"See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants - 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. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken this word." NIV translation
The Hebrew word that is translated here as "earth" is "erets" and it basically means the physical land. Although it is often used in reference to the land of Israel, it can also mean land in general which is the meaning here. In chapters 13 through 23, we saw the pronouncement of judgments on individual nations. Although they were prophetic at the time that the prophet gave them, they have been fulfilled prior to our time. Now, Isaiah begins to speak of judgment that is ahead for the world of today. We see that this judgment is not based on the actions of nations but on the actions of individuals. We also see that it does not matter whether you are a so-called religious leader or an atheist or whether you are rich or poor as all those that are left on the earth will be affected.
We often pass right over this concept without really allowing it to sink in but it is crucial to our understanding of the way we are to live. If we believe these words, then, our lives on this earth should not be focused on gaining material wealth or even a position in our community. As we see in this passage, the possessions as well as the communities are all going to be devastated. So, should we just kick back and "eat drink and be merry" or is there a purpose to our time on this erets? As Christians, do we just go into a waiting mode as we long for Jesus' return?
"The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth." NIV translation
Withering is a sign of being unhealthy and eventually death follows. The prophet begins to describe the final judgment and we see the word "languish" used to describe the action of the earth and the heavens. This word basically describes suffering as all of creation is forced to remain in the fallen state where sin and its effects are present. The land (erets) was originally cursed because of the disobedience of Adam (see Genesis 3:17).
"The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant." NIV translation
The sin that entered creation through Adam has spoiled the earth but that is not the basis for the final judgment. The disobedience continued as God's chosen people did not follow His instructions but that is not the basis for this judgment. The last straw and the reason for God's impending judgment is found in the charge that men have "broken the everlasting covenant".
So, what is this covenant? The word "covenant" is basically an agreement much like a contract in business. Each party has rights and responsibilities. The "everlasting covenant" is the agreement or contract for eternal life.
As the Creator of all things, God had the right to set the terms of this contract. For His part, God will grant men eternal life but only through the blood of Jesus Christ. Man's part is to simply accept the fact that Jesus paid for our sins and to trust in Him. Breaking this contract occurs when men reject the fact that Jesus died for their sins and this is the basis for the final judgment of all things.
That brings up the following questions: How long will the languishing continue?
Will the world just continue on as everyone has the chance to either choose to accept or reject the terms of this contract (faith in Jesus Christ)? The answer to the first question is that only our Father in heaven knows as even Jesus did not know. The answer to the second question is a no based on the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. As we see in Genesis 18, there was a point at which the depravity of those cities brought on the wrath of God. We note that, for the sake of ten righteous men, the wrath would have been avoided but there was not that many there. In the same way, when a certain number or percentage of the people of the earth have rejected Jesus, this judgment will occur.
"Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left." NIV translation
The Hebrew word for curse is alah and it speaks of the judgment of God and the taking of something. In this case, it is referring to the taking away of God's hand of provision and sustenance for the world.
The fact that this was brought about by the people that remain on the earth is made clear with the Hebrew word "asham" which is translated as "bear their guilt". When you reject Jesus as the Lord, then, God is under no obligation to continue to provide for your needs.
Because of God's withdrawing His hand of provision, this will be a time of famine, plague, and strife. This is what John saw with the opening of the seven seals in the Book of Revelation (see Revelation 6).
The Hebrew word for burned up is charar and it literally speaks of burning or melting but also of drying up. This is what Isaiah is talking about here as the short supply of water and food will cause people to physically dry up. Most of us have seen pictures of starving and thirsty people and would describe them as shriveling up.
Many people will die from this while others are killed in the struggle to control what little food and water is left. As we see in John's revelation, one fourth of the earth's people will die from this part of the judgment.
"The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. The joyful timbrels are stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. No longer do they drink wine with a song; the beer is bitter to its drinkers." NIV translation
This will be a time of great sorrow and the days of "wine, women, and song" are over. There will no longer be parties and singing as every waking hour will be spent just trying to get enough food and drink to survive. Even those that have will not be able to enjoy it as they will know that even their supply is running out.
"The ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred. " NIV translation
The "ruined city" speaks of Jerusalem and the fact that it is worthless. What is meant by calling the city of God worthless? Even God's own city and its people have rejected their Messiah and because of that fact they are no longer of use to Him. Every house is barred speaks of the fact that all of the people (or a very great majority) have surrendered to the deception of the devil. The city of Jerusalem was set aside by God to be a shining example of His presence in the world but, by rejecting the grace of Jesus Christ, it can no longer serve that purpose.
God's people have been removed from the earth and so the joy has turned to sorrow and gloom. This speaks of what is commonly called the "rapture" or the calling up of Christians to be with the Lord and escape this judgment.
The physical Old City of Jerusalem has many gates but, here, Isaiah speaks of only one gate. The gate being "battered to pieces" speaks of the rejection of the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and the payment for our sins. Jesus told the disciples that He was the only way and men have rejected Him as the gate.
Isaiah 24:11 & 12
"In the streets they cry out for wine; all joy turns to gloom, all joyful sounds are banished from the earth. The city is left in ruins, its gate is battered to pieces." NIV translation
At this time, the misery will become so great that people will cry out for alcohol and drugs to help them to escape the world around them.
"So will it be on the earth and among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, or as when gleanings are left after a grape harvest." NIV translation
This verse speaks of the remnant of Christians that is left behind and is what John saw as the 144,000 of Revelation 7. Throughout the Bible, the olive and the olive tree speak of righteousness and are a picture of the righteousness obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. The "gleanings" speak of the fact that not all of the fruit is taken at this first harvest.
Isaiah 24:14 & 15
"They raise their voices, they shout for joy; from the west they acclaim the Lord's majesty. Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea." NIV translation
Here, we see that this remnant that has been left behind are kind of like the praise team calling people to worship. Throughout the Bible, directions have a special significance and it is important to know them in order to understand the function of this remnant of believers. To the people of Isaiah's day, the direction of east became associated with the place where God intervened on behalf of the people as He had with their return from the Babylonian captivity.
In the New Testament, the star that the people followed to see Jesus appeared in the east and they followed it to the west. In the Old Testament, the temple faced east and so the people had to travel west to enter the temple. Once inside, the people faced west to worship and offer their sacrifices.
In the same way, this remnant will be like a beacon pointing the people of the earth to the fact that God is still willing to intervene on their behalf. They will testify to the fact that it is only through Jesus Christ that men can have a restored relationship with God. Their praise to God will be a sharp contrast to the wailing and crying out for alcohol and drugs that is heard from the rest of the people.
"From the ends of the earth we hear singing: 'Glory to the Righteous One.' But I said, 'I waste away, I waste away! Woe to me! The treacherous betray! With treachery the treacherous betray!'" NIV translation
This testimony of the remnant is heard throughout the world as they praise Jesus Christ and are sustained by the hand of God. This is very similar to what God did for Elijah when he was fed by ravens during a time of judgment on the land of Israel (see 1 Kings 17). Meanwhile, those that have not been sealed by God run around and lie, cheat, steal, and murder in hopes of getting their food and water. This is the "treachery" that Isaiah speaks of in this verse.
Isaiah 24:17 & 18
"Terror and pit and snare await you, people of the earth. Whoever flees at the sound of terror will fall into a pit; whoever climbs out of the pit will be caught in a snare. The floodgates of the heavens are opened, and the foundations of the earth shake." NIV Translation
Those that have rejected the fact that God is the cause of the events on the earth will search for answers to what is happening and what they can do to stop it. This is similar to what is happening now with the effort of the nations to stop global warming but, at this time, it will be a much more intense effort. In this search, people will fall for the devil's great deception which is to say that: "If we all just band together, we can do anything." This is the same spirit that caused mankind to gather at Babel and attempt to build a tower to reach the heavens. At that time, God intervened to cause men to speak in different languages so that they could not work together effectively. In this case, God is going to strike the earth itself as a demonstration of the fact that He is in control. Others, will seek the intervention of other so-called gods to stop the events of this final judgment.
Isaiah 24:19 & 20
"The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls - never to rise again." NIV translation
The physical earth will see great disasters and people will run to and fro looking for a way to make it all stop but this final judgment will continue. In the past, God has dealt with cities and nations in partial judgments but this will be the complete judgment of God. Those past partial judgments brought about at least a temporary repentance and turning to God but this one will be characterized by the total rebellion of the people that are left on the earth. Instead of accepting the grace of God, they will oppose Him until the very end.
"In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below." NIV translation
This refers to the day when the armies of the nations gather together to attack the city of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word "paqad" which means "visit" is translated as "punish" here and it speaks of the direct intervention of Jesus Christ. This is what John saw in Revelation 19, as Jesus will lead the armies of heaven against Satan, his demons, and the leaders of the armies of the earth.
"They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days." NIV translation
The outcome of this battle is that the unholy trinity of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are captured and imprisoned in Hell. The men that followed them are slaughtered and John describes a pretty gory picture of this in Revelation 19. The many days refers to the thousand years which is commonly called the Millennial Reign.
"The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders - with great glory." NIV translation
With the removal of the influence of Satan and his demons, the earth will be governed by Jesus and His saints. Even the light of the moon and the sun in the sky will be pale in comparison to the presence of Jesus Christ. The headquarters for this government will once again be the city of Jerusalem as John described in Revelation 20.