NT Eschatology—Background Part 02
Prophecy is of the nature of poetry, and depicts events, not in the prosaic style of the historian, but in the glowing imagery of the poet.
J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia, pg. 81.
Last time we took a brief look at poetic language and how it’s used. We saw how celestial images can be used for terrestrial authorities. With that in mind, we now turn our attention to some prophetic passages.1
Isaiah 13.9-13 (adapted): Look, the day of Yahweh is coming with cruel rage and burning anger, making the earth a ruin, and wiping out its sinners. Heaven’s stars and constellations won’t show their light. The sun will be dark when it rises; the moon will no longer shine.
I will bring disaster upon the world for its evil, and bring their own sin upon the wicked. I will end the pride of the insolent, and the conceit of tyrants I will lay low. I will make humans scarcer than fine gold; people rarer than the gold of Ophir. I will rattle the heavens; the earth will shake loose from its place—because of the rage of Yahweh of heavenly forces on the day his anger burns.
Some of this language should be familiar to us. It is peppered throughout the New Testament. Specifically, notice that this passage talks about the “day of Yahweh” (or “the LORD”), the desolation of the earth; the heavenly luminaries are darkened; the “world,” “sinners,” and the “wicked” will be punished for sin; the heavens will be “rattle[d]” and the earth will be “loose[d]” from its place. All of this sounds like something we might read in the book of Revelation. And we do read some of it. However, the first part of this passage might not be as familiar.
Isaiah 13.1-3 (NLT; adapted):2 Isaiah son of Amoz received this message concerning the destruction of Babylon:
“Raise a signal flag on a bare hilltop. Call up an army against Babylon. Wave your hand to encourage them as they march into the palaces of the high and mighty. I, Yahweh, have dedicated these soldiers for this task. Yes, I have called mighty warriors to express my anger, and they will rejoice when I am exalted.”
As we can see, this was a prophecy “concerning the destruction of Babylon.” Babylon fell to Persia in 539 BCE. There’s nothing within history that even remotely comes close to what’s described here. There were no cataclysmic events of the magnitude described in verses 9-13. In other words, the language used here is not about the destruction of this planet and cosmos. It’s poetic language depicting the fall of Babylonian Empire.
Micah 1.3-4 (adapted): Look! Yahweh is coming! He leaves his throne in heaven and tramples the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath his feet and flow into the valleys like wax in a fire, like water pouring down a hill.
Here we see Yahweh “coming” from “heaven” and trampling the “heights of the earth.” It appears that this “coming” depicts some kind of thermonuclear scenario as the “mountains melt” and “flow...like wax in a fire” or “water pouring down a hill.” The astonishing thing is that this is a prediction of the fall of Samaria and Jerusalem!
Micah 1.1, 5 (adapted): Yahweh’s word that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Judah’s Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem...All this is for the crime of Jacob and the sins of the house of Israel. Who is responsible for the crime of Jacob? Isn’t it Samaria? Who is responsible for the shrines of Judah? Isn’t it Jerusalem?
Once more, we see that while this passage depicts “global destruction” it’s really poetic language telling us about the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
Something for us to remember is the destruction of these cities or countries would amount to a global crisis for their inhabitants. In their minds, the universe would seem to be completely destroyed. Let’s not belittle that fact. The pain and suffering of losing one’s home or community or county would be thoroughly devastating. The death of loved ones and the dehumanization of being enslaved by the invading armies would be the “end of the world” for many of us. I don’t think the poetic language used is all that over the top.
Furthermore, we use similar language today. “My world is crashing down around me!” someone might exclaim. She doesn’t mean that the very fabric of the cosmos is unraveling, but that there are some big problems in her own life, her own “world.” The same is being said in these prophetic passages. While the destruction of those cities and countries may not have “literally” taken place in the way they were depicted, nevertheless they were “literally” destroyed. Their judgment was this worldly and not other worldly. In other words, these poetic images were about things that would take place within history in the “natural” realm, not at the end of history or in the “spiritual” realm.
That’s all for now. Next time we’ll look at one of the most misunderstood elements of eschatology—time! Click here for the next post in this series.
In the Love of the The in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. It should be noted that, while we may not particularly like to think of God as a being with “cruel rage” or “burning anger,” that’s the way the people who wrote the Bible saw God. When things happened that we might call a “natural disaster,” the people who wrote the Bible would see it as God’s judgment upon a people. Likewise, today we may view the birth of a child as a biological thing, the people who wrote the Bible saw it as a “miracle” and a “gift” from God. To them, all things—good or bad—come from God.
2. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.