Summary: Isaiah foresaw global environmental destruction. That's what we have today.
People often talk about ratios. We have student-teacher ratio, price-earnings ratio, debt-GDP ratio, power-weight ratio and so on. I’d like to propose a ‘significance-study ratio’ to highlight significant passages of Scripture which we overlook. Today’s passage is one of them.
World leaders and scientists have been alerting the world to climate change for two decades. Nicholas Stern’s ‘Stern Review’ was published in 2006. Seven years later, he commented, “I got it wrong on climate change – it’s far, far worse”. In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described climate change as, “the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family.” At the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015 Al Gore said, “After the last ‘no’ comes a ‘yes’, and on that ‘yes’ the future world depends.” At the same summit David Attenborough said, “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Climate change (or perhaps, more broadly, the environment) is The Issue of our time. Therefore, The Passage of Scripture which above all speaks on The Issue of our time must surely be significant! That, in my view, is Isaiah 24. Do we study it? No. We’re not even aware of it! On ‘SermonCentral’ there are 1,631 sermons on John 3. 682 sermons on Isaiah 9. Guess how many on Isaiah 24? A mere nine! Its ‘significance-study ratio’ is sky-high.
Here are some excerpts from Isaiah 24:1-5.
1 Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants…
3 The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered;
for the Lord has spoken this word.
4 The earth mourns and withers;
the world languishes and withers …
5 The earth lies defiled
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
If only we had time to look at this passage properly! In chapters 13-22 Isaiah foresaw God acting in judgement against surrounding nations, in many cases through actions in the environment. Now his vision becomes global. In these verses Isaiah talks about a global environmental crisis. In verse 3, ‘shall be … plundered’ is passive. We don’t know who is doing the plundering. But I don’t believe God plunders the earth. It can only be mankind.
Many people would say that is true today. US businessman Ray Anderson owned a company which manufactured carpet tiles. In 1994 he sensed what his company was doing. Later he commented, ‘I was running a company that was plundering the earth.’ Was it an exaggeration to say that his modest-sized company was plundering the earth? It is something we are collectively doing. Pope Francis and Prince William have both used the word ‘plunder’ to describe what mankind is doing to the world.
Isaiah’s prophecy looks very much like the situation in the world today. We could argue as to whether we’ve reached Isaiah’s description: ‘The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered.’ Over the past 50 years the world’s population has sky-rocketed and we have become greater and greater consumers. We are plundering like never before. But maybe we aren’t quite at the point of ‘utterly plundered.’
So, maybe we are at the point at which Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled. If not, we are surely close to it. That is set in a time of God’s judgement (see e.g. 24:20-21) and ‘End Times’ (see e.g. 25:8). That in turn, guides our understanding of coronavirus.
Have a good day!