Verses 1–8

Here we have a prophecy, as elsewhere we have a history, of the wars of the Lord, which we are sure are all both righteous and successful. This world, as it is his creature, he does good to; but as it is in the interest of Satan, who is called the god of this world, he fights against it.

I. Here is the trumpet sounded and the war proclaimed, Isa. 34:1. All nations must hear and hearken, not only because what God is about to do is well worthy their remark (as Isa. 33:13), but because they are all concerned in it; it is with them that God has a quarrel; it is against them that God is coming forth in wrath. Let them all take notice that the great God is angry with them; his indignation is upon all nations, and therefore let all nations come near to hear. The trumpet is blown in the city (Amos 3:6), and the watchmen on the walls cry, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet, Jer. 6:17. Let the earth hear, and the fulness thereof, for it is the Lord’s (Ps. 24:1) and ought to hearken to its Maker and Master. The world must hear, and all things that come forth of it, the children of men, that are of the earth earthy, come out of it, and must return to it; or the inanimate products of the earth are called to, as more likely to hearken than sinners, whose hearts are hardened against the calls of God. Hear, O you mountains! the Lord’s controversy, Mic. 6:2. It is so just a controversy that all the world may be safely appealed to concerning the equity of it.

II. Here is the manifesto published, setting forth,

1. Whom he makes war against (Isa. 34:2): The indignation of the Lord is upon all nations; they are all in confederacy against God and religion, all in the interests of the devil, and therefore he is angry with them all, even with all the nations that forget him. He has long suffered all nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16), but now he will no longer keep silence. As they have all had the benefit of his patience, so they must all expect now to feel his resentments. His fury is in a special manner upon all their armies, (1.) Because with them they have done mischief to the people of God; those are they that have made bloody work with them, and therefore they must be sure to have blood given them to drink. (2.) Because with them they hope to make their part good against the justice and power of God they trust to them as their defence, and therefore on them, in the first place, God’s fury will come. Armies before God’s fury are but as dry stubble before a consuming fire, though ever so numerous and courageous.

2. Whom he makes war for, and what are the grounds and reasons of the war (Isa. 34:8): It is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and he it is to whom vengeance belongs, and who is never unrighteous in taking vengeance, Rom. 3:5. As there is a day of the Lord’s patience, so there will be a day of his vengeance; for, though he bear long, he will not bear always. It is the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. Zion is the holy city, the city of our solemnities, a type and figure of the church of God in the world. Zion has a just quarrel with her neighbours for the wrongs they have done her, for all their treacherous and barbarous usage of her, profaning her holy things, laying waste her palaces, and slaying her sons. She has left it to God to plead her cause, and he will do so when the time, even the set time, to favour Zion shall have come; then he will recompense to her persecutors and oppressors all the mischiefs they have done her. The controversy will be decided, that Zion has been wronged, and therein Zion’s God has been himself abused. Judgment will be given upon this decision, and execution done. Note, There is a time prefixed in the divine counsels for the deliverance of the church and the destruction of her enemies, a year of the redeemed, which will come, a year of recompences for the controversy of Zion; and we must patiently wait till then, and judge nothing before the time.

III. Here are the operations of the war, and the methods of it, settled, with an infallible assurance of success. 1. The sword of the Lord is bathed in heaven; this is all the preparation here made for the war, Isa. 34:5. It may probably allude to some custom they had then of bathing their swords in some liquor or other, to harden them or brighten them; it is the same with the furbishing of it, that it may glitter, Ezek. 21:9-11. God’s sword is bathed in heaven, in his counsel and decree, in his justice and power, and then there is not standing before it. 2. It shall come down. What he has determined shall without fail be put in execution. It shall come down from heaven, and the higher the place is, whence it comes, the heavier will it fall. It will come down upon Idumea, the people of God’s curse, the people that lie under his curse and are by it doomed to destruction. Miserable, for ever miserable, are those that have by their sins made themselves the people of God’s curse; for the sword of the Lord will infallibly attend the curse of the Lord and execute the sentences of it; and those whom he curses are cursed indeed. It shall come down to judgment, to execute judgment upon sinners. Note, God’s sword of war is always a sword of justice. It is observed of him out of whose mouth goeth the sharp sword that in righteousness he doth judge and make war, Rev. 19:11, 15. 3. The nations and their armies shall be given up to the sword (Isa. 34:2): God has delivered them to the slaughter, and then they cannot deliver themselves, nor can all the friends they have deliver them from it. Those only are slain whom God delivers to the slaughter, for the keys of death are in his hand; and, in delivering them to the slaughter, he has utterly destroyed them; their destruction is as sure, when God has doomed them to it, as if they were destroyed already, utterly destroyed. God has, in effect, delivered all the cruel enemies of his church to the slaughter by that word (Rev. 13:10), He that kills with the sword must be killed by the sword, for the Lord is righteous. 4. Pursuant to the sentence, a terrible slaughter shall be made among them (Isa. 34:6): The sword of the Lord, when it comes down with commission, does vast execution; it is filled, satiated, surfeited, with blood, the blood of the slain, and made fat with their fatness. When the day of God’s abused mercy and patience is over the sword of his justice gives no quarter, spares none. Men have by sin lost the honour of the human nature and made themselves like the beasts that perish; they are therefore justly denied the compassion and respect that are owing to the human nature and killed as beasts, and no more is made of slaying an army of men than of butchering a flock of lambs or goats and feeding on the fat of the kidneys of rams. Nay, the sword of the Lord shall not only dispatch the lambs and goats, the infantry of their armies, the poor common soldiers, but (Isa. 34:7) the unicorns too shall be made to come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls, though they are ever so proud, and strong, and fierce (the great men, and the mighty men, and the chief captains Rev. 6:15), the sword of the Lord will make as easy a prey of as of the lambs and the goats. The greatest of men are nothing before the wrath of the great God. See what bloody work will be made: The land shall be soaked with blood, as with the rain that comes often upon it and in great abundance; and their dust, their dry and barren land, shall be made fat with the fatness of men slain in their full strength, as with manure. Nay even the mountains, which are hard and rocky, shall be melted with their blood, Isa. 34:3. These expressions are hyperbolical (as St. John’s vision of blood to the horse-bridles, Rev. 14:20), and are made use of because they sound very dreadful to sense (it makes us even shiver to think of such abundance of human gore), and are therefore proper to express the terror of God’s wrath, which is dreadful beyond conception and expression. See what work sin and wrath make even in this world, and think how much more terrible the wrath to come is, which will bring down the unicorns themselves to the bars of the pit. 5. This great slaughter will be a great sacrifice to the justice of God (Isa. 34:6): The Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah; there it is that the great Redeemer has his garments dyed with blood, Isa. 63:1. Sacrifices were intended for the honour of God, to make it appear that he hates sin and demands satisfaction for it, and that nothing but blood will make atonement; and for these ends the slaughter is made, that in it the wrath of God may be revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, especially their ungodly unrighteous enmity to his people, which was the sin that the Edomites were notoriously guilty of. In great sacrifices abundance of beasts were killed, hecatombs offered, and their blood poured out before the altar; and so will it be in this day of the Lord’s vengeance. And thus would the whole earth have been soaked with the blood of sinners if Jesus Christ, the great propitiation, had not shed his blood for us; but those who reject him, and will not make a covenant with God by that sacrifice, will themselves fall as victims to divine wrath. Damned sinners are everlasting sacrifices, Mark 9:48, 49. Those that sacrifice not (which is the character of the ungodly, Eccl. 9:2) must be sacrificed. 6. These slain shall be detestable to mankind, and shall be as much their loathing as ever they were their terror (Isa. 34:3): They shall be cast out, and none shall pay them the respect of a decent burial; but their stink shall come up out of their carcases, that all people by the odious smell, as well as by the ghastly sight, may be made to conceive an indignation against sin and a dread of the wrath of God. They lie unburied, that they may remain monuments of divine justice. 7. The effect and consequence of this slaughter shall be universal confusion and desolation, as if the whole frame of nature were dissolved and melted down (Isa. 34:4): All the host of heaven shall pine and waste away (so the word is); the sun shall be darkened, and the moon look black, or be turned into blood; the heavens themselves shall be rolled together as a scroll or parchment when we have done with it, and lay it by, or as when it is shrivelled up by the heat of the fire. The stars shall fall as the leaves in autumn; all the beauty, joy, and comfort, of the vanquished nation shall be lost and done away, magistracy and government shall be abolished, and all dominion and rule, but that of the sword of war, shall fall. Conquerors, in those times, affected to lay waste the countries they conquered; and such a complete desolation is here described by such figurative expressions as will yet have a literal and full accomplishment in the dissolution of all things at the end of time, of which last day of judgment the judgments which God does now sometimes remarkably execute on sinful nations are figures, earnests, and forerunners; and by these we should be awakened to think of that, for which reason these expressions are used here and Rev. 6:12, 13. But they are used without a metaphor, 2 Pet. 3:10; where we are told that the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the earth shall be burnt up.