Isaiah: Chapter 24
- Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled; for the Lord has spoken this word. (24:1-3)
In the middle of this chapter, however, there are a few verses of praise:
- They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; they shout from the west over the majesty of the Lord. Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; in the coastland of the sea glorify the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One. (14-16a)
This chapter is apocalyptic. In vivid, sometimes sublimely beautiful language, it communicates the destruction of the earth and of unending punishment. Yet, oddly enough, this isn’t what I heard when I first read it. The second verse struck me and pulled me into a sudden awareness. I stopped and re-read it:
- And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. (24:2)
But this isn’t what struck me, what struck me was the fact of unity in both existence and in death. Human beings seem to find distinctions between everything and everyone. I understand that we need these distinctions in some ways to make sense of the world and to understand who we are as individuals. But, too often we allow these distinctions to take over and remove all mystery from our existence.
We miss the connection that we have to everything else in our world, simply through our shared existence and inescapable death. The world is an unexplainable miracle. The fact that I can think enough to even come up with distinctions is a miracle. The fact that I can feel both love and hate, happiness and anger is miraculous. To the list in vs. 2 I should also add, as with me, so with you. We all exist and we will all die. This is the mystery and the miracle that we all share and that we are all blessed and cursed by.
It is important to remember that the twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah not only cuts down the distinctions between you and me, but also between you and me and the dirt, you and me and the sun and the moon, even between you and me and the mysterious hosts of heaven. The mystery of creation extends ever outward from every small, visible piece of existence towards every invisible and unknowable thing. When it comes to existence and death, we are a unified creation. In horrific and terrifying terms, the twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah reminds us of this fact.
And yet, the book of Isaiah ends in terms of separation. The thirteenth and fourteenth verses of chapter sixty-five read:
- Therefore thus says the Lord God: My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart, and shall wail for anguish of spirit. (65:13-14)
In the painful words of chapter 24, I feel a reminder of my relationship to all of creation. I feel the mystery of my connection to every other existent thing. In chapter 65, however, I read words of separation. Words that do not fill me with hope of restoration. The last two verses of Isaiah speak of this separation in even bolder terms:
- From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord. And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (65:23-24)