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ISAIAH 24-27: THE CONTEXT
Most scholars treat chapters 24-27 as a unit. The theme of chapter 24 is sounded in its opening words: “Behold, Yahweh makes the earth empty, makes it waste, turns it upside down, and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1a). That chapter tells of God’s judgment on an earth that “is polluted” and whose inhabitants “have transgressed the laws” and broken covenants (24:5). It tells of terrible things—”fear, the pit, and the snare” (24:17)—a world that “is utterly broken” (24:19)—the “armies of the high one on high” and “the kings of the earth… gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in a pit” (24:21-22).
The purpose of those cataclysmic events is found in the last verse: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for Yahweh of Armies will reign on Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem; and before his elders will be glory” (24:23).
The note of judgment continues in chapter 25 (our text). It speaks of Yahweh making “the city into a heap, a fortified city into a ruin” (25:2). It speaks of Moab “trodden down in his place, even like straw is trodden down in the water of the dunghill” (25:10b, which is not included in the lectionary reading).
But this note of judgment is counter-balanced by praise to Yahweh for doing wonderful things (25:1). Yahweh is a refuge to the poor and provides shade from the heat and shelter from the rainstorm (25:4). He offers hope, not just to Israel, but to “all peoples” (25:6). He “will swallow up death forever” (25:7)—and “will wipe away the tears from off all faces” (25:8).
Chapter 26 is a song of victory to “be sung in the land of Judah” (26:1). It speaks of resurrection, saying, “Your dead shall live. My dead bodies shall arise” (26:19), expanding the thought of death being swallowed up that was introduced in 25:7.
Chapter 27 opens with the promise of Yahweh punishing Leviathan and killing “the dragon that is in the sea” (27:1)—an act that will make it possible for Israel to sit in a pleasant vineyard and sing about Yahweh’s victory over evil (27:2). That chapter ends with a promise that Yahweh will gather the scattered people of Israel, so that “those who were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and those who were outcasts in the land of Egypt, shall come; and they will worship Yahweh in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (27:13).
This section is sometimes known as the Isaian apocalypse, because of its apocalyptic themes (judgment, devastation, the eschatological banquet, and victory over death).
In summary, these chapters speak of Yahweh’s victory over evil and the blessings that will accrue to Israel and “all peoples” (25:6) as a result of that victory.
ISAIAH 25:1-5. YAHWEH, YOU ARE MY GOD
These verses begin with the declaration, “Yahweh, you are my God. I will exalt you! I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago, in complete faithfulness and truth” (v. 1). It then recounts some of the wondrous things that Yahweh has done.
ISAIAH 25:6-9. A FEAST OF FAT THINGS FOR ALL PEOPLES
6In this mountain, Yahweh of Armies (Hebrew: yhwh seba·ot—Yahweh Sabaoth) will make all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of choice wines (Hebrew: sema·rim), of fat things full of marrow (Hebrew:sema·nim), of well refined choice wines. 7He will destroy in this mountain the surface of the covering that covers all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. 8He has swallowed up death(Hebrew: ham·ma·wet—the death) forever! The Lord Yahweh (Hebrew: ado·nay yhwh) will wipe away tears from off all faces. He will take the reproach of his people away from off all the earth, for
Yahweh (Hebrew: yhwh) has spoken it.
“In this mountain, Yahweh of Armies (yhwh seba·ot—Yahweh Sabaoth) will make all peoples a feast of fat things“ (v. 6a). We first heard of the mountain of the Lord in chapter 2, where Isaiah son of Amoz saw a vision that “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it” (2:2). That mention of “all peoples” fits with the mention of “all peoples” in 25:7.
This verse introduces an entirely new vision—that of a great banquet hosted by Yahweh, the Lord of hosts. First, Yahweh will rid the world of evil and then he will host a great banquet. He will invite not only Israel, but “all peoples.” The Old Testament focuses on the Israelites as the people of God, but it also includes sun-breaks that allow light to shine on others as well. This is one of those sun-breaks.
“Yahweh of Armies” (yhwh seba·ot—Yahweh Sabaoth) (v. 6a). Sabaoth means “hosts” or “armies.” Yahweh Sabaoth could mean that Yahweh is the Lord of Israel’s armies—or it could mean that Yahweh is the Lord of the hosts of heaven—or it could mean both. The basic idea is that Yahweh is Lord of all.
While the name of this mountain is not specified (except that it is the mountain of the Lord of hosts), the last chapter promised that “Yahweh of Armies will reign on Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem” (24:23), so it is likely that “this mountain” is Mount Zion.
“a feast of choice wines (sema·rim), of fat things full of marrow (sema·nim), of well refined choice wines (sema·rim)“ (v. 6b). Note the word play between well-ages wines (sema·rim) and marrow (sema·nim).
Unlike today, rich food was not an everyday staple in that time and place. People ate simply, and most people could enjoy meat only occasionally. Typically, they would eat a light meal at midday and a larger meal at the end of the work day. Bread was the staple food—vegetables are mentioned only occasionally in the Old Testament. People raised olives for oil, and enjoyed grapes, both fresh and dried (raisins), as well as wine made from grapes. “Rich food filled with marrow” and “well-aged wines strained clear” would be rare and prized.
Most people would be able to enjoy the kinds of food mentioned in this verse only on special occasions, such as a wedding banquet. On such occasions, the host would spend as freely as possible to provide guests with abundant quantities of food and wine. For most people, hosting this sort of banquet would be a budget-buster, so they devised ways of stretching their funds to make them go as far as possible. For instance, when Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, the chief steward, not knowing where the wine came from, said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!” (John 2:10).
Kings and other wealthy people could serve lavish banquets, but only for their closest friends and associates. Even a king as rich as Solomon could not afford to host a grand banquet for “all peoples”—nor would a king be inclined to do so if he could. Great banquets were one of the things that distinguished kings from common people, and kings are always interested in maintaining those kinds of distinctions.
But the feast mentioned in this verse is not a banquet hosted by an ordinary family. It isn’t even a banquet hosted by a king. It is a banquet hosted by “Yahweh of Armies”—the one who created all that is—the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). The Lord of hosts can afford to serve the finest foods and wines from beginning to end. The Lord of hosts can afford to provide fine foods for “all peoples” —and that is exactly what the Lord of hosts intends to do.
A wedding feast hosted by an ordinary family would typically last for a week. A wealthy family might host a wedding feast for two weeks. The prophet gives us no idea how long the Lord’s feast might last, but we should assume that it will be a very long party.
“He will destroy in this mountain the surface of the covering that covers all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations” (v. 7). We might wonder about the meaning of “the covering that covers all peoples” and “the veil that is spread over all nations,” but the third part of this verse explains. Yahweh of Armies “will swallow up death forever.” In fact, the wording is stronger than that—Yahweh of Armies “will swallow up THE death forever.” There will no longer be a need for burial shrouds—the kind of shrouds now required for “all peoples”—because all peoples die. The Lord of hosts will bring an end to death.
The next chapter gives a further glimpse into this triumph over death. It says:
“Your dead shall live. My dead bodies shall arise.
Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust;
for your dew is like the dew of herbs,
and the earth will cast forth the dead” (26:19).
The New Testament continues with this theme. The Apostle Paul says that because of the work of Jesus Christ, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
But Seitz sees the shroud and sheet as “symbols of the vast destruction that God has wreaked on all nations and peoples, but is about to remove” (Seitz, 190).
“He has swallowed up death (ham·ma·wet—the death) forever! The Lord Yahweh (ado·nay yhwh)will wipe away tears from off all faces“ (v. 8a). These will certainly include tears associated with mourning, because death will be no more (v. 7). However, people shed tears for a host of reasons—illness, financial problems, natural disasters, frustrations, marriages gone wrong, children gone wrong—the list is nearly endless. But the Lord God will wipe away all these tears at his mountaintop banquet—will wipe them away from the eyes of “all peoples” (v. 6).
The author of Revelation alludes to these verses when he says that God “will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
“He will take the reproach of his people away from off all the earth” (v. 8b). While it is not clear when this chapter was written, the book of Isaiah is centered on the exile of the Israelites in Babylon—a fifty-year exile in which they became vassals of the Babylonian conquerors. When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they destroyed the city and killed most of its inhabitants. They took those whom they permitted to live to Babylonia to serve as slaves. The disgrace of Israel could not be more complete.
We should note that those things happened according to Yahweh’s will. The people sinned, and Yahweh allowed them to be conquered and humiliated as the first step toward their redemption.
But now the prophet describes what the redemption will look like. The Lord of hosts will make a great feast on Mount Zion, not just for Israel, but for all peoples (v. 6). He will destroy death (v. 7), will wipe away tears (v. 8a), and will remove the disgrace of his people (v. 8b).
“for Yahweh has spoken it” (v. 8c). This is the clincher. Yahweh has spoken these words, so we can be assured that the events pictured in these verses will come to pass. God’s word had the power to create the heavens and the earth, so God’s power is certainly able to do the things described in these verses. Furthermore, God is faithful, and can be counted on to do what he promises.
ISAIAH 25:9. BEHOLD, THIS IS OUR GOD!
9It shall be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God! We have waited for him, and he will save us! This is Yahweh! We have waited for him. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation!”
“It shall be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God! We have waited for him, and he will save us! This is Yahweh! We have waited for him. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation'” (v. 9). “In that day” refers to the day of the great feast hosted by the Lord of hosts. The prophet doesn’t specify who will say, “Behold, this is our God.” At first reading, we would expect it to be Israel. However, we have been told that the Lord of hosts will welcome “all peoples” to his great feast, so surely all those who have been invited to the table will “be glad and rejoice in (Yahweh’s) salvation”—Christians as well as Jews.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World EnglishBible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica StutgartensaOld Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Goldingay, John, New International Biblical Commentary: Isaiah (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
Motyer, J. Alec, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Isaiah, Vol. 18 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999)
Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)
Scott, R.B.Y. and Kilpatrick, G.G.D., The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)
Seitz, Christopher R., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)
Smith, Gary V., The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39 (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007)
Tucker, Gene M., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33 (Dallas: Word Books, 1985)
Young, Edward J., The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 19-39, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969)
Copyright 2008, 2009, Richard Niell Donovan