15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
19 And it will hail when the forest falls down,
and the city will be utterly laid low.
20 Happy are you who sow beside all waters,
who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 32:15–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
15–20 The description of judgment suddenly changes to one of blessing. The contrast is particularly impressive because of the intentionally illogical words, “a wasteland forever … till” (vv. 14–15)! Such a decisive assertion of judgment can only be canceled by an equally decisive manifestation of grace. The condemnation of humans is undoubtedly “forever” because death ushers in their judgment and its eternal consequences; but this condemnation can be canceled by the marvel of justifying grace through faith in Christ.
The reference to the Spirit (v. 15) is most appropriate. If ch. 32 amplifies certain aspects of the messianic prophecy in ch. 11 (see comment on vv. 1–2), we might expect some reference to the Spirit, who has such a place of importance in the earlier chapter. The idyllic picture there is echoed here, but it is particularly significant that the righteous king in v. 1 is accompanied by righteous subordinates. This suggests a wider ministry of the Spirit not confined simply to the Messiah himself. This is exactly what is now described.
The NT brings together the OT teaching that both the Messiah and his people will know the endowment of the Spirit of God. Here we see an implicit link in Isaiah’s own thought. The language of outpouring (v. 15) is destined to be far-reaching, being taken up again by Joel (assuming that Joel is later than Isaiah) in Joel 2:28 and then, of course, in Acts 2:17–21. As Young (in loc.) puts it:
Then there will occur a reversal of the present condition, a renewal that is indeed revolutionary, the very opposite of the condition described in 29:10. No longer will a spirit of sleep be poured out upon the people, but the Spirit from on high, the Spirit that is to be contrasted with mere flesh (31:3), the Spirit who brings rich gifts.… It is God’s creative Spirit who brings about what amounts to a new creation.
The Introduction (pp. 451–52) discusses whether passages such as these should be understood literally or spiritually. There are both literal and figurative dimensions to Isaiah’s use of agricultural language. Here, however, a literal interpretation seems the more appropriate, for the judgment that the blessing reverses is certainly physical. Verse 15b should be compared with 29:17. Clements (in loc.) says, “Throughout verses 15–20 there appears to be an intentional sequence established: prosperity-justice-peace-happiness.” He also says, “Prosperity without justice is a worthless acquisition.” The close relationship between righteousness and peace is parallel to that seen in 11:4–9.
In discussing v. 13 we noted the emotional quality of the phrase “my people,” and this may be seen again in v. 18. In the former verse God’s people experience his hand of judgment on them, his strange work (28:21); but now he can bestow the blessing that is in his heart for them as his own beloved people. This verse, with its sequence of prepositional phrases, gives emphatic expression to God’s promise that he will bring them, through righteousness, into “quietness and confidence for ever” (v. 17).
Verse 19 has been understood in three different ways. The NASB translation is similar in tone, though not in wording, to the TEV, which puts the verse in brackets. This reveals the translators’ awareness that, so understood, it does not seem to fit the immediate context very well. The NEB, by contrast, renders it quite differently: “it will be cool on the slopes of the forest then, and cities shall lie peaceful in the plain.” The NIV, understanding it along lines suggested by Kissane (in loc.), translates, “though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely.” Each translation is possible; but the NIV makes it, with v. 20, a fitting conclusion to the oracle, summing up its two elements of coming judgment and ultimate blessing.
Verse 20 takes up from 30:23–26 the picture of a plentiful economy based on abundant supplies of water but presents it in an even more desirable form. The amount of produce given by the soil will be so great that the farmer can allow his working animals to browse in the fields rather than feeding them with prepared foodstuffs in their stalls.
32:16–20 Social justice and righteousness will permeate every aspect of life, resulting in peace, quietness, safety, and confidence. The enemy (forest) shall be leveled by the hail of God’s judgment and the city (its capital) shall be laid low. It will be a happy time, when people can safely sow beside all waters and when the ox and the donkey can range freely without danger.
32:15b–20. Along with the outpouring of the Spirit will be fertility, justice, and security. Israel’s deserts will be fertile (cf. 35:1–2), and with justice and righteousness (cf. 9:7; 11:4; 16:5; 33:5) will come peace and quietness (32:17) and security for the redeemed (cf. Amos 9:15; Micah 4:4; Zech. 3:10; 14:11). Under the Deuteronomic Covenant if the people obeyed God the land would be productive. Similarly in the kingdom, righteous living will result in fertility. In contrast with the destruction that would come in Isaiah’s day (Isa. 32:19), the redeemed nation is assured that they will be blessed with agricultural productivity (cf. Ezek. 36:30) and with no rivalry over each other’s grazing land.
Isaiah now returns to the description of the era of righteousness (32:15–20). The only way in which folly will change to wisdom and the devastation of the land to blessedness is by a divinely ordered transformation. Restoration is the work of the Spirit, bringing about a return of the blessings of God on his people and on the earth. The creation will be renewed, wisdom enthroned, righteousness established, and peace restored to the people of God. The wise will experience the blessings of God in every area of their lives.
Reliance on Yahweh is one of the major emphases in these chapters. In response, God’s people wait for the fullness of redemption. As Christians we believe the day of redemption is closer since the coming of the Lord Jesus. Yet, along with the saints of the Old Testament, we must have a real sense of hope and longing for the fullness of redemption to which the prophet bears witness.
- Distress and help (33:1–24). God’s judgment (“woe”) rests on those who have enjoyed absolute power in this world (33:1–6). Because they have caused great devastation on this earth, they must answer to the Lord. When he comes he will sound a loud battle cry (v. 3) to avenge himself on the nations.
This judgment on the ungodly is in response to the prayer of the godly. The godly have been asking for Yahweh’s grace to appear to them because they have been suffering in this world while the ruthless hordes were controlling it. Their hope has been that Yahweh’s strength might be revealed to them in salvation. Yahweh comes as King (v. 5), seated on his throne of judgment to dispense justice and righteousness. The benefits of Yahweh’s rule for his people are many: salvation, a firm foundation, and wisdom. The godly experience salvation and practice wisdom and knowledge in the fear (“awe”) of the Lord.
Isaiah shows that the benefits of the messianic kingdom will be limited to the godly (33:7–16). The enemies of the kingdom from both within and without will be destroyed. For this reason, the prophet addresses the men of Ariel (v. 7). Scholars are in general agreement that the phrase brave men (niv) may be understood as a reference to Ariel (cf. 29:1).
The proud cry because their plots have been frustrated. They have not been able to avert the very thing that they feared. The highways will become desolate, the judicial processes will be interrupted, and the land will be devastated by enemies.
Yahweh will arise in judgment. The works of the godless will consist of little more than “chaff” and “straw” (v. 11). All their selfish efforts within the covenant community will be burned up. Who, then, can come through the consuming fire? Only those who have walked righteously and have spoken uprightly and have hated bribery and oppression (v. 15; cf. Pss. 15; 24:3–5). The godly will receive protection and provision from the Lord.
The godly will see not only Yahweh’s coming in great vengeance and fury to judge the wicked, but also the glory of Yahweh in its full and radiant beauty (33:17–24). The realm of Yahweh’s rule will be extended, but there will be no place for the wicked in his kingdom. Zion, the city of God, will be full of peace like a river where no hostile ships can sail (v. 21).
Yahweh the majestic one will be for his people and will provide for them a river of life (v. 21; Rev. 22:1). The songs of Zion celebrate the glory, beauty, and rivers (or springs) that are to be found in the city of Zion. Yahweh will be present as the King, Judge, and Lawgiver of his people. He will rule, guide, and teach his people so they will know how to live in his presence. The new age will bring renewal and a deep awareness of forgiveness.
32:15–20 The promised kingdom was to eventually come to Israel with its accompanying fruitfulness, peace, and security.
32:17–18quietness and trust forever. See 30:15. The word translated “complacent” in 32:9 (Hb. batakh) is from the same root as the word translated “trust” in v. 17 (Hb. betakh) and the word translated “secure” in v. 18 (Hb. mibtakh). In addition, the word translated “at ease” in v. 9 (Hb. sha’anan) is translated “quiet” in v. 18. The worldly counterfeit is replaced by the real.
 Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 678–679). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 961). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Martin, J. A. (1985). Isaiah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 1082–1083). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 VanGemeren, W. A. (1995). Isaiah. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, pp. 496–497). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 32:15–20). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1297). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.