Chapter 24 describes the destruction of the wicked in the latter days prior to the Lord’s Second Coming. This chapter serves as introduction to a series of four chapters—24 through 27—that deal with the destruction of the wicked, the Lord’s Second Coming, and the commencement of His glorious reign. First, Isaiah declares that men have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances and broken the everlasting covenant; because of prevalent wickedness the earth is defiled under its inhabitants. The righteous remnant, however, will rejoice. At the Second Coming the wicked will be burned, the earth will reel to and fro like a drunkard, and the moon and the sun will withhold their light. Following these events, the Lord will reign gloriously in Zion and Jerusalem.
Verse 1 commences description of the devastation: “Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.” The meaning is that the earth would be laid waste and emptied of its inhabitants,1 and the face of the earth would be disrupted. This description suggests natural disasters of extreme magnitude.
Other judgments are foretold in Doctrine and Covenants:
And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land. But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.2
The Lord gives His righteous followers a means for escape—stand in holy places.
Elsewhere in Doctrine and Covenants the Lord further describes the scourge:
For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.3
The Lord indicates in Doctrine and Covenants that He uses types in forewarning His people concerning the future: “Behold, I tell you these things, even as I also told the people of the destruction of Jerusalem; and my word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verified.”4 The same words are used by the Lord in different ages—one time referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and another time referring to the destruction of the wicked prior to His Second Coming.
Verse 2 describes the extent of the destruction among the people: “And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his 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 occupations mentioned are honorable; Isaiah’s purpose is to include all levels of society in his comparison.
Verse 3 elaborates further: “The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word.”5 “Spoiled” means “robbed” or “plundered.”6
Verse 4 states: “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish.” The earth, acting as a living being, mourns when wickedness prevails.7 “Languish” means to become “feeble” or “weak.”8 This may be equivalent to the desolating sickness, or scourge, cited above.
Verse 5 describes the defilement of the earth: “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” In addition to breaking of covenants, this verse describes corruption of religious and possibly civil laws. The Lord reflects this verse in Doctrine and Covenants: “For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant.”9
President Spencer W. Kimball declared, citing verse 5:
Certainly, some blame [for the spreading tide of sin and evil] can be attached to the voices from lecture platforms, editorial rooms, or broadcasting stands, and even from the pulpit.
Such voices may have to answer for their perpetuating falsehood and their failure to give true leadership in combating evil. “[A]s with the people, so with the priest….”10 The term priest is here used to denote all religious leaders of any faith. Isaiah said: “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” From among the discordant voices we are shocked at those of many priests who encourage the defilement of men and wink at the eroding trends and who deny the omniscience of God. Certainly these men should be holding firm, yet some yield to popular clamor.11
Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) The earth
B: mourneth and fadeth away,
C: the world
D: and fadeth away,
C: the haughty people of the earth
B: do languish.
A: (5) The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof….
“The world” is complemented by “the haughty people of the earth,” providing a definition for “world” that distinguishes it from “earth.” The earth behaves as a living thing, mourning when wickedness prevails.
Verse 6 describes the consequences: “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.” These are two parallel, synonymous statements. The phrases following the two occurrences of “therefore” complement each other: The curse that will devour the earth will consist of burning of the earth’s inhabitants,12 and the desolation of those remaining means the same as there being few men left after the destruction.13
The Lord, in introducing the book of Doctrine and Covenants to latter-day readers, said: “Wherefore I, the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth….”14
Verse 7 states: “The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merryhearted do sigh.” The meaning is that the new wine—product of the current season—would result in calamity;15 the vine would become “feeble” or “weak,” possibly through disease;16 and merriment would cease under the weight of the devouring curse.
Verse 8 further elaborates: “The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth.” “Tabrets” means “timbrels” or “tambourines.”17
Verse 9 describes a significant social change: “They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.” The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “…and strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.”18 Those who drink would do so for oblivion—temporary relief from anguish—rather than celebration.
Verse 10 describes cessation of normal social activity: “The city of confusion is broken down: every house is shut up, that no man may come in.” “Broken down” means broken of its wickedness or vanity.19 Earthquakes, other natural disasters and war may play a role.
Verse 11 summarizes themes from verses 7, 8 and 9: “There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone.”
Verses 8 through 11 contain a chiasm:
A: (8) The mirth of tabrets ceaseth,
B: the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth.
C: (9) They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.
D: (10) The city of confusion is broken down:
D: every house is shut up, that no man may come in.
C: (11) There is a crying for wine in the streets;
B: all joy is darkened,
A: the mirth of the land is gone.
“They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it” matches “there is a crying for wine in the streets.” The use of wine as a consolation replaces its celebratory use; people would wander the streets crying for wine to dull their sorrows. The streets of the city, once bustling, would become silent; manifestations of joy would cease, supplanted by sorrow and crying.
Verse 12 consists of two parallel phrases: “In the city is left desolation, and the gate is smitten with destruction.” Not only will the population be diminished; the infrastructure would be destroyed.
Verse 13 compares the scarce survivors first to the few olives left in a tree after harvest, and then to gleaning grapes: “When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done.” Isaiah uses this same allegory earlier, in Chapter 17, describing those who would remain after the destruction of ancient Ephraim and Damascus: “Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it [the vineyard], as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof….”20 Few survivors would remain.
In verses 14 through 16 Isaiah changes the focus to the few scattered survivors. Verse 14 states: “They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the LORD, they shall cry aloud from the sea.” “From the sea” means scattered survivors carried to other lands beyond the sea.
Verse 15 continues: “Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea.” “Fires” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “region of light,”21 or the place where the righteous dwell. “The isles of the sea” may refer to righteous Nephites on the American continent, whom Christ visited following His crucifixion and resurrection. Nephi quotes his brother Jacob, stating that they were “upon an isle of the sea.”22
Verse 16 contrasts the singing of the survivors with Isaiah’s profound grief over the wickedness of those destroyed: “From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.” Repetitions, in Hebrew usage, are for emphasis. “Treacherous dealer” means “one who acts in bad faith” or “deceitfully”23—whose actions would bring on the foretold destruction. “My leanness” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “I waste away!”24 “From the uttermost part of the earth” again refers to scattered branches of Israel carried to remote parts of the earth, in which righteousness would prevail at least for a time.
Verses 17 through 20 describe cataclysmic earthquakes and their destructive effects. Verse 17 describes the terror of the wicked as they face death: “Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.” “Pit” means “calamity” or “pitfall;25 “snare” means “trap” or “enticement,”26 or temptation.
Verses 16 and 17 contain a chiasm:
A: (16) From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous.
B: But I said, my leanness, my leanness,
C: woe unto me!
D: the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously;
D: yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.
C: (17) Fear,
B: and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee,
A: O inhabitant of the earth.
Isaiah’s grief in the ascending side of the chiasm is complemented by the terror of the inhabitants of the earth in the descending side. “My leanness, my leanness” correlates with “the pit, and the snare, are upon thee;” “woe unto me!” matches “fear.”
Verse 18 describes the futility of escape: “And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake.” “Noise of the fear” possibly refers to the tumultuous noises accompanying great earthquakes.27 “The windows from on high are open” may signify extreme weather. Similar words are used to describe a source of the deluge that resulted in Noah’s flood: “[T]he same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”28 “The foundations of the earth do shake” clearly refers to immense earthquakes that would shake the earth to its very foundations.
Verse 19 summarizes the devastation: “The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.” “Broken down” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “crumbled” or “shattered.”29 Isaiah describes the vast destruction resulting from an earthquake.
Recall the description of earthquake destruction in the Book of Mormon:
But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth; And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough. And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate.30
The destruction portrayed in the Book of Mormon is a type for the destruction preceding the Second Coming, which Isaiah is describing here.
Verse 20 further describes extreme earthquakes: “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.” “Reel to and fro” means to move erratically back and forth, outside of its normal motion. “Removed” like a cottage means collapsed instantaneously; visualize the collapse of a dwelling and its contents under the effect of a powerful earthquake. The earthquake will come because “the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it [the earth].” The enormity of the evil and wickedness, together with the need to cleanse the earth, will be the cause of the earthquake. Following the earthquake “it shall fall, and not rise again” means the wicked society that now envelops the earth. Doctrine and Covenants contains several passages that include some or all of the elements in this verse.31
Verses 19 and 20 contain a chiasm:
A: (19) The earth is utterly broken down,
B: the earth is clean dissolved,
C: the earth is moved exceedingly.
D: (20) The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard,
D: and shall be removed like a cottage;
C: and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it;
B: and it shall fall,
A: and not rise again.
Elements in the descending side of the chiasm complete the thoughts of elements in the ascending side. “The earth is utterly broken down” is complemented by “and not rise again;” after devastating earthquakes, society’s wickedness will never rise again. “The earth is clean dissolved” is complemented by “and it shall fall;” “the earth is moved exceedingly” is complemented by “the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it;” and “the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard” is complemented by “and shall be removed like a cottage.” The central focus of the chiasm reflects great earthquakes as the cause; the supporting statements describe the effects.
Verses 21 and 22 describe the Lord’s punishment, following the destruction, for the haughty and proud and for the kings and royalty of the earth. Verse 21 begins: “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.” Isaiah uses similar wording in Chapter 13: “…and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of [the earth].”32
Verse 22 continues: “And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” The introductory “they” means the haughty and proud, from verse 21. The haughty, in death, will be consigned to a spiritual prison. However, “after many days they shall be visited” by emissaries who will preach them the gospel.33
Verse 23 describes signs and wonders in the sky that will accompany the Lord’s Second Coming: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.” “Mount Zion” is used here with dual meanings—a place of latter-day spiritual gathering, as well as a synonym for Jerusalem and the temple mount.34
Isaiah also described these events in Chapter 13: “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”35 During His mortal ministry the Lord described these events in similar language:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.36
These signs and wonders are described in greater detail in Doctrine and Covenants:
And so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places.
And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me;
And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger….37
We have not been told what will cause these signs and wonders other than the overpowering presence of the Lord. Nephi’s attestation regarding the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies applies well here: “[N]evertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.”38 What is important for us to know right now is that the Lord will come, even as He has said and as the prophets have testified.
1. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 1238, p. 132.
2. Doctrine and Covenants 45:31-32.
3. Doctrine and Covenants 5:19.
4. Doctrine and Covenants 5:20.
5. Verses 1 through 3 contain a chiasm: The LORD/earth empty…and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad/inhabitants thereof/the people…priest…servant…master…maid…mistress/ buyer…seller…lender… borrower…taker of usury…giver of usury/land …emptied…spoiled/the LORD.
6. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 962, p. 102.
7. See Moses 7:48-49; Jeremiah 4:28.
8. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 535, p. 51.
9. Doctrine and Covenants 1:15.
10. Isaiah 24:2.
11. Spencer W. Kimball, “Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future,” Ensign, June 1971, p. 16.
12. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12 and pertinent commentary.
13. Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm: The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof/transgressed the laws/ changed the ordinance/broken the everlasting covenant/curse devoured the earth…they that dwell therein.
14. Doctrine and Covenants 1:17.
15. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 56, p. 5.
16. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 535, p. 51.
17. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8608, p. 1074.
18. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 106.
19. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7665, p. 990-991.
20. Isaiah 17:6.
21. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 217, p. 22.
22. See 2 Nephi 10:20; see also Isaiah 42:4, 10; 49:1; 51:5; 60:6, 9 and pertinent commentary.
23. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 898, p. 93.
24. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7334, p. 931.
25. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6354, p. 809.
26. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6341, p. 809.
27. See 3 Nephi 10:9.
28. See Genesis 7:11.
29. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6565, p. 830.
30. 3 Nephi 8:12-14.
31. See Doctrine and Covenants 49:23; 88:87; and 45:28.
32. Isaiah 13:9.
33. See Doctrine and Covenants 138:30-34.
34. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:4, 9; 51:3.
35. Isaiah 13:10.
36. Matthew 24:29-30.
37. Doctrine and Covenants 133:49-51.
38. 2 Nephi 25:7.