The 2001 Commentaries

Is Isaiah 24 speaking of Armageddon?

info All commentaries are written by volunteers, readers, or supporters of our Bible translation project. These are not official views of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.


Getting the Translating Right

If you realize that the Hebrew word הארץ and the Greek word γη can be correctly translated into three different English words, you will understand the problems with properly translating Isaiah 24, and why there are so many misunderstandings about the meaning of this Chapter. For both of the above words simply refer to the land underneath you; and whether that means the ground under your feet, the land you are living in, or to the whole globe of the earth is a decision that Bible translators have to make.
And a wrong decision can change the implied meaning quite markedly.
Also, there are differences between the Masoretic (Hebrew) and the Septuagint (Greek) texts, which we will discuss.

The Various Renderings

Take a look at verse 1, for example.
The Hebrew text reads:

‘הנה יהוה בוקק הארץ ובולקה ועוה פניה והפיץ ישביה,’
‘Look YHWH laying/waste the/(ground, land, or earth) and/devastating/her and/He/will/ruin faces/of/her and/He/will/scatter her inhabitants.’

But the Greek text says:

‘ιδου κυριος καταφθειρει την οικουμενην και ερημωσει αυτην και ανακαλυψει το προσωπον αυτης και διασπερει τους ενοικουντας εν αυτη,’
‘Look! The/Lord will/waste the/habitation and desolate/it and uncover the/face of/it and scatter those dwelling in it.’

Now, look at how The World English Bible translates this verse from the Hebrew text:
‘Behold, Yahweh makes the earth empty, makes it waste, turns it upside down, and scatters its inhabitants.’

Then compare this to the way that Young’s Literal Translation reads:

‘Lo, Jehovah is emptying the land, And is making it waste, And hath overturned it on its face, And hath scattered its inhabitants.’

And compare that to the way we have translated it from the Septuagint (Greek text):
‘{Look!} The Lord will lay waste to the place where you live
He will totally destroy it!
Yes, He will uncover its face And scatter those living within it.’

So which translation is correct…
Will Yahweh empty the whole earth?
Will Jehovah just empty the land;
Or will the Lord (Jesus) lay waste to the place where [they] live?
As you can see, the proper translation can make a huge difference in the way this prophecy is interpreted.

Yahweh, Jehovah, or the Lord?

Note that the Hebrew text says that יהוה (YHWH) is bringing the destruction.
And though YaHWeH (as The World English Bible renders it) is likely closer to the original pronunciation of God’s Name, the common spelling in English (as found in Young’s Literal Translation) is JeHoVaH.

However, notice that we rendered it as does the Septuagint, κυριος (The Lord), which is pretty atypical for us.
Why did we do that?

In our translating, we have found that the four Hebrew letters יהוה seem to have been inserted in many places after the fact and often inappropriately throughout the existing Hebrew texts, where the references are obviously to the ‘the coming Messiah,’ or to ‘the Lord’ (as the Septuagint text says). And we attribute these mistakes to the later Masoretic (Hebrew Bible) copyists. (See ‘Uses in the Hebrew Text Untrustworthy’ in the linked document, ‘Jehovah’.)

How could such mistakes have happened (if they truly are mistakes, as we have come to believe that they are)?

Well, the oldest available fragments of Hebrew Bible texts show that God’s Name, as represented by the four Hebrew letters (יהוה), was originally in many of the texts. But either the Name had been deleted in the later texts (possibly sometime in the First Century C.E. when scribes became afraid of writing the Sacred Name) and then the Masoretic scribes re-inserted it wherever they though it should be and got it wrong; Or possibly that later Hebrew copyists deliberately tried to corrupt any Bible verses that had Messianic references.

So the word may well have been changed in these verses, because much of what was recorded in Isaiah is referencing what Jesus (‘the Lord’ – κυριος) would do, not what God (יהוה – Jehovah) would do. Yet either way, we feel that it is better to use the generic term ‘the Lord,’ whenever there is any doubt (as in this case) as to whom (יהוה or κυριος) the scripture is referring.

Did He Really Say ‘Earth?’

So then, is it the whole earth that is going to be destroyed, as The World English Bible implies?
Just consider what the verse says…
If God empties the whole earth, what inhabitants will remain to be scattered?
It is obvious from the context that this probably isn’t the proper translation of the Hebrew words.

On the other hand, Young’s Literal translation makes sense when it foretells that Jehovah will empty the land and scatter its inhabitants. For that’s what really happened thereafter, because the Babylonian armies came and desolated JeruSalem and then moved the people out of their land.

Also note that that the Septuagint didn’t use the word γη (ground, land, or earth) here, but rather the word οικουμενην, which means ‘the place where they lived,’ or literally, ‘their homeland.’
And this agrees with what actually happened!

Which ‘Land’ or ‘Home’ is it Talking About?

As you can see from the meanings of the original words, it appears as though neither the Hebrew or Greek texts seem to be talking about a destruction that is to come upon the whole earth (as in Armageddon); But rather, of the destruction of the land of Judah, or possibly of all Israel, or even possibly of the land of Tyre (see the previous Chapter).
For notice why this destruction was to come, as explained in verses 4, 5:
‘Then the land’s most important will mourn
For [that place] that is thought of as lawless…
They’ll wail for the people that live there…
Those who have broken [God’s] Laws…
For they’ve wiped away and traded away,
The Sacred Agreement of the ages!

Of course, the only land that claimed to be under God’s Sacred Agreement and His Laws at the time was the land of Judah. So despite the fact that the previous Chapter was talking about the land of Tyre, the context here indicates that the prophecy concerns the land that is under the Laws of God!

Also, notice that verse 13 says:

‘Yes, all these things will come to that land,
There in the midst of the nations.’

So you can see that this prophecy isn’t about ‘the nations’ being wiped away, just the land of Judah.

The ‘Earth’ in Verses 21-23

Yet, contrary to the wording of Young’s Literal Translation, the whole earth does seem to be indicated in some of the words that follow.
For verses 21, 22 go on to say:
‘God will raise His hand in that day Against the arrangement of the heavens And against the kings of the earth.
They’ll be gathered as one congregation,
And in castle dungeons, be locked,
Where they’ll stay through many generations.’

The reason why we have concluded that γη should be translated as earth in this instance, is because it speaks of many kings, and there was just one king reigning in Judah. So these later verses could in fact be referring to the Battle of Armageddon, which is to be God’s fight against the kings of the earth.
(See Revelation 16:12-16).
Yet, notice that this battle seems to be preceded by what was described in the first verses of that Chapter, the desolating of the land of God’s Covenant people.
And thereafter, it appears as though God’s King (Jesus) begins his rule in that land.

For notice what we’re told in verse 23:
‘Then the bricks will melt and the walls will all fall;
The moon will be sad and the sun will be shamed;
For the Lord will start reigning in JeruSalem…
And before Zion’s elders, he’ll be glorified.

The ‘Faithful’ that will Remain

That some faithful would remain in that sacred land is indicated by the words found in verse 6, which says:

‘This curse will then devour [your] land,
For those who live there have sinned!
Then, only the poor will remain in the land…
Just a few men will be left.

Verse 14 says:

Those who remain in the land,
Will rejoice, to the glory of the Lord.

And going back to verse 2, notice the happy results that are foretold for those who survive:
‘And [those that remain] will then be like priests;
Servants will then become masters;
Handmaids will then become ladies;
Those that buy will be those that sell;
Those that borrow will lend,
And the debtors will be the ones that are owed.’

The Fate of ‘the Nations’

But what will happen to the rest of the people of ‘the nations?’
Well, verses 15 and 16 indicate that many of them will still be around and they’ll turn to the worship of the True God, for we read there:
‘And the glory of the Lord will be [seen]
On the islands throughout the seas…
And the Name of the Lord will be honored.
[For all the peoples will say]:
O God of IsraEl, Jehovah;
Of [Your] miracles we’ve heard, throughout the whole earth,
And there’s hope for those that respect You.

Our Conclusions

So is the prophecy at Isaiah 24 foretelling Armageddon or not?
The answer seems to be yes.
For though the prophecy starts out by foretelling the bad things that would happen to the people of JeruSalem because of their unrighteousness, it thereafter goes on to tell of many things that didn’t happen after JeruSalem’s destruction by the Babylonians or after its later destruction by the armies of Rome. Rather, it appears as though the things that happened to those ancient people of God were just a ‘type’ of greater things that will happen in the future.
And if so, then this is what we can expect:

· Those calling themselves God’s people will be attacked and carried away
· Those who attacked God’s people will themselves be destroyed (Armageddon?)
· God’s Kingdom will be restored under His ‘Lord,’ bringing indescribable blessings to His people.

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