Him, but we will need doctors, hospitals and divine intervention until the day arrives when no one will ever again say, “I'm sick.”

Iniquity Forgiven

The last statement is one that means much to us who are conscious of sin and weighed down with guilt. Look at the last statement: “Their iniquity will be forgiven.” I am glad that I can say to the glory of God that my sins have been forgiven by virtue of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and whenever the Holy Spirit brings to my mind any sin, I immediately confess it. I rest upon the promise of His Word in I John, chapter 1, verse 9:

I John 1

9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Someone says, “How often do you do that?” As often as I need to. “Well, how often do you sin?” More often than I would like to. As often as I sin, the forgiving power of God is there.

This passage of Scripture is saying that there will never be the need to say, “God, I'm sorry. I have sinned.” There will never be a need to say, “God I confess to Thee that I have brought reproach upon Thy name and upon the cause of Christ,” because there will be no sin. You see, the chapter that pronounces a woe upon the last great spoiler of the people of God ends with a glorious note of victory of a day, of a city, of a land, that all of our hearts desire.

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