It is a very dark and melancholy scene that this prophecy presents to our view; turn our eyes which way we will, every thing looks dismal. The threatened desolations are here described in a great variety of expressions to the same purport, and all aggravating.
I. The earth is stripped of all its ornaments and looks as if it were taken off its basis; it is made empty and waste (Isa. 24:1), as if it were reduced to its first chaos, Tohu and Bohu, nothing but confusion and emptiness again (Gen. 1:2), without form and void. It is true earth sometimes signifies the land, and so the same word eretz is here translated (Isa. 24:3): The land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled; but I see not why it should not there, as well as Isa. 24:1; be translated the earth; for most commonly, if not always, where it signifies some one particular land it has something joined to it, or at least not far from it, which does so appropriate it; as the land (or earth) of Egypt, or Canaan, or this land, or ours, or yours, or the like. It might indeed refer to some particular country, and an ambiguous word might be used to warrant such an application; for it is good to apply to ourselves, and our own hands, what the scripture says in general of the vanity and vexation of spirit that attend all things here below; but it should seem designed to speak what often happens to many countries, and will do while the world stands, and what may, we know not how soon, happen to our own, and what is the general character of all earthly things: they are empty of all solid comfort and satisfaction; a little thing makes them waste. We often see numerous families, and plentiful estates, utterly emptied and utterly spoiled, by one judgment or other, or perhaps only by a gradual and insensible decay. Sin has turned the earth upside down; the earth has become quite a different thing to man from what it was when God made it to be his habitation. Sin has also scattered abroad the inhabitants thereof. The rebellion at Babel was the occasion of the dispersion there. How many ways are there in which the inhabitants both of towns and of private houses are scattered abroad, so that near relations and old neighbours know nothing of one another! To the same purport is Isa. 24:4. The earth mourns, and fades away; it disappoints those that placed their happiness in it and raised their expectations high from it, and proves not what they promised themselves it would be. The whole world languishes and fades away, as hastening towards a dissolution. It is, at the best, like a flower, which withers in the hands of those that please themselves too much with it, and lay it in their bosoms. And, as the earth itself grows old, so those that dwell therein are desolate; men carry crazy sickly bodies along with them, are often solitary, and confined by affliction, Isa. 24:6. When the earth languishes, and is not so fruitful as it used to be, then those that dwell therein, that make it their home, and rest, and portion, are desolate; whereas those that by faith dwell in God can rejoice in him even when the fir-tree does not blossom. If we look abroad, and see in how many places pestilences and burning fevers rage, and what multitudes are swept away by them in a little time, so that sometimes the living scarcely suffice to bury the dead, perhaps we shall understand what the prophet means when he says, The inhabitants of the earth are burned, or consumed, some by one disease, others by another, and there are but few men left, in comparison. Note, The world we live in is a world of disappointment, a vale of tears, and a dying world; and the children of men in it are but of few days, and full of trouble.
II. It is God that brings all these calamities upon the earth. The Lord that made the earth, and made it fruitful and beautiful, for the service and comfort of man, now makes it empty and waste (Isa. 24:1), for its Creator is and will be its Judge; he has an incontestable right to pass sentence upon it and an irresistible power to execute that sentence. It is the Lord that has spoken this word, and he will do the work (Isa. 24:3); it is his curse that has devoured the earth (Isa. 24:6), the general curse which sin brought upon the ground for man’s sake (Gen. 3:17), and all the particular curses which families and countries bring upon themselves by their enormous wickedness. See the power of God’s curse, how it makes all empty and lays all waste; those whom he curses are cursed indeed.
III. Persons of all ranks and conditions shall share in these calamities (Isa. 24:2): It shall be as with the people, so with the priest, etc. This is true of many of the common calamities of human life; all are subject to the same diseases of body, sorrows of mind, afflictions in relations, and the like. There is one event to those of very different stations; time and chance happen to them all. It is in a special manner true of the destroying judgments which God sometimes brings upon sinful nations; when he pleases he can make them universal, so that none shall escape them or be exempt from them; whether men have little or much, they shall lose it all. Those of the meaner rank smart first by famine; but those of the higher rank go first into captivity, while the poor of the land are left. It shall be all alike, 1. With high and low: As with the people, so with the priest, or prince. The dignity of magistrates and ministers, and the respect and reverence due to both, shall not secure them. The faces of elders are not honoured, Lam. 5:12. The priests had been as corrupt and wicked as the people; and, if their character served not to restrain them from sin, how can they expect it should serve to secure them from judgments? In both it is like people, like priest, Hos. 4:8, 9. 2. With bond and free: As with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress. They have all corrupted their way, and therefore will all be made miserable when the earth is made waste. 3. With rich and poor. Those that have money before-hand, that are purchasing, and letting out money to interest, will fare no better than those that are so impoverished that they are forced to sell their estates and take up money at interest. There are judgments short of the great day of judgment in which rich and poor meet together. Let not those that are advanced in the world set their inferiors at too great a distance, because they know not how soon they may be set upon a level with them. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city in his own conceit; but it does not always prove so.
IV. It is sin that brings these calamities upon the earth. The earth is made empty, and fades away, because it is defiled under the inhabitants thereof (Isa. 24:5); it is polluted by the sins of men, and therefore it is made desolate by the judgments of God. Such is the filthy nature of sin that it defiles the earth itself under the sinful inhabitants thereof, and it is rendered unpleasant in the eyes of God and good men. See Lev. 18:25, 27, 28. Blood, in particular, defiles the land, Num. 35:33. The earth never spues out its inhabitants till they have first defiled it by their sins. Why, what have they done? 1. They have transgressed the laws of their creation, not answered the ends of it. The bonds of the law of nature have been broken by them, and they have cast from them the cords of their obligations to the God of nature. 2. They have changed the ordinances of revealed religion, those of them that have had the benefit of that. They have neglected the ordinances (so some read it), and have made no conscience of observing them. They have passed over the laws, in the commission of sin, and have passed by the ordinance, in the omission of duty. 3. Herein they have broken the everlasting covenant, which is a perpetual bond and will be to those that keep it a perpetual blessing. It is God’s wonderful condescension that he is pleased to deal with men in a covenant-way, to do them good, and thereby oblige them to do him service. Even those that had no benefit by God’s covenant with Abraham had benefit by his covenant with Noah and his sons, which is called an everlasting covenant, his covenant with day and night; but they observe not the precepts of the sons of Noah, they acknowledge not God’s goodness in the day and night, nor study to make him any grateful returns, and so break the everlasting covenant and defeat the gracious designs and intentions of it.
V. These judgments shall humble men’s pride and mar their mirth. When the earth is made empty, 1. It is a great mortification to men’s pride (Isa. 24:4): The haughty people of the earth do languish; for they have lost that which supported their pride, and for which they magnified themselves. As for those that have held their heads highest, God can make them hang the head. 2. It is a great damp to men’s jollity. This is enlarged upon much (Isa. 24:7-9): All the merry-hearted do sigh. Such is the nature of carnal mirth, it is but as the crackling of thorns under a pot, Eccl. 7:6. Great laughters commonly end in a sigh. Those that make the world their chief joy cannot rejoice ever more. When God sends his judgments into the earth he designs thereby to make those serious that were wholly addicted to their pleasures. Let your laughter be turned into mourning. When the earth is emptied the noise of those that rejoice in it ends. Carnal joy is a noisy thing; but the noise of it will soon be at an end, and the end of it is heaviness. Two things are made use of to excite and express vain mirth, and the jovial crew is here deprived of both:—(1.) Drinking: The new wine mourns; it has grown sour for want of drinking; for, how proper soever it may be for the heavy heart (Prov. 31:6), it does not relish to them as it does to the merry-hearted. The vine languishes, and gives little hopes of a vintage, and therefore the merry-hearted do sigh; for they know no other gladness than that of their corn, and wine, and oil increasing (Ps. 4:7), and, if you destroy their vines and their fig-trees, you make all their mirth to cease, Hos. 2:11, 12. They shall not now drink wine with a song and with huzzas, as they used to, but rather drink it with a sigh; nay, Strong drink shall be bitter to those that drink it, because they cannot but mingle their tears with it; or, through sickness, they have lost the relish of it. God has many ways to embitter wine and strong drink to those that love them and have the highest gust of them: distemper of body, anguish of mind, the ruin of the estate or country, will make the strong drink bitter and all the delights of sense tasteless and insipid. (2.) Music: The mirth of tabrets ceases, and the joy of the harp, which used to be at their feasts, Isa. 5:12. The captives in Babylon hang their harps on the willow trees. In short, All joy is darkened; there is not a pleasant look to be seen, nor has any one power to force a smile; all the mirth of the land is gone (Isa. 24:11); and, if it was that mirth which Solomon calls madness, there is no great loss of it.
VI. The cities will in a particular manner feel from these desolations of the country (Isa. 24:10): The city of confusion is broken, is broken down (so we read it); it lies exposed to invading powers, not only by the breaking down of its walls, but by the confusion that the inhabitants are in. Every house is shut up, perhaps by reason of the plague, which has burned or consumed the inhabitants, so that there are few men left, Isa. 24:6. Houses infected are usually shut up that no man may come in. Or they are shut up because they are deserted and uninhabited. There is a crying for wine, that is, for the spoiling of the vintage, so that there is likely to be no wine. In the city, in Jerusalem itself, that had been so much frequented, there shall be left nothing but desolation; grass shall grow in the streets, and the gate is smitten with destruction (Isa. 24:12); all that used to pass and repass through the gate are smitten, and all the strength of the city is cut off. How soon can God make a city of order a city of confusion, and then it will soon be a city of desolation!