Isaiah Chapter 34

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

The day appointed. A universal crash. The relation between Edoni and
Adam. The heavens share in the infliction, for there rebellion began.
Military terms not literal. Distinction between the Millennial day and
the Sabbath of God. Truth in words because they cannot be translated.


Just as the "burdens" that affected various nations in chapters 12 to 23 were followed by a general crash in chapter 24—the "finale," as Delitzsch calls it, borrowing the figure from an orchestra—and this was succeeded by the joyous strains of chapter 25; so here, we have had this nation and that, threatened by woe after woe, till (in the previous chapter) both Gentile and Jew are apostate, and now comes the crashing finale in divine judgment on all the earth. That too we shall find followed in chapter 35 by the sweetest strains of promise.

Again I must call Delitzsch to my aid. He well points out that it cannot be possible to misunderstand this chapter as having reference to past history. He says: "We feel that we are carried away from the stage of history, and are transported into the midst of the last things," and these chapters are the "last steps whereby our prophet rises to the height at which he soars in chapters 40 to the end. After the fall of Assyria, and when darkness began to gather on the horizon again, Isaiah broke away from his own times—'the end of all things' became more and more his home. . . . It was the revelation of the mystery of the incarnation of God, for which all this was to prepare the way." Of this, these chapters "are, as it were, the first preparatory chords," and Edom, the traditional hater of his brother Jacob, now becomes the representative "of the sum-total of all the enemies and persecutors of the church of Jehovah."

I have quoted this as written, nor is the word "church," as so applied, without Scriptural warrant (Acts 8:38); but we must guard this in our minds, and avoid confusing it with that entirely unique and divinely formed "Body" of which the risen Christ is the Head, and with which no nation, as suchJew or Gentilehas anything to do. But to our chapter:

1: Come near, ye nations, to hear;
Hearken attentive, ye peoples;
Listen, O world, and all that's therein;
Hearken, O earth, and all that springs from it.
2: For the wrath of Jehovah doth fall on all nations:
His fury, all burning, is on all of their hosts:
His ban is laid on them, they're delivered to slaughter;
3: Their slain are all cast away,
From their dust a stench rises,
And mountains do melt with their blood.
4: The heavenly host is dissolved,
As a scroll the heavens are rolled up;
And all of their hosts do wilt,
As withered leaf falls from the vine,
As blighted (fruit) falls from the fig tree.
Thus the chapter opens with a call to all the nations of the earth. No longer is the threatening directed to Assyria or Egypt; and yet, before the close, we shall see another single symbolic representative of all those nations in Edom, which, by its close relation to "Adam," fits perfectly as a symbolic name for all the nations. It is a fearful picture of bodies unburied, scattered in such numbers that the air is rendered fetid with the stench; and the very mountains are melted by the blood. It is evidently intended to impress the mind with the awful "severity of God," when He thus arises to judge the earth. For Isaiah is now speaking of that same day as did the apostle on Mars' Hill. The "appointed day" has come, the "appointed Man" is there, and the awful scene follows.

It is the whole prophetic earth that is in view, and by that is meant that part of it upon which the light of revelation has shone; for the infliction is ever proportioned to the privileges enjoyed and despised. Reader, are these mere empty words that shall never have fulfilment? Who really believes them now? And yet are we so bewitched that we cannot discern how fast the nations of Christendomthat highly-favored sphere where God's love in the gift of His Son has been for nearly two millennia proclaimedare ripening for just such an infliction? That very condition witnesses to the certainty of this coming judgment. It will be a fearful thing to be on earth at that time!

Many modern pulpits preach now that God is too loving to be severe, and that the moral Governor of the universe is so weak that He will permit His own laws to be defied with impunity forever! But who can deny that He has given evidence of His power in the past? Did He not sweep the whole race away by the flood, with the sole exception of one family? Is the siege of Jerusalem, His beloved Jerusalem, with all its awful sufferings, altogether forgotten? Or if memories are too feeble for that stretch, is it not a fact, too recent for time to have wiped from memory, that the larger sphere of Christian profession has not even yet fully emerged from its blood-bath? Is there such universal repentance and humiliation as shall avert any further manifestations of wrath? You know that there is not! On the contrary, pride rules our nations Godward, while mistrust and fear are largely their counsellors in dealing with each other. The whole scene is solemnly prophetic of further inflictions. This judgment then lies in the future, and we believe, near future. Verse 4 gives an oft-repeated picture of a universal catastrophe affecting the visible heavens. The stars fall like the leaves in autumn, or the wilted figs that any breeze sends to the ground. This is repeated in Matt. 24:29, and apparently points to a literal and universal convulsion amid the heavenly bodies, that shall immediately follow the "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7) and announce the Lord's return in power and great glory. The visible fall of the stars thus speaks to the eye of the fall of the invisible "host of heaven," as the next verse in prophetic language explains.

5: For My sword shall be bathed in heaven;
Behold, it comes down upon Edom,
For judgment on those of My curse.
6: The sword of Jehovah is glutted with blood,
'Tis fattened with fat:
With blood of (both) lambs and of he-goats,
With the fat of the kidneys of rams.
For Jehovah in Bozrah a sacrifice holdeth;
Aye, a great slaughter in (proud) Edom's land.
7: And down fall the buffaloes with them,
And bullocks together with bulls,
Till their land becomes glutted with blood,
And their dust is fattened with fatness.
8: For 'tis the day of Jehovah's avenging,
'Tis the year that doth recompense Zion's (long) strivings.
Under the figure of a sword "intoxicated with blood" (as. Delitzsch renders it) we have again that truth, so strange to us, of Heaven itself being the scene of the infliction of penalty; but, strange as it is, it is the consistent testimony of all Scripture. Chapter 24 has spoken of the punishing of "the host of the high ones on high," and our own prophetic book harmonizes with this, in that war in heaven, resulting in the final expulsion of "the dragon and his angels." Sin began in heaven, and its stain is in those courts so that even they "are not clean in His sight," and need the same precious blood to "reconcile" them as do we (Col. 1:20). But that blood was not shed for "angels"; He passed them by; and the penalty falls on them first. Then the same sword (which is here, I take it, a figure of "death," involving eternal separation from God) comes down on man; the people of the ban, who have rejected the light and love of the gospel. Divine judgment ever begins on what is nearesthas enjoyed the greatest advantage, and because of neglect or abuse of that advantage is "under the curse."

In verses 6 and 7 we have two series of offerings of three each; the first composed of the smaller animals devoted to sacrifice, lambs, goats and rams, representing the masses, or the common people; but, with these, the larger, buffaloes, young bulls and strong bulls, representing the nobles of the same "people of the ban." All suffer death, for it is the Lord's sacrifice that He holdeth in Bozrah,1 the sacrifice that now alone can satisfy the righteousness of His own government. This poor earth, ever soaked with blood and tears, has still this awful baptism to go through, prior to its deliverance. Self-judgment, penitence, a shut mouth, and humble confidence in God's one all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, in His own beloved One—His Son, His Lamb—is the sure, but absolutely the only, way of escape; for it is only Jesus who delivers us "from the wrath to come," of which this is the picture.

It is not necessary to insist that this picture should be literally carried out in every detail, as, for instance, the mountains being "melted with blood," or blood being literally shed in heaven; yet the truth brought to the mind is a literal judgment of intense severity; just as in Revelation 14 we have an impossible picture, if taken literally, of a vast sea of blood reaching in depth up to the horses' bridles "by the space of 1,600 furlongs." How could the intense severity of God's judgment be more impressively brought to our minds, when He thus "arises to judge the earth"?

Verse 8 gives the explanation of this severity. It is the end of Jehovah's controversy with Israel; and that end comes, not by catching them up to meet their Messiah in the air, but by His coming to the earth, His feet again standing on the Mount of Olives, and destroying their enemies. Thus the day of the Lord's vengeance on the nations is the year of deliverance for Zion.

Towards the nations of Christendom it is "the day of avenging"; toward Israel, as represented by the pious remnant, it is the "year of recompense for the controversies of Zion." Long has He borne with the unfaithful witness called "Christian"; long has He had controversy with His people whom He foreknew, and so has not finally cast away. The end to both comes when Jerusalem, here held and defended by the pious remnant, is captured by the confederated forces of the nations (Zech. 14), aiding the Jewish apostasy, and the power of the holy people seems to be forever scattered (Dan. 12). Then comes the revelation of the Lord for their deliverance, their sorrows are forever past, and that long unfulfilled prophecy, which Gabriel was sent to give Daniel, is finally accomplished. Israel's transgression is forever ended; the atoning work, actually effected so long before, is now applied to them in their penitence and faith, and their "House" so long desolate, is anointed, and thus becomes again and forever a fitting abode for Jehovah.

9: And Edom's brooks are turned to pitch,
Its dust is turned to brimstone,
Till its very land becometh Pitch that is aflame!
10: By day and night 'tis quenched not,
Its smoke ascendeth ever,
Forever doth it lie all waste
Fromagetoage!
No one passeth through it more
Forever and forever.
A gloomy picture of Edom's land, that seems to tell of its condition during the whole millennial day, is given in verses 9, 10. The brooks that murmured so restfully with their rippling waters now flow sluggishly and sullenly in gloomy silence, filled with that most combustible of matter, pitch, and they go through a dry land ever covered with clouds of smoke that arise from them—what a picture!

All Scripture agrees in its witness that the millennial day is not the perfect eternal one; it is not "the rest of God," the final Sabbath, the seventh day, but the sixth, in which the government of the earth is in the hand of the Second Man, the Last Adam with His Bride, with all evil kept in control, although present. Just as in our personal regeneration, there is still the old nature within, which must not be permitted to "reign" (Rom. 6:12); so in that time called the "regeneration" of the earth, its very topography shall witness to God's judgment on evil. The Jews' land, Palestine, will have its witness of that judgment in its "miry places, and the marshes" bordering the salt sea (Ezek. 47:11). The land of Edom will give the same witness to the severity of God, in the Gentile's earth; and the lake of fire will add its solemn voice to the same awe-inspiring testimony in the eternal scene. All three spheres combine to witness to what is so largely denied today, that side of God's holy nature, "Light," the necessary expression of the inflexible righteousness of His government of the universe in its every sphere in view of rebellion and sin. Thus all are made to serve that basic purpose of the Creator in His creation, of fully expressing Himself as both Love and Light. In this, even the "vessels to dishonor," as the devil and his angels, and all impenitent from among men, must have their part.

11: The pelican and hedgehog2 now take it in possession,
The night-owl and the raven there take up their abode;
And He doth stretch upon it
The measuring-line ofwaste!
And for a plummetchaos!
12: Its nobles, none are there now
T' announce the kingdom 'stablished,
Its princes all have come to naught.
13: Her palaces break out with thorns,
Her forts with weeds and thistles,
A dwelling for the wild-dog,2
A pasture for the ostrich.2
14: And she is now the meeting-place
Of tzim,2 and of iim;2
And there doth hairy satyr2 make
A howling to his fellow;
And there doth rest the bird of night,2
And find congenial nesting.
15: There, too, doth the arrow-snake2
Make nest, lay eggs and hatch them,
And gather her foul brood beneath
The shade that doth protect them.
There the vultures gather too,
Each mating with its kindred.
16: Search ye in Jehovah's book,
And read there. None shall fail,
Or be lacking in its mate;
For My mouth, it hath commanded,
His Spirit, it hath gathered them.
17: 'Tis He hath cast for them the lot,
His hand by line hath measured,
And they possess it evermore;
From generation there they dwell
Unto generation!
The words in verse 11 rendered in the Authorized Version "confusion" and "emptiness," and in Genesis 1:2, "without form and void," speak of a condition of ruin, as is evident here and in Jer. 4:23. So that Jehovah pictures Himself as working as a Builder indeed, with "line and plummet," but not for the purpose of building up, but of bringing Edom's land, that is, Adam's earth, back to the chaotic condition in which we first see it in Gen. 1:2, "And the earth was without form and void." Let these scriptures throw their light on each other, and as there, later ones in Isaiah and Jeremiah tell us unequivocally that this scene of utter desolation is due to sin, so must the earlier one in Genesis make us assured that that condition was the result of the same cause. As man had not at that time been created, that sin could not have been his; the deduction is as certain as a direct and plain statement could make it, that some pre-adamite creation had been ruined by the sin of a pre-adamite race. The only other alternative that God created the earth in this ruined condition is inconceivable: God does not create ruins. Everything comes from His hand in the perfection of its being, although He does, by permission, bring the inevitable consequences of sin on that which He had created in perfection. Here the "line and plummet" tell us that He will not stay the progress of ruin till it conforms to that primal chaos.

These words, "tohu va' bohu," taking us thus back to a time preceding Adam, and to a race of beings that were spirits, with other scriptures telling us clearly that among these was one who "sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8), prepare us again to find in the mysteriously named creatures of the following verses divinely intended suggestions of those very spirit-powers that were the primal sinners of the universe.

Little edification can be obtained by following the guesses that have been made as to their literal identity; and the divergence of opinions shows that they are but guesses. Far better is it to see in the very mysteriousness a divine purpose to suggest something also mysterious in the world of evil spirits. We can not believe that God has simply put meaningless words into that revelation on which all our light and hope depend; but would have us examine them with such care as we can, and we may find, in even these, truths of eternal value, for may they not have been thus recorded for us on whom the ends of the ages have come?

We have already noted some of these same strange words in chap. 13:21, 22, merely adding as to those that do not occur there, which in A.V. are rendered "screech-owl" and "great owl," that the Hebrew of the former, "lilith," literally means "night-creature," one that finds its congenial home in darkness, and the latter is a close relation to the serpent, the arrow-snake. It is striking, too, that in the first three of verse 14, tziim, iim, satyr, we have the three spheres—land, water and air, respectively—which are typically the symbols for Jew, Gentile and the Church of God (by profession). Each of these becomes in its turn apostate, and thus demon-possessed, and the object of divine judgment.

This interpretation then of these mysterious words of our prophet must not, let me repeat, be considered the outcome of superstition—it is far removed from that—and is only a sober recognition of a sphere of the occult filled with evil intelligencies whose existence is impossible to be denied by any to whom the Scriptures are the very Word of God.

Now for two practical applications of what we have learned: First, as the prophetic book of Revelation shows us what the professing Church shall become, when all that is of God has been taken from it, do we not see the nearing approach of that very condition in the "doctrines of demons" that are rapidly taking possession of its pulpits? This very day those who cleave to the foundation truths of Christianity are in a minority, and the current is flowing with ever-increasing rapidity in that direction of apostasy.

In the next place we must carefully note that all these creatures make their voluntary choice of the scenes of death, darkness, desolation and ruin for their abode; so will all eventually go to their "own place," that is, the place that they themselves would choose as alone in any way corresponding to the nature that inevitably expresses the only life they have. For sooner would the birds of night fly with blinded eye in noonday, than unreconciled spirits—whether of angels or of men—desire, or be at home in, the courts of God's radiant light. As that poor man in Mark 5, in whom a legion of demons had taken up their dwelling, found no congenial place save the tombs, and there no rest, so every unforgiven child of man, who has refused the life (with its new nature of light and love) offered in Christ will find, alas, a more congenial abode in the "second death" and the "outer darkness" than he could in the heavenly courts of life and light. You and I, my dear reader, will eventually go to our own place; and that place, if we have life in Christ, can be none other than where He is.

Note, too, the power of evil to propagate itself. We know well that the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage; but in another sense, as in nature, the downy seed wafted by the wind bears within it reproductive life, so the seed of the Word, wafted by the divine Spirit, bears with it life eternal. But so, too, does evil not cease with itself, but carries its pernicious effects wherever it goes as suggested by verse 16: "None shall want his mate."

Jehovah's book has the interpretation of all these (ver. 16). Search and learn; for not one word that has come from His lips can fail. The prophet was only the mouth-piece; the Speaker was, and is, God. As He apportioned Israel her land of brooks of water, flowing from mountain and hill, so He appointed Edom's barren racks for that people who should be symbolic of the natural man, and whose land should in its desolation picture the everlasting abode both of the natural man, as well as that of lost spirits.


Footnotes:

1 Bozrah, meaning a "defence" (Job 22:25), protection, object of confidence.

2 These words are all of uncertain application; there is much controversy as to their true meaning. See pp. 171-173. [A portion after v.22 of Chapter 13]