Isaiah 24 – Garbage World

Bible opened to Isaiah 24 with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans topped with Justin's Almond Butter on zebra plate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans topped with Justin’s Almond Butter

Today’s PassageIsaiah 24

If you haven’t read the oracles of judgment in Isaiah 13-23, you’re in luck: the twenty-fourth chapter functions as a summary of judgment against the whole earth. I do recommend reading Isaiah 13-23; it may contain unfamiliar history and uncomfortable punishment, but not every Bible passage has its significance and value right on the surface. That said, the very first verse of today’s chapter will catch us up to speed if necessary: “Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1). God will visit his wrath on everybody and his brother.

Lest you wonder, the people of the world merit this devastation. Isaiah tells us, “The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty” (24:5-6). God’s actions are just retribution against the people’s violation of his law, evil is not consequence-free, and there is a penalty. I took notice at the word “polluted;” as a pre-industrial-revolution ancient Hebrew with no concept of modern ecological science, it’s not as if Isaiah suddenly joined the Green Party. Strong’s Concordance identifies the Hebrew word as chaneph, meaning “to soil, especially in a moral sense.” Recalling the Jewish purity laws in the Torah (e.g. concerning dead bodies, Numbers 19:11, or leprosy infections, Leviticus 13), I infer that there’s a sense of physical purity, but neither is the problem that the people have failed to put their material bodies through the right motions to follow the law. They’ve made the world worse through their choices, and justice demands accountability. They’ve spread the garbage in their souls to the world they inhabit.

God’s judgment marks an end to the party. Isaiah personifies the earth and the wine that comes from it, saying, “The earth mourns and withers…[t]he new wine mourns, the vine decays” (24:4, 7). The people of the earth follow the earth in its sorrow: “The gaiety of the harp ceases. They do not drink wine with song; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it” (9). Wine in ancient Hebrew culture connotes celebration and prosperity, but now that the earth in mourning produces sad wine, the only people who drink aren’t dancing and singing, they’re lamenting. Cities have been wrecked from gates to streets, and the people are boarded up in their houses (24:10-12). Note also that the wine is described as “bitter,” and no one’s drinking it for the pleasure of enjoying its flavor. In times of prosperity, we drink to rejoice, but perhaps in dark times like this, the only hard drinkers are drinking to forget.

Isaiah comes back to the matter of wine near the end of the chapter, but here he uses it as a simile. He says, “The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a shack, for its transgression is heavy upon it, and it will fall, never to rise again” (24:20). I’m not entirely sure what he means here. Is the “tottering drunkard” bit a prediction of earthquakes as part of God’s judgment? And in what sense will the entire earth “fall, never to rise again?” Taking one’s final fall sounds to me like death. Are we to understand that at some point the world will die, and die for good? I’m curious what you make of this verse, as I don’t entirely know how to interpret it. Let me know your thoughts.


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