Thursday, June 5, 2014

Isaiah 24: 1-6

Judgment on the Earth

1 Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface 
and scatters its inhabitants.
And the people will be like the priest, 
the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, 
the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the debtor.
The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the Lord has spoken this word.
The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, 
the exalted of the people of the earth fade away.
The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. 
Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.

Isaiah takes a very different turn with the beginning of Chapter 24. We have spent several chapters looking at several judgments brought across different nations--prophecies indicating future destruction. What we have with Chapter 24 is the beginning of a four-chapter judgment upon the whole earth. (Yes, think Revelation.) But, it is not wholly about judgment--not for those who believe in a holy and righteous God. As my study Bible says, "These 4 chapters give praise to God for His future victory over all enemies and the final deliverance of Israel in the Day of the Lord." Let's try to keep that fact in our minds as we work through these tough chapters.

With verse 1, we immediately receive the strong images of the Lord's plans for the earth--to completely lay it waste. Now, the Lord has brought destruction upon the whole earth before. (Remember Noah?) This would be a destruction more severe than even that, if you can imagine [which we really don't like to!].

"Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the Lord of hosts
In the day of His burning anger."

--Isaiah 13:13

We have seen pictures of what it looks like when the landscape of the earth has changed, due to things like flooding, mudslides, wildfires, earthquakes and the like. What does a "surface distortion" look like? What does a "despoiled" (vs. 3) earth look like? By dictionary definition, the earth will be "stripped of possessions, robbed and pillaged" ( by God's hand. On top of physical changes, God will also "scatter its inhabitants," which is something He did in the time of the Tower of Babel--distorting communications of the people, so to speak. This is a scene that will be nothing like anything witnessed before, in reality or fantasy.

In his poetic way, in verse 2, Isaiah is saying that where there were huge differences between people, such as servants and masters, there will be no differences. In this destruction of the world, all are treated equally: God's judgment will not be stopped in the wake of anyone's wealth, or stature, or occupation, or supposed closeness to God.

"The priests had been as corrupt and wicked as the people; and, if their character served not to restrain them from sin, how can they expect it should serve to secure them from judgments?"
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.

The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.

They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one."

--Psalm 14: 1-3

Putting these verses together, we can say that even before Isaiah's pronouncement, by their turning aside and not seeking after God, all of the people, "together they have become corrupt." "...The exalted of the people of the earth fade away." (vs. 4) How many times in 23 chapters has Isaiah brought people's pride to mention in his prophecies? Pride meaning not only boasting of self, but not relying much less acknowledging the existence of God, yet claiming to retain all of the benefits of that purported relationship. Again, we are reminded that God hates pride (Proverbs 8:13) and that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) who will not stand for taking second place. The prideful will "fade away."

"For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning
Against everyone who is proud and lofty
And against everyone who is lifted up,
That he may be abased."
--Isaiah 2:12

The earth itself will also fade away--mourn and wither and fade away. (vs. 4) If you stop with that thought--the earth will fade away--you might think it is part of God's doing, as in, "I'm taking the people away; I'm going to take their home away, too." But, when you read verse 5, it becomes clear. What did the earth ever do? The earth is part of God's creation--a creation that worships Him, that groans in anticipation for the day in which the Lord will take back the earth for His own!

No, we read in verse 5, "...The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants." The King James Version uses 'defiled'. The Hebrew word means "soiled, profaned." (Strong's) Did the earth become tainted on its own? 

"Such is the filthy nature of sin that it defiles the earth itself under the sinful inhabitants thereof, and it is rendered unpleasant in the eyes of God and good men."
--Matthew Henry

No! Earth is polluted by every unclean thought and impure action taken by those who walk upon it! The "everlasting covenant" had been broken. Recall what God had established between Himself and Abraham, and the generations to follow under His chosen servant:

"I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you."
--Genesis 17:7
"It is God’s wonderful condescension that he is pleased to deal with men in a covenant-way, to do them good, and thereby oblige them to do him service."
--Matthew Henry

The obliged service was not fulfilled by men! God, out of immeasurable grace and mercy, withstood the lack of returned service, but even He has His limits.

"Then to Adam He said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life."
--Genesis 3:17

Also, so here, in verse 6, "Therefore a curse devours the earth...," and those who live in it are held guilty. The ground yielding the tree did nothing. The sin of Adam and Eve left the ground of that idyllic Garden cursed. Likewise, it is the sin of mankind that defiles the earth to the point in which God brings upon it a curse, which will consume the earth and man alike.

"Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble
And dry grass collapses into the flame,

So their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust;
For they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts
And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel."
--Isaiah 5:24

That is, except for "few," (vs. 6) which translates from Hebrew to mean "a remnant." (Strong's) Even as a curse had been placed upon Eden's ground and the earth's ground, God had plan to undo the curse, for some:
"No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found."
--Verse 3 of "Joy to the World," lyrics by Isaac Watts

"The coming heavenly Adam, who bears the curse of toil, sweat, thorns, conflict, death on a tree, and descent into dust, will regain the garden, tearing apart the veil of the temple."
--Reformation Study Bible

Then, there will be joy to the world!

But, we'll have to wait for that. "All joy turns to gloom...." ...'Til next time!

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Next time:  Isaiah 24: 7-12
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).