William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.Isaiah Chapter 34
The Spirit of God has in chapter 34 brought together the earthly extremes of unsparing judgement and of unmingled mercy; these things in two races naturally akin, but so much the more manifesting their divergence and the divine dealing with each from beginning to end. These nations, so judged and so blessed, sprang from the same stock, from the same father, from the same mother, and branched out into twin brothers, Esau on the one hand and Jacob on the other. The land of Idumea is the centre of the one picture, as of the other is Zion. The proud elder must serve the younger. There was from their birth, and before it, we may say, in antecedent revelation, much to strike the mind in these sons of Isaac and Rebecca, much that would cleave to their posterity till His coming Who will not only judge righteously the past but impress the future with the signs and substance of His own glorious presence.
Yet the early history seemed little to answer either to prophecy or to its fulfilment. "Duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Kenaz" (Gen. 36) and their successors, flourished in the land of Edom, while the sons of Israel were strangers in a land that was not theirs, and ere long proving it a furnace of affliction in bitter bondage. But so it ever is: "that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual." If God's people hope for that they see not, they must "with patience wait for it." He Who is sovereign allows that the flesh should show its character to the utmost, save where special mercy interferes to arrest and restrain because of other wise and gracious purposes. But His mercy it is, shown of His own good pleasure, which roused to madness the unbending arrogance of Edom, who never looked to God with a broken spirit even in his deepest need.
On the other hand it was no small moral test for the sons of Israel, that, spite of the divine promises to them, Esau's descendants should be long settled in peaceful enjoyment as lords of their soil, while Jacob and his seed were sojourners on sufferance, soon to be slaves - and slaves for a long while - in the land of Ham. Half the space that separated the promise from their triumphant exodus saw them a mere family group; and if they afterwards shot up rapidly into a people, it was in circumstances of increasing oppression and degradation. This was no small trial of faith, whether they looked on this side of the picture or on that. Esau had been long established in power and peace and plenty, while Israel lay among the pots of Egypt, and the accursed race of Canaan ruled in their land. And the Bible contains, in the same books the promise and the trial which early appearances made for faith, presenting all calmly as the word of One Who sees the end from the beginning, Who therefore needs no apologies, puts forward few explanations, but claims the confidence of His children, who know Him Whom they have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep against that day the deposit they have entrusted to Him. Scripture does not in a demonstrative way force the truth of God upon His people; on the contrary great simplicity of faith is demanded that we receive it unhesitatingly, trusting God in spite of appearances for the present and delays for the future.
Had you looked more closely and spiritually into Jacob's life, you might have expected long discipline; even as he, their father, was seen lying on his pillow of stone, and Jehovah held out the vision of glory before him. This might have prepared for the thought of trial first, then of gracious blessing. So, later, there was first the crushing of all natural hopes, and then the name of victory conferred (Genesis 32:28). Thus what we have in Jacob's early history prepares one for the vicissitudes of his sons. He was a poor trembling man, with plenty of faults shrinking from the presence of his brother, in whom might appear much that was attractive naturally. But God saw under it all that the flesh is a false and proud thing - enmity with God, Who allowed that the worst should show out in him, the despiser of his birthright, its real character. Present things were his life; hence profane unbelief and slight of the things of God. All this and more came out prominently in Esau, as they were to be verified in his race. If Gentiles, at any rate they had a blood relation with the people of God. But their very connection with them, though a sort of transition between Israel and the nations around, was the occasion of envious enmity and ruin. They were to prove that it was not only an Egypt and a Pharaoh who were raised up for God to manifest His judgement upon, but that God would do just the same to the sons of Esau, and that Esau's flesh would betray the bitterest defiance of God and His people.
The great northern enemy of Isa. 33 seems to be historically latest; but morally, the account of Edom's judgement is kept for the last, perhaps as being so near to Israel by nature. After that great enemy, the Assyrian, is destroyed, we hear of Edom's doom decided. The reader also may compare the intimation of Psalm 83:6-8. When God was dealing with Israel in blessing or chastisement we have Edom disputing the right of God to bless His people, and taking delight in their shame and sorrow. God resents such spite. And was it not in his race that despised the birthright? This, no doubt, accomplished the purpose of God; but then He admirably makes His end to agree with His word and means. Though a question of His own sovereignty, yet this goes hand in hand with His righteous ways. Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected; but God brought out at the critical time that there was also the seal of righteousness. Certainly Esau deserved to be cast off by God, though Jacob justly traces everything to His mercy and grace. Thus the transgression of selling his birthright confirms what God had already given out as a question of His own disposal. Esau showed that he set no value on his birthright, present existence being dearer to him than any blessing of God. Jacob was utterly wrong in following his mother's deceitful plan to hinder Isaac's wish and secure the promise. He ought to have waited in peace and confidence, expecting God to make good His own word. But weak as he was, quite wrong more than once, yet one thing you do find in Jacob, not in Esau - a heart for God, a faith that valued the promises of God. He might be apt to drop into his old craft, and to form plans for himself, for he was indeed "that worm Jacob," as scripture calls him; but still at bottom there was a purpose that clave to God and His word. So when the struggle came, when God wrestled with His servant, there was nature that needed to be withered up, lest he should suppose that because of any vigour of his own he prevailed. Still on blessing from God he was set, and would not desist till he had the assurance of it. If flesh was there to be judged, surely divine faith was very manifest. Hence Jacob becomes far brighter towards the close, when the flesh was practically set aside.
So with Israel. Though there will be the chastening of their unfaithfulness, yet the day will come when the nations are fully judged, not borne with; and how will it then fare with Edom? When Israel was in the wilderness, Esau stopped their way. The power of God could have smitten him down (as He had determined long before); but the time was not yet come. So Israel struck not a blow upon their guilty brother, but rather turned back like a rebuked child. Ah! it was the token in its patience that a still more tremendous judgement was in store for Edom; for there is nothing so ominous as when God takes patiently the iniquity of men. If there be remonstrance, it shows there is, as it were, a hope; but if all be borne silently, it is the solemn sign of judgement that will fall as surely as it lingers. Blessed as it is for those who walk in grace, there is perhaps no more evident a token of perdition to the world than the saints passing through it without lifting a finger in their own defence, or on God's behalf. Alas! we know that the church has failed in this, as Israel after their sort. But their path through the wilderness was a type of the journey of faith in grace, the earthly people and things being the shadow of the heavenly.
Possibly there may have been a preliminary judgement at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's onslaught on the Jews. One might judge from the Psalms (see especially Ps. 137, "Remember, O Jehovah, the children of Edom") that there is a connection between that and Edom; that is, there may have been a partial accomplishment in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. For though on his coming up against Jerusalem, the Edomites helped him to destroy the Jews more effectually, they themselves were not spared by the conquerors. In Ps. 83 we find connected with Edom the Assyrian, the great enemy of the ten tribes as we have seen; with Babylon the conqueror of the two. "Keep not thou silence, O God . . . They have taken crafty counsel against thy people . . . Let us cut them off." All confirms what has been already remarked. In the confederacy against Israel figure "the tabernacles of Edom." It is the first power mentioned, of course not as the mightiest, but as setting on the others to Israel's ruin. Being neighbours, they would have a better knowledge of the people and their land, and so be the more dangerous, besides the moral bearing of the case. There are also the Philistines, Tyre, and the various peoples that lived near the sea coast, as well as round about Idumea and the contiguous regions. Then we find the great power of Asshur mentioned as having joined them. So the Spirit of God classes Edom with Israel's final adversaries, as He had done already by Moses and Joshua with their earliest. There is an evident connection between their rise and the gradual course of their history through scripture. Now at the close we find distinct prophecies applying to Edom. "They are confederate against thee" (v. 5). All their covenants God will break up before the judgement falls upon Esau. They may have joined themselves unto Asshur; but that great power, like the lesser ones, will be directed against God's people in vain, great and small alike hostile, uniting to aim a more effectual blow at Israel, but only to the destruction of themselves .
God, we may see, always goes back to the beginning when He judges. In the time of the Babylonish captivity, why did He judge Israel? He looks at what they did in the wilderness. It was because of Moloch and Chiun (Amos 5:26). They had learnt to worship their images in the wilderness, and therefore should be carried captive beyond Damascus. God, when the time of judgement comes, traces up to the root of evil. So our wisdom as Christians, when we fail, is to go back to our first departure. We never get right by merely judging this or that outbreak, but should always search out the cause. We do not else gather-needed strength, nor is any sin rightly judged by merely judging the manifested effects; but we must probe into the hidden sources of the mischief. It is not enough to judge our acts; judging self is a very different process. We need to discern the springs within ourselves. If we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. It does not mean pronouncing judgement upon any particular fault, but judging the real cause and not occasions merely. Such is the Christian way of judging. It is not occupation with the surface, but with that which is underneath, the hardly seen roots of the acts which any can see.
With unerring wisdom then God goes back to what Esau did from the beginning of his history. He had waited long and patiently, nearly a thousand years, and now shows His perfect knowledge of the course and end; but when the end does come, God invariably traces all up to the beginning.
We need not dwell on all the dark account. The full stroke of judgement comes upon the Edomites in the day of Jehovah. Here, though the scene be laid in Idumea, it is a question of all the heathen. This is referred to here. "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye peoples: let the earth hear, and the fullness thereof; the world, and all that cometh forth of it. For the indignation of Jehovah [is] upon all the nations, and fury against all their armies; he hath devoted them to destruction, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up from their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall away, as a leaf fadeth from off the vine, and as the withered [fruit] from the fig-tree. For my sword shall be bathed in the heavens; behold, it shall come down upon Edom, and upon the people of my ban, to judgement. The sword of Jehovah is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for Jehovah hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom" (vv. 1-6). The day of the calamity of His people! If there be anything He repeats over and over again, it is the day of their calamity. (Compare Obadiah 1:11-14). He means blessing, and there is nothing that more rouses His judgement than, when through their sin deep sorrow falls and strikes their hearts, men should then take advantage of this to behave themselves proudly against them. There was never a truer picture of the spirit of man than at this very time, unless it be the feeling of Christendom towards those who are seeking to walk in the way that is pleasing to God. If failure is known that fills such with shame, is it not used to wrong them, or to speak evil against them? This was the feeling of Edom; so that we may see how true these principles of God are, and how solemn it is for us to realise the duty that becomes us at the present time.
"And the wild-oxen shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be drunken with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. For [it is] the day of Jehovah's vengeance, the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night and day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it; and the owl (or, bittern) and the raven shall dwell therein. And he shall stretch over it the line of confusion, and the plummet of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none [shall be] there; and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and thistles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be a habitation of jackals, a court for ostriches. And the wild beasts of the desert shall meet with the wolves, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; yea, the night-monster shall settle there, and shall find her a place of rest. There shall the arrowsnake make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: yea, there shall the kites be gathered, every one with her mate. Seek ye out of the book of Jehovah and read: not one of these shall be missing, none shall want her mate; for my mouth, it hath commanded, and his spirit, it hath gathered them And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein" (vv. 7-17). There will be one destruction upon the mountains of Israel, but another special carnage in Edom. It is important to bear in mind that this is a future judgement: if any one were to apply it rigorously and in all its extent to the times of Nebuchadnezzar, confusion must result, perverting either scripture or the facts. The contrary rather was seen then. The nations had it all their own way. There was no such thing as God having a great sacrifice of all nations, though treacherous Edom suffered. The real fulfilment will be at the end of the age, though even then will be merely a tremendous convulsion of nature: the total dissolution of heaven and earth will be at the end of the millennium. The Spirit of God in a measure puts the scenes together here.
For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.
Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.
They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.
There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.
Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.
And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.