This Broken-down Earth

“The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.” —Isaiah 24:19,20

IN A recent New York Times, an excerpt from a talk given by General Omar Bradley at a convocation at St. Alban’s School in Washington, was reprinted. The talk was given in 1957 and yet the thoughts so express our predicament today that the editors of the New York Times were moved to reprint it for our consideration. The article states in part: “The central problem of our time—as I see it—is how to employ human intelligence for the salvation of mankind. It is a problem that we have put upon ourselves. For we have defiled our intellect by the creation of such scientific instruments of destruction that we are now in desperate danger of destroying ourselves. Our plight is critical and with each effort we have made to relieve it by farther scientific advance, we have succeeded only in aggravating our peril.

“As a result, we are speeding inexorably toward a day when even the ingenuity of our scientists may be unable to save us from the consequences of a single rash act or a lone reckless hand upon the switch of an uninterceptable missile.” The expression, ‘in desperate danger of destroying ourselves’, exactly describes the condition the world is in today, but of course the situation is much more dangerous now than then. No wonder the hearts of the people, particularly those in responsible positions in the world, are filled with fear, just as Jesus said they would be at this time.—Luke 21:26

There are festering trouble spots in many parts of the earth, any one of which could erupt and precipitate a world conflict. The diplomats of the world are doing their best to solve these problems, but they are too many and too complex. For example, in the current Middle East situation there are three explosive trouble spots. Even as Beirut is liberated as a hostage, the condition in Lebanon will remain a tinderbox for years to come. The raging war between Iran and Iraq shows no sign of abating even though both sides are suffering staggering losses of men, material, and money. The war could widen and disrupt the flow of vital oil to the industrial nations of the world. The situation in Afghanistan continues to be dangerous as her neighbors supply ammunition and other help to the rebels against Russian occupation. The neighboring nations also are fearful of the presence of the Russians on their borders.

The Earth, Literal and Symbolic

As Christians, our interest in the threatening international situation is simply in noting the manner in which the prophecies of the Bible are being fulfilled; the prophecies, that is, which have to do with the time when Satan’s empire is being overthrown preparatory to the manifestation of the kingdom of Christ. In many of these prophecies the word ‘earth’ is used, and while at times it refers to the literal planet on which we live, this is not always the case; for in the prophecies a symbolic earth is also often mentioned. The symbolic earth is the social order. It is this earth which, according to our text, shall fall and not rise again. The literal earth, we are told, will not be destroyed, but “abideth forever.”—Eccles. 1:4

All the events of these last days which are foretold in the prophecies, occur, of course, on the literal earth. Thus we find that in their outline of these developments there is an intermingling of references to both the literal earth and the symbolic earth. This is apparent in a statement and prophecy recorded in the forty-sixth psalm. This statement and prophecy presents a graphic description of present world events, saying that the earth is removed, and also that it is melted. However, the prophecy carries us through this time of trouble to the time when divine intervention in human affairs takes place, and indicates that the literal earth still exists. Through the psalmist the Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen [nations], I will be exalted in the earth.”—Ps. 46:2,6,10

This prophecy is of unusual interest at the present time. Its purpose is to give assurance to the Lord’s people that they do not need to fear at this time when the hearts of the people are failing them for fear as they look ahead to the things coming upon the earth. (Luke 21:26) “God is our refuge and strength,” declares the psalmist. “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”—Ps. 46:1-3; Isa. 57:2

Much of the language of this prophecy is obviously pictorial, or symbolic; for if the literal earth were removed there would be no mountains left to be carried into the midst of the sea, nor would there be a sea into which the mountains could be carried. When viewed as descriptive of a passing social order, how wonderfully true the prophecy is to the facts as we have seen them develop in these last days.

The removal of the earth is a general statement summarizing all the details involved in the destruction of Satan’s world, while mountains being carried into the midst of the sea pertains to some of the details involved in this prophetic end of the world. The kingdom of Christ, which soon will manifest itself for the blessing of the people, is described by the Prophet Daniel as a great mountain which fills the whole earth. (Dan. 2:35) It is apparent, therefore, that the mountains which are carried into the midst of the sea are the various kingdoms of this world which must be removed to make way for the “mountain of the house of the Lord.”—Mic. 4:1-4

In Jesus’ prophecy descriptive of the time of his second presence at the end of the age (Matthew, chapter twenty-four), he said that there would be upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, and then illustrated this by saying the sea and waves would be roaring. The Prophet Isaiah suggests the meaning of this symbolic language, saying, “Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of many waters.”—Isa. 17:12

Here, then, is the significance of the mountains being carried into the midst of the sea. It is a graphic description of the fact that one of the things which we should expect to see during the present transition period from Satan’s world to the kingdom of Christ is the toppling over of mighty kingdoms and their being brought down into and in control of the masses of the people. In many parts of the world—in fact almost everywhere—this changeover in the status of governments has taken place, particularly in Europe, the old Roman world.

Absolute monarchies have been replaced by parliaments in which, theoretically at least, the masses of the people have a voice in government. The leveling of these kingdoms varies in extent, but in many countries they have already been reduced to the status of socialism. There are resurgent efforts on the part of some of the new rulers to become dictators, and thus bypass the people. But this will not rescue the mountains from the sea. On the other hand, it helps to bring about the final dissolution of all government, when the sea will truly become a raging lawlessness causing the complete destruction of this present evil world.—II Pet. 3:10

In Psalm 46:6 is found a partial explanation of what is symbolized by the mountains in verse two. We read, “The heathen [nations] raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.” Yes, it is the kingdoms of this world which are really moved, not the literal mountains of the earth. This takes place because the Lord utters his voice of authority. In this removal of kingdoms they may undergo many changes before their full dissolution; but when the complete removal is effected, it will mean that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.”—Rev. 11:15

In this connection, the Revelator indicates that when the time comes for this transfer of earth’s sovereignty to Christ, it will be time for the Lord’s wrath to be manifested toward the unrighteous kingdoms of this world, and that the nations will become angry. (Rev. 11:18) This harmonizes with the symbolic raging of the sea and the waves, and shows that while this foretold distress of nations, with perplexity, is brought about by man’s own unwisdom and selfishness, nevertheless, the Lord has a hand in it, and uses the wrath of men to accomplish his purpose of preparing the way for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.

“He uttered his voice, the earth melted,” declares the psalmist. Many of the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament which tell of things to be accomplished by the Lord are, in the New Testament shown to be fulfilled by Christ. Thus, the voice of the Lord in this prophecy is actually “the voice of the archangel” mentioned by the Apostle Paul in I Thessalonians 4:16. The Scriptures indicate that there is but one archangel, that this was one of the titles of the Logos in his prehuman existence, and that it still applies to him. The name of this glorious archangel was Michael, and a prophecy in Daniel 12:1 uses this title, saying that at this time “shall Michael stand up, … and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.”

It is this time of trouble which is bringing about the melting, or disintegration, of the symbolic earth. And what an apt symbol this is of what is taking place throughout the earth today! The Apostle Peter describes the same processes of dissolution, saying that “the heavens would pass away with a great noise, and the elements would melt with fervent heat.” (II Pet. 3:10) How apparent that the various elements which form the present social order are now melting, or losing their cohesion for one another. Even within themselves, the labor element, the capitalistic element, the religious element—in fact all the elements—are disintegrating.

Wars to Cease

The divine purpose in the destruction of this present evil world is that “the desire of all nations shall come.” (Hag. 2:7) One of the longing desires of all the people of the earth is for peace—lasting and universal peace. This, the Scriptures assure us, will follow the melting of the symbolic earth. The psalmist continues: “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.”—Ps. 46:8,9

The necessity for the desolations which the Lord makes in the earth incidental to the destruction of Satan’s world will be recognized by the people when they realize thus the way was cleared for his kingdom, and resulted in the destruction of war and of all war machines. And how wonderful is the assurance that the noise of the multitude of the people which is as the rushing of many waters will be silenced, when, through the governmental agencies of the messianic kingdom the Lord will say to the ‘roaring sea’, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”—Isa. 17:12,13; Ps. 46:10

But the world is not yet ready to give heed to that voice of the Lord. The nations have not yet been sufficiently humbled by their failures to establish peace to say, “Let us go up to the mountain [kingdom] of the Lord, … and he will teach us of his ways,” as the Scriptures show they ultimately will. (Isa. 2:3) The prophecies reveal that still more distress and trouble and destruction is necessary to humble the nations. And it is interesting to note the frequent use the prophecies make of the term ‘earth’ in describing the many aspects of the destructive trouble which is now upon the world, and which will evidently continue and worsen ere the kingdom of Christ manifests itself for the blessing of the people.

Isaiah 24:1 reads, “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.” It is conceivable that this prophecy is having both a literal and symbolic fulfillment in the catastrophic events of these last days. Certainly many parts of the earth are being made empty by the colossal misuse of its natural resources by diverting them into the channels of war. And at the same time, how empty and barren of hope have the people been made by the many years of war and fear.

According to the marginal translation, the expression, ‘turneth it upside down’, should read, ‘perverteth the face thereof’. This, too, in a limited sense at least, is having a literal fulfillment. The massive destruction of previous and current wars, and the still more destructive ones threatening, are perverting the face of the earth in no small way, particularly as represented in the destruction of cities which man has erected on the earth. One needs only to view the ruins of Beirut to realize the force of this prophetic language, and in a more subtle way, the unmanaged land use has eroded vast areas of productive farmland. Pollution of the air and ground by industrial wastes are having a profound effect upon the ecology of the land. The uncontrolled and selfish use of natural resources, including water, is contributing to the perverting of the face of the earth.

And, in a symbolic manner also, the present social order is being more and more perverted. Its bulwarks are crumbling, and its standards are being demoralized. Deep economic problems are evident in every land, while selfishness and irresponsibility are eating like a cancer at the vitals of so-called civilization. And this is affecting all classes of people, the rich and the poor alike, and, as well, the religious and the non-religious. Concerning this, the prophet wrote: “It shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with the master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word.”—Isa. 24:2,3

Conditions throughout the earth are already beginning to fulfill this description of distress upon all classes. James wrote: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. … Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” (James 5:1-3) But the rich are not the only ones to suffer in these last days. World economy has become so chaotic that all classes are suffering. In most countries, labor is being paid more than in any period of the world’s history, but prices of life’s necessities have soared so high that increased earnings do not provide the security hoped for.

Undoubtedly the United States is far better off economically than any other country in the world; but even in this favored land there is strife between the classes, with an ever-increasing dissatisfaction and fear. In many other parts of the world the economic conditions are intolerable with runaway inflation and unemployment. Abject poverty and near starvation are the common lot of the underdeveloped countries, with no hope in sight. Because of this, the symbolic earth “mourneth and fadeth away,” and “the haughty people of the earth do languish.”—Isa. 24:4

Continuing, Isaiah declares: “The earth also is defiled [polluted, RSV] under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” (Isa. 24:5,6) One of the expressions of the covenant referred to in this prophecy the Lord made at the beginning of the present world or social order, when Noah and his family came out of the ark in which they had been carried over from the world that was before the Flood. See Genesis 9:1-17.

This divine command forbidding the shedding of human blood has been consistently flouted by the nations throughout all the centuries. While punishing individuals for taking life, they have legalized wholesale murder, calling it war. Many of the nations have even done this in the name of the Lord, yet he has waited patiently for his own due time to come, in which to manifest his displeasure against a world that continues to disobey his laws.

In another prophecy, the Lord bids his people to wait for his appointed time to interfere in the selfish course of the world, saying, “Wait ye upon me … until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.” (Zeph. 3:8) No wonder the Prophet Isaiah emphasized that as a result of this trouble there would be few men left.

Jesus said that unless these days of trouble would be shortened, “there should no flesh be saved,” but added, “For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matt. 24:22) This means that although the symbolic earth—the present social order—will be utterly destroyed, or devoured, some representatives of the human race will live through the trouble into God’s new world. The Lord tells us that then he will “turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”—Zeph. 3:9

The Earth Now Reeling

In our text the prophet declares that the earth would reel to and fro like a drunkard. How aptly this describes the uncertain course of those who are attempting to guide the faltering and dying world of today! A drunken man is not only uncertain on his feet, but grasps for almost any object in sight, or which he thinks is in sight, in order to support his faltering steps. And isn’t this exactly the position of world leaders at the present time?

But no matter what is done, the accumulated sin of the world stamps it as unworthy of continued existence, and the determination of the Lord is to destroy it. Particularly those in high and responsible positions who, through their selfishness and avid search for power, have been largely to blame for the present plight of the human race, will suffer the greatest loss in this day of his vengeance. Concerning this the prophet wrote, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth.”—Isa. 24:21

But, thank God, this punishment of kings of earth does not mean that they are forever lost, or that they will be consigned to an eternity of torture. Isaiah explains that they “shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit,” and that “after many days they shall be visited.” (Isa. 24:22) This may well refer to their going down into the great prison-house of death, there to await the general resurrection, when, under the administration of Christ’s kingdom, they will be given an opportunity to accept God’s grace through Christ, obey the laws of the new kingdom and gain everlasting life.

After many days they shall be visited. That will be in the day of visitation, when the whole world will be enlightened and given an opportunity to walk over the way of holiness to life everlasting. (I Pet. 2:12; Isa. 35:8) It will be in the time when the “new heavens” and the “new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” will be fully operative, and when the present heavens and the earth, or world that now is, shall have come fully to an end.—II Pet. 3:13,7

We rejoice, then, that the breaking-down processes which are destroying the present social order of earth are continuing, and that they will continue until the Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This is the hope of every Christian who puts his trust in the promises of God. And if our trust is in him and in his promises, we will not fear as the world fears, although we can see more clearly than the world that human wisdom will not be able to save the present social order from destruction.

We remember the words of Jesus, who, in describing the conditions with which we are surrounded in the world today, said, “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption [deliverance] draweth nigh.”—Luke 21:28

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |