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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 4

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 24: Judgment on the Earth

Chapter 8: The Earth and the Land

After giving us prophecies about many nations, Isaiah 24 is a prophecy of judgment on the earth, focusing particularly upon Jerusalem, which was thought to be “the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Indeed, Jerusalem is near the center of the land mass between Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Isaiah 24:1 begins,

1 Behold, the Lord lays the earth [eretz] waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants.

The Hebrew word eretz can mean the earth as a whole or a portion of the earth (country or tribal territory). It can mean the earth in contrast to heaven, or it can mean the land rather than the sea. It is often used figuratively of the inhabitants themselves. The meaning of the term is broad enough to cover all these aspects, making it often difficult to know the application and scope of prophecy. We must rely on context to understand the prophecy in Isaiah 24.

Isaiah 24:10-12 applies the judgment on the earth to “the city of chaos” (vs. 10) and “the city and the gate” (vs. 12). This applies the prophecy specifically to Jerusalem. But later, the judgment is said to come upon “the host of heaven on high and the kings of the earth on earth” (Isaiah 24:21). So it appears to have at least two layers of application, one universal and the other local.

Perhaps the prophet considered Jerusalem to be a representative of all nations and of the earth itself, even as a nation’s capital represents the whole of a nation. The capital is the seat of authority. So we often see elsewhere how Babylon is not only a city but also represents all the nations under its authority.

Prior to the Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem had been given the Dominion Mandate, because its kings were of David and of the tribe of Judah to whom the Dominion had been given (Gen. 49:10). If Jerusalem had indeed exercised its authority properly, its Dominion would have increased gradually until it filled the whole earth. But it failed to fulfill the covenant, and so God gave the Dominion Mandate to Babylon (Jer. 27:6, 7).

The Mandate was later passed down to Babylon’s successor nations until the time of the end, when the Dominion was to be given to “the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:22, KJV) who serve under Jesus Christ’s universal authority.

The earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly city are clearly presented to us in Gal. 4:25, 26 and again in Heb. 12:22 and in Rev. 21:1. This adds to our understanding of Isaiah 24, because it shows that the earthly Jerusalem is not only the “bondwoman” but is also the “city of chaos” (Babylon) that is to be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30). I believe that this is how we are to view Isaiah’s prophecy against Jerusalem and the entire system of bondage that it represents.

In other words, God is not going to turn the bondwoman (Hagar) into the free woman (Sarah) but intends to cast out the earthly Jerusalem in favor of the heavenly Jerusalem. This is how we are to understand Isaiah 24 in the light of New Testament revelation. This understanding shows how the city (and land) relates to the kings of the whole earth.

How is the Earth Judged?

Isaiah 24:1 says that God “lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface, and scatters its inhabitants.” The distortion of the earth is defined in Isaiah 24:2, 3,

2 And the people will be like the priest, the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the debtor. 3 The earth will be completely laid waste [baqaq, “emptied, made void”] and completely despoiled [bazaz, “plundered”], for the Lord has spoken this word.

We cannot assume that God is going to distort the surface of the earth in a physical manner, although we might see signs of this. When China built its Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, it was said that the reservoir made the earth a bit rounder and flattened the poles slightly. While this distortion of the earth may be taken as a sign of the fulfillment of Isaiah 24:1, it was not the main picture that the prophet was painting for us.

Isaiah saw this distortion in terms of a disruption of normal relationships. When disaster would hit a nation, each man found himself in the same danger. Servants and masters were suddenly put on an equal footing. People were no longer creditors or debtors, for all would go into captivity as equals. In other words, the prophet envisioned this devastation and distortion in terms of status and relationships between people. He was not referring to physical changes in the earth.

Isaiah 24:4 continues,

4 The earth mourns [aval] and withers [nabel, “to be senseless or foolish”], the world fades [amal, “droops” (its head)] and withers [nabel], the exalted of the people of the earth fade [amal] away.

This is a picture of the rich and powerful losing their power and strength. Their slaves or servants have become their equals. Nothing seems to make sense anymore, for the whole earth has become senseless and foolish. No one understands what is going on. The prophet sees people walking around in a state of shock and disbelief as their world crashes down upon them.

The Curses for Disobedience

Isaiah 24:5, 6 says,

5 The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.

The prophet sees this devastation in terms of the law of tribulation in Leviticus 26 and again in Deuteronomy 28. Lev. 26:14-16 says,

14 But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, 15 if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My commandments, and so break My covenant, 16 I, in turn, will do this to you…

Deuteronomy 28:15 says,

15 But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.

Moses then lists many “curses” that were to come upon them. The curse of the law is its judgment for sin. Isaiah says that Jerusalem had followed the ways of the whole earth in its rebellion against the laws of God, and for this reason, the curses that God promised in the days of Moses had been unleashed upon the city. He says, “the inhabitants of the earth (or the land) are burned.”

This refers to the “fiery law” in Deut. 33:2, KJV, whose judgment is said to burn men metaphorically. The baptism of fire which the Holy Spirit sends is designed to burn chaff (Matt. 3:11, 12), that is, to purify us from the things of the flesh. When the law judges sin, it burns chaff so that the sinner may be restored to right standing before God.

The scene that Isaiah paints for us is obviously a time of divine judgment. It was fulfilled partially in Isaiah’s day when 46 cities of Judah were taken by the Assyrians and its people exiled to Assyria. A century later the prophecy was fulfilled in a greater way when Jerusalem was destroyed and the survivors were exiled to Babylon, leaving only a few people behind.

He then describes the scene in Isaiah 24:7-9,

7 The new wine mourns [aval], the vine decays [amal], all the merry-hearted sigh. 8 The gaiety of tambourines ceases, the noise of revelers stops, the gaiety of the harp ceases. 9 They do not drink wine with song; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.

In verse 7 we read that “the new wine mourns,” while in verse 4 we read that “the earth mourns.” The Hebrew word translated “mourns” in both cases is aval, “to mourn or lament.” New wine does not literally mourn, of course, but Isaiah uses metaphorical language to describe the lack of wine, perhaps because vineyards have been neglected.  “Few men are left” (verse 6) in the land to tend the vineyards, and few are there to drink the wine.

Again, the prophet uses the same words found in verse 4. It is a picture of sadness and depression. The people drink but are not happy. Their “strong drink is bitter,” because they have put opium in it to forget their bitterness, as prophesied in Deut. 32:32, 33. Yet they do not find any happiness in such drugs.

Isaiah 24:10-12 says,

10 The city of chaos [tohu, “void, formless, confusion”] is broken down; every house is shut up so that none may enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets concerning the wine; all joy turns to gloom. The gaiety of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city and the gate is battered to ruins.

Isaiah compares the destruction of Jerusalem with the destruction of the original creation that became tohu “formless” and bohu, “void” (Gen. 1:2). We are not told how or why the original creation became formless and void, but Isaiah tells us that Jerusalem was judged because they had forsaken the laws of God and because God had promised to judge them if they did this.