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Chapter 24 Worldwide Desolation and The Triumph of Yahweh.
The burden of Isaiah for the nations is now all brought together in a picture of worldwide desolation which will occur in the final bringing together of God’s purposes. He has been brought to recognise, as a result of what he learned on his inaugural call (Isaiah 6:11-13), and through what he has learned about the world of his day, that that consummation can only come about through suffering. Not only the local nations, but also the whole world, must suffer in order that it might learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9), prior to the establishment of a world of everlasting peace and joy (Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 66:22-23) which will include the resurrection from the dead of all who are truly His (Isaiah 26:19). In that world death will be no more (Isaiah 25:7-8).
So he now depicts such a world, on which judgment has come because of man’s sin, in the form of God’s final desolations. Such a picture of ‘end time’ desolations was common to the prophets (compare Isaiah 2:10-21; Ezekiel 38:0; Daniel 9:26; Joel 1-3 for example). Indeed it was the explanation as to why, prior to God finally acting in history the world would only get worse and worse. But then would come the final desolation as depicted here, and out of it God would act and bring in His everlasting kingdom of perfection.
To try to fit these great events into a simple historical pattern is to debase them. God’s judgments are far too complicated and varied to be fitted easily into a pattern suggested by us. They speak of what is beyond our ability to appreciate in detail, conveying ideas rather than historical outline. The purpose was not to depict a programme, but in order to convey overall ideas. In one sense they depict God’s judgment on the wicked occurring throughout history, but only as leading up to His final judgments on the world, which will issue in everlasting righteousness, and the deliverance and resurrection of His own to an eternal kingdom.
As he experienced the tribulations of his people Isaiah’s thought was, if things are as bad as this now, what will they be like before the end comes? For he knew from what God had told him that that suffering was to go on, increasing in intensity, until the holy seed was produced (Isaiah 6:11-13). So whether these ‘end times’ were to last for a short while, or for hundreds of years, he does not reveal, and did not know. For each generation the hope had ever to be kept alive so as to encourage the faithful who were going through tribulation, and sometimes great tribulation. But we who are privileged to have greater revelation do know that later the Apostles saw themselves as being in ‘the end times’, for they saw those end times as having arrived with the coming of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. And we can go even further, for we also know that those ‘end times’ have lasted for over two thousand years. As 2 Peter reminds us, ‘With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (2 Peter 3:8).
This fact that ‘the end times’ began at the coming and resurrection of Jesus Christ is vital for the purposes of a full and complete interpretation of Scripture, and is therefore one that must be grasped. It is clearly stated in those Scriptures. For example Peter says, ‘He was revealed at the end of the times for your sake’ (1 Peter 1:20), with the result that he can then warn his readers ‘ the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). Peter therefore saw the first coming of Christ as having begun ‘the end times’. In the same way Paul says to his contemporaries ‘this is given for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). He too saw in Christ’s coming the fulfilment of promises concerning the end of the ages. To the Apostles then the first coming of Christ was to be seen as ‘the end of the ages’, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews speaks similarly. He declares that ‘He has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and adds ‘once in the end of the ages has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). It is therefore clear that these early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’, and saw this present time as the culmination of all that has gone before and as leading up to the end. Thus ‘the church, the body of believers’ is described as being the product of the last days.
So it is the essence of ‘the last days’ that we need to grasp, and not their timing, as we look at this apocalyptic passage, and then continue on through Isaiah. We know that these ‘last days’ have been going on for two thousand years, but for the Apostles and prophets they had necessarily to be foreshortened, because they wanted to bring their message home to their own day. They did not see themselves as predictors of a long term future, but as men who had a message for their own times, although as it subsequently turns out they also had one for all times. Each generation saw itself as possibly being the one which would issue in the consummation, and when God’s people were almost on the point of despair, it must have been a huge comfort to them to know that deliverance might be just around the corner (Isaiah 26:20).
From the moment when Christ sent out His disciples to take His message to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the furthest points of the world (Acts 1:8) they knew that the prophetic ‘end days’ were in progress, and it was only as time progressed that they began to think in terms of them lasting a little longer than they had originally thought. That is something that we begin to discern in 2 Peter 3:0, and in Revelation 20:0, where ‘a thousand years’ is the equivalent of the Old Testament ‘a thousand generations’ (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Chronicles 16:15; Psalms 105:8), an indescribably long period of time. As far as we are aware no one has ever tried to literalise the phrase ‘a thousand generations’.
And it is in these last days that all that man exalts is to be abased, and all that man treasures is to be destroyed. And, we are told that, in the end, ‘man without God’ will destroy his own world in one way or another, and yet that it will be under God’s supervision. For the final fifty years of the last century we thought that man might accomplish it through nuclear weapons, (it was not Bible preachers but scientists who invented the idea of it being five minutes to twelve). Now we know that it might be through the catastrophes resulting from global warming, which none of us can at present predict. But who would dare to deny the possibility that somewhere in space, unseen by us, there is an asteroid with our name on it? We do well not to limit God’s methods.
One view of these chapters therefore is to see them in terms of this scenario, and to see Isaiah here as depicting world judgment in an intense way, while at the same time recognising that, as ever, his aim is to convey the overall impression rather than to give a literal picture. We can compare this with Haggai’s enhanced description in Haggai 2:22-23 of the triumph of Zerubbabel. To him it was God at work and therefore great things were seen by the prophet as happening from God’s point of view. But much of the world would not necessarily have been aware of them as such. They would be oblivious of God’s viewpoint, and would see what was happening very differently. They did not realise that they were living in momentous times which would eventually lead up to the arrival of the Son of God on earth.
Others, however see Isaiah here as speaking of a coming devastation of Israel/Judah. For the problem that we have in interpreting the passage is that ‘earth/land’ (’erets) can be translated as either ‘earth’ or ‘land’. Thus we can see what he is describing as ‘local’ or ‘worldwide’, and the only way in which we can decide the issue is by an examination of the context. And when doing so we must keep in mind that when Isaiah speaks of ‘the world’ he himself has in mind the world as he knew it, the world in which he lived, the world of the Middle East and its surrounds.
However, if we see it as a general indication of the result of man’s sin, and of His judgment on it, as occurring both in the short term locally, and in the long term world-wide, we can have in mind the local situation of his day, while at the same time projecting it into the future and seeing in it a reference to the wider world. Both ideas can then be held in tension. But the fact that it deals with the resurrection from the dead (Isaiah 26:19) debars us from seeing it as pointing to anything other than the final consummation. Furthermore the use of ‘world’ (tebel) in Isaiah 24:4 in parallel with ’erets serves to stress the worldwide vista (compare their combination in Isaiah 34:1; 1Sa 2:8 ; 1 Chronicles 16:30; Job 34:13; Psalms 19:4; Psalms 24:1; Psalms 33:8; Psalms 89:11; Psalms 90:2 etc; Jeremiah 10:12; Jeremiah 51:15).
Certainly Isaiah regularly connects this passage with the first chapters of Genesis. He brings into account the curse given in the Garden (Isaiah 24:6) and the blighted earth (Isaiah 24:4) of Genesis 3:17-19; the windows of heaven (Isaiah 24:18) of Genesis 7:11; the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5) of Genesis 9:16; the wine drinking that results in misery (Isaiah 24:7-9), as found in Genesis 9:20-27; the scattering of the inhabitants as at Babel (Isaiah 24:6) in Genesis 11:4. He sees man as having returned to primitive conditions and as having broken the everlasting covenant. So in the end all men are involved. We must now consider it in more detail.
In The Future That Is To Come There Will Be World-wide Devastation (Isaiah 24:1-3 ).
Here as on opening gambit is a picture of unrelieved worldwide desolation in which all will be involved. None may escape. Yahweh is seen as finally dealing with the world in its sin. As already mentioned this scene of worldwide devastation is one common to the prophets who saw Yahweh as not only responsible for Israel/Judah but also for all nations. Every local experience of these words points forward to the wider experience. It is not just Israel/Judah that is in mind, but at least the whole of the world of Isaiah’s day.
a Behold, Yahweh is making the earth waste, and desolating it, and is turning it upside down and scattering abroad its inhabitants (Isaiah 24:1).
b And it will be as with the people, so with the priest, as with the servant, so with his master, as with the maid, so with her mistress, (Isaiah 24:2 a).
b As with the buyer, so with the seller, as with the lender, so with the borrower, as with the receiver of interest, so with the payer of interest to him (Isaiah 24:2 b).
a The earth will be utterly laid waste, and utterly plundered, for Yahweh has spoken this word (Isaiah 24:3).
We note that in ‘a’ Yahweh acts to lay waste the earth, scattering its inhabitants, while in the parallel the earth is to be utterly laid waste and plundered because of the word of Yahweh. In ‘b’ and parallel, placed within the scenes of desolation, all will be affected by it, including religious, social and business relationships. The aim is to include everyone.
‘Behold, Yahweh is making the earth waste, and desolating it,
And is turning it upside down and scattering abroad its inhabitants.’
‘Behold, Yahweh ---’ followed by a participle is found regularly throughout Isaiah (in ‘both’ sections) but only twice outside (Amos 7:4; Micah 1:3). By it Isaiah is seeking to turn all our attention on what He is about to do. He will lay waste the known earth and make it desolate. This will arise partly as a result of man’s aggressive behaviour towards his fellowmen and partly as a result of ‘natural’ events. ‘Turning it upside down’ possibly has in mind earthquakes, regularly seen as God’s judgments, but may also contain the idea of invasion and empire building (Genesis 10:8-12). Scattering abroad the inhabitants reminds us of Babel (see Genesis 11:4), where men gathered to form an empire in opposition to God, but became scattered as a result of God’s activity, we are not told how, so that through their scattering their language became diversified as they settled in different parts. So history is to repeat itself. In Genesis 10-11 it resulted in the nations being put outside God’s workings as He began His plans through Abraham. Now it will result in the nations being dealt with finally in judgment because they have rejected the plea made to them through the sons of Abraham.
But Isaiah could see it happening in his own day as the Assyrians bestrode the ‘world’ scene and took different peoples and moved them from one part to another, scattering them abroad. It was not only Israel which was exiled. People of all nations were uprooted. In one way therefore this could be seen as ‘fulfilled’ at the times when Assyria reached its widest empire.
But similar things have happened throughout history. For the truth is that men cannot be trusted with too much power, because power corrupts. That is why empires crumble and scatter. This vivid picture is an indication of the inability of man to run the world over which God gave him dominion, and a recognition of the overall supervision of God in spite of it. It will happen again and again as the end approaches, and will get worse and worse until God finally intervenes.
The picture is not necessarily to be limited to one of war. It could equally apply to misuse of the environment. Although in ancient days the two often went together. However, Isaiah’s main point is that while it is outwardly man bringing it on himself, behind the scenes it is God Who is at work. In the end it will be Yahweh Who does it. That is therefore where our assurance lies. It is in the fact that in the last analysis, all is in His hands. In the same way, we today, as we see what man is doing to his environment by selfishness, greed and war, can recognise in it all the hand of Yahweh, as He is bringing all things to a conclusion.
‘And it will be as with the people, so with the priest,
As with the servant, so with his master,
As with the maid, so with her mistress,
As with the buyer, so with the seller,
As with the lender, so with the borrower,
As with the receiver of interest, so with the payer of interest to him.
The earth will be utterly laid waste, and utterly plundered.
For Yahweh has spoken this word.’
All classes of people will be involved in God’s final summing up of world history; clergy and laity, rich and poor, master and servant, businessman and customer, creditor and debtor, oppressor and oppressed. None will escape. The known earth will be utterly laid waste by spoilers, and spoil in large quantities will be taken in war, while other parts will be laid waste by misuse and plundered by big business (note Isaiah’s emphasis on business relationships). The picture is deliberately intensified, and it will all be at Yahweh’s word.
Eventually The Curse will Result In Blessing For God’s Own People (Isaiah 24:4-15 ).
The reason for the coming judgment is clearly stated. It will occur because of man’s disobedience to God. That will be why the curse is on the earth, and its inhabitants will be found guilty, and the result will be that all the things which mankind enjoys will be removed. But out from the midst of the chaos the remnant, the gleanings, will lift up their voices at the majesty of Yahweh and He will receive worldwide glory. History will continue to be a record of both judgment and salvation.
a The earth mourns and withers,, the world languishes and withers, the high people of the earth languish, the earth also is polluted under its inhabitants (Isaiah 24:4-5 a).
b Because they have transgressed the laws (torahs), changed the ordinance (statute), broken the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5 b).
c That is why the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are found guilty. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left (Isaiah 24:6).
d The new wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh, the gaiety of tambourines ceases, the noise of those who rejoice ends, the joy of the harp ceases (Isaiah 24:7-8).
e They will not drink wine with a song (Isaiah 24:9 a).
e Strong drink will be bitter to those who drink it (Isaiah 24:9 b).
d The city of wastedness (tohu) is broken down, every house is shut up that no man might come in. There is crying in the streets because of the wine, all joy has reached its eventide, the mirth of the land has gone into captivity, in the city desolation is left, and the gate is smitten with destruction (Isaiah 24:10-12).
c For thus will it be in the midst of the earth, among the peoples, as the shaking of an olive tree, as the grape gleanings when the vintage is done (Isaiah 24:13).
b These will lift up their voice, they will shout. For the majesty of Yahweh they cry from the sea (Isaiah 24:14).
a Wherefore glorify Yahweh in the lights (fires), even the name of Yahweh the God of Israel, in the isles of the sea (Isaiah 24:15).
The parallels in ‘a’ and ‘b’ are parallels of contrast, the kind of contrasts regular in Isaiah. On the one hand there is little hope, but on the other, there is hope brought by God. So in ‘a’ the whole world mourns and languishes, including its leading figures, while in the parallel some in the far off lands glorify Yahweh and His name. Always among the devastation are those who respond to God and worship Him. In ‘b’ man has broken God’s laws and spurned His covenant, while in the parallel in the midst of the earth are the gleanings who will shout at the majesty of Yahweh. In ‘c’ the curse devours the earth, men are guilty and few are left, and in the parallel what remains will be like what is shaken from the olive tree and like the gleanings from the grapes. In ‘d’ we have the cessation of all revelry, and in the parallel the wasted city producing the same results. In ‘e’ the wine will not be enjoyable, and in the parallel the strong drink will be almost undrinkable.
‘The earth mourns and withers,
The world languishes and withers,
The high people of the earth languish.’
There will not only be war and earthquakes, but also blight and devastation. As ever man will misuse the world. The ‘earth’ will be in mourning and ‘wither’, it will languish and wither, it will be blighted, so much so that even the important, the rich and the wealthy, will suffer. The curse (Isaiah 24:5 compare Genesis 3:17-19; Genesis 8:21) will be exacted in its fullness.
This will be the course of history, this will be the end of history, for God’s wrath is continually revealed and will be to the end. The message all through is that man cannot produce his own hoped for Utopia, but will be the same to the end. Whether it be through war or pollution and misuse of the world man is out of control. It is only God who has the final solution. As we look at the world today with man pouring pollution into the atmosphere, and unable to contain it because to do so will interfere with his pleasure, and that in spite of his knowledge of what is happening, with ever growing amounts of pollution coming from poorer countries as they seek to become richer, so that things can only get rapidly worse, we can only wait, knowing that these final days will come.
‘The earth also is polluted under its inhabitants,
Because they have transgressed the laws (torahs),
Changed the ordinance (statute),
Broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore has the curse devoured the earth,
And those who dwell in it are found guilty.
Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned,
And few men are left.’
The reason for all this is the pollution of the earth by its inhabitants. They have brought it all on themselves, and sin is the greatest pollutant. It is because they have gone against God’s instructions (His torahs), they have changed what was permanently inscribed as God’s ordinance (the word for ordinance or statute is taken from a root ‘engrave’ and signifies something permanently laid down), they have broken the everlasting covenant. In view of the parallels with Genesis in the narrative this covenant presumably refers to the everlasting covenant of Genesis 9:16 where the shedding of blood was regulated (compare Numbers 35:33). (Isaiah regularly connects this passage with the first chapters of Genesis. Note the idea of the curse given in the Garden (Isaiah 24:6) and the blighted earth (Isaiah 24:4) as compared with Genesis 3:17-19; the reference to the windows of heaven (Isaiah 24:18) as compared with Genesis 7:11; the reference to the everlasting covenant of Genesis 9:16 here; the wine drinking that results in misery (Isaiah 24:7-9), as compared with Genesis 9:20-27; and the reference to the scattering of the inhabitants as at Babel (Isaiah 24:6) in Genesis 11:4. So he sees man as still closely connected with his beginnings and as having broken the everlasting covenant.
Thus mankind is seen as still under God’s instruction, an instruction given through their consciences, which instructs them in God’s ways, and gives them a sense of natural justice which brings them under the curse (compare Romans 2:14-16). They are seen as bound by His covenant with Noah. And they are seen as blood guilty, and therefore as in breach of that covenant.
It will be noted that the world is assumed to be under similar restrictions to Israel, even though Israel’s were more specific. Israel were bound by the Torah (the Law, the Instruction), and by ordinance and by everlasting covenant (Psalms 105:9-10). The world is seen as being bound by a kind of prototype of these, torahs (‘instructions’) which have been established in custom and in conscience (consider Genesis 26:5), of which all men are aware in one way or another (Romans 2:14-16). This comes out to some extent in the great wisdom literature and in the great law codes which have been discovered. They are bound by an ordinance established in man’s conscience. But these ‘instructions’, once understood, have been deliberately transgressed, have been deliberately changed in order to suit men’s tastes and tendencies, and have been deliberately broken because rejected. Mankind is therefore seen as being as guilty as Israel even though the world’s revelation from God was of a more general nature than Israel’s (compare Romans 1:18 onwards). They close their eyes and are darkened in their minds, and thrust away the demands of conscience.
So the devouring of the earth is to be because of the renewed curse arising from man’s sinfulness, the curse first put on man in the Garden of Eden (compare Genesis 3:17-19; Genesis 8:21), now renewed on the people of the world who are all found guilty. The phrase ‘those who dwell on earth’ is regularly used in Revelation to indicate those who live regardlessly and do not respond to God. Thus the inhabitants of earth will be burned in the heat of God’s burning anger so that only a comparatively small number remain.
The few may be the elect as so often in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:13). ‘Those who find it are few’ (Matthew 7:14). Or it may simply indicate a depopulated world.
‘The new wine mourns,
The vine languishes,
All the merry-hearted sigh.
The gaiety of tambourines ceases,
The noise of those who rejoice ends,
The joy of the harp ceases.
They will not drink wine with a song.
Strong drink will be bitter to those who drink it.’
These short staccato lines bring out the speedy failure of man’s demand for worldly pleasures. Men had said confidently, ‘let us eat and drink for tomorrow we will die’ (Isaiah 22:13), but when the end approaches for nations this philosophy will not work. Indeed it never works for long. The new wine and the vine will be blighted (compare Isaiah 24:4; Isaiah 24:7). Those whose hearts are set on merriment will sigh instead. There will be no music and dancing, no joyful singing. When men drink wine it will be in gloominess. Their very drink will have turned bitter to them. The hedonist will become the moaner. The good times will have gone. Wine and song will no longer satisfy.
‘The city of wastedness (tohu) is broken down,
Every house is shut up that no man might come in.
There is crying in the streets because of the wine,
All joy has reached its eventide,
The mirth of the land has gone into captivity.
In the city desolation is left,
And the gate is smitten with destruction.’
Every land will have its ‘city of wastedness’. The reference here to tohu (formlessness, wastedness) as in Genesis 1:2 takes us back to that formlessness prior to when God spoke and light resulted. This is the city which is as empty and formless as the earth was before light came and before shape was given to creation. It is broken down, its houses are uninhabited because their inhabitants have been cast out into the streets; wine, the very stay of man’s life, has ceased to be available; darkness has enveloped all joy; mirth has been taken captive. The world has, as it were, reverted to what it was before God created it, to being ‘tohu’. This refers to each city in the world, as symbolised by the world city. Those places of abounding mirth and jollity are now dark, gloomy and empty. All that is left in the city is desolation. Its very gate through which once flowed the life of the city, and which was also their protection in time of trouble, is a ruin. All that its inhabitants dreamed of has gone. Such is life finally without God, total disaster.
‘For thus will it be in the midst of the earth,
Among the peoples,
As the shaking of an olive tree,
As the grape gleanings when the vintage is done.’
The fewness of the remaining inhabitants (Isaiah 24:6) and the emptiness of the city (Isaiah 24:10-12) is illustrated by the remnants of what comes from the shaking of the olive tree, producing but a little fruit, and by the gleanings of the grapevine after harvesting, when but few gleanings are left (compare Isaiah 17:6). In Israel the gleanings were left for the poor. These represent the remnant who escape from God’s judgments (compare Isaiah 6:13). In the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are the poor, for the Kingly Rule of God is theirs’ (Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 66:2; Luke 6:20; Matthew 5:3).
‘These will lift up their voice, they will shout. For the majesty of Yahweh they cry from the sea. Wherefore glorify Yahweh in the lights (fires), even the name of Yahweh the God of Israel, in the isles of the sea.’
But all is not gloom, for these gleanings, these few, these poor, will lift up their voices and shout. They will declare from the sea (that is the west - the Great Sea was to the west) the majesty of Yahweh. Then Isaiah calls on the east and the farthest isles of the sea to ‘glorify Yahweh’. ‘In the lights’ (or ‘fires’) is probably a plural of intensity referring to the rising of the light of the sun at daybreak, with its numerous rays shining out, and therefore referring to the east. The isles of the sea, the distant parts, are also to glorify Yahweh, the God of Israel. Those who remain, not only of Israel, but also of the whole earth, will give Him praise. (Compare Isaiah 42:10-12; Isaiah 44:23).
This was what God was aiming for (compare the holy seed in Isaiah 6:13). In the midst of all the devastation God’s word has reached out far and wide accomplishing His purpose, and in the midst of the world’s devastation will shine out those whom God has separated out to Himself. Out of the seeming fires of destruction will come the refined gold of His people. This sudden turning from gloom to joy is typical of Isaiah. Out of disaster will come blessing.
The Word of Judgment Continues But Yahweh Will Triumph With His People (Isaiah 24:16-23 ).
a ‘From the uttermost part of the earth we have heard songs, “Glory to the Righteous One” (Isaiah 24:16 a).
b But I said, “Leanness to me, (i.e. ‘I waste away’), leanness to me, woe is me for betrayers betray, yes, with betrayal the betrayers betray”. Fear and the pit and the snare are on you, O inhabitant of the earth (Isaiah 24:16-17).
c And it will come about that he who flees from the noise of the fear, will fall into the pit, and he who comes up from the body of the pit, will be taken in the snare, for the windows on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth shake’ (Isaiah 24:18).
c The earth is utterly broken, the earth is utterly shattered, the earth is moved exceedingly, the earth will stagger like a drunken man, and will be moved to and fro like a hut, and its rebellion will be heavy on it, and it will fall and not rise again (Isaiah 24:19-20).
b And it will come about in that day, that Yahweh will punish the host of the height in the height, and the kings of the earth on the earth. And they will be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison, and after many days they will be visited (Isaiah 24:21-22).
a Then the moon will be confounded, and the sun ashamed, for Yahweh of hosts will reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His elders, glory (Isaiah 24:23).
In ‘a’ we hear songs of ‘glory to the Righteous One’ and in the parallel He reigns in Mount Zion among His people in such glory that moon and sun are ashamed by their own dimness. In ‘b’ there is in contrast leanness and betrayal, and fear and the pit snare the inhabitant of the earth, and in the parallel Yahweh punishes all sin in earth and heaven and they are shut up in a pit and eventually visited for judgment. In ‘c’ we have a picture of worldwide devastation based on descriptions from the Flood narrative, and in the parallel the earth broken, shattered and staggering, with its rebellion heavy on it so that it will not rise again.
‘From the uttermost part of the earth we have heard songs, “Glory to the righteous one.” ’
In contrast with the death of song for the world (Isaiah 24:7-9), the holy remnant from the whole earth will sing loudly, and their song will be ‘Glory to the Righteous One’. Out of hopelessness has sprung hope, out of joylessness, joy, out of judgment, deliverance. For ‘the Righteous One’ has delivered His chosen. Note their emphasis on His righteousness (compare Psalms 112:4; Exodus 9:27). They exult in what He is and this emphasises the moral goodness that is theirs through Him. They rejoice in Him because they love His righteous covenant.
Others see ‘the righteous one’ as representing Israel as God’s representative among the nations, as the redeemed of the nations give thanks for what God has done through them, but that does not tie in with Isaiah’s continual view of the uniqueness and separateness of God over against the world.
So we have here the assurance that out of the sorrows and sufferings and misery of ‘the last days’ will come joy for the people of God, made up of people from every nation, as they rejoice in the Righteous One (compare Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 53:11).
‘But I said, “Leanness to me, (i.e. ‘I waste away’),
Leanness to me, woe is me.
For betrayers betray.
Yes, with betrayal the betrayers betray.” ’
But the picture of the world’s sufferings and betrayal of each other is almost too much for Isaiah. Even while he calls on God’s people to glorify Him, he is conscious of those who suffer and those who betray each other, and it causes him to feel ill. Even while the cry goes up ‘glory to the Righteous One’, Isaiah cries, ‘leanness to me, leanness to me’ (‘I am wasting away, I am wasting away’). He who felt for his own sin and cried ‘woe is me’ (Isaiah 6:5), now cries in the same way because of his awareness of the sinfulness and destiny of others even in the moment of glory. He is distressed. The burdens that the prophets bore were not easy to bear. Nor should we forget in our rejoicing the world’s need.
There is no word that brings coldness to the heart like that of betrayal, and here Isaiah multiplies the idea. The leanness in Isaiah’s soul expresses itself because he sees himself to be in a world of betrayal. Men betray each other, and they betray God. It is so treacherous that it is even seen as treacherously betraying itself. But it cannot escape the pit and snare of the Hunter.
‘Fear and the pit and the snare are on you,
O inhabitant of the earth.
And it will come about that he who flees from the noise of the fear,
Will fall into the pit,
And he who comes up from the body of the pit,
Will be taken in the snare,
For the windows on high are opened,
And the foundations of the earth shake.’
The picture here is taken from hunting. The hunters use fear as a weapon by yelling and by the waving of spears, in order to drive frightened and bewildered animals towards their pits, and of those who fall in some manage to struggle from the pits, but they do not escape. They are caught in their further, carefully laid, cunning traps. Here Yahweh is the Hunter and the world the hunted. None will escape of those who are under His judgment. Note the singular ‘inhabitant of the earth’. Every individual person is involved as well as the whole.
These words are later taken by Jeremiah and applied to Moab (Jeremiah 48:43-44), who clearly saw chapter 24 of Isaiah as applying to all the nations described in chapters 13-23.
The windows on high and the shaking of the foundations of the earth are reminiscent of the flood narrative (Genesis 7:11). Judgment falls on the world like a flood. The foundations of the earth shaking is evidence of the wrath of God (Psalms 18:7), and are a reminder of earthquakes which are regularly seen as signs and judgments from God. Judgment also comes from below. It is God’s flood and God’s earthquake, His all encompassing judgments from above and below, that cause the fear and panic that drive men to their final doom in His pits and traps. Man cannot escape God’s judgments, flee as they will. The foundations of the earth shaking and the floods from heaven are regular pictures used elsewhere of the approach of Yahweh (2 Samuel 22:8; 2 Samuel 22:12; Judges 5:4-5; Psalms 68:8-9).
‘The earth is utterly broken,
The earth is utterly shattered,
The earth is moved exceedingly,
The earth will stagger like a drunken man,
And will be moved to and fro like a hut,
And its rebellion will be heavy on it,
And it will fall and not rise again.’
Compare Isaiah 24:1; Isaiah 24:3. Isaiah ends as he began, with ‘world’ disaster. The picture is of a huge and disastrous earthquake shaking the very foundations of mankind and flattening all around. The earth (along with mankind, for the rebellion is man’s) breaks up, things begin to fall all around, the earth shakes even more, it staggers like a drunken man who staggers along the road, having lost his ability to go straight. It moves to and fro like a building prior to it collapsing. And because of the weight of its sin and rebellion it will collapse and fall, never to rise again. God’s judgment will be final. Man has chosen to manage without God and so His support has been withdrawn.
The vivid pictures are a deliberate attempt to portray eschatological judgments in terms of known experiences, the invading armies, the earthquakes, the blight, but all magnified. How they will interconnect is not described. Whether they will mainly be in the Mediterranean world (the world of the prophet) or in the wider world is also not made clear. The prophets knew little of the wider world. We should feel the impact without being dogmatic about the content. The point is that God will come in final judgment, as He regularly comes in judgments through the ages. Every disaster is pointing to the final disaster, and is pointing us towards the need to trust in Him.
In spite of many attempts it has actually been impossible to piece together all the pictures of God’s final judgments in the end days. The descriptions are so many and varied that they do not fit into a pattern except by ignoring what does not fit into particular schemes. And this is what we would expect. For as the end approaches different parts of the world will be affected in detail in different ways. And many of the final events themselves will be of a heavenly nature, thus defying human description. So the descriptions are not to be simply literalised. They are to be taken for what they are. Isaiah taking devastating earthly happenings and using them to depict the undepictable.
‘And it will come about in that day,
That Yahweh will punish the host of the height in the height,
And the kings of the earth on the earth.
And they will be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit,
And will be shut up in the prison,
And after many days they will be visited.’
And that day will affect all both in the heavens and on earth. All creation, and beyond creation, is to be affected. For this is the final summing up of all things in preparation for everlasting perfection (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:10; Revelation 21-22).
‘In that day’ simply means whenever what is being described happens. Here the thought is of ‘the end times’ because that is what the previous verses have had in mind. But ‘in that day’ is not specific as to time. It is simply referring to any time in Isaiah’s future when God acts.
‘Yahweh will punish the host of heaven (‘the height’) in heaven (‘the height’), and the kings of the earth on the earth.’ For the first time we learn that heaven will be affected as well as the earth. The idea is probably that the kings are seen as having been driven on by these heavenly powers, ‘the host of the height in the height’. They had worshipped ‘the host of heaven’, so the host of heaven must also be punished. This startling idea reminds us of Genesis 3:0 where a shadowy heavenly figure lay behind the activities of the snake, and Genesis 6:1-4 where further heavenly figures, ‘the sons of God’ (only ever used of angels in the Old Testament), brought the world into sin of such an extreme kind that it warranted the judgment of the Flood. Compare also Job 1-2; Deuteronomy 32:16-17.
That they are seen as princely here (in the New Testament they are called ‘thrones, principalities and powers’ - Ephesians 6:12; Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21; and see also Daniel 10:0) comes out in the fact that they are paralleled with the kings of the earth. But note that each will be punished within their own sphere, ‘in the height’ and ‘in the earth’.
‘And they will be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison, and after many days they will be visited.’ The idea here is of their ignominious treatment, and utter inability to prevent it. Just as they had herded others into pits they too will be herded into pits. As they have done to others so will be done to them. They will be shut up in a dark, gloomy prison, kept waiting in suspense, until the time of their judgment is decided, when they will be visited by their executioners. All his readers would be aware of the darkness and dankness of ancient prisons, and how prisoners were kept waiting in them whether guilty or not. All this is in direct contrast with the picture of glory that follows (compare Jude 1:6).
‘Then the moon will be confounded,
And the sun ashamed,
For Yahweh of hosts will reign in Mount Zion,
And in Jerusalem, and before His elders, glory.’
In contrast with the fate of the host of heaven and of the kings of earth imprisoned in darkness and gloominess is the glorious exaltation of Yahweh and the people over Whom He reigns. Before His glory the moon and the sun will be as nothing (Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). Though brilliant to us their comparatively dim light will be revealed in its paucity. They will hide themselves in shame. The words used for moon and sun are ones used in poetry which tend to bring out their glory (‘the white one’ and ‘the burning one’), but here that glory is dimmed. They cannot compete with the glory of Yahweh.
And He will reign in Mount Zion, His heavenly dwellingplace (see end note on Isaiah 2:4; and compare Hebrews 12:22), in contrast with the host of heaven, and in the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22), through His Davidic king, in contrast with the kings of earth. His wonderful reigning glory will be revealed to the elders as it was so long before (Exodus 24:9-11). Revelation 4-5 interprets this of heavenly elders who represent the people of God in heaven, where God is on His throne, a throne which is shared by the Lamb.
This picture need not be interpreted literally, any more than the destiny of the host of heaven and the kings is to be taken literally. It is the ideas that are important, not the detail. The thought is that He will rule over heaven and earth, and as he later tells us, it is a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 66:22). In the New Testament the Jerusalem that counts is always the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22 compare John 4:21-23). If anything is clear about this verse it is that it is the final glorious state that is being spoken of, when God reigns in His glory, a glory that will outshine all known light, (compare Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). It is not describing some temporary millennial kingdom. Here earth has merged with Heaven. The full glory of God is being revealed before His ‘elders’, as previously His glory had been revealed before the elders of Israel on behalf of the whole of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11). See also Revelation 4:4; Revelation 4:10-11, where the ‘elders’ in Heaven are the representatives of both the Old and New Testament saints in the congregation of God’s true people (twenty four representing the twelve patriatrchs and the twelve Apostles - Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 24". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29