“are afraid.” Wicked people and sinners have great bravado and boasting against God until they actually meet Him. We humans are weak and frail; we cannot even keep ourselves from getting sick, much less prevent ourselves from dying. We need God to give us life and everlasting life. Nevertheless, the wicked seem to ignore those things, and act as if they are strong and self-sufficient. But there is a day coming when the wicked will experience the judgment of God, and there will be fear and trembling in that day.
“devouring fire.” God is described as a “devouring fire” (some versions have “consuming fire”) in Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29. God’s tongue is referred to as a “devouring fire” in Isaiah 30:27 because it speaks the death sentence of the wicked, and God is also associated with a devouring fire in Isaiah 30:30. Here in Isaiah 33:14, God is again being described as a devouring fire as He was earlier in Scripture. Of course, God is described as a “devouring fire” because eventually, all His enemies are completely devoured and destroyed.
Although the orthodox teaching is that wicked people burn forever in “hell,” that is not the teaching of Scripture. The unsaved are thrown into the Lake of Fire where they burn up and are annihilated (Rev. 20:11-15). Many verses associate God or God’s wrath and judgment. For example, Malachi 4:3 speaks of the wicked being ashes under the feet of the righteous. Jesus compared the unsaved to trees that do not produce fruit and so are cut down and burned (Matt. 7:19); to weeds that are gathered and burned up (Matt. 13:40); and to vine branches that do not produce fruit and so are cut off and burned (John 15:6). All of those illustrations are comparing the wicked to things that burn up and are gone, not to things that go on burning. [For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].
“the age-enduring hearth fire.” The consuming fire and age-enduing hearth fire both refer to God. Isaiah 33:14 is speaking about sinners who have rejected God and are now afraid and trembling. The last two sentences in the verse refer to sinners living with God. God is the consuming fire. God is the everlasting hearth fire. The sinners are asking themselves, “Who can live (literally, “sojourn”) with God, that consuming fire, that fire on the hearth that burns up what is on it and burns from age to age?
The wording of the Hebrew text in the last phrase is difficult because it is importing a word-picture that is unfamiliar and strange to most people. The Hebrew is ‘olam moqed. The Hebrew word ‘olam (#05769 עוֹלָם) is a quite common noun, and has a range of meanings that includes “of long duration; of unknown future duration, thus, an age,” as well as “old, ancient,” and also, “always, forever, everlasting.” The context determines the more exact meaning of ‘olam in any given verse. Since this phrase is speaking of God, “age-enduring” or “everlasting” is appropriate.
The Hebrew word moqed (#04168 מוֹקֵד) is also a noun, not a verb, and it is a very unusual noun that only occurs two or three times in the Bible. It means, “hearth” or fireplace (the HALOT; Holladay; NIDOT; and TWOT Hebrew-English lexicons), or a burning or burning mass (TWOT; BDB). The use of “hearth” paints the word picture of God, who is being represented by the altar in the Temple, with its perpetually burning fire—the fire was never to go out on God’s altar (Lev. 6:12). Then, by extension, moqed also points to God, who is that “age-enduring hearth fire,” that “never-dying blaze” on the altar (TNK), or “age-enduring burning thing.”
Isaiah 33:14 ends with two questions that are being asked by the sinners who are now frightened at the prospect of facing God, and who know Him to be a consuming fire. The sinners are saying, “Who among us can live with God, that holy and righteous One who is a devouring fire? Indeed, who among us sinners can live with God, that age-enduring hearth fire?” The answer, of course, is no sinner will be able to live with a holy God. In contrast, however, the very next verse, Isaiah 33:15, shows us who can live forever with God: the one who walks righteously before Him.
The fact that moqed is the noun “hearth,” “fireplace,” or “burning thing” should show us that “everlasting burning” is not an accurate translation, even though many English versions read that way. Furthermore, we should not then take that mistranslation and say that the “everlasting burning” refers to “hell” or the Lake of Fire. The translation “everlasting burning,” makes moqed into a verb or verbal, which it is not. It is a noun, and it refers to God.
In spite of the fact that moqed is a noun, some people think this section of Isaiah, especially Isaiah 33:14, refers to people burning forever in the Lake of Fire. That is a common Christian belief, but one that is not correct. Even if Isaiah 33:14 was speaking about an age-enduring fire and not an age-enduring God, the fire would not be an everlasting fire. Both the context and the wording of the verse militates against that. Ed Fudge writes: “Some traditionalists have interpreted verse 14 as referring to unending conscious torment, but the entire context argues otherwise. Verses 11-12 picture total destruction by fire. The fire consumes, which is why no wicked person can ‘dwell’ with it. Verse 14 describes the eternal holiness of God himself, who is a ‘consuming fire’” (The Fire that Consumes, 3rd Edition; Cascade Books, Eugene, OR, p. 74).
In the context, in Isaiah 33:12, God is speaking of things that burn up, not things that burn forever. Limestone burns down to lime, but even lime itself decomposes at about 900 degrees. And thorns burn up completely in a fire. In the context, God is speaking of the destruction of His enemies and that they will come to nothing. In the future God’s enemies will not burn forever; they will be burned up in the Lake of Fire.
People burning forever would also build a contradiction into the verse and context. Sinners cannot burn up like lime and thorns do, in a “consuming fire,” and at the same time not be burned up. Furthermore, sacrifices on the altar in the Temple do not burn forever, they are burned up and consumed—it is the fire on the altar that keeps burning. Sinners either burn up in the Lake of Fire or burn forever in it, but not both, and we assert that the Scripture is clear that sinners do not burn forever, but are consumed in the Lake of Fire. No sinner can live with a consuming God, they will be consumed. Moreover, Isaiah 33:14 is not speaking of an everlasting fire, but rather of God being an age-enduring hearth-fire. [For more about the wicked being annihilated in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].