In The Theology of the Book of Isaiah, John Goldingay treats chapters 13-27 of Isaiah as a single collage or section. He is not as sure of this as he is of other sections though.
Sometimes he says that Isaiah consists of 5 or 6 collages. The candidate for the sixth collage is Isaiah 24-27. The previous chapters announced how God deals with specific nations like Babylon or Egypt. But these chapters announce how God deals with the whole earth. They even seem to speak of God dealing with the cosmos.
Some scholars have called these chapters the Isaiah Apocalypse. Goldingay’s definition of an apocalypse is a vision that reveals things not knowable without direct revelation–about the future or about heaven and hell or prehistoric beginnings and posthistoric endings–using vivid imagery and symbolism. By this definition much of Isaiah is apocalyptic. So it is hard to see this section as uniquely so.
But these chapters do go beyond prophecies about specific nations to something more. God’s enemies here are more cosmic. In 24:21 most translations say that the Lord will “punish” the hosts of heaven and the kings of earth. The hosts of heaven seem to be astrological gods associated with the sun, moon, and stars. Then at the beginning of chapter 27 we read that God will “punish” Leviathan, the mythological serpent or sea monster. These are ways of talking about cosmic powers.
That word translated “punish” occurs throughout these chapters. Goldingay says its literal meaning is more neutral. It means something like “attend to.” Sometimes it is translated as “visit.” Goldingay says that in the context of these chapters it means visit in the sense that you might say someone got a “visit” from the mafia!
Goldingay says that the language about resurrection, particularly in 26:19, does not refer to individuals rising from the dead. It is like Ezekiel’s dry bones vision and is about the renewal of the nation.
I think that is true as far as the original Isaiah oracle is concerned. But Goldingay implies that this is true of all “Old Testament” references to resurrection. Surely Daniel 12:2 with its phrase about those who sleep in the dust picks up on Isaiah 26:19. Maybe Goldingay does not think Daniel refers to individual resurrection either. It would be a harder case to make.
An interesting aspect of this part of Isaiah is that it seems to apply concepts like covenant and the purity/violation of the land to the whole world, not just Israel.
“The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the age-old covenant (Isaiah 24:5. My translation: “eternal covenant” is misleading as it has a different meaning in Calvinist and Barthian theology).”
The earth, not just the sacred land of Israel, is subject to defilement. And there is an old covenant that applies to the nations. Perhaps this covenant is the Noah covenant (see Isaiah 54:9-10). But Goldingay applies a different Genesis story: after Abel’s murder the earth is said to cry out (Genesis 4:10). In part, Isaiah 26:21 says
” the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain’ (KJV).
If I correctly remember the priestly theology explained by Israel Knohl and Jacob Milgrom, violence had defiled the earth and led to the Deluge. So Isaiah seems to me to say that God still sees all the bloodstains from all the murders ever committed and that they render the earth impure and in need of cleansing.
Goldingay says that there may be a difference between Abel’s murder and later murders. Abel’s blood cried out to God. But now it seems the earth covers up the blood of the slain. Isaiah envisions that this cover up will not last forever.
At any rate, Isaiah in these chapters goes back behind the election of Israel and the particular covenants with Israel and the consecration of the land of Israel to envision God dealing with all people and the whole world.