Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The US motto is “In God We Trust,” but that’s not really the case anymore. There are many atheists out there now and currently the school systems support an evolutionary view on creation (which goes against Scripture). With the world economy all messed up, people are crying to their governments for help. Right now a major issue is government-supported healthcare. Not long ago, while preparing another post, I saw a protest sign that read, “Your God may not support it, but the law does.” Whether they realize it or not, people put a lot of trust in their governments; however, God (through Isaiah) wants us to make sure we have our priorities right.
Although Isaiah is known largely for his Jesus-based prophecies, he also has a lot of desolation writings. While reading through this book of prophecy, the Holy Spirit opened up a passage that you might usually skim over (because after a while all of the wrath stuff kinda runs together). It starts like this,
Come near, you nations, and listen;
Pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth ear, and all that is in it,
The world, and all that comes out of it!
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.
Their slain will be thrown out,
Their dead bodies will send up a stench;
The mountains will be soaked with their blood.
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 (Isaiah 34:1-4).
Ah yes, total destruction; must like the rest of Isaiah. However, this time the wrath of God is not focused; rather it is proclaimed over the whole world. Every nation is doomed to destruction. Obviously, pronouncing a curse on the whole world is a little overkill- even for God. Quickly, Isaiah localizes the destruction to what it will be like in Edom. He writes,
My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
See, it descends in judgment on Edom,
The people I have totally destroyed.
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.
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 (Isaiah 34:5-7).
While I wouldn’t put it past the Lord to slaughter a large quantity of animals to atone for a nation’s sins, it stands to reason that Isaiah’s prophecy is more likely comparing the horrible bloodshed that will overtake Israel’s neighbor to that of the largely meaningless offerings at the Temple. Already in Isaiah 1 God established that he had become sick of Israel’s sacrifices (for the people were living in sin all the time). The Bible records,
“The multitude of your sacrifices-
What are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough burnt offerings,
Of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
In the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
Who has asked this of you,
This trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-
I cannot bear your evil assemblies” (Isaiah 1:11-13).
Take note, God actually says that he takes no pleasure in the blood of animals. This we can connect to Ezekiel 33:11’s,
Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”
So, in Isaiah, God says he’s not interested in sacrifices and then pronounces in Ezekiel that he’d rather people stop sinning. Therefore, we can assume that the multitudes of those to die in Edom (and ultimately the world) are not animals, but wicked people.
But what causes all of this destruction? Why would God be angry with all the nations- and why use Edom as the example? The Holy Spirit showed me that we are given a clue in Isaiah 34:12, “Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom, all her princes will vanish away.” Notice, God specifically targets the kingdom and the royalty- actually it sounds like the nobles will be spared just so they can experience the loss of the government they trusted in. The other clue comes from the fact that god focuses on animals inheriting the land. The Lord proclaims,
Thorns will overrun her citadels,
Nettles and brambles her strongholds.
She will become a haunt for jackals,
A home for owls.
Desert creatures will meet with hyenas,
And wild goats will bleat to each other;
There the night creatures will also repose
And find for themselves places of rest.
The owl will nest there and lay eggs,
She will hatch them, and care for her
Young under the shadow of her wings;
There also the falcons will gather,
Each with its mate (Isaiah 34:13-15).
God brings up hyenas moving into destroyed cities other times in prophecy; but this time the Lord brings goats into the picture too. He also notes that the creatures will rest and mate and raise families. The conclusion of the prophecy is probably the best part though. It reads,
Look in the scroll of the Lord and read:
None of these will be missing,
Not one will lack her mate.
For it is his mouth that has given the order,
And his Spirit will gather them together.
He allots their portions;
His hand distributes them by measure.
They will possess it forever
And dwell there from generation to generation (Isaiah 34:16-17).
To wrap up his prophecy against the nations, the Lord makes a promise to the animals that God will give Edom to them as an inheritance and take care of them. Now, I don’t know how many animals read the Bible, but it seems odd for God to use space in his Book to promise animals that he’ll care for their needs.
So what’s going on? God is reminding us to be careful where we put our trust. Every nation will be destroyed- that is to say that no political line or principality separates man from God and no government is stronger than him. We’re even told about God being bigger than nations in Isaiah 40:15,
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
They are regarded as dust on the scales;
He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
And in Isaiah 40:17, the Lord goes on to remind us that he doesn’t put a lot of weight into what are essentially just lines on a map,
Before him all the nations are as nothing;
They are regarded by him as worthless
And less than nothing.
Remember this next time you hear of a country having a border dispute (or your fighting with your neighbor about where the property line is).
This brings us to our next question: Why Edom? Well, first of all, to simplify the curse for us to understand better by localizing it a bit. Secondly, Edom had treated Israel badly, which is why Isaiah notes, “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause” (Isaiah 34:8).
A lot of people put too much faith in their country. I’m not saying national pride is wrong, but God always comes first. Also, no matter how stable a government may be, they will fall one day because governments rest on the shoulders of men. The Lord makes note of his power versus man’s in Isaiah 7:5-9,
Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“It will not take place,
It will not happen,
For the head of Aram is Damascus,
And the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
And the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in faith,
You will not stand at all.”
That’s a quote worth hanging on your wall. Anyway, God makes it clear that his word overrides the will of man.
While Hezekiah was king, Assyria came to Jerusalem. Assyria was immensely strong at that time (and had even captured the northern kingdom of Israel). As believers, we know that no nation has any power unless the Lord gives it to them, but Sennacherib didn’t believe in God, he believed in himself and the power of his nation. He even sent his general to trash talk Hezekiah’s Bible-banging ways. Sennacherib proclaimed (through his general),
Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand? (Isaiah 36:18-20).
God did not appreciate this. So, the Lord showed where he stood on the power of governments,
Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning- there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
One day, while he was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king (Isaiah 37:36-38).
In short order God brought death, loss of pride, and political upheaval. God is bigger and stronger than any nation, army, or ruler; and destroying what we put our trust in is no concern for the Lord if he wants to get our priorities straight.
This is all well and good- but why all the animal talk in Isaiah 34? For the answer to this, let’s look at Job 38:39-41,
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
And satisfy the hunger of the lions
When they crouch in their dens
Or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
When its young cry out to God
And wander about for lack of food?
In this passage, God is explaining all that he does. Without him the animals would all die, for he completely manages their lives. That is to say, they depend on him. Wildlife has no country to trust in, nor do the animals have any other God than the Lord. Jesus notes in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Christ reminds us that the Lord will take care of our needs if we trust in him, just as he cares for the rest of creation. Therefore, just as we can read the wonton death of the sacrificial animals in Edom as the death of wicked people, so too can we read God’s promise to the animals as a promise to those who trust in the Lord and believe on his son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit reminds us in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
God builds up governments in order to organize care for us, but do not forget where it all comes from. When times are hard, don’t look to the government for answers, for they are human, just like you and me; and they probably know about as much as we do about how to fix things. Instead, look to God and the salvation offered through Jesus’ death and resurrection because the Lord can actually cause change. For we are told,
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33).
“In God We Trust” may not ring through for our nation anymore, but “In God I Trust” can still be the standard in your life.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).