Isaiah (Part 22): Judgment - World (Ch 24)
Chapter 24 broadens the judgment beyond the specifics of the Mediterranean economy to encompass the world. As in the other specific nation judgments, this general judgment of the world has elements both of current devastation and ultimate destruction. The first three verses of the chapter provide a summary of the world’s judgment. Verse 1 demands we look (understand) what God is doing. He is “stripping the earth bare.” The idea is the exact opposite of what was commanded in the Garden. There, in the ideal, God commands, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth” (Genesis 1:29). Now, in judgment, God strips the earth bare.
Verse 2 also correlates to one of the Garden emphases. God had designed three perfect relationships for Adam and Eve (and us). The relationship of God and humanity has God as authority. The relationship of humanity and the rest of creation had humanity in authority. The relationship of humanity with humanity was on an equal level with no hierarchical ordering. (We see that in the equality of image, the equality of charge, and the equality of care giving.) Of course, when sin entered the picture, these relationships were distorted with humanity trying to replace the authority of God with themselves, losing authority over the earth to be actually dominated by it, and by struggling to create hierarchical relationships among themselves—in marriage and in ideas of honor and worth through priesthood, class, and leadership. But, as the Garden showed us, this hierarchical structuring in the conception of being and worth was not God’s intent. And Paul tells us that the redeemed should recognize and reject this false differentiation among humanity. Galatians is written about our Christianity, not about our approach to God. It is in the living out of our Christianity, then, that Paul argues, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” (Gal 3:28). And Isaiah 24:2 provides the same thought for those in judgment. God is not a respecter of persons. Humanity was created on an equal plane, and they all undergo judgment for their failures in relationship with God—“people and priest alike, servant and master, female servant and mistress, buyer and seller, lender and borrower, creditor and debtor.”
This opening summary in the first three verses actually provides a chiasm with verses 1 and 3 providing the outer element thought of the earth being stripped bare, and verse 2 emphasizing that in this judgment, all will be treated equally in judgment.
The next mini-section of the chapter runs through verse 6. Verse 4 begins with a poetic emphasis on the withering and wasting of both the people and the earth. It is interesting how closely the earth is connected with its people. We recall that in the creation ideal, God gave humanity the responsibility for subduing and ruling the earth. However, in the sin environment, two things become twisted. First, the earth suffers under curse because of the curse of its authority—humanity. And second, humanity considers itself as being subdued by the earth. Both these consequences of sin are emphasized throughout Scripture. We see the first spoken of by Paul in Romans 8:18-23 as he specifically mentions creation’s groaning waiting for its own resurrection which will accompany the resurrection (redemption of bodies) of the people of God. One place the second twisting reveals itself is in Ezekiel 8:14. Ancient religions of the time saw the gods as those of life and those of death, battling each other for control. As the rain came to water the crops, the people understood that the gods of life held sway. But when drought or some other disadvantage of nature occurred, the gods of death had the upper hand. Therefore, sacrifice to the gods was not merely for personal favor, but for bolster and support so that the gods of life would overcome. Ezekiel 8:14 speaks of the women of Jerusalem who, although knowing of the true God, had bought in to this idea of the battling gods and were weeping for Tammuz (god of life) because of their current natural difficulties.
Although the extra element of gods is included in this story, the error is evident. Instead of rulting creation, humanity sat in dependency upon the earth and sky. Creation had subdued and ruled humanity. Of course, this was due to the sin environment. But the recourse of humanity was to turn to God, to place trust and faith in him, and to recognize and benefit from his active care giving. The rejection of looking to God for care was the sin that brought about the judgment.
Verse 5 speaks of the transgression. The earth is polluted by the sin of its inhabitants. Notice the progression of the sin—they transgress teachings (violate what should be done); they overstep decrees (violate what God has said must be done); and they break the everlasting covenant (violate the very agreement of God’s provision for them). The covenant spoken of here is not the Abrahamic covenant. We are in a section dealing with the whole world. This covenant was the covenant initially established in the Garden with Adam and Eve. The covenant was about God being caregiver to his people as they placed faith/trust in him. But they rejected God, breaking the covenant, and ending up without God’s hand of care.
And verse 6 ends this mini-section with that very consequence. The curse was no accident of nature. God’s judgment came on them—on all humanity (“consumed the earth”). The inhabitants, we read, were burned. The word translated burned is the same as used in Songs 1:6 as anger. The intent is that God’s anger burned against humankind for their rejection of him. But a few survived. As always, God keeps the remnant of faith.
In verses 7 through 13 we read that joy is gone. The removal of joy is not the curse; it is the result of the curse. The curse was God cutting off relationship—his hand of blessing in the role of caregiver. Without that source of satisfaction, joy vanished.
Presented here is our basic understanding of life with God and without God. We are creatures made in the image of God. That image includes six elements. The first three—conceptual intelligence, conscious morality, and perceptive aesthetic—are those with which we understand truth, goodness, and beauty. But note that this truth, goodness, and beauty come from God. As God reveals and enlightens, we receive from him truth, goodness, and beauty. The other three elements of the image—volitional faith, spiritual hope, and relational love—receive the truth, goodness, and beauty from God and apply to our lives. This is the perfect arrangement for our relationship with God.
What happened with the entrance of sin was that humanity began seeking for truth, goodness, and beauty from other sources. We used our faith, hope, and love to highlight ourselves in this search for satisfaction. But since we were designed to be satisfied in faith, hope, and love by God’s truth, goodness, and beauty, sinful humanity was left decidedly unsatisfied as it continued its Godless search. And that is exactly what we read here in Isaiah 24. By rejecting God, the source of satisfaction was cut off. And without satisfaction, their joy withered and wasted away.
Beginning in verse 10, a city is referenced. It is called a city of chaos (in subsequent chapters, a fortress of barbarians). The chapter is giving us a prophecy of the judgment of the world. So, what city is in mind here? The city is used as an image—a metaphor. A city is a place of communal relationship with others that provides security and provision. We read often throughout the Old and New Testaments of the city of God. It is not a literal city, but rather the combined people of God being kept by him in community of relationship, security, and provision. When we read that the angel tells John in Revelation 21 that he will show him the “bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9) and then reveals to him “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:10), we are not to understand that somehow the bride of Christ is a location and that a marriage will take place between Jesus and some streets of gold. The holy city, the bride, is the collective redeemed people of God. We, as a city, are in relationship and security and provision that come from God’s care-giving hand.
Those that reject God, as we read in Isaiah 24, are those in a city of chaos—a condition without right, true, and dependable relationship, security, and provision. That city results in desolation with collapsed gates (24:12).
In verses 14 through 16a we read of the praise and honor coming from the remnant. Notice again that this is not the remnant Jews in Jerusalem. This is the remnant of the world. As God’s judgment fell on the nations, there were some in those nations that recognized the hand of God. They repented, turning to God with their trust for his care. It is a scene that we are seeing fulfilled in our day as those that may be called the children of God are among every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. And this song of praise will eventually be sung by all the redeemed at the consummation of the age when Christ returns in final judgment and final rescue.
“But wait!” Isaiah says. In verse 16b, he lets us know that the judgment is not yet complete. Evil is not yet totally defeated. He sees the people, the leaders, everyone still acting treacherously—still rejecting God. His thought in this verse pulls our sight back to his current day as the remnant must still live among the sin environment of this earth.
In verses 17 through 23, we see that continued evil and continued judgment. But the judgment is contrasted at the end with the glory of God. We must understand that God victory and rejoicing accompanying judgment is not a perverse desire to see people crushed. God not only acts in virtue; he is all the virtue of truth, goodness, and beauty. Evil must give way; evil must be judged and condemned because of the very essence of God. In rejecting God, humanity rejects virtue. In praising the triumph of judgment and condemnation, we praise truth, goodness, and beauty in its pure, unbridled brilliance and glory issuing from our God.