The Supremacy of God Over The Nations (13-23)
Chapters 13-23 of Isaiah’s prophecy picture the sovereignty and supremacy of God over the nations. The world nations are described one by one as God decrees his judgment over them. We will explore in further detail many of the points declared by Isaiah in our Wednesday Bible study. But I want to give you a flavor of what Isaiah is doing as he pronounces doom upon all the nations of the earth. Chapters 13-14 are a declaration of judgment against Babylon. The thing that should be amazing to us about this prophecy is that Babylon is not yet the world power yet. As we have seen in our study of Isaiah, Assyria is the world power. In time, Babylon will conquer the Assyrian Empire. But Isaiah prophesies that once Babylon rises, it too shall fall.
Yet in the midst of this judgment declaration, notice two verses of hope for God’s people in Isaiah 14:1-2. While on the surface we may conclude that this is talking about the return of Judah to its land from Babylonian captivity in 536 BC. However, read the last line of Isaiah 14:2 and we will quickly realize that Isaiah cannot be talking about the return from Babylonian captivity. Isaiah says that the nations are going to come and attach themselves to Israel in verse 1. Then Isaiah says that Israel will possess the nations like slaves. Further, Israel will take captive those who were their captors and rule over those who oppressed them. For those of you familiar with history will know that this never happened in any physical sense. While Israel was allowed to return to the land, they were still under the rule of the nations: first Persia, then Greece, then Rome. Israel never ruled over its captors. So Isaiah is not speaking in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense and the rule of God will extend over the nations of the earth. Keep this spiritual rule of God in your mind as we traverse these prophetic chapters in Isaiah.
Isaiah 19:19-25 show this spiritual call of the nations to the Lord. Verse 19 shows an altar to the Lord in the midst of Egypt and a pillar to the Lord at Egypt’s borders. Egypt sounds like they are the people of God. They have an altar to the Lord and God protecting them. Verse 20 sounds like the days of the judges of Israel such that when an oppressor came, God would deliver them when the people called out to him. Egypt will become the Lord’s land. In fact, not only Egypt but also Assyria as a highway is made between the two nations, which would have run through the nation of Israel. All three nations will worship the Lord, a blessing in the midst of the earth. Verse 25 declares Egypt to be God’s people, Assyria to be the work of God’s hands, and Israel to be God’s inheritance. The nations are pictured as joining together as one people on earth under God’s rule. In Isaiah 23:18 we read that even the merchandise and wages of Tyre will become holy to the Lord and given to the people of God. The message is that God rules over the nations. God rules over the peoples. He will bring his judgment on the nations that do not yield to his rule. However, Isaiah 22 records that Jerusalem is included in these national judgments. Previously, God declared that Jerusalem would survive the Assyrian invasion. But Jerusalem will not survive the next invasion. Here is what the Lord said, “Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die” (Isaiah 22:14).
The Supremacy of God Over The Earth (24)
The struggle with the upcoming chapters is trying to determine what time Isaiah is speaking about coming. I am going to keep the context that we have been following through these chapters, which is that Isaiah is speaking about the current conditions of judgment and the future hope and deliverance that will arrive with the Messiah, the new Davidic king (cf. Isaiah 11:1). I am not able in this lesson to continue through chapter 28, but feel free to study ahead and notice the messianic language found in each of those chapters, describing what will happen when the Messiah comes to rule.
Isaiah 13-23 has been a global judgment. All the nations, even Judah and Jerusalem, are under the condemnation of God. No one has been righteous. All of the nations are full of pride and worthy of judgment. Therefore, Isaiah 24:1-3 declares that the Lord will judge all the peoples equally. The Lord will empty the earth and scatter the inhabitants. The prophecy has a tone that comes from the scene at Babel when the people were full of arrogance and pride and God had to scatter them over the face of the earth (the word “scatter” is the same Hebrew word in Genesis 11:9 as here in Isaiah 24:1). God does not play favorites in judgment. All the earth will be scattered in judgment again.
Verses 4-6 describe the earth as mourning, withering, and languishing. The curse is devouring the earth. Verse 5 pictures something interesting. “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants.” The earth is defiled because of the people who are walking on it. The people have transgressed the laws, the statutes, and the everlasting covenant. Everything that God has given to the earth has been broken by the people, Israel and the nations alike. But I want us to see the language of the earth mourning and being defiled because of the sin that is being committed on the earth. Romans 5 argues that everything changed through Adam’s sin. Turn to Romans 8:18-22 and notice that Paul speaks with the similar language of Isaiah 24.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:18–22 ESV)
Isaiah pictures the earth languishing, mourning, and under the curse because of the sins of the people. Sin has caused the earth to mourn. Paul pictures the earth, therefore, looking forward to the redemption of the inhabitants of the earth, the sons of God. Creation was subjected to futility because of the sins of humanity, as exemplified in Genesis 3 when the ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin. So the earth in a metaphorical sense looks forward to being set free from corruption. Therefore, we are looking forward to our redemption and glorification. The earth is also looking forward to our redemption because it is ruined by our sinful ways. So God is bringing judgment to the earth in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Verses 7-13 of Isaiah 24 shows the result of God’s judgment. God equally judges each city and each nation. The wasted city represents world culture and human civilization that rejects God’s will and wastes its potential for God. But in verses 14-16 there is a glimmer of hope in the cascade of doom. There will be a worldwide chorus from all the nations. Praise naturally flows from those who know God and observe what he has done. But there is hopelessness to the inhabitants of the earth. Their doom is certain. Verses 17-18 use images to show there is no escape. Those who try to run will fall into the pit. Those who try to climb out of the pit will fall into a snare. No one will escape the deserved and right judgments of the Lord. Further, verse 18 comes from the language used to describe Noah’s flood (Genesis 7:11). The windows of heaven are opened and the foundations of the earth shake. But after the destruction of the nations, God is pictured as reigning gloriously, outshining the sun and the moon (24:19-23). The destroying of the nations is the rule of God. God punishes all enemies and rebels, whether in heaven or on earth. The message is similar to the prophecy of Daniel, who saw the kingdom of God as a stone smashing and shattering the nations, represented by the statue. David also prophesied that the enthronement of the Messiah would be the shattering of the earth.
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:7–9 ESV)
There are many other passages that speak of the Messiah shattering the earth (Revelation 19:11-16; Isaiah 11:4; Zechariah 14:8-19). Rather than continuing the images of destruction, Isaiah turns and praises God by describing the victory that is found in the acts of God. This victory note is found in Isaiah 25.
What The Messiah Will Accomplish (25)
Personal knowledge of God marks the people of God in the coming age. Notice the personal relationship that is described: “You are my God!” People will come to him and desire him because of the wonderful things he has accomplished for his people. The worldly, wasted city is made a heap. When human strength and pride are removed, many will turn from their old ways and glorify God. God is pictured as all that any person needs (25:4-5). A stronghold, a shelter, and shade for all people. Those who are hostile to God are subdued by the Lord.
There are two great victory blessings afforded to the people who belong to the Lord. We have seen this phrase, “on this mountain” a couple times in this prophecy (Isaiah 2:2; 11:9). The mountain pictures the kingdom rule of the coming Messiah. Here are the things the Messiah is going to do, the blessings the Messiah will issue, as he establishes the nations under his rule.
First, there is a covenant banquet pictured in verse 6. Notice that the covenant banquet is extended to “all peoples,” Jews and Gentiles alike. Everyone can come to the banqueting of the Messiah. Notice it is a rich banquet with the best food and best wine. He will not give bread and water. He will not offer meager rations. He will give his people the very best. Jesus tells his parables driven off of this kingdom banquet imagery (cf. Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24). Both parables speak of the nations coming in off of the highways and hedges because the invited refused to enter and eat of the glorious banquet. Do you see the contrast in Isaiah? Chapter 24 pictures the wreckage and judgment of the earth. The land is desolate and cursed. But there is this mountain where banqueting is occurring. Will we choose the emptiness and desolation that the world offers or will we choose the rich food and wine of the kingdom of God? Why would we look for joy and pleasure in this world that is described as empty and wasted? Why would we think we can find anything lasting in the earth that is being laid waste by God? But there is a mountain you can come to that is offering all you need for eternal joy and eternal satisfaction.
Second, there is yet another blessing to those who come to the mountain of the Lord. God will swallow up the covering that is cast over all the peoples. What is the covering that hangs over us? The Lord says that it is the covering of death. God is going to swallow up death forever and will wipe tears from all faces. The apostle Paul quotes the first part of Isaiah 25:8 in his first letter to the Corinthians:
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50–57 ESV)
Notice that verse 54 is the quotation from Isaiah 25. Paul says that this prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled with our perishable, mortal bodies are changed to imperishable, immortal bodies. This is the second promise to those who belong to the mountain of the Lord. The power of death is broken. We sing the song of victory because though our flesh dies, resurrection is promised and eternal life is given to us. Notice how Paul began this in verse 50. This is what it means to inherit the kingdom of God. The mountain of the Lord stands in victory for all who will come to him.
Further, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. This is quoted in Revelation 21:4. The loud voice declares that there is no more death, no more crying, and no more pain for we have gone home to be with the Lord. Therefore we must declare the words of Isaiah 25:9. We trust and God saves. God has accomplished our victory and we will rejoice in the salvation he has given us. But listen to verse 9. We must wait for the Lord. Trusting in God is about waiting for him. Those who confidently wait on the Lord must not depend on instant gratification! God’s greatest victory is over death and we must confidently wait for the redemption of our bodies.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 ESV)
Put your trust in the Lord. Wait for the Lord. Praise the Lord for his mighty deeds. Do not turn back to the desert wasteland of this world, parched, empty, and dry. Come to the mountain of the Lord. Find eternal joy and satisfaction in the kingdom of the Lord, knowing that we are awaiting the redemption of our bodies and the deliverance of our souls from death. Creation is eagerly waiting. Are we eagerly waiting or have we returned to the wasted city, seeking the futility of the world?