Isaiah: Chapter 34 | The Wolfe Notes

Welcome, Family! We're spending 2024 with the prophet Isaiah. While we claim no expertise, we're excited to sit with you as we both learn at the feet of Jesus. Each month, we offer a calendar that outlines daily exercises (adapted from Jenn Wilkin's Women of the Word Bible study process) to progress through Isaiah. Download July's calendar to begin with us and witness what we uncovered in our weekly "Wolfe Note" postings.


A tree frames a vast wasteland. Text overlay quotes Isaiah 34:17.

Contents:

  1. Different Versions Noting and clarifying differences between KJV & RSV.
  2. Annotation My thoughts, connections, clarifications, and questions.
  3. Research Unicorns, dragons, satyrs, and more. 
  4. Summary An approximately twenty word overview of the chapter.
  5. Memorize Why I chose to memorize Isaiah 34:17.
  6. Cross References Of Isaiah 34:17.
  7. Respond Based on reflections on God's character and my own.

Different Versions

I read Chapter 34 in the King James Version (KJV) and the Revised Standard Version. (RSV). Both versions are word-for-word translations.
Major differences I noticed (*My thoughts alone are in italics and designated with an asterisk.):
  • Isaiah 34:5
    • Comparisons:
      • KJV: For my sword (1) shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon (2) Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
      • RSV: For my sword (1) has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon (2) Edom, upon the people I have doomed.
    • Discrepancies: 
      1. Is God's sword bathed in righteousness (KJV) or was it used first to judge heavenly hosts (RSV)?
      2. Are Idumea (KJV) and Edom (RSV) the same people?
    • Clarifications/Conclusions:
      • The Hebrew "ravah" means "to be saturated", "satiated", or "soaked". So either interpretation could be accurate. 
      • On the subject of the sword, commentators are split. Some (Ellicott, Cambridge, and, Benson) suggest the sword was prepared in heaven for its work on earth. Not that it was used in heaven then on earth. Pulpit posits that it may reference the "old" war in heaven. The one when the sword was drawn against the devil and his angels. Which fits with verse 4: "all the host of heaven shall be dissolved...all their host shall fall down". Gill suggests its the Roman papacy being dethroned.
      • Regarding Idumea and Edom, they are one and the same people. Commentators reference them interchangeably. Ellicott clarifies that Idumea is the Greek form of Edom.
  • Isaiah 34:7
    • Comparisons:
      • KJV: And the (1) unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
      • RSV: (1) Wild oxen shall fall with them, and young steers with the mighty bulls. Their land shall be soaked with blood, and their soil made rich with fat.
    • Discrepancies: 
      1. Are unicorns (KJV) the same as wild oxen (RSV)?
    • Clarifications/Conclusions:
      • The Hebrew "reem" occurs 9 times and is translated as wild ox or unicorn.
      • Got Questions clarifies that re'em literally means "beast with a horn". It was translated as monokeros and unicornis in the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate respectively. It could refer to the rhinoceros, aurochs, or urus. All are large, powerful animals which fit with other Biblical descriptions of the unicorn and less with the mythological unicorn.
      • Here, the unicorns represent the Edomite chiefs (Ellicott) who were strong, warlike, unvanquished, and seemingly invincible. (Barnes)
  • Isaiah 34:11
    • Comparisons:
      • KJV: But the (1) cormorant and the (2) bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and (3) the stones of emptiness.
      • RSV: But the (1) hawk and the (2) porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and (3) the plummet of chaos over its nobles.
    • Discrepancies: 
      1. Is the cormorant (KJV) the same as a hawk (RSV)?
      2. Is a bittern (KJV) the same as a porcupine (RSV)?
      3. How are "stones of emptiness" (KJV) the same as "plummet of chaos" (RSV) and where did nobles (RSV) enter the picture?
    • Conclusions/Clarifications:
      • Commentators differ over the precise animals meant. Generally, all the animals mentioned should be accustomed to dwelling in harsh, arid environments.
      • Regarding the latter part of the verse (3), the Hebrew does not mention "nobles" (RSV). The Hebrew ends saying: "a stone" "void". 
      • All in all, the scene of desolation is set. Animals who dwell in harsh biomes are the only survivors. Confusion and emptiness fill the wasteland.

Annotation

Notes on my process*Denotes my thoughts alone. ! Denotes a connection. Researched quick answers are in italics. *Indicates a topic with more extensive notes under the research heading.
  1. God's Reckoning on Humanity (v1-8)
    1. Lean in, listen: everyone and everything.
    2. God's fury is on all the earth to destroy, to slaughter.
    3. You'll see the slaughter piling up, smell the stench and notice the blood pooling down the mountains.
    4. Heavenly hosts will fall. Heaven will be condensed.
      1. ! Like a cursed fig tree.
      2. ? Scroll rolled together.
    5. Then, My sword will continue being used to judge the cursed people. 
      1. Is His sword empowered by heaven or first used in heaven.
    6. It will drip with blood of sacrifice and slaughter.
      1. ! Sword = word = Jesus, who was sacrificed on the cross.
      2. ? Why sacrifice in Bozrah and slaughter in Idumea?
    7. Sacrifice will saturate the land.
      1. ? What is the significance of blood and fat in a sacrifice?
      2. ! If my people, which are called by name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV
    8. It's My time of reckoning.
      1. Did this already happen or will it happen?
  2. God's Reckoning on Creation (v9-17)
    1. The land will be uninhabitable: streams to pitch, dust to brimstone, land to unquenchable burning pitch that produces never-ending smoke.
      1. ? Why are the streams pitch but the land burning pitch?
      2. ? Does this describe all the earth or only specific places? Verse one would imply all, but verse 5 suggests Idumea.
    2. People will avoid it.
    3. Demons will possess it. 
      1. ? What is the significance behind each animal listed? *R
    4. God will fill the land with confusion and emptiness. No one of worth will come out of it.
      1. A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10 RSV (See our notes on Proverbs 31:10.)
    5. Harsh vegetation and dangerous animals (demons?) will reside and multiply there.
      1. ! Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together. Isaiah 27:4 KJV
      2. ! Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:18 RSV
      3. ! But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:8 RSV
    6. They will be numerous and successful because God commanded and the Holy Spirit gathered.
      1. ? This is in the Bible? About the owls and dragons making their home here?
      2. ? Is the spirit mentioned here the Holy Spirit?
    7. He earned the rights, plotted it out, and the land is theirs eternally.
      1. This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, says the LORD, because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies. Jeremiah 13:25 RSV.
      2. It will never be inhabited or dwelt in for all generations; no Arab shall pitch his tent there, no shepherds will make their flocks like down there. Isaiah 13:20 KJV.
      3. That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon teh waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled! Isaiah 18:2 KJV (See Wolfe Notes.)

Research

*Thoughts that are mine alone are marked with an asterisk and italicized.
Why are there so many creatures, real and mythical, listed in this chapter: unicorns, cormorant, bittern, dragons, satyr, owls, and vultures?

As Sacrifice: Isaiah 34:6-7

  • Of the first animals mentioned. The following are used in sacrifices:
    • Sheep (specifically mentioned are lambs and rams): represent purity, humility, and obedience. - Scriptural Thinking
    • Goats: Used as a sin offering and for the scapegoat ritual. Represent atonement, repentance, and spiritual purity. - Scriptural Thinking
    • Calves: Used in lesser-known sin offerings. Represents the need for a big sacrifice to make up for significant wrongs done. - Scriptural Thinking
    • Bulls: Or oxen. Represent faith and reliance on God above all else. - Scriptural Thinking
  • Unicorns
    • Never previously mentioned in the Bible as a sacrifice.
    • There are nine occurrences of unicorn in the KJV Bible. From these we learn that unicorns are strong and fierce, untrustworthy, untamable, agile, and one or two-horned. - BibleStudy.org
    • They represent God's power and judgment. (BibleStudy.org) Loftiness, power, and pre-eminence. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown)
    • Here, the unicorns represent the Edomite chiefs (Ellicott) who were strong, warlike, unvanquished, and seemingly invincible. (Barnes)

The Desolation Explanation of Isaiah 34:11-15.

The remaining animals paint a portrait of a desolate landscape. Isaiah frequently paints this picture, of wild animals overtaking a now desolate city. - Ellicott (See Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 14:23; and Zephaniah 2:14)

  1. Cormorant: Likely a desert dwelling waterfowl is meant here. Many versions translate it as a pelican. - Barnes, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, and All About Birds
  2. Bittern: Some versions translate it as hedgehog. Any animal that dwells in dry places, could fit. So, bittern could stand, as well as hedgehog, porcupine, or tortoise. - Ellicott and All About Birds
  3. Dragons: More likely jackals who are desert-dwelling animals. See also Isaiah 13:22. - Patheos, Safaris Africana, & Bible Art.
  4. Wild owls: Actually ostriches, also desert dwellers. - Bible Hub & Bird Fact
  5. Satyr: Just wild beasts in general. Means "hairy one" in Hebrew, ordinarily a goat. Could also be a monkey. Also mentioned in Isaiah 13:21. - Pulpit & Barnes
  6. Screech owl. Or wild animal or bird. - KJV Today
  7. Great owl: Actually arrow snake. - Pulpit, Cambridge & Jamieson-Fausset-Brown

The Demon Theory for Isaiah 34:11-15.

But, the symbolism behind these animals is frequently tied to demonology.

  • Birds (cormorants and bitterns included) symbolize demons - Church of the Great God
  • Dragons represent Satan in the Bible. Revelation 12:3-4, 9 & 
  • Satyr: Demon-brute. Half goat and half man. See Revelation 18:2 - Gill & Ellicott
  • Screech owl: In Hebrew the word is "lilit". This is the only place the word appears in scripture. Lilith is a legend found in the Talmud. By tale, Lilith is Adam's first wife who became a vampire demon that hunted children after she left him. - Ellicott, Cambridge, Pulpit, et al.
  • Vulture: Represents God's judgment of shame. A gathering of vultures represent a diseased spiritual condition. Unclean birds, of which vultures fit the bill, are likened to demonic spirits. - Bible Tools
*Conclusions: Whether seen from the physical or spiritual realm, Isaiah paints a portrait of a place of desolation in which no God-fearing human or spirit would wish to dwell.

Summary

God's reckoning on all the earth will be thorough and distinct in its desolation, destruction, and dehumanization.

Memorize

I chose to memorize Isaiah 34:17.
And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.

It reminds me that God is in control. What He plans will stand. He has won the rights to us and moves with purpose for eternal good.


Cross References

*Thoughts that are mine alone are marked with an asterisk and italicized.

Of Isaiah 34:17.

And he hath cast the lot for them...
  • Isaiah 17:13-14 KJV: The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.
  • Jeremiah 13:25 RSV: This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, says the Lord, because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies.
  • Joshua 18:8 KJV: And the men arose, and went away: and Joshua charged them that went to describe the land, saying, Go and walk through the land, and describe it, and come again to me, that I may here cast lots for you before the LORD in Shiloh.

...and his hand hath divided it unto them by line:...

  • Psalm 78:55 KJV: He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
  • Acts 13:19 KJV: And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to [the Isarelites] by lot.
  • Job 38:5 RSV: [The Lord answering Job:] Who determined [earth's] measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
...they shall possess it for ever...

  • Genesis 17:8 RSV: And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
  • Daniel 7:18 KJV: But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.
  • Psalm 37:29 RSV: The righteous shall possess the land, and dwell upon it for ever.
...from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.

  • Isaiah 34:10 RSV: Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up for ever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. 
  • Isaiah 13:20-22 KJV: It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses  shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.
  • Luke 1:50 KJV: And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
  • Daniel 4:3 RSV: How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

*Conclusion: God determines our fate, positioning, and eternal dwelling. There's either eternal joy or desolation. There is no middle ground.

Respond

  1. God unleashes His fury in heaven and on earth. Only holiness can dwell with Him. I long to dwell with God, so evil must be purged from me. I accept Jesus' gift of redemption and atonement so I can dwell with God eternally. When given a choice between good or evil, I must choose to do what is good.
  2. God is faithful. He will do as He says. I don't always believe it. I often struggle to accept that God would seat me in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) and call me a daughter of the One True King simply because I believe in His name (John 1:12), just as I struggle to believe that those who don't accept Him will know eternal agony (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). But, I cannot doubt God's word. When He promises goodness, goodness will follow; when He promises destruction, destruction will follow.
  3. God's plan is eternal. My life is but a blip on His radar. Nothing surprises Him; everything surprises me. I must look to the Rock, the Alpha and Omega, and submit to His plans.

In Closing

Father God. I simply don't understand everything in Your word. It is full of so many emotions, mysteries, complexities, and realities that are beyond my comprehension. But what I do know is that You will separate light from darkness and that only that which is holy can be in Your presence. Evil will be purged. So, purge me, God, of all evil. Make me holy so I can dwell eternally with You. Thank you for Your protection, Your redemption, Your faithfulness, Your grace. Awaken those who slumber so You can keep them from the evil one.

Learning with You,

Are you ready for Isaiah 35?

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Image Credit: Desert Landscape by CocoParisienne at Pixabay.

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