4 Alas, a nation astray, a people weighed down by sin, the offspring of wrongdoers, perverse children: they have forsaken Jehovah, they have spurned the Holy One of Israel, they have lapsed into apostasy.
From addressing his people personally as “Israel . . . my people” (v 3), Jehovah now addresses them impersonally as “a nation,” signifying their alienated state. Additionally, a regression occurs from his people’s simply going “astray” to their burdening themselves with “sin,” which, over time, ends in outright “wrongdoing.” That occurs collectively and generationally. The “offspring of wrongdoers” turn into “perverse children,” meaning that the rising generation has by now become thoroughly corrupt. “Forsaking” Jehovah and “spurning” him finally become conscious and deliberate acts.
The Holy One of Israel. The title of “Holy One,” together with “Valiant One” (v 24) designates Israel’s God more than thirty times in the Book of Isaiah. In this case, it contrasts Jehovah’s holiness with his people’s unholiness. Still, it points to what Jehovah’s people should become—“holy” or “sanctified,” like their God. Both titles—“Holy One” and “Valiant One”—characterize Israel’s God as his people’s exemplar. We observe this in an instance in which Jehovah exempts a righteous remnant of his people called his “holy ones” and “valiant ones” from a worldwide destruction (Isaiah 13:3).
They have lapsed into apostasy. Hebrew nazoru ahor signifies that Jehovah’s people have become entirely “estranged” from him. They have “gone backwards” to what they used to be before they became Jehovah’s covenant people, when they didn’t know their God. In effect, they have become godless again like the world’s heathen nations, but now more so because they have rejected the light they once had. The apostasy into which they began to backslide a generation ago is now complete. As a consequence, instead of enjoying the blessings of the covenant, they must suffer its curses.
5 Why be smitten further by adding to your waywardness? The whole head is sick, the whole heart diseased.
To be “smitten” of God—through plagues, misfortunes, natural disasters, and enemies—constitutes Jehovah’s final attempt to bring his people back to a state of blessedness by influencing or inducing them to repent of evil. Instead, their persistent waywardness compounds their plight (Isaiah 42:18–25; 59:8–10). Illness and disease become rampant, reflecting a society sick in mind and body. Allegorically, the people’s “head” or leadership, and their “heart” or core institutions—in short, their entire establishment, political and religious (Isaiah 7:8–9; 9:14–16)—has degenerated to a pathological state.
6 From the soles of the feet even to the head there is nothing sound, only wounds and bruises and festering sores; they have not been pressed out or bound up, nor soothed with ointment.
Like the wounds, bruises, and sores of an enemy slave—one who receives no chance of being ministered to—Jehovah’s alienated people find themselves in pitiful circumstances. When someone in a gulag becomes ill, that is his problem; he is dispensable. That is the condition to which Jehovah’s people are reduced in his Day of Judgment. Like the Prodigal Son, they have rebelled against Jehovah and squandered their inheritance. Then, when their entire society breaks down, their curse becomes irrevocable. Nevertheless, although a majority suffers misery, there remains hope for some who repent.
Nor soothed with ointment. The idea of being “soothed with ointment,” which is denied the wicked, Jehovah doesn’t deny the righteous. We observe his healing and anointing his repentant people later in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 30:26; 57:18–19; 58:8; 61:3). It is for the reader to discover such antitheses by searching Isaiah’s terms and concepts. In other words, although Isaiah has us wade through the judgmental parts of his prophecy before he presents Jehovah’s glorious promises, all doesn’t end in gloom and doom. If Jehovah’s people repent in time, they may yet qualify for his divine blessings.
7 Your land is ruined, your cities burned with fire; Your native soil is devoured by aliens in your presence, laid waste at its takeover by foreigners.
While the “land” refers to the Promised Land—which Jehovah grants as a covenant blessing to his people who keep his law and word—the land’s invasion and destruction by enemies signifies covenant curses directed at a generation of Jehovah’s people that has turned to wickedness. In a historical context, the “land” is the Land of Canaan, which ancient Israel conquered under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. In an end-time context, the “land” is the one occupied by those who profess to be Jehovah’s covenant people in that day, which their forebears obtained from Jehovah as a covenant blessing.
As determined by Isaiah’s network of synonymous parallels, the terms “fire” (v 7) and “sword” (v 20) possess dual meanings. Besides their literal meaning, these terms designate persons who personify Jehovah’s fire and sword, who serve as his instruments in punishing the wicked. In a historical context, one such person is the “king of Assyria”—who also appears under his idolatrous title “king of Babylon”—whom Isaiah represents as conquering the world (Isaiah 10:5–14; 13:4–5; 14:4, 6; 37:18). In an end-time context, a similar archtyrant—a modern-day Antichrist—likewise conquers the world.
Aliens . . . foreigners. Conceptually, in the Book of Isaiah, invasive aliens and foreigners identify the Assyrian alliance that conquers the world (Isaiah 5:26–29; 10:5–7, 28–32; 13:4–5; 28:11, 22; 33:19; 62:8). From the way the Hebrew prophets portray world affairs, we learn that the rise of Assyria as a superpower occurs in direct proportion to the apostasy of Jehovah’s covenant people, in the end-time as anciently. Without that precondition foreign nations could not dominate the world stage nor invade the lands of Jehovah’s people. Still, one place Assyria is unable to conquer is Zion.