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Commentary on Isaiah chapters 24-27

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons) DD

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 (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 (26.9), prior to the establishment of a world of everlasting peace and joy (11.1-9; 35.10; 66.22-23) which will include the resurrection from the dead of all who are truly His (26.19). In that world death will be no more (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 2.10-21; Ezekiel 38; 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 (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 (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, and in Revelation 20, where ‘a thousand years’ is the equivalent of the Old Testament ‘a thousand generations’ (Deuteronomy 7.9; 1 Chronicles 16.15; Psalm 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 (26.19) debars us from seeing it as pointing to anything other than the final consummation. Furthermore the use of ‘world’ (tebel) in 24.4 in parallel with ’erets serves to stress the worldwide vista (compare their combination in 34.1; 1 Samuel 2.8; 1 Chronicles 16.30; Job 34.13; Psalm 19.4; 24.1; 33.8; 89.11; 90.2 etc; Jeremiah 10.12; 51.15).

Certainly Isaiah regularly connects this passage with the first chapters of Genesis. He brings into account the curse given in the Garden (24.6) and the blighted earth (24.4) of Genesis 3.17-19; the windows of heaven (24.18) of Genesis 7.11; the everlasting covenant (24.5) of Genesis 9.16; the wine drinking that results in misery (24.7-9), as found in Genesis 9.20-27; the scattering of the inhabitants as at Babel (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 (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.

Analysis.

  • a Behold, Yahweh is making the earth waste, and desolating it, and is turning it upside down and scattering abroad its inhabitants (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, (2a).
  • 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 (2b).
  • a The earth will be utterly laid waste, and utterly plundered, for Yahweh has spoken this word (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.

24.1

‘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.

24.2-3

‘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 (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.

Analysis.

  • 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 (4-5a).
  • b Because they have transgressed the laws (torahs), changed the ordinance (statute), broken the everlasting covenant (5b).
  • 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 (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 (7-8).
  • e They will not drink wine with a song (9a).
  • e Strong drink will be bitter to those who drink it (9b).
  • 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 (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 (13).
  • b These will lift up their voice, they will shout. For the majesty of Yahweh they cry from the sea (14).
  • a Wherefore glorify Yahweh in the lights (fires), even the name of Yahweh the God of Israel, in the isles of the sea (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.

24.4

‘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 (verse 5 compare Genesis 3.17-19; 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.

24.5

‘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 (24.6) and the blighted earth (24.4) as compared with Genesis 3.17-19; the reference to the windows of heaven (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 (24.7-9), as compared with Genesis 9.20-27; and the reference to the scattering of the inhabitants as at Babel (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 (Psalm 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; 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 (6.13). ‘Those who find it are few’ (Matthew 7.14). Or it may simply indicate a depopulated world.

24.7-9

‘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’ (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 verses 4, 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.

24.10-12

‘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.

24.13

‘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 (verse 6) and the emptiness of the city (verses 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 17.6). In Israel the gleanings were left for the poor. These represent the remnant who escape from God’s judgments (compare 6.13). In the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are the poor, for the Kingly Rule of God is theirs’ (61.1; 66.2; Luke 6.20; Matthew 5.3).

24.14-15 ‘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 42.10-12; 44.23).

This was what God was aiming for (compare the holy seed in 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 (24.16-23).

Analysis.

  • a ‘From the uttermost part of the earth we have heard songs, “Glory to the Righteous One” (16a).
  • 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 (16b-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’ (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 (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 (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 (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.

24.16a ‘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 (verses 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 Psalm 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 41.2; 53.11).

24.16b

‘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’ (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.

24.17-18

‘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 (Psalm 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, 12; Judges 5.4-5; Psalm 68.8-9).

24.19-20

‘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 verses 1, 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.

24.21-22

‘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 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) 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).

24.23

‘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; 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 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 (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; 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, 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, 14).

Chapter 25 Exultation At The Triumph of Yahweh.

In contrast to the heavenly Jerusalem which has been established ‘the world city’, which represents man in rebellion against God will be destroyed. It will become a heap, a ruin, a ‘no city’. In contrast God’s people will be fully catered for with an abundance of good things, and for them death will be removed for ever. They will enjoy the final triumph, while those who like Moab rejected the opportunity of joining with the people of God, will be trodden down in the dungpit.

Yahweh Will Bring Down ‘The City’ With all Its Anti-God Significance And Will Uphold His People and Defeat Death So That They Rise Again (25.1-8).

Analysis.

  • a O Yahweh, you are my God, I will exalt you, I will give thankful praise to your name, for you have done wonderful things, counsels of old in faithfulness and truth (1)
  • b For you have made of a city a heap, of a defenced city a ruin, a palace of strangers to be no city, it will never be built. Therefore will the strong people glorify you, the city of the terrible nations will fear you (2-3).
  • c For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress (4a).
  • c A refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against a wall (4b).
  • b As the heat in a dry place, you will bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat by the shadow of a cloud, the song of the terrible will be brought low, and in this mountain will Yahweh of hosts make to all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined (5-6).
  • a And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering (shroud) that is cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He has swallowed up death for ever, and the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from off all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from off all the earth, for Yahweh has said it (7-8).

In ‘a’ Yahweh is to be praised because He has done wonderful things, things declared from of old. and in the parallel He will do a new thing, an even greater wonder, for He will destroy death, removing tears and reproach and bring His people everlasting life. In ‘b’ the strong will glorify Him and the terrible will fear Him and all that belonged to the terrible will be a heap and a ruin, and in the parallel the song of the terrible will be brought low, but those who are Yahweh’s will feast with Him luxuriously. In ‘c’ and parallel all this is because Yahweh is the refuge and strength of His people.

25.1-3

‘O Yahweh, you are my God, I will exalt you,
I will give thankful praise to your name,
For you have done wonderful things,
Counsels of old in faithfulness and truth.
For you have made of a city a heap,
Of a defenced city a ruin.
A palace of strangers to be no city.
It will never be built.
Therefore will the strong people glorify you,
The city of the terrible nations will fear you.’

The song is a song of triumph at the victory of Yahweh as described in 24.23, seen as looking back on His powerful activity in history and exulting in what He has done and giving Him thankful praise. He has done ‘wonderful things’, mighty wonders, carrying out His wise plans (counsel) which were from of old, faithfully and honourably.

Note the emphasis on His sovereignty throughout history. At the end it will be seen that He has carried through what He planned from the beginning, faithfully and truly fulfilling His covenant.

For He has brought down ‘the city’ which stood for all that was against God, the city of wastedness, of emptiness (24.10) (Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and so also are Nineveh, and Tyre, and Thebes, and Rome). It has been made a heap and a ruin. It is no more. Such is the palace of those who refuse to become one of God’s people, who remain strangers to Him and to them. They will be a ‘no city’. They will dwell among the ruins.

From the beginning the ‘city’, whether Cain’s city (a tent or cave encampment - Genesis 4.17) or Babel (Genesis 11.1-9), has been seen as in opposition to God. When men gather together it is usually to do mischief. They begin to exert themselves against their fellowmen, and to indulge themselves in idle luxury and engage in evil behaviour.

That is why after the building of Babel and the scattering of mankind God is seen as turning to one who had no continuing city, to Abraham the friend of God, a pilgrim and stranger in the earth (Hebrews 11.9-10; 13.14; James 2.23). Even Jerusalem, the concept of which was to build a city of God, turned bad (1.21), and has had to be replaced by a heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 11.16; 12.22; 13.14; Galatians 4.26).

So in this cry of triumph is a recognition that all cities oppose God and His people and are therefore doomed (26.5). The city is ever a symbol of man’s opposition to God. It includes Nineveh, and Tyre, and eventually Rome. But especially Babylon with all that it stood for. It will be destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

This will cause strong nations to stand in awe of Him and give Him full credit, the city of terrible nations will fear Him. These strong and terrible nations are the peoples powerful enough to establish empires, and to conquer nations. They too will have their city which will also be destroyed. By this they will recognise His mighty power, and fear. For they too will be doomed.

It should be noted here that this is not referring to a specific city. It is referring to all cities, the places to which men looked for refuge. In that day there will be nothing for poeple to look to who have not looked to Yahweh..

25.4

‘For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
A stronghold to the needy in his distress,
A refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat,
When the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against a wall.’

In contrast to thos other cities, to His own, God is not just a city, but an enduring and impregnable stronghold. This is another reason for Isaiah’s exultation, because of what Yahweh has been and is for those who trust in Him, for the poor and the needy. ‘The poor’ is often a description indicating those who are faithful to God. They see earthly things as of no value. They have nothing else to trust in but God (Zephaniah 3.12; Psalm 72.13; 82.4; Matthew 5.3). But He will be seen to have been their stronghold, somewhere where they could enter and be safe. He will be to them as a refuge from the storm, as a shadow where they can shelter from the burning heat, when the great trials of life come on them (compare ‘the Man’ in 32.2). The picture of the storm wind, picking up the sand and battering a wall like a sand blaster, is a vivid one, and illustrates the effect of invading ‘terrible’ enemies on those who are their victims. But in it all God will be a protection to His own, and they can find strength and comfort in Him (even against the great Enemy).

25.5

‘As the heat in a dry place,
You will bring down the noise of strangers,
As the heat by the shadow of a cloud,
The song of the terrible will be brought low.’

Yahweh will be a protection to His own, but to others He will be like a searing heat. The first picture is of those who are ‘strangers’ to God’s people, aliens, wilting in the burning, exhausting heat in an arid land, so that their commotion and activity against His people subsides as they struggle with the impact of the Yahweh produced heat. But when cloud cover comes they are no better off, for the second picture is of the heat being reduced (brought low) by the effect of a cloud, but this but points to the song of prospective invaders being similarly reduced because they are left with nothing to sing about. There will be a cloud over their lives.

25.6 ‘And in this mountain will Yahweh of hosts make to all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.’

And finally, ‘in this mountain’. This is the mountain of Yahweh’s people, in earthly terms the hill country stretching from north to south (regularly called ‘the mountain’), His ‘holy mountain’ (11.9), God’s land, the picture of His eternal inheritance, with its focal point in Mount Zion (2.2-3; 24.23). In this mountain, in contrast to the searing heat of verse 5, Yahweh will provide a great and luxurious feast for His own from among all peoples (compare 40.11; Ezekiel 34.23 and see Exodus 24.11 which was a symbol of what was to come). Wine on the lees is when the wine has settled down, with the sediment, ‘the lees’, falling to the bottom. This is wine ready for consumption. The fat things full of marrow represent all that is good to eat. The whole idealistic picture is often called ‘the Messianic banquet’, the time of good things for God’s people.

And when Christ came He did provide for man the perfect feast in the hill country of Israel, firstly in the feeding of the crowds and then by the feast of Himself, a feast which replaced the manna and was sufficient for all (John 6.32-35). He provided the good wine (John 2.1-11), which pointed to what He was and what He had come to do. Indeed He often likened the Kingly Rule of God to a feast in His parables (e.g. Luke 14.15-24). And His own will finally feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19.9), when the final everlasting feast will begin in the new Jerusalem, Mount Zion (Hebrews 12.22). They will drink of the water of life freely (Revelation 21.6). The whole idea is brought out again in Revelation 21.1-7.

25.7-8 ‘And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering (shroud) that is cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He has swallowed up death for ever, and the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from off all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from off all the earth, for Yahweh has said it.’

This too will be ‘in this mountain’. That these verses can in the end only refer to the everlasting kingdom comes out here in this remarkable revelation. He Who has done wonderful things will now perform His greatest wonder. Death will be defeated! But that destruction of the veil of death was indeed accomplished ‘in this mountain’ when Jesus Christ was offered up as a sacrifice and raised again in newness of life, defeating death for ever and taking away from His true people the very fear of death (Hebrews 2.14-15). But the prime meaning of the sentence lies in what that accomplished in the everlasting kingdom.

Death is seen to be like a shroud cast over the peoples, like a mourning veil spread over the nations, a dark shadow over all men, but in the mountain of Yahweh, the place where Yahweh’s people will finally be gathered, there will be no more death. Death will have been swallowed up for ever. Mourning will be a thing of the past. All tears will have been removed by the sovereign Lord, Yahweh. Their reproach will be taken away. For death is the wages of sin, therefore no more death reveals that they have become sinless in God’s eyes, and no more a reproach. The sentence of Eden has been reversed. This is Yahweh’s promise. He has given His word, and His word will bring it about.

The background to the seed thought may be the Canaanite myth of the death of Moth (‘Death’), the killer of Baal (‘Lord’), which results in Baal living again, but it is only used as illustration. But this is not myth. Here there is no thought of yearly repetition or connection with fertility. It rises far above that. Death as a reality is seen as defeated by the Lord Yahweh once for all, and swallowed up, an event never needing to be repeated.

This too found partial fulfilment in the first coming of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, Who gave men eternal life as something they could enjoy in the present (John 5.24-25), and will receive in its final fulfilment at His second coming (John 5.28-29; 1 Thessalonians 4.14-17). For He came as the resurrection and the life so that men may live and not die (John 11.25-26). And it will come to completeness when those who hear His voice come alive again, both immediately in experience, and then by the resurrection at the last day (John 5.24-25, 28-29; 1 John 5.13; 1 Corinthians 15.42-49), when they will rise again with spiritual bodies. Death will be swallowed up for ever.

The Certainty of Yahweh’s Salvation and the Humiliation of Moab (25.9-26.2).

In that day when death is defeated His people will be glad and rejoice in His salvation, and sing of Him Who is their strong city in which they can be safe, while Moab and all who are like them will be trodden down in the dung. For Moab is the picture of all that is low, it is Yahweh’s washpot (Psalm 60.8). p> Analysis.

  • a And each will say in that day, “See, this is our God, we have waited for Him and He will save us. This is Yahweh, we have waited for Him. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (25.9).
  • b For in this mountain will the hand of Yahweh rest. And Moab will be trodden down in his place, even as straw is trodden down in the water of the dungpit (25.10).
  • c And he will spread out his hands in its midst, as the swimmer spreads out his hands to swim
  • c And He will lay low his pride, together with the craft of his hands (25.11).
  • b And the fortress of the fort of your high walls has He brought down, laid low and brought to the ground, even to the dust (25.12).
  • a In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah, “We have a strong city, He will appoint salvation for its walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps truth may enter in. You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in Yahweh for ever, for in Yah Yahweh, is an everlasting rock (literally ‘a rock of ages’)” (26.1-4)

In ‘a’ ‘in that day’, the day that death is swallowed up for ever, will His people rejoice in Yahweh’s salvation, and in the parallel ‘in that day’ they will glory in the strong City which is their salvation. In ‘b’ Moab is trodden down in all his dirt, and in the parallel his fortress is laid low even to the dust. In ‘c’ he will try to swim in his dirt, and in the parallel Yahweh will bring him low.

25.9 ‘And each will say in that day,

“See, this is our God.
We have waited for him and he will save us.
This is Yahweh,
We have waited for him. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” ’

‘Each will say in that day’, that is in the day when death is in process of defeat. In that day each of God’s people will declare and proclaim their confidence in Him. They will declare that this is the work of their God, Yahweh, for Whom they have waited for so long. And they will declare their confidence and faith in the fact that they will share in His deliverance, and find gladness and rejoicing in it. Note the emphasis on God’s sovereignty in salvation. He has done it and they have waited on Him for it. Note the emphasis on ‘waiting’. It is a work of God and therefore has to be waited for, and not a work of man which can be accomplished by man. It is something that is received from Him as a gift.

25.10-12 ‘For in this mountain will the hand of Yahweh rest. And Moab will be trodden down in his place, even as straw is trodden down in the water of the dungpit. And he will spread out his hands in its midst, as the swimmer spreads out his hands to swim, and he will lay low his pride, together with the craft of his hands. And the fortress of the fort of your high walls has he brought down, laid low and brought to the ground, even to the dust.’

‘For in this mountain will the hand of Yahweh rest.’ There is a good case for tacking this on to the previous verse. Certainly it goes there in thought. It is confirming that in the mountain where God gave to His people the good things of verse 6, and in the mountain where He defeated death so that it was swallowed up for ever (verses 7-8), there the hand of Yahweh will rest. His work will have been done and His hand will no longer need to be active to save, just as at the end of His work of creation He rested on the seventh day with no further need to create (Exodus 20.11). It is the end of all things as a new heaven and earth open up in which dwell righteousness. The resting of the hand of Yahweh may also be seen as a resting on His land and on His people in love and protection.

But in contrast is Moab. Whereas God’s hand is on His people, His feet are on Moab. They too will be put in their place. They who refused the opportunity of uniting with the people of God and with the Davidic house (chapters 15-16), will be trodden down where they have remained, in the dungpit (the pit where men relieve themselves, the outside toilet). The picture is deliberately unpleasant. ‘Like straw trodden down in the water of the dungpit.’ The straw would be put down to cover the contents of the dungpit, but it soon gets trodden down and then fails in its purpose, becoming soiled with the contents of the dungpit. So will it be with Moab. Indeed their state will be such that they will try to swim in that water, becoming themselves also soiled by it. This is the pathetic lot of those who reject Yahweh and His offer of salvation. They finish up swimming in the dungpit!

We can compare how in the Psalms Moab is seen as Yahweh’s washpot (Psalm 60.8; 108.9). Perhaps Moab were particularly noted for behaviour seen as disgusting by others. The idea is the same. They receive the dirt and waste which is dispensed by others. They are the equivalent of the refuse pit.

Note the sudden move from the general to the particular. Since 24.1 all has been anonymous, but now Moab has been singled out. Isaiah wishes us to recognise that we are here dealing with real people, including Israel’s neighbours. But they have been selected because their behaviour in chapter 16 has illustrated what Isaiah is trying to say. It may also be because of their strength at this time and their resulting pride and belligerence against Judah.

‘And he will lay low his pride, together with the craft of his hands.’ Compare ‘we have heard of the pride of Moab’ (16.6) whereby they were too proud to accept God’s offer to unite with His people. Now that pride will be laid low in the dungpit, along with their hand-made gods, the craft of their hands.

How this will happen is then described more literally, ‘and the fortress of the high fort of your walls has He brought down, laid low and brought to the ground, even to the dust.’ Even their topmost towers, the strongpoint of their defences, will be brought down, made to collapse and finish up in the dust in the day when Yahweh acts. All will be levelled to the ground.

So Moab are here selected as an example because of their behaviour in chapter 16, and possibly because of their strong opposition to Judah, but in essence they represent all who have refused God’s offer of mercy. The whole rebellious world will be laid low, together with their hand-made gods.

Note the regular triplication, ‘brought down’, ‘laid low’ and ‘brought to the ground’ so typical of Isaiah.

The Song Of Deliverance And The Strong City (26.1-4).

The first four verses of chapter 26 with their description of the strong city of God with its walls and bulwarks of salvation, which is for the righteous who hold the truth to enter, connect back to 25.9, and are in contrast with 25.10-12. But they may also be contrasted with the lofty city of 26.5, which stands proudly on its summit but will be dragged to the ground. They thus connect the previous passage with what follows, and must be seen in the light of both.

26.1-4 ‘In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah,

We have a strong city,
He will appoint salvation,
For its walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
That the righteous nation which keeps truth,
May enter in.
You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on you,
Because he trusts in you.’
Trust in Yahweh for ever,
For in Yah Yahweh,
Is an everlasting rock (literally ‘a rock of ages’).

In direct contrast we are now lifted in this song from the devastated fortress of 25.12 to the strong city of 26.1, from the dungpit to the glory. Here the city where Yahweh is reigning (24.23) is described. They had waited for Him and He had saved them (25.9). Its walls and bulwarks are Salvation, for it is the city of salvation. The righteous (those who are true believers) enter it and will be saved (Proverbs 18.10). In that city there is no more death (25.8). It epitomises all that Isaiah has previously spoken of, the future ideal. All the redeemed flow to it from among all peoples (2.2). It will be under Yahweh’s wedding canopy and full of the presence of God Who will protect it from all harm (4.5-6). In New Testament terms it is Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12.22).

(We cannot too often reiterate that the prophets revealed heavenly truth in earthly terms. The conceptions that they presented were necessarily limited by their background and by the backgrounds of those to whom they spoke. They had no concept of life in Heaven. Thus they used picture language by which they said what they had to say. While we pride ourselves on the fact that we are above that, we too have to think in such pictures because the true reality is beyond us as well. That is why we speak of the city of gold with its pearly gates in Revelation 21. The reality is greater beyond all imagining).

‘In that day.’ This refers back to ‘in that day’ in 25.9 and has in mind the glorious day when death will be defeated in 25.8, and the future days of deliverance . ‘That day’ begins with the time when Jesus Christ was on earth, when the King had come, and when through His death and resurrection sin and death were vanquished once for all, and He began to feast His people on good things. They had waited for Him and He had come. Those were the beginning of the days of deliverance. From then on those who entered under the Kingly Rule of God would be like those who entered the city of salvation. They would enter into the fold of God’s protection and care. They would know that for them death had lost its sting. They would become a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden (Matthew 5.14). This is thus a city that can be entered now by those who come in submission to the King Messiah. But its final fulfilment will be in the new heaven and the new earth, when death is no more, and when His people live in everlasting triumph.

‘We have a strong city (literally ‘a city of strength’), He will appoint salvation for its walls and bulwarks.’ Compare 60.18; Psalm 48.12-13. This city is in contrast with all others. Isaiah has described the ruin of the world in terms of a city. It is the city of wasteness, wasted and empty (24.10), a heap, a ruin, a ‘no city’ (25.2). Babylon will be a wasted city never to be rebuilt (13.19-22; 14.23), Philistia is a city that has melted away (14.31) (in contrast with Zion - 15.32), Moab’s cities are laid waste (15.1-2; 25.12), the city of Damascus is a ruinous heap (17.1), all the glory of Kedar will fail (21.16), the earthly city of Jerusalem is helpless and defenceless (22.9), a harlot, the home of murderers (1.21); Tyre is a harlot city (23.17). Only God’s city will triumph and be perpetually strong. It will be the city of deliverance, the city of salvation. It is the hope of the world. But as salvation is ‘its walls and bulwarks’ it is clearly not too literal a city, it is the place where the redeemed are, wherever they are, God’s stronghold. From this point of view Jesus Christ is God’s city and all who are truly ‘in Him’ are saved.

‘Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps truth may enter in.’ Compare Psalm 118.19; Revelation 22.14. The city has been prepared by God. Man has had no part in it. But now the gates are flung open so that ‘the righteous nation that keeps truth’ may enter in. None can enter who are unrighteous, none can enter who do not hold to the truth, there will in no wise enter in anything that defiles (Revelation 21.27). But the redeemed can enter, for they have been ‘put in the right’ by God (2 Corinthians 5.21). They have been vindicated. They have been accounted righteous because of the sacrifice of their representative, the Servant of God (53.11). The ‘righteous nation’ represents the holy seed (6.13), purified and refined (4.3-4), but it also incorporates God’s own people from all nations, for they too can enter in (2.2-3). This is the ‘ideal’, the spiritual, the heavenly Jerusalem, entered now by those who come under the Kingly Rule of God, and which one day they will enjoy in its perfection everlastingly. And for them death will have been swallowed up for ever (35.8).

‘You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ It is a city entered by faith. All who truly respond to God march in. They are transferred from the ‘powerful rule of darkness’ to being under ‘the Kingly Rule of His Beloved Son’ (Colossians 1.13). And those who dwell in that city have their minds stayed on God, their trust is fully in Him, and thus they enjoy perfect peace while they are in such a state, because God Himself will keep them in it. If we do not enjoy perfect peace we must look to what our hearts are stayed on, and to what we trust in. For if our hearts are stayed on Him we will enjoy perfect peace, whatever the world throws at us, the ‘peace which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4.7).

When the troops of Assyria surrounded Jerusalem Isaiah could afford to laugh and rejoice. For he knew that they could never enter it. God had made it a temporary ‘city of deliverance’. But many in that city were terror-stricken and distraught. They were just as safe as Isaiah was, but because they did not believe it they walked in fear. If you are a Christian and remember that your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.4) you too will be able to rejoice in the face of the Enemy. For there he cannot touch you. All he can do is yell at you over the wall and sink your spirits. So your peace and your strength will depend on whether you trust God.

‘Trust in Yahweh for ever, for in Yah Yahweh, is an everlasting rock.’ His people are now urged to trust Yahweh for ever because He is an everlasting, unfailing rock, He is a firm foundation on which to build, and firm and strong in the day of trouble. The city with walls and bulwarks of salvation is founded on the everlasting rock.

The picture of the ‘rock of ages’ might also remind Israel of how God had twice provided them with water from a rock in the wilderness (Exodus 17.6; Numbers 20.11). Thus the rock also spoke to them of a source of life-giving water (48.21; Psalm 78.15, 16, 20, 35; Psalm 105.41).

But here the symbol of the rock primarily indicates firm dependability (Deuteronomy 32.4), strength (17.10; Psalm 31.2-3; 62.7), shelter (32.2) and permanence (it is a ‘rock of ages’). It is an idea regularly used of God elsewhere (Deuteronomy 32.15, 18, 30; 32.31; 1 Samuel 2.2; 2 Samuel 22.2-3, 32, 47; 23.3; Psalm 18.2, 31, 46; 28.1; 42.9; 62.6; 71.3; 89.26; 92.15; 94.22; 95.1) although rarely by the prophets other than Isaiah.

Note again the use of Yah Yahweh, emphasising that He is their covenant God. The repetition stresses the significance of the name. He will be everything to His people.

Chapter 26.5-21 The Righteous and the Unrighteous

The ways of the righteous and of the unrighteous are now compared, and their destinies contrasted. For the unrighteous the grave with its shadowy half-existence, for the righteous, resurrection to new hope. It ends with the warning that meanwhile God’s anger will finally be revealed in the world, from which the righteous must hide themselves.

The Contrast Between The Lofty City and The Way of the Righteous (26.5-10).

Those in the lofty city have no time for righteousness. Even if shown favour or set in a land of uprightness they will behave wickedly and ignore God’s majesty. In contrast the truly righteous seek Him with their whole heart.

Analysis.

  • a For He has brought down those who dwell on high, the lofty city. He lays it low, He lays it low even to the ground, He brings it even to the dust (5).
  • b The foot will tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy (6).
  • c The way of the righteous is uprightness (altogether right), you (singular) who are upright weigh up the path of the righteous (7).
  • d Yes, in the way of your judgments, O Yahweh, have we waited for you. To your name and to your renown (memorial, what is remembered) is the desire of our inner self (8).
  • d With my very life (nephesh) have I desired you in the night, yes, with my spirit within me will I seek you early (9a).
  • c For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (9b).
  • b Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness. In the land of uprightness he will deal wrongfully, and will not behold the majesty of Yahweh (10a).
  • a Yahweh, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see. But they will see your zeal for your people and be put to shame, yes, fire will devour your adversaries (10b).

    In ‘a’ we have the lofty city, which is in contrast with the city of salvation, and has to be brought low, and in the parallel it is because when His hand is lifted up its inhabitants do not see, but they will be made to see when Yahweh in zeal for His people sends fire to devour them. In ‘b’ the toppled city will be trodden on by the poor and needy, God’s righteous ones, while in the parallel the judgment on the city’s inhabitants is that even when favour is shown to them in their unrighteousness they will not learn righteousness or behold the righteousness of Yahweh. In ‘c’ the way of the righteous is uprightness and the upright are called on to judge the path of the righteous, and in the parallel passage when Yahweh’s judgments are in the earth its inhabitants learn righteousness. In ‘d’ the desire of the inner self of the righteous is to Yahweh’s name memory, and in the parallel they desire Him in the night and seek Him early. Note the repetition of ‘yes’.

    The Lofty City Destroyed (26.5-6).

    26.5-6

    ‘For he has brought down those who dwell on high,
    The lofty city.
    He lays it low,
    He lays it low even to the ground,
    He brings it even to the dust.
    The foot will tread it down,
    Even the feet of the poor,
    And the steps of the needy.’

    In contrast to the strong city is the city of pride, the lofty city, the city that represents the world that has rejected God, perched on its height and seeming to be secure until Yahweh brings it down (see 25.2, 12). But bring it down He does, it is brought to the dust, for it despises righteousness (verse 10). It is in direct contrast with the heavenly city of God. The poor and the needy will trample on it, (again a sign that we must not take the pictures too literally).

    The idea is that the poor and the needy, those who trust in Yahweh, will come out as the victors while the lofty city will be no more. The poor and needy possess it because its inhabitants had not responded to God’s attempts to introduce them to righteousness (verse 10). But the victory is gained by Yahweh as the description of the victors especially brings out.

    Note that the ‘for’ connects it with what has gone before. The lofty city is in contrast to the strong city. The downfall of the one confirms and ensures the strength of the other. This picture of two cities is descriptive. For so long it was the world city that seemed to triumph and prosper, and the city of God seemed to be as nothing. The world city (whether Nineveh, or Babylon, or Rome, or whoever) stood proudly on its lofty peak and held the world in its sway, but now it is finally brought down, it is humbled, it is brought to the dust, while the humble city of God is seen to be the one whose walls are truly protective, and which finally triumphs. Compare Revelation 17-18 with 21.

    Isaiah may, of course, have especially in mind here the city that exalted itself, Babylon in all its pride, even in his own time (13.19), but only because that is in his eyes the epitome of the pride of all great cities.

    The Way of The Righteous And Judgments on the Unrighteous (26.7-11).

    26.7

    ‘The way of the righteous is uprightness (altogether right),
    You (singular) who are upright weigh up the path of the righteous.’

    This makes clear that the lofty city was not upright, for this is in contrast to it. It is those who are righteous before God, accepted by God within and through His covenant, and reconciled to Him, who are upright, and walk in uprightness. They are altogether right. And their path is weighed up by the Upright One. He ponders it and directs it. This does not mean that it is made easy, but that it is made traversable.

    26.8 ‘Yes, in the way of your judgments, O Yahweh, have we waited for you. To your name and to your renown (memorial, what is remembered) is the desire of our inner self.’

    From this point until 26.18 is expressing himself in a prayer to God as his thoughts have been turned upwards. The ‘yes’ shows that Isaiah is here amplifying the previous words. This suggests that ‘judgments’ here means the laws that He has revealed, what He has judged to be and expressed as right (Deuteronomy 4.45), rather than the judgments that He carries out, although both are possible. The thought would seem therefore to be that they have chosen to walk in the ways that He has laid out, waiting constantly on Him. This is because their wholehearted desire is towards His Name, what He essentially is revealed to be, and towards His Renown, what they remember of His goodness and power in the past.

    But the thought might be that while His judgments have been abroad in the earth they have waited patiently in quiet trust on God. This might be seen as tying in better with the next verse, but there may in fact be a deliberate passing from the one meaning to the other, for the judgments that He reveals to His own result in His judgments on those who reject them.

    Waiting is a word often used of the attitude of God’s people towards God. It is an admission that there is nothing that they can do at that moment for themselves to achieve their longings. Yet such waiting is the first requirement for spiritual blessing, for until men have admitted that they cannot save themselves, and have looked to Him in confident trust, God cannot save them. This message indeed lies at the bottom of all that Isaiah is saying in this first half of his book.

    26.9-10

    ‘With my very life (nephesh) have I desired you in the night,
    Yes, with my spirit within me will I seek you early,
    For when your judgments are in the earth,
    The inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
    Let favour be shown to the wicked,
    Yet will he not learn righteousness.
    In the land of uprightness he will deal wrongfully,
    And will not behold the majesty of Yahweh.’

    Note the gradual personalisation that is taking place. ‘The way of the just (impersonal)-- we have waited for you (we all) - with my inner life have I (I myself) desired you.’ As Isaiah writes he cannot but come down to his own wonderful experience of God. What he is writing about comes from the very depths of his own experience. This must be so for each one of us. Theology is fine, but it must become personalised in our own experience or it is dead. Note also that Isaiah is conscious of the spirit and inner self within him. He is not trying to define man’s nature, but he is very conscious of his own inner spiritual nature, and the spiritual nature of man.

    So as Isaiah considers the way of the righteous, and as he ponders the response of God’s own people to Him and His revealed instruction, it comes home personally to him, and he seeks God night and morning. He desires God in the night, and he seeks Him early in the day.

    And this is because God’s judgments are in the earth, so that through them the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness. Here the emphasis of ‘judgments’ must be seen as on God’s activity as a result of man’s behaviour, for it is immediately contrasted with the fact that if favour is shown to the wicked he will not learn righteousness. So among other things it is the judgments of God taking place in the world which turn Isaiah’s heart towards God. Through them he too is learning righteousness.

    This reminds us that we often learn more through the hard times than we ever do when the way is easy, for tribulation produces patient endurance, and patient endurance produces experience, and experience produces hope (Romans 5.3-4) and always for His own it results in the love of God being shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to them (Romans 5.5).

    It also reminds us that God has a purpose in His judgments, even for those who are not His own. Their purpose is that men might consider their ways, might face up to right and wrong, might be forced to face up to God. When all is going well spiritual lethargy results, but when things go wrong men begin to think again.

    But sadly when favour is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness from it. Rather he complacently goes on his way, and even in the land of uprightness he deals wrongfully. His nature reveals itself, whatever his environment might be. God’s favour does not move his heart, nor does he through it behold the majesty of Yahweh. Rather it is hidden from him. He regards neither goodness nor God.

    But let God’s judgments come in the world and then the same men do begin to think. They begin, however formally, to seek God. They begin to consider their ways. They begin to consider Him. It may not last long beyond the worst of the judgments, it may quickly die away when things begin to improve, but at least it has given them an opportunity to consider the truth about Him, and even to come to know Him if they would. And thankfully some do, even though the majority quickly slip back to their sinful and complacent ways once the judgment is over, forgetting that one day there will also be a final judgment (verse 11).

    What Yahweh Has Done For His People And the End of Their Enemies (26.11-15).

    As in 25.1-5, 26.8-19 is a prayer as Isaiah has turned his face upwards towards God. And he now delights in Yahweh’s activity on behalf of His people. He bewails the fact that although God has been in action the world has not seen it. But he is confident that they will be made to see it because of what God does for His people. While the nations and their gods will decrease, God will increase His own people who have in the past shamefully submitted themselves to other lords because of their unbelief. He will act on their behalf to bring them peace, a peace that they will enjoy because of what He is doing for them and because of their confidence of what He is doing on their behalf

    Analysis.

    • Yahweh, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see. But they will see your zeal for your people and be put to shame, yes, fire will devour your adversaries. Yahweh, you will ordain peace for us, for you have also wrought all our works for us (11-12).
    • b O Yahweh our God, other lord’s besides you have had dominion over us, but by you only will we make mention of your name (13).
    • c They are dead, they will not live (14a).
    • c They are shades, they will not rise (14b).
    • b Therefore you have visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish (14c).
    • a You have increased the nation, O Yahweh, you have increased the nation. You are glorified. You have enlarged all the borders of the land (15).

    In ‘a’ Yahweh has revealed His zeal for His people and has ordained peace for them and wrought all their works on their behalf, and in the parallel He has caused both their numbers and their borders to expand so that He is glorified. In ‘b’ they had had other lords whom they had acknowledged, although now they had turned from them, and in the parallel Yahweh had visited those lords and destroyed them and made their memories perish. In ‘c’ and parallel those other lords are now dead meat.

    26.11 ‘Yahweh, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see. But they will see your zeal for your people and be put to shame, yes, fire will devour your adversaries.’

    Speaking to Yahweh he reminds Him that even though His hand is lifted up in judgment and they have to consider His ways, the world fails to see the truth. They do not see His majesty, His glory, or His holiness, they do not see their own sinfulness before Him. They are blind to the truth. They do not learn (verse 10), they continue in wrongdoing (deal wrongfully - verse 10), they do not see. Their hearts are set in their own ways. They are too ‘lofty’.

    But in the end there is something that they will have to see, although it will be too late. They will see what Yahweh does for His people. This may mean that they will see how protective He has been towards them, how zealous towards them (see verse 15), and will be ashamed, but it undoubtedly includes the fact that they will see the zeal on behalf of His people which has resulted in their own fiery destruction. Their sense of shame will then be because of the fate that they have suffered. At the back of these latter phrases there may be in mind the idea of the casting out of the bodies of lawbreakers onto the permanent fires outside Jerusalem as a mark of shame (66.24).

    26.12 ‘Yahweh, you will ordain peace for us, for you have also wrought all our works for us.’

    Looking back on the past His true people can, in contrast with those in verse 11a, be confident about their future, because of His zeal on their behalf (verse 11b). They recognise that the past reveals that God has worked for them in total sovereignty. All that has been done in the past, all that has been accomplished, all that has been worthwhile, has been the result of His sovereign acts. Therefore they are confident that He will do the same in the future. He will establish them in peace (verse 3). For they will be in His strong city of peace (26.3). He will determine and guarantee for them a future of peace in the kingdom of peace (11.6-9) under the Prince of Peace (9.6). They are in His hands. They are confident therefore that His benefits to them will continue to increase, as they have done already (verse 15).

    This is the divine side of salvation. It is God Who is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13), and it is He Who, because He is faithful, will confirm us to the end that we may be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1.8-9).

    26.13-14

    ‘O Yahweh our God,
    Other lord’s besides you have had dominion over us,
    But by you only will we make mention of your name.
    They are dead, they will not live,
    They are shades, they will not rise.
    Therefore you have visited and destroyed them,
    And made all their memory to perish.’

    He confirms to Yahweh that they are deeply aware that in the past they have been subservient to other lords, both the human lords, and the divinities they represented. Their history was full of the fact, from Pharaoh onwards. It should not have been. It need not have been. But they had failed to trust in Yahweh, and so it was. And they had been instructed by some of those lords that in their public worship they must recognise that subservience to their other lord, by worshipping his gods. Every conqueror required that his own gods take pride of place in the place of worship. And some of these gods had been set up in the Temple, so that even when they had worshipped Yahweh it had been under the shadow of other gods. It had been deeply distressing and humiliating

    But now that will be no more (as he prays he is seeing the future as already certain). From now on their worship of Yahweh will be pure. Other lords and gods will be excluded. Yet it is only ‘by Him’, by His activity, and because He has wrought on their behalf, that this has become possible. It is because He has graciously delivered them, that mention will be made of His name. Had He not held them in His hand, had He not wrought for them, they would have had no hope. But He has delivered them by His sovereign power and that is why they can now call on Him and His name. They are in this position simply because He, and He alone, has saved them.

    Indeed the frailty and unworthiness for worship of these other lords has been made abundantly clear in that they are now dead. They have become but ‘shades’, they are but shadows in the grave of what they were. They will not live again. They will not rise from their graves. They are permanently gone. Yahweh has visited and destroyed them. See especially 14.15-20 of the king of Babylon; Ezekiel 32.18-30 of Egypt and many nations. And their gods have gone with them. Even the memory of them has perished. They are no more.

    26.15

    ‘You have increased the nation, O Yahweh,
    You have increased the nation. You are glorified.
    You have enlarged all the borders of the land.’

    In contrast, because of Yahweh’s intervention on their behalf, because of His zeal shown on their behalf (verse 11), whereas their adversaries have been destroyed, their own nation will be increased, for Yahweh will do it, and He will gradually extend their borders. He had done it in the past and He will do it again. They were especially conscious at this time of how small their land had become under Assyrian lordship as a result of their rebellions (at one stage probably less than twenty square kilometres). But that would all be changed again when Yahweh acted. The borders of the land would be enlarged, Israel would be restored, Yahweh would be glorified.

    That it so happened to some extent in history, history itself reveals. The people did continually increase from small beginnings and the land was gradually enlarged in the inter-testamental period. But the picture here goes beyond that. For in this chapter we are considering final consequences. So the picture here is more of Yahweh’s triumph than of an emphasis on the land, and goes well beyond history. It includes the fact that the numbers of the people of God would be multiplied and their land extended when the Gospel went out to the nations, but that was just a picture of the greater glory yet to come. For His people will finally prosper and flourish to the glory of Yahweh in a new heaven and a new earth (66.22) in the everlasting kingdom when they will be numerous indeed, a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7.9), and when the land will truly be enlarged. This was what Abraham and his descendants were really looking for (Hebrews 11.10-16). Indeed as we shall shortly see (verse 19) Isaiah has in mind the resurrection from the dead of God’s people which will marvellously increase the nation. So this can only finally refer to the everlasting kingdom, when death has been swallowed up (25.8).

    For In Contrast To The Leaders of the Nations God’s People Will Live and Rise Again While before This The World Must Face Its Judgment (26.16-21).

    Isaiah now makes the context of what he is saying quite clear. He is referring to the time of the consummation of all things when all who are His will be resurrected, when death will be no more (25.7-8), and when God will have triumphed over all. But it is not yet. His people having suffered must wait a little while more for the troubles to pass and for God to carry out His judgments before they enter into their own (verse 20).

    These words must have come as a wonderful new revelation to his hearers. We have had revealed to us so much about the resurrection that we cannot even begin to conceive of what the impact of Isaiah’s words must have been. For while there had been hints about the possibility in the Psalms, never before had the idea of a future life for all those who had died faithful to God been so clearly proclaimed. And yet as with all prophecy at this time it was in terms of a resurrection to life on earth. Any other portrayal would have been to involve people’s thoughts in the mythical world of the gods.

    Analysis.

    • a O Yahweh, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a whisper (choked plea?) when your chastening was on them. Just as a woman with child, who draws near the time of her delivery, is in pain and cries out in her agonies, so have we been before you, O Yahweh. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were produced wind. We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.’
    • b Your dead will live, my dead bodies will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust.
    • b For your dew is as the dew of lights, and the earth will cast forth the shades.
    • a Come, my people, enter into your chambers and shut your doors about you. Hide yourself for a little moment until the indignation is gone by. For behold Yahweh comes forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth also will disclose her blood, and will not cover her slain
    .

    In ‘a’ God’s people have been through a great time of trouble and pain but are aware that they have produced nothing and have accomplished nothing. They have not been able to deliver themselves, nor to bring down the inhabitants of the inhabited world. In the parallel they must hide themselves for Yahweh will now do what they have failed to do. The inhabitants of the earth will now be punished for their iniquity, with the spilling of their blood being clear for all to see. Meanwhile in ‘b’ His people have the assurance that those of them who have died faithful to Him will live again. They will arise and sing for joy. And in the parallel the dew that will fall on them will be a shining light, and the earth will cast them forth (to live again).

    26.16-18 ‘Yahweh, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a whisper (choked plea?) when your chastening was on them. Just as a woman with child, who draws near the time of her delivery, is in pain and cries out in her agonies, so have we been before you, O Yahweh. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were produced wind. We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.’

    Isaiah has no false illusions about his people. Any such illusions had been removed in chapter 6. But he looks back at their history and feels their pain. The ‘they’ (in contrast with ‘we’) has in mind the people of the past. Possibly he has especially in mind Exodus 2.23 and the book of Judges (see Judges 3.9, 15; 4.3; 6.6) when again and again His people had cried to Him in their bondage and pleaded for deliverance, and when He had had to chasten them again and again for forgetting Him and seeking other gods. Then they had truly suffered like a woman in childbirth, and they had ‘visited’ Him. The verb ‘visited’ is appropriate. It was not a permanent seeking, but a temporary one. Each time it was only a visit, not a long stay. That was the problem. And that was why they had never got to the point of producing anything worthwhile.

    The word for ‘whisper’ is an unusual one, usually used of whispering enchantments. Perhaps Isaiah was trying to convey his view of the unspiritual nature of their cries. They treated God as though He was merely a magical response to their needs. Or perhaps it was to bring out the strangled nature of their prayers. Compare 29.4.

    But the same situation is still true. The people now are just like the people then, and Isaiah reverts to ‘we’. The picture is vivid. They have suffered as in childbirth, but they have only produced wind. It has been a phantom pregnancy. They have not accomplished anything. They have wrought no deliverance for themselves, and none of the inhabitants of the world have fallen. They have failed in Yahweh’s purposes. They are still enduring pain and anxiety without any fruit. Their condition is hopeless. No wonder he had described them as a people of unclean lips, for they had broken His covenant (6.5). So if God enlarges the nation it will not be because they have somehow deserved it. And yet, remarkably He will do so. It will be all of His undeserved favour, His grace.

    ‘Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.’ The root for the word ‘fallen’ is elsewhere used in the form of a noun (nephel) to indicate a miscarriage, and ‘untimely birth’ (Job 3.16; Ecclesiastes 6.3). Thus ‘to fall’ may well indicate childbirth, which would admirably fit the context of birthpangs. This would then be a confession that they had produced none of the fruit among the inhabitants of the world that they should have. They had not brought any of them to spiritual birth.

    But more likely the thought is simply that Israel’s rise could only result from the ‘fall’ of their adversaries into the grave, and they have failed in that too. They have been powerless to deliver themselves or inflict injury on their enemies.

    We can compare for this use of ‘fallen’ how the king of Babylon is described as having fallen into the grave (14.11-12, 15, 19), and Babylon is described forcibly as having ‘fallen’ along with her gods, broken into the ground (21.19), and thus becoming dust, a dual contrast to the next verse.

    26.19 ‘Your dead will live, my dead bodies will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust. For your dew is as the dew of lights, and the earth will cast forth the shades.’

    Yahweh gives His reply to Isaiah’s confession of the people’s guilt and unworthiness. And what a reply. They may have failed, but their God will not fail. Like a bolt from the blue comes the promise of the bodily resurrection of the true people of God. This is in direct contrast with verse 14 where the dead leaders of the nations would not live, and would not rise, but would remain in the grave, something which is stressed. It cannot therefore be seen as anything but literal, and a literal meaning is in fact required. Here the earth casts forth ‘the shades’ of His people because the dew of light has fallen on them. Such shades cannot be held back in the grave.

    A figurative ‘national resurrection’ simply meaning that Israel came back to God and were restored would be a poor contrast to verse 14, which did not simply mean that the lords of the nations would subside into anonymity. There the great stress was on the fact that they had literally died and would not live again. Life had been taken from them. Here therefore in startling contrast is the opposite situation. Physical death is contrasted with physical life. God’s people truly will live again.

    This stark contrast is in line with Isaiah’s emphasis on such stark contrasts. The mountain of Yahweh would attract many nations and would result in worldwide peace (2.2-4), while the day of Yahweh would come with dreadful intensity and result in terror and the shaking of the earth (2.10-21). Ahaz had refused a miraculous and marvellous sign, and so God would give him an even more miraculous and marvellous sign (chapter 7.11-14). The strong city would arise and prosper permanently, the city of wastedness would fall into the dust (26.1, 5). Thus here there is the contrast that the leaders of the nations would die and would not live or rise again, but that God’s people will live and rise again, receiving new life.

    Previously Isaiah had spoken of victory over death (25.8) in preparation for this, but that could have referred to those living, with the suggestion that they would no more die. Here, however, the promise is unequivocally that the faithful who are already dead will live bodily, for ‘the earth will cast forth the shades’. And it was contextually necessary, otherwise the counter-argument could have been that the dead people of God had also permanently become shades. The force of the whole passage comes from the fact that they did not do so.

    So the failure of His people will be countermanded. In spite of their failure they will be raised from the dead. Even while they admitted that they were totally undeserving, God breaks in with the promise of their resurrection. For this was not something that they could deserve. It would be all of God’s mercy.

    It was only because it was so stupendous a thought that it had never risen before. Psalmists could not believe that death was the end for those who truly knew God, but they never articulated it in detail (see Psalm 16.10-11; 17.15; 23.6; etc). Enoch and Elijah were also seen as men who had never died, but they were not seen as rising from the dead. This is different. It builds on those examples but with new significance. All the righteous will live again.

    ‘Your dead will live, my dead bodies will arise.’ This is in direct contrast with ‘dead they will not live, shades they will not arise’ (verse 14). There they were shades, but here in the parallel phrases they are not described as shades but as dead bodies. There is a reality about them that survives. So these dead will live. They are awaiting the resurrection. ‘Your’ refers to Isaiah and Israel, ‘my’ refers to God. The dead belong to Israel, but their dead bodies are His, He retains control over them. Those who belong to Him, but only those who are His, will arise.

    ‘Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust.’ The lofty city was brought down to the dust (verse 5), but those brought down to the dust in death as a result of the activities of those from the lofty city will be raised from the dust. Their enemies could gloat in the fact that they had become just dust, no more to have any meaningful existence, but instead they can awake and sing, for new life is to be theirs. The original warning to man was that he was dust and because of his sin he would return to dust (Genesis 3.19). Thus for these who will rise again the curse has been removed.

    ‘For your dew is as the dew of lights, and the earth will cast forth the shades.’ Note the contrast between ‘lights’ and ‘shades’. Where light comes there can be no more shade. So just as the falling dew brings life to the earth, so does the dew of God’s light fall to bring life to His dead bodies, so that the earth casts them out. There is no place for that which is alive in the grave, or for shining lights among the shades. It wants nothing to do with life or light. The grave is for the shades of what men were.

    ‘The dew of lights’. The plural is probably a plural of intensity referring to intense light and divine light (compare Psalm 104.2). Thus we may see this as signifying ‘divine dew’, the dew of God’s pure light. Or it may especially refer to the light of life seen as dew (Job 3.16; Psalm 56.13). The Psalmist said that those who are dead will not see light (Psalm 49.19), but that is not true in this case, for the dew of God’s intense light will ensure that these men live again. Alternately there may be in mind the idea of the dew of morning (lights) as connected with the lifegiving manna (Exodus 16.14), but the former seems more likely as a contrast to the shades. However whichever way we take it the central thought is of lifegiving dew falling on the deceased chosen of God, as on dead vegetation, so that they live again (compare Hosea 14.5).

    As we consider this marvellous revelation we soon see that from the context it was required. Yahweh was calling His own to a great feast, where He would swallow up death for ever (25.6-8), resulting in entry into the strong city (26.1-2). But of what benefit the strong city for those who had died in God? Had they not gone the way of the leaders of the nations without hope (26.13-14)? Were they not lost to it? No, replies Isaiah, for they will rise again. It had to be. It was the final triumph. It was a doctrine waiting to happen.

    The Coming Indignation (26.20-21).

    Yahweh’s people have suffered pain and anxiety and failure. They admit to having achieved nothing. Now they have been promised resurrection. But it can only be when God has fulfilled His purposes. Thus now for a little while they are to hide themselves away while Yahweh does what they have been unable to do and finalises His work and judgment on the inhabited earth. What their pain has not achieved, Yahweh will now accomplish, the establishment of justice.

    We must not just transfer this warning to what we see as ‘the end of the age’ some time in the future. It was a word spoken to the faithful remnant in Isaiah’s day. It is a word spoken to Christians whenever they find themselves in a position where God’s judgments are being revealed in the world. Always His protecting hand will be with them. It is a reminder that as the world again and again faces its judgments God will be watching over His own. And each judgment and series of judgments will be ‘for a little while’. We can compare here Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4.17. ‘Our light affliction which is but for a moment works for us more and more abundantly an eternal weight of glory’. ‘For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be rvealed towards us’ (Romans 8.18). And yet it will apply even more as the end approaches.

    26.20-21 ‘Come, my people, enter into your chambers and shut your doors about you. Hide yourself for a little moment until the indignation is gone by. For behold Yahweh comes forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth also will disclose her blood, and will not cover her slain.’

    His people must hide themselves whenever His judgments are in the world, because what He will bring on the world in judgments because of His anger against sin is not for them. The glorious resurrection is coming, but before that final resurrection takes place the world must experience judgment. For ‘the wrath of God is continually revealed from Heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth by unrighteousness’ (Romans 1.18). Thus the resurrection of the righteous cannot come until the time of indignation is over, before God’s anger has been sufficiently revealed in His judgment on the world. Because His people have not brought home to the world His power and His judgment, He will do it Himself. And in the light of this God’s people are to enter their rooms and close the doors. They are to keep out of it. They are not to race into testing but to be prudent and sensible. There is no thought of cultivating martyrdom. For these will be times when God ‘comes from His place’ and punishes the world for their sinfulness and their evil behaviour, and God’s people have no part in it. No murder, whether judicial or private, will go unpunished. The earth that has received the blood of the murder victims will no longer hide it, nor cover up the murders. Rather it will disclose them. As with Abel the blood will cry to God for vengeance from the ground (see Genesis 4.8-12), and the earth itself will cooperate in drawing attention to the crimes. We can be sure that men’s sins will find them out. For when the holy Creator and judge of all men approaches, creation itself is ashamed of the sinfulness of man, and gladly plays its part in making it known. ‘Iniquity’ is the inward sinfulness of a man, the blood shed is the outward evidence of it.

    ‘Shut your doors.’ Compare here ‘open the gates’ (verse 2). There is a time for opening and a time for shutting, a time for marching and a time for hiding. There may be a hint here of Noah entering the Ark to hide from the indignation of the flood, when God shut them in.

    This is specifically not a time of tribulation for the people of God, for they are to take cover from it. It is a time when God’s wrath is poured out on the world. The Bible constantly anticipates tribulation for the world right up to the time of the end. Each generation experiences in one way or another the judgments of God, and each generation of Christians receives His protection. And it will so continue to the end. And once Yahweh has punished the world sufficiently for its iniquity, and given it sufficient time to repent (2 Peter 3.9), the resurrection can take place.

    Chapter 27 The Ministry and Triumph of God.

    In this chapter we will now learn of the defeat of all heavenly and earthly opponents, depicted in terms of the great monster Leviathan; followed by a description of God’s continued watch over His own true people; and a reference back to His purging of them through suffering. Following that there is a depiction of the world’s end in terms of the ruin of a once strong city; the one by one harvesting of His people, and the final gathering to God of His elect.

    The Destruction of the Great Serpent Monsters (27.1).

    In this one verse Yahweh declares the bringing about of His purpose of judgement on all who stand against Him, whether man or god, in fulfilment of 26.20-21. Some see this as a description of three monsters needing to be slain (representing the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Nile), others see it as one monster in a poetic threefold description. Either is possible. In them is summed up all evil empires under their evil masters, both earthly and heavenly.

    Analysis.

    • a In that day Yahweh with his sore and great and strong sword
    • b Will punish Leviathan the swift (or ‘fleeing’) serpent (nachash)
    • b And Leviathan the crooked (many-coiled) serpent (nachash)
    • a And he will slay the dragon (tannin) that is in the sea.

    27.1 ‘In that day Yahweh with his sore and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the swift (or ‘fleeing’) serpent (nachash), and Leviathan the crooked (many-coiled) serpent (nachash), and he will slay the monster (tannin) that is in the sea.’

    ‘In that day’ here has in mind any time when God acts to deliver His people, but specially to the final days of God’s indignation on the peoples, included in 26.20, when all enemies must finally be dealt with, and when the powerful triune sword of Yahweh will slay all the enemies of God’s people, who are symbolised in the form of great serpent-like monsters. In mind surely must be the sinister being who lay behind the serpent (nachash) in Genesis 3. We can parallel the description here with Revelation 19.11-21 taken with Revelation 12.9-17; 13.1; 17.8-14.

    The sword of Yahweh will be a regular feature in Isaiah’s prophecies (34.5-6; 41.2; 66.16). Here it is described in a threefold way as sore (fierce) and great and strong, bringing out again that Yahweh is the Mighty Irresistible God. Nothing can stand against Him. Not even Leviathan.

    Leviathan is seen here as a great serpent-like monster, also described as a ‘tannin’ (sea monster), and it may be that only one monster is in mind. Many, however, argue that three monsters are in mind, an idea which might be seen as confirmed by the threefold prepositions before their descriptions, and the picture is then one of threefold power, and therefore of all empires. They are seen as swift and sinuous, ominously moving in swirling coils, and dwelling in the sea, indicating something greatly feared (Israel feared the sea), although not by God with His mighty sword. Compare the wild beasts that later arise from the sea in Daniel 7.3. Note that the threefold power of the sword parallels the threefold description of the monsters. None can stand against His mighty threefold sword (compare Revelation 19.15, 21). The descriptions are seen by many as associating the monsters with the great powers of both the north (Assyria and Babylon) and the south (Egypt), with the swiftness of the serpent symbolising the swiftly moving Tigris, the coiling of the serpent signifying the twisting Euphrates, and the tannin in the sea representing Egypt, with the ‘sea’ being the home of the crocodile of the Nile, which is earlier described as a sea (19.5).

    A Leviathan was regularly seen as something dreadful, a creature of the night, better not awakened (Job 3.8). It was seen as a water beast in Job 41.1 where the beast in mind may have been a large crocodile such as inhabited the Nile. But though fearsome to Israel it is regularly stressed that it is a creature of God, often seen as a creature of the sea (Psalm 104.26), and described in Psalm 74.14, where it is multiple headed, when Yahweh breaks its heads in order to feed people living in the wilderness. Thus any large water creatures may be in mind, although partly interpreted and thought of in terms of mythology. The Canaanite myth of the seven-headed monster probably arose because many who went to sea and saw such creatures probably mistook them as having a number of heads, and then so described them, deceived by seeing only parts (or groups close together only partly seen) arising out of the water, and having in their minds the pictures from mythology. It may be that Psalm 74.14 is using it to describe the might of Egypt, for there reference is also made there to the dividing of the sea and the breaking of the heads of the ‘tannin’ in the waters in the same context as the feeding in the wilderness, but if so the thought is more universally expanded both there and here.

    Certainly the tannin is elsewhere used to describe Egypt and Pharaoh (Ezekiel 29.3-5) where again the crocodile is in mind.

    But the fearsomeness of Leviathan was extended even more by the part that it played in the mythology of Canaan where it was Lotan (cognate with Leviathan) ‘the swift (or ‘fleeing’) serpent, the crooked serpent, the foul-fanged (or ‘accursed’) with the seven heads’ which was slain by Baal (the lord).

    So here the descriptions of the Leviathans deliberately parallel those in the Baal epic and may be seen as suggesting huge serpent-like creatures that glide swiftly, possibly through the air (Job 26.13), coils ominously like a serpent, and are connected in thought with the tannin, the monster in the sea. Thus the thought here is of the destruction of beasts that represent all that is at enmity with God’s faithful people, of great and awesome creature or creatures, with influence in both heaven and earth and sea, which are the enemy of God and His people, and have been so from the beginning when one first brought about man’s fall. They symbolise within themselves all the enmity within creation, both natural and supernatural (24.21), against God’s people, while probably having specifically in mind both the great Enemy himself, and the reality of the great nations who constantly threatened the people of God, influenced by the sinister forces of evil (Daniel 10). But here these great monsters are depicted as a defeated foe, to be smitten by the mighty sword of Yahweh.

    God’s Fierce Protection of His People Seen As A Vineyard (27.2-6).

    In contrast to that mighty Serpent are the afflicted people of God, and with such an Enemy they certainly need special protection. God’s people have previously been seen as a vineyard, but one that was rejected because it only produced useless grapes (5.1-7). Now, however, God’s renewed people, His remnant, are seen as ‘a vineyard of wine’ (or ‘of delight’ in some MS), no longer fruitless but fruitful, a vineyard that He will fiercely protect.

    Before considering it further we should note a translation problem. In the first phrase, regularly translated as, ‘In that day, a vineyard of wine, sing to it’, the verb translated ‘sing’ usually means ‘to afflict, to humble, oneself’. Thus it should more literally be translated, “In that day, as a vineyard of wine, afflict it (or ‘humble it’)”, or, “in that day afflict for her the vineyard of wine.” In view of what follows (which is the cause of the alternative translation) we may see it as signifying the difference between Yahweh smiting the Monster to its death, while only afflicting the vineyard of His people for their good, and at the same time watching over it.

    Analysis.

    • a In that day, a vineyard of wine, sing to it. “I Yahweh do keep it, I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day” (2-3)
    • b Fury is not in me. Would that the briars and thorns were against me in battle, I would march on them, I would burn them up together (4).
    • b Or let him take hold of my protection (strength, stronghold), that he may make peace with me. Let him make peace with me (5).
    • a In days to come will Jacob take root, Israel will blossom and bud, and they will fill the face of the world with fruit (6).

    In ‘a’ Yahweh’s vineyard is kept and watered and watched over so that it might be fruitful, and in the parallel the way that Jacob/Israel will become fruitful is described. In ‘b’ He is ready to protect His vine from any enemies, and in the parallel He calls on the enemies to seek His protection and make peace with Him.

    27.2-5 ‘In that day, a vineyard of wine, sing to it.

    I Yahweh do keep it,
    I will water it every moment,
    Lest any hurt it,
    I will keep it night and day.
    Fury is not in me,
    Would that the briars and thorns were against me in battle,
    I would march on them,
    I would burn them up together,
    Or let him take hold of my protection (strength, stronghold),
    That he may make peace with me.
    Let him make peace with me.’

    ‘In that day’ here again looks from Isaiah’s viewpoint to the future when God intervenes in world affairs, but not necessarily the end future. As we have seen earlier the prophets looked ahead to the future seeing it as one whole. They saw what God was going to do, but they were not informed of the time scale. Indeed had they been their message would have lost something of its imminence as a message for their day. So ‘in that day’ refers to a future ‘day’ when God acts. But the phrase has a much wider meaning from our viewpoint, for looking back in history we see that God has intervened and acted over what seems to us, with our limited conceptions, a long period, beginning when Jesus Christ came and proclaimed that the Kingly Rule of God had arrived, (seen by the Apostles as ‘the last times’ or equivalent - 1 Peter 1.20; 1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 1.2; 1 Peter 1.20; 4.7; 2 Peter 3.3; 1 John 1.18), and continuing through until His purposes are complete. All is part of ‘that day’. Indeed its length of time puzzled Peter until he recognised that with God a day was as a thousand years (2 Peter 3.8).

    ‘A vineyard of wine!’ It is the time when God’s vineyard begins to produce good wine, watched over and tended by Yahweh. No longer a vineyard producing wizened grapes (compare 5.1-7) but one producing good fruit. This producing of good fruit was what would be urged by John the Baptiser (Matthew 3.8, 10), followed by Jesus Himself (Matthew 7.16-20; 13; Luke 6.43-44). The time of fruitfulness had arrived. It points to the new fruitful Israel which would result from the presence of the King, Immanuel.

    ‘I, Yahweh, do keep it, I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.’ God’s continual and constant, yes, even daily, care over His true people is here declared. He will tend them, and keep them, and water them, and watch over them night and day. They will be totally safe and well cared for in His hands. It is a picture of constant watch and tending that should be a comfort to each one of us, parallel to Jesus description of Himself as the good shepherd watching over His sheep. Jesus almost certainly had this passage in mind when He expanded on the idea in John 15.1-6 where He spoke of Himself as the true vine with His people as the branches, and His Father as the Carer, tending, watching, caring, pruning, so as to produce fruitful branches (while casting the unfruitful into the fire).

    ‘Fury is not in me. Would that the briars and thorns were against me in battle, I would march on them, I would burn them up together.’ God assures His people that then He will no longer be angry towards them. That anger would have been assuaged. This assumes some kind of propitiation, and we discover later that it was provided by Him Who was the propitiation for our sins (53.4, 10; Romans 3.25; 1 John 2.2; 4.10; compare Isaiah 1.18). That in the end is why His anger was turned way from His true people.

    Indeed God’s love for His true people is now such that He longs to fight the briars and thorns on their behalf, for, He assures Isaiah that were the briars and thorns to seek to do battle with the vines He would march on them and burn them up. The briars and thorns represent the world peoples, with their pressures producing the cares of this world; with their enticements producing, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things; and with their persecution causing suffering and affliction.

    ‘Or let him take hold of my protection (strength, stronghold), that he may make peace with me. Let him make peace with me.’ But the offer is still open to individual ‘briars’ in that world to make their peace with God. As with Moab in 16.4-5 they may come to Him and become one with His people. Then He would be their stronghold too, and instead of battling with them, would offer them peace. In the last two phrases the emphasis in the first phrase is on ‘with me’, the emphasis in the second is on ‘peace’. There is peace for all if only they will come.

    27.6

    ‘In days to come will Jacob take root,
    Israel will blossom and bud,
    And they will fill the face of the world with fruit.’

    This is the fulfilment of the parable. God’s whole purpose for His people is that they might, like a vine, take root, blossom and fill the whole world with fruit. They were to be a blessing to the world as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 12.3). Note the need to take root so that we may blossom and bud. The Christian who fails in establishing his roots through seeking God in His word and by prayer, will not be fruitful. Fulfilment of this began in a small way when the Jews were scattered among the nations, and in a bigger way when the (Jewish) Apostles and their helpers went from Jerusalem, through Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, taking the word of God (Acts 1.8), as Isaiah had earlier prophesied in 2.3, allowing it to take root and grow, until the word of God was established throughout the world.

    Yahweh Has Had Compassion On His People, For Even In The Past He Has Not Treated Israel As Badly As They Deserved (27.7-9).

    Yahweh has not smitten His people as severely as He has smitten others, nor has He slaughtered them with the same severity. In His treatment of her (as with a wife, compare 50.1) He will contend with her in measured fashion, by removing her (bringing about a separation with her) through one who comes from the East (Assyria) like a strong wind. And by means of this the iniquity of Jacob (Israel) will be purged. This is how He will take away his (Jacob’s) sin. This last will take place when Jacob finally gets rid of all idolatry.

    Analysis.

    • a Has He smitten him as He smote those who smote him? Or is he slain according to the slaughter of those who were slain by him? (7).
    • b When you send her away you contend with her in measure, He has removed her with His rough blast in the day of the east wind (8).
    • b Therefore by this will the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit of the taking away of his sin (9a).
    • a When he makes all the stones of the altar as chalkstones, crushed to pieces, so that the Asherah images and the sun-images will rise no more (9b).

    In ‘a’ Yahweh has smitten His people in a measured way, and in the parallel the result must be that they in turn are to crush in pieces their idols so that they have nothing more to do with them. In ‘b’ He ‘causes a separation’ with His people and in the parallel the purpose is that through exile their sin will be purged.

    27.7

    ‘Has he smitten him as he smote those who smote him?
    Or is he slain according to the slaughter of those who were slain by him?’

    Isaiah now points out that although Yahweh has smitten Israel, and has caused men to be slain in her, yet He has not done so to the extent that He has with her enemies. His hand has been more heavy on her enemies, smiting them severely and slaying them in large numbers (see 37.36). But with Israel He has been much less severe. Justice has been tempered with mercy. For the identity of who did the smiting on God’s behalf see 10.20. It was the Assyrian.

    27.8

    ‘When you send her away you contend with her in measure.
    He has removed her with his rough blast in the day of the east wind.’

    God’s treatment of Israel has always been measured. The change to the feminine pronoun indicates that He is seeing her as similar to a wife. When He has ‘sent her away’ (brought about a separation from her - compare 50.1), that is, has had her taken away captive it has always been in reasonable proportions. Her removal has always been with the rough, but short, blast of the desert wind, so that she could soon be restored, rather than with the more constant continuing winds from other directions which would have ensured her permanent downfall. Or the ‘rough blast in the day of the east wind’ might be the Assyrians coming from the east. Either way His purpose is always finally to restore her

    27.9

    ‘Therefore by this will the iniquity of Jacob be purged,
    And this is all the fruit of the taking away of his sin,
    When he makes all the stones of the altar as chalkstones, crushed to pieces,
    So that the Asherah images and the sun-images will rise no more.’

    Thus would occur the purging of the iniquity, the inner sinfulness, of Jacob (compare 6.7). It would be fulfilled in this measured but violent way, which would accomplish what was necessary. It would be so that she would receive the full fruit in order that her sin might be dealt with. And it would result in the taking away of Jacob/Israel’s outwardly expressed sins. It would result in the crushing to pieces of the altar stones of their false gods as though they were chalkstones, removing the false altars used for the worship of the Asherah images and the sun-images, so that these false divinities would rise no more, that is, would no more be worshipped or taken heed of.

    God’s purpose always in allowing His people to be distressed was so that they might turn from sin and be freed from idolatry, and that is depicted as fully accomplished here. For one day Israel would be set free from the idolatry to which she was prone. Note the fact that it is ‘Jacob’ not Judah that is described here. Isaiah still has in mind the whole nation.

    The Fate of The Defenced City (27.10-11).

    They must not put their trust in their defenced cities, for those will fail them. For, because of their lack of understanding, their defenced city will become a solitary and desolate place where animals feed. This may be seen as spoken to the world which could certainly be pictured as such a city, with every nation trusting in its own strong walls and defences. But it may be that Samaria was especially in mind.

    Analysis.

  • a For the defenced city is solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken like the wilderness (10a).
  • b There will the calf feed, and there will he lie down and consume its branches (10b).
  • b When its boughs are withered, they will be broken off, the women will come and set them on fire (11a).
  • a For it is a people of no understanding. Therefore He Who made them will not have compassion on them, and He Who formed them will show them no favour (11b).

    In ‘a’ their defenced city is deserted, solitary and forsaken, and in the parallel Yahweh will not have compassion on them and will show them no favour. In ‘b’ it is the grazing place for cattle who will eat from its bushes, and in the parallel women will collect the boughs of what grows there for firewood.

    27.10-11

    ‘For the defenced city is solitary,
    A habitation deserted and forsaken like the wilderness.
    There will the calf feed,
    And there will he lie down and consume its branches.
    When its boughs are withered, they will be broken off.
    The women will come and set them on fire.
    For it is a people of no understanding.
    Therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them,
    And he who formed them will show them no favour.’

    The ‘defenced city’ (compare 25.2), which represents the world as relying on itself, shutting out God and always at war (compare 24.10; 25.2; 26.5), especially as seen in the great cities of the Ancient Near East, and in this case possibly Samaria, will be left in its aloneness, deserted, forsaken, empty like the wilderness, a ruin. Its defences will have failed. The calf will feed and lie down there, and strip its branches. Its boughs will wither and women will come and break them off and use them as firewood.

    For this is what those who ignore Yahweh can expect from the future, desolation and emptiness, with all glory gone. Their defenced city will become like an empty, deserted city in which cattle roam, and feed on the trees which break through the rubble, stripping the branches bare, which in the end have no future except as a source of firewood.

    ‘For it is a people of no understanding.’ And all this will be the result of its failure to know and understand God, its failure to receive the truth, its blankness of mind towards the things of God. It is because it has ‘the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart’ (Ephesians 4.18). It is because ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, shine through to them’ (2 Corinthians 4.4). It may be significant that the world that turned away from Christ to Islam is indeed suffering and in darkness like this at this time.

    The word for ‘understanding’ is a plural of intensity, indicating total barrenness of thought. The world was possibly wise in its own eyes, but it was totally blank in its knowledge and discernment of God.

    ‘Therefore He who made them will not have compassion on them, and He who formed them will show them no favour.’ This is the saddest picture of all. The God Who made them will no longer have compassion on them, for by their unwillingness to respond to Him they have rendered His help unavailing. The One Who so carefully fashioned them, will show no favour towards them, for He knew that they would spurn that favour and throw it back in His face, as they had done for so long. Their hearts would be too hardened to receive His mercy. Such becomes the state of those who constantly refuse to listen to God. It is not that God has become unmerciful, but that man has become totally unreceptive.

    God’s Harvesting Of His Own (27.12-13).

    In the day when Yahweh acts He will ‘beat out’ (a harvesting term) His people from the flood of the Euphrates down to the Wadi of Egypt, gathering them one by one. A great trumpet will blow and those who were perishing in Assyria, or who were outcasts (refugees) in Egypt will come back to their land and worship Yahweh in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

    Analysis.

    • And it will come about in that day that Yahweh will beat out (‘his herbs’ or ‘his corn’ or ‘his olives’ should be understood) from the flood of the River to the Wadi of Egypt (12a).
    • And you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel (12b).
    • And it will come about in that day that a great trumpet will be blown (13a).
    • And they will come who were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who were outcasts in the land of Egypt, and they will worship Yahweh in the holy mountain at Jerusalem (13b).

    27.12 ‘And it will come about in that day that Yahweh will beat out (‘his herbs’ or ‘his corn’ or ‘his olives’ should be understood) from the flood of the River to the Wadi of Egypt, and you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel.’

    In the day of God’s working, which began at the first coming of the King and will continue through to His second coming, God’s work of harvesting will go on. His people will be gathered and harvested, and it will be accomplished one by one. As Jesus Himself declared in His day, the fields were white already for harvest (John 4.35). The harvest-time had begun (compare Matthew 9.37-38; Luke 10.2; Matthew 13.3-50).

    ‘Thresh/beat out -’. No object is found in the Hebrew. Thus the verb refers to harvesting, but we are not told of what. See for its use in 28.27 - of herbs; in Deuteronomy 24.20 - of olives; in Judges 6.11; Ruth 2.17 - of grain. Compare 17.6; 24.13, where, however, a different verb is used. Cha^bat is the word commonly applied to the knocking out of fruits with husks, which were too tender and valuable to be threshed. Such fruits, as the prophet himself affirms in Isaiah 28.7, were knocked out carefully with a stick, and would have been injured by the violence of ordinary threshing. Thus God will deal gently with them.

    ‘From the flood of the River to the Wadi of Egypt.’ This is often the ideal description of the extent of the promised land (Genesis 15.18; Exodus 23.31), thus indicating all His true people. So God will search the land for His people, and ‘beat them out’, removing the husks and making them ready for use, preparatory to summoning those in exile in Egypt and Assyria. Although the thought may be that these boundaries are intended to signify Assyria and Egypt as the place where His people are, and may simply mean ‘from north and south’. This gathering of the harvest began in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles, whose ministry reached out over these areas. And both Assyria and Egypt were among the first to become aware of the presence of the King, and to have the opportunity to respond to His call. And from there He gathered His true people one by one, preparing them to be a holy people and a kingdom of priests to the world (Exodus 19.6). As the Apostles declared, it was the ministry of ‘the last days, the end of the ages’

    (Note: We must stress again that the fact that ‘that day’ and ‘the end of the ages’ began at the resurrection is vital and is clearly stated in Scripture. ‘He was revealed at the end of the times for your sake’, says Peter (1 Peter 1.20), so that he can then warn his readers ‘the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4.7). So to Peter the first coming of Christ began the end times spoken of by the prophets. In the same way Paul says to his contemporaries ‘for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10.11), and declares ‘the day is at hand’ so that we are to walk ‘as in the day’ (Romans 13.11-13). What could be clearer? The first coming of Christ was the end of the ages promised by the prophets, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews also tells us ‘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). So all those early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’, for they knew that they had ushered in the final activity of God before the end. End of note).

    27.13 ‘And it will come about in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and they will come who were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who were outcasts in the land of Egypt, and they will worship Yahweh in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.’

    This second illustration, following on the first, likens the gathering of God’s people from abroad to the blowing of a great trumpet rallying the people (compare Numbers 10.1-10). Note their condition, ready to perish, outcasts. They are those who recognise their true condition and are seen by the world as nothings. But God will call them from both north and south and they will come to ‘the holy mountain at Jerusalem’ to worship. They are His chosen ones, His elect.

    We note that Babylon is not in mind. Assyria was still the powerful nation to the north, and was the place to which exiles have been taken, and, as ever, Egypt was the nation of the south, containing refugees.

    But the overall idea is that God’s people will gather from wherever they are. This occurred literally once Cyrus declared that people could go back to their homelands, and continued figuratively in the proclamation of the Gospel by Paul and others in Jewish synagogues around the world, as God’s people were gathered back to their true source. The ‘holy mountain at Jerusalem’ is Mount Zion, symbolic of God’s heavenly dwelling-place, and ever the focal point of the worship of His people both physically and spiritually (Galatians 4.26).

    Some refer the ‘great trumpet’ to the trumpet of Jubile in Leviticus 25.9, the introduction of the great year of deliverance. And that is possible. But that was not said to be a ‘great trumpet’, and the likelihood here therefore is that the emphasis is more on the heavenly and unique nature of the trumpet. In the end therefore this represents God’s summons, the final trumpet, the ‘last trump’, which will gather all His people to the heavenly Jerusalem (which was what the holy mountain at Jerusalem represented) and the everlasting kingdom (Matthew 24.31; 1 Corinthians 15.52; 1 Thessalonians 4.16) pictured in terms of the thought forms of Isaiah’s day.

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