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2. Divine victory over the nations chs. 24-27
This section of the text has similarities to the preceding oracles against the nations (chs. 13-23), but it is also different in certain respects. It is a third cycle, but not a cycle of oracles. [Note: See the chart under "2. Divine judgments on the nations chs. 13-23" above.] The content integrates with the oracles, but chapters 24-27 are one continuous whole. It is similar to the finale of a great piece of music; it is climactic but can be appreciated by itself (cf. Zechariah 9-14).
Chapters 24-27 also parallel chapters 1-4 in that both sections contain messages of sin, judgment, and restoration "in that day." Likewise, Isaiah 27:2-6 is another song about a vineyard (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). Chapters 28-33 contain six woes, like Isaiah 5:8-30. Chapter 34 assures divine judgment on Gentile oppressors (cf. ch. 10), and chapter 35 promises kingdom blessings for Israel (cf. chs. 11-12). [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 545.]
"As the book of Immanuel closes in ch. xii. with a psalm of the redeemed, so have we here a fourfold song of praise." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:423.]
The theme of this section is the triumph of God over His enemies for His people. Isaiah developed this theme by picturing the destruction of one "city" ("the city of chaos" [Isaiah 24:10], which is the city "of man," i.e., "of the whole world"), and the establishment of another city (Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the city of God). These two "cities" are the focal points of the judgment and restoration that Isaiah alluded to in the preceding oracles. As the city of man falls under divine judgment, the songs of God-neglecting people disappear; and as the city of God appears, the songs of the redeemed swell.
"A city is not just a collection of buildings. It is a mechanism for living independently of God. It is a device for human self-salvation. It is a denial of human mortality. The city is man establishing his own enduring greatness. But even civilizations are mortal." [Note: Ortlund, p. 142. Cf. Genesis 11:4.]
"The prophet wants to make it plain that God is sovereign actor on the stage of history. It is not he who reacts to the nations, but the nations who respond to him. Thus Israel’s [and all God’s people’s] hope is not in the nations of humanity. They will wither away in a moment under God’s blast. Rather, her hope is in the Lord, who is the master of the nations." [Note: Oswalt, p. 443.]
Temporally, the first five oracles (chs. 13-20) had strong connections to Isaiah’s own times, and the second five (chs. 21-23) reached further into the future. This is not saying, however, that the first oracles were entirely restricted to Isaiah’s time and the second were completely futuristic. The comparison is only general, not absolute, as exposition of the oracles has shown. This section (chs. 24-27) stretches even further into the future and is mainly eschatological. Many commentators refer to this section as "Isaiah’s Apocalypse" because it reveals the culmination of history, though strictly speaking the language used is not apocalyptic but eschatological. [Note: See Grogan, p. 149, for a brief discussion of prophecy, eschatology, and apocalyptic; Ronald Youngblood, "A Holistic Typology of Prophecy and Apocalyptic," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, pp. 213-21, for a fuller discussion; and Robert P. Carroll, "Twilight of Prophecy or Dawn of Apocalyptic?" Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 14 (1979):3-35.] These are prophecies regarding the eschatological day of the Lord. Later scriptural revelation enables us to locate these judgments more specifically in the Tribulation, at the return of Christ, in the Millennium, and at the very end of human history on this earth.
The original settings of the prophecies that make up this section are even more difficult to nail down than those in the foregoing oracles. Chapters 24-27 develop the calls expressed in Isaiah 2:2-5: calls to the nations and to God’s people to come to Jerusalem, the magnet of the earth in the future. The structure of the passage is chiastic, also centering on Mount Zion (Isaiah 25:6-12).
A The Lord’s harvest from a destroyed world (Isaiah 24:1-13: destruction, 1-12; gleanings, 13)
B The song of the world remnant (Isaiah 24:14-16 a)
C The sinful world overthrown (Isaiah 24:16-20)
D The waiting world (Isaiah 24:21-23)
E The song of the ruined city (Isaiah 25:1-5)
F Mount Zion (Isaiah 25:6-12)
E’ The song of the strong city (Isaiah 26:1-6)
D’ The waiting people of God (Isaiah 26:7-21)
C’ Spiritual forces of evil overthrown (Isaiah 27:1)
B’ The song of the remnant of the people (Isaiah 27:2-6)
A’ The Lord’s harvest from a destroyed people (Isaiah 27:7-13: destruction, 7-11; gleanings, 12-13) [Note: Motyer, pp. 194-95.]
There is chronological progression in this eschatological section: from the Tribulation (Isaiah 24:1-20), to the Second Coming (Isaiah 24:21-23), to the Millennium and beyond (chs. 25-27). The millennial sections explain various aspects of God’s activity during this time.
The prophet predicted that the Lord would lay the earth (land) waste, the sum total of all the nations, including those representative ones condemned in the oracles. Isaiah always used "behold" to introduce something future (cf. Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 30:27; et al.). [Note: Delitzsch, 1:425] He would do the reverse of what He did in the Creation, when He brought order out of chaos (cf. Genesis 1:2). He would devastate the earth, making it desolate. He would distort the surface of the earth, as when the Flood changed the topography of this planet. And He would scatter the earth’s inhabitants, as He did at Babel (Genesis 11:9).
"It is not easy to know how literally these words will be fulfilled, but in these days of threatened ecological and nuclear catastrophe, it is not at all difficult to imagine a very literal fulfillment, and one which will indeed be the result of human greed and covetousness." [Note: Oswalt, p. 444.]
Coming worldwide judgment 24:1-6
The preservation of God’s people within a world under divine judgment 24:1-20
Isaiah revealed that the Lord’s people are at the center of His plans for the world (cf. Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 21:10). He will preserve them even though He will judge sinful humanity. It is believers who will be living on the earth during the Lord’s devastation of this planet that are in view (Tribulation saints), not Christians living before the Tribulation who will be taken to heaven in the Rapture before the Tribulation begins. This passage contains many connections with the Flood narrative (Genesis 6-9). Essentially, what God did in Noah’s day-i.e., the preservation of the righteous-He will do in the future Tribulation (cf. Mark 13).
God’s actions will affect all individuals in all types of relationships, including religious, domestic, and commercial ones. Positions, possessions, and power will make no difference to God (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).
The repetition of the revelation of this judgment (cf. Isaiah 24:1), with the assurance that the Lord announced it, confirms its certainty (cf. 2 Peter 3:5-7; Revelation 6; Revelation 8-9; Revelation 15-16; Revelation 21:1). The fact of the earth’s destruction, rather than the precise methods and instruments He will use, were the focus of this prophet’s revelation. Later revelation provided more detail. These things would happen simply because the Lord had spoken (cf. Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:6; Genesis 1:9; Genesis 1:14; Genesis 1:20; Genesis 1:24; Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 3:14; Genesis 3:16-17; Genesis 3:22).
It is the people of the earth that are the objects of God’s judgment, not just the planet itself. All of humanity, even the most exalted individuals, would mourn and fade under the withering judgment of Yahweh.
Sinful humankind has corrupted its environment. Humans refused to live by divine revelation, introduced an innovative morality, and refused to walk in fellowship with God as He specified in the biblical covenants (cf. Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 3:1-6; Genesis 9:12; Genesis 9:16; Leviticus 24:8; 2 Samuel 23:5; Psalms 105:10; Romans 1-3).
". . . human beings in sin are the supreme environmental threat." [Note: Motyer, p. 197.]
God has cursed sin (cf. Genesis 3:17-19), so when people sin they set His curse to work, and it devours the earth.
"Countries do not have sins, but people do. And countries suffer as a consequence of the guilt of their peoples." [Note: Watts, p. 317.]
Those who sin are guilty before God and suffer the judgment due them. This is part of His covenant relationship with humankind (Genesis 2:17; cf. Deuteronomy 27-28). The only reason all do not perish is that God graciously extends mercy to some (cf. Noah). A remnant of believers will survive the Tribulation.
Wine, which people use to escape feeling the effects of sin, ultimately proves ineffective. Its source, the grapevine, decays (as a result of drought? cf. Revelation 6:5-6), and even the constitutionally lighthearted cannot escape groaning.
The effects of the coming judgment 24:7-20
Isaiah expounded on the effects of human sin in a poem, which follows.
Music, likewise, cannot keep people’s spirits up continually.
Even while people drink their wine they cannot bring themselves to sing for joy. Their beer is flat, as we say. It fails to provide the desired uplift.
Isaiah described the world as a city marked by meaninglessness (Heb. tohu, Genesis 1:2), like the earth before Creation (cf. Genesis 11:1-9; Jeremiah 4:23). That the city is the entire earth is clear. The word "earth" occurs 16 times in this section of the text (Isaiah 24:1-20). A spirit of fear pervades this city. Modern existentialist writers have done a good job of articulating the meaninglessness of life without God that Isaiah also described here. [Note: See, for example, Albert Camus, The Plague.]
Shut up to life without God, humankind despairs because all remedies have been tried and found wanting. Stimulants fail to bring lasting joy, what joy there is sours, and gaiety is gone.
Life in the city (world) of meaninglessness is not only unsatisfying (Isaiah 24:7), but it is also impossible. Not only is life desolate but it is also defenseless.
God’s judgment of the earth will be like a harvest in which He will remove the olives from an olive tree (cf. Isaiah 24:6; Isaiah 17:5-6; Revelation 14:19-20; Revelation 19:15). But there will be a few people left at the end of the harvest; a remnant will survive (cf. Matthew 24:13).
These survivors will rejoice over the Lord (cf. Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23).
"One feature of chapters 24-27 that reminds the reader of the Book of Revelation is the way declarations of coming judgment are interspersed with songs of thanksgiving." [Note: Grogan, p. 153.]
Because the remnant will praise God in the west (Isaiah 24:14), Isaiah called for praise of Him in the east (Heb. ’ur, lit. place of fire) as well-for universal praise, in other words. Specifically, the Gentile nations (the coastlands of the sea, the people farthest from Israel) need to praise Him. Their response will be the beginning of a great pilgrimage to Zion to honor the Lord (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). [Note: See Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 13-39, p. 188.]
Isaiah anticipated himself and others hearing the remnant praise God for His righteousness (in judging the ungodly).
But as the prophet contemplated this end-times scene, he also felt the condemnation of others as deeply as he formerly felt his own (cf. Isaiah 6:5). Even though God was judging the wicked, they proceeded to act as bad as ever, betraying one another treacherously (cf. Isaiah 21:2; Revelation 9:20-21).
Those who are the objects of God’s judgment will not be able to escape it because He will use the forces of nature to judge them, above them and below them (cf. Genesis 7:11; Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18; Revelation 16:21). "Windows above and foundations below" is a merism indicating totality. God Himself would be the agent of their destruction (cf. 2 Samuel 22:8; Psalms 139:7-12; Amos 5:19).
Like a tall building in an earthquake, the earth will crack, begin to sway, and break apart (cf. Revelation 6:12-15). What God had created in the ordered world, would again become chaos (Heb. tohu, cf. Isaiah 24:10).
"This is what they chose: a world without the ordering hand of God and this, in faithful divine justice, is what they got." [Note: Motyer, p. 204.]
The prophet compared the earth under divine judgment to a reeling drunkard about to collapse and to an old shack about to fall down. A drunkard falls because of internal weakness, and a shack gives way because of external pressures. What causes the destruction is the guilt of transgression that weighs heavily on the earth. This fall will be irrevocable.
This section of Isaiah’s vision of God’s victory over the nations (Isaiah 24:1-20) provides the basis for the following sections, which elaborate on features of the judgments previously described.
When Yahweh brings universal judgment on the world again, He will sovereignly punish all unfaithful authorities both in the heavenly realm (evil angels, cf. Daniel 10:13; Ephesians 6:12) and in the earthly (cf. Matthew 8:29; Revelation 12-13; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 20:2; Revelation 20:10). Rulers are the particular individuals in view.
The coming King 24:21-23
Isaiah hinted at the coming of a great future King in his oracles against Philistia and Edom (Isaiah 14:29-30; Isaiah 14:32; Isaiah 21:11-12). Now he revealed more.
Before God punishes them, He will confine them in a pit (cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Judges 1:6; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 18:21; Revelation 19:3; Revelation 19:17-18; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:1-3; Revelation 20:11-15). "Many days" probably refers to the Millennium (cf. Revelation 20:1-3).
"What the apocalyptist of the New Testament describes in detail in Rev. xx. 4, xx. 11 sqq., and xxi., the apocalyptist of the Old Testament sees here condensed into one fact . . ." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:435.]
The moon and sun, the most glorious rulers of human life, in the physical sense, will be ashamed by the appearance of an even more glorious ruler (cf. Revelation 21:23). The sun and the moon were important gods in the ancient Near East, but no god can stand beside Yahweh. Isaiah’s is a poetic description of relative glory. Isaiah did not use the astronomical words for moon and sun here but poetic equivalents, the "white" and the "hot." Yahweh Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-5; Zechariah 14:9; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10). Some amillennialists believe these are not real places but earthly names for the place from which God presently rules: heaven. Young wrote the following:
"Both Zion and Jerusalem are . . . figures of the seat of the eternal kingdom." [Note: Young, 2:182.]
Other passages reveal that Yahweh will reign in the person of Messiah (e.g., Revelation 20:4). Amillennialists believe that this will not be Messiah’s rule over the earth; He will have no earthly rule in their view. But what Isaiah intended to reveal was that His spiritual rule, which has been in existence since Christ’s first coming, they believe, will be all embracing. [Note: See ibid.] His elders (vice regents) will be there and will behold His glory, as the elders of Israel beheld Yahweh’s glory on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9-11; cf. Revelation 4:4; Revelation 4:9-11; Revelation 19:11-16).
"In each of the heavenly throne scenes there are other beings surrounding Yahweh’s throne. Isaiah 6:2 calls them . . . ’seraphs.’ 1 Kings 22:21 calls them . . . ’spirits.’ Job 1:6 calls them . . . ’sons of god.’ Here they are called . . . ’elders’ (Revelation 4-19 passim). They all seem to refer to the same beings who have the same functions." [Note: Watts, p. 330.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany