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Isaiah 34 begins with a general prophecy against the Gentile nations and proceeds to focus specifically on Edom.

Come near, nations, and listen; be attentive, you peoples! Let the earth and what fills it listen, the world and all it produces. 2 The Lord is angry with all the nations, enraged against all their host; He has placed them under the ban, given them up to slaughter... 5 When my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens, it shall come down upon Edom for judgment, upon a people under my ban...

Between these verses is an apocalyptic passage at verse 4:

  • YLT - And consumed have been all the host of the heavens, And rolled together as a book have been the heavens.

  • NASB1995 - And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll.

  • NCV - The sun, moon, and stars will dissolve, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll.

  • NIRV - All the stars in the sky will vanish. The heavens will be rolled up like a scroll.

  • NKJV - All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll

Here's the two-part question: 1. Should we understand the "host of heaven" as God's army or as the heavenly bodies? 2. Did this happen when Edom was virtually destroyed sometime about 2,500 years ago, or does it refer to an event that has not happened yet? Is there perhaps another meaning not considered here?

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  • 1
    Mark 13:25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. Revelation 6:14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; Are you only considering the Hebrew scripture ?
    – Nigel J
    Dec 14, 2023 at 23:41
  • This is a great question, + 1. Hopefully I have answered it to your satisfaction, at least to a partial satisfaction anyway. Dec 15, 2023 at 14:02

3 Answers 3

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This is tricky, but to get some idea of what is going on, we need to keep two things in mind:

  1. The distinction between the atmosphere and outer space is very modern - the ancients had no such idea. One needs only to look at Gen 1 to see that both the birds (Gen 1:20) and the sun (Gen 1:15) existed "in the heavens".
  2. Later prophets often used the images of earlier prophets and re-purposed them for another prophecy. A good example of this is the prophecy of Gog (Eze 38, 39) about the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, vs Gog and Magog (Rev 20:8) about the final destruction of evil.

The prophecy of Isa 34 is another example of this. Let me begin with my translation of Isa 34:4 -

And all the army of heaven shall decay and roll up

and all the heavens and their armies shall fall down

as falls a leaf from the vine

[when] falling from a fig tree

Notice here the quintessential Hebrew poetic style involving hyperbole, metaphor and parallelism.

  • the great armies threatening Jerusalem are compared to the armies of heaven
  • but they will decay and fall like withered leaves

That is, the prophecy is saying that despite the apparently overwhelming threat, these seemingly invincible armies (presumably, of Babylon and/or Assyria) will decay and fall. This is not the first time Isaiah has used such hyperbolic language - it is reminiscent of Isa 13:10-13. Joel 2:28-32 also employs such images.

There is a valid sense that these pagan armies were called the "host/army of heaven" because they were, according to the same prophets, sent by God to punish Israel for their waywardness.

These images and ideas are re-purposed in the NT by both Jesus and John in Matt 24:29-31 and Rev 6:12-17 as eschatological prophecies.

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  • + 1 very good answer, although I'm not sure it is right. (I'm a firm believer that some scriptures simply don't have a clear interpretation). Your translation, unlike the decaying hosts of heaven, sheds new light. Dec 15, 2023 at 20:35
  • I've decided to go ahead and accept this answer, but as I mentioned to @Olde English, it does beg another question about similar prophecies which some take literally. Dec 15, 2023 at 20:44
  • I have to take issue with this answer, at least in part. Firstly, You seem to be putting Gog's initial attack in the past, when I've always thought it to be future, although I've never been 100% on that. Secondly, you don't seem to be entertaining "seemingly invincible armies" of a future nature (in addition to those of the past), as with regard to Armageddon for instance, unless of course your last sentence is an allusion to same. Dec 16, 2023 at 1:12
  • @OldeEnglish - I am suggesting, obviously in a clumsy manner, that the (then) future attack by Babylon, denoted by the army of heaven which later falls and whithers, to be repeated by Jesus and john in an eschatological prophecy.
    – Dottard
    Dec 16, 2023 at 5:39
  • Ok, but I'm still confused as to your belief in respect of "Gog of Magog". I, myself, although not completely convinced, see the initial attack of Gog, as portrayed in Eze, 38,39, being at the time of Armageddon, with the second reference to that of "Gog" being of course at the end of the "Millennium". We seem to differ on Gog's initial attack still, not so?? Dec 16, 2023 at 10:03
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Isaiah 34:4a - How to translate it, and when did/will it happen?

Firstly, one can't help but compare this Hebrew scripture with the NT's book of Revelation and in particular Rev, 6:12-14, in respect of the so called physical disturbances at the breaking of the sixth seal.

Symbolism would appear to be in abundance here - when speaking of the host of heaven; when speaking of the use of the sword; when speaking of Edom ( at least with regard to beyond Isaiah's day) - although I see the literal heavens being referred to initially, with respect to the sword, as being in reference to the battle between Michael and his angels, against Satan and his angels, resulting in Satan and his host being hurled down to the earth, which then opens the scene with regard to the subsequent earthly troubles to follow.

Now, it would seem, that the reference is not with regard to the literal heavens, there having been a descent to the earth, but to the earthly symbolic heavens - Isaiah 34:4a.

The expression "all those of the army of the heavens" does not mean the literal stars and planets. Verses 5 & 6 (of Isaiah's 34th chapter) speak of a sword of execution being drenched with blood in those "heavens". Hence, this must be a symbol of something in the human realm - 1 Corinthians 15:50. Because of their loftiness as superior authorities, the governments of mankind are likened to heavens ruling over earthly human society - Romans 13:1-4. So "the army of the heavens" represents the combined armies of these governments of mankind.

This "army" will "rot away," molder, like something perishable - Psalm 102:26; Isaiah 51:6. To the naked eye, the literal heavens above us appear curved, like an ancient book scroll, the writing of which was generally on the inner side. When the material written on the inner side of a scroll has passed before the eyes of the reader, the finished scroll is rolled up and put away. Similarly, "the heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll," in that human governments must come to their end. Reaching the final page of their history, they must be brought to their finish at Armageddon. Their impressive-looking 'armies' will fall just as withered leaves fall of a grapevine or "a shriveled fig" drops of a fig tree. Their time will be past.

A Day of Retribution

Now the prophecy singles out a nation that exists in Isaiah's day-Edom, which although was literally destroyed in Isaiah's day, comes to represent all estranged unbelievers Hebrews 12:16, in Jesus'day and beyond, even up until our day. The Edomites are descendants of Esau (Edom), who sold his birthright to his twin brother, Jacob, for bread and lentil stew Genesis 25:24-34. Because Jacob supplanted him in the birthright, Esau became filled with hatred for his brother. Later the nation of Edom and the nation of Israel became enemies, even though they descend from twin brothers. for this hostility against God's people, Edom has incurred the wrath of Jehovah, who now says:

"In the heavens my sword will certainly be drenched. Look! Upon Edom it will descend, and upon the people devoted by me to destruction in justice. Jehovah has a sword; it must be filled with blood; it must be made greasy with the fat, with the blood of young rams and he-goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams. For Jehovah has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughtering in the land of Edom."-Isaiah 34:5,6.

Taken from the book:- "Isaiah's Prophecy (Light for All Mankind)" Vol. 1, by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania - 2000.

The book goes on to talk about the following verses of Isaiah's 34th chapter, with particular regard to Edom and it's enmity with regard to the Israelites, for which literal Edom suffered greatly, some 2500 years ago, and what that enmity has to do with our modern day. As to that modern day meaning ... Well that's debatable and probably best left for another time, as it harkens to what may constitute "Babylon the Great", a controversial subject if there ever was one ....

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  • + 1 another good answer. It begs another question though, which I intend to ask separately... name, if this prophecy is to be taken symbolically, should the prophecy of Revelation 6 be interpreted in a similar manner? Dec 15, 2023 at 20:43
  • @Dan Fefferman - Thank you for the proposed upvote. I say proposed because you have apparently forgotten to do the upvote in actuality. I've made the same mistake myself on occasion. Also, I have now added material as there is more than just symbolism when it comes to Edom. As for Rev, 6:12-14, even through verse 17, well again there is both symbolism (12-14) and realty (15-17) mixed. Dec 16, 2023 at 0:46
  • @DanFefferman - I'm not sure that you saw my last comment, as you still haven't given the promised upvote. When I commented to you, some 9 to 10 hours ago now, I had to edit in your user name, after my comment, as I had forgotten to identify who I was giving the comment to and I'm not sure that our site picks up on such an after thought, particularly as I had to type in your full "handle" (name), which is not normally necessary. Dec 16, 2023 at 10:21
  • @OldeEnglish very interesting analysis, and a great insight about rolling scrolls. +1 Dec 17, 2023 at 5:01
  • @DanFefferman - Sometimes in one's pursuit of further understanding, from others of like persuasion, or perhaps even better persuasion, one can be perceived as being border line offensive, or even downright offensive (I have been sanctioned twice on this site during my tenure). I have obviously offended you of late and for that I apologize. Enmity is/was not intentional, I assure you. Yours and Dottard's contributions to BHSE are to be commended and should be carried on regardless. I will try to be more respectful going forward. Dec 17, 2023 at 9:36
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If you read the Tanach literally, Isaiah 34 is a screed against Edom for touching the apple of his eye. However, the NT authors read those same screeds as prophecy concerning the evil behavior of his People against Christians. In the NT interpretation, the first is last, down is up and up is down. Here are some examples:

[Rev 11:8 NKJV] [8] And their dead bodies [will lie] in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

[Gal 4:21-25 NASB95] [21] Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? [22] For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. [23] But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. [24] This is allegorically speaking, for these [women] are two covenants: one [proceeding] from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. [25] Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

[Rev 18:21 NASB95] [21] Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.

Note: "Babylon" is used by Peter as a code word for Jerusalem:

[1Pe 5:13 NASB95] [13] She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and [so does] my son, Mark.

So for the NT authors, the Jews are Cain, whose worship is rejected and Christians are Abel.

So in that light, let's look at the normally overlooked scroll of Obadiah:

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/41643/20832

The fundamental idea of Isaiah 34:4-5 is that no matter how exalted Capernaum and then Jerusalem are exalted, ala Babylon, from there down, Capernaum and Jerusalem will be destroyed:

[Mat 11:23 NASB95] [23] "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.

[Isa 14:12-17 NASB95] [12] "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! [13] "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. [14] 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' [15] "Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit. [16] "Those who see you will gaze at you, They will ponder over you, [saying,] 'Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms, [17] Who made the world like a wilderness And overthrew its cities, Who did not allow his prisoners to [go] home?'

The intruders into the divine space are slain with the sword of the LORD's armies:

[Eph 6:10-17 NASB95] [10] Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. [11] Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. [12] For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.] [13] Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. [14] Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, [15] and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; [16] in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil [one.] [17] And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The details of the poetic screed in Isaiah 34:4-5 is handled very well by the NKJV:

[Isa 34:5-6 NKJV] [5] "For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment. [6] The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, It is made overflowing with fatness, With the blood of lambs and goats, With the fat of the kidneys of rams. For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah, And a great slaughter in the land of Edom.

It is, from the NT perspective, all about Israel's rebellion against Rome c. 70 AD/CE.

And that's the way the cookie crumbles - Jim Carrey

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  • an unexpected answer, and fascinating. I hadn't come across this interpretation before. I'd like to know if any well known Christian commentators see it this way, especially that Babylon is code for Jerusalem (rather than for Rome). Can't upvote it yet because you didn't answer the main question: when will/did the prophecy of 34.4 happen. Dec 15, 2023 at 20:29
  • Hmm... you missed it: "It is, from the NT perspective, all about Israel's rebellion against Rome c. 70 AD/CE."
    – Ruminator
    Dec 15, 2023 at 20:31
  • No, I got that it's from a NT viewpoint... but I haven't seen other Christian commentaries that see it that way. Dec 15, 2023 at 20:47
  • Commentaries are overwhelming various flavors of futurism. "Preterists" such as myself and Jesus and Paul are in the minority. :o)
    – Ruminator
    Dec 15, 2023 at 20:50
  • This man is a brilliant preterist (preterism is a view, not a sect): youtu.be/rTqxCTu2OjM And this guy writes a lot great books on the subject: donkpreston.com
    – Ruminator
    Dec 15, 2023 at 21:03

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