Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 11

By Harold Shank

Isaiah 34-35

When the Clouds are Rolled Back as a Scroll


  1. The student can explain how Isa 34-35 provides a suitable conclusion for Isa 28-33.
  2. The student can describe the role of violence in the Bible.
  3. The student will reflect on heaven and hell as the parameters of the human future.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. Teachers may find it helpful to read material on violence in the Bible. Consider:
    1. Terence Fretheim, "God and Violence in the OT" Word and World 24 (Winter 2004) 18-28.
    2. Harold Shank, "Violence: God and the Sword (1 Sam 15)," pages 277-296 in Listening to His Heartbeat-What the Bible Says About the Heart of God. Joplin: College Press, 2009.
  3. Teachers may find it helpful to listen to the lesson by Harold Shank, Is Heaven a Fairy Tale (
  4. Find the words to the song It is Well with my Soul which contains the line about the heavens being rolled back as a scroll. See


The day is coming when the clouds will be rolled back as a scroll. For some it will be a day of destruction and others a day of delight.

Setting the stage

  1. Consult the previous review sections as preparation for summarizing the past classes.
  2. Historical settings for the book of Isaiah.
    1. Isa 1-12 takes place during Syro-Ephraimite War. Events during the war are summarized in Isa 7-8.
    2. Isa 13-23 is a bridge between Isa 1-12 and 24-39 and represents a wide range of historical settings.
    3. Isa 24-39 takes place during the Assyrian siege of 701 B.C. Some events during the siege are narrated in Isa 36-39.
      1. 24-27-Isaiah uses the end time events to give hope for their present.
      2. 28-33-Isaiah uses the fall of North Israel to warn about their present.
      3. 34-35-Isaiah uses Edom to warn about their present
      4. 36-39-Isaiah narrates events at the end of the 8th century leading up to the Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C.
  3. Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C.
    1. Sennacherib (704-701 B.C.), the Assyrian ruler, invaded Judah in 701 B.C.
    2. He attacked and subdued 46 cities in the Judean countryside (according to the Sennacherib or Taylor Prism on which the king recorded his exploits).
    3. As the Assyrian army grew closer to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, Sennacherib sent emissaries calling for the surrender of Jerusalem (Isa 36-37).
    4. During this time Isaiah called for trust in God. Although there are other ways to understand Isa 24-35, these lessons view these sermons as being preached during Sennacherib's assault on Judea and finally during the siege of Jerusalem.

Learning Experiences

  1. Read Isa 35:3-4.
    1. The passage is addressed to those in some kind of crisis. Explore how this description might fit people inside Jerusalem during the Assyrian siege of 701 B.C.
    2. Verse 4 describes two different expectations of God's future work. Discuss how those expectations might have been received by the fearful people described in v 3.
      1. God will come with vengeance to provide recompense against those who have treated others unjustly.
      2. God will come to save those who have been faithful.
    3. These two expectations provide an outline for Isa 34-35. They describe two different expectations of what God will do in the future.
      1. Isa 34-The clouds will be rolled back as a scroll. This chapter describes how God will come to take vengeance on all those who have opposed him. Edom is used as a key example of what God will do. The chapter takes up how God will make all the wrongs right.
      2. Isa 35-They shall see the glory of the Lord. This chapter provides a glimpse into the transformation God will bring to the world of those he redeems and ransoms. The chapter explores the results of God's dealing with the world's injustices (Isa 34) that results in a joyful new world where all is transformed.
  2. Isaiah 34 is particularly violent.
    1. Isaiah seems to have used this chapter and the next as a conclusion to his series of "woes" (chapters 28-33) during the Assyrian invasion. His appeal to the future acts of God aims to affirm God's ultimate presence with those faithful people suffering during the siege and punishment on the wicked whose deeds precipitate the invasion.
    2. This chapter also provides a time for a broader discussion of the violence of God as it has unfolded in Isaiah and as it is portrayed in the Bible.
  3. God and violence (Isa 34).
    1. Note these broader issues about God and violence as expressed in the Bible.
      1. Violence exists in both OT and NT.
        1. OT
          1. Genesis 6:13-And God said to Noah, I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.
          2. Genesis 19:24-Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven; 25 and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
          3. Deuteronomy 20:17-You shall annihilate them— the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites— just as the LORD your God has commanded.
          4. 1 Samuel 15:3-Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.
        2. NT
          1. Matthew 13:41-The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
          2. Luke 19:44-They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. 45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there
          3. Acts 5:5-Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it.
          4. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 1:8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
          5. Revelation 14:10-they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
      2. The OT calls for peace.
        1. Isaiah 2:4-He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
        2. Isaiah 9:6-For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
        3. Isaiah 11: 6-The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
      3. God sharply rejects violent people:
        1. “The Lord…hates the lover of violence” (Ps 11:5),
        2. God commands that Israel “do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow” (Jer 22:3),
        3. God demands that violators of the command “put away violence and oppression” (Ezek 45:9),
        4. God condemns those who do “violence to the earth” (Hab 2:8, 17; see Zeph 1:9).
      4. Divine violence cannot be minimized or denied. Consider these events that all involve violence:
        1. Flood
        2. Sodom and Gomorrah
        3. Sacrifice of Isaac,
        4. 10 plagues
        5. Passover night deaths
        6. Destruction of Jericho
        7. Conquest
        8. Amalekites
        9. Destruction of North Israel and Jerusalem
        10. Hell
      5. God often uses existing human entities as "agents" of his violence.
        1. God works through agents in many ways.
          1. Isa 10:5 (“Assyria, the rod of my anger”).
          2. Isa 45:1 (God’s “anointed” was Cyrus of Persia).
        2. God’s agents of judgment commonly exceed their mandate.
          1. Isaiah 10:6-Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7 But he does not so intend, and his mind does not so think; but it is in his mind to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.
          2. Jeremiah 25:14-For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.
          3. Jeremiah 50:29-Summon archers against Babylon, all who bend the bow. Encamp all around her; let no one escape. Repay her according to her deeds; just as she has done, do to her— for she has arrogantly defied the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.
    2. Based on the above material several observations help explain God's use of violence.
      1. God's use of communal violence often hurts innocent people.
        1. Just as the removal of a tumor destroys healthy tissue, so God's communal violence hurts the innocent.
        2. The Bible seems to reason that at times the innocent die for the larger good of the world community.
      2. God's violence has two basic purposes: judgment and salvation.
        1. God often judges one nation to save another.
        2. Ethnic cleansing of Canaanites in conquest is explained in two ways.
          1. So Israel will not be led astray by their seductive religious practice—Deuteronomy 7:1-5.
          2. Israel is executing God's punishment—Deuteronomy 9:4-6.
      3. God's violence is seldom immediate and often centuries after the initial acts of wickedness.
        1. Gen 15:16-21 announces punishment on the peoples of Canaan for their wickedness. The year is approximately 2000 BC. In 1400 BC Joshua conquers the land and is the agent of God's punishment (Joshua 1-12). God's punishment came 600 years after it was announced.
        2. Exod 17 tells of the Amalekite attack Israel during their exit from Egypt and announces punishment on the Amalekites. The year is approximately 1440 BC. In 1 Sam 15 God finally orders punishment for the Amalekites. The year is about 1100 BC. God's punishment came about 340 years after it was announced.
      4. Divine violence is only in opposition to human violence.
        1. God's use of violence must be considered in light of the Bible's major doctrines. God is eternal and sovereign but enters into relationship with humanity. He clearly outlines the benefits of that relationship and the conditions under which it can thrive. God himself regularly comes to the earth to maintain that relationship in addition to sending prophets and teachers. All of this material is clearly explained in the Bible.
        2. God does not coerce his relationship with us. Humans must enter a relationship with God willingly, which also means that they can reject the relationship and live completely counter to the kind of ideal world that God expects.
        3. God, through covenant, preaching, the cross, worship, the church and a host of other means, provides ways of mending the divine-human ruptures. He often waits patiently while sin spirals deeper toward depravity (see Judges or Isaiah 9). God even allows humans to oppress others including the most vulnerable and faithful on the earth. Humans often express dismay with how God permits injustice to continue.
        4. However, as Isaiah clearly teaches, at some point (perhaps known only to God) God responds to stop the human wickedness, depravity and violence. Stopping it includes violence.
          1. We might imagine seeing one man with a knife in hand bent over the body of another man who is motionless. With just that information we might suspect a murder in process. However, if we learn that the scene takes place in an operating room that the motionless man has a tumor and the other man has spent years training on how to remove the tumor, our understanding of the situation changes. Many people who critique God's violence are like those who respond without seeing the whole picture.
          2. Forest fires are destructive to humans and the earth. One of the most effective ways of stopping forest fires is back fires in which the firefighters start another forest fire to deprive the out of control fire of fuel thus stopping it. Using fire to fight fire mirrors God's use of violence to fight violence.
  4. The complete view of the future-Isa 35.
    1. In the midst of a violent time (the Assyrian invasion), Isaiah promises that God will use violence to fight violence (Isa 34) but also reveals the result of that use of violence (Isa 35). Despite the lengthy treatment of violence, Isaiah's presentation allows this lesson to conclude on a positive note.
    2. When the wicked world is put in its place (Isa 34) three things happen (Isa 35).
      1. Nature is renewed-Isa 35:1-2.
      2. People are renewed-Isa 35:4-7.
      3. Future is renewed-Isa 35:8-10.


  1. Weigh the issues involving God and violence.
    1. What is most helpful?
    2. What remains problematic? Why is it problematic?
    3. Discuss whether the people in Jerusalem found Isaiah's explanation helpful.
  2. Plan to have someone share a story of an unresolved injustice (a victim of a drunk driver where the offending party continues to drive, a family whose house was burglarized by people who were never caught, etc.).
    1. How do people deal with these situations?
    2. What are some cases of unresolved injustice where the pain is much more intense?
    3. Identify some popular songs or movies that deal with these issues.
    4. Who makes these injustices right?
    5. How can Christians communicate the biblical response?
  3. Hell receives bad press in contemporary society.
    1. What bothers people about hell?
    2. Compare and contrast heaven and hell.
    3. Why does hell seem to have lost its motivating power?
  4. Do you believe that Isa 34-35 will happen one day?
  5. Compare Isaiah's description of life of the faithful in the future with the Jesus' description of heaven.
    1. Compare Isa 35 with John 14.
    2. Compare Isa 35 with John's presentation of the future in the Book of Revelation.
    3. What is appealing about this kind of future?
    4. Who does it most appeal to?

Additional Study.

  1. Use the following material if the class spends more than one week on Isa 34-35.
    1. There is considerable discussion about the role of Isa 34-35 within the book of Isaiah.
      1. Study the two chapters and note the links between the two. These links suggest that they go together.
      2. Isa 34 is also remarkably similar to Isa 13. Some think there is some connection between the two chapters but that they are now out of place in the book of Isaiah. Others find links between Isa 35 and 40 and draw the same conclusions. These parallels must be noted, but it is easier to keep the chapters in context.
      3. This study views Isa 34-35 as the climax to the woe oracles Isaiah delivered in Jerusalem during the siege negotiations narrated in Isa 36-37 and that Isaiah, by viewing far into the future, was offering comfort to those whose tomorrow looked uncertain.
      4. Isa 34-35 takes the listener into the distant future just as Isa 24-27 did. Knowing the end helps navigate in the present.
  2. Use the following outline to show how this chapter unfolds.
    1. Isa 34:1-2-In the opening verses God calls the entire world to listen to his announcement that he is angry with them and has doomed them to slaughter.
    2. Isa 34:3-7-The chapter then turns to a series of picturesque and often offensive metaphors to describe the total destruction of the known world and universe.
      1. At creation God rolled out sky like cloth which (see Isa 40:22), in future he will roll up like a scroll. At creation God turned on lights, in the future he will turn off the lights.
      2. Brueggemann in his commentary (Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 1-39, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998, p. 270) notes that Isaiah compares the coming destruction to the sacrificing of animals just as the genocide of WWII is often described as a sacrifice with the term "Holocaust" which means burnt offering.
      3. Isa 34:8-15-Isaiah considered Edom the classic explanation of how God will settle matters in the "end time."
        1. According to Amos 1:11-12 Edom had committed well-known and unaddressed atrocities against Judah and Israel. Although the details of this matter are lost, it was apparently on the minds of those inside Jerusalem facing the Assyrian siege. After all, if God had not addressed the Edomite atrocities, how could anyone expect him to address the Assyrian siege?
        2. The words "vengeance" and "recompense" in v8 anticipate the summary statement in Isa 35:3-4
        3. Isa 34 describes God settling an unresolved matter of injustice, wickedness or oppression.
        4. The focus of this section is on the complete and utter desolation of the Edomites, and through their example, the ultimate removal of all nations and peoples who opposed God and who committed wicked and unaccounted for acts in human history. There will be no survivors.
      4. Isa 34:16-17-In the final verses Isaiah urges the people to read what has previously been written. During the siege the people apparently had access to previous judgments and predictions which history had now proved to be true. Reread Isa 8 and 30 to see references to Isaiah's words being preserved. The final verse reverses the work of the book of Joshua in which lots were taken to divide up the land among the people, whereas in the future God will cast lots to divide up the land among the remaining scavenger animals.
      5. A review of violence in Isaiah.
        1. The terror passages of Isaiah 2:10, 19, and 21 suggest Jerusalem was a place of extreme human violence: 1:15; 18 (scarlet and crimson refer to shed human blood), 21; 2:7b; 3:14-15. To those who were oppressed, the coming terror on the uncaring ruling class in Jerusalem was a word of hope and may be the context in which we are to read 2:2-4 and 4:2-6. God announces the coming destruction well in advance and pleads for a change of heart: 1:18-20; 2:5, 22.
        2. The vineyard parable in Isa 5 adds another crucial element to understanding how God acts. When he resorts to violence it is only after years and decades of pursuing alternative courses.
        3. The images in 5:26-30 of the invading army provides additional information on the nature of God's destruction and violence.
        4. Summary of Isaiah 1-6. God holds his own people accountable, he gives specific examples of what prompts such violence, he asserts that the people's denial of the problems will not deter the punishment, he sent prophets to teach and warn, and he announces that it is appropriate to fear the destructive power of God.
        5. In Isa 7-10 God promises to take violent action against North Israel and Assyria.
        6. The homecoming of God's people in Isa 11 calls for giving up violence (see 2:1-4; 11:6-9, 13) and the use of violence (14) which seems contradictory. These verses may anticipate the bitterness between the later Jews and Samaritans seen in Ezra and Nehemiah and in the NT (cf. Jn 4). There also seems to be evidence of conflict in post exilic Jerusalem discussed in Isa 56-66. One explanation is that enacting the kind of righteous and equitable community of Isa 11:1-9 may call for firm measures against those who oppose a righteous and equitable community because they hoard resources and refuse to participate in community well-being. Consider that the wicked of any age challenge the kind of community that God imagines. God often uses violence to remove their resistance.
        7. Isaiah 13-23 explores the nature of God's power. God used violence as a means of dealing with wicked nations (14:4-6; 13-15). These chapters also give voice to the victims of injustice violence that are otherwise unheard.
        8. Isa 26:21 describes a theophany in which God comes to punish the earth for its violence reflecting the final judgment as in Isa 24 and perhaps the plague on Assyrian soldiers in 701.
        9. Isa 28:23-29 uses a farming illustration (much like Isa 5 and 27) in which just as the farmer knows how to plant, harvest and process crops, so God knows how to lead Jerusalem. The implication is that just as harvest often involves some violent acts (beating dill with a stick, v 27), so God's plans for Jerusalem involve violent acts to discipline his people (siege of 701).
  3. Compare the description of the future in Isa 6:9-10 with this depiction of a God planned eternity in Isa 35:5-6.
  4. Read Isa 35:8-10.
    1. This passage describes the "Holy Way," the road that those who are faithful to God will travel as they move into the God designed future.
    2. What is the significance of those who are not on the road? What happened to these people and animals?
    3. Redemption and ransom are often taken to refer to one's personal experience of having the bondage of sin removed, but here the terms refer to a universal redemption and ransom. When a person is redeemed, they continue to sin only to have that sin continually removed by the ransom of the cross. The people on this road travel on a highway where sin and wickedness have been removed from reality. Review the scene of the heavenly banquet in Isa 25. Explore the differences between individual redemption and universal redemption.

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