When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations, Part 1

“The Day of the Lord” by George Martin

I’ve been listening to more of Rikk Watts’ lectures, this time on the NT use of the OT. Here he argues that the main connection between the two testaments (or “covenants”) is God’s faithful character. Before I put out my review, I wanted to write up a summary of one of the texts he looks at in his lectures. This is on the use of Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew 24:29. I will be splitting this into two parts, with Isaiah 34.4 being examined next time.

The Use of Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew 24:29

Isaiah 13:10

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

Isaiah 34:4

All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.

Matthew 24:29

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Outline

Part 1

  • NT Context
  • Isaiah 13:10 in Context
  • Isaiah 13:10 in Judaism

Part 2

  • Isaiah 34:4 in Context
  • Isaiah 34:4 in Judaism
  • Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew 24:29
  • Theological Use

It should be noted that I have summarized Watts’ words and have at points touched up the grammar (since these are notes were for class use). Rather than giving endless quotation marks, just know that this is all from Watts, and if something doesn’t make sense, that blame rests on me.

NT Context: Matthew’s Structure

According to Watts, Matthew is a combination of elements of Mark’s telling of Isaiah’s new exodus in Christ (mighty deeds, opposition, journey, Jerusalem) and additions which Matthew uses to tell his own (equally true) story.

  • Opening Genealogy and “Birth” Narrative (ch. 1–2)
  • Sermon of the Mount: Blessings (chs. 5–7)
    • Mission (ch. 10)
      • Parables and Division (ch. 13) 
    • The Congregation (ch. 18)
  • Teaching in the Temple and Beyond : Curses (chs. 23–25)
    ww[see my post on chiasms]

Matthew 24:29 lies within a final block of curses and warnings At the end of the curses in Matthew 23, Jesus declares:

  • Behold, your house is left to you desolate” (v. 38).
  • “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (v. 39; cf. 21:9, 14–17).

In Matthew 24 Jesus gives the “Olivet discourse” and tells about Jerusalem’s destruction. After the disciples ask Jesus a question about the temple and about his return, Jesus responds by warning against deceivers and false signs (vv. 4–8) and exhorting them to stand firm in proclaiming the gospel (vv. 9–14) and to watch for the sign of the abomination of desolation (vv. 15–28). Jesus proclaims Jerusalem’s destruction and the coming of the Son of Man (vv. 29–31), gives a lesson for “this generation” from the fig tree (vv. 32–35), and exhorts the disciples to be watchful because the exact time of his return is unknown (vv. 36–44).

When Jesus comes to the destruction of the Temple, he weaves multiple allusions from Israel’s Scriptures (e.g. Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 8:9). The critical allusions are from Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 (in the LXX).

Isaiah 13:10 in Context

Oracles Concerning the Nations

Isaiah 13:10 belongs to collection of “oracles concerning the nations.” These oracles “are meant to explain to Israel the meaning of various events as evidence of Yahweh’s sovereign control over world affairs and . . . human pretensions.” Isaiah 13:1–14:32 provides the lens for the remaining oracles and is made up of two large units:

  1. the destruction of Babylon presented as the pretentious world city (13:2–22)
  2. a dirge sung over Babylon’s king (14:4b–21).

Isaiah 13

In Isaiah 13:2–5, Yahweh, the Divine Warrior, summons his terrifying war host whom he “consecrated” to execute his anger and to devastate all the earth. “In a following lament, Isaiah describes the eschatological “day of the Lord” as God comes to desolate the earth and destroy sinners from it (v. 9b). The prideful will be laid low, and the judgment will be so severe that humanity will barely survive (v. 12).

The theological significance is expressed through the metaphors of cosmic disorder: Earthquakes, shaken heavens (v. 13), and, in a reversal of Genesis 1:14–18, the sun, moon, and stars, which normally mark the seasons, will be dimmed. This disorder testifies to the extent of Babylon’s wickedness and the depth of Yahweh’s indignation.

As a result of the destruction of Babylon and its king, Israel will be restored from exile and foreigners will be included among its people (14:1; cf. Isa 56–66).

Isaiah 13:10 in Judaism

Isaiah 13:10 is applied to several significant events. The exodus and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, the Fall and Adam’s loss of status, the day the rebuilding of the temple was hindered, and end of the age.

The principle is that because God’s word underlies the good order of creation and its times and seasons (Gen 1; Jer 33:25–26) the withdrawal of that order, expressed in part through the cessation of the heavenly lights, is God’s judgment on idolatrous nations (Isa 24:23; Ezek 30:3–4, 18; Joel 3:15) and Israel (Isa 5:25, 30; Jer 4.23–28; Joel 2:10) . . . often in contexts where God uses one nation to carry out his judgment on another (Isa 13.10–13; 34:4; Hab 3:6–11).”

This means that, according to Judaism, the sun and moon fail as a result of God’s judgment of humanity. Torah was God’s agent at creation and sustains it, and creation was made for Israel. Israel’s failure to keep Torah results in the failure of the lights of heaven, and, to them, eclipses were bad omens which prefigured suffering. Israel holds a unique status, and her destruction by the nations would lead to the dissolution of the heavens and earth.

Conclusion

If Israel’s destruction “by the nations would lead to the dissolution of the heavens and earth” back then, then her destruction by Rome will “lead to the dissolution of the heavens and earth” in the future, only now, like Babylon, Jerusalem has become “the pretentious world city” (13:2–22).

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