Does the Lord “Devastate” the Earth?
There is this passage that has sometimes been labeled “Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse” that proclaims how the Lord will “lay waste,” “destroy,” and “ruin” the earth. (The following builds on this previous post which identifies a dual speech pattern of God). It begins with:
The LORD is going to lay waste the earth
and devastate it;
he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants (24:1).
Isaiah goes on to decry that “the earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered” (Isa 24:3) because it has been “defiled by its people” who “have disobeyed the laws” and “broken the everlasting covenant” (vs. 5). Isaiah declares that “a curse consumes the earth” and “its people must bear their guilt” (vs. 6). When free moral agents fall, all that is under their authority falls with them.
Thus far a reader would be justified in assuming that the Lord himself was going to bring about the massive destruction Isaiah speaks of. We get a very different impression, however, if we continue reading, for we soon discover how the Lord planned on bringing about this curse. Relying on the typical ANE conception of anti-creational forces as hostile waters, and using language that is reminiscent of the reversal-of-creation flood account in Genesis, Isaiah proleptically declares:
The floodgates of the heavens are opened,
the foundations of the earth shake.
The earth is broken up,
the earth is split asunder,
the earth is violently shaken (Isa 24:18-9).
These passages indicate that way Yahweh curses the earth is simply by removing the protection (the “floodgates”) that had previously kept hostile cosmic forces at bay. And it is important to notice that, while Yahweh allows these forces to carry out their malevolent designs as a consequence of people’s rebellion, there is no suggestion in this or any other passage that God wanted these forces to be the way they are or that God causes these forces to engage in this destructive activity. To the contrary, Isaiah immediately adds that, once this judgment is complete, Yahweh will “punish the powers in the heavens” and will once again “shut them up” in a “dungeon” and a “prison” (vs. 22).
Just as we have seen God does with violent kings and wicked nations, the sovereign God makes wise use of evil agents as he finds them. But we must never misinterpret God’s willingness to use wicked cosmic forces, wicked nations, and violent kings as indicating his approval of their violence. For as God does in this passage, and as we have seen him do throughout Scripture, once God is done allowing these agents to carry out their destruction, God turns around and punishes them for being the kind of agents he could use for this purpose.
In any event, though it is clear that Yahweh judges the earth in Isaiah 24 by merely withdrawing protection, Isaiah nevertheless depicts him as actively cursing the earth. This passage thus illustrates once again the dual speech pattern that we’ve been discussing. Reflecting his culturally conditioned mindset in which ascribing violence to God was considered the highest form of praise, Isaiah depicts Yahweh doing what in in truth merely allowed.
Photo credit: _Hadock_ via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND
Cartoon via Adventures of the Holy Ghost Thanks for the heads up @andrewhaak!
For many in conservative Christian circles innovation in theology and biblical interpretation is viewed as suspect, if not sinful. To this I would simply respond by pointing out that the attitude that would dismiss hermeneutical or theological proposals (like those offered in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God) simply on the grounds that they include…
The cruciform approach to reading the Bible—and specifically the culturally-conditioned and sin-stained portraits of God—requires faith on the part of the reader, which I argue in Crucifixion of the Warrior God. On one level we can discern by faith that often times God broke through the limitations and sin of the ancient authors, for we…
Courtney “Coco” Mault via Compfight Yesterday World Vision announced that it is now allowing gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be hired as well as gay Christians who follow their policy of abstinence outside of marriage. The social media reaction is quite varied as you might expect, ranging from support to extreme statements of…
Image by Joshua Earle The lies Satan told to Eve in the garden made eating from the forbidden tree (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) look desirable. On the one hand, the lies caused her to question God’s trustworthiness. And correspondingly, on the other hand, they also caused her to question whether it is…
Why was the forbidden tree in the center of the garden called The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Since the Bible depicts eating from this tree as the reason humans are estranged from God and the cause of all that’s wrong with humanity, eating from this tree is obviously a terrible thing.…