See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth 

and devastate it; 

he will ruin its face 

and scatter its inhabitants— 

it will be the same 

for priest as for people, 

for the master as for his servant, 

for the mistress as for her servant, 

for seller as for buyer, 

for borrower as for lender, 

for debtor as for creditor. 

The earth will be completely laid waste 

and totally plundered. 

The LORD has spoken this word. 

 The earth dries up and withers, 

the world languishes and withers, 

the heavens languish with the earth. 

The earth is defiled by its people; 

they have disobeyed the laws, 

violated the statutes 

and broken the everlasting covenant. 

Therefore a curse consumes the earth; 

its people must bear their guilt. 

Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, 

and very few are left.  (Isaiah 24:1-6)
 

This particular passage from Isaiah is a good illustration of the importance of both a proper translation and the importance of paying attention to the context.

 The word that the NIV has here translated as “earth” is perhaps the primary source of the problem, along with the header that it’s translators “helpfully” put at the head of the chapter: “The Lord’s Devastation of the Earth.”  Of course, if we look at other translations of this passage, from the KJV to the RSV, we will discover that they all handle it exactly the same way.

 For me, the impression created upon reading the passage, and I think for most modern readers with even a passing familiarity with modern science fiction films and books, is that God has predicted that aliens are going to invade the world and scatter its inhabitants through the galaxy while burning the planet and slaughtering the rest.

 The correction of this misperception could have been handled easily had the word translated “earth” been translated as “land” as it often is, as in “land of Israel” or “land of Egypt.”  And the context makes this obvious: Isaiah is prophesying about the coming invasion of Judah by the Babylonians.  Not the coming invasion of Earth by the Romulans.  Of course, I could be wrong, since I don’t find any translations that agree with my spin on this.  But I suspect it’s simply because most translators haven’t considered the possible ways the traditional translation of this passage can be twisted by those with a twisted imagination.


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