Bookends for “In That Day”
Isaiah 19:1-15 and Isaiah 20:1-6 are like bookends for the section in between. That section, Isaiah 19:16-25, contrasts sharply with the bookends on both sides. Six times Isaiah states, “in that day,” in the middle section.
The first of these six segments is like a bridge from the concrete world of military and national powers to the spiritual world of connectedness in the Lord.
- The content of Isaiah 19:16-17 matches the content of the two bookends.
- The structure (“in that day”) of these same verses matches the unusual content of the enclosed portion, Isaiah 19:16-25.
The Concrete World Contrasts with the Spiritual
In the concrete, physical world, Assyria will sorely defeat and shame Egypt and Ethiopia (Cush). In the spiritual world, somewhere, sometime (“in that day”), God the Lord will unite Egypt, Israel, and Assyria in blessing, good health, and unity. The question is, When does this blessing and unity occur? When, exactly, is “that day”?
“In That Day”
Isaiah uses the phrase “in that day” for the first time in Isaiah 2:11.
11 For the eyes of the Lord are high, but man is low; and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. (CAB, LXE)
If we consider the context for verse 11 as being the entire second chapter, then Isaiah 2:2-4 matches in tenor and tone Isaiah 19:16-25. Both passages describe a time of blessing and unity.
“In the Last Days”
I. The Gospel Period
Isaiah introduces chapter 2 with the phrase, “Now it shall come to pass in the last days.” However, “last days” may or may not be identical with “that day.” As previously stated, the portion of the text from Isaiah 2:2-4 sounds very much like Isaiah 19:16-25.
2 For in the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be glorious, and the house of God shall be on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall come to it.
Isaiah 2:2 is referenced in the gospel portions of the New Testament (Luke 24:47, ESV).
So, “last days” includes the period after Christ’s first advent, the gospel period, the evangelization of the world. That is where we are right now. Because the content clearly correlates well, that would also be the period of time Isaiah 19:18-25 refers to.
II. Isaiah 2:5-8
It seems that in these four verses, Isaiah is no longer in the “last days”, but in his own present. He describes in these verses the conditions of Israel, the northern kingdom, right then.
III. Isaiah 2:9-21
This section matches in tenor and tone Revelation 6:15-17. In fact, Revelation 6:15 quotes Isaiah 2:19 and 21. This scene as described truly is a “last day.” It falls at the close of human history, just as the final judgment draws near.
So Where Do We Place Isaiah 2:11?
Plain English indicates that the phrase “in that day” in Isaiah 2:11 refers to the nearer context rather than the further. That is, it looks back to the time of wrath that began in Isaiah 2:9.
Therefore, we must conclude that sometimes the phrase “in that day” does not have a specific, exact meaning, but one that is context-based. So, the question becomes, what is the context of the passage in Isaiah 19:18-25? Clearly, the context indicates unity and blessing. Fulfillment of the prophecy of unity began to occur as soon as Philip jumped into the carriage with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39) and Paul began preaching his message of reconciliation in Christ (see, for example, Ephesians 2:14-22 and 3:4-10).
Further Examples of “In That Day”
I. Isaiah 4:2-6
Isaiah 4:2-6 opens with “In that day, the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, …” This section opens suddenly, abruptly, with no transition from the previous section. That section describes the religious shortcomings of Judah’s women in his day.
So, in this context, Isaiah does seem to have a particular day or season in mind for the phrase, “in that day.” He means the day of Messiah, the Branch. There again, the advent of Christ introduced the gospel era.
Notice, it is the content of the context that determines Isaiah’s meaning from one place to another.
II. Isaiah 5:30
The very next example of “in that day” confirms the conclusion of the prior section. All of Isaiah 5 describes a period of God’s judgment against his own people in the time period in which Isaiah lived. Context reveals that “in that day” refers to the same period of time in which all the judgments occur.
III. Chapter Seven
In chapter seven, Isaiah contains four rapid fire expressions of “in that day” (Isaiah 7:18, 20, 21, and 23). Each of these refers to the immediately prior context of Isaiah 7:17, the attack and invasion of the Assyrians.
Why Does the “When” in Isaiah 19 Matter?
Why do I sit here, searching through my concordance, reading Scripture far and wide, possibly “nit-picking” over the meanings of words? It is because words matter. Scripture matters. God’s intended meaning matters.
Is the Christian Era Spiritual or Concrete?
Is the Christian era spiritual or concrete? This is an important decision in biblical interpretation. The answer belongs to the realm of biblical presuppositions. Presuppositions describe the way a reader thinks before approaching a text. They include assumptions, beliefs, and preferences every reader carries with them inside their heart of faith. For my own biblical presuppositions, please see Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–My Biblical Presuppositions.
The word “spiritual,” as I use it, refers to things of the Spirit. “Spiritual” has no bearing upon whether something is real or not. The Spirit of God is as real as real can be. But obviously, the Spirit is spirit. Spirit is not a concrete, physical reality. But it is in many ways more real than physical reality.
John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV)
1 Corinthians 2:11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (ESV)
Both Jesus and Paul in the quotations above are describing spiritual realities. How can a “spiritual” understanding of spiritual things be considered a misunderstanding? And yet, one often hears Christians accusing other Christians of “spiritualizing Scripture”, as they interpret certain verses according to spiritual realities rather than physical.
Is “In That Day” in Isaiah 19 Spiritual or Concrete?
The truth is that some Christians highly desire and are made joyful in the spiritual interpretation (having to do with the Spirit of God and his spiritual kingdom on earth) of certain Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 19:18-25. Other Christians highly desire a “concrete” fulfillment of the same prophecies. By “concrete” I mean one which has a physical manifestation.
For example, some Christians respond with great joy when a Messianic Jew, a Coptic Christian from Egypt, and a former Muslim from Mosul, sit in the same congregation together on a Sunday morning to worship the Lord. (Or, perhaps, they sit in different congregations located worlds apart, but they worship in one Spirit, brothers and sisters in Christ nonetheless.) For these Christians, Isaiah 19:18-25 and Isaiah 4:2-6 have already been gloriously fulfilled.
Other Christians wait for the fulfillment of these Isaianic passages until some future time when there will be concrete countries matching their description. During those days, a physical Christ will sit in a physical temple in a physical Jerusalem and rule.
In other words, some Christians envision the PRESENT and the END as the two great movements remaining in history. Other Christians envision the PRESENT, a middle, concrete kingdom of Christ they call the MILLENNIUM, and then the END. For those who may not already know, I am of the former group.
Are these distinctions worth fighting about? Not really. They do, however, influence how one reads Scripture.
Why Do One’s Presuppositions Matter?
Those who claim that “in that day” in passages such as Isaiah 4:2-6 and Isaiah 19:18-25 refer to an as-yet-future time for Christ to reign physically on earth, before the last days of judgment and new creation, rob the present moment of its fulfillment of the blessings in Christ Isaiah presents. They rob us, the church down through the ages. The reign of Christ is now. His kingdom on earth is now. The Holy Spirit has been given now. We have these blessings in Christ now.
CONCLUSION: Ultimately, which camp one falls into is a matter of worldview: Is Christ and his kingdom in this present era about concrete realities or spiritual realities? Each reader must decide for themselves how they will answer the question of “When?” in this passage in Isaiah.