Isaiah 25 flies in the face of all that the world knows to be true. It falls after the apocalyptic vision in chapter 24 where God lays waste to the earth. Chapter 24 makes sense. As we turn on the television or watch the news across our computer screens or sit in movie theaters to watch another cinematic apocalypse unfold, our imaginations are full to the brim of destruction. We can more readily conjure images of utter devastation than we can decide on which restaurant we want to go out to. We hear of a new tragedy every day. We accept 24 without hesitation. “The earth staggers like a drunkard, it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again” (24:20). The world is out of joint.
And yet, the oracle of Isaiah 25 calls forth a new imagination. Verse 1-9 hums with hope. This passage affirms again and again that God will not leave the earth in destruction, decay, and death. It has been under the rule of humanity that the world has been brought into sin, and it is only by the grace of God that this reign will be ended. Help is on the way.
From the very first verse, the confession of faith is that YHWH will be the one to bring about goodness and redemption. Verse one can even be understood emphatically: “YHWH, you are my God.” The rest of the verse sits counterpoint to the destruction of chapter 24. Here, the Lord is exalted and praised because in steadfast faithfulness, God has brought about wonderful things. The perfect tense of the verb as an action verb points to a completed action. God has already done these wonderful things which, the chapter continues, are indeed the very destruction of the city. This is a theme from chapter 24 and represents not an actual city but the very essence of human power. Because of God’s unique ability to overthrow human dominion and pride, all the peoples of the earth will offer praise to YHWH.
But these verses go on declaring what exactly it looks like for God to tear down the strength of humanity—it is God being the God of the weak. Verses 4-5 cry out that the strength of God is on the side of the poor, the needy, and the victimized. Those who have no strength are defended by the one who is strong enough to defeat all of the human race. Oppression has met its match.
Verses 6-8 carry the most profound juxtaposition of images. Throughout this section, the prophet Isaiah reverses common images to display the unique identity of this God. The name for God in this verse is YHWH Sebaoth, translated as Lord of hosts in the NRSV or as Lord Almighty in the NIV. The Hebrew points to something more like God of Battle or Lord of War. This Lord of War will set a table for all people on the mountain, most likely Zion. The God of Battle will present the people of the earth with a rich banquet, rather than war. War will be a distant memory, for death itself will be destroyed. Verse 7 declares that here, on Zion, rather than destroying the earth, this God of War will destroy death, the shroud over all persons of the earth. Death will be swallowed up. War is waged against the enemy of death, and God will be victorious. Then in verse 8, the prophet changes names to Adonai YHWH, Lord God, a kingly title. This God who swallows up death and undoes war reigns, yet even this power is redefined by this God, who is intimate enough to be known as “my God.” The reign of God is defined by the wiping away of tears, by the removal of disgrace. All people, not just Israel or Judah will be comforted by the Sovereign Lord. Death no longer reigns, nor does humanity.
Dominion belongs to the Lord.
Verse 9 reuses the refrain of 24:21 “In that day…” Where in the previous chapter, it signals YHWH’s punishment of the powers of the world, here it signals the redemption of the weak. This is not only the prophet’s God; this is the God of all the needy. All who have trusted in God will surely see the salvation of God and rejoice. This refrain will be repeated several times over through the next chapters. Every time signaling that YHWH will be bringing about something new and that the people have seen it take place.
Chapter 25 seems to signal that what the earth may view as its destruction will actually be its deliverance. When the earth is shown who the true king is, surely all politics will be upended. Surely all commerce will be disrupted. Surely systems that seems commonplace in a fallen world will be broken. Yet Isaiah affirms that this is exactly what the faithful long for. Those who are desperate and in need of God’s saving will not be let down. In these days, times where the world seems most dark and devoid of hope, it is in these days that we need to hear Isaiah’s new imagination for us. We must declare to ourselves and to God’s people that the Lord wins. That all of the machinations of death and injustice will be put to an end. That all oppression and sorrow and death will be swallowed up into the very heart of God. A new truth is declared that tears asunder the very fabric of our world. The truth of God’s reign is that it will be unlike any reign we now see—it will be the reign of a loving and gracious God who rights wrongs and binds wounds.
 Ross, Barry L. Isaiah 1-39: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition from New Beacon Bible Commentary. Beacon Hill Press: Kansas City, 2016.