John Goldingay in The Theology of the Book of Isaiah treats Isaiah 28-39 as a section. As 1-12 dealt with oracles in the time of King Ahaz, so 28-39 deals with the times of the son of Ahaz, Hezekiah.
It was a time when Israel could see a series of dominoes, including the Northern Kingdom of Israel, falling to Assyria. They sought security through alliance with nations like Edom and the more powerful Egyptian kingdom.
In Isaiah 28:15 Isaiah has Judah saying “we have made a treaty with death.” The word for death is mot which is also the name of the Ugaritic and Phoenician god of death. It also sounds very close to Mut, the mother goddess and protector of Egypt. In the context of Isaiah 28 the treaty with death is a play on words to say that making a treaty with Egypt and trying to come under the protection of Mut is in reality making a treaty with Death and Sheol.
What is present as a play on words in Isaiah 28 becomes explicit in chapter 31 with its warnings against trusting in Egypt.
The Ariel was a hearth surrounding the altar in the Temple where worshipers brought sacrifices to burn. Isaiah 29:1 ff. turns this word into a name for Jerusalem herself. The people of Jerusalem stand in danger of being themselves consumed like a sacrifice on the altar. This is what Isaiah envisions happening to Edom (34:6-7). But, anticipating the narrative of chapters 36-39, Isaiah says it will be a close call but Jerusalem will be saved (29: 4-5).
This is the basis for the prophecies of reversal and restoration in 32-33 and 35.
The beautiful prophecy of the restoration of Israel in Isaiah 35 gives us a glimpse of Isaiah’s logic. He clearly sees that God may use the swords and armies of enemies as his own arm to bring disaster to Israel. Nevertheless, it will absolutely be necessary for God to restore Israel and to bring redress for the cruelty of her enemies. Thus he says:
Tell those who panic,
“Be strong! Do not fear!
Look, your God comes to avenge!
With divine retribution he comes to deliver you” (Isaiah 35:4 NET Bible).
Goldingay says that the idea of divine revenge that comes across in most translations here is a little misleading. The Hebrew word naqam suggests a just punishment that fits the crime. So redress is a better translation.
This sheds some light on the prophecy against Edom in chapter 34. Historically, it seems that Edom broke faith and supported Babylon when Jerusalem finally fell. Edom benefited from this and occupied southern Judah during the Second Temple period. However, Edom was never subject to bloody annihilation as you might think Isaiah 34 prophesies. As the Idumeans of pre-New Testament times, they converted to Judaism.
The narrative chapters 36-39 fall into this section in Goldingay’s idea of 5 or 6 collages. I am interested in the historical nature of these chapters. So I am going to treat them in a separate post.