Isaiah 34
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The Edomites appear in the blackest colors in the descriptions of the prophets. And in this oracle their punishment is represented in the horrible desolation of their land.

I. THEIR SINS. Their cruelty is above all stigmatized. At the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar they helped to plunder the city and slaughter the poor Jews. Their conduct on this occasion was never forgotten (Psalm 137.). In Obadiah we have the feelings about them brought into the clearest light (Obadiah 1:10-16). They were akin to the Jews, Esau the ancestor of the one, Jacob of the other. Their cruelty was accused as "violence against a brother." They had entered the gate of the city on the day of their brethren's calamity, to exult over them, and to join hand in hand with the conqueror and the spoiler. But the day of vengeance has come, and their violent dealing is to be returned upon their own heads (cf. Isaiah 63:1-4; Jeremiah 49:17; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 25:13, 14; Ezekiel 35.; Amos 1:11, 12).


1. The sword of Jehovah an emblem of Divine vengeance. So in numerous passages (Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 34:5; Isaiah 66:16; Deuteronomy 32:41, 42; Jeremiah 12:12; Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 47:6, 35-38; Zechariah 13:7). It has been bathed in blood in heaven, that is, upon the objects of idolatrous worship, demons of the stars, etc.

2. Sacrifice as also a figure of vengeance. A "sacrifice in Bozrah, a great slaughter in the land of Edom." So sacrifice and feasting connected with judgment in Zephaniah 1:7; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 39:17-19.

3. Pictures of desolation. It is a volcanic land, and the prophet sees it deluged with lava-floods, like the guilty cities of the plain (cf. Jeremiah 49:18; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 19:3). The further features of the picture are sketched in the most gloomy colors - its castles and strong places in ruins and overgrown with weeds; wild animals haunting the former abodes of man; and demons or fairies, such as are in popular superstition, hovering about the former scenes of human pride and power.

III. EDOM AS TYPICAL OF THE UNGODLY WORLD. There seems reason for supposing the prophet to have had this larger thought in mind.

1. All the nations are summoned to hear the judgments of God.

2. The desolation predicted is said to be eternal; and this is four times repeated. The general lessons, then, of Divine judgments may be repeated in connection with this awe-inspiring picture.

1. The particular example of Divine judgment illustrates the general truth. That which concerns the people in this respect concerns mankind. The beam which strikes this or that object strikes many others in its rebound.

2. Destruction and discrimination in the judgments are the mark of Providence. When God strikes an individual, or a nation, the conclusion is that they were aimed at.

3. An utter doom the cow, sequence of utter sin. None can think of the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah, and of Edom, without a shudder, without hearing the reverberations of the thunder from Sinai; without attending to the appeal, "Break off your sins by righteousness!" "Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts!" - J.

The strong, pictorial language of the prophet brings into bold relief some truths respecting God's indignation of which it is needful to be occasionally reminded. We learn -

I. THAT IT IS A CONSTANT FACTOR IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people; let the earth hear, and all that is therein... for the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations," etc. (vers. 1, 2). It is seldom, perhaps never, the duty of the Christian minister to employ such terms as those used in this prophecy (vers. 3, 5, 6). But it is his duty to make it clear that benevolence and its kindred attributes do not constitute the character of God; that, though it is a truth of inestimable price that "God is love," it is also true that "our God is a consuming Fire;" that though it is a fact that "justice and judgment are his strange work," it is also a fact that God does pour out his indignation "upon all nations;" that "the hand of the Lord is against them that do evil," that he will render "indignation and wrath.., upon every soul of man that doeth evil." Religious doctrine, like all other truth, must be seen in its true proportions, or it will be misconceived. To represent God's indignation against sin as the chief element in his character is essentially false; to represent his love as absorbing or eclipsing his hatred of sin and his intention to punish the guilty is also, if not equally, false. The same lips which opened to invite every weary wanderer to return to him and find rest in his happy service declared that many of the children of privilege should be shut out of the kingdom of heaven. To the Thrice-Holy One sin is now "that abominable thing which his soul hateth," and against it he will always express, both in word and deed, his righteous indignation.

II. THAT IT IS SOMETIMES POSITIVELY OVERWHELMING IN ITS EFFECTS. "He hath utterly destroyed them" (ver. 2); "Their slain shall be east out... the mountains shall be melted with their blood" (ver. 3); "All the host of heaven shall be dissolved," etc. (ver. 4); "The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, the Lord hath a great slaughter in the land" (ver. 6). God is sometimes "terrible in his doings toward the children of men." The flood swept away the race; the fires of heaven consumed-the cities of the plain; the avenging armies destroyed the population of the guilty land. And now the corrupt nation pays for its apostasy and its crimes the penalty of defeat and humiliation; the degenerate Church also suffers feebleness, decline, perhaps positive extinction; and the debased, hardened man finds himself bereft of every good, pursued and overtaken by gathering evils, having nothing to hope and everything to fear. God is "slow to wrath," he gives opportunities for repentance, he welcomes and restores the penitent; but on the impenitent and unreturning sinner he lays his hand of retribution, and alas for those who find from their own experience that "the way of transgressors is hard!"

III. THAT IT IS OFTEN EXCITED BY OFFENCES COMMITTED AGAINST HIS PEOPLE. "The day of the Lord's vengeance" is "the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion (see Numbers 20:20; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10; 2 Chronicles 25:12; Psalm 137:7; Obadiah 1:10-16). Our Divine Lord has told us that to cause one of his little ones to stumble is a heinous offence in his sight; that, inasmuch as we do not our duty to one of the least of his brethren, we withhold what is clue to himself. The persecution of the people of God has taken many forms beside that of slaughter or imprisonment; they who resort to it must reckon on a very serious measure of Divine disapproval.

IV. THAT IT SHOWS ITSELF IN ITS SADDEST FORM IN A COMPLETE DEGENERACY. From generation to generation it shall lie waste" (ver. 10 and vers. 11-15). It is a sad descent, a melancholy instance of degeneracy, when the thickly peopled city is abandoned by mankind, is untrodden by the human foot, and becomes the haunt of the wild beast, of the obscene bird, and of the "night-monster." The last and worst penalty which God's indignation inflicts on the children of men is utter spiritual degeneracy - the mind losing its intellectual faculties, and becoming imbecile through vice and folly; the wilt broken down and become helpless, bent and swayed with every breeze; the heart hardened so that all feeling of pity and affection has departed; the soul foregoing and forgetting its higher aspirations and sunk into the condition in which it craves nothing better than worldly increase or animal indulgence. Sad as is the loss of position or estate when the powerful prince becomes a menial or the wealthy merchant becomes a beggar, immeasurably sadder in the sight of Heaven is that spiritual degeneracy in which, as the inevitable wages of sin, a human spirit loses all its nobility of character and becomes an outcast in creation, mere driftwood on the ocean, the sport of the devouring waves. - C.

Let the earth hear. This chapter, with the following one, constitutes a distinct prophecy, and forms the completion of the first part of Isaiah's work. This chapter further illustrates the point which has been again and again enforced, that "no man liveth unto himself;" a man's successes, achievements, failures, losses, troubles, are all for the sake of others. Every man's life is really vicarious, and this truth is pictured for us in the history and relations of nations. It is plain that no nation liveth unto itself; it is inspiration or warning to other nations around. A man's experience, and a nation's experience, can only to a very limited extent help the man or the nation; but it can most materially help other men and other nations. Therefore "let the earth hear" what God will do unto Edom. For Edom is principally referred to here, as the peculiarly inveterate and malignant enemy of ancient Israel. As we know that Edom submitted to Assyria, it is quite possible that they played a part in Sennacherib's invasion of Judah, in his attack on Jerusalem; so the prophet foresees Divine judgments falling on Edom as soon as Sennacherib is removed. The historical relations of Edom and Israel should be carefully studied. It is thought that from the historical reference to one nation the prophetic vision advances to the end of the world and the final judgment. We may keep to the lessons which arise out of the purely historical association. Dealing with one or with a few, for the sake of the many, has been God's universal law of relationship with men. It is the law of elections, or rather selections, the calling out of specially fitted ones to be workers for, or examples to, all. We readily recognize this law, as the responsibility of talents, positions, or opportunities; but it is less usual to see that it equally applies to disabilities, failures, and judgments. Men work for others, and men suffer for others. Nations gain power for the sake of others; nations are crushed and humbled for the sake of others. Illustration of this point may run along three lines.

I. A MAN'S OR A NATION'S GENIUS IS NOT FOR SELF. "The earth must hear," and know about it. All gifts are trusts.

II. A MAN'S OR A NATION'S SUFFERINGS ARE NOT FOR SELF. The most striking illustration in a man is Job; in a nation, the people of Israel. All sufferers bear their part in the moral education, the redemption, of the race.

III. A MAN'S OR A NATION'S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT FOR SELF. We are not punished for our own sakes alone. Judgments follow us for the sake of the on-lookers. - R.T.

It is important that we use the words which express the severe side of Divine dealings with great judgment and carefulness. We should resist the tendency of modern times to eliminate all the severer features from the conception of the Divine Being. Dr. Bushnell thus expresses it: "Our age is at the point of apogee from all the robuster notions of Deity." Our fathers made too much of t he Divine "wrath;" but we are in danger of making too little. There is a considerable variety of words that we may use to express this sterner side of the Divine dealing - 'wrath,' 'anger,' 'indignation,' 'fury,' 'vengeance,' 'judgment,' 'justice,' and the like, but they are all more or less defective. Wrath is the term most commonly used in our translation, and it is really the best, if only we can hold it closely enough to the idea of a moral, in distinction from a merely animal, passion; else, failing in this, it will connect associations of unregulated temper that are painful, and as far as possible from being sacred. It requires in this view, like the safety-lamps of the miners, a gauze of definition round it, to save it from blazing into an explosion too fierce to serve the purposes of light." Indignation is the most unexceptionable word, and it is to one point in connection with it that attention is now invited. It is especially suited to express the feeling of God, because it applies to wrong-doers rather than to wrong actions. It links on to the view that the essence of sin is not a wrong thing done, but the wrong will out of which the doing came. We cannot get up indignation merely at things done; our feeling settles and centers on the bad doers. In all cases of sin we should keep quite clearly before us that the Divine concern is not, supremely, the disturbed circumstances, but the sinners and the sufferers. Divine power can readjust and rearrange all our conditions and circumstances, just as that power can preserve the order, and put straight the broken or deflected order, of creation. It is God's own condition, laid upon himself, that moral states can only be reached by moral means. Divine indignations, as they concern moral beings, find expression in the persuasions of Divine judgments; these fall on the man himself, or they may fall on his substitute and representative; and so is opened up for treatment the mystery of Divine indignations resting on Christ for us, for our sakes. - R.T.

The year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. Fausset says, "When Judah was captive in Babylon, Edom in every way insulted over her fallen mistress, and killed many of those Jews whom the Chaldeans had left, and hence was held guilty of fratricide by God (Esau, their ancestor, having been brother to Jacob): this was the cause of the denunciations of the prophets against Edom (Isaiah 63:1; Jeremiah 49:7; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:3-15; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11, 12; Obadiah 1:8, 10, 12-18; Malachi 1:3, 4).' The Israelites were familiar with the law of retaliation. It was the pervading law of men as gathered into tribes, and their basis-idea of justice. Moses adopted it for his legal system, but qualified its operation, preparing the way for an entire change from personal retaliation for offences, to a calm, unbiased, systematic consideration of the case of all wrong-doers, and adjustment of punishments on a fixed scale. So far as the idea of retaliation was right as between men, it may be applied as between God and men, and it is introduced in this verse. Edom took advantage of Israel's weakness to act unbrotherly, and to encroach. Therefore the Lord has a controversy with Edom; and he will surely retaliate, bringing judgments upon them.

I. RETALIATION AS A PRIMITIVE IDEA OF JUSTICE, "It was an ethical maxim, extensively accepted among ancient nations, that men must suffer the same pains that they have inflicted on others. The later Greeks called this the Neoptolemictisis, from the circumstance that Neoptolemus was punished in the same way in which he had sinned. He had murdered at the altar, and at the altar he was murdered." Show how natural the retaliatory idea seems to children. The old sentiment still lingers in men's minds, so that we have great satisfaction in hearing of cases wherein Providence deals the blow to men which they have dealt to others.

II. RETALIATION DANGEROUS BECAUSE OF THE CHARACTER OF AVENGERS. It would be a safe working principle if men were good, and not subject to unworthy passions. These make men do more than retaliate.

III. RETALIATION AS A PART OF DIVINE DEALING. He has a "year of recompenses" - a time when he will make a man's violent doing fall upon his own pate. All sin is wrong done to him; it calls for due recompense. It must be precisely shown how far the idea of retaliation may be applied to God.

IV. RETALIATION BY GOD IS GUARANTEED BY THE CHARACTER OF GOD. It can never be the expression of personal feeling. It can never be unqualified or excessive. It can never be without its own aim to secure the final good of those on whom it must fall. - R.T.

In every age there have been such. In the forefront of the world's history there was desolated Sodom and Gomorrah, witnessing to Israelites, and witnessing to all the world. Our Lord, as a Teacher, called attention to its message. Attention may be directed to Babylon, Tyre, Palestine; and for modern times, to the decay of the commercial cities of Italy, to Holland, etc. - countries which may be spoken of as "desolate" when compared with former prosperities. Edom, or Idumea, is the country alluded to by the prophet, and travelers describe very forcibly the completeness of its desolation. "Captains Irby and Mangles tell us that the Arabs about Akaba are a very bad people, notorious robbers, and at war with all others. The desolation of the land is utter and perpetual - a terrible monument of the Divine displeasure against wickedness and idolatry. The whole land lies under a curse; the ruins of its cities of rock, and the remains of architectural skill and ingenuity, attest its former greatness, while they set forth the solemn fact that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Dr. Robinson says, "A more frightful desert it had hardly been our lot to behold. Now and then a lone shrub of the Ghudah was almost the only trace of vegetation. The mountains beyond presented a most uninviting and hideous aspect; precipices and naked conical peaks of chalky and gravelly formation rising one above another without a sign of life or vegetation." Dr. Olin speaks of it as in "a state of desolation and ruin the most absolute and irretrievable, such as probably no portion of the globe once populous and fertile now exhibits." What, then, is the message which such a desolate land bears for all the world and for us? This may be worked out and illustrated under the following divisions.

I. IT WITNESSES FOR GOD. "He is known by the judgments which he executeth." There is evidently more than a mere operation of natural forces - there is Divine direction of natural forces to effect Divine ends. This may get more familiar illustration from Palestine, which is a country with God's curse on it.

II. IT WITNESSES FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. "Righteousness exalteth a nation." Righteousness is sure defense, security, stability. If a land is desolate, it calls to all other lands, saying, "Hold fast by righteousness." Lands fall through the iniquity of the peoples.

III. IT WITNESSES FOR JUDGMENT. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." Sooner or later every kingdom, every nation, will find that God will arise and vindicate himself, and render a reward to the proud. - R.T.

These words are called forth by -

I. ANTICIPATED INCREDULITY. The prophet thinks that the solemn threatenings he has uttered will not be credited. He seems to say, "You heard these awful utterances, but you will not heed them; you will indulge the thought that they are nothing more than a fanatic's dream; you think in your hearts that they will never be fulfilled; you imagine that you can afford to disregard them; but you are mistaken, there will be the closest correspondence between what is written in 'the book of the Lord' and what shall one day be witnessed in the experiences of Edom." There is a great deal of unwarranted incredulity in the hearts of men respecting the penal purposes of God. He has spoken, has warned men, has clearly intimated what will be the consequences of crime, of vice, of ungodliness, of the rejection of the gospel of Christ, of unfaithfulness and disloyalty in the Christian life. But men's hearts are hard, their understanding is veiled so that they do not see.

1. They delude themselves with the thought that, though other men suffer the penalty of their sin or folly, they will, in some way, escape.

2. Or they deceive themselves by holding up before their minds one-half only of the truth; they dwell on the graciousness and mercy of God, and act as if he were not as righteous as he is tender, as pure as he is pitiful.

3. Or they misrepresent the character of their misdeeds to their own minds, persuading themselves that they are slight and venial, however serious they may be in the sight of God. It is a melancholy fact, calling for utmost vigilance, that the frequent repetition of sin and ultimate familiarity with it reduce its apparent guiltiness to the smallest fraction.

II. THE PROPHETIC ASSURANCE. The prophet says, "Compare what is written in the 'book of the Lord' with the facts, and they shall tally with one another - not one shall fail; for the command shall go from heaven, and these wild beasts, whose presence has been threatened as a dire scourge and as the mark of saddest degeneracy, shall possess the holy land, and 'from generation to generation shall dwell therein;' the very worst that has been foretold shall happen, and what the Divine Word has predicted shall be endured in its most grievous form." They who now speak for God have to give similar assurance: they have to warn men that the worst must be expected if they remain impenitent and disobedient; they have to insist upon it, sorrowfully but emphatically, that everything threatened in the "book of the Lord" will compare with the experiences of the persistently obdurate and disloyal. It is their duty to show:

1. That, sooner or later, men may expect the righteous retribution of God to overtake them; "the sword of heaven is not in haste to smite, nor yet doth linger;" that, though God keeps silence long, he will reprove men, and set their sins in order before their eyes (Psalm 1:21).

2. That, if not here, yet hereafter, the judgments of God will reach the guilty, and then, if not now, "every one will receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."

3. That Divine retribution will take some other form if it come not in the one men have expected. There are other "wild beasts," and worse, than those which are here referred to (vers. 14, 15). There are other evils, and worse, than the poverty, the diseases, the mortality, from which sinners shrink and from which they may long escape. There are evils which haunt the heart, calamities which afflict the soul, ruin which reaches the character, death which overtakes the man himself, - judgments which God in righteousness "hath commanded," and which more than fulfill the saddest and strongest word he has instructed his spokesmen to employ. - C.

Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read. Literally, the word is "from upon the book," meaning, "Search it from the top to the bottom; and in so doing you will find abundant illustrations of Divine threatenings faithfully executed." "Be sure that the desolation which is here preannounced to the literal Edom, and which is foretold in other parts of Scripture, as the doom of God's enemies, will be exactly fulfilled in all those who imitate their temper, in rebellion against God, and in cruelty and treachery to Israel."

I. ALL GOD'S WRITTEN WORD WILL BE FOUND TO AGREE TOGETHER. It is the exceeding marvel of it, the best evidence of Divine inspiration, that, though written by different men, at different times, and in different lands, on all main points of revelation it is at absolute agreement; and contradictions, which men may fancy they find, gain easy solution. Moral principles, religious teachings, representations of Divine dealings, are the same throughout. This may be illustrated in specific eases. Take the idea of God as One, and as a Spirit; or take the Divine relation to idolatry; or take the response of God to penitence; in each instance search the book, and you will surely find a uniform and harmonious testimony. Or take the case of the text, and show the certainty that judgment will follow threatening, if penitence do not intervene.

II. ALL GOD'S WRITTEN WORD IS IN HARMONY WITH HIS SPOKEN WORD. This seems to be the point of Isaiah's appeal, he spoke this denunciation of Edom by word of mouth; it had not yet been written down, so he pleads thus: "Test it as much as you please by the written Word that you possess: it is all one; God spoke then; God speaks by me. The vision is true. The judgment is sure." The condition of listening to any one who professes to have a message and revelation from God is that they shall speak in harmony with the Word of God which we possess. "If they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them." Distinction may wisely be made between the mere details of the Word, and the great truths and principles of the Word. These latter alone can be used as tests; and very much of the sect-separation of Christianity has come through overvaluing, and unskillfully using, mere biblical details. All doctrine, all morals - but no science - can be, and should ever be, fully tested by scriptural principles. - R.T.

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