Isaiah 24

The Lord Will Judge the Earth

1Look, the Lord is ready to devastate the earth
and leave it in ruins;
he will mar its surface
and scatter its inhabitants.
2 Everyone will suffer – the priest as well as the people,
Heb “and it will be like the people, like the priest.”

the master as well as the servant,
Heb “like the servant, like his master.”

the elegant lady as well as the female attendant,
Heb “like the female servant, like her mistress.”

the seller as well as the buyer,
Heb “like the buyer, like the seller.”

the borrower as well as the lender,
Heb “like the lender, like the borrower.”

the creditor as well as the debtor.
Heb “like the creditor, just as the one to whom he lends.”

3 The earth will be completely devastated
and thoroughly ransacked.
For the Lord has decreed this judgment.
Heb “for the Lord has spoken this word.”

4 The earth
Some prefer to read “land” here, but the word pair אֶרֶץ/תֵּבֵל (erets/tevel [see the corresponding term in the parallel line]) elsewhere clearly designates the earth/world (see 1 Sam 2:8; 1 Chr 16:30; Job 37; 12; Pss 19:4; 24:1; 33:8; 89:11; 90:2; 96:13; 98:9; Prov 8:26, 31; Isa 14:16–17; 34:1; Jer 10:12; 51:15; Lam 4:12). According to L. Stadelmann, תבל designates “the habitable part of the world” (The Hebrew Conception of the World [AnBib], 130).
dries up
Or “mourns” (BDB 5 s.v. אָבַל). HALOT 6–7 lists the homonyms I אבל (“mourn”) and II אבל (“dry up”). They propose the second here on the basis of parallelism.
and withers,
the world shrivels up and withers;
the prominent people of the earth
Heb “the height of the people of the earth.” The translation assumes an emendation of the singular form מְרוֹם (merom, “height of”) to the plural construct מְרֹמֵי (merome, “high ones of”; note the plural verb at the beginning of the line), and understands the latter as referring to the prominent people of human society.
fade away.
5 The earth is defiled by
Heb “beneath”; cf. KJV, ASV, NRSV “under”; NAB “because of.”
its inhabitants,
Isa 26:21 suggests that the earth’s inhabitants defiled the earth by shedding the blood of their fellow human beings. See also Num 35:33–34, which assumes that bloodshed defiles a land.

for they have violated laws,
disregarded the regulation,
Heb “moved past [the?] regulation.”

and broken the permanent treaty.
Or “everlasting covenant” (KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT); NAB “the ancient covenant”; CEV “their agreement that was to last forever.”
For a lengthy discussion of the identity of this covenant/treaty, see R. Chisholm, “The ‘Everlasting Covenant’ and the ‘City of Chaos’: Intentional Ambiguity and Irony in Isaiah 24, ” CTR 6 (1993): 237-53. In this context, where judgment comes upon both the pagan nations and God’s covenant community, the phrase “permanent treaty” is intentionally ambiguous. For the nations this treaty is the Noahic mandate of Gen 9:1–7 with its specific stipulations and central regulation (Gen 9:7). By shedding blood, the warlike nations violated this treaty, which promotes population growth and prohibits murder. For Israel, which was also guilty of bloodshed (see Isa 1:15, 21; 4:4), this “permanent treaty” would refer more specifically to the Mosaic Law and its regulations prohibiting murder (Exod 20:13; Num 35:6–34), which are an extension of the Noahic mandate.

6 So a treaty curse
Ancient Near Eastern treaties often had “curses,” or threatened judgments, attached to them. (See Deut 28 for a biblical example of such curses.) The party or parties taking an oath of allegiance acknowledged that disobedience would activate these curses, which typically threatened loss of agricultural fertility as depicted in the following verses.
devours the earth;
its inhabitants pay for their guilt.
The verb אָשַׁם (’asham, “be guilty”) is here used metonymically to mean “pay, suffer for one’s guilt” (see HALOT 95 s.v. אשׁם).

This is why the inhabitants of the earth disappear,
BDB 359 s.v. חָרַר derives the verb חָרוּ (kharu) from חָרַר (kharar, “burn”), but HALOT 351 s.v. II חרה understands a hapax legomenon חָרָה (kharah, “to diminish in number,” a homonym of חָרָה) here, relating it to an alleged Arabic cognate meaning “to decrease.” The Qumran scroll 1QIsaa has חורו, perhaps understanding the root as חָוַר (khavar, “grow pale”; see Isa 29:22 and HALOT 299 s.v. I חור).

and are reduced to just a handful of people.
Heb “and mankind is left small [in number].”

7 The new wine dries up,
the vines shrivel up,
all those who like to celebrate
The Hebrew text reads literally, “all the joyful in heart,” but the context specifies the context as parties and drinking bouts.
8 The happy sound
Heb “the joy” (again later in this verse).
of the tambourines stops,
the revelry of those who celebrate comes to a halt,
the happy sound of the harp ceases.
9 They no longer sing and drink wine;
Heb “with a song they do not drink wine.”

the beer tastes bitter to those who drink it.
10 The ruined town
Heb “the city of chaos” (so NAB, NASB, NRSV). Isaiah uses the term תֹּהוּ (tohu) rather frequently of things (like idols) that are empty and worthless (see BDB 1062 s.v.), so the word might characterize the city as rebellious or morally worthless. However, in this context, which focuses on the effects of divine judgment, it probably refers to the ruined or worthless condition in which the city is left (note the use of the word in Isa 34:11). For a discussion of the identity of this city, see R. Chisholm, “The ‘Everlasting Covenant’ and the ‘City of Chaos’: Intentional Ambiguity and Irony in Isaiah 24, ” CTR 6 (1993): 237-53. In the context of universal judgment depicted in Isa 24, this city represents all the nations and cities of the world which, like Babylon of old and the powers/cities mentioned in chapters 13–23, rebel against God’s authority. Behind the stereotypical language one can detect various specific manifestations of this symbolic and paradigmatic city, including Babylon, Moab, and Jerusalem, all of which are alluded or referred to in chapters 24–27.
is shattered;
all of the houses are shut up tight.
Heb “every house is closed up from entering.”

11 They howl in the streets because of what happened to the wine;
Heb “[there is] an outcry over the wine in the streets.”

all joy turns to sorrow;
Heb “all joy turns to evening,” the darkness of evening symbolizing distress and sorrow.

celebrations disappear from the earth.
Heb “the joy of the earth disappears.”

12 The city is left in ruins;
Heb “and there is left in the city desolation.”

the gate is reduced to rubble.
Heb “and [into] rubble the gate is crushed.”

13 This is what will happen throughout
Heb “in the midst of” (so KJV, ASV, NASB).
the earth,
among the nations.
It will be like when they beat an olive tree,
and just a few olives are left at the end of the harvest.
The judgment will severely reduce the earth’s population. See v. 6.

14 They
The remnant of the nations (see v. 13) may be the unspecified subject. If so, then those who have survived the judgment begin to praise God.
lift their voices and shout joyfully;
they praise
Heb “they yell out concerning.”
the majesty of the Lord in the west.
15 So in the east
The Hebrew text reads literally, “in the lights,” interpreted by some to mean “in the region of light,” referring to the east. Some scholars have suggested the emendation of בָּאֻרִים (baurim) to בְּאִיֵּי הַיָּם (beiyyey hayyam, “along the seacoasts”), a phrase that is repeated in the next line. In this case, the two lines form synonymous parallelism. If one retains the MT reading (as above), “in the east” and “along the seacoasts” depict the two ends of the earth to refer to all the earth (as a merism).
extol the Lord,
along the seacoasts extol
The word “extol” is supplied in the translation; the verb in the first line does double duty in the parallelism.
the fame
Heb “name,” which here stands for God’s reputation achieved by his mighty deeds.
of the Lord God of Israel.
16 From the ends of the earth we
The identity of the subject is unclear. Apparently in vv. 15–16a an unidentified group responds to the praise they hear in the west by exhorting others to participate.
hear songs –
the Just One is majestic.
Heb “Beauty belongs to the just one.” These words may summarize the main theme of the songs mentioned in the preceding line.

But I
The prophet seems to contradict what he hears the group saying. Their words are premature because more destruction is coming.
say, “I’m wasting away! I’m wasting away! I’m doomed!
Deceivers deceive, deceivers thoroughly deceive!”
Heb “and [with] deception deceivers deceive.”
Verse 16b is a classic example of Hebrew wordplay. In the first line (“I’m wasting away…”) four consecutive words end with hireq yod ( ִי); in the second line all forms are derived from the root בָּגַד (bagad). The repetition of sound draws attention to the prophet’s lament.

17 Terror, pit, and snare
are ready to overtake you inhabitants of the earth!
Heb “[are] upon you, O inhabitant of the earth.” The first line of v. 17 provides another classic example of Hebrew wordplay. The names of the three instruments of judgment (פָח,פַחַת,פַּחַד [pakhad, fakhat, fakh]) all begin with the letters פח (peh-khet) and the first two end in dental consonants (ת/ד, tet/dalet). Once again the repetition of sound draws attention to the statement and contributes to the theme of the inescapability of judgment. As their similar-sounding names suggest, terror, pit, and snare are allies in destroying the objects of divine wrath.

18 The one who runs away from the sound of the terror
will fall into the pit;
The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2.

the one who climbs out of the pit,
will be trapped by the snare.
For the floodgates of the heavens
Heb “from the height”; KJV “from on high.”
are opened up
The language reflects the account of the Noahic Flood (see Gen 7:11).

and the foundations of the earth shake.
19 The earth is broken in pieces,
the earth is ripped to shreds,
the earth shakes violently.
Once more repetition is used to draw attention to a statement. In the Hebrew text each lines ends with אֶרֶץ (’erets, “earth”). Each line also uses a Hitpolel verb form from a geminate root preceded by an emphatic infinitive absolute.

20 The earth will stagger around
Heb “staggering, staggers.” The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute before the finite verb for emphasis and sound play.
like a drunk;
it will sway back and forth like a hut in a windstorm.
The words “in a windstorm” are supplied in the translation to clarify the metaphor.

Its sin will weigh it down,
and it will fall and never get up again.

The Lord Will Become King

21 At that time
Or “in that day” (so KJV). The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2.
the Lord will punish
Heb “visit [in judgment].”

the heavenly forces in the heavens
Heb “the host of the height in the height.” The “host of the height/heaven” refers to the heavenly luminaries (stars and planets, see, among others, Deut 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kgs 17:16; 21:3, 5; 23:4–5; 2 Chr 33:3, 5) that populate the divine/heavenly assembly in mythological and prescientific Israelite thought (see Job 38:7; Isa 14:13).

and the earthly kings on the earth.
22 They will be imprisoned in a pit,
Heb “they will be gathered [in] a gathering [as] a prisoner in a cistern.” It is tempting to eliminate אֲסֵפָה (’asefah, “a gathering”) as dittographic or as a gloss, but sound repetition is one of the main characteristics of the style of this section of the chapter.

locked up in a prison,
and after staying there for a long time,
Heb “and after a multitude of days.”
they will be punished.
Heb “visited” (so KJV, ASV). This verse can mean to visit for good or for evil. The translation assumes the latter, based on v. 21a. However, BDB 823 s.v. פָּקַד B.Niph.2 suggests the meaning “visit graciously” here, in which case one might translate “they will be released.”

23 The full moon will be covered up,
Heb “will be ashamed.”

the bright sun
Or “glow of the sun.”
will be darkened;
Heb “will be ashamed” (so NCV).

for the Lord who commands armies will rule
Or “take his throne,” “become king.”

on Mount Zion in Jerusalem
in the presence of his assembly, in majestic splendor.
Heb “and before his elders [in] splendor.”

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