“No Way Out”

We shall consider this remarkable prophecy, consistent as it is with all that the prophets have spoken, verse by verse and phrase by phrase.

24:16–23 Worldwide Chaos and Judgment Gives Place to the Manifestation of Christ and the Saints in Jerusalem

Verse 16 (continued) But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! [RoTH ‘But I had said – Ruin to me! Ruin to me! Woe to me!’] The treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously” [ROTH ‘Traitors have betrayed, yea traitorously have traitors betrayed’]

In the last half of verse 16 there is a personal statement made by the prophet Isaiah himself in response to the staggering matters revealed to him. There are other examples of him being caught up in the revelations being made to him that show his commitment and involvement in the purpose of God, of which he was a medium. He is humbled when confronted with the seraphic vision and once cleansed, expressed his willingness to be sent as an emissary of the King, Yahweh of Hosts, and to bear His message (6:5–8); later in this prophecy he expresses desire for Yahweh’s intervention to stem the rising tide of wickedness (26:7–9); and in defending Yahweh’s power to prophesy future events, Isaiah gives his own personal testimony: “… and now the Lord Yahweh, and his Spirit, hath sent me” (48:16).

Isaiah is deeply moved, even despairing of life (“Woe is me!”) as a result of hearing the extent of the ruin to come upon the kingdom of men. For such fearful judgments to be ‘justified’ the sin of men is great. This is emphasized by his repeated statement, “the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously”. “The word implying treachery is repeated no less than five times in various forms in this single clause, and shows how strongly the idea had taken possession of the prophet’s mind” (Barnes, Isaiah).

Men will have brought this ruin upon themselves as a result of turning away from and ignoring their Creator and His Holy Word (refer verses 5,6). Rather than having taken hold of His gracious invitation in the gospel of salvation, they have spurned Him and “done despite unto the spirit of grace”. Yahweh the mighty Creator, though gracious and longsuffering, will not ultimately disregard such blatant defiance, but will move to vindicate His Holy Name. Oh that that day might soon come!

Verses 17 and 18 Fear, and the pit, and the snare are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake” These two verses portray the most fearful fate imaginable, the utter despair, and hopelessness of the inhabitants of the earth when the judgments of God are poured out. They constitute a grave warning to us, His saints, not to become caught up in the affairs of this world lest that day find us also unprepared.

The words of verse 18 are quoted by the Lord in his prophecy on the Mount of Olives: “For as a snare shall it come [that day] on all them that dwell upon the face of the earth” (Luke 21:35). He has already mentioned the fear gripping the hearts of men when his judgments are poured out, namely, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (v26). These cross-references and others key the interpretation of the time period of the prophecy to the second advent of Christ (v27).

Notice that the words of verse 17 are also used of the destruction to come on Moab (Jer 48:43).

The sense of verses 17 and 18 is that no place was safe and that if one danger was escaped they were immediately confronted by another more dreaded than the one which preceded it.

The description is in part taken from the mode in which wild animals were hunted and captured. First of all there were the shouts of the hunters used to frighten them and drive them towards the pitfall, or hole in the ground, prepared for them where they might fall unawares.

The word for “snare” signifies a net or gin. Some wild beasts driven into the pitfall might spring out in an attempt to escape, only to be caught in a snare prepared for just such an eventuality. So Isaiah’s words show that though few might escape the initial calamities, they would have no security.

The last two of the five stages are not drawn from the figure of hunting, and they show there will be no way of escape for “the inhabitant of the earth” when the judgments of God are unleashed. The picture is of men running from fear, falling into a pit, and emerging therefrom only to be trapped in a snare. The victim then looks toward heaven for escape and relief, only to find that the “windows from on high are open”. This phrase is intriguing and drawn from a significant context, the description of the Flood in Noah’s day (Gen 7:11). The word for “windows” is the same and denotes “flood gates” (mrg Gen 7:11) “grate, lattice, window”. It is used of a tempest or deluge, because when the rain descends it seems like the opening of sluices or floodgates in the sky! The calamities to come will resemble the universal deluge, only we know that there will not be another flood to wipe out the inhabitants of the earth as there was in Noah’s day (Isa 54:9).

The last of the perils spells out the ultimate fate. Finding no respite from heaven, the snared “inhabitant of the earth” looks in the only other direction—to earth, only to find that the “foundations of the earth do shake”. The great earthquake (see notes on verse 1) will “shake all nations”, thereby humbling the overweening arrogance of man in preparation for the establishment of the Kingdom of God (Isa 2:10–22; Hag 2:6,7).

Verses 19 and 20

“The earth is utterly broken down,

the earth is clean dissolved

the earth is moved exceedingly.

The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard,

and shall be removed [Rsv sways] like a cottage [Rsv hut];

and the transgression thereof shall be [Rsv lies] heavy upon it;

and it shall fall and not rise again.”

The description of verse 19 is of the effect of a mighty earthquake where everything is thrown into commotion and ruin. “Everything in this verse is intense and emphatic. The verbs are in the strongest form of emphasis: ‘By breaking, the land is broken’; ‘by scattering the land is scattered’; ‘by commotion, the land is moved’. The repetition also of the expression in the same sense three times is a strong form of emphasis; and the whole passage is designed to denote utter desolation and ruin …” (Barnes, Isaiah).

No Way of Escape

In verse 19 there is again a highly significant connection with Jesus’ words in the Olivet Prophecy. In his well-known words of warning he says: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon [cp Isa 24:23], and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity…” The Greek word translated “moved exceedingly” is aporethesetai in the Septuagint version where it is translated “completely perplexed”. Let us not fail to heed the warning in these salient words.

Verse 20 further describes the agitation that follows in the wake of an earthquake: trees, buildings, towers sway, totter and collapse in the mighty concussion.

The figure of the staggering drunkard is used to convey the coming disaster. There another simile is added: “The earth… shall be removed [Heb nod, Rsv sways] like a cottage [Rsv hut]”. The word for “cottage” signifies a temporary shed or lodge. Sometimes they were a hanging bed, like a hammock, other times they were erected like a hut. They provided temporary shelter and protection for watchmen or garden workers (Isa 1:8).

Reason for such devastating judgments is again brought to the fore in the final words of verse 20: “and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it”. What a graphic picture this is! Like a huge weight in a flimsy hut, which it cannot support, and when moved by an earthquake falls and crushes it, so will the sins of the world bring upon it destruction.

Verses 21–24 “And it shall come to pass in that day, that Yahweh shall punish the host of the high ones [cp v4] that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited [mrg found wanting, Rsv and RoTH punished].

“Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when [Rsv for, RoTH because] Yahweh of Hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients [Rsv and RoTH elders] gloriously”.

These more literal words provide an interpretation for the metaphors, etc, which have gone before. The prophet has been graphically describing what will happen when Christ intervenes in human affairs. There are numerous descriptions elsewhere in Scripture (eg Isa 26:13,14; Dan 2:44; Rev 11:15–18; 2 Thess 1:7–10; 2:8; Psalm 2).

The result of these judgments will be the removal of human governments, institutions, religious systems, all of which are contrary to God’s will, purpose and principles. The only way for God’s Kingdom to be established is to radically remove all human rule, principality and power. The righteous rule of Christ and the saints will supersede the blighted rule of men and bring peace and blessedness to all mankind.

Isaiah 2:12–22 corroborates and elaborates the details of verse 21.

In verse 22 the rulers, both political and religious, who have exploited and oppressed their fellows will be called to account and found wanting. After many days they shall be visited(mrg found wanting).

The Rsv and Rotherham translate “visited” as “punished”. The word used here can be used in a good or bad sense, to visit with a view to reviewing, numbering or aiding, or for the purpose of punishing. The context here makes it clear that the latter is the intended meaning. This is its most common usage in Scripture (cp Job 31:14; 35:15; Isa 26:14; 1 Sam 15:2; Jer 9:25 mrg).

Verse 23 is a notable verse summarising the outcome of the coming Divine judgments on the earth. The old systems of men will be eclipsed and give way to the rule of Christ, Yahweh’s anointed, and the saints upon Mount Zion, the throne of David (Luke 1:30–33). The beneficent result of this transformation is given in the following chapters (cp 25:6–9; 26:1–3). Surely he shall reign in Jerusalem before his ancients gloriously.

The old systems shall be put to shame. The “sun” represents the political systems, and the “moon”, the religious. They shall be exposed and destroyed. Jesus alludes to this in his Olivet prophecy: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon and in the stars” (see also Joel 2:10, 31; 3:16; Isa 34:1–6).

Rotherham translates the opening lines of verse 23 thus,

“Then shall blush the silvery moon,

then turn pale the glowing sun”.

The reason for their shame is then given,

“because Yahweh of hosts hath become king In Mount Zion

And in Jerusalem

And before his Elders in glory”.

The righteous reign of Christ will change everything and expose the misrule and corruption of the old human governments and religious systems. Man will seek Yahweh in Jerusalem and desire to learn of His ways (2:2–4), and renounce their old superstitions (Jer 16:19).

Christ and His Elders

Verse 23 paints a glorious picture of Christ ruling in Jerusalem in glory before his ancients (MLB, Rsv, RoTH “elders”). In the LXX the Greek word for “elders” is presbuteroi. These are the immortalised saints who will reign with him as kings and priests (Matt 19:28; Rev 2:26,7; 3:21; 4:4; 14:1; 5:9,10; 20:4). The picture here is identical to that of Revelation 4 where round about Christ’s throne twenty four elders are sitting in white garments ascribing glory to him. Significantly the word translated “elders” here (presbuteroi) is the same as in the lxx of Isaiah 24:23. May all who read these things number amongst this glorious host and live to see and help institute the reforms of Christ’s coming rule.

This chart illustrates the extent that the words of Isaiah 24 were in the Lord’s mind when he foretold events to take place at his second coming.

Allusions to Isaiah 24 in the Olivet Prophecy
Isaiah 24Luke 21
v23 “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed ...”v25 “And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon, ...”
v19 “The earth shall be moved exceedingly” (lxx aporethesetai “completely perplexed”)v25 “And upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity...” (Grk aporia)
v20 “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard ... and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it”v34 “And take heed ... lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with ... drunkenness” (be weighed down with a burden)
v17 “Fear and the pit ...”v26 “Mens hearts failing them for fear”
v17 “... and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth”.v35 “For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth”