The last post on Isaiah introduced the prophet’s concluding thoughts on his oracles of woe.
Now, in his wrap-up, the prophet strove to show there are only two destinies that lie in front of all people everywhere, in every era of time, in every culture and religion of the world. Both destinies will come about at a time still future to us, called the Day of the Lord, the Day of God’s Recompense.
Day of God’s Recompense
The recompense of God is judgement to those who oppose the Lord while at the same time it is salvation to those who have been ransomed by the Lord: either redemption or reckoning.
The last post dealt with the destiny of redemption. This post will begin to explore the destiny of reckoning.
From the third chapter of Genesis to the apostle Paul’s treatise on Christian doctrine in his letter to believers in Rome, God has consistently explained the inexorable consequence of sin is death. This is a reckoning with sin that cannot be avoided without the Lord’s intervention. In scripture, this reckoning comes in the form of
- Consequences that are justly deserved, the ramifications of what has been done.
- Punishment or reward as the result of judgment.
- Penalty for sin left in arrears.
Throughout the course of human history, God held back judgment until sin had reached irredeemable corruption (rotten oranges)—until nothing was left that could be salvaged. Beginning from the days of Noah, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to the taking of Canaan, God always waited until so few righteous were left, they could be rescued apart from the reckoning.
Isaiah’s description of God’s just judgment of the world on the Day of Reckoning falls into three divisions.
Judgment of God
The first division is God’s call to all of creation to prepare for what is coming
Draw near, O nations, to hear;Isaiah 34:1 (NRSV)
O peoples, give heed!
Let the earth hear and all that fills it,
the world and all that comes from it.
This is God’s warning to those who refuse to repent.
For the Lord is enraged against all the nationsIsaiah 34:2 (NRSV)
and furious against all their hordes;
he has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter.
The only way to escape God’s reckoning is to receive God’s redemption.
Isaiah lived in a very culturally, politically, and religiously diverse time. It was the custom to respect each other’s gods and systems. But Isaiah was claiming then, and continues to claim today, that the One True and Living God supersedes all other philosophies and beliefs.
The second division of Isaiah’s description zeroes in on the horrors of that coming day where even the heavens will curl up and shrivel like burning parchment and the stars will fall from the sky.
All the host of heaven shall rot away,Isaiah 34:4 (NRSV)
and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall wither
like a leaf withering on a vine
or fruit withering on a fig tree.
Other prophets, most notably John in in his Revelation, wrote similar predictions in their apocalyptic accounts of what is to come.
Isaiah’s oracle is full of violence and gore, perhaps as a portrayal of sin’s repugnance. Many scholars recognize in Isaiah’s dreadful description a depiction of the famed Battle of Armageddon.
Sword of the Lord
When my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens,Isaiah 34:5 (NRSV)
upon Edom it will fall,
upon the people I have doomed to judgment.
The Lord has a sword.
Swaths of Blood
Their land shall be soaked with blood,Isaiah 34:7 (NRSV)
and their soil made rich with fat.
Sulfur for Eternity
And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitchIsaiah 34:9-10 (NRSV)
and her soil into sulfur;
her land shall become burning pitch.
Night and day it shall not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up forever.
Supper of Carrion
But the desert owl and the screech owl shall possess it;Isaiah 34:11 (NRSV)
the great owl and the raven shall live in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion
and the plummet of chaos over it.
Nearly a thousand years later, John’s rounded eyes gazed in horror at the scene God had previously revealed to Isaiah.
Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war.
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.
And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a scepter of iron; he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.”
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to wage war against the rider on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the brand of the beast and those who worshiped its image.
These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.
And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.Revelation 19 (NRSV)
In his narrative, Isaiah moved from the battlefield to the temple and saw God’s worldwide judgement pictorially as a sacrifice God was offering.
Levitical sacrifices acted as substitutes for the people’s sin. But the world refused to offer sacrifices of repentance to God. In Isaiah’s economy, all guilt not covered symbolically by sacrifices to God will be covered by the guilty themselves, as Isaiah showed God making a sacrifice of all the guilty on earth.
In particular, Isaiah mentioned the nation of Edom and its capital city of Bazrah as representative of all nations who stand against God, and against God’s people, though certainly they could have laid claim to God had they so chosen. The burning pitch and sulfur borrowed, on purpose, imagery from Sodom and Gomorrah, but it in this case Isaiah characterized God’s judgment as eternal.
Chaos and Confusion
He shall stretch the line of confusionIsaiah 34:11 (NRSV)
and the plummet of chaos over it.
Significantly, the Lord Jesus taught His disciples that when He returned it would be as it was in the days of Lot, the world would be as corrupt as Sodom and Gomorrah were in Lot’s day, and God’s judgement would be just as swift, fiery, and complete.
Note the words Isaiah used to describe this terrible Day.
תֹּהוּ tôhûw, to’-hoo; from an unused root meaning to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively, a worthless thing; adverbially, in vain:—confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness. (Strong’s Concordance)
בֹּהוּ bôhûw, bo’-hoo; from an unused root (meaning to be empty); a vacuity, i.e. (superficially) an undistinguishable ruin:—emptiness, void.
They are the same words used to describe the earth before God formed it in Genesis 1.
It is as though God will hit the rewind button and bring all of creation back to its starting point.