“The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left” (Isaiah 24:5-6).
This is a picture of the world in its end stages, after years of devil-may-care living and breaking “the everlasting covenant” of creaturely obedience to the Creator. It could, of course, describe the last gasps of any particular civilization: Noah’s, the Canaanites’, the Roman Empire’s, America’s. But these cyclical demises are all dress rehearsals for the big final upending of the earth that lies ahead, that cosmic shaking that will remove all sin and causes of sin.
“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26).
Isaiah talked about it 700 years before the author of Hebrews was a twinkle in his mother’s eye, in images that remind me of a clunker car that one has jury-rigged one too many times but that finally keels over:
“For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again” (Isaiah 24:18-20).
My attention is arrested by the last element of the description of a doomed earth, in verse 6: “and few men are left.” I had once assumed it to be a numerical reference, a prediction of population decline—perhaps as a result of war, or disease. But current events have opened up another possibility: Perhaps “few men are left” may be paraphrased as “few real men are left.”
Do the radio commercials tell it all? What does it mean about a culture when ads pitched to men are increasingly about whiter teeth and dieting and hormone enhancement, and when commercial advertising is constantly based on the “dumb male” premise?
Over at The American Spectator, Daniel J. Flynn has a fresh take on an over-baked subject: Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. It makes Isaiah’s very point that “few men are left”: “They don’t make men like they used to.” Flynn called the Zimmerman-Martin case “a tragedy involving two men fumbling in the dark on how to be men. … Whatever the protagonists may be guilty of, they are surely innocent of being men.”
Of the young demographics represented by Martin, he writes, “Rarely, in spite of their exaggerated masculine posturing, do teenage boys behave as mature males.” Of Zimmerman and his ilk, Flynn writes, “One wonders if the cage-fighting classes, the pursuit of a career in law enforcement, and a firearm kept ready to fire were Zimmerman’s ways of discovering his elusive manhood in a manner akin to Trayvon’s tattoos, coarse language, and demonstrative drug use.”
The verdict is in on two males in a celebrated Florida case, but not on manhood in America. One is left pondering the words of a prophet long before our time who perhaps wrote better than he knew when foretelling that the mark of the end would be a civilization in which “few men are left.”