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
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.
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.
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.
Part 1 NT Context Isaiah 13:10 in Context Isaiah 13:10 in Judaism
- 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.
Having looked at the use of Isaiah 13:10 in Matthew 24:29 in my last post, now we’ll look at what Dr. Watts has to say about Jesus’ use of Isaiah 34:4 in the same verse.
Isaiah 34:4 in Context
Isaiah 34:4 belongs to the larger section of Isaiah 28–35. In Isa 28–33, woes are brought against Assyria for their earlier attack on Jerusalem. Isa 34–35 forms a bridge between the divine judgment on the nations’ arrogance in Isa 13-23 and the new exodus return from exile which dominates the second half of the book.
Isaiah 34:1–4 summons the nations to God’s court to hear the sentence of their coming dreadful slaughter (epitomized in Edom’s fate). Verse 4 portrays the cosmic scale of that destruction through the description of heavenly disintegration as the stars rot away and the skies roll up like shrunken parchment.
The carnage moves to earth where the remainder of the oracle presents the disturbing image of Yahweh’s blood-soaked sword slaughtering Edom’s leaders and people in an unparalleled glut of sacrifice (vv. 5–7), rendering it like Sodom (vv. 9–10), an eternal pre-creation chaos (vv. 10–11, 17), depopulated and inherited only by wild animals.
As in Isaiah 13–14, this leads to a vision of Israel’s salvation where Yahweh leads his once blind, deaf, mute, and lame, but now healed people in glorious procession through a new creational blossoming desert to Zion (Isa 35).
Isaiah 34:4 in Judaism
Isa 34:4 is applied to several significant events: the replacement of the old creation with the new, the resurrection citing Hos 6:2, and the eschatological judgment of the wicked. Edom, blamed in 1 Esdras 4:45 for the burning of the Temple during the Babylonian invasion, later becomes a standard reference to Rome in some of the rabbinical literature.
Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew
The prophetic symbolism indicates the significance of the event. The cosmic language is consistent with the widely held Jewish belief that the Temple stood at the centre of creation. As early as Amos, cosmic chaos was seen to be the consequence of Israel’s not keeping Torah.
Jesus’ sharply criticized Israel’s leadership for failing to keep God’s instructions. Consistent with Jewish tradition of Isaiah 13, Jesus’ allusion would suggest that this event is of the same order as the Fall, the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, the interference with the Temple’s rebuilding, and the end of days. The world as it was is coming to an end.
What’s more shocking is that these images were normally applied to two of Israel’s enemies, Edom and Babylon, nations which epitomized idolatrous and arrogant hostility toward God. But for Jesus, Israel’s “Antiochan” (Dan 12) leadership hijacked God’s vineyard and perverted Jerusalem’s role (e.g. Isa 2:2-5; Ezek 5:5). They transformed it into an Edom-like traitor and a Babylon-like world-city which sought to challenge God’s sovereignty. Both of these nations participated in the Temple’s previous destruction, and Israel had become just like them. And so, Jerusalem itself comes under a similar judgment.
However, in both instances God’s judgment was closely connected with Israel’s new exodus redemption. Isaiah 13–14 anticipates the inclusion of aliens (14:1; cf. Isa 56:7 in Matt 21:13). Isa 34–35’s combination of vineyard imagery and the return in Yahweh’s train of the newly healed blind one’s to Zion is echoed in Jesus’ vineyard parable (Matt 21:33-46) and the healing of the blind (20:29–34; 21:14).
By seeking to resist God’s work in Jesus and by betraying him to the Romans, the hostile Jerusalem has joined the arrogant and idolatrous cities of the world.
Since God’s character is unchanging, Jerusalem’s fate will be no different from all other idolatrous, tyrannical cities. Its demise marks God’s eschatological cosmic intervention against “the earth” and the beginning of the new creation with a newly restored temple-people with whom he will dwell constituting its new center.
Clearly there’s a lot going on here, but as we can see, Jesus knew his Bible, and while Israel had the Old Testament, many of them clearly did not know it well enough to be changed by it. Because of their desire for their own righteousness apart from Christ’s, and because of their desire to put to death God’s own Son, which they succeeded in, Jesus declares that they will be left desolate. And they were. Rome came in and sacked them. These were real people, with real families, real schools, and real economies. And they lost it all because they rejected the Christ, the Son of God.