About Noe's Examples
Copyright 1999 by Robert L. Garringer
John Divito, an interested reader of my internet dialogue with Noe sent a note to me. In it he objected that the contexts of some of my examples of The All-Nations Judgment were instead clear statements of judgments on historic nations. [We should mention, however, that after the initial publication of this article, Mr. Divito sent an e-mail describing himself as a "searcher" who has become less and less attracted to preterism.]
He also sent a note to John Noe, citing Kenneth Gentry and Dallas Seminary's Bible Knowledge Commentary to the affect that Isaiah 13:14-22 has to do with the Medes fighting the Assyrians and the Assyrians taking over Babylon. All of this would have happened near Isaiah's time of writing. So it is argued that when Isaiah spoke of Babylon's time being near to come, and her days not being prolonged (13:22), the events were in fact imminent (689 B. C.), not off in the future up to 200 years when Babylon fell to the Medes (539 B. C.). [Divito's reference was Kenneth Gentry's The Great Tribulation, pp. 185-186.]
The Context of World-destroying Predictions
First, as to Mr. Divito's understanding of the context of these examples, we must note the way in which Isaiah prophesies of the fate of nations. In addition to, and in conjunction with, the prophet's pronouncements against nations in the historic past, there is the prediction of a coming judgment upon all nations. This world-encompassing event is singled out and given its fullest treatment in Isaiah 24.
This chapter also has the most alarming description of the natural disasters that will accompany the prophesied judgment (24:18-21). These disasters are not limited in scope, and it is my contention that every time we read of predicted end-of-the-world type events happening in the heavens and on the earth, somewhere in the context there is an indication of Messianic significance, usually expressed as judgment against mankind as a whole, not some nation in the historic past. If the judgment is limited to a specific historical nation, the predicted natural catastrophes, whether understood literally or figuratively, are also limited.
The catastrophes prophesied in Isaiah 24 are absolutely world-shattering and must be understood literally because the prophet makes a clear distinction between what God will do in His wrath in the heavens above and what He will do upon the earth below (24:21).
Now in what may seem a random fashion Isaiah speaks of God's coming judgment on specific nations and, with what might be an equally unexpected twist, the prophet consistently views these specific judgments in light of His coming judgment upon all nations. Note for example, how Isaiah describes God's plan to utterly destroy Assyria (14:24-25), followed by the indication that this is only part of His purpose because He intends to bring the same kind of judgment upon the whole world and all nations (14:26-27).
So we must read the contexts carefully as the prophet moves from predictions of the universal judgment, not accomplished in the historic past, and judgments upon nations who long ago suffered what was predicted for them.
The Contexts of Three of Noe's Examples
Mr. Divito asked about the contexts of Isaiah 34, Isaiah 13, and Micah 1. The last of these does not use world-destroying language to describe predicted disasters in nature, and it alone places references to the disruptive affect of the presence of the Lord on the mountains and the valleys in the context of a national judgment upon Israel. I believe that Micah's description of the Lord coming forth, walking on the high places with mountains melting and valleys splitting are figurative expressions (1:3-4). The interpretation of these figurative expressions is given in verses 5 and 6. The intent is to say that God will destroy Samaria and Jerusalem, not the world.
Yet even Micah 1 is introduced by God's declared judgment to come upon the "earth and all that is in it" (1:2).
In Isaiah 34, the initial statement of judgment is not against Edom. Instead Isaiah calls out to the nations, the earth, and the world (34:1) and declares, "The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them..." (34:2). This is the
context of Isaiah's statement, "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree."
Then in verse 5, Edom is singled out and judgment upon her is declared. However, neither the destruction of all the armies of all the nations nor the dissolution of the heavens occurred at the time of Edom's fall.
In Isaiah 13, when the prophet writes of how the Lord will "shake the heavens, and the earth shall be moved from its place" (13:13), he is speaking of how the Lord will "punish the world for their evil" (13:11). As a result of God's advancing judgment, each man will turn and run to his own people and his own native land, but many of these will die on the way (13:14-15).
In verse 17, Isaiah returns to the main theme, introduced in verse 1, the destruction of Babylon by the Medes. In this latter context, no prediction is made about celestial upheaval and disruption of the natural order of things.
689 or 539 B.C.?
It is my conviction that Isaiah 13:22 uses language of imminent judgment to speak of a fate for Babylon that is far in the future from Isaiah's time. I believe that the completion of the prophecy that Babylon shall "never be inhabited, nor shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" cannot have been fulfilled until the Parthian destruction of the city five centuries after Isaiah's time. In fact the complete fulfillment may yet be future.
Apparently, the Bible Knowledge Commentary indicates that verses 14-16 has to do with the Assyrians and verses 17-18 has to do with the Babylonians, and the whole prophecy refers to events in Isaiah's life-time.
Objections to this interpretation include:
1) There is no indication in the context that verses 14-16 are speaking of Assyria. Verse 14, as we have indicated, speaks of a multi-national group, under the judgment of God to come upon the whole world (13:11). The transition is not clear, but the action of the Medes in verse 17 must include the conquest of Babylon because the flow of the thought takes us there (17-19). The passage certainly does not say that the Assyrians as described in verses 14-16 (according to the commentary) shall conquer the Babylonians as described in verses 19-22.
2) The fall of Babylon that Isaiah speaks of here cannot have been the work of the Assyrians in 689 B. C. because the result will be that the city will never be inhabited again (13:20) as was mentioned above. In fact, the only possible historical fulfillment of the utter abandoning of the site as described in verses 20-22 and in the next chapter (14:22-23) is the Parthian destruction of Babylon that brings us within two centuries of the coming of Christ.
(Hussein is apparently rebuilding Babylon in our time. If he is utilizing the true site of the city, then we may assume that Isaiah's prophecy points to a circumstance yet future to us.)
3) Isaiah's prophecy flows on into chapter 14 with the famous section concerning the King of Babylon, Lucifer (14:4-12). The fulfillment of this section as it applies to Satan is certainly distant from Isaiah even in the preterist system.
Note something else, however. Isaiah's prophesied judgment on Babylon is the result of the bondage that Babylon will bring to Israel (14:3-4). This did not happen until generations after Isaiah died. So if Isaiah is speaking of Assyria's conquest of Babylon, then Babylon will be judged for oppressing Israel before the oppression even happened!
Preterists must acknowledge that, in the very least, when we futurists state our conviction that the prophets used non-literal imminent time-references, we are truly grasping for the meaning of Scripture. Noe wants to accuse us of being evasive in a sinister way. My only complaint about him is that he is careless in handling Scripture and in searching out its implications.
In weighing the evidence, I believe that the Bible Knowledge Commentary is wrong. Isaiah was writing about the fall of Babylon that would begin in 589 B. C. when the Medo-Persians conquered them and will be completed when the city will be totally uninhabited.
And I believe that the prophets foresaw a literal destruction of the present natural order that will come in the Day of the Lord when the assembled armies of the world rebel against God and His City, Jerusalem.