Does Isaiah 24 speak of Climate Change?
Correlating Climate Change with Bible Prophecy
Whilst Isaiah spoke to rebellious Judah, in chapter 24 he also speaks to the rebellious nations of the whole earth. The context appears to be the state of the earth just prior to the Lord’s return. But unlike the ultimate judgments of Revelation 6-18, the judgements of chapter 24 appear more specific. Could they refer to the long-term effects of global warming? Consider the following correlations with reality.
Verse 1,3: Desertification and Migration
Here, ‘earth’ (Hebrew: ‘erets’) means the whole world, as in Genesis 1 (the same Hebrew word is used for earth throughout Isaiah 24), and the term “makes the earth empty” means to depopulate. Climate change increases desertification, creates waste land and forces the inhabitants out. Already, people are being uprooted (scattered) from their homes due to desertification. The Sahara desert is now 10% larger than it was in 1920, and some 80% of people in Ethiopia and Kenya are threatened by desertification.
For a 2 degree warming by 2050 over 30% of earth’s land surface could be affected by aridity and desertification. The IPCC expect that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration and analysts predict there could be 200 million ‘climate refugees’ by 2050.
Verse 2: None Exempt
Climate change affects everyone, small or great, rich or poor, although currently it tends to impact the poorest countries more than the wealthy, link. For example, rising seas threaten those in low-lying, small island states such as the Marshall Islands. That said, the rich also suffer and wildfires have already destroyed the luxurious homes of celebrities in California. Looking at the big picture, at least 85% of the world’s population has been affected by human-induced climate change. That’s why nearly 200 countries, rich and poor, were represented at COP26.
Verse 4,6: Drought and Heat
Here the (whole) earth mourns or “dries up” (NASB). Warming increases evaporation on land, which worsens drought and creates conditions more prone to wildfires. NASA has warned that, even if greenhouse gas emissions level off by the middle of the 21st century, the likelihood of megadroughts (droughts lasting 10 years or more) will increase from the current figure of 12% to more than 60%.
When it comes to temperature, verse 6 may also be alluding to the extreme heat in Revelation 16:8,9. But record temperatures near or over 50 °C are already being recorded. The Pacific north-west has warmed by 1.7C in the past 50 years and in 2021 this contributed to historic heat waves in California and Canada. Also in 2021 a new European temperature record of 48.8°C was set in Sicily, and Jacobadad (Pakistan) hit a staggering 52°C. The IPCC worst-case scenario predicts a total increase of more than 4.5°C by 2100.
Verse 5: A Polluted Earth
Prophecy sees an earth defiled (Hebrew: ‘chaneph’, polluted) under its inhabitants. Leaving plastic pollution aside, another form of pollution is causing climate change.
Human activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) have fundamentally increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet (NASA). Or, put in the correct time sequence, climate change is the result of much pollution. When fossil fuels are burned, they release nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, which contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain. This excess nitrogen in the atmosphere is deposited back onto land, where it washes into nearby water bodies – increasing harmful algal blooms and oxygen-deprived aquatic zones.
Nitrogen oxides come from car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. When sunlight hits these chemicals, they form airborne particles and ground-level ozone—or smog aka air pollution. For example, since 2000, the number of people who have died from air pollution (heavy smog) in the Peoples Republic of China tops 30 million [New Scientist magazine]. China was the biggest emitter of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2020.
Verse 7-12: Abandoned Cities
These verses imply the demise of cities. Scientists predict entire cities will be abandoned in the future. Some cities are sinking as increasing sea levels encroach on their coasts (NOAA predicts a sea level rise of more than six feet by 2100), while others are sinking because of excessive groundwater pumping. A study in Nature shows that flooding could cost the world’s coastal cities more than $60bn per year in total by 2050. And that’s only if they take mitigation measures. Cities in danger are urban hubs like New York City, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Rotterdam, Venice, Mumbai, Lagos, Shanghai, Dhaka and Tokyo.
Verse 14-16: Remnant Faith
Despite traumatic world events, it seems some parts of the globe will still be proclaiming the glory of the Lord God of Israel “in the coastlands (islands) of the sea”. Whilst some understand this to refer to the Mediterranean Sea, there is strong biblical, historical and present-day support for a wider view, link, link. These texts could be a reference to those descended from the lost tribes of Israel, some of whom are now located in Northwest Europe and North America. Certainly, it is the Christians in America and Britain (and descendants in Australia/New Zealand) who stand out as supporters of Israel.
Verse 18: Torrential and Flooding Rains
Here ‘windows’ (Hebrew, ‘arubbah’) means ‘sluice’ – an opening for water. The same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 7 to describe Noah’s Flood. This suggests increased torrential rains. What does science say?
Research shows that the air can hold 7% more water vapour for every one-degree Celsius rise in temperature. So the hydrological cycle is expected to intensify with global warming, which likely increases the intensity of extreme precipitation events (assuming water is available) and the risk of flooding [Nature, 2020]. On the basis of ensemble climate model projections under a high-emission scenario, approximately two-thirds of land on Earth will face a “wetter and more variable” hydroclimate [Science Advances]. Already, studies found that downpours in Europe (as in Germany 2021) are up to 19% heavier because of human-caused warming.
Verse 20: Earth Axis Wobble
A straight reading of verse 20 implies that the earth ‘wobbles’ (Hebrew, ‘nuwa’ – reels, staggers, totters, moves) on its spin axis. Natural wobble of a spinning non-spherical object is of course well known scientifically. But is this wobble affected by climate change?
Certainly, according to NASA, global warming is shifting the way the earth wobbles on its polar axis. Massive Greenland and Antarctic ice loss, plus the deficit of water in Eurasia (drought and depletion of aquifers) is changing the distribution of weight on the earth, link. Such redistribution of mass affects the planet’s rotation or wobble (like a weight added to a spinning top).
Whilst these changes are currently relatively small, verses 19 and 20 imply that they could be destructively larger in the future.
Why these Judgements?
Verse 5 Explains
Modern man has transgressed God’s laws for living. He has stepped over God’s moral boundaries by actually changing, ignoring or outwardly rejecting the word of God (the ordinance). And man has ignored (broken) God’s “everlasting covenants” found in the Bible. For example:
- Many governments have changed God’s ordinance on active same-sex relationships, even to the extent of changing God’s definition of marriage! For some institutionalised churches, marriage is now no longer defined as being between one man and one woman; it is now between ‘two persons’
- When it comes to everlasting covenants, most treat as myth (or are simply ignorant of) God’s covenant with man never to again destroy the earth by water. Despite abundant geological evidence, many simply don’t believe in Noah’s universal flood (and God’s rainbow sign is now adopted as a symbol of moral defiance)
- Man rejects God’s word about Israel. Specifically, the nations ignore God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham to give his descendants all the land of Canaan (embracing all of what was historically called Palestine). So today we have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is mainly about so-called ‘occupied land’
- Most importantly, many ignore the New Covenant between God and man which offers free salvation and reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Only about 30% of the world claim to be Christian and national leaders are invariably politically correct by not acknowledging the unique role of Christianity amongst faiths
To quote Isaiah again:
When Your judgments are in the earth the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9)