Isaiah 33:16 Commentaries: He will dwell on the heights, His refuge will be the impregnable rock; His bread will be given him, His water will be sure.
Isaiah 33:16
He shall dwell on high: his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.
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Isaiah 33:16

This glowing promise becomes even more striking if we mark its connection with the solemn question in the previous context. ‘Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?’ is the prophet’s question; ‘who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ That question really means, Who is capable ‘of communion with God’? The prophet sketches the outline of the character in the subsequent verses, and then recurring to his metaphor of a habitation, and yet with a most lovely and significant modification, he says, ‘he’-the man that he has been sketching-’shall dwell,’ not ‘with the everlasting burnings,’ but ‘on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks,’ like some little hill, fort, or city, perched upon a mountain, and having within it ample provision and an unfailing spring of water. ‘His bread shall, be given him, his water shall be sure.’ To dwell with ‘the devouring fire’ is to ‘dwell on high,’ to be safe and satisfied. So then, whilst the words before us have, of course, direct and immediate reference to the Assyrian invasion, and promise, in a literal sense, security and exemption from its evils to the righteous in Israel, they widen and deepen into a picturesque, but not less real, statement of what comes into the religious life, by communion with God. There are three things: elevation, security, satisfaction.

‘He shall dwell on high.’

In the East, and in all unsettled countries, you will find that the sites of the cities are on the hilltops, for a very plain reason, and that is the fact that underlies the prophet’s representation. To hold fellowship with God, to live in union with Him, to have His thoughts for my thoughts, and His love wrapping my heart, and His will enshrined in my will; to carry Him about with me into all the pettinesses of daily life, and, amidst the whirlpool of duties and changing circumstances, to sit in the centre, as it were the eye of the whirlpool where there is a dead calm, that lifts a man on high. Communion with God secures elevation of spirit, raising us clean above the flat that lies beneath. There are many ways by which men seek for lofty thoughts, and a general elevation above the carking cares and multiplied minutenesses of this poor, mortal, transient life; but while books and great thoughts, and the converse of the wise, and art, and music, and all these other elevating influences have a real place and a blessed efficiency in ennobling life, there is not one of them, nor all of them put together, that will give to the human spirit that strange and beautiful elevation above the world and the flesh and the devil, which simple communion with God will give. I have seen many a poor man who knew nothing about the lofty visions that shape and lift humanity, who had no side of him responsive to aesthetics or art or music, who was no thinker, no student, who never had spoken to anybody above the rank of a poor labouring man, and to whom all the wisdom of the nations was a closed chamber, who yet in his life, ay! and on his face, bore marks of a spirit elevated into a serene region where there was no tumult, and where nothing unclean or vicious could live. A few of the select spirits of the race may painfully climb on high by thought and effort. Get God into your hearts, and it will be like filling the round of a silken balloon with light air; you will soar instead of climbing, and ‘dwell on high.’ When you are up there, the things below that look largest will dwindle and ‘show,’ as Shakespeare has it, ‘scarce so gross as beetles,’ looked at from the height, and the noises will sink to a scarcely audible murmur, and you will be able to see the lie of the country, and, as it says in the context, ‘your eyes shall behold the land that is very far off.’ Yes! the hilltop is the place for wide views, and for understanding the course of the serpentine river, and it is the place to discover how small are the mightiest things at the foot, and how little a way towards the sun the noises of human praise or censure can ever travel. ‘He shall dwell on high,’ and he will see a long way off, and understand the relative magnitude of things, and the strife of tongues will have ceased for him.

And more than that is implied in the promise. If we dwell on high, we shall come down with all the more force on what lies below. There is no greater caricature and misconception of Christianity than that which talks as if the spirit that lived in daily communion with God, high above the world, was remote from the world. Why, how do they make electricity nowadays? By the fall of water from a height, and the higher the level from which it descends, the mightier the force which it generates in the descent. So nobody will tell on the world like the man who lives above it. The height from which a weight rushes down measures the force of its dint where it falls, and of the energy with which it comes. ‘He shall dwell on high’; and only the man that stands above the world is able to influence it.

Again, here is another blessing of the Christian life, put in a picturesque form: ‘His defence shall be munitions of rocks.’ That is a promise of security from assailants, which in its essence is true always, though its truth may seem doubtful to the superficial estimate of sense. The experience of the South African war showed how impregnable ‘the munitions of rocks’ were. The Boers lay safe behind them, and our soldiers might fire lyddite at them all day and never touch them. So, the man who lives in communion with God has between him and all evil the Rock of Ages, and he lies at the back of it, quiet and safe, whatever foe may rage on the other side of it.

Now, of course, the prophet meant to tell his countrymen that, in the theocracy of which they were parts, righteousness and nothing else was the national security, and if a man or a nation lived in communion with God, it bore a charmed life. That is a great deal more true, in regard to externals, in the miraculous ‘dispensation,’ as it is called, of the Old Testament than it is now, and we are not to take over these promises in their gross literal form into the Christian era, as if they were unconditional and absolutely to be fulfilled. But at the same time, if you reflect how many of our troubles do come to us mainly because we break our communion with God, I think we shall see that this old word has still an application to our daily lives and outward circumstances. Deduct from any man’s life all the discomfort and trouble and calamity which have come down upon him because he was not in touch with God, and there will not be very much left. Yet there will be some, and the deepest and sorest of all our sorrows are not to be interpreted as occasioned by defects in our dwelling in God. Then has my text no application to them? Yes, because what still remains of earthly cares and sorrows and evils would, in communion with God, change its character. The rind is the same; but all the interior contents have been, as children will do with a fruit, scooped out, and another kind of thing has been put inside, so that though the outward appearance is the same, what is at the heart of it is utterly different. It is no longer some coarse, palate-biting, common vegetable, but a sweet confection, made by God’s own hands, and put into the gourd, which has been hollowed out and emptied of its evil. That is, perhaps, a very violent figure, but take a plain case as illustration. Suppose two men, each of them going to his wife’s funeral. The two hearses pass inside the cemetery gates, one after the other. Outwardly the two afflictions are the same, but the one man says, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away’; the other man says, ‘They have taken away my gods, and what shall I do more?’ Are the two things the same? ‘He shall dwell on high, his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks,’ and if we do hide ourselves in the cleft, then no evil shall befall us, nor any plague come nigh our dwelling.

But there is another truth contained in this great promise, viz., that in regard to all the real evils which beset men, and these are all summed up in the one, the temptation to do wrong, their arrows will be blunted, and their force be broken, if we keep our minds in touch with God through humble communion and lowly obedience. Dear brethren, the way by which we can conquer temptations around, and silence inclinations within which riotously seek to yield to the temptations is, I believe, far more by cultivating a consciousness of communion with God, than by specific efforts directed to the overcoming of a given and particular temptation. Keep inside the fortress, and no bullet will come near you. Array yourselves in the most elaborate precautions and step out from its shadow, and every bullet will strike and wound. Let me keep up my fellowship with God, and I may laugh at temptation. Security depends on continual communion with God by faith, love, aspiration, and obedience.

Now, I need not say more than a word about the last element in these promises, the satisfaction of desires. ‘His bread shall be given him, and his water shall be sure.’ In ancient warfare sieges were usually blockades; and strong fortresses were reduced by famine much more frequently than by assault. Mafeking and Ladysmith and Port Arthur were in most danger from that cause. The promise here assures us that we shall have all supplies in our abode, if God is our abode. Wherever he who dwells in God goes, he carries with him his provisions, and he does not need elaborate arrangements of pipes or reservoirs, because there is a fountain in the courtyard that the enemy cannot get at. They may stop the springs throughout the land, they may cut off all water supplies, so that ‘there shall be no fruit in the vine, and the labour of the olive shall fail,’ but they cannot touch the fountain. ‘His water shall be sure,’ and he can say, ‘In the days of famine I shall be satisfied.’

God is and gives all that we need for sustenance, for growth, for refreshment, for satisfaction of our desires. Keep near Him, and you will find in the heart of the devouring fire a shelter, and you will have all that you want for life here. My text will be true about us, in the measure in which we do thus dwell, and if we thus dwell here, and so dwell on high, with the munitions of rocks for our fortress, and ‘the bread of God that came down from heaven’ for our food, and the water of life for our refreshment, then, when there is no longer any need of places for defence, the other saying will be true, ‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them . . . and shall lead them to living fountains of waters, and God, the Lord, shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’33:15-24 The true believer watches against all occasions of sin. The Divine power will keep him safe, and his faith in that power will keep him easy. He shall want nothing needful for him. Every blessing of salvation is freely bestowed on all that ask with humble, believing prayer; and the believer is safe in time and for ever. Those that walk uprightly shall not only have bread given, and their water sure, but they shall, by faith, see the King of kings in his beauty, the beauty of holiness. The remembrance of the terror they were in, shall add to the pleasure of their deliverance. It is desirable to be quiet in our own houses, but much more so to be quiet in God's house; and in every age Christ will have a seed to serve him. Jerusalem had no large river running by it, but the presence and power of God make up all wants. We have all in God, all we need, or can desire. By faith we take Christ for our Prince and Saviour; he reigns over his redeemed people. All that refuse to have Him to reign over them, make shipwreck of their souls. Sickness is taken away in mercy, when the fruit of it is the taking away of sin. If iniquity be taken away, we have little reason to complain of outward affliction. This last verse leads our thoughts, not only to the most glorious state of the gospel church on earth, but to heaven, where no sickness or trouble can enter. He that blotteth out our transgressions, will heal our souls.He shall dwell on high - See the margin. Heights, or high places, were usually places of safety, being, inaccessible to an enemy. The sense here is, that such a man as is described in Isaiah 33:15, should be preserved from alarm and danger, as if his habitation were on a lofty cliff or rock. The particular and special meaning is, that he should be safe from the anger, wrath, and consuming fire, which the sinner and the hypocrite dreaded Isaiah 33:14.

The munitions of rocks - The literal translation of this place would be, 'The strongholds of the rocks shall be his lofty fortress' (compare the note at Isaiah 2:21).

Bread shall be given him - He shall be sustained, and his life shall be preserved.

16. on high—heights inaccessible to the foe (Isa 26:1).

bread … waters—image from the expected siege by Sennacherib; however besieged by trials without, the godly shall have literal and spiritual food, as God sees good for them (Isa 41:17; Ps 37:25; 34:10; 132:15).

He shall dwell on high; out of the reach of danger.

Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure; God will furnish him with all necessaries. He shall dwell on high,.... And so in safety: this is opposed to the fears of hypocrites, the grovelling life of a worldling, and the low life of many professors, and is expressive of the security of good men. It may respect the state of the saints on earth, who dwell by faith on God, as their covenant God, on his everlasting love and unchangeable grace; on Christ, as their Redeemer and Saviour; and in their thoughts and contemplations on heavenly things, where Christ is; and particularly in the spiritual reign of Christ, after the destruction of antichrist, when such shall dwell quietly and safely in God's holy hill, the church, which shall be established upon the top of the mountains: and it may also respect the state of the saints in heaven, which is a dwelling on high, and where they will be safe from everlasting burnings, and out of the reach of all enemies:

his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; Christ is "the place of defence" to his people, against avenging justice, the curse and condemnation of the law, the wrath of God, sin and all its dreadful consequences, Satan and all enemies: and he is "the munitions of rocks"; he is "a Rock" himself, for them to build upon, and shelter in; and like "fortresses" made out of "rocks", which can never be undermined, blown up, or broke through:

bread shall be given him: not only shall he be in safety, but shall enjoy the greatest plenty of blessings, particularly spiritual ones; above all, Christ, the bread of God from heaven, the true bread, the bread of life, which gives and supports life, and secures an eternal one; as also the word and ordinances, which are the provisions of Zion, and which all its inhabitants are favoured with; for these are all the "gifts" of divine goodness. The Targum is,

"in the house of the sanctuary his soul shall be satisfied, his food shall be sufficient:''

his waters shall be sure; Christ and his fulness, the Spirit and his grace, the Gospel doctrines, and ordinances of it; the believer may be assured of a supply from Christ's fulness; the grace of the Spirit is never failing, and is persevering; and Gospel doctrines and ordinances are not deceitful brooks, but yield comfort and refreshment: compare with this, Revelation 7:15.

He shall dwell on {t} high: his place of defence shall be the strong holds of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.

(t) Meaning, that God will be a sure defence to all them that live according to his word.

16. he shall dwell on high] (lit. “inhabit heights”), i.e. in absolute security, as is said of Jehovah Himself in Isaiah 33:5. the munitions of rocks] inexpugnable rock-fortresses.

bread shall be given …] The image of a siege is still kept up: the righteous inhabits a fortress that shall never be starved into surrender.Verse 16. - He shall dwell on high; literally, inhabit heights - live, as it were, in the perpetual presence of God. His place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; rather, strongholds of rocks (i.e. rocky strongholds) shall be his refuge. He shall fly to God, as his "Rock and his Fortress" (Psalm 18:2), not from him, as his "Enemy and Avenger" (Pc. 8:2). Bread... waters; i.e. all that is necessary for his support and sustenance. Shall be given him... shall be sure; rather, is given him... is sure. Godliness has "the promise of the life that now is," as well as that of the life "which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). The prophet has thus run through the whole train of thought with a few rapid strides, in accordance with the custom which we have already frequently noticed; and now he commences afresh, mourning over the present miserable condition of things, in psalm-like elegiac tones, and weeping with his weeping people. "Behold, their heroes weep without; the messengers of peace weep bitterly. Desolate are roads, disappeared are travellers; he has broken covenant, insulted cities, despised men. The land mourns, languishes; Lebanon stands ashamed, parched; the meadow of Sharon has become like a steppe, and Bashan and Carmel shake their leaves." אראלּם is probably chosen with some allusion to 'Ariel, the name of Jerusalem in chapter 29; but it has a totally different meaning. We have rendered it "heroes," because אראל is here synonymous with אראל in the Nibelung-like piece contained in 2 Samuel 23:20 and 1 Chronicles 11:22. This 'ărı̄'ēl, which is here contracted into 'er'el (compare the biblical name 'Ar'ēlı̄ and the post-biblical name of the angels, 'Er'ellı̄m), is compounded of 'arı̄ (a lion) and ‛El (God), and therefore signifies "the lion of God," but in this sense, that El (God) gives to the idea of leonine courage merely the additional force of extraordinary or wonderful; and as a composite word, it contents itself with a singular, with a collective sense according to circumstances, without forming any plural at all. The dagesh is to be explained from the fact that the word (which tradition has erroneously regarded as a compound of להם אראה) is pointed in accordance with the form כּרמל (כרמלּו). The heroes intended by the prophet were the messengers sent to Sennacherib to treat with him for peace. They carried to him the amount of silver and gold which he had demanded as the condition of peace (2 Kings 18:14). But Sennacherib broke the treaty, by demanding nothing less than the surrender of Jerusalem itself. Then the heroes of Jerusalem cried aloud, when they arrived at Jerusalem, and had to convey this message of disgrace and alarm to the king and nation; and bitterly weeping over such a breach of faith, such deception and disgrace, the embassy, which had been sent off, to the deep self-humiliation of Judah and themselves, returned to Jerusalem. Moreover, Sennacherib continued to storm the fortified places, in violation of his agreement (on mâ'as ‛arı̄m, see 2 Kings 18:13). The land was more and more laid waste, the fields were trodden down; and the autumnal aspect of Lebanon, with its faded foliage, and of Bashan and Carmel, with their falling leaves, looked like shame and grief at the calamities of the land. It was in the autumn, therefore, that the prophet uttered these complaints; and the definition of the time given in his prophecy (Isaiah 32:10) coincides with this. קמל is the pausal form for קמל, just as in other places an ē with the tone, which has sprung from i, easily passes into a in pause; the sharpening of the syllable being preferred to the lengthening of it, not only when the syllable which precedes the tone syllable is an open one, but sometimes even when it is closed (e.g., Judges 6:19, ויּגּשׁ). Instead of כּערבה we should read כּערבה (without the article), as certain codd. and early editions do.

(Note: We find the same in Zechariah 14:10, and כּערבים in Isaiah 44:4, whereas we invariably have בּערבה (see Michlol, 45b), just as we always find בּאבנים, and on the other hand כּבנים.)

Isaiah having mourned in the tone of the Psalms, now comforts himself with the words of a psalm. Like David in Psalm 12:6, he hears Jehovah speak. The measure of Asshur's iniquity is full; the hour of Judah's redemption is come; Jehovah has looked on long enough, as though sitting still (Isaiah 18:4). Isaiah 33:10 "Now will I arise, saith Jehovah, now exalt myself, now lift up myself." Three times does the prophet repeat the word ‛attâh (now), which is so significant a word with all the prophets, but more especially with Hosea and Isaiah, and which always fixes the boundary-line and turning-point between love and wrath, wrath and love. ארומם (in half pause for ארוממא is contracted from עתרומם (Ges. 54, 2, b). Jehovah would rise up from His throne, and show Himself in all His greatness to the enemies of Israel.

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