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Literature / Book of Isaiah

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The Book of Isaiah is the first book of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and the first of the Major Prophets of the Christian Old Testament. The words were written by the 8th century BCE prophet Isaiah, though there is evidence that the majority of the book was written during and after the Babylonian captivity.

Scholars have speculated that there are 3 separate collections of oracles of Isaiah - Proto-Isaiah (Ch. 1-39), containing the words of Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah (Ch. 40-55), the work of an unknown author during the exile, and Trito-Isaiah (Ch. 56-66), an anthology written after the return from Babylon. Despite this view, some speculate that the message of the book is split into two - the first half (1-33) focuses on judgment and restoration of Judah, Jerusalem, and the nations, while the second half (34-66) presumes that judgment was declared but restoration will follow.

Structure of the book:

  • Rebuke and promise from the Lord (Isaiah chapters 1 to 6)
  • The promise of Immanuel (Isaiah chapters 7 to 12)
  • The coming judgment on the nations (Isaiah chapters 13 to 23)
  • The first cycle of general judgment and promise (Isaiah chapters 24 to 27)
  • Woes upon the unbelievers of Israel (Isaiah chapters 28 to 33)
  • The second cycle of general judgment and promise (Isaiah chapters 34 to 39)
  • Comfort for God's people (Isaiah chapters 40 to 66)


  • Accomplice by Inaction: In Isaiah 1:23 God condemns the princes of Judah for not only being companions of thieves, but also by not bringing justice to the fatherless or not defending the case of widows.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Isaiah 24:17 in the Evangelical Heritage Version renders the verse as: "Panic, pit, and peril await all who live on the earth." In the original Hebrew, the verse's first few words are pahad, pahat, and pah.
  • Anti-Love Song: Subverted example: The Song of the Vineyard in Chapter 5 speaks of a vineyard that's just no good, even though its owner does everything he's supposed to, so he's advised to just ditch it. Apparently, the people of Jerusalem were supposed to understand this as an ironic metaphor with the vineyard being a wife. When the metaphor is explained in the end, it turns out that the man is actually God and the vineyard is the nation of Israel. Oops.
  • Auto Cannibalism: God says to Israel in Isaiah 49:26, "I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine."
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: The passage of Isaiah 5:20 condemns the practice of making good and evil equals, making this Older Than Feudalism:
    "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter."
  • Bald of Evil: In Isaiah chapter 3, God says He will curse the beautiful women of Israel with baldness instead of well-set hair, striking the crowns of their heads with a scab and making their foreheads bare, because of their evil doings.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: Actually occurs, of all places, in Isaiah 28:10 and 13. As translated by the New International Version: "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there." (Hebrew: "Sav lasav, sav lasav, Kav lakav, kav lakav, Ze'er sham, ze'er sham.") This represents people mocking the prophet's words as meaningless blabber. The Message translation of the Bible actually says, "blah, blah, blah, blah".
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Isaiah 15:9, part of a prophecy concerning Moab:
    For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
    yet I will bring upon Dibon even more,
    a lion for those of Moab who escape,
    for the remnant of the land. (Revised Standard Version)
  • Blood-Splattered Warrior: Verses 2 and 3 of chapter 63 has the Lord appearing as a warrior saying that He has stained all His clothes with the blood of His enemies.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Isaiah 55:8-9 confirm that God's standards are far beyond humanity's understanding.
    "For My plans are not your plans, nor are My ways your ways —declares the LORD. But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and My plans above your plans."
  • Burn Baby Burn: The last verse of the book (Isaiah 66:24).
    And they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die, nor shall their fire be quenched. And they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Isaiah 30:9-11 speaks of those in Israel who refuse to hear the Word of the Lord.
    ...for this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who refuse to listen to the law of the Lord; they say to the seers, “You must not see visions,” and to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us right things; speak to us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
  • Cargo Cult: Isaiah devotes a good deal of Chapter 44 talking about the people of Israel cutting down a tree, using part of it for fuel and part of it for cooking, and then using the rest of the tree to create an idol that they can pray to as a god. As Isaiah 44:18-20 puts it:
    They have not known nor understood;
    for He has shut their eyes so that they cannot see,
    and their hearts so that they cannot understand.
    No one considers in his heart,
    nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
    “I have burned part of it in the fire;
    I also have baked bread on the coals;
    I have roasted meat and eaten it;
    and shall I make the rest into an abomination?
    Shall I fall down to a block of wood?”
    He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside
    so that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say,
    “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
  • Carpe Diem: In Isaiah 22:13 (English Standard Version):
    ...and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
    “Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Isaiah 11:6 provides the Trope Namer. ("...and a little child shall lead them.")
  • The Chosen One: A prophecy makes mention of the Messiah, a descendent of King David who will defeat the enemies of Israel, rebuild the temple, and and rule Israel as appointed by God himself.
  • The Conspiracy: God tells this to Isaiah in Isaiah 8:12-13:
    You should not say, “It is a conspiracy,”
    concerning all that this people calls a conspiracy,
    neither fear their threats
    nor be afraid of them.
    Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself,
    and let Him be your fear,
    and let Him be your dread.
  • Cool Key: In Isaiah 22:22, God says He will give "the key of David" to His servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who with that key will "open doors that no one can shut, and shut doors that no one can open."
  • Deadpan Snarker: The God Test, where God challenges the idols Israel is worshiping to prove themselves as gods, is four verses of God mocking the idols.
    Foretell what is yet to happen, that we may know that you are gods!
  • Deal with the Devil: The Living Bible translation of Isaiah 28:15 has God through Isaiah telling Israel "You have struck a bargain with death, you say, and sold yourselves to the devil in exchange for his protection against the Assyrians." But God tells them a few verses later "I will cancel your agreement of compromise with death and the devil, so when the terrible enemy floods in, you will be trampled into the ground."
  • Dishonored Dead: For the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:19-20:
    All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory,
    each one in his own tomb;
    but you are cast out of your grave
    like an abominable branch
    and clothed with those who are slain,
    thrust through with a sword,
    who go down to the stones of the pit
    as a corpse trodden underfoot.
    You shall not be joined with them in burial
    because you have destroyed your land
    and slain your people.
  • Don't Look At Me: From Isaiah 22:4:
    Therefore I said:
    “Look away from me,
    let me weep bitter tears;
    do not labor to comfort me
    for the destruction of the daughter of my people.” (Revised Standard Version)
  • Doomed Hometown: For those living in Damascus, Isaiah 17:1 has God declaring that it will become a heap of ruins.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come:
    • Isaiah saw 2 centuries into Israel's future. Some scholars believe these were written by other prophets and attributed them to Isaiah to increase its authority.
    • And possibly even centuries beyond that into the future, when God reveals that He is creating "a new heavens and new earth", which is only seen near the end of the Book of Revelation.
  • Due to the Dead: In Isaiah 53:9, the Suffering Servant was prophesied to be buried "with the rich, in his death— for though he had done no injustice and had spoken no falsehood."
  • Endless Daytime: Isaiah 30:26 predicts that "the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the hurt of His people, and heals the wounds inflicted by His blow."
    • Also in Isaiah 60:19-20:
    The sun shall be no more
    your light by day,
    nor for brightness shall the moon
    give light to you by night;
    but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
    Your sun shall no more go down,
    nor your moon withdraw itself;
    for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended. (Revised Standard Version)
  • Fire Purifies:
    • "The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire." (Isaiah 4:4)
    • "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: Invoked in 43:2.
    "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you."
  • Food Porn: Isaiah 25:6 mentions a (metaphorical) feast. The English translations don't really do it justice.
    On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
    a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    Present your case, says the Lord.
    Bring forth your arguments, says the King of Jacob.
    Let them bring them forth, and show us
    what shall happen;
    let them show the former things, what they were,
    that we may consider them
    and know their outcome,
    or declare to us things to come.
    Show the things that are to come hereafter,
    that we may know that you are gods;
    do good, or do evil,
    that we may be dismayed and see it together.
    Indeed you are nothing,
    and your work amounts to nothing;
    he who chooses you is an abomination.
  • Foreshadowing: In traditional Christian interpretation, Isaiah 53 prophesies the coming of Jesus and his crucifixion.
  • Forgiveness: From Isaiah 55:6-7:
    "Seek the Lord while he may be found,
    call upon him while he is near;
    let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
    let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Revised Standard Version)
    • God says in Isaiah 43:25: "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins."
    • And in Isaiah 44:22, He says, "I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you."
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: One of the sins committed by the people of Israel.
    Isaiah 59:4: No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
  • A God Am I: For the king of Babylon (or The Man Behind the Man, according to Christian interpretation) in Isaiah 14:13-15:
    For you have said in your heart,
    “I will ascend into heaven,
    I will exalt my throne
    above the stars of God;
    I will sit also on the mount of the congregation,
    in the recesses of the north;
    I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
    I will be like the Most High.”
    Yet you shall be brought down to Hell,
    to the sides of the pit.
  • God of Evil: Isaiah 45:7 describes God as both the God of both good and evil, though "evil" is paraphrased as "calamity" as opposed to "moral evil" in this case.
    "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."
  • God Test: God invokes this Himself against the idols that Israel made in Isaiah 41:21-24, with verse 24 being the Foregone Conclusion (see above).
  • Good Shepherd: From Isaiah 40:10-11:
    Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
    behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
    He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
    he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young. (Revised Standard Version)
  • Hate Plague: In Isaiah 19:2, God plans to spread division among the Egyptians.
    "I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom."
  • Heroic Second Wind: "But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired." (Isaiah 40:31, NET Bible)
  • The High Queen: Babylon, personified as a young woman in Chapter 47, is told by God that she will no longer be called "The Queen (or Lady) of Kingdoms."
  • Holier Than Thou: God laments that despite going out of his way to reach out to an obstinate people and offer them everything, many of them still act as if they are too sacred for God himself. The King James translation of Isaiah 65:5 is the Trope Namer.
    "Such people are smoke in my nostrils,
    a fire that keeps burning all day."
  • I Have Many Names: Isaiah 9:6: "And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Although the Book of Isaiah never mentions Jesus by name, most Christians interpret its prophecy of a Messiah to be about Jesus.)
  • Intoxication Ensues: Isaiah 29:9 hints at this possibly happening to Israel's "prophets" (which some Charismatics have interpreted as being "drunk in the Spirit"):
    They are drunk, but not with wine. They stagger, but not with strong drink.
  • It's All Junk: Said a few times throughout this book, in regard to Israel's worship of idols. In Isaiah 2:20:
    In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats Their idols of silver and their idols of gold, Which they made for themselves to worship.
    • And in Isaiah 30:22:
    And you will defile your graven images overlaid with silver, and your molten images plated with gold You will scatter them as an impure thing, and say to them, "Be gone!"
    • And in Isaiah 31:7:
    For in that day every man will cast away his silver idols and his gold idols, which your sinful hands have made for you as a sin.
  • Jumped at the Call: In Chapter 6, when Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord in the days after King Uzziah died, he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Then Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me.” Before He sends him as a prophet, though, the Lord has to purge Isaiah of his sins.
  • Junkie Prophet: Isaiah 28:7 from the NET Bible states:
    Even these men stagger because of wine,
    they stumble around because of beer—
    priests and prophets stagger because of beer,
    they are confused because of wine,
    they stumble around because of beer;
    they stagger while seeing prophetic visions,
    they totter while making legal decisions.
  • Kill It with Fire: Two verses show that God will inflict this on sinners - Isaiah 33:14 and Isaiah 66:24. Christians believe these passages refer to sinners burning in hell after the Final Judgment.
    • Isaiah 33:14:
    "Sinners in Zion are frightened, the godless are seized with trembling: “Who of us can dwell with the devouring fire: Who of us can dwell with the never-dying blaze?”"
    • Isaiah 66:24:
    "They shall go out and gaze on the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me: their worms shall not die, nor their fire be quenched; they shall be a horror to all flesh."
  • Kraken and Leviathan: God says in Isaiah 27:1 says that "the Lord with His fierce and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea." Whether that is literal or a metaphor for demonic spirits is unknown.
  • Light Is Not Good:
    • God's glory as seen by Isaiah in Chapter 6, due to his own sinful state and living among "a people of unclean lips". Fortunately, God had one of His angelic beings purge Isaiah from his sins by taking a hot coal with a pair of tongs and pressing it against Isaiah's lips.
    • Lucifer (meaning "light bringer" or "shining one") in Isaiah 14:12, since this is the name given either to Satan or to the king of Babylon who was exalting himself above God.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Isaiah 14:12 (the King James Version in particular) was believed by some Bible students that God is talking to The Man Behind The Kings.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Isaiah prophesies of a day when seven women would join themselves to one man in marriage, saying, "We will eat our own food, and wear our own clothes, but let us be called by your name to take away our disgrace," resulting in a polygamous version of this for the sake of having children. Christians interpret this as a prophecy of those who claim the name of Jesus Christ without fully becoming believers.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Immanuel (God Is With Us) would be given to the prophesied child born to a virgin (or young woman, depending on the translation) to indicate that God would be with His people through the hard times that they would suffer.
    • Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Swift Is The Booty, Speedy Is The Prey) would be given to Isaiah's child as a sign that the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria before the child even learns how to speak.
  • Mercy Killing: It's implied in Isaiah 57:1-2 that part of the reason the good and righteous die is because God wishes to spare them from the sufferings of the future.
    "The righteous pass away: the godly often die before their time. And no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evils to come. For the Godly who die will rest in peace."
  • Messianic Archetype: The Trope Namer, since Isaiah prophesies that a Messiah will come to restore the kingdom of Israel. However, since Messianic Archetypes are specifically modeled after the Christian Messiah, Isaiah's Messiah doesn't fit the description at all, because either Isaiah is actually talked about Christ and thus obviously not copying him or he's describing someone completely unrelated to Christ, because Isaiah could only have known about the yet-to-be-born carpenter through revelation.
  • Money Is Not Power: Isaiah 10:1-3 in the Message translation:
    Doom to you who legislate evil,
    who make laws that make victims—
    Laws that make misery for the poor,
    that rob my destitute people of dignity,
    Exploiting defenseless widows,
    taking advantage of homeless children.
    What will you have to say on Judgment Day,
    when Doomsday arrives out of the blue?
    Who will you get to help you?
    What good will your money do you?
  • Never Learned to Read: From Isaiah 29:11-12:
    The meaning of every prophetic vision will be hidden from you; it will be like a sealed scroll. If you take it to someone who knows how to read and ask him to read it to you, he will say he can't because it is sealed. If you give it to someone who can't read and ask him to read it to you, he will answer that he doesn't know how. (Good News Translation)
  • No Animosity in the Afterlife: Chapters 11 and 65 has a detailed passage on the post-Last Judgment world (though some may say this is talking about the Millennial Kingdom in the Book of Revelation):
    The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
    the calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together,
    and a little child will lead them.
    The cow and the bear will graze together,
    and their young ones will lie down together.
    The lion will eat straw like the cattle.
    The nursing child will play near a cobra’s hole,
    and the weaned child will put his hand into a viper’s den.
    They will not hurt or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain,
    for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
    as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9, Evangelical Heritage Version)
  • Our Gods Are Different: Monotheism is stated in Isaiah 44:6:
    "Thus said the LORD, the King of Israel, their Redeemer, the LORD of Hosts: I am the first and I am the last, and there is no god but Me."
  • Overly Long Name: Isaiah's son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which is both the longest name and word in the Bible. And somehow there's an American actor with that name (which has since shortened the thing to "Mahershala").
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: From Isaiah 33:1:
    Woe to you, destroyer,
    who yourself have not been destroyed;
    you treacherous one,
    with whom none has dealt treacherously!
    When you have ceased to destroy,
    you will be destroyed;
    and when you have made an end of dealing treacherously,
    you will be dealt with treacherously. (Revised Standard Version)
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: God says this of Babylon in Isaiah 13:16:
    before their eyes;
    their houses will be plundered
    and their wives ravished. (Revised Standard Version)
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The song of Tyre, from the Good News Translation rendering of Isaiah 23:16:
    Take your harp, go round the town,
    you poor forgotten whore!
    Play and sing your songs again
    to bring men back once more.
  • Rivers of Blood: God in Isaiah 34:1-3 pronounces His furious judgment upon the nations, with verse 3 saying "Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood."
  • Sacrificial Lamb: The "Suffering Servant" in chapters 49-55.
  • Screaming Birth: "Like a woman with child, who is in pain and cries out in her pangs when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O Lord." (Isaiah 26:17, Modern English Version)
  • Shattered World: In Isaiah 13:13, God moves the earth out of its place with the heavens shaking, but only because the world is too evil at that point. Mentioned again in other places such as the book of Revelation where every mountain and island will vanish and the stars will fall out of the sky, with Isaiah mentioning some of them at least falling to Earth like figs. Sounds a bit like asteroids right there.
  • Shameful Strip:
    • God tells the women in Jerusalem in Isaiah 32:11 (Evangelical Heritage Version), regarding the coming judgment: "Tremble, you complacent women! Be worried, you carefree girls! Strip yourselves naked, and put sackcloth around your waist."
    • God in His judgment parable against Babylon in Chapter 47 tells the city's personification to strip herself naked and "pass through the waters" where He will meet her in judgment.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: God says through Isaiah regarding the fate of Babylon:
    Prepare a place to slaughter his sons
    because of the guilt of their fathers,
    so that they may not rise up to inherit the earth
    and to cover the world with cities. (Isaiah 14:21, Evangelical Heritage Version)
  • Spiteful Spit: In traditional Christian interpretation, Isaiah 50:6 prophesies that God's Suffering Servant, who is Jesus Christ, would be treated to this along with having His beard plucked out and His back struck.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: In Isaiah 1:11, God goes on a long rant about how he cares nothing for people's sacrifices, assemblies or prayers, because their behavior in their everyday lives didn't reflect their supposed piety.
  • Streaking: God had Isaiah go about his business three years without clothes as a sign against Egypt and Ethiopia, that the king of Assyria will lead them away into captivity bare-naked. This was Bowdlerized in the early edition of the New International Reader's Version, which said that Isaiah went around wearing nothing but his underwear.
  • Swords to Plowshares: The phrase "swords to plowshares" originated here. To put it into context, a prophecy declares that upon the establishment of God's kingdom on Earth and bringing peace and justice to the land, weapons of war would be turned into agricultural tools as nations would no longer wage war and focus instead on peace and prosperity.
    "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up their sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."- Isaiah 2:4
  • Tongue-Out Insult: Mentioned in 57:4.
    Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue?
  • Traumatic Haircut: God in Chapter 8 threatens to give Judah a metaphorical version of this by sending for "a hired razor" from the kingdom of Assyria that would cut off "the hair of the head" as well as "the hair of the feet" and will also cut off "the beard".
  • Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: Isaiah 64:6 says that we, as humans, are all like an unclean thing before God, and that even all our righteous acts are like filthy rags before Him.
  • Vegetarian Carnivore: It is stated in chapters 11 and 65 that in the post-Judgment world, "the lion shall eat straw like the ox".
  • Watering Down: Watered-down wine is used as a metaphor as God's way of telling His people Israel that their spiritual life isn't as pure or as potent as it used to be.
  • Where Is Your X Now?:
    • God does this when speaking to Egypt in Isaiah 19:11-12:
    Surely the princes of Zoan are fools;
    the counsel of the wise counselors of Pharaoh has become stupid.
    How can you say to Pharaoh,
    “I am a son of the wise,
    a son of ancient kings?”
    Where are they? Where are your wise men?
    Let them tell you now, and let them understand
    what the Lord of Hosts
    has purposed against Egypt.
    • King Sennacherib of Assyria does this to King Hezekiah when he threatens to destroy Judah, saying "where are the gods" of the nations that he had conquered and suggesting that Hezekiah's God will not save him. It doesn't work well for the Assyrian king when, after King Hezekiah prays to God, Sennacherib finds that all 185,000 of his troops are dead. (This also appears in 2nd Kings.)
  • Words Can Break My Bones: Isaiah 11:4 is part of a prophecy of a coming king who will "strike down a land with the rod of his mouth and slay the wicked with the breath of his lips." While this may be interpreted metaphorically, there are Christian readers who interpret it being literal with that prophecy speaking about the coming of Jesus Christ, who in the Book of Revelation slays the nations with "the sword of His mouth".