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Isaiah 24:1–12 The World Changes the Ordinance and Breaks the Covenant
Isaiah charges earth’s inhabitants with committing three major errors: “They have transgressed the laws; they have changed the ordinance; they have broken the everlasting covenant” (24:5). Because of this great apostasy, the Lord has emptied the earth, made it waste, twisted its surface, and scattered its inhabitants (see 24:1). Although there have been many apostasies during the history of the earth, this particular apostasy seems to be that which preceded the Restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. Doctrine and Covenants 1:15 (citing Isaiah 24:5) states, “For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant.”
the Lord is emptying the earth. This refers to the emptying of the earth through the destruction of humankind because of their iniquities (compare Doctrine and Covenants 5:19). The Lord . . . scatters its inhabitants. Why scattered? As punishment for wickedness (Genesis 11:8–9; Psalm 92:9) and to separate sinners so they cannot have a gang mentality—the power of mobs and gangs decreases when they are separated and scattered.
the slave, as it is with his master; the maid, as it is with her mistress. Isaiah lists twelve groups of people (buyer, seller, borrower, lender, and so forth), representing all levels of society. Regardless of their position or status, all of the inhabitants of the land will be scattered, as Isaiah prophesies in the previous verse (verse 1).
Lord has spoken this word. Isaiah prophesies by Jehovah’s authority.
earth mourns, withers . . . earth is polluted. The earth, symbolically portrayed as a female in the Bible, “mourns,” “withers,” and is “polluted because of her inhabitants’ gross sins as well as because of the earth’s droughts and famines that deplete the earth of its life and vegetation. Disobedience to God brings famines, but famines often encourage obedience (Deuteronomy 32:24; 1 Kings 8:33–40; 17:1; 18:1–2; 2 Chronicles 20:8–9; Jeremiah 14:11–18; 42:13–17).
transgressed the laws/changed the ordinance/broken the everlasting covenant. These three expressions define an apostasy. “Transgressed the laws,” meaning chiefly God’s laws, as revealed to His prophets. “Law” (Hebrew torah), used here in a rare plural form, indicates that God’s laws have been transgressed; this by itself is enough to bring a curse upon the people (Daniel 9:10–11); “changed the ordinance,” meaning changed the procedure, meaning, and words of God’s ordinances (consider the ordinance of baptism, for example). “Ordinance” (or “statute, ”Hebrew, choq) comes from the root chaqaq, meaning to “carve or engrave.” God’s ordinances and statutes, essentially carved in stone, were not meant to be changed, “broken the everlasting covenant.” The “everlasting covenant” is the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 66:2; 133:57) with its sacred covenants and ordinances. Because of this apostasy, God called Joseph Smith to restore His gospel on the earth (Doctrine and Covenants 1:15–17).
curse consumes the earth. The Lord blesses the faithful (Mosiah 2:41) and curses the rebellious (Deuteronomy 28:15–68). Curses include war, pestilence, plagues, disease, famine, poverty, and death (Deuteronomy 27–30). Curses will be poured out on the earth in the last days (Doctrine and Covenants 112:23–24). its inhabitants must bear their guilt. Here, the term “guilt” (Hebrew ‘asham) refers to the guilt that requires restitution and cleansing ordinances before it can be removed.
new wine mourns/vine languishes. Again, vegetation—represented here by new wine and the vine—withers because of the wickedness of earth’s inhabitants.
tambourines has ceased/jubilant has stopped/harp has ceased/drink wine with song. These expressions signify the world’s sounds of gaiety and revelry and the free abundance of alcohol among the wicked. See also Revelation 18:22. “Wine and strong drink” refer to the party lifestyle of the world, which so often depends on alcohol, including beer, liquor, and more. But this party lifestyle “has ceased.”
town of chaos is broken down. “Chaos” (Hebrew tohu) is the same word to describe the earth in Genesis 1:2, “the earth was chaos.” God’s judgments on the wicked and the world are described in these verses. When Isaiah writes, “The town of chaos is broken down,” he speaks both of the physical town with its buildings and of people that reside in that town. When he writes, “In the streets, there is an outcry of wine . . . all rejoicing has grown dark,” he is prophesying that abominable partying, drunkenness, and illicit behavior have ceased. The attitude and practice “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (22:13) is now gone.
Isaiah 24:13–16a A Righteous Remnant Sing Gladly
In the midst of the apostasy and destruction of the wicked (see 24:1–12), the righteous will gather together; they will “sing gladly,” and they will “glorify the Lord.” From all parts of the earth, the righteous will sing, “Glory to the Righteous One!” The Righteous One is the Lord, the God of Israel.
For thus it will be in the midst of the earth. The prophecy in this section will take place during or after the destruction identified in the previous section. as when an olive tree is beaten. The harvested olives (knocked off an olive tree with a stick) and gleaned grapes symbolize the righteous who are gathered after the apostasy and the destruction of the wicked. The prophets compare the harvest to the destruction of the wicked (Matthew 13:39; Doctrine and Covenants 86:4–7). “Gleanings after the grape harvest” indicates that there will be few righteous compared to the larger harvest.
They lift up their voices; they sing gladly. “Lifting up” one’s voice pertains to both prayer (Genesis 21:16) and song (42:11; Doctrine and Covenants 84:98).
On account of the majesty of the Lord, they cry out from the west . . . region of light. God’s Saints will cry out in joy from the west to the east (symbolizing all parts of the earth; note also that Isaiah adds “in the coastlands of the sea”). “West” is specified in verse 14 and “region of light” (see verse 15) refers to the east (the region where the sun rises every day). “Region of light” also refers to the place where the Spirit of God is found in abundance. The Spirit is indeed found in abundance where God’s Saints live and worship.
“Glory to the Righteous One!” This expression is part of a song. “Glory” (Hebrew tzvi) can also be translated as “beauty,” meaning the Righteous One also has beauty. The crowning point of this section of Isaiah pertains to our beloved Lord and Savior, thus we proclaim, “Glory to the Righteous One!”
Isaiah 24:16b–23 The Earth Reacts to Its Inhabitants’ Iniquities
When he utters the words “I waste away, I waste away; woe is me!” Isaiah is reacting to the harsh vision regarding the apostasy, as set forth in Isaiah 24:1–12. Not only does Isaiah react, but the earth also reacts, staggering “like a drunkard” and swaying “like a hut” (24:20). Note that Isaiah portrays the earth as a person, specifically as a female (the Hebrew uses feminine grammatical forms when it refers to the earth; these forms are lost in the translation) to indicate the anguish of the earth as she deals with her inhabitants’ evil conduct.
I waste away. The vision (see especially, 24:1–12) is so harsh, so difficult, that Isaiah bemoans, “I waste away,” meaning that this vision is affecting him physically or emotionally (or both); Isaiah then adds, “Woe is me!” For the traitors have betrayed. Isaiah uses a clever wordplay, wherein he repeats the root Hebrew term bagad (“betray”) five times. His wordplay is largely lost in the English translation, but I have tried to provide a literal translation (although it is somewhat awkward).
dread, and the pit, and the snare. Isaiah writes three Hebrew words that sound similar—pachad (”dread”), pachat (“pit”), and pach (“snare”)—to create a Hebrew wordplay, which emphasizes the coming judgments upon the wicked.
O inhabitant of the earth—dread, and the pit, and the snare are upon you. Isaiah employs two symbols to compare the wicked of the earth to animals that are being hunted by means of two methods: the “pit” and the “snare.” One way or another, the wicked will be seized because of their sins; if they are captured in the pit (symbolically, as a hunter captures a wild beast) and somehow escape, then they will “be caught in the snare” (another symbol). The unrepentant wicked will never escape God’s judgments. Note that the “pit” is also a symbol of hell (14:15; Ezekiel 31:16).
the windows of heaven are opened. The language recalls the judgment of the flood during the days of Noah (Genesis 7:11–12); “opened” so that God can pour out His judgments upon evil persons (24:21–22); but God also opens the windows of heaven to pour out His blessings upon the righteous (Malachi 3:10).
The earth is completely broken. Isaiah makes nine statements to portray the earth’s reaction to its inhabitants’ evil practices: “the foundations of the earth tremble,” “the earth is completely broken,” “altogether split,” “totally shakes,” “reel[s] to and fro like a drunkard” (see also Doctrine and Covenants 45:48; 49:23; 88:87), “sways like a hut,” is weighed “down,” “will fall,” and it “will not rise again.” Within these nine statements, Isaiah poetically uses several symbols, including the earth has “foundations” (like a building), the “earth is completely broken” (as if it is a breakable item, like a jar), the earth is like a drunk person (“the earth staggers like a drunkard”), the earth is compared to a “hut” (“it sways like a hut”) and the earth is compared to a person who is laden with iniquity, so much iniquity that it will fall (“Its iniquity will weigh it down, that it will fall”). Joseph Smith stated that the “earth groans under the weight of its iniquity” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:7). And when Enoch “heard the earth mourn, he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth” (Moses 7:49).
the Lord will punish the host of high ones above/kings of the earth below. Note that the Lord punishes wicked people, not the earth. The earth is not culpable for the people’s sins and evilness. “High ones” symbolizes all of the arrogant and proud people of the earth. Even the “kings” (again, a symbol of arrogant and wicked leaders) will not escape God’s judgments.
as prisoners in a pit . . . they will be visited. The “pit” and “prison” refer to hell, or spirit prison. Those in spirit prison “will be visited” by the Lord’s ministers (see also 61:1; John 5:25; 1 Peter 3:18–20).
moon confounded/sun ashamed. In comparison with the glory and brilliance that will surround the Lord when He “reign[s]s in mount Zion,” the light of the sun and the moon will pale and be “confounded” and “ashamed.” Lord . . . will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, in glory, and before His elders. Often, when Isaiah delivers bad news, he then concludes with positive news, as in this verse. Although the wicked will be judged, in the end, God will reign in glory, with all of His Saints.
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