God’s wrath is an awesome and scary thing. These chapters are pure judgment, and no one can escape it. This is one of many reasons that Christians need to be familiar with, indeed steeped in, the Old Testament. Without the OT, the cross makes no sense. But God’s wrath poured out on his Son for his people is only part of the story. Sin must be paid for, and for those not in Christ, there will be judgment. I think these chapters speak to this final judgment, as well as to the judgment against the nations that are the enemy of Israel. Likely speaking of both, Isaiah says gives us the ultimate reason for God’s judgment in chapter 23:
9 The Lord Almighty planned it,
to bring low the pride of all glory
and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
The bottom line is that the Living God will never allow anybody else to “be like God,” Satan’s lie to all of fallen humanity. In our hubris we think we can take God’s place, as absurd as that is, and we try to do this in myriad ways that show just how pathetic we are. Yet God prompts his people to humble themselves, so he will not have to humble them. Only his people, on those he has chosen to have mercy, to those on whom he has bestowed saving grace, glory in him alone. We lay our pride at the foot of the cross.
But these verses that begin chapter 24 tell us what’s in store for those who take pride in their own glory:
See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth
and devastate it;
he will ruin its face
and scatter its inhabitants—
2 it will be the same
for priest as for people,
for the master as for his servant,
for the mistress as for her servant,
for seller as for buyer,
for borrower as for lender,
for debtor as for creditor.
3 The earth will be completely laid waste
and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
4 The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers,
the heavens languish with the earth.
5 The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
and very few are left.
The wages of sin . . . . must be paid. Sin is serious business. Many people in our day would read these chapters and think, surely this is overkill. Can’t God just overlook sin and wrongdoing? Well, no more than we can. When we are wronged, we feel very strongly that a price must be paid. When the state is wrong, a price must be paid. Justice, and the longing and need for it, is woven throughout human existence. Why would we think it any different with the God from whom justice gets its ultimate meaning.
As the rest of the chapter explains, there is rebellion, which brings guilt, which brings punishment. In the end, “the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem.” We know now that this points forward to the cross, that the Lord will reign through a redemption that he will secure, and as the last word in the chapter says, “gloriously.” In that day, there will be no doubt, every knee will bow, and as Paul says in Philippians 2, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. Amen!