Dear Readers, the death of Tillie’s father has once again caused me to be unable to post a study for a while. We spent the last two weeks in PA helping to pack up the house and three garages, which were full of a lifetime of accumulation. I finally have been able to get back to our study of Isaiah.
In the last essay we studied Isaiah 13:1-23:18, though we focused on chapters 13-14. We saw that the section as a whole was a fairly lengthy series of oracles of judgment against basically all of the nations of the Near East, nearly all of which at one time or another had been an enemy of Israel [Tyre was not.]. In this essay we are studying chapters 24-25, which form a unit in which we see what John Oswalt terms “The Strong City Laid Waste.” Isaiah’s larger point here is that God is the master of the nations. Therefore, following God’s judgment on the various nations in chapters 13-23, we shall see in chapters 24-25 God’s triumph over the nations. In chapter 24 Isaiah approaches judgment not in terms of individual nations, but in terms of the earth as a whole. Isaiah pictures God as destroying the world. And the world is represented by an unnamed great city that symbolizes the human pride and arrogance of the entire earth. Then in chapter 25 we shall see the response to that destruction.
In 24:1-6 Isaiah paints a picture of worldwide destruction. Notice that everyone will be affected regardless of rank, wealth or class (v. 2). Notice also in verse three why Isaiah confidently can make this prediction. It is because “the Lord has spoken this word.” Verses 4-6 further develop the desolation of the earth. There will be catastrophic drought (v. 4). There will be major pollution (v. 5). I assume that Christian environmentalists use this verse to good advantage. Verse six tells us that Isaiah thought of this coming desolation as a curse on the earth; and he predicts a huge decrease in population because of these things.
The succeeding verses are unified by recurring references to wine and harvest (vv. 7, 8, 9, 11, 13). Indeed only a couple of the verses do not have such a reference. Traditionally the grape harvest was a time of joy and fun in celebration of the successful harvest. This took place during the lull between the grape harvest and the late fall plowing and planting. However, if the harvest was poor, that is unsuccessful, then the end of harvest was not a time of fun and play. And these verses capture the latter situation.
Verses seven tells us, “the new wine dries up.” That would be a natural result of prolonged drought. As a consequence, fun-filled celebrations are cancelled (v. 8). Whatever drinking takes place is done without gladness. And there is no singing (v. 9).
In verses 10-13 we see the image of a city representing the earth. Isaiah calls it the “city of chaos.” Oswalt and the NRSV both translate, “The city of chaos is broken down.” The NIV translates it “The ruined city lies desolate.” In any case Isaiah shifts from the partying, or lack thereof, to the city in which the partying ordinarily would take place. Instead of a happy place, it is a silent place. Instead of a place of openness, it is closed up and chaotic. An outcry for wine rises from the streets. Oswalt suggests that this may be coming from those who are alcohol dependent. At any rate, only desolation remains.
Verse 13 returns us to the worldwide nature of the judgment that we saw in verses 1-6. The whole world will be like olive trees or grape vines that already have been harvested. Only a few olives or grapes can be found.
Verses 14-16 present a serious problem for interpreters, because of the joy expressed. Oswalt suggests that the verses represent the response of those who were oppressed by the city when she is destroyed. They may be suffering like everyone else, but at least the oppressors are “getting theirs.” And that brings joy to their hearts.
Notice that the expressions of joy come from both East and West, indeed from the ends of the earth. But notice in the second half of verse 16 that the prophet cannot bring himself to join in on the celebration, because he still sees the world’s evils that have not yet been destroyed. He is especially concerned about the seemingly endless treachery on the earth.
Following the brief glance at the joy experienced over the destruction of the city of chaos in verses 14-16a, Isaiah returns to the theme of the coming judgment. Verses 17-20 point to the terrors that the earth’s inhabitants will experience and the breakdown of the earth itself. In other words, even the earth cannot be depended upon. Notice the interesting images in verse 20 that Isaiah uses to picture the earth’s brokenness. “The earth staggers like a drunkard, it sways like a hut, meaning a temporary shelter. Both images are images of instability. The earth will totter in an unstable way before its final demise.
Then in verses 21-23 Isaiah extends the judgment to the heavenly realm. All of the wicked from both heaven and earth will be imprisoned and punished (v. 22). When the Lord’s full glory is seen, even the sun and moon (the brightest lights in the heavens) will hang their heads in shame. And finally, the Lord will reign supreme on Mt. Zion (and everywhere else for that matter). From Israel’s perspective, God alone will at last be Israel’s King.
As I mentioned at the beginning, chapter 25 is a response to God’s acts of judgment, especially the destruction of the earth and its symbolic city. Verses 1-5 contain a song of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness in caring for and delivering his people. The first thing to notice here is the very personal nature of the opening verse of the song: “O Lord, you are my God. I will exalt you.” This is a good reminder that even when God is working in behalf of his people as a whole, it still is a very personal salvation to the individuals involved.
Oswalt says that these verses show a couple of things. One, they show that an appropriate response to God’s acts is an important part of the redemptive process. And two, they show that the proper response is one of love and joy.
Notice in verse one that the wonderful things God has done were “plans formed of old.” In other words they are part of the divine plan for the universe. None of this comes as a surprise to God.
The city referred to in verse two is the same city that was destroyed in chapter 24. It is the “city of chaos,” the city that represents in Oswalt’s words all of the “arrogant bastions of power that have crushed the righteous through all of time” (p. 461).
Verses 3-5 provide the results of the destruction of the city. Notice the “therefore” at the beginning of verse three. Therefore God will be glorified and feared, because he had been a refuge for the poor and needy. Isaiah uses two extremes of weather common in the Near East to illustrate: the sudden thunderstorm that can cause flash floods and searing heat. God has sheltered the poor and oppressed in a way similar to the way a cloud shelters one from the sun.
It was customary in the Near East for a new king, when he was crowned and began his reign, to give a huge feast at which he bestowed favors. That is the picture Isaiah is presenting in verse six. But in verses 7-8, he offers a picture that goes far beyond his own time. He says that the “shroud of death” would be destroyed “on this mountain,” meaning Mt. Zion. Notice that death is not merely removed. It is swallowed up “forever.” That is, it is a complete, eternal destruction.
Wow! For the Christian, that can only be a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Jesus. For it was when Jesus died on the cross that humanity’s sin and death were defeated once and for all. And notice that this is for “all peoples” (v. 7). Then “God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” That is such a tender picture. Isaiah could have simply said that God will remove the sorrow connected with death. But he pictures God tenderly wiping the tears from each face. Notice that he also will take away the “disgrace” or “reproach” of his people. Those are the results when death is conquered and we feast on eternal life. Praise the Lord!
In the last section of chapter 25, Isaiah returns to the theme of joy expressed because of God’s salvation. Notice the personal element again in verse nine: “This is our God.” Notice also that the faithful remnant had a confident expectation that is now fulfilled. And that is the source of their joy. In verses 10b-12 Isaiah gives one more word of judgment. The same divine hand that will rest on Mt. Zion in blessing will strike down the “Moabites.” By “Moabites” Isaiah meant all of the nations that will suffer God’s judgment. The picture he paints is two-fold. First, he pictures them as sinking down into a kind of “quicksand” of barnyard dirt. And second, he uses a more conventional picture of their fortifications and walls being brought down.