A Curse Consumes the Earth

24: 1-13

    DIG: What is the scope of the judgment in 24:1-6? Who gets hit? Who is left? What is the reason for this total devastation that is to come? From God’s point of view, what everlasting covenant did the people break? What subsequent curse have the people brought on themselves? How has this been illustrated by some of the specific judgments (see 14:12-14, 16:6, 17:10, 22:11)? In 24:7-13, what will be the impact of this future judgment on the rural and urban sector? What images does this bring to you? If you have ever walked through a “ghost town” like this, how did you feel?

    REFLECT: How does this prospect of universal judgment strike you: (a) An archaic view of a Zionist Jew? (b) Vindictive action on God’s part? (c) Source of hope and joy conveyed by God’s control? (d) A day to be feared by all, regardless of social or religious distinction? How would your view of that day change if you were a powerful, corrupt king? If you were a victim of his oppressive rule?

    See, in the far eschatological future, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; He will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants (24:1). The word see or behold used with the active participle indicates the future, with a sense of expectancy. The source of this worldwide judgment is clearly God Himself. The results are devastating. Isaiah tells us that the judgment of the earth (mentioned sixteen times in this chapter) is going to be universal.

    It will obliterate all class distinction. This is one of the central themes of Isaiah: human pride and ADONAI cannot coexist. He mentions six pairs (the number six for mankind) of opposites. The first three represent the social classes; the last three represent the economic classes. None will fare any better or any worse in the earth’s dying breath than will those who have nothing. It will be the same for the priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor (24:2).

    The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered (Revelation Chapters 6, 8-9, 15-16). The effects on the earth will be shocking. The Hebrew tends to be much stronger because of repetition of the main noun. If I were to give a more literal translation, it would be: There will be an emptying, the earth will be emptied; spoiling, the earth will be spoiled. And because God Himself has spoken the word, judgment is certain. Although this is a frequent phrase in Isaiah, its importance cannot be overemphasized. He believed that the LORD had communicated His truth and His will clearly. Therefore, the prophet could make completely dogmatic statements that rested on the sole support that ADONAI has spoken this word (24:3).

    The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish (24:4). The word for world here means the inhabited world. There are two Hebrew words for world. One means the world in general and the other means the inhabited world. It is the inhabited world that is affected because the judgment is against humanity. Even the so-called important people suffer. No one will be spared from this judgment in the far eschatological future.

    The reason such devastation will come is that the people, up over their heads in sin, will have defiled the earth; they will have disobeyed God’s commandments, and violated the statutes (24:5a). In creating the world, ADONAI said it was very good (Genesis 1:31). But because of their sin, people had defiled the good earth, by disobeying the LORD's commandments and violating His statutes. Hatred pollutes, as does dishonesty. Both of these, just as too many phosphates or too much sewage, make it impossible for us to live. This is because there are spiritual truths that are just as unwavering as the physical ones. And like the physical laws if violated: we do not break them, they break us. As a result, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23) are not merely nice little goals for us to get along in this life, they are necessities if humanity is going to continue on living.

    By thus polluting, they broke His everlasting covenant. What is this everlasting covenant? The three most important aspects of biblical interpretation are context, context, and context. In the context here is Isaiah 24:18b, which says: The floodgates of the heavens are opened, the foundations of the world shake. Genesis 7:11 says: the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And Genesis 8:2 says: Now the springs of the deep and floodgates of the heavens had been closed. So we should take this covenant to be the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:11), because there are illusions to the Noahic judgment. Through all four of these chapters there is a tremendous amount of the use of alliteration in the Hebrew text, because Isaiah is a master of Hebrew (God works through the human instrument, yet communicating everything He wants communicated).

    Because people will have defiled the earth by their sins, judgment will come. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear the consequences of their guilt. Therefore, earth’s inhabitants will be burned up like a desert. It will be a judgment of fire (Second Peter 3:10-12). The result of this fiery judgment is that very few will be left (24:6). Once the restraining effect of the Church is gone after the Rapture (see Eu – The Rapture and the Great Tribulation), rampant sin will pollute the environment to the point that it cannot maintain, but begins to destroy life (13:11-12).

    The next seven verses should be seen as a unit because of the recurring theme of wine and the harvest (24:7-13). Normally, the grape harvest was a time of joy and laughter. When the grapes were in, the last of the hard summer work was finished, spirits were high and the wine flowed. If the harvest was poor, however, the mood was somber at best. During the first half of the Great Tribulation, there will be great jubilation because those pesky believers will not be around anymore. There will be no restraints. But because people will have defiled the earth by their sins, the verdict will come during the Second Half of the Great Tribulation in the form of seal, trumpet and bowl judgments (see my commentary on the book of Revelation).

    All sources of joy and gladness will be cut off. First, their wine is taken away. The new wine will dry up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers will groan (24:7). There will be no wine from these grapes. Instead of vulgar jokes and rowdy laughter, there will only be groans and sighs. Secondly, their music is taken away. The gaiety of the tambourines will be stilled, the noise of the revelers will have stopped, the joyful harp will be silent (24:8). When the judgments of ADONAI come upon the earth all artificial partying will melt away. Those who depended upon their own sources of joy will have none. And thirdly, only bitterness remains. No longer do they drink wine with a song; the beer will be bitter to its drinkers (24:9). What drinking is there without gladness? Its only purpose is to forget the present, and the experience is a bitter one.

    Then Isaiah offers an example of a ruined city, where sadness and desolation prevail everywhere. He uses the definite article, meaning that there is a specific city involved. The Little Apocalypse of Isaiah is really a tale of two cities – the New Jerusalem and Babylon, which will be the political/economic capital of the antichrist during the Great Tribulation. Isaiah looks into the far eschatological future and sees that Babylon, the ruined city, lies desolate and the entrance to every house is barred (24:10). Instead of a jubilant city, alive with music, its streets full of laughing crowds going form house to house, all will be empty with their doors locked tight so that no one could enter. The word desolate is used in Genesis 1:2 means chaos. The context points to this city being Babylon but the rabbis teach that this city is Jerusalem.

    Isaiah describes Babylon as being a city where the streets cry out for wine. The city that was used to rivers of wine will only experience thirst. When the LORD pours out His wrath on an unbelieving world in the Great Tribulation, all joy will turn to darkness and all gaiety will be banished from the earth (24:11). As a result, the city will be left in ruins (13:20-22), and its gate is battered to pieces (24:12). Babylon will lay desolate.

    God’s prophet declares that what is true of this one city, will be true of the entire earth. Little will be left, as after the harvesting of olives or grapes. The phrase: So will it be, signals a concluding statement to this part of the poem. Up until this point prophetic perfects have been used to indicate the certainty of the judgment to come. But now imperfects appear to emphasize the fact that these events still lie in the future.

    The inhabited world will look like an olive orchard or a vineyard after the harvest. So will it be in the earth and among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, or as when gleanings are left after the grape harvest (24:13). When the olives are gathered in the East, a practice that is still around today, the branches are beaten with sticks. It was mercifully ordered that the Israelites should give the trees but one beating, leaving for the poor gleaners all the fruit that did not by this means drop off.83 The Hebrews were directed not to pick their grapes closely, but to leave a few for the poor. Gideon refers to this merciful provision when he says: Aren’t the gleanings of Ephriam’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? (Judges 8:2).84 As only a few clusters of grapes or a hand full of olives, so will it be for the world. Despite the worldwide judgment during the Great Tribulation, a small believing remnant of believers, the holy ones (Deuteronomy 33:2-3; Job 5:1; Zechariah 14:5), will be left. Suddenly, in the midst of this massive judgment, they glorify God’s name.


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