Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
There is not sufficient information to know precisely when Isaiah delivers the prophetic messages of chapters 34-35. It is clear, however, that these prophecies anticipate the Day of the Lord, when He will judge the nations and deliver His people. Some commentators believe chapters 34-35 serve as an “eschatological conclusion” (an end-times wrap up) to the woe oracles of Isa. 28-33, which could place this message in the reign of Hezekiah.
Isa. 34:2 – The Lord is angry with all the nations – furious with all their armies. He will set them apart for destruction, giving them over to slaughter.
Isaiah describes the judgments of the Day of the Lord in detail, including miraculous wonders in the heavens. In all likelihood, Edom is symbolic of the world powers that have opposed Israel and now must face the Jewish people’s “Judge … lawgiver … and King” (Isa. 33:22). “In the Day of the Lord, the Gentiles will be repaid for the way they have treated the Jews and exploited their land (Joel 3:1–17). ‘Zion’s cause’ may not get much support among the nations today, but God will come to their defense and make their cause succeed” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 34:1).
Anyone who contends that Jesus is the consummate peace-love-and-joy hippie who taught “live and let live” and never spoke a harsh word or raised a hand in anger would do well to note how Isaiah, Jesus Himself and the New Testament writers depict the Messiah in both His first and second comings. Isaiah, for example, describes the Lord as “angry,” “furious,” setting the armies of the nations apart for “destruction” and “giving them over to slaughter.” The “stench of their corpses will rise,” the prophet reveals, and the mountains will “flow with their blood” (Isa. 34:2-3). Jesus often expresses anger, especially toward the religious leaders of His day, and twice he violently drives the money changers from the Temple. A reading of His “woes” against the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” in Matthew 23 reveals stinging rebukes against the religious elite of His day, and His parables of the kingdom of heaven lay out a tragic end for those who oppose Him (see, for example, Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 22:1-14) What’s more, His return will be violent and bloody as He punishes those who shake their fists toward heaven and fight against the rightful Heir to the world’s throne (see Rev. 19:11-21).
The Judgment of the Nations (Isa. 34:1-4)
The chapter opens with a call to the entire earth to “come here and listen.” No one is left out of this frightening message of God’s future judgment. He clearly beckons the “nations … peoples … earth … and all that fills it … the world and all that comes from it” (v. 1). What is so important that no one is exempted? “The Lord is angry with all the nations – furious with all their armies” (v. 2). In His wrath, Yahweh will slaughter countless evil soldiers, leaving their blood to flow in the valleys and their corpses to rot on the hillsides.
There will be wonders in the sky as well. “All the heavenly bodies will dissolve,” Isaiah writes. “The skies will roll up like a scroll, and their stars will all wither as leaves wither on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree” (v. 4). Catastrophic events in the heavens will accompany the Messiah’s return to earth to establish His kingdom (see Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Zech. 14:6-7; Matt. 24:29). However, it is difficult to know with certainty exactly when and how these prophecies will be fulfilled. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck comment: “Isaiah 34:4 may refer to the judgment of the sixth seal in the Tribulation (Rev. 6:12-13), or to the eternal state, after the Millennium, when the sun will not be needed (Rev. 21:1). Or perhaps Isaiah was speaking figuratively of a change in the whole power structure in the Millennium when human kings will be done away with and God alone will be in control” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1084).
The Judgment of Edom (Isa. 34:5-17)
Isaiah uses Edom as an example of the world, which will come under God’s judgment. The Edomites are descendents of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, and are perpetual enemies of Israel (cf. Ezek. 35; 36:5). As such, they are an appropriate representation of what the Lord will do to all nations that oppose His people. The Lord’s slaughter of Edom is depicted as “a sacrifice in Bozrah,” the capital city of Edom (v. 6). Modern-day Buseirah is located about 25 miles southeast of the Dead Sea and is a place animals in Isaiah’s day are slaughtered for sacrifice. The Jews’ practice is to offer sacrifices to God, but in this passage it is God offering the wicked as sacrifices. The Lord depicts His enemies as animals, who are sacrificed along with the fat (Lev. 3:9-11). These nations often slaughtered and sacrificed God’s people, so now the Lord sacrifices them.
Many Bible commentators believe this bloody scene depicts the battle of Armageddon in the last days. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Isaiah compares the Day of the Lord to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 34:9–10; Gen. 18–19). This is a significant comparison because, just before the coming of the Lord, society will be ‘as it was in the days of Lot’ (Luke 17:28). Tar running like streams and sulfur like dust will keep the fires of judgment burning (Gen. 14:10; 19:24). The description in Isaiah 34:10 reminds us of the fall of Babylon (Rev. 14:8-11; 19:3). We should also remember that the fires of eternal hell, the lake of fire, will never be quenched (Mark 9:43–48)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 34:1).
“Edom symbolizes in Scripture the ungodly (cf. Heb. 12:16) and the persecutor (cf. Ob. 10–14), the opposite and adversary of the church,” writes D.A. Carson. “The metaphor in vs 5–7 is a grim variant of the banquet scene (cf. 25:6), dwelling on the butchery behind the sacrificial feast and using [a] current idiom to show that the whole people, from ‘young bloods’ and leading citizens (7a) to the least and lowest (6), is doomed (cf. 63:1–6)” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 34:1).
As a result of God’s judgment, the land will seem to be ablaze – her streams turned to pitch (a flammable tar-like substance) and her soil to sulfur. The land will become desolate, inhabited only by creatures that seek out more solitary confines. Owls, ravens, jackals, ostriches, hyenas, wild goats and other animals will abound as the land becomes overgrown and uninhabitable for generations. Isaiah uses an interesting name in verse 14: The “night monster” (NASB) or “screech owl” (HCSB), literally Lilith, is noted in ancient mythology as a female night demon that inhabits desolate places. The imagery here is used to illustrate the total devastation of the heathen lands.
The theme of divine vengeance dominates chapters 34-35, prompting some people to withdraw from the “angry” and “vindictive” God of the Old Testament in favor of a kinder, gentler New Testament God. Some even argue the Bible cannot be true since it depicts two entirely different Gods in the Old and New Testaments. Yet God is immutable, or unchanging, as Scripture makes clear, and He alone is the rightful Author of vengeance. Both the Old and New Testaments affirm the truth that the Lord is the “God of vengeance” (Ps. 94:1). In Deut. 32:35 the Lord declares, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay.” Sometimes God’s vengeance is carried out through human agencies (cf. Num. 31:2-3; Josh. 10:13). “Yet no individual has God’s permission to take personal revenge,” writes Lawrence O. Richards. “The reason is that vengeance is a judicial concept. It is reserved for God, as moral and spiritual Judge of His universe, to punish those who persistently reject Him, abandon His ways, and oppress the righteous. Typically vengeance is reserved for history’s end (cf. Isa. 63:1–6), and any present time is marked by a divine forebearance that provides individuals and nations with every opportunity to repent and to believe” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 428).
In the New Testament, the doctrine of God’s vengeance is expressed in the Greek words dike and dikesis. The primary meaning is “justice” and communicates the fact that justice is a judicial function reserved for God alone (Rom. 12:19). As in the Old Testament, vengeance in the New Testament often looks toward the end of human history (Rom. 2:1-11) and is sometimes graphically described (2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 19:11-21). “The real wonder is not that God will certainly punish the unrepentant, but that He chose to vent His anger against sin on Christ rather than on us. Christ’s sufferings for us forever disprove the notion that a God of vengeance could not also be a God of love” (Richards, S. 428).
Matthew Henry comments: “As there is a day of the Lord’s patience, so there will be a day of his vengeance; for, though he bear long, he will not bear always…. There is a time prefixed in the divine counsels for the deliverance of the church and the destruction of her enemies, a year of the redeemed, which will come, a year of recompences [sic] for the controversy of Zion; and we must patiently wait till then, and judge nothing before the time” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 34:1).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
This eight-part series addresses common objections to the Bible as the Word of God.
Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Critics argue that the God of the Old Testament is distant, vengeful and harsh, engaging in genocide and punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, they say, the God of the New Testament is loving, kind and gracious, eager to forgive. Further, His Son Jesus is a gentle, meek, selfless and all-too-human being who speaks in adoring terms of His Father in Heaven. Complicating things further, the God of the Old Testament is described as one (Deut. 6:4) while the New Testament hints at a triune Godhead consisting of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Gods of the Old and New Testaments be reconciled as one?
God’s nature and progressive revelation
First, it’s important to note that this objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. The writers of www.gotquestions.org put it very well: “The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.”
For example, the Old Testament in many places describes God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex.34:6; see also Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). In the New Testament, God’s love for mankind is manifested more fully in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Or, consider that in the Old Testament, God deals with the Israelites much as a loving father deals with his children, punishing them for their idolatry but delivering them when they repent of their sins. In much the same way, the New Testament tells us God chastens Christians for their own good. Hebrews 12:6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, says, “[f]or the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.”
God’s wrath – and jealousy
But what about God’s wrath – and jealousy? Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God delivers judgment on the unrepentant. He orders the Jews to completely destroy a number of people groups living in Canaan, but only after allowing them hundreds of years to repent (see, for example, Gen. 15:13-16). In addition, God’s order to destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites and others has a divine purpose: “so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18).
When the Old Testament describes God as “jealous” (see Deut. 4:24, for example), the word translated “jealous” (qanna) also means “zealous.” God’s jealousy “is an expression of His intense love and care for His people and His demand that they honor His unique and incomparable nature” (Apologetics Study Bible, p. 273). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Jesus Himself often had harsh words for hypocrites (see Matt. 23) and even acted violently against them (John 2:15). He spoke more about hell than heaven, and He is depicted as an angry and wrathful judge in verses foretelling His return (Rev. 19:11-16). Put simply, a God who loves what is good must necessarily hate what is evil.
A Redeemer for a wrecked human race
Throughout the Bible we see a God who patiently and lovingly calls people into a relationship with Him. The entire human race is wrecked by sin, resulting in spiritual and physical death and separation from our Creator (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Paul writes that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). But from the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He provided a way for that broken fellowship to be restored. He began with a promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); instituted a sacrificial system in which an innocent and spotless animal would shed its blood to atone for – or temporarily cover – man’s sin; and then He sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). When one reads the entire Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Old and New Testaments does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Is God one – or three?
Finally, what about the one God of the Old Testament and the triune God of the New Testament? There is no contradiction here. While the Bible emphatically declares that there is one true and living God (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19), the Old Testament hints at the triune Godhead, and the New Testament more fully reveals one God in three persons (see Gen. 1:1-2, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:1, 14; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; Col. 1:16; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Peter 1:2). An ancient saying sums up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity but the necessity of believing in it: “He who would try to understand the Trinity would lose his mind, and he who would deny the Trinity would lose his soul.”
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips