Does Isaiah 33:23 Address Israel or Israel’s Enemy? -- By: Harold R. Holmyard III

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 152:607 (Jul 1995)
Article: Does Isaiah 33:23 Address Israel or Israel’s Enemy?
Author: Harold R. Holmyard III


Does Isaiah 33:23 Address Israel or Israel’s Enemy?

Harold R. Holmyard III

[Harold R. Holmyard III is a Bible student in Dallas, Texas.]

The prophet Isaiah pronounced five woes beginning in Isaiah 28:1 and concluding in 33:24. The first four woes address Israel, but concerning the fifth woe (33:1–24), commentators disagree as to the addressee in verse 23, which reads, “Your tackle hangs slack; it cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, nor spread out the sail. Then the prey of an abundant spoil will be divided; the lame will take the plunder.”

Does the ship in verse 23 refer to Israel or Israel’s enemy? More than a century ago Delitzsch noted that most commentators believed the floundering ship in this verse represents Israel’s enemy.1 He argued, however, for Drechsler’s position that the ship is Israel.2 More recently Wolf, citing Young, claimed that “interpreters generally have not identified this ship as the enemy vessel of verse 21 but as Zion.”3 Oswalt observes that “most modern commentators consider verse 23a to be intrusive, having come from some oracle like that against Tyre in chapter 34 .”4 Wildberger held that verse 23 broke the connection between

verses 22 and 24 “in an intolerable way.”5 This article seeks to examine the context to defend the older interpretation that the ship depicts Israel’s enemy.6

The Ship Need Not Be Jerusalem

Drechsler may have viewed the ship in Isaiah 33:23 as Zion because he regarded the water and ships of verse 21 as only metaphors. The enemy was like a powerful yet failing ship. By contrast, an unfit yet successful ship in verse 23 could seem to be Jerusalem.7

Since Jerusa...

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