Eschatology 101: Prophetic Language or Isaiah 13:9-13 (Part 5)
*Note: this article is polished & re-posted*
As we continue our look at the prophetic language of the Old Testament, I would expect that these themes might become second nature. Things will begin to jump out and links will begin to form. Because of that, I might not write as completely as some would desire. [editor note: I was really just being lazy]
Today's text launches us into the intimidating book of Isaiah. No amount of blog posts could do this book justice. Instead, I have to look at specific passages that are useful for laying the foundation of prophetic interpretation. These foundations will help with the major prophetic texts of the New Testament. The first text comes not as a prophecy against Israel but against Babylon:
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. - Isaiah 13:9-13
Day of the Lord
This little phrase is important. The "day of the Lord" might be the most important theme in the Old Testament prophets. Though this little phrase often brings to mind "end of the world!!!" it needs to be read in context. Here it is important to see here that this is a historical day. This isn't mere symbolism. It was a day that was fulfilled in real history against a real nation. This tells us that fulfillment of "the day of the Lord" needn't be the apocalypse but that it also isn't merely figurative. We might struggle to rectify the language with many modern understanding but this day occurred in judgment of Babylon. On that almost all commentaries and scholars agree.
The day of the Lord is often described as a day of judgment. This text is no different. The land and sinners will see the wrath and anger of God poured out upon it. Take note of "the land" and "its sinners." This is an isolated "day of the Lord" (Isa 13:1) despite the language of "punish the world". In many ways this is important to see as happening in the book of Revelation to the nation of Israel. In Revelation 1:7 is commonly translated with "the world" but "the land" is an equally viable view of the text. In fact outside of the flood judgments are seen as restricted to specific lands.
Lights of Heaven
This is some of the most common imagery in the Scriptures. Light is used often throughout the Isaiah to communicate blessings and curses. I can't list all the references because there are too many. Why would light be such a symbol of blessing? It could point back to the first day of creation and God's blessing of light (which Paul links to Christ in 2 Cor) or it could point back to the Psalms and the presence of God. These questions and their answers effect New Testament prophecy, namely the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:29). So what are the appropriate answers?
I believe we have to go back to the creation account to understand these symbols. Light has always been associated with the full power and grace of God alone (Gen 1:3; BBC) . The stars were placed into the sky not to provide light to be be rulers of the sky (Gen 16:1-8; BBC). The removal of light is a removal of God's grace from the power and authorities of those in judgment. The rulers and not fulfilling their role and the Lord is removing his blessing and grace. Both these ideas can be tied to creation going dark and not giving forth light. This is often referred to as "de-creation" imagery. And it is important to observe the time of its usage throughout the Scriptures. Far from speaking about an actual event, it is point to a turning over of the created order of rulers and authorities that God has put in place. In Isaiah the rulers are Babylon. In the Olivet Discourse the rulers are the corrupt of Israel.
Heaven and Earth
Right in line with this "de-creation" imagery is the shaking of the original creation. The "heavens and earth" are descriptive of the foundation of creation and even these can not stand against the wrath of God. The whole order of creation and God's decrees are being shaken by the judgment of God. This isn't a literal event of rending and rocking. But it is a meaningful symbol that the people of Israel would have caught, the world was going to change drastically.
Again we see this in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:29). It is also what we see fulfilled in Christ's death (Matt 27:45, 51). The use in the account of Matthew was meant to show us that the Crucifixion was in fact a "day of the Lord". It was a day where rulers were overthrown and creation itself was re-ordered.
This passage works as a great entry into the wonderful world of Isaiah. Much imagery and fulfillment comes from this book and this provides only a small understanding of the full wealth contained in these prophecies.