But Isn’t The Earth Supposed to Melt Away?

Judgment in the Old Testament

The Old Testament talks often of judgment. This judgment is usually violent and earth-shattering.

The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare. (Psalm 29:8-9)

LORD, when you went out from Seir . . .  the mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai. (Judges 5:4-5)

The mountains will melt under him. (Micah 1:4)

See, the day of the LORD comes,  cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. (Isaiah 13:9-10)

Surely this is talking about the destruction of this world, right?

Not at all, Middleton argues. This judgment is very real and terrifying for those who have chosen to rebel against God, but it is an “intrahistorical” judgment. God’s judgment comes in the midst of everyday life and then life continues, purged of the offending source of evil.  Isaiah 24 speaks of the violent shaking of the world in punishment (vv. 1-13, 17-23b) but by the end of the oracle the redeemed are able to stand before God at Mount Zion (that is, Jerusalem) and sing praise (vv. 14-16, 23b).  Haggai speaks of an overturning of “the nations” (2:6-7) but their treasures will still remain, as will the Temple (2:7).  Repeatedly, the prophets talk of the “Day of the LORD” as a point in history after which more history takes place, not an event at the end of time. Bear in mind too the poetic nature of language. Yes, the sun will stop shining (Isaiah 13:10), the day will turn to dark (Ezekiel 32:7-8), the mountain will melt away (Micah 1:4), and the skies roll up like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4).  But are these descriptions literal? If God’s judgment is “intrahistorical” as Middleton is arguing, these cannot be literal descriptions. And we know language is far more varied and rich (“multivalent” is Middleton’s word) than wooden literalism. God’s judgment is big, bad, and hairy. It shakes up the foundations of the systems presently in place. It changes our world as we know it. It is as if the very ground beneath your feet is moving. Metaphor. Hypothetical. We don’t need to make more of this language than that.

Middleton asserts that judgment is never the point by itself. In the Old Testament we always see God bringing judgment in order to prepare the way for salvation and human flourishing once again. As happened at Babel, with Noah, or the Babylonian Exile, restoration of life and blessing follow destruction. So what can we extrapolate from this regarding the end of the world. If God will work then as He worked in the Old Testament (a safe assumption?), destructive judgment and purging of evil is not the end. History will continue (maybe in some different state?) but in a cleaned up, “refined by fire” fashion (Malachi 3:2-3). That which was tarnished by sin will be redeemed for good purposes (such as the prideful trading ships of Tarshish in Isaiah 2 that return in the new Jerusalem in Isaiah 60 as ships ferrying people to Zion). God will not destroy this world, he will recreate it.