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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 34

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 34 God’s Judgment on Edom And The Surrounding Nations.

Now Isaiah suddenly turns his attention away from God’s people to Edom and the nations. Always after being lifted up, he comes solidly down to earth. For in this chapter God declares that His day is about to come on Edom and the nations connected with them. But the switch is not quite such a surprise as we might at first think. For what he is doing here is remind God’s people that all who have proved themselves their enemies will be dealt with. God’s archenemy Babylon has long been dealt with (Isaiah 34:13-14). Now it is Edom’s turn, Edom who turned against his brother Israel, Israel’s Judas, and illustrates all that is treacherous in the world. As with Babylon Edom’s fate is also to be permanent. There will be no second chance. So both Babylon which represents the glorying of the world, and Edom which represents the treachery and apostasy of the world, will be dealt with in final judgment. In both cases this fact will again be dealt with in the later part of the book, chapters 46-47 for Babylon, and 64 for Edom. For these two represent God’s permanent enemies, the menace without and the traitor within (see especially Isaiah 47:1-13; Isaiah 63:1-6).

Edom and their neighbours always took advantage of Judah when they were weak, and took possession of land belonging to Judah (compare Amos 1:11-12; Psalms 137:7; Obadiah 1:10-14). Because of this God’s special judgment is declared against them. Compare how the feeling against them is so strong that they later get their own chapter in Ezekiel (in chapter 35). Their sin was the greater in that they were a brother tribe (Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 23:7). This was why they receive special condemnation.

Analysis.

a Come near, you nations, to hear, and listen you peoples. Let the earth hear, and its fullness, the world and all things that come forth from it (Isaiah 34:1).

b For Yahweh has indignation against all the nations, and fury against all their host. He has utterly destroyed them (put them under the Ban, devoted them), He has delivered them to the slaughter (Isaiah 34:2).

c Their slain also will be cast out, and the stink of their carcases will come up, and the mountains will be melted with their blood (Isaiah 34:3).

d And all the host of heaven will be dissolved, and the heavens will be rolled together as a scroll, and all their host will fade away, as the leaf fades from the vine, and as a fading leaf from the fig tree (Isaiah 34:4).

d For my sword has drunk its fill in heaven. Behold it will come down on Edom, and on the people of my curse, to judgment (Isaiah 34:5).

c The sword of Yahweh is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams (Isaiah 34:6).

b For Yahweh has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom. And the wild oxen will come down with them, and the bullocks with the mighty ones, and their land will be drunk with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness (Isaiah 34:7).

a For it is the day of Yahweh’s vengeance, the year of recompense in the controversy of Zion (Isaiah 34:8).

In ‘a’ the nations, the peoples and the whole of creation are called on to hear Yahweh’s indictment against Edom and its related nations, and in the parallel it is because it is the Day of Yahweh’s vengeance, the year of His recompenses in the controversy of Zion. In ‘b’ Yahweh has indignation against ‘all the nations’ (associated with Edom), He has devoted them to slaughter, and in the parallel He has a sacrifice in Bozrah which will be a great slaughter. In ‘c’ such is their slain that they will be cast out, and the stench will be great and the mountains will flow with their blood, while in the parallel Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood and with the fat of the sacrifices. In ‘d’ it will be such a slaughter that it will be seen as affecting the heavens, and in the parallel His sword will drink its fill in heaven, coming down on the people of His curse for judgment.


Verse 1

‘Come near, you nations, to hear,

And listen you peoples.

Let the earth hear, and its fullness,

The world and all things that come forth from it.’

The nations of the world are all called to come near and witness this judgment about to be described. Indeed not only the nations but also the whole of creation, is to consider what God is about to do. Compare on this Isaiah 1:2. From it they will learn how precious to Him are His people, and what it means to deal wrongly with them. All are finally involved in what God does, for He is the Creator and the God of all nations.


Verse 2

‘For Yahweh has indignation against all the nations,

And fury against all their host.

He has utterly destroyed them (put them under the Ban, devoted them),

He has delivered them to the slaughter.

Their slain also will be cast out,

And the stink of their carcases will come up,

And the mountains will be melted with their blood.’

The fact that the nations have been called on to witness this and are having it explained to them, and that the total judgment of ‘all the nations’ mentioned here is described in a way that seems to single them out (He has called on the other nations to witness it), suggests that ‘all the nations’ here cannot mean all the nations of the whole known world. It is ‘all the nations’ of the particular area under judgment, that is, it is Edom and her allies known under that name, although possibly as a warning to all nations. It would be a particularly useful way of describing Moab and Ammon and the variety of nomadic tribes in the desert, including Amalek, that connected with Edom, and often allied with her, seen in Isaiah 34:5 as ‘the people of my curse’ (compare Exodus 17:14; Exodus 17:16; Exodus 25:17-19; Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Nehemiah 13:1-3). Compare how in Isaiah 63:6 His judgment on Edom also affects ‘the peoples’. The use of the term ‘the nations’ in this way, as limited to a particular area, is exemplified in Isaiah 9:1; Judges 4:2; see also 2 Chronicles 32:23; Ezekiel 5:5; Ezekiel 5:7; Nehemiah 5:17; Nehemiah 6:16, although not there as referring to these same tribes.

‘All their host.’ This suggests that these nations have gathered together their fighting men to take advantage of Judah’s weak condition. Such were the ways of the world that during times of trouble for a nation their neighbours would often look out for ways of benefiting from it.

But others see ‘all the nations’ as meaning exactly that and the restriction to Edom that follows as therefore being because it is about to be used as an example of the judgment God will bring on all. However, the particularisation of the judgment as against Edom in the way that is described does not seem to support this case. It is Edom particularly (with her allies) who are to be subjected to great slaughter, and whose land is to be drunk with blood (Isaiah 34:6), and who are to be finally extinguished (Isaiah 34:9-10). It is they who are to be the example to the nations. On the other hand this kind of half-anonymity is typical of Isaiah (compare chapter 13 of Babylon). The hint seems to be that what applies to the particular situation could apply to all, even in fact to the hosts of heaven as well (Isaiah 34:4-5 a). For all are finally under the judgment of God.

The total destruction of these nations is vividly described. In His anger they are put under The Ban, ‘devoted’ to destruction. They are delivered to slaughter (specifically said of Edom in Isaiah 34:6). They will not be given proper burial, but will be ‘cast out’ and left in stinking piles in the mountains to rot (compare Isaiah 14:19-20 of the king of Babylon).

‘And the mountains will be melted with their blood.’ So great will be the number of their dead that the blood spilled will cause soil erosion in the mountains. As so often in prophecy the perfect (definite) tenses indicates not the past but the certainty of what is to happen. It is already seen as completed in the mind if God.


Verse 4

‘And all the host of heaven will be dissolved,

And the heavens will be rolled together as a scroll,

And all their host will fade away,

As the leaf fades from the vine,

And as a fading leaf from the fig tree.’

This kind of vivid language in respect of heavenly bodies comes regularly on Isaiah’s lips to describe both judgment and glory (see especially the parallel in Isaiah 13:10 when speaking of Babylon; and compare Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 60:19-20). The ‘host of heaven’ could mean sun, moon and stars, but it could also mean the gods they represented, the worship of whom was constantly condemned. Here they are seen as but leaves on a tree, to be dispensed with just as easily. However the point here is that as far as those under judgment are concerned there will be no help for them from the gods and that their last moments will make it seem as though the heavens themselves are dying and ceasing in their function, in a similar way to the leaves on trees when the harvest is past.

Note the extremeness of the language. It is drawn on in Revelation 6:13-14. If it really happened earth would not survive it. But it is not intended to be taken literally. It is stressing how great the catastrophe will be for Edom. They will never see the stars again.


Verse 5-6

‘For my sword has drunk its fill in heaven.

Behold it will come down on Edom,

And on the people of my curse, to judgment.

The sword of Yahweh is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness,

With the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams.

For Yahweh has a sacrifice in Bozrah,

And a great slaughter in the land of Edom.’

It is clear from this that the main verdict is against Edom and its neighbours, ‘the people of my curse’ (compare Exodus 17:14; Exodus 17:16; Exodus 25:17-19; Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Nehemiah 13:1-3). Together they are the constituents of a great sacrifice when God will finally have His due because of their sinfulness. The time for mercy is past.

‘My sword has drunk its fill in heaven.’ This may suggest that, like Daniel, Isaiah sees earthly nations as having counterpart angels in heaven (compare Isaiah 24:21). When Edom is to be slaughtered their heavenly counterparts must suffer first. Or it may be that the idea is that His sword has already drunk its fill in heaven in anticipation of what it is about to do.

The destruction of Edom is then likened to the offering of sacrifices, as being like a great holocaust (compare Ezekiel 39:17-19; Zephaniah 1:7-8). In such sacrifices the blood and the fat were offered to God (Leviticus 1:5-8; Leviticus 3:13-17 and often). The comparison brings out that this is not just arbitrary, it is necessary slaughter for the sins of the nations. They are receiving their due.

‘Bozrah.’ Compare Amos 1:12 where it is described as a place of palaces. It is possibly modern Buseirah, a fortified city of nineteen acres on top of a crag at the head of the Wadi Hamayideh, sixty kilometres (thirty eight miles) north of Petra, and forty kilometres (twenty five miles) south-south-east of the Dead Sea, controlling the King’s Highway, and thus probably prominent in denying earlier passage to the Israelites (Numbers 20:17).


Verse 7

‘And the wild oxen will come down with them,

And the bullocks with the mighty ones,

And their land will be drunk with blood,

and their dust made fat with fatness.’

Not only Edom but their wild neighbours will be included in the sacrifice, pictured in terms of wild oxen, representing their wilder roving neighbours, while the bullocks and mighty ones possibly represent their other, less wild, near neighbours. There will be so much blood spilled that the land will become drunk with it, with the dust cloyed together in the melted fat.


Verse 8

‘For it is the day of Yahweh’s vengeance,

The year of recompense in the controversy of Zion.’

Yahweh’s day has finally come on Edom, the day when He revenges His people, and when sin too is dealt with. It is the day when Edom receive recompense for what they have done. This is one of many ‘days of Yahweh’ from the beginning to the end of time, each one of which mirrors the final great day of Yahweh in the final judgment.

‘The year of recompense in the controversy of Zion.’ This particularly applies the vengeance to their attitude towards God’s people. The ‘controversy of Zion’ may refer to their taking advantage of Judah’s weak condition (2 Chronicles 28:17; Joel 3:19); the controversy over their rights to land which Edom have taken or had given to them by Assyria, which they are seen by Jerusalem as having no right to; and their general hostility towards Israel. Or to the original controversy when Edom refused passage to the children of Israel (Numbers 20:14-21). Or indeed to all the continued controversy between such neighbours. Or it may signify the continual controversy between the people of God and the world arising from their distinctive faith. With regard to Edom God is now settling the matter once and for all.


Verses 9-17

The All-Embracing Nature of the Judgment and Its Permanence (Isaiah 34:9-17).

It is important to note that God’s judgment on Edom will be all-embracing and permanent. Nothing will survive it. It is an indication of the consequences of treachery and apostasy.

Analysis.

a And its streams will be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone, and its land will become burning pitch (Isaiah 34:9).

b It will not be quenched night nor day, its smoke will go up for ever, from generation to generation it will lie waste, none will pass through it for ever and ever (Isaiah 34:10).

c But the pelican (or ‘hawk’) and the porcupine will possess it, and the owl and the raven will dwell in it (Isaiah 34:11).

d And He will stretch over it the line of formlessness (tohu), and the plummet of emptiness (bohu) over its nobility. They will call the kingdom ‘Not There’, and all her princes will be nothing (Isaiah 34:12).

e And thorns will come up in her palaces, nettles and thistles in its fortresses (Isaiah 34:13 a).

e And it will be a haunt of jackals (tannim - or ‘serpents’), an abode for ostriches (Isaiah 34:13 b).

d And the desert beasts will meet with the hyenas, and the satyr (or ‘he-goat’) will cry to his fellow, yes, the night hag (lilith) will settle there, and will find herself a place of rest (Isaiah 34:14).

c There will the arrow-snake make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow, yes, there will the kites be gathered, every one with her mate (Isaiah 34:15).

b Seek out the book of Yahweh and read, not one of these will be missing, none will want her mate. For my mouth it has commanded, and His spirit, it has gathered them (Isaiah 34:16).

a And He has cast the lot for them, and His hand has divided it to them by line, they will possess it for ever, from generation to generation they will dwell in it (Isaiah 34:17).

The whole picture in this description is one of desolation and emptiness. It commences in ‘a’ and ‘b’ with the emptying of the land and it becoming a burning waste for ever and ever, and ends in ‘b’ and ‘a’ with its possession by all the creatures that Yahweh will call there and write in His book, which will possess it from generation to generation. In between are all the evidences of its desert-like state. It is lost to all human habitation.

Isaiah 34:9-10

‘And its streams will be turned into pitch,

And its dust into brimstone,

And its land will become burning pitch.

It will not be quenched night nor day.

Its smoke will go up for ever.

From generation to generation it will lie waste.

None will pass through it for ever and ever.’

This will one day be the destiny of all who have rejected Yahweh (compare Isaiah 66:24). But here the reference is distinctively to Edom. It will be deserted by men because of its condition (compare Isaiah 13:20. See Malachi 1:4), but that we are not to take the description too literally comes out in that plentiful wildlife would survive there (Isaiah 34:13-15), which would have been impossible on a literal application of the words. The thought is rather of God’s extreme judgment having come on them in terms of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24) and Deuteronomy 29:23, a fate that will continue for ever. And indeed Edom did cease to be a nation, and its land did become totally barren. Thus the message of its evil goes up for ever and ever. God’s brimstone of judgment has enveloped it.

Its fate is described in language typical of what God had promised to those who disobey Him and reject His covenant (Deuteronomy 29:23). It is saying that the covenant curse has come on them. Brimstone especially is a symbol of judgment (Isaiah 30:33). The description is not therefore intended to be taken as literally describing what will literally be seen on earth, but to describe how the action is seen from Heaven’s viewpoint, and to symbolise the fact that God has dealt with it in judgment for ever. It is Heaven that sees the burning sulphur and the eternal smoke arising, not men on earth. They just see the barrenness and the burning desert waste.

Note the great emphasis on its everlastingness. As in Isaiah 30:30, which spoke of vivid heavenly activity not seen on earth although the consequences were seen, what is described is ‘invisible’. It is how heaven sees it. It is a poetic description. Its land fell into Arab hands in 5th century BC, and was overrun by the Nabataeans in the 3rd century BC. Those Edomites who fled to Judah were finally compelled to become Jews under John Hyrcanus in 1st century BC (a kind of mercy out of judgment). Edom as a nation disappeared.

So the two nations who most symbolise the arrogance of the nations and their antipathy towards God, Babylon the great anti-God (Isaiah 34:13-14) and Edom, the faithless and treacherous brother, will share similar fates (Revelation 19:3).

Isaiah 34:11-12

‘But the pelican (or ‘hawk’) and the porcupine will possess it,

And the owl and the raven will dwell in it.

And he will stretch over it the line of formlessness (tohu),

And the plummet of emptiness (bohu) over its nobility.’

‘They will call the kingdom Not There,

And all her princes will be nothing.’

The occupation by animals, birds and snakes is an indication of desertion by man. Compare Isaiah 14:23 of Babylon (It should be noted that we are not always able to identify exactly which animals and birds certain Hebrew words apply to. In some cases we only get a very general idea).

And the land has become tohu wa bohu, ‘formless and empty’ (Genesis 1:2), as indicated by the measuring instruments passed over it. But the measuring line, which was used for marking off plots, is measuring what is without form, and the plummet for measuring building work is measuring emptiness. They are measuring ‘nothing’.

For the line and plummet compare Isaiah 28:17 where right judgment is the line and righteousness the plummet. Edom has lacked both.

No activities with regard to land and buildings will take place, for it has been emptied of its nobility. It will be called ‘Not There’, and its princes will be non-existent. It will be as if it had never been inhabited.

Isaiah 34:13-15

‘And thorns will come up in her palaces,

Nettles and thistles in its fortresses,

And it will be a haunt of jackals (tannim - or ‘serpents’),

An abode for ostriches.

And the desert beasts will meet with the hyenas,

And the satyr (or ‘he-goat’) will cry to his fellow,

Yes, the night hag (lilith) will settle there,

And will find herself a place of rest.

There will the arrow-snake make her nest,

And lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow,

Yes, there will the kites be gathered,

Every one with her mate.’

The picture continues of the many wild creatures who will take possession of its ruined cities, and the weed growth that will infest them. There will be birds, beasts and snakes along with satyrs (‘goat-demons’ or ‘wild goats’) and night hags. The latter may be creatures of superstition, the thought being to convey the idea of a ‘haunted’ place, or may be picturesque and haunting names given to nocturnal animals (compare the modern Tasmanian devil). Note the emphasis on snakes and birds as being there to reproduce and as, with their mates, being a sign of permanence (demonstrating again that Isaiah 34:9 was not intended literally).

Isaiah 34:16-17

‘Seek out the book of Yahweh and read,

Not one of these will be missing,

None will want her mate.

For my mouth it has commanded,

And his spirit, it has gathered them.

And he has cast the lot for them,

And his hand has divided it to them by line,

They will possess it for ever,

From generation to generation they will dwell in it.’

‘Seek out the book of Yahweh and read.’ This suggests that Isaiah has recorded his own words and has called them ‘the Book of Yahweh’. He tells the people to read what he has written, so that when it happens they will know and recognise the fact. Every word he has spoken will be fulfilled, not one of these beasts, birds and snakes will be missing, nor with they lack their mates. Or it may indicate that Yahweh has written His own ‘book of the living’ for Edom, composed only of beasts and creatures, an evidence that it is no longer man’s.

And this will be so because under God he has commanded it and God has brought them there by His Spirit. It will be a deliberate and specific act of God.

Indeed God has shared it to these creatures by lot, as He did the promised land to His people of old (Joshua 14:1-2), and He has divided it between them by measuring their territories, and they will possess it for ever. This is God’s inheritance to Edom because of what they have done to His people (contrast Deuteronomy 2:5). No greater condemnation of Edom’s antagonism to his brother nation could be made. The inheritance of Edom was specifically divided up by God between wild animals, birds and snakes.

But even behind this total judgment was a kind of blessing, for history shows us that the remnant of Edom were eventually absorbed into Israel and became one with the people of God. They were thus in a position to respond when the King came.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 34:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-34.html. 2013.

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