The following website postings, many of which encapsulate subjects already discussed, reiterate how Isaiah’s prophetic message relates to the geo-political configuration of our present world and how becoming familiar with it prepares us to participate in the events Isaiah predicts.
As one might expect, a prophet who teaches a profusion of divine truths such as Isaiah is often also a cause of controversy. If his admonitions hit too close to home, or if the future he predicts looks too gloomy, let us take issue with it. Or, if we don’t want to bother with Isaiah at all, let us reduce his writings to a few “quaint symbolisms” of a non-threatening nature. Either way, by treating them lightly, we relieve ourselves of their relevance to us. Or do we? The fact is that Isaiah’s message will sooner or later affect all of humanity in a big way. So if we are willing to pay the price of learning it, it is just possible that a brighter spiritual horizon may open to our view.
From New Testament times to America’s Founding Fathers, Isaiah has been the most often quoted prophet. Yet, the Christian version of him was born in an age of apostasy. Modern liberal scholarship—a profession of nonbelievers—has further distorted the man and his message. Precepts of men prevent people from receiving more of God’s word as Isaiah teaches it. If people haven’t heard something a thousand times, then it can’t be true. Although what they believe may have no basis of fact, they won’t search the scriptures to see if those things are so (Acts 17:11). Ought not a prophet who saw our day, who so eloquently spells it out, be our daily walk and talk?
Any serious study of the scriptures must take into account the Book of Isaiah; and any serious study of the Book of Isaiah must take into account its literary features that are there in evidence. Those literary elements reveal an entirely different paradigm of what Isaiah’s message is all about than the one that has come down to us from past tradition. Besides Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure, other holistic structures—layered one on top of another—reveal the inner workings of Isaiah’s writings and establish important prophetic concepts all their own. An entire series of interconnected events as well as a network of linking terms and ideas richly reward one’s inquiry.
As all new paradigms seem threatening and meet with opposition from those who have a vested interest in maintaining the old, so that is the case here. Anyone deeply investigating the Book of Isaiah in the light of its many literary features will incur the same response. As “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” moreover, and as “discretion is the better part of valor,” the real challenge is to learn the prophet’s message before attempting to convert souls to Isaiah. It takes several years of diligent effort to assimilate a paradigm so all-embracing and comprehensive as Isaiah’s and at the same time match it up with the current state of political and ecclesiastical affairs.
Built into Isaiah’s prophecy—and indeed into all scripture—are two different ways one may interpret them. The first is superficial, presumptive, and conceited. The second is in-depth, inquiring, and unassuming. That is one way God divides people—“rendering void the knowledge of their sages and the intelligence of their wise men insignificant” (Isaiah 29:14)—when the truth finally comes out. Besides inheriting a Christian tradition that bears little resemblance to the religion of Jesus, the modern world has inherited an entire array of scriptural interpretations that don’t reflect what their texts actually say. Particularly is that the case with the writings of Isaiah.
One of the first principles of scriptural interpretation is to read everything in context—meaning you can’t isolate even one word, verse, or idea and let that become a point of focus without taking into account all its interconnections and word links to other parts of the text. In Isaiah’s case, however, that principle extends to the entire book, as all its components—literary patterns, typologies, codenames, keywords, and concepts—are interwoven into one grand tapestry. These mechanics of Isaiah’s prophecy, in other words, preclude the casual reader from coming to understanding, even as they inspire a kind of divine awe in the reader who unravels them.
Without taking a leap of logic, the Western mind simply cannot comprehend the prophecy of Isaiah. Underlying the Hebrew worldview is that history is cyclical, not linear. We say history repeats itself, but the Hebrew prophets carry that idea one step further. As a case in point, Isaiah prophesies nothing new unless he bases it on something old. He predicts “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) not simply by telling us what will happen at the end but by drawing on events that occurred in the beginning of Israel’s history that typify and foreshadow the end. In other words, the historical events Isaiah chooses to talk about form an allegory of the end-time.
Isaiah can do this because he has seen the end from the beginning in a great cosmic vision—a vision of the past, present, and future. For that reason, he doesn’t attempt to talk about all the events of the past, only those that typify end-time events. In that way, he may be addressing people of his own day about matters familiar to them but at the same time be addressing people at the end of the world about things that will happen then. Isaiah, moreover, lived in perhaps the most portending period of Israel’s history, when many events of his day—such as the apostasy of God’s people and Assyria’s invasion of the Promised Land—would repeat themselves at the end.
Neither a wholly literal way of interpreting Isaiah’s prophecy nor a wholly figurative one has ever worked for uncovering its message. Isaiah’s use of metaphors, allegories, codenames, keywords, etc., often requires both a literal and figurative interpretation. His depiction of the king of Babylon’s aspiring to “make myself like the Most High [God],” then falling “from the heavens” and ending up in “the utmost depths of the Pit” (Isaiah 14:4, 12–16), for example, begs the question of whether Isaiah is talking about a primordial fallen angel. Yet, the ability of this tyrannical “man” to “ascend above the altitude of the clouds” (ibid.) is feasible given today’s technology.
In another instance, Isaiah recalls the events of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt: “Awake, arise; clothe yourself with power, O armof Jehovah! Bestir yourself, as in ancient times, as in generations of old. Was it not you who carved up Rahab, you who slew the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the Sea, the waters of the mighty deep, and made of ocean depths a way by which the redeemed might pass?” (Isaiah 51:9–10). While Isaiah here alludes to the angel of God who led the camp of Israel (Exodus 14:19; compare Isaiah 63:9–13), the context is an end-time exodus (Isaiah 51:11) led by God’s arm—his servant—whom God empowers to subdue the forces of chaos.
It is no secret that for any practical purpose the Book of Isaiah has been a sealed book to most readers probably since the time of the prophet himself. Of course, its author—Isaiah—was not just aware of that but he purposely intended it to be so at the time he wrote it. It served a divine purpose of keeping his book unaltered, while those with eyes to see and ears to hear would comprehend much of it and thus increase their understanding. In fact, an ancient writing attributed to Isaiah affirms that the book which he “openly proclaimed”—that is, the Book of Isaiah—was written “in parables” or as an allegory so that not everyone would understand it (Ascension of Isaiah 4:20).
God commanded Isaiah to write it: “Go now, write on tablets concerning them; record it in a book for the end-time, as a testimony forever” (Isaiah 30:8). While the “tablets” or “plates” (luah) Isaiah wrote are yet to be found, his message is intended for the end-time: “In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book and the eyes of the blind see out of gross darkness” (Isaiah 29:18). As a type of other sealed books that are to be unsealed in the end-time, the Book of Isaiah—his “sealed book” (Isaiah 29:11)—thus harbors an important message for our day. Analysis of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure and other literary features has unsealed the greater part of it.
What sets the Book of Isaiah apart from all other prophetic writings is its all-inclusiveness in depicting an end-time scenario. Even more comprehensive in portraying the end of the world than apocalyptic writings such as Daniel and Revelation, it spells out a great confluence of events humanity is about to experience. Using Israel’s ancient history as a foreshadowing of the end of the world, it predicts the future by drawing on events of the past. Only a prophet–poet with extraordinary literary skills could have predicted “the end” based on ancient beginnings (Isaiah 46:10). Only a visionary who saw both time periods could have crafted this prophetic masterpiece.
While the Book of Isaiah’s apocalyptic message accords with Jewish tradition, and while its literary features reveal its twofold relevance—to Isaiah’s day and to the end-time—it still requires uncommon faith to believe that it is a handbook for our day. For one thing, it may mean discarding much or all of what we thought we knew before. Isaiah foresees just such confusion when he speaks of the deaf “hearing” and the blind “seeing” the words of his book. Only then—in a day when barely a few “disciples” would know its true message (Isaiah 8:16)—would “those who erred in spirit gain understanding and those who murmured accept instruction” (Isaiah 29:18, 24).
A reassuring thing about Isaiah’s prophecy is that Isaiah limits himself to predicting new things based on old things when describing the end of the world. Over thirty ancient events—some that occurred before, some contemporary with, and some soon after Isaiah’s day—typify end-time events. To God’s people who know their history, who have searched Isaiah’s writings for answers, therefore, those events won’t appear unfamiliar when they unfold. To those who are acquainted with them and experience them, hindsight will turn to foresight. Perhaps that is one reason why God commanded his people to celebrate ancient events such as Israel’s Passover.
Of course, when those former events repeat themselves in the end-time, they won’t do so in the order they occurred before nor take thousands of years. This time around, moreover, they will happen on a world scale and won’t be limited to the Jews in the State of Israel. While the ancient names that Isaiah uses to describe nations and persons function as codenames of end-time ones, they don’t apply to nations and persons with the same names today. Rather, a sure way to identify which nations or entities Isaiah is speaking of in today’s world is to be guided by the way Isaiah characterizes them and then to match them up with their possible modern counterparts.
Because Isaiah’s literary devices are meant to conceal and also reveal his prophetic message, much of that message remains hidden until uncovered by the sincere seeker of truth. One thing Isaiah conceals and reveals in this way is the actual sequence of end-time events leading up to the coming of Jehovah to reign on the earth. Instead of making it easy for the reader, therefore, he predicts things piecemeal, breaking up the sequence by depicting an event several times in combination with other events. The entire series appears only when we connect all the dominos. And they act like dominos also—befalling in rapid succession until all have transpired.
A passage in Isaiah 49:9–12, for example, combines the end-time release of God’s people from bondage with their wandering in the wilderness and return from a worldwide exile: “To say to the captives, ‘Come forth!’ and to those in darkness, ‘Show yourselves!’ They shall feed along the way and find pasture on all barren heights. They shall not hunger or thirst, nor be smitten by the heat wave or the sun: he who has mercy on them will guide them; he will lead them by springs of water. All my mountain ranges I will appoint as roads; my highways shall be on high. See these, coming from afar, these, from the northwest, and these, from the land of Sinim.”
Because Isaiah has permeated his prophecy with checks and balances, one rarely needs to second-guess his meaning. Seldom does Isaiah mention an event or idea just once, never to return to it. Rather, he frequently reiterates things in different contexts to ensure that the reader gets his message. Thus, Isaiah’s repeating events in different combinations with other events creates an entire web of interconnected events, which, taken together, define what he means by the end-time or end of the world. Such synchronized phenomena make the Book of Isaiah a literary work of extraordinary complexity that is at the same time simple when its literary keys are applied.
Linking ideas establish definitions of terms and entire scenarios. In one place, Isaiah may predict a new exodus of God’s people out of Babylon (Isaiah 48:20–21). In another, he identifies “Babylon” as the world and its wicked inhabitants that God destroys in his Day of Judgment (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 11, 19). Elsewhere, he predicts that God’s people will return from throughout the earth at the time of a worldwide destruction (Isaiah 27:12–13). Further, God’s people’s exodus is from the four directions of the earth to Zion (Isaiah 43:5–6). Finally, he depicts remnants of all nations streaming to Zion in the “end-time,” giving us a time frame (Isaiah 2:2–3). And so forth.
One of several layered holistic literary structures of the Book of Isaiah—this one based on Egyptian narrative patterns—divides the book into Trouble at Home (Isaiah 1–39), Exile Abroad (Isaiah 40–54), and Happy Homecoming (Isaiah 55–66). These three different historical settings, rather than being grounds for multiple authors of the Book of Isaiah, demonstrate its literary integrity and show it to be the work of a single author, a prophet–poet who saw to the end of time. Coinciding with this literary division, Israel appears as a national entity in Isaiah 1–39, as a universal entity in Isaiah 40–54, and as an entity comprised of repentant individuals in Isaiah 55–66.
It is a national Israel—Israel still in its homeland—that finds itself in trouble for breaking the terms of God’s covenant. Israel’s exile abroad occurs as a consequence of its apostasy. All is not lost, however. Dispersion among and assimilation into the nations of the world has the effect of refining God’s people and renewing their cognizance of Israel’s spiritual heritage. Additionally, it provides a chance for the nations of the world to enter into God’s covenant together with Israel’s natural lineages. In the end, those who return and reconstitute a new nation of Israel called Zion consist of righteous individuals who come out of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples.
Three tests of loyalty determine who will live into a millennial age of peace. As God tried the loyalty of his people in the past, so he will again. Isaiah structures his writings according to a Mesopotamian literary pattern that depicts the three tests. We find a similar pattern of three tests the hero Odysseus must pass in the Greek legend The Odyssey. Isaiah’s king of Assyria presents the first. Will God’s people give him their allegiance or will they remain loyal to Israel’s God even on pain of death? Idolaters and their worldliness present the second—an enticement God’s people may succumb to without being aware. Ecclesiastical leaders’ abuse of authority forms the third.
The order of the three tests may be reversed from their sequence in the Book of Isaiah. Certain “brethren” who exercise ecclesiastical authority “abhor” and “exclude” persons who are vigilant for God’s word (Isaiah 66:5). In the end, however, God appoints as his priests and ministers those who suffer “shouted insults” and “twofold shame” for his sake (Isaiah 61:6–7). Spiritual blindness—resulting from an entrenched culture of materialism—makes God’s people trust in “gods that cannot save” when trouble looms (Isaiah 42:17–25; 44:9–21; 45:20). Lastly, the king of Assyria may conquer the whole world, but he and his ilk don’t prevail for long (Isaiah 10:5–27).
When Israel conquered the Promised Land anciently, its “holy war” (if we may call it that) occurred on several conditions. First, the iniquity of the inhabitants had to be full (Genesis 15:16); that is, such wickedness had to prevail in the land that the rising generation had little or no hope of growing up in righteousness. Second, the only valid reasons for making war with a people was self-defense or when commanded by God through a prophet like Moses (Numbers 21:10–35; 31:1–54). Third, the land had to be promised to God’s people’s ancestors by an unconditional covenant, as God had sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6:8; Deuteronomy 1:8).
Even with these stipulations in place, however, God’s people couldn’t simply go and conquer their Promised Land. They themselves had to keep the terms of God’s covenant (the Sinai Covenant) as a nation in order to inherit it. The generation of God’s people that grew up in the wilderness, whom Moses taught the law of the covenant, qualified to inherit it. Just so, God’s end-time people conquer their promised lands: “Your sons shall hasten your ravagers away; those who ruined you shall depart from you” (Isaiah 49:17). When empowered by God’s “hand,” they “thresh mountains to dust and make chaff of hills” (Isaiah 41:10–16), speaking figuratively.
Isaiah predicts that three branches of God’s people will live into a millennial age of peace: “In that day Israel shall be the third party to Egypt and to Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth. Jehovah of Hosts will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’” (Isaiah 19:24–25). Five cities in the land of “Egypt,” moreover, will in that day swear loyalty to Israel’s God and their inhabitants covenant with him by sacrifice. These covenanters appear to be the sole survivors when God smites Egypt with a civil war and a foreign invasion. In the end, God sends them a savior and heals Egypt (Isaiah 19:2–22).
When Israel’s ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom went captive into Assyria in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29; 17:6), they disappeared from known historical records. The emergence of an end-time people of God called “Assyria”—which parallels the similar emergence of an end-time people of God called “Egypt”—thus implies that those of end-time Assyria who survive God’s Day of Judgment consist of the descendants of those who were taken captive into ancient Assyria. While the Assyrian armies who conquer the world ultimately perish (Isaiah 10:16–18, 24–26; 14:24–27; 30:30–32; 31:8–9), these “Assyrians,” whose names are “recorded,” survive (Isaiah 10:19).
Isaiah receives his commission as a prophet to God’s people Israel “in the year of King Uzziah’s death” (742 B.C.), when he sees Jehovah “seated on a throne, highly exalted, the skirt of his robe filling the sanctuary” (Isaiah 6:1). Jehovah appoints him to “say to these people, ‘Go on hearing, but not understanding; Go on seeing, but not perceiving’” (Isaiah 6:9), signifying that his people as a whole are already beyond the point where an appeal to repentance might restore them to righteousness. The prognosis is that in spite of his best efforts their “cities will lie desolate and without inhabitant, the houses without a man, and the land ravaged to ruin” (Isaiah 6:11).
The purpose of Isaiah’s call nevertheless emerges from the pages of his prophecy. First, a remnant of God’s people, consisting of Jehovah’s “disciples” (Isaiah 8:16), heeds Isaiah’s appeal to repent. They survive the destruction God’s people as a whole are bringing upon themselves by their collective guilt (Isaiah 8:13–15). Second, Isaiah’s prophecy will have a dual fulfillment, one in his own day and another at the end of the world. That second fulfillment, however, will prove more portentous than the first. Requiring people to exercise faith in an ancient writing that predicts their day seems an ingenious way of identifying a repentant remnant of God’s people.
In their zeal to publish articles and books for the motive of gaining academic tenure or notoriety in their field, liberal scholars have paid much attention to the “historical origins” of the Book of Isaiah rather than to its message. In other words, they have focused on Isaiah’s role as a historian instead of as a prophet of God. Although the setting in which Isaiah prophesies helps verify historical events, those events themselves don’t address God’s intent in speaking through his prophet. To convey his divine message, for example, Isaiah records historical incidents and events only selectively, so that on that basis he could not even be considered a good historian.
As a case in point, King Hezekiah’s historical actions vary somewhat from the way Isaiah presents them. The biblical record reveals the king’s ambivalence in how he responds to Assyria’s invasion of Judea: (1) by paying tribute to the Assyrian King Sennacherib yet preparing to defend himself against him (2 Kings 18:13–16; 2 Chronicles 32:1–6); and (2) by trusting in Jehovah his God to deliver him and his people from the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:15–19; 2 Chronicles 32:7–8). As the type of a similar deliverance from an end-time “Assyrian” invasion of God’s people’s land, only Hezekiah’s second response appears in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 36:1–38:7).
A divisive spirit among Israel’s twelve tribes extends back to Jacob’s twelve sons themselves, particularly in their hatred of Joseph and their desire to kill him, although Judah persuades them to sell him (Genesis 37). Disputes among the tribes arise in the era of Israel’s judges, as when the prideful Ephraimites balk at Gideon’s miraculous victory over the hosts of Midian and Amalek (Judges 7:1–8:1); or when the tribe of Benjamin slays tens of thousands of Israelites in defense of its own lewdness (Judges 19–20). After the death of Saul, its first king, Israel divides into northern and southern tribes, although seven years later David heals their rift (2 Samuel 1–5).
When Solomon’s son Rehoboam raises Israel’s taxes against the advice of his elders, Israel’s ten northern tribes install Solomon’s Ephraimite servant Jeroboam as their king. From that time forward, Rehoboam and succeeding generations of kings of David’s lineage rule only over the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the priestly tribe of Levi. A few remnants of Israel’s ten tribes who abhor Jeroboam’s idolatry in the Northern Kingdom additionally flee to the Southern Kingdom of Judah where the worship of Israel’s God Jehovah is maintained (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 11:5–17). Israel’s division into separate entities continues even after they go into exile.
When the kings of Aram (Syria) and Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) seek to replace King Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom of Judah with a king who isn’t of the lineage of David, Isaiah categorically informs Ahaz that such a thing can’t happen (Isaiah 7:1–7). Although Ahaz endangers the lives of his people through his disloyal actions (Isaiah 7:17–25), nothing can void God’s unconditional covenant with his ancestor David of an enduring dynasty to rule on David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 132:11–18). Even upon Israel exile, God transplants David’s heirs to other lands (Ezekiel 17:22–23). From there, moreover, they are someday to return:
“Thus says Jehovah, ‘David shall never want a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel. . . . If you can break my covenant of the day and my covenant of the night, that there should not be day and night in their season, Then may my covenant also be broken with my servant David that he should not have a son to reign on his throne. . . . As the hosts of heaven can’t be numbered, nor the sands of the sea measured, so will I multiply the offspring of my servant David’” (Jeremiah 33:17, 20–22); “There shall enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he and his servants and his people” (Jeremiah 22:4).
Neo-Assyrian expansion in the ancient Near East commences its most aggressive phase under Tiglath-Pileser III (747–727 B.C.). His incursions into Syria and Palestine put on edge local kings such as Ahaz, who ruled Judea. Syria’s King Rezin and the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s King Pekah seek to bring Judea into an alliance against Assyria’s domination of the Levant. Ahaz’ refusal leads to these kings’ military incursion into Judea and their slaughter of Ahaz’ people (2 Kings 16:5; 2 Chronicles 28:5–7). Isaiah notes Ahaz’ fear: “The king’s mind and the minds of his people were shaken, as trees in a forest are shaken by a gale” (Isaiah 7:2).
Instead of joining these kings’ alliance, Ahaz appeals to Tiglath-Pileser to deliver him from them. Calling himself his “servant and son”—paying him tribute moneys with the temple’s gold and silver—he makes himself his vassal (2 Kings 16:7–8). By structurally paralleling Ahaz’ disloyal response to Jehovah under the terms of the Davidic Covenant with King Hezekiah’s loyal response at a similar instance of Assyrian aggression a generation later, Part II of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40 foreshadows a repeat performance of these events: two end-time Davidic kings—contemporaries—react in opposite ways to the same “Assyrian” threat.
On the heels of revolts by vassal states against Assyrian rule, Sennacherib (704–681 B.C.) invades Syria and Palestine in 701 B.C., the fourteenth year of the reign of Judea’s King Hezekiah. Sennacherib claims to have captured 46 walled cities of Judea, including the fortress of Lachish (2 Kings 18:13; 2 Chronicles 32:9; ANET, 287–88; ANEP, 371–74). Although a few years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria, Hezekiah revolts and prepares his people to defend themselves against Assyria in Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Chronicles 32:1–8). Paying off Sennacherib with tribute moneys (2 Kings 18:14–16) purchases him time to prepare.
At Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah and Isaiah appeal to Jehovah to deliver the people who have taken refuge there (2 Kings 19:1–4, 15–19; 2 Chronicles 32:20). Isaiah’s version of these events in Part II of his Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40) focuses on Hezekiah’s loyal response to Jehovah under the terms of the Davidic Covenant, causing Jehovah to deliver him and his people from the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:30–36). By linking Hezekiah’s suffering of a mortal illness to Jehovah’s promise of his people’s deliverance (Isaiah 38:2–6), Isaiah emphasizes Hezekiah’s spiritual role as a proxy savior of his people rather than his political role.
Abram (Abraham) arrives in the Land of Canaan from Haran in northwestern Mesopotamia only to find that the famine he leaves behind prevails there also. When he continues south to Egypt, Pharaoh showers him with gifts, but he also takes Sarai (Sarah), returning her to him only when he discovers she is Abram’s wife (Genesis 12). When Joseph—whom his brothers sell into Egypt—interprets Pharaoh’s dreams of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, Pharaoh appoints him vice-regent of all Egypt. Soon after the same famine hits the Land of Canaan, Joseph’s brothers and father Jacob find livelihood with Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 37, 39–47).
Thereafter, Egypt provides a refuge for Jacob’s descendants for 400 years (Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40). In a manner of speaking, Egypt gives birth to Israel as a nation at their exodus out of Egypt when Jehovah covenants with Jacob’s descendants to be their God and they his people (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12–13). Throughout biblical history, Egypt continues to be a haven for Israel’s refugees (1 Kings 11:40; 2 Kings 25:26; Jeremiah 26:20–21; Matthew 2:13–14). Still, Isaiah decries his people’s reliance on Egypt instead of on Jehovah when enemies threaten (Isaiah 30:1–5; 31:1–3), and Jeremiah reprimands the Jews who escape there (Jeremiah 42–44).
Assyrian domination of the ancient Near East has its beginnings in the early Middle Assyrian Period (1274–1077 B.C.). The Neo-Assyrian Period, however (911–612 B.C.), sees Assyria reach its zenith as a world power. Prominent among Assyrian conquerors are Assurnassirpal II (883–859 B.C.), who captures Aramean and Phoenician territories; Shalmaneser III (858–824), who expands Assyrian rule westward; Tiglath-Pileser III (747–727 B.C.), who makes himself king of Babylon and whose army reaches as far south as Gaza; Shalmaneser V (727–722 B.C.) and Sargon II (721–705 B.C.), whose military campaigns end the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
In Isaiah’s day, Sennacherib (704–681 B.C.) invades Judea but fails to take Jerusalem. His son Esarhaddon (680–669 B.C.) and grandson Assurbanipal (668–667 B.C.) conquer major cities in Egypt. Assyria is a militaristic world power, not a civilizing one. It sets a precedent as conqueror of the ancient world, which Isaiah uses as the type of an end-time “Assyria” that similarly conquers the world. He depicts Assyria as “a nation dreaded far and wide, a people continually infringing” (Isaiah 18:2, 7). Its demise begins with a repeat performance of King Hezekiah’s intercession with Jehovah on behalf of his people when Assyria besieges Jerusalem.
From the time Israel’s northern tribes break away from the southern tribes of Judah, the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel consists of one continuous round of coups and assassinations as individuals rise up and usurp power. Israel’s instability during almost its entire history stems from the worship of idols that Jeroboam, its first king, institutes that is maintained thereafter: God cannot bless and prosper those who “do not believe in Jehovah their God” but who instead “serve idols,” who “go after the heathen round about” and “become vain” like them, who “provoke Jehovah to anger” until he “removes them out of his sight” (2 Kings 17:7–17).
When Assyrian expansion threatens the region toward the end of the Northern Kingdom, Menahem submits to vassalship (2 Kings 15:19). Pekah, however, allies himself with Rezin of Aram (Syria) to resist Assyria (Isaiah 7:1). In their day, the Assyrian Tiglath Pileser III captures a large portion of Israel and deports its inhabitants to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). Israel’s last king, Hoshea, assassinates Pekah and at first submits to vassalship. But he then rebels and appeals in vain to Egypt for help (2 Kings 17:3–4). Finally, in 722 B.C., Shalmaneser V and his successor Sargon II take Samaria and remove Israel’s captives to Assyria (2 Kings 17:6; 18:9–10).
A turning point for the Southern Kingdom of Judah occurs in the reign of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah. When he sets up idols for his people and “seduce[s] them to do more evil than did the nations whom Jehovah destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9), Jehovah declares he will make them “a prey and a spoil to all their enemies” (2 Kings 21:14). He will “cause them to be removed to all kingdoms on the earth because of Manasseh,” who “shed innocent blood” in Jerusalem “from one end to the other” (2 Kings 21:16; Jeremiah 15:4). Other misfortunes that happen in Judea, too, are blamed on “the sins of Manasseh” (2 Kings 24:1–4).
Judea’s fall occurs during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, at the height of Neo-Babylonian expansion. In 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem and takes its king, leading citizens, and craftsmen captive to Babylon. He pillages the temple of treasures accumulated from the time of King Solomon and installs Zedekiah as his vassal (2 Kings 24:10–17). In spite of warnings by Jeremiah to remain loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, after nine years Zedekiah rebels, leading to another siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1–2; Jeremiah 27:12–13; 38:17–18). In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar takes the city and deports all but its poor to Babylon.
By 550 B.C., Cyrus II’s consolidation of the Medes and Persians, and his benevolent administrative abilities—in which he improves the infrastructures of conquered nations—lead to the formation of a Persian Empire that continues for over 200 years. Cyrus first expands westward, taking Assyria in northern Mesopotamia, Cilicia, and large parts of Asia Minor, including the Lydian capital of Sardis and Greek Ionia. He then sets his sights on Babylon, seat of the Neo-Babylon Empire that replaced Assyria. After reinforcing local elements opposed to Nabonidus king of Babylon, Cyrus leads his army into the city in 539 B.C. and takes it without a fight.
Cyrus divides his now extensive realm into twenty satrapies—provincial administrative areas that govern local communities headed by nobles who swear allegiance to Cyrus. Their semi-autonomy, and Cyrus’ respect for local customs, constitutes a reprieve from the Assyrian and Babylonian empires’ autocratic rule. Cyrus’ further decree that permits peoples who had been taken captive into Babylon to return to their homelands wins him notoriety, especially among the Jews who had been exiled seventy years earlier. Thousands return to Jerusalem and rebuild its temple. These become the Jewish nation that inhabits Palestine in New Testament times.
Cyrus’ decree as Persian emperor that the Jews deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar may return to their homeland fulfills Jeremiah’s prediction of a seventy-year Jewish exile (Jeremiah 25:8–13; 29:10; Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:21–23). Over forty-two thousand return with the temple’s former treasures to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple (Ezra 1:5–11; 2:64). Led by Yeshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor, they rebuild the altar, offer sacrifices, and resume observance of Israel’s feastdays and religious worship. They then reestablish the order of the priests and Levites and lay the second temple’s foundation (Ezra 3:2–5, 8–11).
Because of opposition from local and surrounding peoples who inhabit the land, however (Ezra 4), work on the temple doesn’t begin in earnest until some twenty years later during the reign of Darius, about 520 B.C. With the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the people, led by Zerubbabel and Yeshua, finally complete the temple (Ezra 5–6). During the reign of Artaxerxes, another migration of Jews from Babylon accompanies Ezra the scribe (Ezra 7–8), who helps the Jewish community rebuild (Ezra 9–10). Under the leadership of Nehemiah, a returnee sent by Artaxerxes, Jerusalem’s walls, too, are ultimately rebuilt (Nehemiah 2–6).
Isaiah’s prophetic ministry begins in 742 B.C. at Jehovah’s appearance to him in the temple. Jehovah forewarns him, however, that his people’s reception of him won’t be favorable (Isaiah 6:1–13). Isaiah nevertheless faithfully performs his role as Jehovah’s oracle. As was the custom, his early prophecies are likely spoken inside the gates of Jerusalem or its temple in the hearing of Judah’s elders (compare Joshua 20:4; Jeremiah 7:2). Isaiah’s giving his sons prophetic names during Ahaz’ unrighteous rule, however (Isaiah 7:3; 8:3, 18), indicates that at times he is prevented from openly declaring his people’s evils and their consequence (compare Isaiah 8:16–17).
While Isaiah’s early ministry is to “both houses of Israel” (Isaiah 8:14), the Northern Kingdom falls to Assyria in 722 B.C. in the sixth year of the reign of King Hezekiah, Ahaz’ son (2 Kings 18:10). Hezekiah’s appeal to Isaiah at Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C., and his own intercession with Jehovah on behalf of his people (Isaiah 37:1–5, 15–20), show Hezekiah’s righteousness. During Hezekiah’s reign, following a great vision of the end from the beginning (Sirach 48:22–25), Isaiah writes the second half of his prophecies. Although the two dates relating to Isaiah are forty-one years apart, his ministry may have lasted as long as fifty-five years.
While Paul makes a veiled allusion to the manner of Isaiah’s death through being “sawn asunder” (Hebrews 11:37), an ancient document, the Ascension of Isaiah, depicts Isaiah’s being sawn in half by King Hezekiah’s son Manasseh (Ascension of Isaiah 5:1, 11). Manasseh is there depicted as possessed from his youth by the spirit of Satan, who harbors great wrath toward Isaiah on account of his prophecies (Ascension of Isaiah 2:2; 3:13; 5:1, 15–16). Although Isaiah and his prophet associates escape to a mountain and subsist on wild herbs, after two years his accusers discover them and betray Isaiah to Manasseh (Ascension of Isaiah 2:7–11; 3:1, 6–12).
The Ascension of Isaiah further describes the ascent of Isaiah’s spirit up through several lower heavens to the seventh, where he sees God and the “Beloved” who is to descend to this earth (Ascension of Isaiah 6–11; compare Isaiah 5:1). What stands out is that Isaiah’s theology of ascent and his end-time prophecy as revealed in his Seven-Part Structure and other literary features embedded in the Book of Isaiah accord in almost every respect with those of the Ascension of Isaiah. In that document, Isaiah describes his book as being written in “parables” (Ascension of Isaiah 4:20). Indeed, his book’s literary features require one to read it as allegory, not as history.
By characterizing his book as a single “vision” (Isaiah 1:1) and claiming to “foretell the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10), Isaiah is evidently giving his own interpretive guidelines that he expects readers to follow. If they don’t, very likely they won’t understand his message. Indeed, synchronous holistic literary structures in the Book of Isaiah, such as Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure, require readers to view his book synchronously or as depicting a single scenario. Although grounded in historical events that occurred in Isaiah’s day and shortly thereafter, such events, without taking away from their historical origins, additionally portend end-time events.
But how did Isaiah come to have such an amazing apocalyptic vision? And how was he able to use historical events so selectively that they foreshadow such an end-time scenario? One answer may be that he lived in a portentous time of history, when many world events paralleled events that would occur in the end-time. Another may be that after serving forty years as a prophet from the time Jehovah appointed him (Isaiah 6), he had an apocalyptic vision in which he saw to the end of time (Isaiah 40). Assigned a new role, one similar to the seraphs who had ministered to him, Isaiah wrote new prophecies and reworked former ones into a single end-time “vision.”
A recurring pattern in Isaiah’s descriptions of both ancient and end-time events is that the political and ecclesiastical affairs of God’s people parallel one another both for good and for evil. That becomes particularly apparent in the leadership of God’s people as God’s Day of Judgment approaches: “Jehovah will cut off from Israel head and tail, palm top and reed, in a single day; the elders or notables are the head, the prophets who teach falsehoods, the tail. The leaders of these people have misled them, and those who are led are confused” (Isaiah 9:14–16). Only when God’s people again keep his law and word can the millennial age commence (Isaiah 2:3–4).
For a time, however, God allows dark days to prevail to try his people’s loyalties: “As for my people, babes subject them; women wield authority over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, abolishing your traditional ways” (Isaiah 3:12); “The godless utter blasphemy; their heart ponders impiety: how to practice hypocrisy and preach perverse things about Jehovah, leaving the hungry soul empty, depriving the thirsty soulof drink” (Isaiah 32:6). Before Zion forms, God comes out in judgment against his “enemies”—that is, against his people’s leaders: “Woe to them! I will relieve me of my adversaries, avenge me of my enemies” (Isaiah 1:23–24).
A paradox of life is that God allows lies and falsehoods to exist alongside the truth. Often, the truth of God’s “good news” lies buried beneath a heap of misrepresentations, while the purveyors of these falsehoods cast in a bad light those who adhere to the truth. The Accuser makes sure that those whose lifestyles are less than impeccable will fall prey to his deceptions, while persons who desire to know the truth will discover it for themselves. When Jesus says of the end-time that, if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived (Matthew 24:24), he at once defines the elect as those who have processed through the lies and can no longer be deceived.
According to Isaiah, leaders who mislead and prophets who deceive will be the order of the day (Isaiah 9:15–16; 28:7, 15; 32:6). The poor and needy—God’s favored candidates for his covenant people (Isaiah 14:30; 25:4)—are also the favored targets of his people’s reprobates: “Rogues scheme by malevolent means and insidious devices to ruin the poor, and with false slogans and accusations to denounce the needy” (Isaiah 32:7). Lies predominate in the time that precedes Jehovah’s coming to cleanse the earth of wickedness: “[He comes]to sift the nations in the sieveof falsehood; with an erring bridleon their jaws [he will try]the peoples” (Isaiah 30:28).
As “God will do nothing unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7), he gives ample warning before cleansing the earth of wickedness—in the end-time as anciently. In Isaiah’s day, for example, God commands Isaiah to go naked and barefoot for three years as a portent of Assyria’s invasion of Egypt (Isaiah 20:2–4). (Not known for being politically correct by modern standards, God ever leaves room for doubters to spurn his warnings.) Similarly, God gives Moab, a kindred people, three years’ warning—“like the term of a lease”—before Moab’s glory turns to shame, its large populace perishes, and but few inhabitants remain (Isaiah 16:14).
Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure, however, makes both Egypt and Moab integral parts of a multinational conglomerate of foreign powers that come under a “Babylon” umbrella. This Greater Babylon—akin to John’s Babylon the Great (Revelation 17:5)—goes into the dust at the time Zion rises from the dust (Isaiah 47:1; 52:1–2). For a time, a righteous remnant of God’s people dwells in the wilderness, surviving on nomads’ food (Isaiah 7:14–15, 21–22; 37:30). As the events of the past that Isaiah records function as types or patterns of end-time events, this scenario will repeat itself when God destroys end-time “Babylon” and delivers his people Zion.
Whether they lived before or after Israel’s exile from the Promised Land, the Hebrew prophets predict a great future “Day of Jehovah” or “Day of the Lord” upon all nations (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:1, 11, 31; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7, 14, 18; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:1, 5). This Day of Judgment upon a wicked world will come “as a violent blow from the Almighty,” “as a cruel outburst of anger and wrath to make the earth a desolation, that sinners may be annihilated from it” (Isaiah 13:6, 9). Precedents from the past—such as Assyria’s world conquest in Isaiah’s day—typify that great and dreadful end-time event.
John’s vision of “the Lord’s day” or “Day of the Lord” (Revelation 1:10) depicts the same events. Whereas Isaiah encodes his end-time vision in the historical events of his day, John encodes it in imagery. When you match up the characters, you see that both describe the same end-time scenario. The “great whore” that “corrupts the earth with her fornications” (Revelation 19:2) is the harlot Babylon who rules as “Mistress of Kingdoms” (Isaiah 47:5–8). The woman who flees into the wilderness for three and a half years (Revelation 12:6) is the Virgin Daughter of Zion who flees destruction in an exodus out of Babylon (Isaiah 52:1, 11–12). And so forth.
While Isaiah predicts “sudden ruin such as you have not imagined” for the harlot Babylon who rules the nations (Isaiah 47:11; compare Revelation 17:1–5), he predicts the same for God’s people whose wickedness puts them in the same category as Babylon. But before God’s Day of Judgment arrives—before the heavens “vanish as by smoke” and the earth’s inhabitants “die in the manner of vermin”—God gives the world a chance to repent: “The law shall go forth from me, and my precepts shall be a light to the peoples. Then, suddenly, I will act” (Isaiah 51:4, 6). Those who prove righteous participate in an exodus to Zion even while the wicked perish (Isaiah 51:7–12).
So inured do many of God’s people become toward him, however, that they grow derelict in their duties: “You have heard the whole vision; how is it you do not proclaim it? Yet as of now, I announce to you new things, things withheld and unknown to you, things now coming into being, not hitherto, things you have not heard of before, lest you should say, ‘Indeed I knew them!’ You have not heard them, nor have you known them; before this your ears have not been open to them” (Isaiah 48:6–8). At that point, God “annuls the predictions of impostors and makes fools of diviners,” he “turns wise men about and makes nonsense of their knowledge” (Isaiah 44:25).
Believers in the scriptures understand that the world will be destroyed and cleansed of the wicked before Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth. But do they know what precipitates such destruction? Patterns from the past tell us what to look for that will signal the commencement of God’s end-time judgments. Paul draws on the prophecies of Isaiah when he says that those events won’t happen until “there comes a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Isaiah uses models or types from ancient Near Eastern history and mythology to describe this end-time Antichrist as the “king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:3–21).
Isaiah also makes clear that it is the “falling away” of God’s people that precipitates the world’s destruction by the king of Assyria/Babylon. (Assyrian conquerors of Babylon in Isaiah’s day called themselves “King of Babylon.”) Former destructions of the ancient world—first by Assyria and then by Babylon—occurred only when God’s people of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel had apostatized. Those who profess to be God’s people today, therefore, fall into this pattern before God’s end-time judgments commence. If it were not so, the archtyrant could have no power. He is merely God’s instrument for destroying the wicked from the earth.
Both the Assyrians and Babylonians who ruthlessly conquer the ancient world hail from the North in relation to God’s people Israel when they turn to wickedness. Those successive events establish a pattern that repeats itself before Jehovah comes to the earth to institute his millennial reign of peace. This time, however, it isn’t the ten-tribed Northern Kingdom of Israel or the Southern Kingdom of Judah that suffers invasion and destruction by an aggressive world power but God’s people who turn to wickedness in the modern world. This time it is an end-time world power from the North that overruns the world, following the pattern of those ancient events.
When his end-time people attain the same level of wickedness Israel did of old, God responds the same way he did then: “Hail the Assyrian, the rodof my anger! He is a staff—my wrathin their hand. I will commission him against a godless nation, appoint him over the people [deserving]of my vengeance, to pillage for plunder, to spoliate for spoil, to tread underfoot like mud in the streets. Nevertheless, it shall not seem so to him; this shall not be what he has in mind. His purpose shall be to annihilate and to exterminate nations not a few” (Isaiah 10:5–7). “From the North shall come [pillars of]smoke, and no place he has designated shall evade it” (Isaiah 14:31).
Isaiah’s version of an end-time Antichrist is the king of Assyria/Babylon, whom Isaiah portrays as a composite of types; that is, he combines several precedents of ancient tyrannical rulers to project a single end-time one—an all-time archtyrant. Setting a precedent for world conquerors from the North are the kings of Assyria (Isaiah 10:5–14; 37:18, 21–27). To that type, Isaiah adds the “king of Babylon,” perhaps the same world conqueror from the North but one who styles himself as a demi-god and who exemplifies Babylon’s idolatrous ideology (Isaiah 14:3–21; 47:1–8). In the end, however, the archtyrant perishes because of the loyalty of God’s elect.
Isaiah thus predicts that in that day those who survive destruction will rejoice: “How the tyrant has met his end and tyranny ceased! Jehovah has broken the staffof the wicked, the rodof those who ruled—him who with unerring blows struck down the nations in anger, who subdued peoples in his wrath by relentless oppression. Now the whole earth is at rest and at peace; there is jubilant celebration!” (Isaiah 14:4–7); “Those who catch sight of you stare at you, wondering, ‘Is this the man who made the earth shake and kingdoms quake, who turned the world into a wilderness, demolishing its cities, permitting not his captives to return home?’” (Isaiah 14:16–17).
Jesus’ saying, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) wasn’t just wise counsel against covetousness but also a prediction of what would occur at the end of the world. Indeed, just such a person conquers the world by force—the end-time king of Assyria/Babylon. As God’s instrument for eliminating the wicked, he causes “utter destruction upon the whole the earth” (Isaiah 10:23; 13:5; 21:1–2; 28:22; 37:18; 51:13). God raises him up for that purpose: “It is I who create the smithwho fans the flaming coals, forging weapons to suit his purpose; it is I who create the ravagerto destroy” (Isaiah 54:16).
In the end, however, he dies too: “Woe to you, despoiler, who yourself was not despoiled; O treacherous one, with whom none have been treacherous: when you have done with devastating, you shall be devastated; when you are through betraying, they shall betray you!” (Isaiah 33:1); “Prepare for the massacre of their sons, in consequence of their fathers’ deeds, lest they rise up again and take possession of the world, and fill the face of the earth with cities” (Isaiah 14:21); “For Tophet has been prepared of old, [a hearth]indeed, made ready for rulers; broad and deep is its fire pit and ample its pyre; Jehovah’s breath burns within it like a river of lava” (Isaiah 30:33).
Referring to Jesus’ prediction that events surrounding his second coming would resemble a thief breaking and entering a house when its owner isn’t watching (Matthew 24:43), both Peter and Paul predict that the “Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). According to the Hebrew prophets, the “Day of the Lord” or “Day of Jehovah” is a worldwide judgment that precedes Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:31; Amos 5:18). It isn’t Jehovah/Jesus who comes as a thief in the night, therefore, but rather the events associated with his coming.
On the other hand, there is an actual thief who precedes Jehovah’s coming—the end-time “king of Assyria.” As a world conqueror, he robs the world of its wealth, boasting, “I have done it by my own ability and shrewdness, for I am ingenious. I have done away with the borders of nations, I have ravaged their reserves, I have vastly reduced the inhabitants. I have impounded the wealth of peoples like a nest, and I have gathered up the whole world as one gathers abandoned eggs; not one flapped its wings, or opened its mouth to utter a peep” (Isaiah 10:13–14). In the end, however, the archtyrant’s booty fails to benefit him (Isaiah 10:15–18, 24–27).
Isaiah’s method of predicting end-time events based on ancient events includes the idea of cosmic cataclysm. Just as God anciently destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by a hail of fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24), so he destroys end-time Babylon—an idolatrous, materialistic world (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 11, 19): “The stars and constellations of the heavens will not shine. When the sun rises, it shall be obscured; nor will the moon give its light. . . . I will cause disturbance in the heavens when the earth is jolted out of place by the angerof Jehovah of Hosts in the day of his blazing wrath” (Isaiah 13:10, 13). Not many escape destruction (Isaiah 13:12).
At fault are God’s covenant people, whose apostasy is the catalyst of God’s Day of Judgment: “The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants: they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, set at nought the ancient covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). “When the windows on high are opened, the earth shall shake to its foundations. The earth shall be crushed and rent; the earth shall break up and cave in; the earth shall convulse and lurch. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, sway back and forth like a shanty; its transgressions weigh it down, and when it collapses it shall rise no more” (Isaiah 24:18–20). Only a few “gleanings” survive (Isaiah 24:13–16).
Of the thirty end-time events Isaiah predicts that resemble past events, Babylon’s violent overthrow—“as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19)—is the most condemnatory. And yet it implicates most of the earth’s population. In his oracle addressed to “Babylon,” Isaiah defines Babylon as both a people and a place—the “sinners” and the “wicked” of the “earth” and the “world.” He predicts that God “will make the earth a desolation that sinners may be annihilated from it.” God has “decreed calamity for the world, punishment for the wicked.” He “will put an end the arrogance of insolent men and humble the pride of tyrants” (Isaiah 13:1, 9–13).
Part IV of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 13–23; 47) additionally provides a structural definition of Babylon. That literary device defines Babylon as a multinational conglomerate of nations and peoples that opposes Zion. Even God’s people who refuse to repent ultimately become an integral part of this Babylon as the world polarizes into two opposite camps. In that end-time context, God even calls his own people by the names “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:10), signifying that in that day their wickedness resembles ancient Sodom’s and Gomorrah’s. Their fate, too, therefore, is that of Sodom and Gomorrah in all its damning finality.
Isaiah’s likening God’s Day of Judgment upon the world to a doomsday for the wicked means that those who haven’t repented when their time runs out must suffer through a worst-case scenario. In that day, Babylon—the world at large in its wicked state (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 11)—falls, its idol gods “razed to the ground” (Isaiah 21:9), its terrain swept clean of all that offends: “‘I will rise up against them,’ says Jehovah of Hosts. ‘I will cut off Babylon’s name and remnant, its offspring and descendants,’ says Jehovah. ‘I will turn it into swamplands, a haunt for ravens; I will sweep it with the broomof destruction,’ says Jehovah of Hosts” (Isaiah 14:22–23).
As in the end God’s people who don’t repent identify with Isaiah’s Babylon category, they suffer the same judgments: “As a blazing fireconsumes stubble, and as dry weeds wane before the flame, so shall their roots decay away and their blossoms fly up like dust. For they have despised the law of Jehovah of Hosts and reviled the words of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24). To perish without “roots” or “blossoms” is to sever all familial connections—a covenant curse (Job 18:16–17; Malachi 4:1). To likewise leave behind no “name” or “remnant,” “offspring” or “descendants” (Isaiah 14:22) is to have all remembrance of one’s existence erased from the earth.
Applying Isaiah’s prophecy to ourselves for our profit and learning, we immediately face several inconvenient truths. As God holds us accountable for transgressing his law and word, the misfortunes that befall us as a people are a consequence of our collective guilt. As society breaks down, we may attribute our troubles to a failing economy, human error, freaks of nature, the forces of evil, and so forth. But to God we have set in motion an escalating series of covenant curses. Israel’s sliding into apostasy in former generations precipitated those same troubles and loss of privileges or covenant blessings. If we miss that point, we are wallowing in denial.
Isaiah declares our chief sins: idolatry and injustice. We worship idols when we pursue the things of this world—whatever steals our hearts away from God. The effect on us is spiritual blindness. We still assume we are right with God even as our religion becomes but a substitute for that deeper relationship with him that he offers us. Such religiosity isn’t enough to save us in his coming Day of Judgment. Injustices assume many forms: inequality, enmity, evil speaking, oppression, predatory practices, persecution, tyranny, and so forth. Through Isaiah, God offers us better way—to acknowledge our sins and keep his law and word so that he may heal us.
Can we disregard the relevance of Isaiah’s prophecies to the present day yet suffer no consequences? Can we prepare to deal with the hardships that are almost upon us with no foreknowledge of them? “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know,” a wise man said. Isaiah’s use of events in the past as types of ones in the future helps us understand our day a lot better. The functioning of God’s people of Isaiah’s day as a type of those in the end-time turns the past into a window of the future. Applying to ourselves what Isaiah declares, therefore—the good and the evil—gives us so much more the advantage when his end-time scenario unfolds.
A big part of Isaiah’s prophecy deals with the “Day of Jehovah”—God’s Day of Judgment on a wicked world. Characterizing that phase of world history is God’s people’s suffering bondage: “‘My people are taken over without price. Those who govern them act presumptuously,’ says Jehovah ‘and my name is constantly abused all the day’” (Isaiah 52:5). Economic distress—a covenant curse—gives his people’s leaders the chance to subjugate them. Isaiah compares the severity of that subjugation to Israel’s former bondage in Egypt and servitude to Assyria (Isaiah 52:4). In other words, things will get that bad before deliverance comes (Isaiah 52:8–10).
Economic distress leads to anarchy and the division of God’s people into clans or bands, each fighting for survival: “Jehovah of Hosts deprives Judea and Jerusalem of both staff and crutch—all food supply and water supply. . . . I will make adolescents their rulers; delinquents will lord it over them. People will oppress one another, every man his neighbor. . . . Then will a man apprehend a kinsman of his father’s house:‘You have a tunic: be our leader and take charge of this ruin!’ But he will raise [his hand]in that day and swear, ‘I am no physician. There is neither food nor clothing in my house; you cannot make me a leader of the people’” (Isaiah 3:1, 4, 6–7).
Just as the names Babylon and Zion, Assyria and Egypt act as codenames Isaiah uses to designate end-time nations and entities, so “Judea” and “Jerusalem” act as codenames of those who profess to be God’s end-time people. Their corrupt state and internal collapse lead to foreign invasion: “Your land is ruined, your cities burned with fire; your native soil is devoured by aliens in your presence, laid waste at its takeover by foreigners” (Isaiah 1:7). All is not lost, however, as a repentant remnant of God’s people escapes destruction: “Had not Jehovah of Hosts left us a few survivors, we should have been as Sodom or become like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9).
During times of social upheaval, God’s people anciently resorted to the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors, saying, “To your tents, O Israel!” (1 Kings 12:16). According to Isaiah, conditions at the end of the world will resemble those during ancient times of distress: “In that day a man will keep alive a young cow and a pair of sheep. And because of their plentiful milk, men will eat the cream. All who remain in the land will feed on cream and honey” (Isaiah 7:21–22); “To you, this shall be a sign: This year eat what grows wild, and the following year what springs up of itself. But in the third year sow and harvest, plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isaiah 37:30).
Although God’s people will pass through hard times to try their faith, God provides for them: “Tell the righteous it shall be well with them; they shall eat the fruits of their own labors. But woe to the wicked when calamity [overtakes them]: they shall be paid back for the deeds they have done!” (Isaiah 3:10–11). Of the one, Isaiah says: “They shall dwell on high; the impregnable cliffs are their fortress. Bread is provided them, their water is sure;” of the other: “The sinners in Zion are struck with fear; the godless are in the grip of trembling: ‘Who among us can live through the devouring fire? Who among us can abide eternal burning?’” (Isaiah 33:14, 16).
Isaiah—a prophet and seer who saw to the end of time—predicts that prophets and seers will exist in that future day. These persons fall into two categories. First are those who have “gone astray,” who “err as seers” (Isaiah 28:7), “prophets who teach falsehoods” (Isaiah 9:15), whose eyes God closes because of the wickedness of his people (Isaiah 29:10). These watchmen of God’s people are “blind and unaware; all of them but dumb watchdogs unable to bark, lolling seers fond of slumber. Gluttonous dogs, and insatiable, such indeed are insensible shepherds. They are all diverted to their own way, every one after his own advantage” (Isaiah 56:10–11).
Second are “watchmen” who prophesy in the day of power, when God “bares his holy arm in the eyes of all nations” (Isaiah 51:9–11; 52:8, 10). They stand on the watchtower day and night, are “most vigilant” and “fully alert” to approaching dangers, and report what they “see” and “hear” (Isaiah 21:6–10). They herald Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth and prepare God’s people for their end-time exodus out of Babylon to Zion (Isaiah 52:7–8, 11–12; compare 48:20–21). They “raise their voice as one” at the time Jehovah comes (Isaiah 52:8). They call upon God without ceasing for the welfare of his people and don’t keep silent day or night (Isaiah 62:6–7).
An entire separation of the righteous and the wicked occurs at the end of the world. While a glorious new age dawns for those of God’s people who repent, doomsday in all its horrors overtakes those who don’t. After sending prophets to warn humanity one last time, God brings on his judgment: “Come near, you nations, and hear! Pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth give heed, and all who are upon it, the world, and all who spring from it. Jehovah’s rageis upon all nations, his furyupon all their hosts; he has doomed them, consigned them to the slaughter. . . . For it is Jehovah’s day of vengeance, the year of retributionon behalf of Zion” (Isaiah 34:1–2, 8).
The “year of retribution on behalf of Zion” entails Jehovah’s delivering his people from the power of their enemies at his coming to Zion: “I had resolved on a day of vengeance, and the year of my redeemed had come” (Isaiah 63:4); “According to what they deserve, he will repay them: wrathupon his adversaries, reprisals upon his enemies; to the isles he will render retribution. From the west men will fear Jehovah Omnipotent, and from the rising of the sun his glory. For he will [come upon] themlike a hostile torrent impelled by the Spirit of Jehovah. But he will come as Redeemer to Zion, to those of Jacob who repent of transgression” (Isaiah 59:18–20).
Just as the world experienced the Flood anciently—“because all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” and “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11–13)—and just as God saved Noah and his family from the Flood because “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generation” (Genesis 6:9), so, when the same end-time conditions occur, God sends a Flood and saves “just men made perfect.” The new Flood, however, isn’t by water (signifying the earth’s baptism by water) but by fire (signifying its baptism by fire): “For with fireand with his swordshall Jehovah execute judgment on all flesh, and those slain by Jehovah shall be many” (Isaiah 66:16).
Personifying the Flood is the king of Assyria, who resembles “an inundating deluge of mighty waters” (Isaiah 28:2). His evil allies, who “rage like the raging of the seas—tumultuous nations, in commotion like the turbulence of mighty waters!” (Isaiah 17:12)—overrun the earth like “a flooding scourge” (Isaiah 28:17–22). Still, the destruction they cause is by fire: “Whole nations have been burned like lime, mown down like thorns and set ablaze” (Isaiah 33:12); “Wickedness shall be set ablaze like a fire, and briars and thorns shall it consume; it shall ignite the jungle forests [cities], and they shall billow upward in mushrooming clouds of smoke” (Isaiah 9:18).
Of the thirty ancient events of which Isaiah predicts new, end-time versions, a new exodus—patterned after Israel’s ancient exodus out of Egypt—is similarly followed by a new wandering in the wilderness. The new exodus, however, is out of the whole world—out of “Babylon”—which God is about to destroy: “Go forth out of Babylon, flee from Chaldea! Make this announcement with resounding voice; broadcast it to the end of the earth. Say, ‘Jehovah has redeemed his servant Jacob.’ They thirsted not when he led them through arid places: he caused water to flow for them from the rock; he cleaved the rockand water gushed out” (Isaiah 48:20–21).
As Lot was led out of Sodom, so are participants in the new exodus: “The righteous disappear, and no man gives it a thought; the godly are gathered out, but no one perceives that from impending calamity the righteous are withdrawn” (Isaiah 57:1). “Come out of her and be pure, you who bear Jehovah’s vessels. But you shall not leave in haste or go in flight: Jehovah will go before you, the God of Israel behind you” (Isaiah 52:11–12). “I will bring your offspring from the east and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give up!’ to the south, ‘Withhold not! Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth’” (Isaiah 43:5–6).
According to Isaiah, Israel’s end-time exodus from the four directions of the earth leads through waters, mountains, deserts, steppes, and fire (Isaiah 41:9, 17–19; 42:16; 43:2, 5–8, 16, 19–21; 48:21; 49:9–12). Like the ancient exodus out of Egypt, however, God’s people who return from their worldwide dispersion are carried to Zion by certain (spiritual) kings and queens of the Gentiles: “Thus says my Lord Jehovah: ‘I will lift up my handto the nations, raise my ensignto the peoples; and they will bring your sons in their bosoms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, queens your nursing mothers’” (Isaiah 49:22–23).
Israel’s end-time wandering in the wilderness is a joyous occasion, resembling Israel’s ancient annual pilgrimage to Zion: “For you there shall be singing, as on the night when a festival commences, and rejoicing of heart, as when men march with flutes and drums and lyres on their way to the mountain of Jehovah, to the Rockof Israel” (Isaiah 30:29); “Let the ransomed of Jehovah return! Let them come singing to Zion, their heads crowned with everlasting joy; let them obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away” (Isaiah 51:11). God will be with those who return: “Jehovah will go before you, the God of Israel behind you” (Isaiah 52:12).
Just as God’s cloud of glory hovered over the Israelites and protected them from Pharaoh’s army and from physical elements at Israel’s exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21–22; 14:19–20), so it protects God’s righteous people from end-time hostile forces. In that day, they sing Songs of Salvation: “You were a refuge for the poor, a shelter for the needy in distress, a covert from the downpour and shade from the heat. When the blasts of tyrants beat down like torrents against a wall, or like scorching heatin the desert, you quelled the onslaughts of the heathen. As burning heatby the shade of a cloud, you subdued the power of tyrants” (Isaiah 25:4–5).
“Over the whole site of Mount Zion, and over its solemn assembly, Jehovah will form a cloud by day and a mist glowing with fireby night: above all that is glorious shall be a canopy. It shall be a shelter and shade from the heatof the day, a secret refuge from the downpourand from rain” (Isaiah 4:5–6). While the “day” mentioned signifies God’s Day of Judgment, Isaiah’s heatwave and storm imagery typifies the evil powers God lets loose upon a wicked world. The idea of a “canopy,” moreover, denotes a renewal of the marriage covenant between God and his end-time people: “He who espouses you is your Maker, whose name is Jehovah of Hosts” (Isaiah 54:5).
Among the new versions of ancient events Isaiah predicts is God’s Descent on the Mount. As Jehovah descended on Mount Sinai in a display of power and might (Exodus 19:16–24), so he does on Mount Zion: “As a lion or a young lion growls over the prey when the shepherds muster in full force against him, and is not dismayed at the sound of their voice nor daunted by their numbers, so shall Jehovah of Hosts be when he descends to wage war on Mount Zion” (Isaiah 31:4); “Jehovah will cause his voiceto resound, and make visible his armdescending in furious rage, with flashes of devouring fire, explosive discharges and pounding hail” (Isaiah 30:30).
Isaiah similarly predicts a new Passover. As the angel of death passed over Israel’s firstborn sons when he smote Egypt’s firstborns (Exodus 12:1–29), so he passes over a remnant of God’s people when the Assyrians lay siege to them: “As birds hover over [the nest], so will Jehovah of Hosts guard Jerusalem; by protecting it he will deliver it, by passing over it, preserve it” (Isaiah 31:5); “I will protect this city and save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David. Then the angel of Jehovah went out and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. And when men arose in the morning, there lay all their dead bodies!” (Isaiah 37:35–36).
A hard fact of Isaiah’s end-time scenario is that it isn’t those who appear to be God’s people whom God saves in the end but those who are rejected by the majority. These “outcasts” suffer “reproach” and “ridicule,” are “excluded” from God’s people, and, like God’s servant who gathers them, are “despised” and “abhorred” until God reverses their circumstances (Isaiah 49:7–8; 51:7; 60:15–16; 61:7, 9; 66:5–8). In the end, those who are excluded and betrayed by their own people are gathered with God’s righteous remnant: “Thus says my Lord Jehovah, who gathers up the outcasts of Israel: ‘I will gather others to those already gathered’” (Isaiah 56:3, 8).
God answers the loyalty of his people’s outcasts by uniting them with other outcasts who return from exile in an exodus to Zion or Jerusalem: “In that day a loud trumpetshall sound, and they who were lost in the land of Assyria and they who were outcasts in the land of Egypt shall come and bow down to Jehovah in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13). Those who gather are surprised to learn of others besides them: “From a sector of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glorious are the righteous!’ Whereas I thought, ‘I am wasting away; I am weakening: woe is me; the traitors have been treacherous, the turncoats have deceitfully betrayed!’” (Isaiah 24:16).
When Solomon’s son Rehoboam refused to heed the counsel of Israel’s elders and raised the people’s taxes, Jeroboam, Solomon’s servant, began ruling over Israel’s northern tribes (1 Kings 11:29–32; 12:1–20). Because Ephraim was its leading tribe, the Northern Kingdom was often referred to simply as Ephraim (Isaiah 7:1–9; Hosea 5:1–14). Likewise, because the tribe of Judah led the Southern Kingdom, that kingdom was known simply as Judah (ibid.). That day—“the day Ephraim broke away from Judah” (Isaiah 7:17)—became a national tragedy, a symptom of wickedness and a covenant curse. Since that day, the nation of Israel has remained divided.
And yet, Isaiah predicts that Ephraim and Judah will reunite when God gathers Israel from dispersion in an end-time exodus from the four directions of the earth: “In that day my Lord will again raise his hand to reclaim the remnant of his people—those who shall be left out of Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the islands of the sea. He will raise the ensignto the nations and assemble the exiled of Israel; he will gather the scattered of Judah from the four directions of the earth. Ephraim’s jealousy will pass away and the hostile ones of Judah will be cut off; Ephraim will not envy Judah, nor Judah resent Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:11–13).
Since Israel’s ten northern tribes broke away from the southern tribes of Judah in 924 B.C., then disappeared after being deported to Mesopotamia in 722 B.C., the “two houses of Israel” have never reunited. Still, as David reunited the northern and southern tribes in his day (2 Samuel 5:1–5), so does an end-time David, his descendant—God’s servant. Isaiah predicts that God’s servant will “raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore those preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6). At that time, all of Israel’s tribes return from dispersion to promised lands in an exodus from the four directions of the earth (Isaiah 11:10–16; 43:1–8; 49:9–12, 22; compare Hosea 3:5).
Ezekiel, too, predicts this: “Behold, I will take the people of Israel from among the heathen where they have gone, and I will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be a king to them all. And they shall no more be two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. . . . And they shall dwell in the land I gave Jacob my servant, in which your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, they and their children and their children’s children forever. And my servant David shall betheir prince forever” (Ezekiel 37:21–22, 25).
We may suppose that when Isaiah names a person or nation, such names are incidental to his prophecy. Rather, the opposite is the case. Names of persons and nations in the Book of Isaiah serve an important function by identifying precedents in the past that establish models or types of the future. Because whatever Isaiah predicts for the end-time possesses a type in the past, his use of names of persons or nations means that events similar to those associated with those names will repeat themselves. In other words, the ancient names Isaiah uses function as codenames for persons or nations that exist in the end-time, that being typical of the way Isaiah prophesies.
As Moses led Israel to the Promised Land, so shall one like Moses: “Then his people recalled the days of Moses of old: ‘Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he who put into him his holy Spirit, who made his glorious armproceed at the righthandof Moses, who divided the waters before them, making an everlasting name for himself?’” (Isaiah 63:11–13). As God called Abraham from a far country to the Promised Land, so he calls end-time Israel: “You, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham my beloved friend, you whom I have taken from the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 41:8–9).
Isaiah’s method of prophesying end-time events based on types or patterns from the past provides a safeguard against counterfeits, which inevitably precede and accompany the real thing. False prophets and messiahs, delusive promises of deliverance, spurious “miracles”—all will test people’s faith in God and their knowledge of the facts. The comforting thing about Isaiah’s prophecies is that they are true to the principle of “what has been shall be” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). If something is of God it will follow the patterns of the past; if it isn’t, then informed persons ought to exercise their prerogative to reject it even though a majority of people accept it.
A deep understanding of Isaiah’s prophecy—gained from diligent searching of his words until they are clear—provides the best guide to knowing the true from the false. One can’t disregard this requirement and assume one already knows what there is to know, then still expect to be able to discern between what is of God and what is not in the time of confusion that has been foretold. God allows counterfeits to abound for the express purpose of weeding out those who treat lightly the prophecies they have received (Isaiah 30:28). Many in times past believed they were right in other such situations, yet sadly ended up “fighting against God” (Acts 5:39).
The use of codenames by ancient prophets who predict end-time events occurs throughout the scriptures. In the Book of Revelation, John uses the name Babylon to depict a multinational socio-economic system that drives the economy of a world ripening in wickedness (Revelation 17–18). And yet, in John’s day the empire that once was Babylon no longer exists. Daniel predicts a great world conflict involving the kingdoms of Persia, Greece, and other nations of his day. However, the angel who shows him these things tells Daniel to shut up the words and seal them in a book because they aren’t about his day but the “time of the end” (Daniel 11:1–12:4).
Anciently, the Babylonian empire epitomized an idolatrous, materialistic world civilization. Isaiah combines that model with others to create a composite entity, a kind of Greater Babylon. Part III of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 13–23, 47) pulls an entire series of foreign nations and entities that once came under Babylon’s influence into this “Babylon” conglomerate. Forming a part of this arch entity is ancient Tyre’s worldwide shipping empire (Isaiah 23). It is Isaiah’s model that John draws on when projecting his end-time Babylon the Great. Of course, Isaiah’s use of codenames extends beyond the name Babylon to all others in his book.
Several depictions of Zion exist in the scriptures. Zion is the “citadel” David captures from the Jebusites that becomes the “City of David” (1 Chronicles 11:4–7). The “holy hill of Zion” is the place where Jehovah dwells (Psalms 2:6; 9:11). Isaiah’s literary devices reveal his definition of Zion. Forty instances of the name Zion in the Book of Isaiah, for example, show a pattern associated with the name Zion consisting of (1) God’s destruction of the wicked from the earth; (2) his deliverance of a righteous remnant of his people; and (3) the presence of a Davidic king, whom Isaiah identifies either directly by name or indirectly under one of several aliases.
Contextually, Zion consists of God’s people Jacob or Israel who “repent” (swb) of transgression (Isaiah 1:27; 59:20). Zion is also the place to which they “return” (swb) from among the nations in an end-time exodus when the wicked perish (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11). In the Book of Isaiah, Zion, together with Jerusalem, is one of seven spiritual levels or categories of people. They consist of persons who ascend from the Jacob/Israel level to the Zion/Jerusalem level. They receive a remission of their sins when they prove their covenantal allegiance to God. In the end, the whole world divides into spiritual categories affiliated with either Zion or Babylon.
By our limiting Isaiah’s prophecy of Immanuel to Matthew’s application of it to Jesus (Matthew 1:23), much is lost in understanding the historical context of this prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). A prophecy about Jesus would not have been a “sign” to King Ahaz, who was dealing with an invasion of Judea by Aram and Ephraim and who was appealing to the king of Assyria for help instead of to his God. The name Immanuel, in fact, occurs three times in the same context. All three deal with Assyria’s invasion of Judea following Ahaz’ disloyalty to Jehovah (Isaiah 8:8, 10). And each of these three predictions were fulfilled by King Hezekiah, Ahaz’ son.
In its historical context, moreover, Immanuel is but one of three sons with portending names: (1) Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (“Hasten the Plunder, Hurry the Spoil,” Isaiah 8:3); (2) Shear-Jashub (“A Remnant Shall Repent,” Isaiah 7:3); and (3) Immanuel (“God Is with Us”). Part II of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40) shows that they represent three categories of God’s people: (1) those whom the king of Assyria destroys together with idolaters (Isaiah 37:18–19); (2) a remnant of people that repents and survives (Isaiah 37:4, 31–32); and (3) persons such as King Hezekiah who serve as saviors of their people (Isaiah 38:4–6).
Isaiah’s drawing on the names of Israel’s ancestors as exemplars of their descendants reveals a divine design: emulating persons on higher spiritual levels such as Abraham and Sarah may lead to ascent to their level and to their degree of blessedness. When God says, “Look to Abraham your father, to Sarah who bore you. He was but one when I called him, but I blessed him by making him many. For Jehovah is comforting Zion, bringing solace to all her ruins; he is making her wilderness like Eden, her desert as the garden of Jehovah” (Isaiah 51:2–3), he shows that by emulating Abraham and Sarah their descendants may inherit the blessings they did.
By responding to God’s end-time call, in other words, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants may obtain an innumerable posterity and hasten the earth’s transformation to a paradisiacal state. Indeed, by covenanting with Israel, God sought to do for his people as a nation what he did for their ancestors individually. Thus, Isaiah predicts that when certain individuals—“one” here and “one” there (Isaiah 51:2)—form a new nation of God’s people that proves loyal through the earth’s end-time chaos, God blesses them with an innumerable posterity and brings about the earth’s transformation to a paradisiacal state (Isaiah 41:8–20; 54:6–14; 55:3–13; 60:13–22).
Featuring prominently in the Book of Isaiah is a militaristic superpower that seeks to conquer the world. In fact, God commissions its king figure—an end-time archtyrant—to punish his people when they rebel and do evil: “Hail the Assyrian, the rodof my anger! He is a staff—my wrathin their hand. I will commission him against a godless nation, appoint him over the people [deserving]of my vengeance, to pillage for plunder, to spoliate for spoil, to tread underfoot like mud in the streets. Nevertheless, it shall not seem so to him; this shall not be what he has in mind. His purpose shall be to annihilate and to exterminate nations not a few” (Isaiah 10:5–7).
In the pattern of ancient Assyria, this ruthless world power and its alliance of nations commits genocide on a world scale: “Hark! A tumult on the mountains, as of a vast multitude. Hark! An uproar among kingdoms, as of nations assembling: Jehovah of Hosts is marshaling an army for war. They come from a distant land beyond the horizon—Jehovah and the instruments of his wrath—to cause destruction throughout the earth. Lament, for the Day of Jehovah is near; it shall come as a violent blow from the Almighty” (Isaiah 13:4–6). Although all nations suffer destruction in their wicked state, the apostasy of those who were God’s people precipitates it.
Isaiah’s use of types of ancient world powers that foreshadow end-time ones extends to the great superpower Egypt. As with all nations and persons who appear in the Book of Isaiah, their true identity appears from the way Isaiah characterizes them, not from historical or archaeological data, though at times these may help. In searching the world today for a superpower that matches Isaiah’s description of “Egypt,” the sole candidate is America. That connection is further strengthened by the fact that God’s people anciently dwelt in Egypt, that Joseph ruled Egypt, and that the birthright tribe of Ephraim sprang from Joseph and Asenath, an Egyptian woman.
“Egypt,” however, is a superpower imploding: “The ministers of Zoan have been foolish, the officials of Noph deluded; the heads of state have led Egypt astray. Jehovah has permeated them with a spirit of confusion; they have misled Egypt in all that it does, causing it to stagger like a drunkard into his vomit. . . . Manufacturers of combed linen and weavers of fine fabrics will be dismayed. The textile workers will know despair, and all who work for wages suffer distress. . . . I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians; they will fight brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor, city against city and state against state” (Isaiah 19:2, 9–10, 13–14).
The importance of understanding Isaiah’s message increases daily as world events line up like the planets for the fulfillment of his prophecy. Under the codename “Egypt”—the great superpower of Isaiah’s day—America is predicted to suffer spiritual decline, political ineptitude, economic collapse, internal anarchy, and invasion by a ruthless military world power from the North—an end-time “Assyria.” On the other hand, a community of covenanters in Egypt turns back to God, who sends them a savior and delivers them (Isaiah 19–20). In the end, as the millennial age begins, “Egypt” again becomes “my people”—a righteous covenant people of God (Isaiah 19:25).
A dichotomy of events surrounding Egypt thus typifies the nation in general, which incurs misfortunes or covenant curses for its wickedness even as a righteous category of persons within the nation becomes Egypt’s salvation: “Jehovah will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know Jehovah in that day. They will worship by sacrifice and offerings, and make vows to Jehovah and fulfill them. Jehovah will smite Egypt, and by smiting heal [it]: they will turn back to Jehovah, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them” (Isaiah 19:21–22). To be “healed” of iniquity and to “know” Israel’s God is to be his covenant people indeed.
Having seen “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10), Isaiah selectively draws on Israel’s ancient history in order to cover both time frames—the past and the future—the “end” being contained in the “beginning.” God’s people anciently, in other words, in the very events in which they participated, were predicting end-time events, something only God is capable of orchestrating: “Who predicts what happens as do I, and is the equal of me in appointing a people from of old as types, foretelling things to come? Be not perturbed or shaken. Have I not made it known to you from of old? Did I not foretell it, you being my witnesses?” (Isaiah 44:7–8).
When something in the past isn’t an exact type of the end-time, on the other hand, Isaiah may combine several types from the past to round out his prediction of the future. That is, he may use composites of types to portray a single end-time person or event. Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure, for example, portrays both Babylon and the king of Babylon as composites of types, including the events associated with them. The end-time itself, moreover, consists of over thirty ancient events that repeat themselves—although in a different order—that are compressed into a single scenario of a few years known as the “Day of Jehovah” or God’s Day of Judgment.
Among Isaiah’s prophecies based on composites of types, two figures feature prominently—the tyrant and the servant. Because no one person in the past alone adequately exemplifies in his life the actions either of these end-time figures performs, Isaiah combines several ancient types when describing them. Isaiah’s tyrant figure, for example, resembles both the ancient kings of Assyria—militaristic rulers from the North who establish a precedent for conquering the known world (Isaiah 10:5–14; 37:18, 21–27)—and the king of Babylon, who accomplishes the same thing but who additionally establishes a precedent as an idol ruler (Isaiah 14:4–23).
Similarly, the way Isaiah characterizes Jehovah’s servant combines many types of Israel’s past heroes who establish precedents for the servant’s redemptive roles. They include Moses, Israel’s lawgiver, who leads God’s people out of bondage through the Red Sea into the Promised Land (Isaiah 42:4, 7, 16; 43:2, 5–8, 16–17; 44:26–27; 48:20–21; 49:1–12; 51:9–11; 52:11–13; 55:4–5, 12–13; 63:11–13); Joshua, who conquers the Promised Land and allocates God’s people their inheritances (Isaiah 41:11–16; 49:8); and Cyrus, who conquers Babylon and reestablishes God’s people in the Promised Land (Isaiah 41:2–3; 44:26, 28; 45:1–2, 13; 46:11).
Isaiah’s mention of Cyrus, the Persian monarch who conquers Babylon—who establishes the Persian Empire, ruling from 558–530 B.C.—forms a key point on which liberal scholars divide the Book of Isaiah. They assert that there must have existed at least two “Isaiahs,” one who prophesied in Isaiah’s day (742–701 B.C.) and another in the time of Cyrus. In other words, liberal scholars don’t believe that a prophet of God (who saw to the end of time) could have seen a world ruler who lived a hundred and eighty years beyond Isaiah’s day. To them, the best any prophet could do was to document the events of his own day—like these scholars themselves!
Isaiah’s “Cyrus,” however, was never intended to depict a purely historical person. While Cyrus’ mention by name is consistent with Isaiah’s practice of naming persons who set historical precedents, many of those precedents function as types of God’s end-time servant. Thus, passages in which Cyrus is named (Isaiah 44:26–28; 45:1) consist of composites of types. The first combines a Cyrus typology (rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple) with a Moses typology (the deep becoming dry), while the second combines a Cyrus typology (subduing nations to set free Israel’s exiles) with a David typology (Jehovah’s “anointed”). All typify end-time events.
While scriptural role models for women are few compared with those for men, Isaiah offers a preeminent role model: the Woman Zion. She not only represents God’s people—Jehovah’s wife under the terms of the covenant—she also typifies the ideal woman. Like all humankind, she is subject to sin and transgression. But by repenting and “serving her term,” she expiates her guilt (Isaiah 40:2). Rejecting false suitors and proving loyal to her husband (Isaiah 37:22), she gives birth to a new nation of God’s people: “Can the earth labor but a day and a nation be born at once? For as soon as she was in labor, Zion gave birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
When her covenant with Jehovah becomes unconditional (Isaiah 54:10), she flourishes in the earth: “You shall no more be called the forsaken one, nor your land referred to as desolate; you shall be known as her in whom I delight and your land considered espoused. . . . As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:4–5). Her holdings increase: “Expand the site of your tent; extend the canopies of your dwellings. Do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; your offspring shall dispossess the nations and resettle the desolate cities” (Isaiah 54:2–3).
In opposition to the Woman Zion in the Book of Isaiah appears the Harlot Babylon. Besides typifying a wicked world, she exemplifies the undesirable traits of womanhood and acts as a kind of anti-ideal or false model. Engrossed in herself, she manipulates those who inhabit her world—including the Woman Zion—to serve her selfish purposes: “I was provoked by my people, so I let my inheritance be defiled. I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy; even the aged you weighed down heavily with your yoke. You thought, ‘I, the Eternal Mistress, exist forever!’ and did not consider these, or remember her final destiny” (Isaiah 47:6–7).
As her domination of her environment expands, she begins to rival God. So he judges her: “Secure in your wickedness, you thought, ‘No one discerns me.’ By your skill and science you were led astray, thinking to yourself, ‘I exist, and there is none besides me!’ Catastrophe shall overtake you, which you shall not know how to avert by bribes; disaster shall befall you from which you cannot ransom yourself: there shall come upon you sudden ruin such as you have not imagined” (Isaiah 47:10–11). In Isaiah’s structural model of a Greater Babylon, God’s people who possess her manipulative traits form an integral part of Babylon and thus suffer her fate.
An integral part of encoding Isaiah’s message—of layering a prophecy within a prophecy—is his use of allegory and metaphor. Prophets besides Isaiah do this but none so well. Apart from its literal meaning, for example, the term “mountain” can mean “nation”: Babylon is a “destroying mountain” (Jeremiah 51:25); the “stone cut out of a mountain without hands” becomes a great “mountain that fills the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35, 45). Using synonymous parallel lines, Isaiah establishes the idea of “mountains” as a metaphor for “nations” or “kingdoms” (Isaiah 13:4; 64:1–3). In that way, he predicts things only those who search his words understand.
We can thus read the “mountain of Jehovah’s house” (Isaiah 2:2) as the nation of his house. Zion as the “head of the mountains” (ibid.) may mean the head of the nations—a blessing of the Sinai Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:12–13). The feet of the messenger heralding good tidings “on the mountains” (Isaiah 52:7) infers that the gospel is taken to all nations. The ensign lifted up “in the mountains” at the sound of the trump (Isaiah 18:3) is to all nations. Jacob/Israel’s “threshing mountains to dust and making chaff of hills” (Isaiah 41:15) suggests it conquers the Assyrian alliance of nations and peoples that participates in a world takeover. And so forth.
Just as “mountains” and “hills” may mean “nations” or “kingdoms” in the Book of Isaiah, so “forests” and “trees” may mean “cities” and “people.” A literal and metaphorical meaning may apply. Isaiah thus again reveals more than meets the eye. He establishes such dual meanings by using synonymous parallel lines, as in Isaiah 32:19: “By a hail shall forests be felled, cities utterly leveled.” Or by simile, as in Isaiah 7:2: “The king’s mind and the minds of his people were shaken, as trees in a forest are shaken by a gale.” “Rivers,” too, may refer to rivers of people, as in Isaiah 18:2: “A people continually infringing, whose rivers have annexed their lands.”
Note how the king of Assyria recounts his world conquest: “Because of my vast chariotry I have conquered the highest mountains, the farthest reaches of Lebanon. I have felled its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses. I have reached its loftiest summit, its finest forest. I have dug wells and drunk of foreign waters. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all Egypt’s rivers!” (Isaiah 37:24–25). When the tyrant passes away, “the pine trees rejoice over you, as do the cedars of Lebanon: ‘Since you have been laid low, no hewer has risen against us!’” (Isaiah 14:8). Those who rebuild are “called oaks of righteousness, planted by Jehovah for his glory” (Isaiah 61:3–4).
Stones and metals add to Isaiah’s metaphors that designate people. Even God is called “the Rock of Israel,” “the Rock, your fortress,” “an everlasting Rock” (Isaiah 17:10; 26:4; 30:29). To the reprobates of his people, however, he is “a stumbling stone or an obstructing rock” (Isaiah 8:14). When the people of Ephraim and their leaders scoff and deceive themselves, and God’s judgments are about to come upon them, God “lays in Zion a stone, a keystone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16). Before Jehovah comes to the earth to reign, his watchmen are to prepare the way—to “pave a highway cleared of stones” (Isaiah 62:10–11).
Isaiah uses such imagery to categorize people. Common stones and metals identify people on a low spiritual level, semi-precious on a higher level, and precious on a high level. When God destroys the wicked, for example, he “will make mankind scarcer than fine gold, men more rare than gold of Ophir” (Isaiah 13:12). Zion’s children who return from dispersion in an exodus at that time belong in the precious category: “You will adorn yourself with them all as with jewels, bind them on you as does a bride” (Isaiah 49:18). In the millennial age, only precious and semi-precious kinds—“gold,” “silver,” “copper,” and “iron”—remain (Isaiah 60:17).
Isaiah’s use of cosmic imagery to express spiritual concepts resembles that of other prophets. Stars, for example, denote an exalted category of persons: “Lift your eyes heavenward and see: Who formed these? He who brings forth their hosts by number, calling each one by name. Because he is almighty and all powerful, not one is unaccounted for” (Isaiah 40:26). Calling a person by name signifies royal investiture in ancient Near Eastern and Hebrew religion: “To them I will give a handclasp and a name within the walls of my house that is better than sons and daughters; I will endow them with an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:5).
Isaiah’s use of light imagery similarly nuances spiritual concepts. Just as the light of the moon is less than the sun’s, so one might figuratively compare persons on lower spiritual levels to lesser lights but those on higher levels to greater lights. God appoints his end-time servant, for example, as a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6) to prepare them for Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth (Isaiah 62:10–11). Jehovah himself, however, is the Light that lights up the millennial age (Isaiah 60:19–20). Accordingly, ascending spiritual levels may resemble moons, planets, and suns but descending ones resemble chaotic bodies such as comets and asteroids.
By using pseudonyms or aliases, Isaiah’s writings again reveal a prophecy within a prophecy. While Isaiah mostly limits himself to prophesying new versions of ancient events when predicting the end of the world, in instances where ancient events fall short of portraying all that happens, he resorts to metaphors that denote persons. Of the king of Assyria, for example, who boasts of his conquests, God says, “Shall an axeexalt itself above the one who hews with it, or a sawvaunt itself over him who handles it? As though the rodwielded him who lifts it up! As though the staffheld up the one who is not made of wood!” (Isaiah 10:15; emphasis added).
When rallying his forces to conquer the world, the king of Assyria additionally appears as God’s ensign, voice, and hand: “Raise the ensignon a barren mountain; sound the voiceamong them! Beckon them with the handto advance into the precincts of the elite” (Isaiah 13:2; emphasis added). Isaiah depicts God’s end-time servant under similar pseudonyms or aliases, though his mission is to gather God’s people to safety: “Thus says my Lord Jehovah: ‘I will lift up my handto the nations, raise my ensignto the peoples; and they will bring your sons in their bosoms and carry your daughters on their shoulders’” (Isaiah 49:22; emphasis added; compare 11:10–12).
A Canaanite god of chaos called Sea and River has a counterpart in the Book of Isaiah. The Ugaritic myth of Baal and Anath depicts the hero god Baal reestablishing order in the world by subduing Sea/River, who threatens humanity. Isaiah thus depicts the king of Assyria as Sea and River: “Jehovah will cause to come up over them the great and mighty waters of the River—the king of Assyria in all his glory. He will rise up over all his channels, overflow all his banks. He will sweep into Judea likea flood and, passing through, reach the very neck; his outspread wings will span the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:7–8; emphasis added).
The archtyrant will be “stirred up” against God and against God’s people “even as the Sea is stirred up” (Isaiah 5:30; emphasis added; compare 37:28). In the “Day of Jehovah,” he and his alliance of nations commit worldwide genocide, causing destruction throughout the earth (Isaiah 10:5–7; 13:4–6). After serving God’s purpose of destroying the wicked, however, they too suffer destruction: “Woe to the many peoples in an uproar, who rage like the raging of the seas—tumultuous nations, in commotion like the turbulence of mighty waters! . . . At evening time shall be the catastrophe, and before morning they shall be no more” (Isaiah 17:12, 14).
By using the imagery of two arms of God, Isaiah depicts God’s intervention in the affairs of his people. Each serves as an agent of God’s salvation, one mostly temporal, the other mostly spiritual. God’s arm of “righteousness”—God’s end-time servant—personifies righteousness and serves as an exemplar of righteousness. He establishes righteousness in the earth, preparing the way for Jehovah’s coming. God’s arm of “salvation”—Jehovah—personifies salvation and serves as his people’s Savior. Each is a “judge” of God’s people (Isaiah 51:5): Righteousness puts the wicked to flight, while Salvation comes to reward the righteous (Isaiah 41:2–3; 62:11).
Linguistic interconnections and synonymous parallels—as in righteousness and right hand (Isaiah 41:10); right hand and mighty arm (Isaiah 62:8); arm and righteousness (Isaiah 59:16); and so forth—define God’s servant. Thus, in “the day of salvation”—God’s Day of Judgment—God “bares” or “reveals” his arm of righteousness to all nations (Isaiah 49:1–9; 51:9–11; 52:10; 56:1). God’s people who “follow righteousness,” who “know righteousness,” participate in an end-time exodus led by Righteousness (Isaiah 51:1, 7; 58:8). Those who are called “oaks of righteousness,” Righteousness empowers and Salvation saves (Isaiah 61:1–10).
When Jehovah comes to reign among his people in the millennial age, “No longer shall the sun be your light by day, nor the brightness of the moon your illumination at night: Jehovah will be your everlasting Light and your God your radiant glory. Your sun shall set no more, nor your moon wane: to you Jehovah shall be an endless Light when your days of mourning are fulfilled” (Isaiah 60:19–20). While Israel’s God then acts as the greater Light, he also appoints his servant as a light to prepare the way before him: “I have created you and appointed you to be a covenantfor the people, a lightto the nations, to open eyes that are blind” (Isaiah 42:6–7).
His people to whom God first sends his servant, however, are mostly unreceptive to the servant’s message: “Who among you fears Jehovah and heeds the voiceof his servant, who, though he walk in the dark and have no light, trusts in the name of Jehovah and relies upon his God? But you are lighters of fires, all of you, who illuminate with mere sparks. Walk then by the light of your fires and by the sparks you have kindled. This shall you have from my hand: you shall lie down in agony” (Isaiah 50:10–11). Those who prove receptive, on the other hand, are Israel’s scattered tribes, who gather from exile in an end-time exodus to Zion (Isaiah 49:5–22).
Isaiah’s prophecy about Ephraim consists mostly of reproofs. Ephraim lives in the past, acting as if former glories are current ones: “Woe to the garlands of glory of the drunkards of Ephraim! Their crowning splendor has become as fading wreaths on the heads of the opulent overcome with wine” (Isaiah 28:1). The king of Assyria—a new Flood (Isaiah 8:7–8)—will invade Ephraim’s land: “My Lord has in store one mighty and strong: as a ravaging hailstormsweeping down, or like an inundating delugeof mighty waters, he will hurl them to the ground by his hand. The proud garlands of the drunkards of Ephraim shall be trodden underfoot” (Isaiah 28:2–3).
Ephraim plows the same ground over and over, never moving beyond the basic principle of “line upon line and precept upon precept” to personal revelation (Isaiah 28:9–13, 24–29). Its prophets are drunk: “These too have indulged in wine and are giddy with strong drink: priests and prophets have gone astray through liquor. They are intoxicated with wine and stagger because of strong drink; they err as seers, they blunder in their decisions” (Isaiah 28:7). When God “lays in Zion a stone,” many disbelieve: “Scoff not, lest your bonds grow severe, for I have heard utter destruction decreed by my Lord, Jehovah of Hosts, upon the whole earth” (Isaiah 28:16, 22).
Isaiah spares no words when indicting God’s people, particularly their leaders. When he says of Ephraim’s priests and prophets, “All tables are full of vomit; no spot is without excrement” (Isaiah 28:8), his intent is figurative. The context of this entire chapter relates to Ephraim’s self-deception, its reluctance to receive direct revelation from God, instead relying solely on the beginner’s method of learning—“line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). Half-digested truths are regurgitated for God’s people to swallow, so much that God intervenes to restore his word—but not until that state of affairs provokes his judgments (Isaiah 28:11–22).
When Sabbath meetings, fast days, and temple ordinances become mere routine (Isaiah 1:10–15; 58:1–3), when people’s piety toward God “consists of commandments of men learned by rote” while their hearts remain far from him (Isaiah 29:13), when his people’s prophets and seers have fallen into a deep sleep (Isaiah 29:10), God intervenes for good and for evil. For good, when he “lay[s] in Zion a stone, a keystone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16). For good, when he brings forth “the words of the book” (Isaiah 29:18). For evil, when he brings “a flooding scourge” upon those who mock at how he intervenes (Isaiah 28:14–22).
Isaiah’s mini-allegory of an olive tree in Isaiah 11:1, 10 appears to be the inspiration for other scriptural olive tree allegories. The old tree no longer bears fruit, so a new procedure is needed for it again to do so. In Isaiah’s case, a “watersprout” (hoter, also “rod”) is allowed to grow out of the “trunk” (geza, also “stem”) of the tree. However, watersprouts, being wild by nature, don’t bear fruit. That is why they are cut out of fruit trees in the spring. Still, if a tree is failing and a watersprout can keep it alive, it can be permitted to grow strong enough to sustain a “graft” (sores, also “root/sprig”) that will eventually become a fruit-bearing “branch” (neser).
The analogy of Gentiles as a wild branch or branches that don’t bear fruit, and the house of Israel as a natural branch or branches that do bear fruit, seems self-evident. The upshot of this, however, is that in God’s Day of Judgment most of the wild branch or branches of God’s people are “cut off” (krt, Isaiah 9:14; 22:25; 29:20; 48:19) so that the natural branch or branches may be grafted in. Only those parts of the wild branch or branches that sustain the natural ones that are grafted in remain with the tree. In short, the Gentiles’ receiving the good news when Israel rejects it is but an interim phase toward a more glorious, fruit-bearing phase (see Romans 11).
Isaiah uses the allegory of a “vineyard”—which starts off as a national locale but ends up as the entire earth—to show God’s loving care for his people (Isaiah 5:1–7; 27:2–6). God cultivates the vineyard, clears it of stones, plants it with choice vines, builds a watchtower in its midst, and hews a winepress for it. When he expects it to yield grapes, it yields only “wild grapes” (be’usim)—grapes that rot before they ripen. So God says, “I will have its hedge removed and let it be burned; I will have its wall broken through and let it be trampled. I will make it a desolation: it shall neither be pruned nor hoed, but briars and thorns shall overgrow it” (Isaiah 5:5–6).
Because this allegory applies to God’s end-time people as well as to those of Isaiah’s day, the scenario of God’s people apostatizing, followed by a foreign power invading their land, repeats itself at the end. Isaiah’s predictions of Assyria’s invasion of the Promised Land and its conquest of the world illustrate the fulfillment of the allegory—how the wickedness of God’s people precipitates God’s Day of Judgment and how God uses his people’s enemies to punish them (Isaiah 5:26–30; 10:5–14; 13:4–13; 28:14–22). In the end, however, the good fruit a righteous remnant of God’s people brings forth fills the whole earth (Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; 27:6; 37:31–32).
Isaiah’s use of storm imagery—when the elements will be in commotion—allows him to portray many aspects of God’s Day of Judgment. When Jesus spoke of a wise man who built his house on bedrock—that when the rains descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, it didn’t fall because it was founded on a rock (Matthew 7:25)—he wasn’t just teaching a spiritual principle but also predicting an end-time scenario. In that day, God’s people will be “chastened by Jehovah of Hosts” for their wickedness “with thunderous quakings, resounding booms, tempestuous blasts and conflagrations of devouring flame” (Isaiah 29:6).
These events precede his coming: “Jehovah comes with fire, his chariots like a whirlwind, to retaliate in furious anger, to rebuke with conflagrations of fire” (Isaiah 66:15); “By a hailshall forests be felled, cities utterly leveled” (Isaiah 32:19); “I will lay waste mountains and hills and make all their vegetation wither; I will turn rivers into dry land and evaporate lakes” (Isaiah 42:15). God’s people’s enemies, who wreak this devastation, suffer the same: “They will be driven before the wind like chaff on the mountains or as whirling [dust]in a storm” (Isaiah 17:13); “By his fierce blasts they were flung away in the day of the burning east wind” (Isaiah 27:8).
Celestial bodies such as stars often symbolize exalted persons in the scriptures—as when God promises Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob descendants as many as the stars (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; Exodus 32:13). So it is in the Book of Isaiah: “Lift your eyes heavenward and see: Who formed these? He who brings forth their hosts by number, calling each one by name. Because he is almighty and all powerful, not one is unaccounted for” (Isaiah 40:26). The king of Babylon, on the other hand, is a fallen star who aspires to rival the Most High God: “You said in your heart, ‘I will rise in the heavens and set up my throne above the stars of God’” (Isaiah 14:13; compare v 14).
That dark side of celestial bodies appears in God’s Day of Judgment upon the wicked of the world, when God judges them also: “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, sway back and forth like a shanty; its transgressions weigh it down, and when it collapses it shall rise no more. In that day will Jehovah deal on high with the hosts on high and on earth with the rulers of the earth. They shall be herded together like prisoners to a dungeon and shut in confinement many days, as punishment” (Isaiah 24:20–22). The “hosts on high” who meet the same fate as the world’s reprobate rulers are evidently not identical with those whom Jehovah of Hosts exalts.
We may sometimes wonder why God acts in certain ways, or why he doesn’t act. The answer isn’t as veiled in mystery as we may think. The truth is God always acts within the context of covenants he makes with his people or with individuals. Even when he intervenes dramatically in a situation, it is according to existing covenantal agreements. Understanding the workings of these covenants, therefore, gives us power with God to bring about change for good. God’s saving influence under every kind of circumstance—from daily spiritual guidance to miraculous deliverance from death—can be traced to a covenant God made somewhere with someone.
Earthly models of God’s covenants are primarily three: (1) with Israel—the Sinai Covenant; (2) with King David—the Davidic Covenant; and (3) with Abraham—the Abrahamic Covenant. Extending backwards and forward in time, almost all of God’s covenants follow these models. As no covenant God makes is temporary in nature, all endure to this day. The first creates a unique relationship with a people; the second, with a king to ensure his people’s protection; and the third, with a patriarch concerning an eternal posterity. As the terms of these covenants involve increasing one’s personal commitment and sacrifice, so their blessings increase exponentially.
The Sinai Covenant—God’s covenant with his people Israel as a nation—although a conditional covenant (whose blessings and privileges depend on whether his people keep the terms of the covenant), was never done away, even when Israel transgressed and ultimately apostatized. Today, the Sinai Covenant still forms the basis on which a nation may become God’s covenant people. The Sinai Covenant, moreover, constitutes a stepping stone toward attaining the spiritual heights attained by Israel’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and toward God’s people’s enjoyment—as a nation—of the supernal blessings and privileges they enjoyed.
Although, to our current knowledge, no descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have yet attained the spiritual heights of their ancestors as a nation—walking and talking with God, playing host to heavenly companions, and so forth—Isaiah predicts that such will indeed occur. As a result of the mission of God’s end-time servant, a nation of God’s people “born in a day”—God’s Day of Judgment (Isaiah 66:7–9)—responds to the servant’s summons to return from dispersion (Isaiah 43:5–8; 49:5–22; 55:4–5), gather in an exodus to Zion (Isaiah 11:10–16; 51:9–11), and prepare for the coming of Jehovah to reign on the earth (Isaiah 52:8–12; 59:18–20).
Whenever God spells out the blessings and privileges that stem from his covenants with his people or with individuals, he is under obligation to also spell out the curses—misfortunes that result from breaking his covenants. When God covenants with Israel as a nation, for example, he sets before them both blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 28). When God covenants with Abraham to give him the Land of Canaan, the cloven sacrifices Abraham offers signify the curses of the covenant in the event Abraham should prove unfaithful (Genesis 15). To emphasize the blessings without due regard for the curses is to misrepresent the nature of God’s covenants.
Twenty-one “woes” or curses on the wicked in the Book of Isaiah show the consequences of God’s people breaking the covenant: “Woe to the wicked when calamity [overtakes them]; they shall be paid back for the deeds they have done!” (Isaiah 3:11); “Woe to those who enact unjust laws, who draft oppressive legislation, denying justice to the needy, depriving the poor of my people of their right! . . . What will you do in the day of reckoning when the holocaust overtakes you from afar?” (Isaiah 10:1–3). By the same token, the righteous experience God’s blessings: “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, my blessing on your posterity” (Isaiah 44:3).
Fundamental to all covenant blessings are God’s promise of an enduring posterity and a land in which they may live. God affirms these two blessings when he covenants with Abraham (Genesis 15:18; 22:17), with Israel as a nation (Deuteronomy 8:1; 28:4, 8), and with King David (Psalms 89:3–4, 35–36; 132:11–18). While God’s collective covenant with Israel—the Sinai Covenant—is a conditional covenant—whose blessings depend on whether his people keep the covenant’s terms—his individual covenants with Abraham and David are unconditional. After they prove faithful under all conditions, the blessings of offspring and land become theirs forever.
Even Israel’s Savior has literal offspring (Isaiah 53:10); if not, he would be under a covenant curse. The King of Babylon, for example—who is juxtaposed with the King of Zion in twenty-one antithetical verses in Isaiah 14 and 52–53—ends up with neither offspring nor land because he violates covenants (Isaiah 14:20c–21). Those whom God’s servant vindicates inherit lands and offspring (Isaiah 53:11–12; 54:12–13), while those who belong to Babylon see their lands turn into wastelands and their offspring perish when God sweeps Babylon with the “broom of destruction” (Isaiah 14:22–23). Ultimately, everyone follows one of these two archetypes.
In the pattern of ancient Near Eastern covenants between emperors and their vassal kings, covenants become unconditional when a vassal proves exceedingly loyal to an emperor. At that point, their “lord–servant” relationship turns into a “father–son” relationship, although the vassal may be no blood relative of the emperor. The emperor’s legal adoption of the vassal as his “son” guarantees him the right to a city-state—a Promised Land—over which he and his descendants may rule him in perpetuity or “forever.” God makes such an unconditional covenant with King David and his heirs (Jeremiah 33:19–26), and it becomes the model for all future kings.
God’s calling David his “servant,” “son,” and “firstborn,” and God’s acting as David’s “lord” and “father” (Psalms 2:6–7; 89:3, 20, 26–27, 49), express the unconditional nature of God’s covenant after David proves loyal. David proves his loyalty to God by trusting implicitly in him to give him the victory when the Philistines challenge Israel (1 Samuel 17:26–47; 23:1–5); by not speaking a word against God’s “anointed” (King Saul), even when Saul seeks his life and God gives David power over him (1 Samuel 24:1–22; 26:1–25); and by valiantly defending God’s people Israel against the Philistines and against all their enemies (2 Samuel 3:18).
When the Israelites make a golden calf at Mount Sinai and worship it, the tribe of Levi rallies to God’s side and avenges him of the evildoers (Exodus 32:19–28). Later, when the Israelites fornicate with the daughters of Midian, Aaron’s grandson Phinehas avenges God of the evil (Numbers 25:1–18). Because of their righteous zeal God chooses the tribe of Levi to be his priests and teachers to the rest of Israel’s tribes. The Levites are consecrated to God’s service to minister in the Tabernacle during Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and later in Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem (Numbers 1:50–53; 8:6–26; Deuteronomy 18:1–7; 1 Chronicles 9:14–34).
The special relationship the Levites have with Israel’s God crystallizes into a covenant of life and peace: “‘You know I sent this commandment to you that my covenant might be with Levi,’ says Jehovah of Hosts. ‘My covenant with him was of life and peace, and these I gave him on account of the fear with which he feared me and his fear of my presence. The law of truth was in his mouth and iniquity wasn’t found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and equity and turned many away from transgression. For the priest’s lips should harbor knowledge that they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of Jehovah of Hosts’” (Malachi 2:4–7).
God’s promise to Abraham of descendants as many as the sands of the seashore and stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5; 22:17) isn’t unique to him but is repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26:4; Exodus 32:13). This shows that God is willing to do for others as he does for Abraham—in effect, for all who “do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). The question is, what are the “works” that qualify Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to merit such exalted blessings? The answer lies in God’s unconditional or “everlasting” covenant that he makes with them (Genesis 17:7, 19). As they prove faithful to him and fulfill its conditions, so, likewise, may others of God’s children.
Because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and is no respecter of persons (2 Samuel 14:14; Hebrews 13:8), he treats all equally and does for one as does for another. The higher law of God’s covenant that Abraham keeps brings with it the corresponding privilege of seeing and conversing with Jehovah (Genesis 17:1; 18:1–2, 8, 22, 33). Abraham’s offering his only son Isaac by Sarah is but one requirement God makes of him that merits the blessing of a posterity as many as the sands of the sea and the stars in the heavens (Genesis 22:1–17). As such an innumerable posterity resembles God’s own, moreover, it constitutes a promise of godhood.
When Israel transgresses and God’s protection of his people breaks down under the terms of the Sinai Covenant, God institutes the Davidic Covenant as a second means whereby they may obtain his protection. Under the Sinai Covenant, which is a national or collective covenant, Israel needs to maintain loyalty to its God as a nation in order to obtain his protection against mortal enemies. Such divine protection happens under Moses and Joshua, when Israel consistently gains the victory over its enemies. Later, when Israel’s loyalty to God lapses, so does his protection, and by the time of the prophet Samuel the Philistines are about to wipe Israel off the map.
While the Davidic Covenant is a lesser covenant for Israel than the Sinai Covenant, for King David and his heirs it is a higher covenant. To obtain God’s protection, all that is now required of the people is to be loyal to their king by keeping the king’s law. The king, on the other hand, needs to keep God’s law. Doing so, however, includes answering to God for his people’s loyalties or disloyalties, as does a vassal king to an emperor. Thus is instituted the principle of proxy salvation, in which a king at times suffers severely in order to obtain God’s protection. At Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem, King Hezekiah becomes its type (Isaiah 38:1–6, 9–20).
The marriage covenant constitutes an integral part of God’s covenant with righteous individuals in the Book of Isaiah. On the model of God’s individual covenant with King David, certain kings and queens of the Gentiles perform ministering functions to a remnant of God’s covenant people that facilitate their end-time exodus to Zion (Isaiah 49:22–23; 60:3–14). Under the terms of the Davidic Covenant, King David and his heirs—notably Hezekiah—fulfill the spiritual roles of proxy saviors to their peoples by interceding with God on their behalf when their peoples are threatened with destruction by a hostile world power (Isaiah 37:14–20, 33–35; 38:1–6).
Following this pattern, the proxy roles of end-time kings and queens cause God to deliver his people “for the sake of my servants” (Isaiah 65:8–9). Their answering for the loyalties of God’s people secures their protection at the new exodus: “When you cross the waters, I will be with you; when you traversethe rivers, you shall not be overwhelmed. Though you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned” (Isaiah 43:2). Their saving roles, moreover, beget their divine empowerment: “He clothes me in garments of salvation, arrays me in a robe of righteousness, like a bridegroom dressed in priestly attire or a bride adorned with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
On Isaiah’s spiritual ladder, persons on the three highest of its seven levels act as proxy saviors of their peoples. Taken together, they illustrate a pattern of proxy salvation: what happens on lower levels typifies what happens on higher ones, while all levels emulate the highest. King David and his heirs establish the pattern of a king’s role as proxy protector of his people according to the terms of the Davidic covenant: when David keeps God’s law and the people keep David’s law, God protects both king and people from a mortal threat for the king’s sake. Such temporal salvation extends to divine intervention on the next highest level—that of seraphs.
Israel’s God acts as a spiritual proxy savior on the highest level. We observe this in Isaiah 53:1–10, which combines the proxy role of a Davidic king with the proxy role of a sacrificial lamb. Answering for the transgressions or disloyalties of his people, he pays “the price of our peace” or salvation. Going “like a lamb to the slaughter,” he “makes his life an offering for guilt.” We know that Jehovah is the subject of this passage from a literary structure in Isaiah 14 and 52–53, which contrasts—verse by verse—the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14 with the King of Zion in Isaiah 52–53, thereby identifying the subject of Isaiah 53:1–10 as Jehovah, King of Zion.
Isaiah compares God’s collective covenant relationship with Israel to a marriage in which Israel is the wife and Jehovah her husband. When Israel keeps the terms of the covenant, she appears as a faithful wife. But when she breaks the covenant’s terms she is an adulterous wife. Finally, when Israel’s unfaithfulness turns irrevocable, God divorces her and casts her off. Or, rather, she and her children cast themselves off by alienating themselves: “Where is your mother’s bill of divorce with which I cast her out? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Surely, by sinning you sold yourselves; because of your crimes was your mother an outcast” (Isaiah 50:1).
In the end-time, when the unfaithful wife is cast off, Jehovah remarries a once-deserted wife who has repented of her adultery: “‘Sing, O barren woman who did not give birth; break into jubilant song, you who were not in labor: the children of the deserted wife shall outnumber those of the espoused,’ says Jehovah. . . . ‘Jehovah calls you back as a spouse forsaken and forlorn, a wife married in youth only to be rejected,’ says your God. ‘I forsook you indeed momentarily, but with loving compassion I will gather you up. In a fleeting surge of angerI hid my face from you, but with everlasting charity I will have compassion on you’” (Isaiah 54:1, 6–8).
Part VI of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 28–31; 55–59) juxtaposes a Covenant of Life with a Covenant with Death. The themes of loyalty and disloyalty that pervade these chapters determine who among God’s people subscribes to one covenant and who to the other. Those who deceive themselves, who rely on human counsel and schemes, comprise God’s people who “covenant with death” (Isaiah 28:14–15; 29:10–15; 30:1–2, 8–14; 31:1). Scoffing at God’s word, they put aside his counsel in favor of their own, only to suffer the “utter destruction” God has “decreed upon the whole earth” (Isaiah 28:14, 17–22; 29:5–6; 30:15–17, 27–28; 31:2–4).
Those who heed God’s voice, who inquire at his mouth, on the other hand (Isaiah 28:23; 30:2; emphasis added), don’t act irresponsibly when God “lays in Zion a stone, a keystone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16; emphasis added). With them, he makes a Covenant of Life: “Give ear and come unto me; pay heed that your souls may live! And I will make with you an everlasting covenant: [my]loving fidelity toward David. See, I have appointed him as a witness to the nations, a prince and lawgiver of the peoples” (Isaiah 55:3–4). God’s end-time servant, who personifies God’s covenant to his people (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8), fulfills that role.
The terms of God’s covenants ensure that God’s people and individuals in any age of the world may obtain his protection—spiritual and physical—against a mortal threat. Aside from the terms of God’s covenants, on the other hand, no basis exists for obtaining his divine protection. A person may nevertheless suffer death or afflictions voluntarily on behalf of others when acting as their proxy savior under the terms of the Davidic covenant. So does King Hezekiah when an Assyrian army of 185,000 men besieges Jerusalem and—in the midst of his suffering nigh unto death—God assures him he will deliver his people from the Assyrians (Isaiah 38:1–6).
Hezekiah’s case, however, goes beyond God’s simply granting his physical protection—as when a person defends himself against an enemy and God’s strengthens him. When Hezekiah intercedes with God on behalf of his people, an angel slays the Assyrian horde and in one night all die (Isaiah 37:18–20, 33–36). That constitutes divine intervention, alleviating the need for Hezekiah and his people to defend themselves against the Assyrians. It implies that someone on a higher spiritual level than Hezekiah—one who has more power with God—is additionally interceding with God. That person is Isaiah, to whom Hezekiah appeals for help (Isaiah 37:1–5).
All covenants God made in the past—his covenant with Noah after the Flood, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Sinai Covenant, the Levitical Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant—combine into a single covenant God makes with an elect remnant of his people at the beginning of the earth’s millennial age of peace. Typifying this new covenant are the positive features of all previous covenants, the new forming a composite of the old. Provisional aspects of God’s former covenants—such as the Sinai Covenant’s conditional nature and the conditional protection clause of the Davidic Covenant—disappear as all become unconditional for those who prove loyal.
As in the Sinai Covenant, God makes the new covenant with his elect people as a nation. He grants them permanent lands of inheritance, as in his covenant with Israel’s ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He perpetuates his people’s posterity through all generations of time and throughout all eternity, as he promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He protects his people against their enemies, as under the terms of the Davidic Covenant. He endows his people with his holy Spirit, as he covenanted with the Levites, the priests. And he makes the new covenant after a worldwide destruction of the wicked, as he did with Noah after the Flood (Isaiah 54–56)
It is all too easy to put our own interpretation on the prophecies of Isaiah. But that would be doing us and the prophet a grave disservice. Unless we apply Isaiah’s definitions of his words and ideas we are “wresting the scripture to our own destruction” (compare 2 Peter 3:16). So it is, too, with Isaiah’s “good news” (besora, also “good tidings” or “gospel,” Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 61:1). It turns out that Isaiah’s gospel isn’t a lesser law based on the teachings of Moses. In fact, it is the same gospel we find in the New Testament. Only, Isaiah’s Hebrew version is richer and more comprehensive in scope, so that even the New Testament is best understood in its light.
What Bible scholars call a “systematic theology,” for example, is wonderfully developed in the seven spiritual levels or categories of people that appear in the Book of Isaiah. But like all else in its pages, its treasures are concealed within literary patterns that disclose their secrets only on diligent searching. Ascent from the Jacob/Israel level to the Zion/Jerusalem level ensures one’s salvation. But ascent to levels higher ensures one’s glory or exaltation. All hinges on keeping the laws of God’s covenants as they pertain to each level of ascent. Descent from the Jacob/Israel to the Babylon level, or even to Perdition, on the other hand, ensures one’s damnation.
The fact that Isaiah’s writings evidence seven identifiable spiritual levels tells us something important, especially as they reveal the ascent of God’s people from one level to the next. God calls the people of King Hezekiah by the names Zion and Jerusalem, for example, after they pass a test of their loyalty at Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:22). Before that—like the majority of God’s people in the Book of Isaiah—they are known as Jacob or Israel. Similarly, when Isaiah heals Hezekiah and declares God’s people clean, he is performing the roles the seraph performed who once declared Isaiah clean and who healed him (Isaiah 6:1–8; 38:21; 40:1–2).
The wicked, on the other hand, descend this ladder. By making poor choices, those who start off on the Jacob or Israel level may descend a level and become identified with Isaiah’s Babylon category and thus meet the same fate. In short, each time a person ascends he or she is reborn or re-created “a new creature.” But the reverse happens when people descend: they are de-created and are no longer the same persons they used to be. Because God is a loving and benevolent Parent, we may trust that as we assimilate his loving and benevolent attributes this mortal environment will indeed prove to be the optimum one for furthering our spiritual growth.
Isaiah characterizes the cyclical rebirth of persons who ascend to higher spiritual levels as God’s “creating” or “forming” them each time they ascend. His definition of God’s creation, in other words, is that of re-creation. Even God’s creation of the heavens and the earth are a re-ordering of existing materials: “Who measured out the waters with the hollow of his hand and gauged the heavens by the span of his fingers? Who compiled the earth’s dust by measure, weighing mountains in scales, hills in a balance?” (Isaiah 40:12). People who descend, on the other hand, like those in Isaiah’s Babylon and Perdition categories, are de-created and suffer ruin.
We observe Isaiah’s ascending order of spiritual levels when God “creates” and “forms” Jacob/Israel “to be my servant” (Isaiah 43:21; 44:21); Zion/Jerusalem “to be a delight and its people a joy” (Isaiah 65:18); God’s sons and daughters—“all who are called by my name, whom I have created, molded, and wrought for my own glory” (Isaiah 43:7); the hosts of heaven, a celestial category of persons whom he calls forth, each one by name (Isaiah 40:26); and God’s end-time servant, whom he “creates” as a “light to the nations, a “covenantof the people,” to “free the captives,” to “restore the Land,” and to “reapportion the desolate estates” (Isaiah 42:6–7; 49:8).
Many people down the ages have led religious lives that couldn’t necessarily be called spiritual, though they may have mistaken one for the other. When spirituality becomes hypocrisy, God springs a surprise that separates the true from the false: “My Lord says, ‘Because these people approach me with the mouth and pay me homage with their lips, while their heart remains far from me—their piety toward me consisting of commandments of men learned by rote—therefore it is that I shall again astound these people with wonder upon wonder, rendering void the knowledge of their sages and the intelligence of their wise men insignificant’” Isaiah 29:13–14).
When the materialistic lifestyle of God’s people turns their religion into a superficial version of what it once was, they may not even be aware of it: “O you deaf, listen; O you blind, look and see! Who is blind but my own servant, or so deaf as the messenger I have sent? Who is blind like those I have commissioned, as uncomprehending as the servant of Jehovah—seeing much but not giving heed, with open ears hearing nothing?” (Isaiah 42:18–20). God’s response is to restore his truth to them—in part through the Book of Isaiah: “In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book and the eyes of the blind see out of gross darkness” (Isaiah 29:18; 30:8–9).
When God says to Isaiah, “‘Comfort and give solace to my people,’ says your God; ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem. Announce to her that she has served her term, that her guilt has been expiated. She has received from Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1), what is he to understand? Especially as God also says, “I have removed your offenses like a thick fog, your sins like a cloud of mist” (Isaiah 44:22). Doesn’t God forgive his people when they repent? One answer is that the first statement follows after God’s people had suffered Assyria’s invasion of the Promised Land—a covenant curse inherited from the previous generation (Isaiah 8:5–8).
In other words, there are generational consequences of transgressing God’s covenant—the curses of the covenant that follow. God may forgive his people their sins when they repent, but the after-effects of past misdeeds may persist until they are “expiated”: “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7). Lasting healing—an entire reversal of covenant curses—comes only after his people or individuals take ownership of the consequences of transgression and complete the repentance process by suffering their own and their inherited covenant curses (Isaiah 6:10).
Parallels between the life cycles of (1) individuals, (2) God’s covenant people, and (3) the earth reveal a single model: all are works in progress leading toward an ultimate, exalted goal. Or, conversely, toward a final humiliating end. Literally or figuratively, each is created “from the dust.” Each goes through phases of rebirth or re-creation. Or, conversely, through phases of ruin or de-creation. While Israel is born as a nation in the Sinai wilderness when it comes out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:34), it dies as God’s people at its apostasy and exile (Jeremiah 9:16; Ezekiel 5:10; Hosea 1:9), then finally rises again “from the dust” (Isaiah 52:1–2).
God likewise creates the earth “from the dust”: “Who compiled the earth’s dust by measure, weighing mountains in scales, hills in a balance” (Isaiah 40:12). In his Day of Judgment the earth too dies: “When the earth is sacked, it shall be utterly ravaged. Jehovah has given word concerning it. The earth shall pine away, the world miserably perish” (Isaiah 24:3–4). Yet, in the end, the earth and God’s people are re-created: “See, I create new heavens and a new earth; former events shall not be remembered or recalled to mind. Rejoice, then, and be glad forever in what I create. See, I create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy” (Isaiah 65:17–18).
Just as there are different stages of physical growth, so there exist distinct stages of spiritual growth. Each nurturing phase is essential to forming the whole person. One can’t simply skip a phase. In fact, Isaiah uses the physical to symbolize the spiritual, tracing the process from birth to lactation to infancy to childhood: “As soon as she was in labor, Zion gave birth to her children. . . . From now on nurse contentedly at her consoling breasts; draw at your pleasure from the abundance of her bosom. . . . Then shall you nurse and be carried upon the hip and dandled on the knees. . . As one who is comforted by his mother I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:8, 11–13).
Marriage is an integral part of spiritual growth: “He clothes me in garments of salvation, he arrays me in a robe of righteousness, like a bridegroom dressed in priestly attire, or a bride adorned with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). A “man” attains his full stature when acting as a king and a protector—as a proxy savior under the terms of the Davidic Covenant—as appears in the following parallel lines: “A king shall reign in righteousness and rulers rule with justice. And a man shall become as a shelter from the windor refuge from the storm, like brooks of water in a desert place, or the shade of a large rock in arid country” (Isaiah 32:1–2; emphasis added).
Ordinances pertaining to God’s law and word—the terms of his covenants—teach and empower one to live a life of righteousness: “The path of the righteous is straight; you pave an undeviating course for the upright. In the very passage of your ordinances we anticipate you, O Jehovah; the soul’s desire is to contemplate your name. My soul yearns for you in the night; at daybreak my spirit within me seeks after you. For when your ordinances are on the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:7–9). But when God’s ordinances are changed or corrupted they become solemn mockery and bring condemnation (Isaiah 24:5–6).
Passing through successive spiritual phases, one’s concerns change from a need to be saved from the effects of transgressing God’s law and word to a desire to save others. God’s “servants”—for whose sake God delivers his people (Isaiah 63:17; 65:8–9)—don’t start off as such. Some rise to that level from the lowest rung of society: “The foreigners who adhere to Jehovah to serve him, who love the name of Jehovah, that they may be his servants—all who keep the Sabbath without profaning it, holding fast to my covenant . . . to them I will give a handclasp and a name within the walls of my house that is better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:5–6).
According to Isaiah’s theology—which he develops systematically in his seven-part literary structure—every ascent to a higher spiritual level is preceded by a temporary descent. That descent phase consists of God’s trial of a person’s faith equal to the level of that person’s ascent. In other words, the higher one ascends, the greater the temporary descent that precedes it. Ruin may occur cyclically before rebirth to a higher spiritual level, as may suffering before salvation, humiliation before exaltation, and so forth—intensifying each time a person ascends. Even Messiah descends below all before he is exalted above all to sit on his Father’s throne.
Trials of faith escalate as one ascends because the terms of God’s covenants on ascending levels grow more exacting, each representing a higher law than the one before. The terms of the covenant Messiah keeps, for example, are to atone for humanity’s transgressions. Still, on their level, God’s servants, too, fulfill saving roles when keeping the terms of God’s covenant. In effect, the lower the spiritual level, the less demanding are its covenant’s terms. The very lowest levels, on the other hand, keep no divinely ordained covenant’s terms. Instead, they seek to ascend by oppressing and lording it over others, causing them to descend even more than before.
In Isaiah’s theology, ascent to a higher spiritual level qualifies a person for a divine commission to minister to persons lower. When King Hezekiah’s people pass God’s test of their loyalty at Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem, God no longer refers to them as “Jacob” or “Israel” but as “Zion” and “Jerusalem” (Isaiah 37:22). He also commissions them to do for others as has been done for them, so that they too may ascend to their level: “Scale the mountain heights, O Zion, herald of good tidings. Raise your voicemightily, O Jerusalem, messenger of good news. Make yourself heard, be not afraid; proclaim to the cities of Judah: ‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:9).
God’s end-time servant passes his test of loyalty when he is “marred beyond human likeness” by his opponents while attempting to deliver God’s people (Isaiah 52:14). God then commissions and empowers him to “raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore those preserved of Israel” to prepare them for Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth (Isaiah 49:6). Although he is “despised as a person” and “abhorred by his people,” God appoints him “to restore the land and reapportion the desolate estates, to say to the captives, ‘Come forth!’ and to those in darkness, ‘Show yourselves!’” (Isaiah 49:8–9). His mission results in their exodus to Zion (Isaiah 49:9–26).
Isaiah’s end-time scene depicts Babylon descending from her throne into the dust while Zion rises from the dust to sit on her throne: “Get down and sit in the dust, O Virgin Daughter of Babylon; squat on the ground, dethroned, O Daughter of the Chaldeans. You shall no more be spoken of as delicate and refined” (Isaiah 47:1); “Awake, arise; clothe yourself with power, O Zion! Put on your robes of glory, O Jerusalem, holy city. No more shall the uncircumcised and defiled enter into you. Shake yourself free, rise from the dust; sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Loose yourself from the bands around your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1–2).
“Dust”—a chaos motif—signifies that Babylon is reduced to nothing—to a nonentity—while Zion, having been a nonentity prior to rising from the dust, comes into her own. Literary patterns show that this reversal of circumstances occurs in God’s Day of Judgment. All entities affiliated with Babylon are likewise reduced to dust (Isaiah 25:12; 26:5; 29:5; 41:2, 15). While being reduced to dust signifies de-creation, rising from the dust denotes re-creation. That occurs when the wicked descend to a lower spiritual level and the righteous ascend to a higher one. Its synchronized occurrence infers that Babylon fails the same test of loyalty that Zion passes.
Even when God’s people as a whole transgress and accumulate collective guilt, all isn’t lost for righteous individuals. God may bring his judgments upon a nation, but he provides a way of escape for those who love him. In the midst of pronouncing “woes” or covenant curses upon the wicked of his people—portraying their utter destitution in his Day of Judgment—God says, “Tell the righteous it shall be well with them; they shall eat the fruits of their own labors” (Isaiah 3:10; compare vv 6–11). When the Assyrians invade his people’s land like a new Flood (Isaiah 8:7–8)—a collective covenant curse—God is a “sanctuary” to his holy ones (Isaiah 8:13–14).
In the end, only righteous individuals survive God’s destruction of the wicked: “Bind up the testimony; seal the law among my disciples. I will wait for Jehovah, who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and expect him” (Isaiah 8:16–17); “In that day Jehovah will thresh out [his harvest] from the torrent of the Riverto the streams of Egypt. But you shall be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel” (Isaiah 27:12). As a type and precedent of his righteous descendants, Abraham left his land and separated from his kindred but ultimately became a father of nations: “He was but one when I called him, but I blessed him by making him many” (Isaiah 51:2).
Although Isaiah doesn’t use the word “Perdition,” he nevertheless identifies a Perdition category. Very likely, Isaiah’s prophecy of the composite figure of a tyrannical “king of Assyria” and “king of Babylon” informs Paul’s depiction of a “Son of Perdition who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called divine or that is worshipped, so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4); or Daniel’s “little horn,” having “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things” (Daniel 7:8); or John’s “beast” that makes war against the saints and commands men’s worship (Revelation 13:1–18).
After conquering the world, this Antichrist seeks to make himself the God of this world: “You said in your heart, ‘I will rise in the heavens and set up my throne above the stars of God; I will seat myself in the mount of assembly [of the gods], in the utmost heights or Zaphon. I will ascend above the altitude of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!’” (Isaiah 14:13–14). Instead, he is cast “to the utmost depths of the Pit” (Isaiah 14:15)—the “Pit of Dissolution”—a place of no return (Isaiah 38:17–18). His is a category of “spirits who will not resurrect,” whom God “appoints to destruction, wiping out all recollection of them” (Isaiah 26:14).
Medieval ideas about Hell and God’s punishment persist to this day. Hence the importance of being guided by what the scriptures actually say, not by what we assume they say. Speaking of the millennial age, for example, Isaiah says “‘New Moon after New Moon, Sabbath after Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me,’ says Jehovah. ‘And they shall go out and look upon the corpses of the people who transgressed against me, whose worms do not die and whose fire shall not be extinguished. They shall be a horror to all flesh’” (Isaiah 66:23–24). Note that Isaiah doesn’t say that the wicked will burn in hellfire forever but that the fire never dies.
The idea of “outer darkness,” too, is thought to apply only after death. Isaiah, however, applies it to this life: “They will look to the land, but there shall be a depressing scene of anguish and gloom; and thus are they banished into outer darkness” (Isaiah 8:22); “Should one look to the land, there [too]shall be a distressing gloom, for the daylight shall be darkened by an overhanging mist” (Isaiah 5:30); “Redress remains far from us and righteousnessis unable to reach us. We look for light, but there prevails darkness; for a glimmer, but we walk amid gloom. . . We stumble at noon as in the dark of night; in the prime of life we resemble the dead” (Isaiah 59:9–10).
The “Birthpangs of the Messiah” concept envisages an end-time event resembling Moses’ deliverance of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. In God’s Day of Judgment, the entire earth goes into labor: “Lament, for the Day of Jehovah is near; it shall come as a violent blow from the Almighty. Then shall every hand grow weak and the hearts of all men melt. They shall be terrified, in throes of agony, seized with trembling like a woman in labor” (Isaiah 13:6–8). Even Israel’s God goes into labor: “For a long time I have been silent, keeping still and restraining myself. But now I will scream like a woman in labor, and breathe hard and fast all at once” (Isaiah 42:14).
God’s people lament over not having saved humanity: “As a woman about to give birth cries out from her pangs during labor, so were we at your presence, O Jehovah. We were with child; we have been in labor, but have brought forth only wind. We have not wrought salvationin the earth that the inhabitants of the world might not abort” (Isaiah 26:17–18). Only Zion gives birth to a deliverer and to a “nation” of children: “Before she is in labor, she gives birth; before her ordeal overtakes her, she delivers a son! . . . Can the earth labor but a day and a nation be born at once? For as soon as she was in labor, Zion gave birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:7–8).
People commonly think of all messianic prophecies as referring to one Messiah. Christians identify that person exclusively with Jesus, while Jews identify him just as exclusively with an end-time David. Neither group appears to allow room for the other’s point of view. While there may indeed be only one Messiah, we nevertheless find that all messianic prophecies aren’t equal. When we examine them for what they actually say—not for what we assume they say (or for what manuals and chapter headings say)—we begin to see the need for a complete reevaluation of this subject. If we believe the scriptures, we must give them precedence over people’s opinions.
We then indeed discover that each theological position has distinct merit and that neither possesses the whole truth. While an actual messianic mission of an end-time David consists of a preparatory work that precedes the coming of Jehovah to reign on the earth, the mission of redeeming his people from their sins is the work of Jehovah himself. Characterizing the mission of Jehovah’s end-time servant is the temporal work of gathering Israel’s tribes, rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, and reestablishing the political kingdom of God on the earth. When a people of God are thus prepared to receive him, Jehovah comes and his millennial reign of peace begins.
Prophecies by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and others about a messianic figure who assists in restoring the house of Israel in preparation for Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth agree with Jewish expectations of a “Messiah” or “anointed one” (masiah). A biblical precedent or type of this figure is King David: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren, and the Spirit of Jehovah came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Isaiah predicts that this figure will release Israel’s captives, lead them in an exodus to Zion, appoint their inheritances, and rebuild their ancient ruins (Isaiah 49:8–12; 61:4).
Fulfilling Christian messianic expectations is Jehovah God of Israel. The key prophecy of Isaiah 53:1–10—of one who takes his people’s transgressions on himself in order to obtain their “peace” and “healing”—Jehovah himself fulfills. We know this from Isaiah’s structure that juxtaposes the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14 with Jehovah, the King of Zion, in Isaiah 52–53 in twenty-one parallel verses that characterize the King of Babylon as the opposite of the King of Zion. As “peace” and “healing” are synonyms of salvation (Isaiah 6:10; 52:7), Jesus’ fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:1–10 identifies him not only as Jehovah God of Israel but as its Messiah.
Many people seem to imagine Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth (or Jesus’ Second Coming in New Testament prophecy) as a single earth-shaking event. In reality, however—as Isaiah and the prophets predict—Jehovah’s coming consists of an entire series of earth-shaking events that prepare the world in general, and God’s people in particular, to receive him. In that end-time scenario, God’s servant functions as a forerunner to restore God’s covenant people and prepare them to meet God. Isaiah calls the remnant of God’s people whom the servant restores Zion or Jerusalem, denoting a higher spiritual category than the one called Jacob or Israel.
God’s servant further acts as antidote to an end-time king of Assyria/Babylon—an Antichrist who commits mass genocide of the earth’s population. That tyrant’s destruction, too, forms an integral part of Jehovah’s coming as he is God’s instrument to cleanse the earth of its unrepentant inhabitants. Those portentous events will test the loyalties of all peoples, producing the effect of turning some into angels and others into devils. The times will be such that all middle ground vanishes and people must choose one side or the other. Jehovah’s coming “to avenge and to reward” (Isaiah 35:4; 62:11) thus consists not of one event but of a succession of events.
Much of our understanding of covenant relationships with God comes from ancient Near Eastern parallels of covenants between emperors and their vassal kings. Under the terms of those covenants, a “servant” or “son” identifies a “vassal” to an emperor. As the prophets use that model to define God’s covenants with Israel and with Israel’s kings, we learn much about how God’s covenants work by comparing them with their ancient Near Eastern counterparts. When the disloyal King Ahaz, for example, seeks to establish a covenant relationship with the Assyrian emperor Tiglath Pileser, he calls himself the emperor’s “servant” and “son” (2 Kings 16:7).
Although the terms “servant” and “son” both imply “vassal” status, an emphasis on the term “son” suggests that a vassal’s covenant relationship has become unconditional. In other words, after a vassal proves exceedingly loyal to an emperor, the emperor legally adopts him as his own “son.” The vassal’s privileges under the covenant then become “forever.” In that light, the goal of covenant keeping with God is to prove loyal under all conditions in which he may test his “servant.” Only then does the covenant—whether with his people as a nation or with individuals—become unconditional. Only then do its blessings and privileges become “forever.”
Part III of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 9–12; 41–46), depicts the mission of God’s end-time “servant” and “son,” who prepares God’s people for Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth. The context of each group of chapters is the same—Israel’s end-time restoration. That consists of God’s people’s physical release from bondage, new exodus, new wandering in the wilderness, return from exile, and reconquest of the Promised Land. These and similar literary interconnections between the two groups of chapters show that Jehovah’s “servant” who appears in Isaiah 41–46 is the same person as the Davidic “son” who appears in Isaiah 9–12.
While Isaiah 41–46 highlights the conditional phase of the servant’s mission to restore God’s people, Isaiah 9–12 highlights its unconditional phase—that is, the period that sees the restoration of God’s people accomplished. Spiritual and political enemies the servant deals with include his own people’s idolaters and the king of Assyria. The restorative events of release from bondage, new exodus, new wandering in the wilderness, return from exile, and reconquest of the land conclude with Jehovah’s presence with his people in Zion (Isaiah 12:1–6; 46:13). The servant’s role thus resembles that of Moses, who attempted to prepare his people to meet God.
Synchronous holistic structures in the Book of Isaiah allow us to read Isaiah’s writings in their entirety as foreshadowing an end-time scenario. In that case, the events that occurred in Isaiah’s day act as an allegory of the end-time. So it is with “my servant Eliakim,” who displaces Shebna, another servant who entertains ideas of grandeur. God invests Eliakim with the “keys of the house of David: when he opens none shall shut, when he shuts none shall open.” This sealing power enables Eliakim to act as a “father” or savior to God’s people. God “fastens him as a nail in a sure place, and he will be a throne of glory to the house of his Father” (Isaiah 22:20–24).
Upon that nail, moreover, hang “vessels” large and small—“his descendants and posterity”—who depend on him for safety (Isaiah 22:24). God spares these and other “vessels” from destruction when the Assyrian archtyrant commences his work of world genocide (Isaiah 52:11). Meanwhile, the first nail in a sure place—the servant’s vainglorious contemporary—is released from office, and those who depend on him are “cut off” (Isaiah 22:19, 25). That scenario has a type in David’s replacing Saul and is identical with one Jesus predicts, in which a “faithful and wise servant” replaces an “evil servant” before Jesus’ second coming (Matthew 24:44–51).
When God says, “Attention, all who thirst; come for water! You who have no money, come and buy food, that you may eat” (Isaiah 55:1), he is responding to preachers of his word who “leave the hungry soul empty” and “deprive the thirsty [soul]of drink” (Isaiah 32:6). By pointing his people to his covenant, he leads them to a restoration of its blessings (Isaiah 55:3). In that end-time context, God’s covenant subsists in his servant, whom God appoints as “a witness to the nations, a prince and lawgiver of the peoples” (Isaiah 55:3–4; compare 42:6; 49:8). As mediator of God’s covenant, the servant guides people to “food” and “water” during a dearth.
As forerunner of Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth, the servant summons God’s people who repent to return from dispersion in an exodus to Zion (Isaiah 55:5–13). Just as Israel sang a Song of Salvation following its exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 15:1–21), so do God’s people following the new exodus: “In the God of my salvationI will trust without fear; for Jehovah was my strength and my song when he became my salvation. Then shall you rejoice in drawing water from the fountains of salvation” (Isaiah 12:2–3; compare 11:10–16). Symbolizing the Waters of Life, water typifies God’s covenant blessing (Isaiah 35:6–7; 41:17–18; 44:3–4; 49:8–10).
To those who prove loyal to Israel’s God, the time of waiting for his coming to reign on the earth may seem interminable as all human support systems collapse around them. And yet, waiting for and hoping in Jehovah divides the righteous from the wicked—those blessed of God from those cursed: “Then will Jehovah delay [his coming] that he may favor you; out of mercy toward you he will remain aloof. For Jehovah is the God of justice; blessed are all who wait for him. . . . Though my Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet shall your Teacher remain hidden no longer, but your eyes shall see the Master” (Isaiah 30:18, 20).
Songs of Salvation end the waiting: “In that day youwill say, ‘This is our God, whom we expected would save us. This is Jehovah for whom we have waited; let us joyfully celebrate his salvation!’” (Isaiah 25:9); “Our city is strong; salvationhe has set up as walls and barricades! Open the gates to let in the nation righteous because it keeps faith. Those whose minds are steadfast, [O Jehovah,] you preserve in perfect peace, for in you they are secure” (Isaiah 26:1–3). God rewards the waiters: “Your faithfulnessin time [of trial] shall prove to be a strength, your wisdom and knowledge your salvation; your fear of Jehovah shall be your riches” (Isaiah 33:6).
The marriage covenant has long functioned as a model of God’s covenant with Israel in the writings of the prophets, although most often they depict Israel playing the harlot to Jehovah, her husband (Isaiah 1:21; 57:7–13; Jeremiah 3:1–20; 31:1–32; Ezekiel 16:1–63; 23:1–49; Hosea 4:15). As a result of her unfaithfulness, Israel loses her husband: “Thus says Jehovah: ‘Where is your mother’s bill of divorce with which I cast her out? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Surely, by sinning you sold yourselves; because of your crimes was your mother an outcast’” (Isaiah 50:1). At his coming, however, Jehovah renews the covenant with his people Zion:
“Tell the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your Salvationcomes, his reward with him’” (Isaiah 62:11); “Be not fearful for you shall not be confounded; be not ashamed for you shall not be disgraced. You shall forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. He who espouses you is your Maker, whose name is Jehovah of Hosts; he who redeems you is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. Jehovah calls you back as a spouse forsaken and forlorn, a wife married in youth only to be rejected . . . I forsook you indeed momentarily, but with loving compassion I will gather you up” (Isaiah 54:4–7).
A key scriptural concept parallels the spiritual and physical experiences of a patriarch, king, or leader with those of his people: what happens to the one, happens to the many; what he does, they do. And so forth. As Israel’s Messiah unjustly suffers pain and humiliation before he is exalted as King of Zion, for example (Isaiah 52:7–10; 53:2–10), and as God’s end-time servant is “marred” before God heals and exalts him (Isaiah 52:13–15; 57:18–19), so God’s people suffer pain and humiliation before God heals and exalts them (Isaiah 51:7, 17–23; 52:1–3; 54:4–14; 61:7). Those unwilling to follow that pattern can’t attain the same exaltation as those who do.
Isaiah cites many such parallels. Most are between God’s servant and God’s repentant people: as the servant calls upon God, so do they (Isaiah 41:25; 55:6; 58:9); as God heals him, so he heals them (Isaiah 30:26; 57:19); as God anoints him and fills him with his Spirit, so he does them (Isaiah 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; 61:1, 3); as he declares good tidings, so do they (Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7); as God calls him from afar, so he calls them (Isaiah 41:2, 9, 25; 43:5–6; 46:11; 49:12; 60:4, 9); as he experiences God’s salvation, so do they (Isaiah 12:2–3; 25:9; 49:8; 61:10); as he restores ruins and rebuilds God’s temple, so do they (Isaiah 44:26, 28; 58:12; 61:4; 66:1).
The major end-time role certain “servants” of God fulfill in preparing a people for the coming of Jehovah to reign on the earth begs the question, Who are these servants and where do they come from? Because they first appear in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 54:17; 56:6; 63:17; 65:8–9, 13–15; 66:14) after God commissions his end-time servant (Isaiah 41:27; 42:1; 44:26; 49:3–6; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11), the servant’s connection with them seems self-evident. Parallel roles of God’s servant and these additional servants confirm this—what he does, they do: as he serves as a proxy savior to God’s people (Isaiah 42:6; 49:3–13), so do they (Isaiah 63:17; 65:8).
Terms designating God’s servants also appear after God’s servant begins his mission. These include God’s “watchmen” who herald Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth (Isaiah 52:7–8); God’s “priests” and “ministers” who mourn in Zion and endure persecution (Isaiah 61:3–7); and (spiritual) “kings” and “queens” of the Gentiles who gather God’s sons and daughters from exile in a great end-time exodus to Zion (Isaiah 49:10–12, 17–23; 60:3–4, 9–11, 16). Most telling are certain “eunuchs” and “aliens” who “hold fast to my covenant,” who “choose to do what I will” so “that they may be his servants” (Isaiah 56:3–6; emphasis added; compare Matthew 19:12).
Olive tree allegories representing God’s people Israel in the writings of the prophets set in relief the relationship between Israel and the Gentiles. The Gentiles are given the chance to become God’s covenant people. In the end, however, most renege on their commitment and are “cut off” (compare Romans 11). A redeeming thing about the Gentiles’ being grafted into the tree, however, is that those who remain with the tree do so because they nurture God’s people Israel. When the Jews rejected Jesus, his disciples took the gospel to the Gentiles. In the end-time, that situation is reversed, as those Gentiles who remain faithful restore it to the house of Israel.
Still, the kings and queens of the Gentiles who act as Israel’s “foster fathers” and “nursing mothers” (Isaiah 49:23; 60:3–16) are undoubtedly not pure Gentiles either. Because many descendants of Israel assimilated into the Gentiles through the centuries, those end-time saviors of God’s people in all likelihood fall into the category of assimilated Israelites. Nor is Isaiah speaking of political kings and queens. Isaiah’s role model of a savior-king is Hezekiah, who ministers to his people and intercedes with God on their behalf when Assyria conquers the world and invades the Promised Land. Like Hezekiah’s, theirs is a spiritual role, not a political one.
When the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob multiply into a numerous people in Egypt, a new Pharaoh arises who fears them, so he subjects them to hard bondage. After that bondage serves its purpose of humbling them, however, “God heard their groanings, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God looked upon the people of Israel, and God had respect to them” (Exodus 2:24–25). God’s covenant with their ancestors to preserve their descendants requires him to deliver the people of Israel for their ancestors’ sake. Just how God delivers them establishes a pattern that repeats itself at the end of the world.
Throughout his interventions in human history, God tests the loyalties of his children, not only toward himself but also toward each other. While some, like Egypt’s Pharaoh, betray and cruelly oppress people, others such as Moses demonstrate extraordinary loyalty toward God and toward their peoples. Isaiah’s end-time scenario provides just such a setting for God to test his children’s loyalties. As God works through human agents to bring about the end-time restoration of his covenant people, some rise to the occasion on the model of Moses while others follow Pharaoh’s pattern of laboring—just as intensely—in their attempts to thwart and defeat God’s plan.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). But he didn’t create them out of nothing—ex nihilo—as some contend. Before his creation, chaos ruled, consisting of the physical elements of “earth” and “waters” in a disorganized state—“formless and unorganized”—both “above the firmament” and “under the firmament” (Genesis 1:2, 6). God’s Spirit’s “moving” upon these elements brought about their organization or re-creation: God “measured out the waters,” “gauged the heavens,” and “compiled the earth’s dust by measure” (Isaiah 40:12). Isaiah duplicates that pattern in a plethora of chaos/creation cycles in his book.
God’s new creation of the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 65:17), too, follows a return to chaos. Chaos takes the form of cosmic cataclysm and the reduction of nations and cities to “dust” and “flying chaff” in a fiery conflagration (Isaiah 5:24; 13:13; 17:12–14; 24:19–20; 26:5; 29:5–6; 33:11–12). The new creation again consists of God’s Spirit and creative word acting upon the elements and on all flesh (Isaiah 40:6–8, 12–13)—God is he “who frames and suspends the heavens, who gives form to the earth and its creatures, the breath of life to the people upon it, spirit to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42:5); his Spirit regenerates all things (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3–4; 57:15).
To many, the idea of a “remnant” of God’s people surviving God’s Day of Judgment—after which “little of mankind remains” (Isaiah 24:6)—hasn’t seemed too threatening as they simply imagine themselves to be a part of that remnant. But when taking a second look at who constitutes the remnant of God’s people that lives into a millennial age of peace, it appears that those who assume they will be so privileged will not be among them. For one thing, those comprising the remnant are God’s “poor” and “lowly” (Isaiah 11:4; 14:30; 25:4; 26:6; 29:19; 41:17). For another, they are people who exercise strict personal integrity (Isaiah 33:14–15).
God’s remnant “eat[s] cream and honey”—a food of nomads—with the son Immanuel when Assyria, a world power from the North, invades all lands (Isaiah 7:14–22; 8:6–10; 37:18, 30–32). God’s remnant consists of those who return in an exodus from the four directions of the earth and of those who bring them (Isaiah 11:10–12, 15–16; 49:22–23; 60:4–11). God’s remnant is small: “Though your people, O Israel, be as the sands of the sea, only a remnant will return; although annihilation is decreed, it shall overflow with righteousness. For my Lord, Jehovah of Hosts, will carry out the utter destruction decreed upon the whole earth” (Isaiah 10:22–23).
Building the temple from which Jehovah reigns is an event that commences with the restorative mission of God’s end-time servant. Of course, when Jehovah comes he won’t reside in the temple day and night but appear there from time to time to direct the affairs of his kingdom on the earth: “Thus says Jehovah: ‘The heavens are my throne and the earth is my footstool. What house would you build me? What would serve me as a place of rest? These are all things my handhas made, and thus all came into being,’ says Jehovah. ‘And yet I have regard for those who are of a humble and contrite spirit and who are vigilant for my word’” (Isaiah 66:1–2).
With such souls, God resides: “I dwell on high in the holy place and with him who is humble and lowly in spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). God’s servant—who follows the types of Moses, Cyrus, and others—is the one who builds the temple: “. . . who fulfills the word of his servant, achieves the aims of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be reinhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt, their ruins I will restore,’ who says to the deep, ‘Become dry; I am drying up your currents,’ who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd; he will do whatever I will.’ He will say of Jerusalem that it must be rebuilt, its temple foundations relaid” (Isaiah 44:26–28).
Isaiah’s end-time scenario includes the resurrection of God’s elect who have passed away: “Your dead shall live when their bodies arise. [You will say to them,]‘Awake, and sing for joy, you who abide in the dust: your dew is the dew of sunrise!’ For the earth shall cast up its dead” (Isaiah 26:19). Zion/Jerusalem’s “rising from the dust” similarly includes the idea of resurrection (Isaiah 52:2). Word links between the two passages—“rising” (qwm) from the “dust” (‘apar)—establish the context in which resurrection occurs: at the end-time reversal of circumstances between Zion and Babylon. As the earth regenerates, so do God’s elect (Isaiah 65:17–25).
Death passes from the earth when the wicked are gone and people no longer transgress: “He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the shroud that shrouds all nations, by abolishing deathforever. My Lord Jehovah will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the reproach of his people from throughout the earth” Isaiah 25:7–8). Isaiah’s Perdition category, on the other hand, sees the opposite: “O Jehovah, our God, lords other than you have ruled over us, but you alone we recall by name. They are dead, to live no more, spirits who will not resurrect; you have appointed them to destruction, wiping out all recollection of them” (Isaiah 26:13–14).
Millennia of strife on the earth come to a close when the forces of evil are finally put down and tyranny ends: “Now the whole earth is at rest and at peace; there is jubilant celebration!” (Isaiah 14:7). That day will nonetheless have seen evil and tyranny reach their zenith. Never was there a time before it nor would be after it when such wickedness prevailed. On a parallel with it, on the other hand, comes a corresponding good—when righteousness reaches such a degree as to overpower the evil, preparing the way for Jehovah to come. His people’s fulfilling the terms of his covenants in that day causes Jehovah to intervene wondrously to deliver them.
A main focus of evil before Jehovah comes is the king of Assyria/Babylon, the archtyrant who causes worldwide devastation in the course of conquering the world. Jehovah’s coming as King of Zion directly counters this Antichrist’s fall. The archtyrant’s departure brings to an end a war to end all wars: “They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks: nation will not lift the swordagainst nation, nor will they learn warfare any more” (Isaiah 2:4); “Tyranny will no more be heard of in your land, nor dispossession or disaster within your borders; you will regard salvationas your walls and homage as your gates” (Isaiah 60:18).
Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth will see an entire transformation of the earth and its inhabitants. Those who survive the destruction of the wicked that marks the end of the world will live in conditions perhaps similar to ones seen in near-death experiences of heaven, although admittedly it is heaven’s lower levels that are most often seen. The millennial age will be joyous: “Jehovah is comforting Zion, bringing solace to all her ruins; he is making her wilderness like Eden, her desert as the garden of Jehovah. Joyful rejoicing takes place there, thanksgiving with the voiceof song” (Isaiah 51:3). Harmony will prevail among men and beasts (Isaiah 11:6–9).
Jehovah’s coming, however, won’t happen by chance or because God is bound by a timetable. What occasions that event—and what qualifies people to inherit Paradise—is their ascent to the spiritual levels of Zion/Jerusalem and beyond and their physical preparation in gathering from exile to receive their God. Until his people attain Paradise asacovenant blessing—a blessing stemming from their keeping the law of his covenant—Jehovah cannot come. While those who imagine otherwise will be disappointed, those who use the trials that precede Jehovah’s coming as a means of purifying and sanctifying their lives may qualify for that glorious age.
In the pattern of patriarchs and prophets of old—with whom God walked and talked—only persons who qualify on account of their exceeding righteousness “dwell in the presence of Jehovah” (Isaiah 23:18). For those who prove loyal to him through the vicissitudes that overtake the world in its most evil hour, his glorious coming will prove an immense relief: “Your sun shall set no more, nor your moon wane. To you Jehovah will be an endless light when your days of mourning are fulfilled” (Isaiah 60:20). Arid lands will change to a paradisiacal state, so much that “the glory of Jehovah and the splendor of our God they shall see [there]” (Isaiah 35:1–2).
The earth will transform at his presence: “The splendor of Lebanon shall become yours—cypresses, pines, and firs together—to beautify the site of my sanctuary, to make glorious the place of my feet” (Isaiah 60:13). Peoples will come from afar to pay him homage: “My house shall be known as a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Those who serve him at all costs, he blesses accordingly: “‘As the new heavens and the new earth which I make shall endure before me,’ says Jehovah, ‘so shall your offspring and name endure. And New Moon after New Moon, Sabbath after Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me’” (Isaiah 66:22–23).
The ushering in of the millennial age will be a time of great joy for the Zion/Jerusalem category of God’s people and categories higher—for those who prove loyal until Jehovah comes on earth to reign: “In that day you will say, ‘I praise you, O Jehovah. Although you have been angry with me, your angeris turned away and you have consoled me. In the God of my salvationI will trust without fear; for Jehovah was my strength and my song when he became my salvation. Then shall you rejoice in drawing water from the fountains of salvation.’ . . . Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitants of Zion, for renowned among you is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:1–3, 6).
The joy of God’s servants will distinguish them from enemies: “My servants shall rejoice indeed, while you shall be dismayed. My servants shall shout indeed, for gladness of heart, while you shall cry out with heartbreak” (Isaiah 65:13–14); “The troubles of the past shall be forgotten and hidden from my eyes. See, I create new heavens and a new earth; former events shall not be remembered or recalled to mind. Rejoice, then, and be glad forever in what I create. See, I create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will delight in Jerusalem, rejoice in my people; no more shall be heard there the sound of weeping or the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:16–19).
Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth brings with it a complete metamorphosis of all that lives. Existence as we know it entirely disappears as all life becomes new. Living things regenerate and sickness passes away: “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame leap like deer, and the tongueof the dumb shout for joy. Water shall break forth in the wilderness and streams [flow]in the desert. The land of mirages shall become one of lakes, the thirsty place springs of water; in the haunt of howling creatures [shall marshes break out], in the reserves shall come rushes and reeds” (Isaiah 35:5–7).
Jehovah’s coming touches people collectively and individually: “I dwell on high in the holy place and with him who is humble and lowly in spirit, refreshing the spirits of the lowly, reviving the hearts of the humble” (Isaiah 57:15); “Your heart shall rejoice to see it, your limbs flourish like sprouting grass” (Isaiah 66:14); “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, my blessing upon your posterity. They shall shoot up like grass among streams of water, like willows by running brooks” (Isaiah 44:3–4). Life lengthens: “The lifetime of my people shall be as the lifetime of a tree; my chosen ones shall outlast the work of their hands” (Isaiah 65:22).
Types of God’s government that existed anciently combine to provide an idea of God’s government in the millennial age. One example is that of Moses and Israel’s judges: “I will restore my handover you and smelt away your dross as in a crucible, and remove all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as in the beginning. After this you shall be called the City of Righteousness, a faithful city” (Isaiah 1:25–26; emphasis added). The parallel verbs “I will restore” (ibid.) show God’s simultaneous appointment of his end-time servant—God’s hand and Righteousness—and of additional righteous “judges” who rule as one.
Similar models appear elsewhere: “A king shall reign in righteousness and rulers rule with justice” (Isaiah 32:1); “The moon will blush and the sun be put to shame, when Jehovah of Hosts manifests his reign in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and hisglory in the presence of his elders” (Isaiah 24:23). Although Jehovah rules as King in the millennial age (ibid., Isaiah 33:17, 22; 43:15; 44:6; 52:7), he doesn’t rule alone. God’s end-time servant and other servants—all who follow King Hezekiah’s pattern of serving as proxy saviors of their peoples—rule with him as Zion’s kings and queens (Isaiah 9:6–7; 11:1–5; 16:6; 37:15–20; 51:5; 60:3, 10–11, 16–17; 62:2).
In this modern, entrepreneurial age of financial investments and rabid speculation, the biblical idea of permanent lands of inheritance has virtually been lost sight of. When Israel conquers the Promised Land anciently under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, God allocates lands to the twelve tribes of Israel, each with its clans and families, as permanent inheritances (Joshua 10–21). Even when houses and lands are sold because of hardship, they revert back to their rightful inheritors every fiftieth year—the year of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:23–41). Only later, when Israel breaks the terms of God’s covenant, are properties sold and never reclaimed.
In the earth’s millennial age, God’s people again receive permanent lands of inheritance: “They who seek refuge in me shall possess the earth and receive an inheritance in my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13); “Your entire people shall be righteous; they shall inherit the earth forever—they are the branch I have planted, the work of my hands, in which I am glorified” (Isaiah 60:21); “You shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; your offspring shall dispossess the nations and resettle the desolate cities” (Isaiah 54:3). Just as he appointed Joshua, so God appoints his end-time servant to “restore the Land and reapportion the desolate estates” (Isaiah 49:8).
A key restorative feature of the earth’s millennial age is a new Paradise: “A Spirit from on high shall be poured out on us; the desert shall become productive land and lands now productive be reckoned as brushwood” (Isaiah 32:15). “I will open up streams in barren hill country, springs in the midst of the plains; I will turn the desert into lakes, parched lands into fountains of water. I will bring cedars and acacias, myrtles and oleasters in the wilderness; I will place cypresses, elms and box trees in the steppes” (Isaiah 41:18–19); “The wolf and the lamb will graze alike, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; as for the serpent, dust shall be its food” (Isaiah 65:25).
The fact that God’s elect inherit a new Paradise in the millennial age tells us a lot about Adam and Eve’s inheriting Paradise. As God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and is no respecter of persons, what he did for his children in the past he will also do for them in the future. Or, conversely, what he will do for his children in the future is what he did for them in the past. Indeed, Adam and Eve’s creation before God put them in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:7–8) resembles something very similar to what his elect experience when God commands them to “awake” and “arise” from the dead (Isaiah 26:19) and they likewise qualify to live in Paradise.
Although Isaiah doesn’t explicitly predict the transformation of God’s elect people to a translated state, he does so implicitly. Biblical examples of translated persons include Enoch, Elijah, and John. Isaiah identifies that category of persons with the seraphs who accompany Jehovah, whom he sees in the temple (Isaiah 6:1–7). Part II of Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40), moreover, shows Isaiah’s attaining seraph status as a model of spiritual ascent. Lastly, Isaiah identifies God’s arm—his end-time servant—as the “angel of his presence” (Isaiah 51:9–10; 63:9) and describes him in messianic terms as a “fiery flying seraph” (Isaiah 14:29).
Apart from these depictions of a seraph category, other clues allude to God’s elect attaining a translated state. Those who keep God’s law and word, who participate in an end-time exodus to Zion, for example (Isaiah 58:6–13), inherit more than an earthbound state: “Then shall you delight in Jehovah, and I will make you traverse the heights of the earth and nourish you with the heritage of Jacob your father” (Isaiah 58:14). In the pattern of Isaiah, who sees God “enthroned above the earth’s sphere” (Isaiah 40:22), their view is no longer from below but from above: “Your eyes shall behold the King in his glory and view the expanse of the earth” (Isaiah 33:17).
The new heavens and new earth Israel’s God creates—which are the norm of life in the earth’s millennial age (Isaiah 65:17–25; 66:22–23)—fulfill the hopes and prayers of numberless righteous souls who have inhabited it, who, through their blood, sweat, and tears, have helped to redeem it from its corrupt and fallen state. Their cumulative merits finally cause God to “reward” them with a more glorious existence than the one humanity has known thus far (Isaiah 35:3–10; 40:10; 61:7–11; 62:8–12). God never intended the earth he made to remain in its current degraded condition. From the beginning, God destined it, too, to ascend to higher states of blessedness.
He who “suspends the heavens, who gives form to the earth” (Isaiah 44:24)—who “suspends the heavens like a canopy, stretching them out as a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22), who “frames and suspends the heavens, who gives form to the earth and its creatures, the breath of life to the people upon it, spirit to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42:5), who “formed the earth, who made it secure and organized it, not to remain a chaotic waste, but designed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18)—he destined it as the inheritance of his elect (Isaiah 60:19–21; 61:9; 65:9). What is of man passes away, but what is of God “endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8; 51:8; 55:13; 66:22).