The Eschatological Banquet

The first occurrence of the eschatological banquet appears in what is called the Isaian apocalypse, chapters 24-27 of Isaiah.  This passage makes heavy use of the Baal epic, and even quotes a line from it.  In chapter twenty-five, God makes a spectacular promise to His people:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.  And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.  It will be said on that day, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."  For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trodden down in his place, as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit.  And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim; but the LORD will lay low his pride together with the skill of his hands.  And the high fortifications of his walls he will bring down, lay low, and cast to the ground, even to the dust, (verses 6-12).

In this remarkable text we see that the promise of redemption at the end of time is depicted as a rich banquet.  The old covenant with Israel has been expanded to include all peoples.  The menu of “fat things full of marrow” and “wine on the lees” reminds us of the banquets in ancient epics of Ugarit.  In fact, the anti-hero of the old Baal epic makes a cameo appearance in these verses.  Did you see him?  That’s right.  He’s hiding there in verse eight:  “He will swallow up death for ever.”  Do you remember what Mot ran around doing to everybody?  He’s the great swallower.  He threatened that Baal should descend into his maw like a “dried up olive.”  Isaiah 25:8 tells us that at God’s eschatological banquet, the tables will be turned, and the swallower will be swallowed.
Most commentators looking at these verses consider the eschatological banquet to be celebratory in nature.  The common idea is that this is at the end of time, when Satan and his angels have been utterly defeated and thrown into the lake of fire, and all of the saints have been raised to life and are now in the New Jerusalem chowing down.  The conflict is over.  But look at the text again.  Is it possible to read it a little differently?
If we take the pre-battle banquet motif into account, and consider its popularity and massive influence on ancient Near Eastern literature, it seems that the banquet in Isaiah 25 is not a celebratory meal, but a preparatory one.  
The clear reference to Mot in verse eight is substantial evidence that this is the case.  In the Baal Epic, Mot asks to be invited to a banquet so that he may have an opportunity to devour Baal.  The banquet is a pretense for violence.  In Isaiah 25:8 Mot has come to the Lord’s banquet, but he is the one who gets devoured.  Correctly reading this verse with its mythic, concrete world-view restored to it shows us that the banquet is not a celebration of victory over Death, but a means to destroy him.