Posted: 23 May 2011 12:00 AM PDT
ISAIAH 24–27, WHICH CULMINATES the long section of chapters 13–27, is sometimes called "the Isaiah apocalypse." Here Isaiah moves from oracles against particular nations to an apocalypse (an "unveiling") regarding the entire world. The thought is not so much sequential or literalistic as a series of provocative images that tell their own story. Isaiah 24 primarily describes the devastation that must fall on the whole earth. This is followed by three chapters of songs and even feasting, joyously offered up to the Lord for the triumph that is finally and irrefragably his.
Most of chapter 24 is taken up with the sheer devastation of the final judgment, its thoroughness and terror. In a series of shocking images, cities lie desolate (Isa. 24:10), vineyards are fruitless (Isa. 24:13), terror and traps rise everywhere (Isa. 24:18), and the whole earth is broken up while the heavens unleash cataclysmic floods (Isa. 24:18–19)—or, alternatively, in a mix of metaphors, the earth withers under devastating drought (Isa. 24:4). Yet there are two sub-themes that also capture the attention of the reader.
First: "The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt" (Isa. 24:5–6). Probably the reference to "covenant" has in view the covenant God established with Noah and his descendants after the Flood (Gen. 9:8–17), which echoes the structure of obligations coming from creation itself. If so, the "laws" and "statutes" that have been violated are the fundamental standards of right behavior implicit and sometimes stipulated in a universe where God is absolutely central and where human beings, God's image-bearers, are rightly and lovingly related to him. The sad reality is that we have "broken the everlasting covenant" (Isa. 24:5). Our horrible breach has attracted the righteous curse of God (Isa. 24:6). The apocalyptic vision of final judgment in this chapter is the consequence.
Second: twice in this chapter the glory that accompanies judgment, or that awaits beyond it, breaks through the otherwise unrelenting gloom. In Isaiah 24:14–16a, Isaiah pictures people coming from the west and the east, acclaiming the majesty of the Lord, raising their voices in joyous praise, singing from the ends of the earth, "Glory to the Righteous One"—which simultaneously signals that the judgment is over and that God has been righteous in dispensing it. The last verse in the chapter (v. 23) is like a prelude to the closing vision of the Bible. The ultimate glory of the new Jerusalem is so brilliant that no sun is needed: "the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Rev. 21:23).
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