by Rev Hilda Warwick
This week we are being invited to consider Isaiah 24, a scene of God’s judgement upon the earth. This is a theme that embraces a world view, rather than just considering Jerusalem and Judah, its vision has cosmic proportions and concerns all of heaven and earth. It speaks of scattering, a term used when the Jews are in exile. It’s a place of disaster and devastation. Here the whole of creation is made vulnerable, exposed and displaced as were the exiles from Jerusalem. The effect of the prophecy is to convey a terrifying impression of calamity for any city or land. God is dealing not just with powers on earth, but also in heaven.
“The Lord has spoken”. Isaiah used this expression or a comparable one to emphasise the certainty of God’s predictions.
The idea of laying waste speaks of flooding, earthquake or drought, and everyone is affected by this disruption and Isaiah makes it clear that every level of society is affected, no one is immune from the devastation that follows.
So, what can we notice? There is an intertwining of the destiny of the world, with Israel’s destiny.
The passage makes clear how much has been taken for granted. Well-being and social life is dependent upon the ecological system of the food chain and also upon a Creator at its heart. It is a place that speaks of the violation of God’s covenant and now the consequences are set to affect the whole earth not just a few. It’s a violation that does not go unchallenged, and a reminder that obedience to the covenantal will of God is an old and central conviction in Israel.
However, in verse 14 we see a different tone, as there are those who sing for joy at this seeming devastation. What was this referring to? This is not a celebration of the disasters upon the land, but a place of gratitude that God is intervening on behalf of those who are vulnerable to exploitation from those who have paid no regard to God’s direction and law.
This is a celebration of the dismantling of foreign powers and oppressive systems that have no regard for the weak and vulnerable. Nothing short of a new creation can bring salvation.
This passage is in one sense about the end of the world, the prophet seeing beyond the rise and fall of individual nations, even beyond death itself, to a new world where death will be swallowed up forever. The passage summons us to consider a day when the whole earth will be laid waste, social divisions are no longer recognised, political differences are removed, human convention and institutions destroyed. The land we know is polluted by sin and faced with judgement.
The “windows of heaven” and the “foundations of the earth” remind us that we are dealing with cosmic events comparable to primeval history. When the windows of heaven were opened in Genesis 7v11, the waters of the great deep, symbol of the powers of chaos, burst forth and destroyed the world. “On that day”, describes the defeat and the imprisonment of the “host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on earth”, and the inauguration of the kingdom of God on mount Zion.
But the hope is that this is not the final end. For the righteous the moment of final victory will come, a time of thanksgiving, a time to give glory to God, a time to celebrate the coming of the kingdom in all its glory.
Father, when we find ourselves in the middle of devastation, help us to know that this is only part of a much greater plan. You always lead us for our good, and difficulties pass to make way for something better. In Jesus name. Amen