Approaching the end of the woes and blessings chapters (ch 24-35). Ryrie titles this chapter "Armageddon and Its Judgement."
The Tribulation to come
After recent focus on specific nations (Egypt and Assyria), this chapter opens by addressing nations and peoples.
Let the earth and all it contains hear, and the world and all that springs from it.Isaiah 34:1b
After He has called for the attention of everyone and everything on earth, in verse 2 Isaiah describes the indignation of the Lord against all of the nations and how His wrath against all armies had led to their destruction and slaughter.
This seems to support Ryrie's title of Armageddon in the end times and the final judgement.
Verse 3 further describes the grim final ending of the nations and their armies: the slain disregarded and rotting, giving off a stench and drenching the mountains in their blood.
And also, the rest of the world will wear out, wither, or even be rolled up and taken away. This matches the events in Revelations 6:12-14, the sixth seal. The stars fall, the moon turns dark, and the sky rolls back as a scroll. This is when the people hide in the rocks and beg the mountains to fall on them to keep them from the wrath of the Lord. Pretty bleak time in the Tribulation.
He is bringing His judgement with a sword for those determined by God for destruction. Edom is used as a symbol of all of the condemned. He then describes sacrificial animals who will die in large numbers. This is a symbol of the time for the toll of sin to come due. In verse 8, He even uses the words vengeance and recompense.
The streams become pitch and the dirt becomes brimstone.
It shall not be quenched night or day; it's smoke shall go up forever; from generation to generation it shall be desolate; none shall pass through it forever and ever.Isaiah 34:10
The MacArthur Commentary summarizes this very visually as a "God's judgement is to reduce the nations to a state of perpetual, volcanic waste." This is similar to Babylon in the end time, according to Revelations.
Hell on earth. Forever. Because they refused to bow to the King and Creator. So sad and terrifying, especially for those whom I love and who have not received salvation.
I was struck by the phrase "from generation to generation." If I was correct and this is hell, then how could there be more generations? There wouldn't be new life in hell, I assume. I looked in the Blue Letter Bible and the word for generation is Strong's H1755, dor, pronounced dore. While it has a couple of different connotations, it most likely means a period of time, or an age. So not generations of people, but ongoing ages, ongoing periods of time. Which fits better with the rest of the context.
This is a small thing, and might not have even been worth mentioning. I'm not one of those people who needs to know the Hebrew or Greek word all of the time, But at the same time, there is more to bible study then just getting your 15 minutes of reading in and checking a "good Christian" box for the day. If you run across something in your study of the Bible that doesn't sound right, dig deeper. Ask questions. Be a Berean. If taken at face value, there can be new generations in hell or that the tribulation goes on for generations. Someone could spin off some really dangerous theology from that. Someone might think, "If there are multiple generations in hell, then there has to be coupling and babies and maybe families. Maybe hell looks more similar to life now." But we know that is not true. All life is from God, from Jesus (John 1:1-5). And hell is, ultimately, separation from God.
The point of this rabbit trail is a warning to actually study your bible, not just read it. You don't need to become a Hebrew scholar, but you should be thinking and questioning and accounting for seeming contradictions you may find.
Back to the text.
Verses 11-15 go on to describe additional aspects of this desolate place that goes on forever; and some of then are very interesting:
- v. 11 the pelican and hedgehog possess it (Why? Why are these two creatures possessing this hellscape?)
- v. 11 the owl and raven dwell in it (representing predators?)
- v.12 nobles and princes will be nothing
- v. 12 there is no king and God cannot be called their king (That's worth meditating on. If this is true in this hellscape, what does that mean for those of us living today? Even in this fallen world, the Lord is our King and He is the King of the kings of the world. We should be taking so much comfort in that truth.)
- v. 13 full of thorns, nettles, and thistles
- v.13 a haunt for jackals and home for ostriches (Again, why these creatures? Very curious to read the commentaries on this.)
- v. 14 Other creatures here include desert creatures, wolves, hairy goats
- v. 14 Another creature who will settle and rest in this place is described as a night monster and noted as female.
- Ryrie theorizes it is a demon.
- NKJV uses the phrase night creature.
- The KJV is written in a way to where this word isn't included.
- Other versions use the phrase night creature or night bird.
- The actual word is Strongs H3917 and can be defined as a female night demon (Lilith) or or a nocturnal creature that inhabit desolate places. (according to Blue Letter Bible)
- v.15 tree snakes will nest and lay eggs there. Those eggs will hatch and the snakes will protect them. (That is really interesting. That sounds like new life?)
- v. 15 hawks will gather there.
It's interesting to me that so many of the creatures in the desolation are birds: pelicans, ravens, owls, ostriches, and hawks. With mammals being mostly scavengers. And a tree snake. It's formless and void, withe pitch in the water and brimstone in the dirt...but these creatures are there. Is this symbology or is there something about these select creatures?
MacArthur states that these animals all show the depopulated state and the bird, specially, are unclean birds to the Hebrews,
Also in verse 11 is this sentence:
And He shall stretch over in the line of desolation and the plumbline of emptiness.Isaiah 34:11b
Ryrie Study Bible includes a footnote about this sentence: "The Hebrew words for desolation and emptiness are also found together in Gen. 1.2 ("formless and void")."
That's fascinating, right? In this desolation, those there will return to something more like like before God's creation. It makes sense that hell is separation from God, so separation from all of creation sustained by God. But I'd never really thought of it before. It's such a profound detail about life separated from the God of light, love, and all things created.
Verse 15 ends with this phrase: "...everyone with its kind". Grammatically, at least in my NASB version, it seems to be referring to the hawks. However, here's verse 16:
Seek from the Book of the Lord, and read: Not one of these will be missing; none will lack its mate. For His mouth has commanded, and His Spirit has gathered them.Isaiah 34:16
It seems like this has gone beyond a comment on the hawks. I'm having a hard time interpreting this verse, especially the idea of them all having a mate.
After reading the Warren Wiersbe Commentary on Isaiah, Be Comforted, I think my confusion is in my conflating the Tribulation with hell itself. If this is just the Tribulation then having all of the animals mating but desolation on behalf of the humans shows they are no longer living in a world they can control. They can't even disrupt the scavengers or the snake. It makes me think of our God-given mandate to have dominion over the creatures of the earth. Along with losing their King and kings, these human seemingly lost that mandate as well. Creation undone.
Verse 17 is a bit clearer to me. There lot has been cast and His hand has drawn the line behind which they will all spend eternity. I'm assuming this refers to everyone living in this land of desolation.
And that's the key word for this chapter: desolation. As I mention above, all life is from God, from Jesus (John 1:1-5). All creation is from God. For those who choose to walk in their well-earned condemnation, rather than choosing to walk in the righteousness earned by Jesus Christ for them, they will be separated from God, including all the beauty, life, and goodness that surrounds us all everyday.
Today is the day of salvation. Repent and choose life.