A message based on Isaiah 33:17-22
Turn with me to Isaiah 33:17-22 for this meditation. Let me start by asking a question. Have you ever been surrounded? Have you ever felt trapped? And you felt no way out and no way to escape. It is hard to see God when you feel surrounded. Jerusalem was surrounded by the Army of Assyria. Now before Isaiah begins his ministry the nation Assyria is on the rise and they have become the dominant world power. Assyria was the most feared army in the world. They used brutal tactics that they would torture, they would use psychological warfare and they were moving conquering everything on their path. They had destroyed northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and they carried those Israelites into exile. Then they came down into Judah, that is the southern part of Israel and they captured an important city that was near Jerusalem. There was terror and panic. Assyria was coming, so Hezekiah the king of Judah got panicked and he waved the white flag and Judah became a vassal state or tributary state of Assyria. It means they had to tribute; they had to pay protection money to the Assyrians.
The relief gained only when Hezekiah paid over three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold to Assyria, a price so heavy that he was forced to empty the temple and royal treasury of silver and strip the gold from the doorposts of Solomon’s temple. This went on for only a short time and then Assyria double crossed Hezekiah. They took the money and they sent their army anyway to surround and destroy the city of Jerusalem. The Assyrians were on their way and that’s the setting for Isaiah chapter 33. Let us read it starting from verses 17 to 22. “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar. In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror: “Where is that chief officer? Where is the one who took the revenue? Where is the officer in charge of the towers?” You will see those arrogant people no more, people whose speech is obscure, whose language is strange and incomprehensible. Look on Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken. There the LORD will be our Mighty One. It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams. No galley with oars will ride them, no mighty ship will sail them. For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our law giver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.”
In Isaiah chapter 36 we read, in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. This Assyrian invasion arrives and they surrounded the city of Jerusalem with a hundred and eighty five thousand warriors. People in Jerusalem had nowhere to go. They were completely surrounded, they were trapped. This was really bad. No one had been able to stop the Assyrians up to this point. The fear and terror of those moments must have been indescribable. But then without lifting a sword or doing anything at all, the angels of the Lord struck down the entire Assyrian Army. All hundred and eighty-five thousand soldiers were killed by God. We see this in 2 Kings 19:35 “That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning-there were all the dead bodies!”
When the Assyrians are on their way, and fear and panic seem like the only reasonable response for the people of Jerusalem. It is hard to see God when you feel surrounded by enemies, surrounded by trials, surrounded by sickness, by fear and threats, surrounded by financial difficulties, surrounded by loneliness. You know sometimes when we read the Bible it is hard to relate to the people they seemed so far way, their problems don’t seem like our problems. But we have a lot in common with the people of Judah. We have trouble seeing God when we are surrounded. We focus on our circumstances and panic and fear when we can’t find a way out. We look to other things to rescue us when God doesn’t do what we want. We have trouble seeing God when we feel surrounded. So what do we do? Well that is what Isaiah is telling us here to do; we will behold the King’s beauty. Look at verse 17 “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.” Let me ask you a question do you feel trapped right now? Do you feel surrounded right now? May be you feel surrounded by death and mourning, may be you feel surrounded by sickness and disease and disability. May be you feel surrounded by broken relationship, may be you trapped in some kind of addiction, trapped in some kind of sin. The people inside the walls of Jerusalem, do you know how they feel? They know what it is like to feel hopeless. They know what it is like to feel despair. They could not see the deliverance that the Lord had planned for them. All they could see was an Army of hundred and eighty five thousand of the most feared and powerful warriors in the world. And Isaiah comes to them with surprising words, words of great comfort and hope. He says to them your eyes will see the beauty of the king. Right now Hezekiah, their king doesn’t look so beautiful, he looks so scared and weak and not very majestic. He had wavered when the Assyrians started marching toward Jerusalem. He was not very confident as a king but this verse is not talking about a human king. It is talking about a divine King, the promised son of David, the messiah. Isaiah is saying ‘your eyes will see the heavenly King’, the one who will deliver you from your enemies. Isaiah here is pointing God’s people to a future salvation, of future deliverance. And He is doing the same for us. I know that many of you are experiencing significant trials, some of you feel trapped, and some of you feel surrounded on every side. God has brought you thus far to tell you something. You will see Jesus; your eyes will behold the beauty of Christ, if you are a follower of Jesus. You will see him, you will behold him, you will experience him and it is not just talking about what is going to happen in the future when you die. You can behold and see Him now. You can see Jesus when you read His word, you can see Jesus when you worship, you can see Jesus when you pray, and you can see Jesus when you listen to His word. But seeing the King doesn’t mean that we are going to forget about all our difficulties. The call of this passage is not that you don’t worry. In verse 18 he says “In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror: “Where is that chief officer? Where is the one who took the revenue? Where is the officer in charge of the towers?” He is saying to the Israel, you are going to remember the occupying enemy, you are going to even remember the terror, you won’t forget when the Assyrians surrounded you; you won’t forget when they collected their protection money. Hezekiah was so desperate for money; he stripped the temple of all of its gold and had to empty out the treasuries just to be able to pay off the Assyrians. That’s not something they are going to forget and the same is true for us. We are going to look back on our enemies; we are going to look back on our circumstances. We will remember our trials and our pain and we will look back and rejoice because God has delivered us. We are going to remember what we have been saved from, we have no idea of all the ways that God has delivered and protected us. He has rescued us from our enemies, from sin, from Satan, from death, from temptation, from harm, from diseases. God has delivered us from all these things. Now that doesn’t mean that He is going to deliver us from everything in this life. There are things that attack us and harm us.
There are trials and circumstances that we sometimes have to live with but God is a God of mighty deliverance. This is what He does. Deliverance is what God does for us. If we rightly focus on God’s sovereignty, we understand that God is in control. Yes, He is in control of every situation of our life. But I want to make it clear that there are some trials that will last and none of them will last forever. If God doesn’t deliver you in this life then you can be sure that he will deliver you in the life to come in the eternity.
All Judah could see and mattered to them were Assyrians but Isaiah says you are going to see something else. You are going to see something new; you are going to see the beauty of the King. They would realize that they are under the protection of their King and they are safe and so are you. May be all you can see right now is your trial, but God wants to show you something new. God wants to show you the beauty of the King. Isaiah told them listen these Assyrians are just going to be a memory. Your trials are just going to be a memory. See, when our eyes behold the king in His beauty we break out of our fear, out of our worry because we know we are under the protection of our King and He will deliver us from all our enemies and all our trials. When we see the glory of the King, the beauty and the grace and the power- our trials don’t look as bad. When we see Him, when we focus on the gospel and our future with Christ, things will look a little brighter. When the beauty of Christ fills and dominates our thinking, we can experience joy even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Let us look at vs22 “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.” This verse is saying that the Lord is our judge, He is the one who is going to save us and He will deliver us. He is the one who is going to deliver us from our greatest enemies the sin and death. He is the one who is going to bring hope when all seems lost. He is the one who brings victory to His people. The Lord is our law giver. It is His laws that matter, not the laws of this world. The world has its own set of laws, its own rules but God’s rules are the only ones that matter. Don’t let the world tell us what to do, don’t let your friends tell you what to do, don’t let the media, the news tell us what to do. Fear the Lord and do what the Lord tells us to do. The Lord is our King; don’t let the circumstances, trials and fears to be our king and rule us. They will rule us if we let them. It wants to be the king and it wants to rule us. Fears may greet you every single morning and demand that you give excessive attention and thought about your problems, your circumstances but let the Lord be your King in this life. Nothing, nothing else is allowed to be your king, no one is allowed to sit on the throne of your life except the Lord. The Lord rules over us. The Lord is our King, He is our savior, He is the one who wins our battles, He is our protector and He is our deliverer. Don’t look at any one or anything else for our protection or peace except for our King. Do you know the beauty of our King, His majesty? Often we cannot see the beauty and majesty of our King because we look at our problems and our circumstances but if we take our eyes off of what surrounds us we can get a glimpse of the King, a glimpse of His beauty.
God is beautiful, God is glorious. He is exalted that God radiates with majesty. He radiates forth light, life coming forth from Him. Love and joy is overflowing from Him. He is perfect and righteous and as the song goes He is all together lovely, all together worthy and all together wonderful. He is marvelous and awesome. And the goal of our life must be to see Him in this beauty. When we get the glimpse of the beauty of our King, it changes everything. Our sorrows start to melt. We get the taste of joy. We become more like Him. God is going to protect you and provide for all your needs. God wants us to fix our eyes on heaven and to think often and deeply about the place He is preparing for us. He wants us to behold His place and He wants us to behold His beauty- a beauty that is beyond anything that we can imagine. There is nothing in this world that is more beautiful than Jesus. He is the greatest treasure. He is the high and exalted one. Nothing compares to the beauty of our King. When we think about His beauty, we must never forget that He sacrificed His beauty, He gave up His beauty and He became disfigured, mutilated and stained beyond human appearance for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities and with His wounds we are healed. Believe that we have a King who laid down His life for us.
Let me conclude this message with an incident from the life of Amy Carmichael who was a Christian missionary in India. She served in India for fifty five years. She is known for her work of rescuing orphaned girls in India and giving them a new life. In the midst of this exhausting work there were times she called “moments of vision”. In her book titled ‘Gold by moonlight’ she wrote, “In the midst of a crowded day we are given almost a glimpse of ‘land of far distances’ and we stand still, arrested on the road.” The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when God’s rebellious people would turn back to Him. “Your eyes will see the King in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar” To view this “land of far distances” is to be lifted above the circumstances of the immediate present and to gain an eternal perspective. During difficult times, the Lord enables us to see our lives from His view point and regain hope. “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is He who will save us.” Each day, we can choose to look down in discouragement or lift our eyes to “the land of far distances” to the Lord who is “our Mighty One” and see the King in his beauty. Amy Carmichael spent fifty five years in India helping young women in great need. How did she do it? Each day she fixed her eyes on Jesus and placed her life in His care. And so can we! Fix your eyes on Jesus and see Him in His beauty. Let us lift our eyes from the circumstances that discourage us to see our Lord in His splendor and find peace.