In Isaiah 13-23, the LORD turns his attention to the nations that surround Judah and Israel. The only exception is Isaiah 22 where the LORD again prophesies against the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In these chapters, the LORD addresses these nations with prophecies of judgment. Many of these prophetic oracles seem to address the immediate situations of these different people groups.
In fact, the judgments against these people groups did take place in the years that followed. Some judgments took place right away while other judgments took over 100 years to be fulfilled. For example, Jerusalem did not get destroyed until 587 BC. Some of the delay in this specific case probably had to do with the fact that Jerusalem had some righteous kings in the intervening years, who heeded the message of prophets like Isaiah. King Hezekiah is a prime example of this responsiveness to God’s word (see Isaiah 36-39).
One may conclude from these prophetic oracles that God wasn’t very merciful to the non-Jewish nations. But I think the exact opposite is true. By addressing these nations through prophets like Isaiah, the LORD was showing that He hadn’t totally written them off. He wasn’t totally ignoring them. Since they are created in God’s image just like the Jews, they had the capacity to respond in faith to God’s message. And just because the Jews were God’s covenant people, it didn’t mean that the Israelites weren’t subject to God’s judgment for unfaithfulness (see Isaiah 1-12, 22). They weren’t “better” than the other nations, that is, they weren’t more inherently righteous or superior to the surrounding pagan people groups.
Salvation and judgment always begins with God’s covenant people (Romans 1:16,17,1Peter 4:17,18) but it doesn’t end there. God desires that others will come to a saving knowledge of Him and He lets other people groups know that they will be subject to judgment if they keep ignoring and turning from Him.
In our reading today, we not only have prophetic oracles of judgment addressed to specific nations which have already been fulfilled in history, but there are also judgments prophesied for an end-time when God will once and for all deal with the problem of evil in the world (Isaiah 13:9-13; 24:1-23). Isaiah also prophesies an end-time (i.e. eschatological) final deliverance and salvation for the people of God in Isaiah 24-27.
Isaiah’s message is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, God’s judgment is very real and it has devastating consequences in the life of human beings. We are not to trifle with the LORD. Even God’s people under the Mosaic Covenant learned this lesson the hard way. But on the other hand, as God wields His sword of judgment (called “His strange work…..His alien task” in Isaiah 28:21), His ultimate goal is for people from all nations to be saved and to worship Him (Isaiah 24:14-16). This reiterates the heart of God revealed in the whole Bible. Let me close with these words from 2Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Pastor John