Judgment Against the Nations
1 Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!
2 The LORD is angry with all nations;
his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will send up a stench;
the mountains will be soaked with their blood.
4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree.
5 My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
see, it descends in judgment on Edom,
the people I have totally destroyed.
6 The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood,
it is covered with fat—
the blood of lambs and goats,
fat from the kidneys of rams.
For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah
and a great slaughter in Edom.
7 And the wild oxen will fall with them,
the bull calves and the great bulls.
Their land will be drenched with blood,
and the dust will be soaked with fat.
8 For the LORD has a day of vengeance,
a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.
9 Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,
her dust into burning sulfur;
her land will become blazing pitch!
10 It will not be quenched night and day;
its smoke will rise forever.
From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
no one will ever pass through it again.
11 The desert owl and screech owl will possess it;
the great owl and the raven will nest there.
God will stretch out over Edom
the measuring line of chaos
and the plumb line of desolation.
12 Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom,
all her princes will vanish away.
Whew, some tough words here. What makes this passage even more difficult to comprehend is its stark contrast to the God of the New Testament, a God of such mercy and love. If you feel this way, you wouldn’t be the first. A lot of people have struggled with these contrasting images of God, and some have, in an attempt to make sense of the discrepancy, decided that the Old Testament must be irrelevant, or created edited versions of the Bible that make more sense to them. But we don’t have to go that far, because there is another way to interpret such a passage:
That it is a glimpse of an alternative reality.
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Stay with me here.
For a moment, assume that Jesus never came. Assume that God did the logical thing, and allowed us to reap the consequences of our own sin, allowed us to be justly punished for our collective guilt. We would be punished for the millions who died in gas chambers, innocents killed in war, for women raped, for children abandoned, in every century, in every corner of the world. Every sin punished justly. As terrible as that sounds, let’s pretend.
That judgment would look much like Isaiah 34 – a day of bloody reckoning on a universal scale, poured out on all nations. You see then, that Isaiah 34 is a glimpse of an alternative reality, a glimpse into what judgment would have looked like for us without the intercession of Jesus Christ. We catch a glimpse of what Jesus saved us from.
The practical ramification is that this glimpse helps us fully appreciate the work of the gospel, and what it really accomplished. The depiction of the thought of God’s judgment should help us appreciate the reality of God’s mercy. We know more fully what Paul means when he says that we were meant to be objects of wrath, and can more fully rejoice with him when we realize that we are instead objects of mercy. The ultimate lesson of Isaiah 34 is, “Whew! Thank God that Christ came!”
1. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are sinners who deserve judgment – why do you think it is so easy to fall into this mentality?
2. Have you come into contact with other passages that gave a very contrasting depiction of God? How did you come to understand that passage?