Isaiah 24 is pretty heavy. I realise that I’m being a bit more flippant in my analysis today. I think it is because I’m stressed about hospital and the way I usually deal with stressful things is to make jokes. Needless to say, I got pretty quickly floored reading this chapter.
Look, the Lord is stripping the earth bare and making it desolate. He will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
Why do I find this chapter so particularly confronting? It is no longer talking of the judgement of a distant nation. This is the judgement of the entire earth. The author quickly lists binaries of people to ensure that the message is made clear: this affects everyone.
What is going to happen to everyone? The answer comes hard and fast.
The earth will be stripped completely bare and will be totally plundered
There are no mentions of refugees like in previous oracles. No offer of escape. Rather we will be front and centre in the spotlight. In case you are saying, “I’m pretty cluey, I could squirm my way away”, the author leaves an ominous message:
Panic, pit and trap await you who dwell on earth. Whoever flees at the sound of panic will fall into a pit, and whoever escapes from the pit will be caught in a trap.
So there is no escape, that answers our first instantaneous question. Now we have time to move onto the second question, which – if we were thinking logically – we should have asked first: Why is this happening?
God is clear in his justification, “The earth is polluted by its inhabitants, for they have transgressed teachings, overstepped decrees, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse has consumed the earth, and its inhabitants have become guilty.”
This is not a random act of vile folly. It is a measured act of punishment. Punishment for the way everyone has chosen to live their lives in defiance of God. Like the kid who sneaks a bite of a chocolate bar behind his desk, we temporarily believe we have gotten away with it. Unlike the grubby kid who hastily wipes away the smears of evidence, God sees all and holds all accountable.
To lighten matters, this apocalyptic scenario reminds me of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that my wife and I watched yesterday. In this early episode, the gang are enjoying drinks at The Bronze as part of the Pre-Extermination Party. In short, The Bronze holds this party every year before it closes for three days to set off cockroach extermination bombs.
At the end of the episode, the gang are drinking at the Post-Extermination Party. Buffy asks, “What is the difference between the Pre and Post Extermination parties?” To which Xander replies, “Not much bar the existence of much hardier bugs”!
Perhaps this is where the similarities end. God’s judgement is final, not annual. What will come out at the end is judged humans, not hardier ones.
Indeed, Isaiah himself chooses a different simile to explain the nature of this judgement more clearly:
For this is how it will be on Earth amongst the nations, like a harvested olive tree, like a gleaning grape after a harvest.
The peoples on earth will be like a harvested olive tree? I’ve seen how aggressively they prune these trees after they produce fruit. I am sure the process wouldn’t be pleasant for the tree (if trees had feelings). But the pruning process is done out of duty and care, not hatred or for a desire of destruction. Perhaps this explains the amazingly incongruent start to chapter 25…
Yahweh, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name.
Huh? Doesn’t Isaiah realise the destruction that God has wrought?
For you turned the city into a pile of rocks, a fortified city, into ruins; the fortress of barbarians is no longer a city; it will never be rebuilt.
Oh… so you do know of the destruction. Well this response can only be justified if you know something of the bigger picture.
On this mountain he will destroy the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove His people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken.
It is at this point where the big picture comes into focus. Judgement is an act of redemption for his people, not destruction. I love the image of the torn burial shroud.Love it! His people, dead to sin, have distorted visions due to this macabre cloth that envelops them, us. This explains how the logic of the world can distort and decay. The sheet symbolises our comprehensive death to sin, we are not just a little sick. We are dead, and have been for a while. We are wrapped up, cocooned in consequence. Yet this will all be torn!
Awesomely, the first verb in our response to God captures the quintessence of the excitement of this day:
Look, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He has saved us
Look. It seems like such a simple verb but I can imagine how superb it will be on that day. Throughout my 28 years, I have often felt frustrated, confounded, betrayed and outright lost due to the obfuscated vision of God. Like a reflection, I can make out key features but the entire picture of God never seems to be in clear view. Indeed, we talk about the doctrine of God’s revelation because as Christians, we piece together a picture of God based on what he has given us. But, despite amazing stewardship, our picture of God is inherently limited. Why not? There is the symbolic death shroud as a barrier. To see God clearly, completely, perfectly… it is an event worth waiting for.
I really like Isaiah 25 and am kind of amazed that I haven’t noticed it in this light before. However, to fully appreciate the grace extended in this passage, Isaiah 24 should be coupled with it. I think the words of the bible best sum up how we should react to this passage:
This is the Lord; we have waited for Him. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.
Go to: Isaiah 26