As Latter-day Saints, we believe in the literal burning of the earth associated with the Lord’s Second Coming. We believe the flood in the days of Noah and the cleansing by fire in the last days represent the baptism of planet earth—that the earth itself must be born of the water and the spirit—not in order to enter the kingdom of God but in order to become the kingdom of God.
These passages are not figurative. We believe that some scriptures are figurative. Ironically, we believe that the fires of hell are figurative representations of the mental, spiritual, and emotional torment of realizing that God’s laws have been trampled on. “a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness” becomes your own tormentor, “the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.” (Alma 5:18; 36:14) Joseph Smith said, “A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone. I say, so is the torment of man.” (Teachings, p. 357)
The fires of hell are figurative. The fires of vengeance upon the wicked are literal. Isaiah saw them.
Isaiah 34:2 his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them
Attending the Second Coming will be the ultimate show of power. In meekness, the Lord came the first time. He would be accused and take it. He would be spit upon and hold his tongue. He would be judged by those who had no right to judge him. He would be condemned to die and suffer it.
Not the Second Time! The Lord comes in his battle fatigues on a white horse, ready for battle:
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns…
and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood…
and the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean…
And the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army…
And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. (Rev. 19:11-21)
Isaiah 34:4 all the host of heaven shall be dissolved… and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf
The “host of heaven” must refer to the stars of the heavens that will fall from their places. We are not talking about meteor showers and the usual falling stars. The planet’s position in the cosmos is going to change so that the heavens will no longer look the same. All the astrologers will be out of business. None of the constellations will look the same.
Isaiah 34:4 the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll
What is that going to look like?
When the universe shall roll up like a scroll, (Isa. 34:4, 3 Ne. 26:3, D&C 88:95) the earth melt with fervent heat, and mountains run down like wax, unregenerate man, full of pride, will learn what God hath in reserve for those who hate Him and despise His works. As this earth was cleansed by a literal baptism of water, so will it be purified by a literal baptism of fire, and all the proud and those who love iniquity, will be burned up, even as stubble is consumed by fire. Mal. 4:1 Happy then will ye be if you have been tried as gold in the furnace seven times heated. (Dan. 3:19) Better welcome a few trials now, that tend to increase your love of God and of your fellow man, than to go heedlessly like the dumb brute, to the sacrifice. (Journal of Discourses, 26:211-212)
This is what comes after. We recognize here that there is more to come. This is what we have to look forward to in the end. This is to make us behave, and I hope we do. When that curtain comes down, then you'll see the real stage. Then the whole thing will open out to us and we'll see what it is. Will you deny then that Christ is real, "or can ye behold the Lamb of God? Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt?" This is what we're going to do-to shift to this other world here. It's all working up to this. (Teachings of the Book of Mormon--Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures…, 1988--1990 [Provo: FARMS] 229)
Isaiah 34:5 my sword… shall come down upon Idumea
Idumea and Edom are synonyms. The Edomites were long time enemies of the Jews. Isaiah’s use of Idumea is the same as other prophets’ use of the term Babylon, representing the kingdom of wickedness at the end of the world that will be destroyed when the Lord comes again.
“Edom… was an ancient kingdom in Transjordan located between Moab to the northeast, the Arabah to the west and the Arabian Desert to the south and east. Most of its former territory is now divided between Israel and Jordan. Edom appears in written sources relating to the late Bronze Age and to the Iron Age in the Levant, such as the Hebrew Bible and Egyptian and Mesopotamian records. In classical antiquity, the cognate name Idumea was used for a smaller area in the same general region.
“Edom and Idumea are two related but distinct terms relating to a historically-contiguous population but two separate, if adjacent, territories that were occupied at different periods of their history by the Edomites/Idumeans. The Edomites first established a kingdom ("Edom") in the southern area of modern Jordan and later migrated into southern parts of the Kingdom of Judah ("Idumea", or modern southern Israel/Negev) when Judah was first weakened and then destroyed by the Babylonians, in the 6th century BC.
“Edom is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible but also in a list of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I from c. 1215 BC and in the chronicle of a campaign by Ramses III (r. 1186–1155 BC). The Edomites, who have been identified archaeologically, were a Semitic people who probably arrived in the region around the 14th century BC. Archaeological investigation showed that the country flourished between the 13th and the 8th century BC and was destroyed after a period of decline in the 6th century BC by the Babylonians.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edom)
Isaiah 34:6-7 the sword of the Lord is filled… with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams
The peace offering was either a lamb or a goat. The sin offering was a bullock. The priest was to offer these sacrifices to the Lord to atone for the sins of the people. Over the centuries, a lot of sacrifices were made; a lot of blood was spilt; a lot of fat was burnt on the altar (Lev. 3-4).
And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head, and kill the bullock before the LORD.
And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation:
And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the LORD, before the vail of the sanctuary.
And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation; and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And he shall take off from it all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards,
And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away,
As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering.
And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung,
Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt. (Lev. 4:4-12)
Isaiah is painting us a picture. The picture is that of the Second Coming and the destruction of the wicked. The sword of the Lord will kill the wicked just as the knife of the priest killed the sin offering. Just as there was a lot of animal blood spilt over the years, there will be a lot of human blood spilt by the sword of the Lord. Now Christ is the Great Priest, having made atonement for the sins of the world, makes the wicked of the world to be the ultimate peace offering and sin offering. It is the tragic culmination of their wicked ways. The Lord has warned, “if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:17). The wicked won’t repent, so they must die as the Savior died when he was the infinite and ultimate sacrifice on Golgotha.
Now let’s return to Isaiah’s prophecy. “The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.” Idumea, a type for the wicked in the last days, is the site of a great slaughter. Just as the priest would “pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar” and burn all “the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks,” so shall the land of Idumea “be soaked with blood and their dust made fat with fatness.” The wicked of the last days will die by sword and fire, “For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses.”
Isaiah 34:8 For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the year of recompenses… for Zion
In the words of the Lord himself:
I have sworn, and the decree hath gone forth by a former commandment which I have given unto you, that I would let fall the sword of mine indignation in behalf of my people; and even as I have said, it shall come to pass.
Mine indignation is soon to be poured out without measure upon all nations; and this will I do when the cup of their iniquity is full.
And in that day all who are found upon the watch-tower, or in other words, all mine Israel, shall be saved.
And they that have been scattered shall be gathered.
And all they who have mourned shall be comforted.
And all they who have given their lives for my name shall be crowned.
Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.
Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered…
And prepare for the revelation which is to come, when the veil of the covering of my temple, in my tabernacle, which hideth the earth, shall be taken off, and all flesh shall see me together.
And every corruptible thing, both of man, or of the beasts of the field, or of the fowls of the heavens, or of the fish of the sea, that dwells upon all the face of the earth, shall be consumed;
And also that of element shall melt with fervent heat; and all things shall become new, that my knowledge and glory may dwell upon all the earth. (D&C 29:10-25)
Isaiah 34:9-10 the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone
In a variation of the usual “fire and brimstone” prophecies, Isaiah offers a unique image, found nowhere else in scripture, the idea of “burning” pitch”. Pitch is tar, so there will be burning tar pits in Edom or Idumea after the fiery destruction of the wicked.
Isaiah 34:11-15 the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it
Who knows what a cormorant or bittern is? These terms describe creatures hard to translate into modern English. Our LDS Jewish linguist Abraham Gilead renders cormorant and bittern as “hawks and falcons.” (http://www.isaiahexplained.com/34#one_col)
“Unusual birds and strange animals are mentioned in verses 11 and 14… In these verses, we see before us not only a desert wilderness, but also a dreadful desolation where sights and smells of burning sulfur and smoke offend our senses. Thorns and weeds inhibit movement, and strange creatures of the air and night bring foreboding to the heart. It is no wonder humans do not travel through the area (v. 10). Indeed, the destruction is so complete in this land that Isaiah borrows two rhyming terms (tohu and bohu) from Moses' story of the earth's desolate condition before it was organized: without form (confusion) and void (emptiness) (compare v. 11 with Gen. 1:2).
“The land is not devoid of all life, however, only of human inhabitants. Having banished men from the area, the Lord transforms their cities and dwellings into nests for birds and dens for animals so that instead of these cities standing as monuments of human achievement, they become memorials of foolish ambition. The homes of men are occupied by animals whose wild dispositions resemble those of the original occupants. As John Calvin said of this series of events:
“This overthrow of order is likewise a sad token of the wrath of God, where the earth, which was created for the use of man, beholds its natural lords banished, and is compelled to admit other inhabitants; . . . yet this is also a punishment threatened against the cruelty of a wicked nation, which was eagerly bent on the oppression of neighbors and brethren. (Calvin's Commentaries, Isaiah 3:55-56.)” (Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 309-310)
Isaiah 34:16 Seek ye out of the book of the Lord and read: no one of these shall fail
“Go look it up in your scriptures! Give it a read! All of these prophecies are there, and all of them will be fulfilled.”
For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.
And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed.
And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.
And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.
Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants, and my preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth.
Wherefore, fear and tremble, O ye people, for what I the Lord have decreed in them shall be fulfilled…
For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.
And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.
Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. (D&C 1:1-7, 35-37)
L. Tom Perry
All the standard works of the Church instruct us to read and ponder the scriptures. From the Old Testament we read, "Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read" (Isaiah 34:16). From the New Testament, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, observes, "My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children" (2 Nephi 4:15). Counsel from the Pearl of Great Price promises, "And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived" (Joseph Smith— Matthew 1:37). And finally, in the Doctrine and Covenants we read, "First seek to obtain my word . . . ; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men" (D&C 11:21-22).
The scriptures are some of our greatest treasures. They contain the Lord's instructions to his people from the beginning of time. In a world so full of the doctrines of men, we are grateful to have the sure anchor of the scriptures to secure our faith. (Living with Enthusiasm [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 31)
Isaiah 34:17 he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line
When the Israelites finally took possession of the land of Canaan after 40 years of wandering, the Lord designated territories for each tribe to inhabit. (Josh. 13-21) In the final gathering, the Lord will do the same thing.
Notice now that the Lord, by his Spirit, is to have a great gathering in the latter days of his people, and we are advised to seek out of the book of the Lord and learn of this gathering, and how his Saints should inhabit the land. It should be divided unto them by lot, the same as many people received their inheritances when they came into this desert. They cast lots, and drew their lots and inheritances. "And the wilderness and the solitary places shall be glad for them." If you can find a country that answers better the description here given anywhere in the four quarters of the earth, I should like to know it. When we came here, the country to all natural appearance was so barren that it seemed impossible to locate a people upon it. But you see what we have accomplished. Not by our own wisdom nor by our own strength, but by being gathered by the voice of the Lord and by his commandment, and being guided and directed by the spirit of inspiration.
After we are gathered, the desert is to rejoice and blossom as the rose. How often I have thought of this in the spring time, when all of this city, covering some four, or perhaps five square miles with orchards and gardens, is in bloom! Then is the time to realize how literally this prophecy has been fulfilled. Every one knows that fruitful as it now is, when we came here it was called a desert. If you do not believe me, go to the old maps, and you will find this section of the country laid down as "The Great American Desert." That is the name that was given to it then. People, when banded together in a numerous company, and well armed, would hardly venture to pass through this desert country, it was so unpropitious and forbidding. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 15: 58)