Today’s reading is part of two bigger sections. These chapters are often called the ‘Little Apocalypse’ because of the similarities to the Book of Revelation. In these chapters Isaiah takes readers out of the present into a vision of the future world. The universal imagery of the Little Apocalypse makes it difficult to assign the events described to any precise historical situation. That means these chapters cannot be used to outline a sequence of events or create a historical blueprint for the future. Instead, the imagery is intended to create an impressionistic drama of an unfolding world that is both like and unlike the present. The combination of aspects of the old era with the new era…for instance the people of Zion will be righteous but still long for their redemption…is consistent with the New Testament concept of the future age breaking into and overlapping with the present evil age. Peter wrote of believers as living in the last days even though the last day remains yet in the future. We can also look at a larger section of scripture, from 24:1-35:10. Isaiah 24 looks far into the future. It is world embracing and may well be referred to as an apocalypse. This world judgement is followed by songs of thanksgiving for divine blessings (25-26). Chapter 27 is a divine prophecy against Egypt. That is followed by six woes, the last of which is a frightful curse on Edom. But chapter 35 ends this section with a beautiful prophetic picture of future blessedness.
So, let’s take a look at the Little Apocalypse, also known as the day of the Lord. The fact that the Lord is scattering people abroad points us back to the Tower of Babel. As He scattered then, God will scatter again. The whole earth will be destroyed. It will begin with Judah and extend to the whole world. The earth, people, and National political structures will be destroyed. And where you are in life will not matter. From the top to the bottom, every class of people will be destroyed. No one will be spared. All of humanity is guilty, all have sinned and fallen short and all are under condemnation. Judgement here is pictured as a failed grape harvest that brings drinking and feasting to a screeching halt. Prophets often use the imagery of drought to get the attention of people who live off the land. Jeremiah, Joel, and Amos also use this tactic. When God speaks of the everlasting covenant here He is most likely referencing the covenant made with Noah after the flood. Isaiah saw a parallel between the wicked of Noah’s day and his. What Isaiah finds is that the effect of sin is so great that no earthly thing or action could ever adequately atone for it. The only hope lies directly in the Lord. And the Lord reconciles the world to Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. (See Colossians 1:19-20). Only a few are left alive after this severe judgement…a small remnant. There is no more partying, making merry, music, or drink left in the city. In fact the city is plunged into chaos and people have bared their doors to keep others out. There is no gladness, not by edict but because there is no longer anything to celebrate. The stray olives or grapes here are a reference to the remnant. There will be godly people from many nations, not just Judah or Israel.
But, in spite of the wailing and ruin, the sound of praise is heard from all directions. Even when experiencing the pain of the devastation of the old world, the godly will respond with joyous expectation for the new world. Still, Isaiah’s heart is heavy with grief. The prophets were well acquainted with the emotional pain brought on by the sin of their people, and it’s consequences. Even though there are aspects of the new world present, the deceit of the old world still will prevail for a time. Isaiah is very clear; no one will be able to escape the day of the Lord. The destruction will fall like rain…literally the floodgates of heaven will open. The picture here is like that of the flood of Noah’s day. Even worse, the foundations of the earth will shake. Earthquakes are generally signs of a theophany. Theophanies are physical manifestations of God’s presence. The picture is startling. The term gods here is translated as stars in some Bibles. These could refer to fallen angels, pagan gods or even demons. Judgement extends to every part of creation. These will be rounded up and tossed into prison to be punished. The earth will fade away and the Lord will reign on Mount Zion in great glory and everyone will see.
As is often the case with Isaiah, after the gloom and doom there comes good news or something to offer praise about or for. Chapter 25 is a poem celebrating God’s destruction of the sinful earth. Isaiah acknowledges God has done amazing things, things only He can do. He is faithful and true. In fact this is a reference to absolute truth. And any proud city will not be rebuilt. The terrible nations are those who were addressed in chapters 13-23 in the oracles. Assyria and Egypt were strong, ruthless nations but in the future they will exalt God rather than their own power. God has now provided for those the ruthless would ignore. The banquet here is a symbol of God richly providing for all those who will receive His gracious invitation. (See Revelation 3:20-12, 19:9). In Jerusalem is literally on this mountain, the mountain of the Lord. This does not refer to a geographical city but to Zion, the eternal city of God. The cloud of gloom is equated with a shroud used at death. This is a promise that He will swallow up death forever. Isaiah’s hope was in God’s power over sin and sin’s devastating results. This is realized in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s presence will be a source of eternal comfort. He will wipe away every tear. (See Revelation 7:17, 21:4). God’s people will respond in joy and faith, and when the enemy is defeated, God’s people will be free forever. God is literally on His mountain, bringing blessings. But Moab, representing the nations under judgement, are the proud who are like straw that is trampled down. Those people would be helpless and dying in the most degrading circumstances. Their pride will be conquered, the people doomed, and the cities destroyed.
Then comes a song of salvation, the city of the Lord. This is a song and prayer for redemption. This new community of God’s people is likened to the citizens of a city, securely held together by the Lord. They are righteous, faithful, peaceful, and trusting. The city…Zion, is the eternal city of God. The Lord is present to protect and bless His people. The walls of God’s salvation protectively enclose His people. No one can hurt them again. This is a place of peace, harmony, quietness, and confidence. The proud and arrogant are humbled. Justice finally occurs when the poor and needy walk over the ruins of the proud cities where the proud have perished. The godly pray for the end of oppression and the full establishment of God’s kingdom. They persevere as they await for their final vindication and the resurrection of the body. Everything will happen in God’s time. Still, people show their commitment to the Lord by obeying His laws and statutes. God has been kind to the wicked in the hopes that they will repent but there will be a day when time runs out, and then judgement will fall. Isaiah tells us that the wicked ignore the works of the Lord. A king lifted his hand up as a symbol of his power. Verse 15 is a confident expression of thanks for God’s blessings. Here Isaiah is speaking of Hezekiah’s reign when Judah was prosperous and God’s people gave Him glory for what He did. But we also see that the Lord did discipline His people and they cried out to Him. They knew pain when Sennacherib attacked and they gave thanks when the Lord struck down the Assyrian army.
Vineyards in scripture were often a reference to God chosen people, the Jews. Israel adopted the imagery of leviathan to refer to evil powers that oppose God. Leviathan’s death symbolizes the end of evil, the evil one, the demonic, and the dominion of forces hostile to God. The identification of leviathan is somewhat disputed, ranging from an earthly creature to a mythical sea monster in ancient literature. The fruitful vineyard represents God’s people and God identifies Himself as the Lord of the covenant to assure His people that what He says and does is reliable. And we see, the Lord will provide even greater care and protection for His ultimate vineyard than He did for Israel, His first vineyard. God wants and expects all of His people to turn to Him and to trust Him for help. His offer of reconciliation is stated, “Let them make peace with me.” Isaiah reminded the people of the reasons for the exile and judgement: Israel’s sinfulness, God’s righteous judgement, and the absence of divine compassion. Even though Israel was God’s chosen people they would still be punished for their misbehaving. But, God’s withholding of mercy from Israel will be temporary. His remnant will return from Assyria and Egypt to the territory God promised Abraham. It is clear that when God tells His people to follow His laws and statutes, He means it. We have salvation in Jesus Christ but that does not give us license to behave as we wish either.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W