Chapter 34 describes apocalyptic destruction preceding the Second Coming of the Lord that will befall the nations of the earth who oppose the Lord and His people. The armies of the world will be destroyed, the stink of the carcasses of the dead will rise up, and the mountains will be melted with their blood. Nations that opposed Zion and her establishment will be left without inhabitant, and none but wild animals will remain to inherit the land. An important key to understanding this chapter is to compare similar passages in Doctrine and Covenants. An essential purpose for this volume of modern scripture is to describe events that will occur in the latter days: “Wherefore, fear and tremble, O ye people, for what I the Lord have decreed in them [revelations contained in Doctrine and Covenants] shall be fulfilled.”1
In verse 1, Isaiah calls upon all to hear his words: “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.”2 Isaiah’s warning, of utmost importance, is for all the world to hear; the nations of the earth are summoned to listen. Compare the Lord’s introductory summons in Doctrine and Covenants:
Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.
For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.3
Verse 2 commences Isaiah’s message to the people of the world: “For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.” The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “and hath delivered them to the slaughter.”4 Isaiah’s use of the past tense may reflect his having seen these events in vision.
The Lord provides additional understanding in Doctrine and Covenants: “I, the Lord, am angry with the wicked; I am holding my Spirit from the inhabitants of the earth. I have sworn in my wrath, and decreed wars upon the face of the earth, and the wicked shall slay the wicked, and fear shall come upon every man.”5
The Lord gives further insight:
And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations.6
Verse 3 describes the horror of the slaughter: “Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.” This description provides an image of an immense shedding of blood upon the earth—so much that the blood functions as an agent for erosion. Isaiah’s use of “mountains” here implies that this destruction would involve many nations.7 The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “…the mountains shall be melted with their blood; the valleys will be split.”8
This horror compares with the final scenes of the Jaredite nation, described by Moroni in his translation of Ether’s record:
And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead.
And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh.
And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by night, because of the scent thereof.9
Scenes like this await the inhabitants of the earth in the latter days.
Verse 4 describes the extent of the slaughter: “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.” 10 The Hebrew word translated as “falling fig” means “unripe fruit.”11 These similes describe the falling of individuals in a vast army.
“All the host of heaven” means “all the armies upon the earth” on the basis of context and chiastic equivalence. The same meaning for “heaven” is apparent in modern revelation: “Yea, verily I say unto you again, the time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you: Go ye out of Babylon; gather ye out from among the nations, from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (emphasis added).12 Compare Isaiah’s words in describing the advance of the Assyrians: “They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land” (emphasis added).13
Heaven being rolled together as a scroll is not easy for us to imagine in our temporal context; nevertheless, there are several scriptural references to it in addition to this instance in verse 4. John the Revelator, foreseeing an event in the latter days, stated: “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”14 The Lord, in revelation to Joseph Smith, refers to “the curtain of heaven” being “unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up.”15 In contrast, Mormon and Moroni both refer to the earth being rolled together as a scroll during the latter-day devastation.16
Verses 2 through 4 contain a chiasm:
A: (2) For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations,
B: and his fury upon all their armies:
C: he hath utterly destroyed them,
C: he hath delivered them to the slaughter.
B: (3) Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
A: (4) And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved….
“For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations” complements “all the host of heaven shall be dissolved.” Comparison of these two phrases further clarifies the meaning of “heaven” in verse 4. “His fury upon all their armies” complements “their slain also shall be cast out;” and “he hath utterly destroyed them” is equivalent to “he hath delivered them to the slaughter.” The Lord will destroy the armies of the earth.
Verse 5 continues, now with the Lord speaking in the first person: “For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.” “Judgment,” as used here, means “retribution.”17 The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “For my sword appears in heaven.”18 Compare the Lord’s statement in Doctrine and Covenants, which speaks in the third person: “And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth” (emphasis added).19
The curious phrase “for my sword shall be bathed in heaven” deserves further scrutiny. The Hebrew word translated as “bathed” means, figuratively, “saturated” or “satiated;”20 some translations render “drunken.” The meaning is that the sword of the Lord is about to be used abundantly for the shedding of blood. Anciently, dipping swords and shields in oil was a preparation for battle; the oil lubricated the blades, improving their effectiveness as cutting tools.21 The phrase indicates that the sword of the Lord would be prepared to fall with great fury upon the inhabitants of the earth.
“Idumea” signifies “Edom” in the original Hebrew.22 “The people of my curse” refers in particular to Edom, based on parallel phrases in this verse. However, it also means people throughout the world who would turn against the Lord and His people, having no regard for His commandments. The cursing of Edom, who was Esau, a son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob, was the result of his personal unrighteousness.23 The Lord sets forth the broader meaning for Idumea in Doctrine and Covenants: “And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.”24
Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved,
B: and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down,
C: as the leaf falleth off from the vine,
C: and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
B: (5) For my sword shall be bathed in heaven:
A: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
The Lord’s judgment will fall upon the world and its hosts, or armies. “All the host of heaven shall be dissolved” complements “behold, it [the Lord’s sword] shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.” “The host of heaven,” therefore, means the armies of the world.
Verse 6 presents a parallel description, shedding additional light: “The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.”25 “Great slaughter” is chiastically equivalent to “judgment” in verse 5, providing a more precise meaning. “Filled” with blood is translated from the same Hebrew word rendered in verse 5 as “bathed.”26 Bozrah was the capital city of Edom, southeast of the Dead Sea. Its name means “fortress” or “sheepfold.”27 The name is shared by a city in Moab and by a modern city, Basra, in Iraq. The slaughter and the sacrifice are in lieu of the sacrifices and obedience not forthcoming from the inhabitants of the earth. Lambs, goats and rams were elements of sacrifices under the Law of Moses. Here these animals are metaphoric; the people themselves would take the place of the sacrifices unoffered and for the Lord’s infinite sacrifice unaccepted by the people.
In describing the Lord’s coming following these events, Isaiah in Chapter 63 asks: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” The Lord answers: “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”28
Verse 7 continues the metaphor of animals to be sacrificed: “And the 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.”29 Slaughter of the people is likened to animal sacrifices left unoffered by them in their wickedness. “Unicorn” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “wild ox;”30 the Joseph Smith Translation renders reem, a transliteration of the Hebrew word for wild ox.31 The wild ox is probably Bos primigenius, now extinct, but once common in Syria. The Bible Dictionary states “The [King James Version] rendering is unfortunate, as the animal intended is two-horned.”32
Verse 8 summarizes: “For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.” One aspect of the “controversy of Zion,” doubtless, is the animosity between Jews and Arabs, the modern descendants of Esau. Other aspects of the controversy may relate to the founding of Zion and her stakes by the posterity of Joseph. “Zion” as used here means a place of latter-day spiritual gathering s well as both ancient and modern Jerusalem, including the temple mount.33
Verses 5 through 8 contain a chiasm:34
A: (5) For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse,
B: to judgment.
C: (6) The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness,
D: and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams:
E: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,
E: and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
D: (7) And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls;
C: and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
B: (8) For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance,
A: and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
“For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse” is complemented by “the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion;” the meaning is that the reason for the Lord’s sword being bathed in heaven and its coming down upon the people of Idumea, or the people cursed by the Lord, is in recompense for their controversy regarding Zion, or the people blessed by the Lord. “Judgment” is equivalent to “the day of the Lord’s vengeance,” providing a definition. Equivalence of “the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah” and “a great slaughter in the land of Idumea” establishes that the people being slaughtered have themselves become the sacrifices—taking the place of their sacrifices left unoffered to the Lord.
Verses 9 and 10 describe the aftereffects of warfare. Verse 9 begins: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.” “Pitch” means tar, asphalt, or petroleum;35 “brimstone” is sulfur, which burns to form an acrid, corrosive smoke that destroys lung tissue when inhaled.36 Fire is an important element in the destruction.37
Verse 10 continues the description: “It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”38 Events similar to those described occurred in 1991 at the close of the Arabian Gulf War in Kuwait, and were witnessed worldwide on broadcast news television. The retreating Iraqi army, intent on inflicting severe economic damage on its smaller neighbor, exploded and ignited hundreds of wellheads in the oilfields. Smoke and flames arose; burning oil flowed across the desert and down stream beds. Extinguishing these hundreds of well fires required painstaking, dangerous work by skilled crews and required many months. Plumes of smoke could be seen vividly on satellite photographs taken from many miles into space. Millions of anti-personnel mines, scattered across the desert by both the Iraqi army and its opponents, prevent free access even years later. Removal of these lethal explosives may take generations. We may expect further fulfillment of this prophecy as more conflicts arise in the oil-rich Middle East.
Verse 11 describes the desolation of these war-torn lands: “But the cormorant and the 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 the stones of emptiness.” The line of confusion and the stones of emptiness could describe cordons and markers denoting areas not cleared of land mines, making travel there hazardous. The Hebrew word translated as “stones” means “plummet,”39 a tool used in surveying.
The names of four animals, three of them birds, have been rendered in the King James Version with some variation from the Hebrew Masoretic text. “Cormorant” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “pelican” or possibly an extinct bird species;40 “bittern” is from a Hebrew word meaning “porcupine;”41 “owl” means “great owl” or the Egyptian “eagle-owl;”42 and “raven” is translated from the Hebrew with the same meaning.43
Verse 12 describes the devastation of political kingdoms: “They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.” “Shall be nothing” means to become “nought” or “non-existing.”44
Verse 13 continues: “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.” Thorns, nettles and brambles arising in vacant palaces and fortresses suggests usage elsewhere of “thorns and briers” representing false doctrines.45 However, thorns, nettles and brambles may have a more literal meaning here, describing the aftereffects of the annihilation. “Dragons” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “serpents,” “dragons” or “sea-monsters;”46 and “owls” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “ostriches;” ostriches dwelling among ruins are symbolic of mourning.47 This word is different from the Hebrew word in verse 11 translated as “owls.”
Verses 12 and 13 contain a chiasm:
A: (12) They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
B: (13) And thorns shall come up in her palaces,
C: and brambles
B: in the fortresses thereof:
A: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
The chiastic structure supports the more literal interpretation of thorns, nettles, and brambles rather than figurative meanings, with “nettles” and “brambles” as the central focus. The meaning here is literal devastation—rather than apostasy and the rise of false doctrines.
Verse 14 further describes wild animals having free rein in the desolate country: “The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” “Satyr” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “hairy,” or “a demon with the form of a he-goat.”48
Verse 15 states: “There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.” “Great owl” comes from the same Hebrew word used in verse 11, meaning “great owl” or the Egyptian “eagle-owl.”49
In verse 16 the Lord declares that all is according to scriptural prophecy and commands that the scriptures be read: “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate. For my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read the names written therein….”50 The meaning is that none of the righteous—those whose names are written in the book of the Lord—will be without their spouse throughout eternity.51 This reality should provide great comfort to those bereft of their spouse in this life, or who never were able to marry during this life—that in the eternity none of the righteous will be without a spouse. This verse teaches that the Lord has commanded prophecies of destruction to be written and fulfilled, but He also promises eternal increase to the righteous.
In verse 17, Isaiah declares: “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.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders: “And I have cast the lot for them, and I have divided it unto them by line….”52 The Lord will divide the land among the righteous and will give it unto them for a perpetual inheritance. “By line” refers to a surveyor’s measuring chain or cord. As rendered by the King James Version, this division of inheritances would be among the wild animals living in the depopulated areas of the world.
Verses 15 through 17 contain a chiasm:
A: (15) There shall the great owl make her nest,
B: and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow:
C: there shall the vultures also be gathered,
D: every one with her mate.
E: (16) Seek ye out of the book of the LORD,
E: and read the names written therein;
D: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate:
C: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.
B: (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,
A: from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.
Prophecy recorded in scripture foretells the devastation of the lands of Edom, left desolate by wars and great slaughter. The central focus, “Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read the names written therein,” testifies that the righteous—jointly with their spouses—will inherit the land forever, like the birds cited as inheriting the land after its depopulation.
1. Doctrine and Covenants 1:7.
2. Verse 1 contains a chiasm: Come near/hear/hearken/people/earth/hear/all/come forth.
3. Doctrine and Covenants 1:1-2.
4. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 141.
5. Doctrine and Covenants 63:32-33.
6. Doctrine and Covenants 87:6.
7. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:2, 4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
8. Parry, 2001, p. 142.
9. Ether 14:21 -23.
10. Verse 4 contains a chiasm: Host/heaven/heavens/host. Parry, 2001, p. 261.
11. Isaiah 34:4, footnote 4c.
12. Doctrine and Covenants 133:7.
13. Isaiah 13:5.
14. Revelation 6:14.
15. Doctrine and Covenants 88:95.
16. Mormon 5:23; 9:2.
17. See Isaiah 1:17; 3:14; 4:4; 28:6.
18. Parry, 2001, p. 142.
19. Doctrine and Covenants 1:13.
20. 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. 7301, p. 924.
21. See Isaiah 21:5.
22. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 123, p. 10.
23. See Genesis 25:30-34; 27:34-38; Hebrews 12:16-17.
24. Doctrine and Covenants 1:36.
25. Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm: Idumea/judgment/sword of the LORD/blood/fat/fatness/blood/sacrifice in Bozrah/great slaughter/Idumea.
26. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7301, p. 924.
27. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1224, p. 131.
28. Isaiah 63:1; see also Doctrine and Covenants 133:46-47.
29. Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm: Fat with fatness/blood/lambs and goats…rams/sacrifice/slaughter/unicorns… bullocks/blood/fat with fatness.
30. Brown et al., 1996; Strong’s No. 7214, p. 910.
31. Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible: Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, 1970, p. 205.
32. Bible Dictionary—Unicorn.
33. See Isaiah 3:16; 33:5, 14, 20; 37:32; 40:9; 41:27; 51:3.
34. Parry, 2001, p. 261.
35. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 2203, p. 278.
36. Webster, p. 179.
37. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12 and pertinent commentary.
38. Verses 8 through 10 contain a chiasm: Day…year/pitch/dust…brimstone/land…burning pitch/it shall not be quenched…smoke thereof/generation to generation.
39. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 68, p. 6.
40. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6893, p. 866.
41. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7090, p. 891.
42. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3244, p. 676.
43. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6158, p. 788.
44. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 657, p. 67.
45. See Isaiah 55:13; 5:6; 9:18; 10:17; 27:4; 32:13 and pertinent commentary.
46. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8577, p. 1072.
47. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3284, p. 419.
48. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8163, p. 972.
49. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3244, p. 676.
50. JST, 1970, p. 205.
51. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 313.
52. JST, 1970, p. 206.