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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 34

4. The consequences of Israel’s trust chs. 34-35

This section concludes the major section of Isaiah that deals with God’s sovereignty over the nations of the world (chs. 13-35). Here the lessons stand out clearly. Pride leads to humiliation, whereas trust in the Lord results in exaltation (cf. Matthew 23:12). Chapters 34-35 bring to a head chapters 28-33, just as chapters 24-27 topped off chapters 13-23.

"In both instances the special prophecies connected with the history of the prophet’s own times are followed by a comprehensive finale of an apocalyptic character." [Note: Ibid., 2:66.]

"These two chapters form a fitting climax to the judgment and salvation motifs which have been spoken of extensively by Isaiah. . . . Discussion of the judgment on Assyria (Isaiah 30:27-33; Isaiah 31:8-9; Isaiah 33:1; Isaiah 33:18-19) naturally led to a discussion of God’s judgment on the whole world in the Tribulation. God’s vengeance on the world will be followed by millennial blessing on His covenant people, Israel." [Note: J. Martin, p. 1084.]

These themes of judgment and blessing, of course, were prominent in the sixth "woe," so there is a strong connection with what precedes in chapter 33. Chapters 34 and 35 present the contrasting images of a productive land turned into a desert (ch. 34), and a desert turned into a garden (ch. 35).

"To align oneself with the nations of the earth is to choose a desert; to trust in God is to choose a garden." [Note: Oswalt, p. 609.]

Yahweh’s day of judgment ch. 34

This poem depicts the effects of Yahweh’s wrath on the self-exalting nations. His judgment will be universal (Isaiah 34:1-4). Isaiah particularized it with reference to Edom, a representative nation (Isaiah 34:5-17; cf. Isaiah 25:10-12).

"Here we have depicted the scene of carnage that will ensue upon the Battle of Armageddon." [Note: Archer, p. 633.]

"This chapter is remarkable for its combination of the general and the particular, the universal and the local. It reminds us of the Greek word hekastos (’each one individually’) used in so many descriptions of judgment in the NT." [Note: Grogan, p. 217.]

"There are many passages in Jeremiah (viz. ch. xxv. 31, 33, 34, xlvi. 10, l. 27, 39, li. 40) which cannot be explained in any other way than on the supposition that Jeremiah had the prophecy of Isaiah in ch. xxxiv. before him." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:67.]

Verse 1

Isaiah called everyone in the world to hear what follows (cf. Isaiah 1:2; Psalms 25:1; Psalms 96:1-3; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 98:1-2; Psalms 98:4). It has universal significance and scope.

Verses 1-4

Universal judgments 34:1-4

Verse 2

The first reason (cf. Isaiah 34:5-6; Isaiah 34:8) everyone should listen is that the Lord is very angry with the nations. He has determined to devote them to destruction, to put them under the ban (Heb. herem; cf. Isaiah 11:15; Joshua 6:21; 1 Samuel 15:3).

"In the Hebrew setting at least two implications [of the ban] are significant: spoils are devoted to God to show that God alone has won a battle (Jericho); when a nation has deliberately blocked the flow of God’s love to the world, it forfeits itself into God’s hands (Amalek)." [Note: Oswalt, p. 608.]

What humankind must hear, then, is a sentence of judgment on the whole earth (cf. Psalms 2:9).

Verse 3

The blood of the slain nations will stink and soak the mountains of the earth in such quantities that they run red. Unburied corpses were, and still are, shameful things (cf. Ezekiel 39; Revelation 19:17-18).

Verse 4

Evidently the whole universe will be involved in this judgment. The sins of nations, and the necessary divine reaction, affect all creation. [Note: John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 9.] The Lord will roll up the heavens like a scroll that He has finished reading. The sun, moon, and stars will wither and fall like grapes or figs (cf. Matthew 24:29; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 6:13-14). This implies also the destruction of the pantheon of gods that these heavenly bodies represented in the ancient world.

Verse 5

A second reason for God’s worldwide judgment is that when His sword, a symbol of His judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41-43; Joshua 5:13; Judges 7:20), has done all it can do to the heavenly host, it will fall on the nations represented by Edom. That the literal destruction of Edom is not in view should be clear from two facts. Edom did not experience such a destruction as this passage presents during her history. And Edom ceased to exist as a nation long ago, so a future destruction of Edom is not possible. Humans must pay. Everyone belongs to God. If human beings do not submit to Him voluntarily, He will force them to do so against their wills. This will be God’s judgment on the world for rebelling against Him.

Verses 5-17

Edom as an example 34:5-17

The prophet now introduced Edom, as a case in point, whose end would be typical of the whole earth (cf. Isaiah 11:14; Isaiah 63:1-6). If Edom alone had been in view, Isaiah probably would have dealt with it as he did the other nations in the oracles earlier in the book (chs. 13-23). But why Edom? The Old Testament consistently treats Edom as the antithesis of Israel (cf. Obad.). Isaac told Esau that he would live in an infertile area (Genesis 27:39-40).

"Recollecting Isaiah 29:22 and the establishing of the family of Jacob, the overthrow of the people of Esau makes the end the exact fulfilment [sic] of what was promised at the beginning (Genesis 25:23)." [Note: Motyer, p. 269. See pp. 268-69 for a concise and illuminating review of biblical references to Edom.]

Verses 6-7

Using sacrificial imagery, the Lord will seek what is peculiarly His in judgment. He will take what He alone has a right to take. Sin is a matter of life and death. All sin must be atoned for with sacrificial blood (cf. Leviticus 4:1-12; Isaiah 53). Those who repudiate the sacrifice of Christ for their sins will forfeit their own lives as sacrifices to God. A sacrifice is necessary, therefore, third, if the demands of divine holiness are to be met. No rebel would be spared. Bozrah ("impenetrable," modern Buseirah), the capital of Edom, stood about 25 miles south southeast of the Dead Sea.

"The sacrifice announced here is enormous. Not only lambs, goats, bull calves, and bulls are to be sacrificed, but also wild oxen . . . which are otherwise never mentioned for sacrifice. . . . Wildberger (1343) understands the passage to picture a sacrifice greater than any that has ever been offered." [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 11. His reference is to H. Wildberger’s three-volume German commentary on Isaiah 1-39.]

"He who really takes offense at what is here related has no true conception of the heinous character of sinful rebellion against the Holy One of Israel." [Note: Young, 2:435.]

Verse 8

A fourth reason for this slaughter is that the Lord will take vengeance on those who have trodden down Zion. He will act for His people against those who have cursed them (cf. Genesis 12:3). Even though we do not know when this will happen, God has a timetable for this judgment and will keep to it.

Verses 9-10

The prophet described Edom’s overthrow in terms reminiscent of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Genesis 19:24-28; Deuteronomy 29:23; Psalms 11:6; Jeremiah 49:18; Revelation 14:10-11), which lay in the same general direction as Edom from Jerusalem. Edom’s actions brought on this destruction. The world’s end will be total, and its territory will be uninhabitable from then on (Isaiah 66:24; Revelation 19:3; cf. Leviticus 6:13). The absence of specific references to Edom in Isaiah 34:9-17 helps the reader appreciate that a judgment far beyond that one nation’s future is in view. The only reason people will be able to inhabit the earth during the Millennium, following the Tribulation, is because God will renovate it (chs. 35; 40-66). Human sin affects humanity’s environment.

Verses 11-13

Human leaders will be no more, and only wild animals and weeds will occupy the land (cf. Isaiah 13:21-22; Isaiah 14:23). "Desolation" and "emptiness" (Heb. tohu and bohu, cf. Genesis 1:2) point to chaotic conditions that existed before Creation. Measuring the land indicates that the Lord has a standard by which He evaluates its inhabitants and metes it out to whomever He will (cf. Isaiah 34:17).

Verses 14-15

So devoid of human population will the earth be that animals that people have tried to control in the past will be safe enough to multiply. Even the goat demon and the night monster, representing the most detestable animals, will roam the land. Lilith (lit. nocturnal) was a feminine night monster in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology that was especially hurtful to children (cf. Tobit 8:3; Matthew 12:43).

Verses 16-17

In closing, Isaiah’s thought turned back to Isaiah 34:1. Those summoned to listen to this remarkable revelation might need to assure themselves of its certainty by referring to the written record of it in this prophecy and elsewhere (cf. Isaiah 13:21-22). The Lord’s mouth commanded this judgment, and His Spirit will execute it (cf. Genesis 1:2). God sovereignly gave Canaan to His people, and in the future He will give the Edoms of this world to the desert creatures.

How does this picture of devastation, so thorough that no human beings remain alive, harmonize with other revelation concerning the Tribulation? According to Revelation 6:8; Revelation 9:18, half of the world’s population will have perished by the end of the sixth trumpet judgment. Many more devastating judgments will fall on earth-dwellers after the sixth trumpet judgment, specifically the seven bowl judgments, the worst ones of all in the Tribulation. Therefore what Isaiah pictured may be what the earth will look like at the very end of the Tribulation, just before Jesus Christ returns to the earth. There will be some people left alive on the earth then, but Isaiah’s description was perhaps hyperbolic to make the point that God will judge all the earth’s inhabitants. A common amillennial understanding of this chapter, is that it describes the final judgment of humankind, at the end of history-just before the beginning of eternity.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 34". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.