William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.Isaiah Chapter 24
The prophet now launches into a larger theme. Hitherto we have had ten "burdens," the burdens of the nations from Babylon to Tyre, not without involving Jerusalem in those judgements which, starting from local circumstances, sweep on to the "end of the age," when God shall put down the rebellious pride of the earth. In the present chapter Isaiah enlarges the scene, with the land and people of Israel as the centre, so as to disclose, not the great white throne before which the wicked dead stand and are judged, but the hour of the earth's universal retribution from God, "the day of Jehovah" in its unrestricted final sense, of which previous dealings, as in the cases of Babylon and Egypt, were but the shadow and the earnest.
"Behold, Jehovah maketh the earth [or, land] empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest, as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with him from whom usury is taken" (vv. 1, 2). There are evidently no limits here. As verse 1 shows us the earth wasted, confounded, and prostrate under the divine dealing, so verse 2 indicates an unsparing overthrow of all grades among its inhabitants. "The land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled: for Jehovah hath spoken this word" (v. 3). If it is hard work to apply such strong and comprehensive terms to the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, as some conceive, still less can verse 4 be evaded. "The earth mourneth, it fadeth away: the world languisheth, it fadeth away; the haughty people of the earth do languish" (v. 4). How carefully too the Spirit guards against the too common resource of unbelief - the alleged hyperbole of an impassioned seer! - "Jehovah hath spoken this word."
Next, we have the moral ground on which God judged and executed thus sternly. "The earth [or, land] also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof, for they have transgressed the laws, changed the statute, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore doth the curse devour the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left" (vv. 5, 6). It is no mere providential judgement but a most comprehensive and divine infliction, of which God had spoken almost since the beginning. "Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these" (Judges 1:14). The oft-threatened long-suspended blow will at length fall, as Isaiah here intimates, and Jude later still, when Christendom's evil becomes as plain as Israel's.
"The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merry hearted do sigh. The mirth of tambours ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth. They do not drink wine with a song; strong drink is bitter to them that drink it. The city of solitude is broken down; every house is shut up, that no man entereth in. [There is] a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone. In the city remaineth desolation, and the gate is smitten, - a ruin" (vv. 7-12). Such and so complete is the picture of woe. Desolation overspreads the country and the city alike. Nevertheless, as always, God reserves a remnant. "For thus it will be in the midst of the land among the peoples, as the shaking of an olive-tree, as the grape-gleanings when the vintage is done. These shall lift up their voice, they shall shout for the majesty of Jehovah, they shall cry aloud from the sea. Wherefore glorify ye Jehovah in the east, the name of Jehovah the God of Israel in the isles of the west. From the end [wing] of the earth have we heard songs, Glory to the righteous" (vv. 13-16). It is manifestly a description of the righteous in Israel, who shall come into prominence, as divine judgements mow down their proud oppressors.
Nevertheless verse 16 appears to mark how deeply the prophet, foreshowing the exercised godly souls of that day, deplores the low condition of the remnant, and the fearful defection and ruin of the mass of Israel. "But I said, My leanness my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous have dealt very treacherously. Fear, and the pit, and the snare [are] upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth [or, land]. And it shall come to pass [that] he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare, for the windows on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth do shake. The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is quite dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth reeleth to and fro like a drunkard, and is shaken like a night-hut; and the transgression thereof is heavy upon it; and it falleth, and riseth not again. And it shall come to pass in that day [that] Jehovah will punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth on the earth. And they shall be gathered together [as] prisoners gathered for the pit, and shall be shut up in prison, and after many days shall they be visited. And the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his elders [or, ancients] in glory" [or, gloriously] (vv. 16-23).
The entire chapter, specially its closing verses, brings into the strongest evidence the hopeless difficulties of those who confound earthly things with heavenly, and refuse to see the portion in store for Israel in the latter day, when judgement has fallen on the habitable earth. Writers as early as Theodoret confess the ulterior scope of the prophecy, whatever measure of accomplishment they might consider it to have had in the past: "The discourse contains a double prophecy; for it points out both what was going on at different times among the enemies, and what shall be in the consummation of the present age." But then, immediately after, he makes the singularly unintelligent observation that the second verse describes a state of things properly and truly after the resurrection. The judgement of the quick is ignored. There is in truth not a word here of the dead raised, or souls giving an account of their deeds, but emphatically and repeatedly of the earth's crisis, and of the world smitten and languishing under God's mighty hand. The language, no doubt, is excessively strong; it here and there appears to look on to the dissolution of all things, as is sufficiently common in prophetic style, where the prediction of the signal change which ushers in the millennium contains a more or less covert allusion to the utter passing away of the heavens and earth that now are, and the coming in of the eternal state. But the conclusion of the chapter makes it plain that the grand aim of the Spirit here is to portray that mighty and universal catastrophe which is succeeded by the times of refreshing for Israel and the earth, of which God has spoken by His holy prophets since the world began.
So profound and all-embracing, however, is the dealing of God, that even the angelic hosts escape no more than the proudest potentates here below. "It shall come to pass in that day [that] Jehovah shall punish the host of the high ones on high [not, 'that are on high'], and the kings of the earth on the earth," These spirits of evil had up to this misled man and dishonoured God, seeking to corrupt every mercy almost from the source. But the time is come that angels should be judged as well as living men, far beyond even the judgement of the flood. The power of the heavens shall be shaken - not earth only, but also heaven. But far from its being as yet the melting away of time into eternity, "the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah shall reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before his elders in glory." It is the day of which Zechariah spoke (Zechariah 14:9-10), long after the return from the captivity, when Jehovah shall be king over all the earth. "In that day shall there be one Jehovah, and his name one. All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; and it shall be lifted up, and inhabited in her place, from Benjamin's gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel unto the king's winepresses." Could expressions be used more precisely to exclude the mystical interpretation, or more calculated to maintain the hopes of Israel, then to be built on the Living Stone over Whom they have till yet stumbled? Jehovah Messiah will come in His kingdom and reign in Zion. The land as it were broadens out to the earth; not only is the world comprehended in the divine dealing but the heavens. And He, Who has at length taken to Him His great power and reigned, proves Himself the ruler of all things that are in "heaven, and that are on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or principalities or authorities." As they were created in virtue of (ἐν) Him and through Him, so were they created for Him, as the day of Jehovah will display, when Jerusalem and Mount Zion still subsist: a state of things manifestly different from and antecedent to the eternity that follows.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.
The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word.
The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish.
The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.
The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merryhearted do sigh.
The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth.
They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.
The city of confusion is broken down: every house is shut up, that no man may come in.
There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone.
In the city is left desolation, and the gate is smitten with destruction.
When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done.
They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the LORD, they shall cry aloud from the sea.
Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea.
From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.
Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.
And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake.
The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.
The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth.
And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.
Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.