Today’s Passage: Isaiah 34
Here’s your summary of Isaiah 34: the first half is a bloodbath and the second half is a wasteland. Put on your hip waders and let’s dig into the gritty details.
Make no mistake, the carnage of this chapter is God’s doing, his judgment against the foreign nations for their evil. Isaiah states, “His wrath against all their armies…He has given them over to slaughter” (34:2). Like livestock, they’re fit to be butchered as food for justice; imagine an army of cattle and how effective a fighting force they’d be. It isn’t a comfortable or pleasant reality that God puts an end to earthly lives because of sin, but passages like this remind us that “good” and “nice” are not 100% synonymous.
That said, let’s look at all that blood. Most notably, Edom is the target of judgment, as stated in vv.5-6. Isaiah prophesies, “[T]heir corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood” (34:3), and then reiterates, “Thus their land will be soaked with blood” (34:7). The blood shed in God’s judgment will saturate the soil, to the point where death becomes a fixture of the landscape itself. Picking up the livestock imagery that he began with the word “slaughter” in verse 2, Isaiah continues, “The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is sated with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats…For the Lord has a sacrifice” (6). Here he recalls the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Torah. Because the Torah forbade the consumption of blood or fat (e.g. Leviticus 3:17), any sacrifices intended for the priests or laypeople to eat would need to be drained of their blood and have their fat cut off. The foreign nations are intended as a sacrifice to God, and his sword will get its fill of fat and blood in preparing them.
The second half of the chapter shows the empty land after the judgment, devoid of humanity. Isaiah declares, “From generation to generation it will be desolate; none will pass through it forever and ever” (34:10). A litany of animals inherit the ruins: pelican, hedgehog, owl, raven (11), jackals, ostriches (13), wolves, the mysterious Sa’iyr and Lilith (14), and in conclusion, the list goes on. Is the Sa’iyr just a hairy goat, or an actual demon? Is the Lilith a screech owl, or is it too a demon? Whatever they are, they haunt the abandoned nation. There are no humans here–mankind’s abuse of its capacity for moral choice has gotten them wiped off the face of this landscape.