The LORD’s paragraph divisions for these chapters is interesting:
“Hear, you who are afar off, what I have done;
And you who are near, acknowledge My might.” Isa 33:13
The next weak paragraph beginning with Isa 34:1 opens with
“Come near, you nations, to hear;
And heed, you people!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
The world and all things that come forth from it.” Isa 34:1-2
What is it that the LORD wants heard? The two weak paragraphs have two similar themes. The next verses in Isa 33:13-24 tell of sinners “in Zion” who are afraid and hypocrites who are fearful. Zion is a Hebrew designation for the true ekklesia, or assembly of believers (often translated “congregation” in the Old Testament and “church” in the New; yes, the church existed long before the apostles!). Not all who are of physical descent from Abraham have circumcised hearts, and not all who enter the church building love the LORD their God. Those who make sin their practice, those who pretend to be devout at the assembly but who away from the church gossip, repay good with evil, refuse to forgive, are unkind or grasping, i.e., hypocrites, they are mixed in with His true children in Zion right now. The tares are growing alongside the wheat. But when sinners and hypocrites hear of the judgment of the LORD which is coming, they will be in fear.
You see, the LORD’s judgment is not for His children. It is for all who do evil — evil as the LORD defines it, not as man defines it. Even those who are living in Zion, for the moment.
So the judgment that is coming, is everlasting burnings (Isa 33:14). The one who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, the one who DOES the will of the Father, and not just talks the talk, will not partake of the everlasting burnings, but the sinner and hypocrite in Zion will (Isa 33:14-16). Is this a gospel of works? This is what James described, righteous works that proceed from true faith in the heart (Jam 2:14-26). The faith is first, and the works, the changed life, give evidence that the faith is real and is there.
The next verses of Isa 34:1-17 tell of the judgment that is coming on the nations for Zion’s cause. The nations, the children of the Tower of Babel rebellion against the LORD as God, have persecuted the true children of God, both Christian and Jew, from the beginning, but the LORD will have a day of recompense, and they will be destroyed. Again there is the reference to brimstone and burning pitch (thematically connected to Sodom and Gomorrah) that shall not be quenched night or day (Isa 34:9-10).
The first weak paragraph in Isa 33 shows that those in Zion who do evil will not escape the judgment that is coming; and the next weak paragraph in Isa 34 shows that after the wicked are cleansed from Zion, the judgment will turn to the nations. This is why Peter says that judgment begins at the house of God (1 Pet 4:17). Nothing in the New Testament is new, it is just true!
But the judgment and the everlasting burning is not the end of the story. In both paragraphs, those who are redeemed, see the King in His beauty, they dwell in quietness and safety, they divide the plunder, they are delivered from both sickness and sin (Isa 33:17-24). The weak are made strong, the blind receive sight, the deaf receive hearing, the lame receive mobility, the mute receive their voice (Isa 35:3-6). The waters that break forth in the wilderness are literal waters, as Israel, which was a desert before 1948, is today a green and fruitful land; but also living water, the water of refreshing from the Spirit of God, which will quench the thirst of those who are thirsty for the living God!
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isa 35:10