Isaiah 34 - 35
No disappointment for Those Who Trust in Zion.
This chapter and the next are one vision.
To properly understand the full import of the chapter it is important to see the context and the order of placement of the chapters. The order of the material in Isaiah is often a revelation in itself. Superficial treatment of the book by commentators who already doubt the unity of the book is behind the conclusions that there is random placement of the chapters. The doubters say it is because there are a number of writers and editors of the finished book of Isaiah as we have it. However when the purpose of the placement is seen then these chapters not only are in the right place but the placement itself is a kind of revelation.
Actually the chapters seem to be out of place since the chapters 28 to 33 are previews of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem sent by Sennacherib and 36 to 39 are historical narratives that describe the history of the siege and related incidents. Thus the order seems to be broken by the inclusion of what some think is a diatribe against Edom or Idumea as it is called in chapter 34.
Understanding the placement will help in seeing the reason for the placement and what message the chapters were designed to give to the perceptive reader.
The content of the two chapters describe material extending from the present (Isaiah's present) to the final completion of God's dealing with the Remnant Nation (Zion). The preceding chapter (33) completes the series of visions (found in 28 - 33) on the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Assyrian armies. These (34 - 35) two chapters are visions which see all of Zion's enemies destroyed (chap 34) and the future introduction and exaltation of Zion (chap 35).
There are therefore two great historical "object lessons" which presage and prepare the faithful for the patient wait for the promised future destruction of all the enemies of Zion and the ultimate victory of Zion. The first object lesson is the complete destruction of the Assyrian armies and salvation of Jerusalem followed by her prosperity in Isaiah's generation. This was predicted before the fact in great detail in chapters 28 - 33. The four historical chapters (36 to 39) which follow these two are included to confirm that all that was predicted was completely fulfilled; and therefore what stretches far out into the future (what is contained in 34 and 35) will be fulfilled as well.
The second object lesson for the faithful dweller in Zion (the demise of Idumea) is at once both a future and a past confirmation of the truth of the promises of God. That is that Zion's enemies will ultimately all be destroyed as well as the ultimate victory of Zion.
Chapter 34 promises the defeat of Zion's enemies--all of them--right up to the end of the world. But to illustrate and confirm the sureness of this victory of Zion over all enemies being fulfilled Edom is presented as the historical object lesson. This lesson of God's dealing with Edom is for the future and will demonstrate how all the enemies of Zion will suffer extinction forever. Thus chapter 34 is not primarily a prophecy of the fall of Idumea but of all the enemies of Zion and Idumea is included to confirm the truth to us.
To those who believed (trusted in Zion) from Isaiah's writing, for over 700 years Edom still existed as a formidable kingdom. Those who trusted in Zion's coming knew that as long as Edom remained a strong nation Zion would not appear. But with the disappearance of Edom .... Actually Edom was "phased out" during the same historical period that the church of Christ was being phased in. Its decline historically actually mirrors the growth of the Christian Church. So that by the time the period that historians call "The Triumph of Christianity" had arrived Edom ended its long decline and had become the "habitation of wild animals" and has so remained to this day. As for confirmation we have had almost 2000 years of observing a place on the planet that formerly was inhabited and supported one of the ancient world's foremost kingdoms in wealth and wisdom but which has remained uninhabited for almost two millennia.
It isn't necessary to describe the current continuing condition of the former Edomite kingdom or its capitol. Anyone who has visited Petra and marvelled at its former glories will agree that in this chapter Isaiah described perfectly the condition and situation it has gone through from age to age, from generation to generation, it has been the habitation of wild animals only. No one has lived there and no one goes there for social or economic intercourse common to cities except a steady stream of tourists (mostly Christian pilgrims) among whom the knowing ones are awed by the coincidence of Isaiah 34 and Edom's continual example of what God will do to the enemies of Zion.
1. Come near, you nations, to hear; and listen, you people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. 2 For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he will utterly destroy them, he will deliver them to the slaughter. 3 Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falls off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
Verses 1 - 4: All (enemy) nations: These verses include all the current and future enemies of Zion from 700 BC to the end of the world. They will all disappear like Edom and suffer eternal extinction like Edom did over 700 years after the prophecy was given. The predictive language of destruction is filled with hyperbole as are most prophetic utterances describing the defeat of God's and Zion's enemies,-- defeats that are overwhelming like Edom's.
5 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. 6 The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. 7 And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. 8 For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. 9. And her streams shall be turned into pitch, and her dust into brimstone, and her land shall become burning pitch.
Verse 5: Idumea: or Edom. Thus Edom is introduced as an object lesson of what will happen to all the enemies of Zion. The hyperbolical description of blood and sword in heaven against Edom illustrates the complete destruction that was destined for that nation. We, today, had almost 2000 years to look back at the incredible fulfillment that has continued to this day. Isaiah's first readers had more than 700 years to look forward before it was fulfilled.
10 It shall not be quenched night nor day; her smoke shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
Verse 10: None shall pass through it for ever and ever: There have been no permanent inhabitants of (what has to be describes as a most beautiful site) of Mt Seir, Edom, Petra, since Roman times. No attempt has ever been made to reestablish a state or city it the region of Mt Seir. Until the late 19th century there were no roads in the region at all and only the rare historian made his way into the region to report the devastation and desolation of the region. There are still no through highways to this day although hundreds or tourists, (most are Christian pilgrims) enter Petra every day to be awed by the riches of Culture and architectural splendor now lying dead for almost 2000 years.
11 But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. 12 They shall call her nobles to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. 13 And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in her fortresses: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. 14 The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. 15 There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate. 16 Seek you out of the book of the LORD, and read: not one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth has commanded it, and his spirit has gathered them.
Verse 16: Seek out, None lacks her mate. All the predicted things relative to Assyria and but especially Edom will be able to be compared to the history when it is lived and we will then find that all of them have been fulfilled. Therefore all the things in chapters 34 and 35 that have not yet been fulfilled will find their completion in historical time. This is comfort and confirmation to the one dwelling in Zion who had been warned that the way to Zion is long and hardships accompany the way. This confirmation has been valid for 2700 years confirming the past and the future to those who dwell in Zion.
Verse 16: a different reading: In the Qumran text on this page in line 17 and the first 3 words of line 18 is verse 34:16. This is the next to last verse of chapter 34. If the reading in the Masoretic or received text is faithful reconstruction of Isaiah's actual words then this is one of his most confused constructions and does not conform to his ordinary literary excellence which at almost all times is the work of a genius. The M (Masoretic or received) text appears to me to be grammar too poor to be Isaiah's. The Q text does not contain at least three major words in this sentence found in M. And the construction of one phrase is altered putting a negative in a different location. One of the major verbs in M is also missing in Q. In M "phaqadu" makes little sense since it usually means to visit (as with a stroke or punishment) but here is translated "want" which is taken to be "lack" (NIV) rather than "desire." The M text for this verse actually defies a translation that would not be extremely clumsy with out altering the word order greatly.. Complicating this in M the word " 'ishah" (woman) is translated "none" in the KJV and "not one" in NIV and thus it is treated like a negative pronoun. Perhaps the simpler reading in Q is to be preferred in this verse.
After the word "one" (" 'achat") M has "me:henah" (from them: fpl. prn). This is not in Q. In M after the word "re'uthah" (her mate) the words " l'o phaquadu" (they shall not visit, trans: find) negative + verb pf 3pl is not found in Q. There are two negatives in M, only one in Q. For this phrase Q = "ve-achat lo' ne'adarah 'ishah re'uthah ki' " and not one doctrine will lack her mate because..." The next phrase differs slightly and the Q text seems to me to be preferred. The phrase translated "for my mouth it has commanded and his spirit it has gathered them" (KJV) has the confusion of possessive pronoun making the writer and God alternate as subject.. This is arbitrarily corrected in NIV since there is no suf. in M on the word "mouth.". However Q writes the m on "mouth" plainly with "kiy' phiyhu hu' tsivah ve-ruch-ho hu'ah qibatsan." The m sufs on mouth and spirit are made emphatic in Q by the addition of the m pronouns and the translation therefore is "because his own mouth has commanded and his own spirit has gathered them." M does not have a suf on "mouth" although NIV translates it as though it has m. It is more likely that the suf found in Q is the correct reading. Thus the verse in Q reads "Seek you out of the book of YHWH and read: for not one doctrine will lack her mate because his own mouth has commanded and his own spirit has gathered them." Of course what this means is that all the promises of God will find their fulfillment but particularly those in this and the preceding chapter.
17 And he has cast the lot for them, and his hand has divided it to them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell there.
Verse 17: they shall possess it: The wild animals will possess Edom for all generations. This has been the case. It was looked forward to for centuries by the faithful whose anticipations were not fruitless. Neither will the hope that those who still look for the fullness of Zion be disappointed.
The Future Restoration of Zion
Two songs: "We have reached the Land of corn and wine" that is the Beulah land of Zion. and "We are marching to Zion" illustrate the continued dual situation of those who "dwell in Zion." They show that we both possess by faith and we look forward by faith to the perfected condition that God has promised. He has not only promised but he has confirmed the promises by previewing events that are on the "march" toward that happy land.
Of course in the church of Christ we have reached the land of blessing with most of the promises already enjoyed by the believer. We are thus waiting for the transcendental moment when all enemies are put under his feet which event is confirmed to us by the rest of these prophetic previews. The blessings are ours now and we get to take them with us to the heavenly Jerusalem.
1. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
Verse 1: "Glad" The announcement of the glorious age which will follow the calamities that are predicted in the short term for Jerusalem is repeated again in this chapter to give encouragement to the nation that God has a wonderful future planned for them. Therefore the siege of Jerusalem which was just then imminent and which has been the subject of the greater part of the preceding five chapters is seen here in its proper perspective. It will not be the end of the nation. They will survive and go on to greater glory. Isaiah has repeated this theme a number of times and the assurance has been given historically already to Hezekiah when he was miraculously recovered from his illness. See chapter 38:6.
2 It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. 4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.
Verse 3: Strengthen the weak hands: In similar circumstances some 750 years later The apostle Paul quoted these words to encourage those who were growing weary and threatening to drop out of the line of March toward the heavenly city. Just so the initial hearers of these words need the encouragement and the announcement of the real trials that will face all on the journey to heavenly Jerusalem. For all of us there will be weak moments of doubt because the way is hard and the journey long. It will be necessary to be revived along the way. Thus is the purpose of these chapters made clear.
5. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for waters shall break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. 7 And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
Verses 5 - 7: Blind see, deaf hear, lame walk: The picture of the messianic mission of Jesus in his first coming when he opened the doors to Zion is easy to see in this imagery.
8 And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. 9 No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go upon it, they shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there:
Verses 8 - 9: Highway: How comforting is the image of a highway, although difficult and narrow is still so well marked that even the weak and the ignorant can find it.
10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Verse 10: Gladness and joy: This is the final end that is confirmed by the rest of the prophetic events that have been fulfilled. If Edom came to her end and is a perpetual witness from generation to generation then the exaltation of Zion over all her enemies is assured to the faithful. It will find its completion but it is necessary to exercise patience until the Plan of God unfolds.
Return to Commentary Directory
Go Back to Moellerhaus Homepage