Jehovah Pours Out Indignation Upon the Nations
1, 2. (a) Regarding Jehovah’s vengeance, of what can we be certain? (b) What does God accomplish by executing vengeance?
JEHOVAH GOD is patient not only with his faithful servants but also, when his purpose warrants it, with his enemies. (1 Peter 3:19, 20; 2 Peter 3:15) Jehovah’s adversaries may not appreciate his patience and may view it as an inability or an unwillingness to act. Still, as the 34th chapter of Isaiah shows, in the end Jehovah always demands an accounting from his enemies. (Zephaniah 3:8) For a while, God permitted Edom and other nations to oppose his people without hindrance. But Jehovah had his own due time for retribution. (Deuteronomy 32:35) Similarly, in his appointed time, Jehovah will express his vengeance upon all elements of the present wicked world that defy his sovereignty.
2 The primary purpose of God’s executing vengeance is to demonstrate his sovereignty and glorify his name. (Psalm 83:13-18) His retribution also vindicates his servants as being truly his representatives and delivers them from undesirable circumstances. Moreover, Jehovah’s vengeance is always in full harmony with his justice.—Psalm 58:10, 11.
Pay Attention, You Nations
3. What invitation does Jehovah through Isaiah extend to the nations?
3 Before focusing attention on retribution against Edom, Jehovah through Isaiah extends a solemn invitation to all nations: “Come up close, you nations, to hear; and you national groups, pay attention. Let the earth and that which fills it listen, the productive land and all its produce.” (Isaiah 34:1) The prophet has repeatedly spoken against ungodly nations. Now he is about to summarize the divine denunciations against them. Do these warnings have any meaning for our day?
4. (a) What are the nations called upon to do, as recorded at Isaiah 34:1? (b) Does Jehovah’s expression of judgment on the nations prove that he is a cruel God? (See box on page 363.)
4 Yes. The Sovereign of the universe has a controversy with all segments of this ungodly system of things. That is why the “national groups” and “the earth” are called upon to hear the Bible-based message that Jehovah has caused to be proclaimed worldwide. In language reminiscent of Psalm 24:1, Isaiah says that all the earth will be covered with this message—a prophecy that has come true in our time, when Jehovah’s Witnesses preach “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The nations, however, have not listened. They have not taken seriously the warning about their forthcoming demise. This, of course, will not prevent Jehovah from fulfilling his word.
5, 6. (a) For what are the nations called to account by God? (b) How is it true that “the mountains must melt because of their blood”?
5 The prophecy now describes the dark outlook for ungodly nations—a complete contrast to the bright hope of God’s people that is described later. (Isaiah 35:1-10) The prophet states: “Jehovah has indignation against all the nations, and rage against all their army. He must devote them to destruction; he must give them to the slaughter. And their slain ones will be thrown out; and as for their carcasses, their stink will ascend; and the mountains must melt because of their blood.”—Isaiah 34:2, 3.
6 Attention is drawn to the bloodguilt of the nations. Today the nations of Christendom have the most bloodguilt of all. In two world wars and in many smaller conflicts, they have soaked the earth with human blood. Who should rightly demand justice for all this bloodguilt? None other than the Creator, the great Life-Giver. (Psalm 36:9) Jehovah’s law has set the standard: “You must give soul for soul.” (Exodus 21:23-25; Genesis 9:4-6) True to this law, he will cause the blood of the nations to flow—to their death. The stench of their unburied, dead bodies will fill the air—a truly shameful death! (Jeremiah 25:33) The blood asked back in repayment will be enough to melt, or dissolve, as it were, the mountains. (Zephaniah 1:17) With the complete destruction of their military forces, the worldly nations will see the fall of their governments, which in Bible prophecy are sometimes pictured as mountains.—Daniel 2:35, 44, 45; Revelation 17:9.
7. What are “the heavens,” and what is “the army of the heavens”?
7 Again employing vivid imagery, Isaiah goes on to say: “All those of the army of the heavens must rot away. And the heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll; and their army will all shrivel away, just as the leafage shrivels off the vine and like a shriveled fig off the fig tree.” (Isaiah 34:4) The expression “all those of the army of the heavens” does not mean the literal stars and planets. Isa 34 Verses 5 and 6 speak of a sword of execution being drenched with blood in those “heavens.” Hence, this must be a symbol of something in the human realm. (1 Corinthians 15:50) Because of their loftiness as superior authorities, the governments of mankind are likened to heavens ruling over earthly human society. (Romans 13:1-4) So “the army of the heavens” represents the combined armies of these governments of mankind.
8. How do the symbolic heavens prove to be “just like a book scroll,” and what happens to their ‘armies’?
8 This “army” will “rot away,” molder, like something perishable. (Psalm 102:26; Isaiah 51:6) To the naked eye, the literal heavens above us appear curved, like an ancient book scroll, the writing of which was generally on the inner side. When the material written on the inner side of a scroll has passed before the eyes of the reader, the finished scroll is rolled up and put away. Similarly, “the heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll,” in that human governments must come to their end. Reaching the final page of their history, they must be brought to their finish at Armageddon. Their impressive-looking ‘armies’ will fall just as withered leaves fall off a grapevine or “a shriveled fig” drops off a fig tree. Their time will be past.—Compare Revelation 6:12-14.
A Day of Retribution
9. (a) What is the origin of Edom, and what relationship developed between Israel and Edom? (b) What does Jehovah decree concerning Edom?
9 Now the prophecy singles out a nation that exists in Isaiah’s day—Edom. The Edomites are descendants of Esau (Edom), who sold his birthright to his twin brother, Jacob, for bread and lentil stew. (Genesis 25:24-34) Because Jacob supplanted him in the birthright, Esau became filled with hatred for his brother. Later the nation of Edom and the nation of Israel became enemies, even though they descended from twin brothers. For this hostility against God’s people, Edom has incurred the wrath of Jehovah, who now says: “In the heavens my sword will certainly be drenched. Look! Upon Edom it will descend, and upon the people devoted by me to destruction in justice. Jehovah has a sword; it must be filled with blood; it must be made greasy with the fat, with the blood of young rams and he-goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams. For Jehovah has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughtering in the land of Edom.”—Isaiah 34:5, 6.
10. (a) Whom does Jehovah bring down when he wields his sword “in the heavens”? (b) What attitude does Edom display when Judah is attacked by Babylon?
10 Edom occupies a high, mountainous region. (Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 8, 9, 19, 21) Nevertheless, even these natural fortifications will be of no help when Jehovah wields his sword of judgment “in the heavens,” abasing Edom’s rulers from their elevated position. Edom is heavily militarized, and its armed forces march through high mountain ranges to safeguard the country. But powerful Edom furnishes no assistance when Judah is attacked by the armies of Babylon. Rather, Edom is overjoyed to see the tumbling of the kingdom of Judah and urges her conquerors on. (Psalm 137:7) Edom even chases down Jews running for their lives and hands them over to the Babylonians. (Obadiah 11-14) The Edomites plan to take over the abandoned country of the Israelites, and they speak boastfully against Jehovah.—Ezekiel 35:10-15.
11. How will Jehovah repay the Edomites for their treacherous conduct?
11 Does Jehovah overlook this unbrotherly conduct on the part of the Edomites? No. Rather, he foretells of Edom: “The wild bulls must come down with them, and young bulls with the powerful ones; and their land must be drenched with blood, and their very dust will be made greasy with the fat.” (Isaiah 34:7) Jehovah speaks of the greater ones and the lesser ones in the nation as symbolic wild bulls and young bulls, as young rams and he-goats. The land of this bloodguilty nation must be drenched with the people’s own blood by means of the executional “sword” of Jehovah.
12. (a) Whom does Jehovah use to bring punishment upon Edom? (b) What does the prophet Obadiah foretell regarding Edom?
12 God purposes to punish Edom for what has maliciously been done to His earthly organization, called Zion. Says the prophecy: “Jehovah has a day of vengeance, a year of retributions for the legal case over Zion.” (Isaiah 34:8) Not long after the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., Jehovah begins to express his righteous vengeance upon the Edomites by means of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. (Jeremiah 25:15-17, 21) When Babylon’s armies move against Edom, nothing can save the Edomites! It is “a year of retributions” upon that mountainous land. Jehovah foretells through the prophet Obadiah: “Because of the violence to your brother Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will have to be cut off to time indefinite. . . . In the way that you have done, it will be done to you. Your sort of treatment will return upon your own head.”—Obadiah 10, 15; Ezekiel 25:12-14.
Christendom’s Bleak Future
13. Who today is like Edom, and why?
13 In modern times, there exists an organization with a record like that of Edom. What organization? Well, who in modern times has taken the lead in reviling and persecuting Jehovah’s servants? Has it not been Christendom, through its clergy class? Yes! Christendom has elevated herself to mountainlike heights in the affairs of this world. She claims a lofty position in mankind’s system of things, and her religions form the dominant part of Babylon the Great. But Jehovah has decreed “a year of retributions” against this modern-day Edom for outrageous misconduct toward His people, His Witnesses.
14, 15. (a) What will happen both to the land of Edom and to Christendom? (b) What do the references to burning pitch and indefinitely lasting smoke mean, and what do they not mean?
14 Therefore, as we consider the rest of this part of Isaiah’s prophecy, we think not only of ancient Edom but also of Christendom: “Her torrents must be changed into pitch, and her dust into sulphur; and her land must become as burning pitch. By night or by day it will not be extinguished; to time indefinite its smoke will keep ascending.” (Isaiah 34:9, 10a) The land of Edom becomes so parched that it is as if the dust were sulfur and the torrent valleys were filled, not with water, but with pitch. Then these highly combustible substances are set afire!—Compare Revelation 17:16.
15 Some have viewed the mention of fire, pitch, and sulfur as evidence of the existence of a burning hell. But Edom is not hurled into some mythical hellfire to burn forever. Rather, it is destroyed, disappearing from the world scene as if totally consumed with fire and sulfur. As the prophecy goes on to show, the final result is, not everlasting torment, but “emptiness . . . wasteness . . . nothing.” (Isaiah 34:11, 12) The smoke ‘ascending to time indefinite’ vividly illustrates this. When a house burns down, smoke keeps coming from the ashes for some time after the flames have died down, providing onlookers with evidence that there has been a conflagration. Since Christians today are learning lessons from the destruction of Edom, the smoke of Edom’s burning is still, in a sense, ascending.
16, 17. What will Edom become, and how long will it continue in such a state?
16 Isaiah’s prophecy continues, foretelling that Edom’s human population will be replaced by wild animals, implying a coming desolation: “From generation to generation she will be parched; forever and ever no one will be passing across her. And the pelican and the porcupine must take possession of her, and long-eared owls and ravens themselves will reside in her; and he must stretch out over her the measuring line of emptiness and the stones of wasteness. Her nobles—there are none there whom they will call to the kingship itself, and her very princes will all become nothing. On her dwelling towers thorns must come up, nettles and thorny weeds in her fortified places; and she must become an abiding place of jackals, the courtyard for the ostriches. And haunters of waterless regions must meet up with howling animals, and even the goat-shaped demon will call to its companion. Yes, there the nightjar will certainly take its ease and find for itself a resting-place. There the arrow snake has made its nest and lays eggs.”—Isaiah 34:10b-15.*
17 Yes, Edom will become an empty land. It will become a wasteland with only wild beasts, birds, and snakes in it. This parched state of the land will continue, as Isa 34 verse 10 says, “forever and ever.” There will be no restoration.—Obadiah 18.
Sure Fulfillment of Jehovah’s Word
18, 19. What is “the book of Jehovah,” and what is reserved for Christendom in this “book”?
18 What a hopeless future this foreshadows for that modern-day equivalent of Edom, Christendom! She has proved herself to be a bitter enemy of Jehovah God, whose Witnesses she viciously persecutes. And there is no doubt that Jehovah will fulfill his word. Whenever anyone compares the prophecy with the fulfillment, the two will be found to coincide—just as surely as the creatures that inhabit the desolated Edom each ‘have their own mate.’ Isaiah addresses future students of Bible prophecy, saying: “Search for yourselves in the book of Jehovah and read out loud: not one has been missing of them; they actually do not fail to have each one her mate, for it is the mouth of Jehovah that has given the command, and it is his spirit that has collected them together. And it is He that has cast for them the lot, and his own hand has apportioned the place to them by the measuring line. To time indefinite they will take possession of it; for generation after generation they will reside in it.”—Isaiah 34:16, 17.
19 The impending destruction of Christendom has been foretold in “the book of Jehovah.” This “book of Jehovah” details the accounts that Jehovah will settle with those who are his implacable enemies and who are unrepentant oppressors of his people. What was written concerning ancient Edom came true, and this strengthens our confidence that the prophecy as applying to Christendom, the modern-day parallel of Edom, will likewise come true. “The measuring line,” Jehovah’s rule of action, guarantees that this spiritually moribund organization will become a desolate wasteland.
20. Like ancient Edom, Christendom will experience what?
20 Christendom does all she can to pacify her political friends, but to no avail! According to Revelation chapters 17 and 18, Almighty God, Jehovah, will put it into their hearts to act against all of Babylon the Great, including Christendom. This will rid the whole earth of fake Christianity. Christendom’s situation will become like the bleak condition described in Isaiah chapter 34. She will not even be on hand during the all-decisive “war of the great day of God the Almighty”! (Revelation 16:14) Like ancient Edom, Christendom will be totally cleared from the surface of the earth, “forever and ever.”
By Malachi’s time, this prophecy had been fulfilled. (Malachi 1:3) Malachi reports that Edomites hoped to repossess their desolated land. (Malachi 1:4) However, this was not Jehovah’s will, and later another people, the Nabataeans, took possession of what had been the land of Edom.
[Box on page 363]
An Angry God?
Expressions such as those found at Isaiah 34:2-7 have moved many to think that Jehovah, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a cruel, wrathful God. Is that so?
No. While God does at times express his anger, such anger is always justified. It is always based on principle, not on uncontrolled emotion. Moreover, it is always dictated by the Creator’s right to receive exclusive devotion and his constancy in upholding truth. Divine anger is governed both by God’s love of righteousness and by his love for those practicing righteousness. Jehovah sees all the issues involved in a matter and has complete, unlimited knowledge of a situation. (Hebrews 4:13) He reads the heart; he notes the degree of ignorance, negligence, or willful sin; and he acts with impartiality.—Deuteronomy 10:17, 18; 1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 10:34, 35.
However, Jehovah God is “slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Exodus 34:6) Those who fear him and strive to work righteousness receive mercy, for the Almighty recognizes man’s inherited imperfection and shows mercy to him on this account. Today God does this on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice. (Psalm 103:13, 14) At the proper time, Jehovah’s anger is removed from those who acknowledge their sin, repent, and truly serve him. (Isaiah 12:1) Fundamentally, Jehovah is not an angry God but a happy God, not unapproachable but welcoming, peaceable, and calm toward those who properly approach him. (1 Timothy 1:11) This is in sharp contrast to the merciless, cruel characteristics ascribed to the false gods of the pagans and portrayed in images of those gods.
[Map on page 362]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Sea of Galilee
[Pictures on page 359]
Christendom has soaked the earth with blood
[Picture on page 360]
“The heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll”