(12) It will happen on that day â€“
YHWH will beat out the people like grain,
from the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt.
And you will be gleaned one by one, Israelites!
(13) It will happen on that day â€“
The great shofar will be blown,
and those who are lost in the land of Asshur,
and those who are scattered in the land of Egypt
will come and worship YHWH,
on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem. — Isaiah 27:12-13
God is a God of gathering. This text from Isaiah 27 comes from a short apocalypse, or revelation, in the book of Isaiah, in which chapters 24-27 deal especially with end times. It’s a difficult section of the book to interpret, and it often gets treated as scattered bits and pieces rather than an organized, coherent picture.
But God’s activity at the end will not be something that can easily described. One of the reasons Biblical passages on this topic are often hard to interpret is that we have a hard time thinking like God does. In fact, we can’t think like God does.
The key element of the end of time will be one thing: Gathering. Now gathering may sound pretty uncomplicated. It’s harvesting, bringing things together, getting things or people together in a group. But that one word â€œgatheringâ€ contains two kingdom principles. The first is separation, making a distinction. Much of our Christian experience consists of testing and learning how to choose one thing or another. Each time we come out of an experience, we gain new knowledge and are better trained to make the right kind of choices.
But God’s task is to separate people into two groups, and only two. Those who are going to be separated out, and those who are going to be separated in. Jesus says it this way:
Whose winnowing shovel is in his hand, to clean up the wheat. He will gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. — Matthew 3:12
You see, in order to gather one group of people together, God has to reject another group. It is not that he wants to do it, but there will be those who will not choose the way of life. What makes the end time so complex is that God has made us very complex. We always want to compromise, to make everything work together. I certainly like to do so, and in the right place reconciliation is good. But ultimately, there is a decision on which no compromise is possible, and no deceit is allowed. You won’t even be allowed to deceive yourself!
The choice is outlined in Deuteronomy 30:15 & 19b: Look! I’m setting before you today life and prosperity or death and disaster. . . so choose life so that you and your descendants may life.â€
God gave Isaiah a message for some later Israelites who thought they could dodge this decision. They thought they could make a compromise with death and still get to live. But it doesn’t work that way.
(14) So hear YHWH’s word, you arrogant men, rulers of these people who are in Jerusalem: (15) “You have indeed said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, and with the grave we have an understanding, the flood of trouble will come, but when it passes, it won’t come to us, because we’ve made deception our refuge, and we’re hidden in a lie.'” (16) So this is the word of the Lord YHWH: “Look! I’ve placed in Zion a rock, a trustworthy cornerstone, a precious foundation stone. The one who trusts it will not panic. (17) But I’ve placed justice as a measuring line and righteousness as a scale, and hail will sweep away your refuge made of deceit, and water will flood your hiding place. (18) Your covenant with death will be annulled, and your understanding with the grave will not hold up. Trouble will flood over you, and you’ll be it’s stomping ground.” — Isaiah 28:14-18
God measures things by what is just and right. His cornerstone did not sin. But the precious foundation stone, the one that can be trusted is also a stumbling block to those who don’t want to stand up to that justice.
God is gathering the ones who want to live forever. Don’t compromise with death. Don’t deceive yourself. Choose life!