Isaiah 13 begins a section ending at Isaiah 23:18
where he prophesies against the nations. It is fitting for judgment to begin
at the house of God, so the Lord
has first spoken to Israel and Judah. But now, the Lord
speaks against the nations, beginning with Babylon.
A. Judgment upon Babylon.
1. (1) The burden
The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of
In the prophets, a burden is a
“heavy” message of weighty importance, heavy in the sense that it produces
sorrow or grief.
i. “Massa comes from the verb ‘to lift up’ (nasa), and so it can mean ‘to carry’ or ‘to lift up the voice.’ From the first meaning comes the translation ‘burden,’ or ‘load’; and from the second meaning we get the translation ‘oracle,’ or ‘utterance.’” (Wolf) Grammatically, we may be able to say “oracle.” But since these are heavy oracles, we are justified in calling them burdens!
Babylon: Isaiah finished his prophetic career in 685 b.c.,
almost 100 years before Judah finally fell before the Babylonian Empire (586 b.c.).
At the time of this prophecy, Babylon was a significant nation, but they were
definitely behind the Assyrian Empire in status. Yet the Lord
who knows the end of all things can speak of the judgment on the pride of
Babylon hundreds of years before the judgment comes.
i. This burden against Babylon will last until the end of Isaiah 14. Clarke says of this passage, “The former part of this prophecy is one of the most beautiful examples of that can be given of the elegance of composition, variety of imagery, and sublimity or sentiment and diction, in the prophetic style; and the later part consists of an ode of supreme and singular excellence.”
ii. Why is God speaking to Babylon?
This prophecy was probably never published in Babylon, so it wasn’t really
given as a warning to them. Instead, the reason was for the help of the people
of God. First, by showing them that God was indeed just, and would judge the
wicked nations around them. Israel and Judah were feeling the sting of God’s
discipline, and in those times we wonder if God is unfairly singling us out.
This is assurance to them that He isn’t. Second, Babylon (and other nations
in this section) were nations that had come against Israel and Judah, and God
showed His love to His people by announcing His vengeance against their
2. (2-8) An army
comes against Babylon.
“Lift up a banner on the high mountain, raise
your voice to them; wave your hand, that they may enter the gates of the
nobles. I have commanded My sanctified ones; I have also called My mighty ones
for My anger; those who rejoice in My exaltation.” The noise of a
multitude in the mountains, like that of many people! A tumultuous noise of
the kingdoms of nations gathered together! The Lord
of hosts musters the army for battle. They come from a far country, from the
end of heaven; the Lord and
His weapons of indignation, to destroy the whole land. Wail, for the day of
the Lord is at hand! It
will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will be limp,
every man’s heart will melt, and they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will
take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; they
will be amazed at one another; their faces will be like flames.
a. The Lord of hosts musters the army for battle: This is an army of judgment against the Babylonian Empire, prophesied decades before they were even a superpower. This powerful army is described vividly, with sights and sounds of battle presented.
will be amazed at one another: When Babylon fell suddenly by a clever,
surprise attack by Cyrus, the citizens of the city were completely shocked
3. (9-16) The terrors
of judgment upon Babylon.
Behold, the day of the Lord
comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and
He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their
constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its
going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. “I will punish
the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt
the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold, a man more than the golden
wedge of Ophir. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move
out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord
of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger. It shall be as the hunted
gazelle, and as a sheep that no man takes up; every man will turn to his own
people, and everyone will flee to his own land. Everyone who is found will
be thrust through, and everyone who is captured will fall by the sword. Their
children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be
plundered and their wives ravished.”
a. The day of the Lord comes: Isaiah now speaks in the “prophetic tense,” having in mind both a near fulfillment (the day of judgment against the Babylonian Empire), and an ultimate fulfillment (the final day of judgment at the return of Jesus).
stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun
will be darkened:
c. I will punish the world for its evil: This prophetic identification of Babylon with the world, ripe for ultimate judgment, is consistent through the Scriptures. We aren’t surprised that Isaiah has prophetically combined the vision of Babylon’s judgment with the judgment of the whole world for its evil.
i. Babylon is mentioned 287 times in the
Scriptures, more than any other city except Jerusalem. Babylon was a literal
city on the Euphrates river; right after the flood (Genesis 11:1-10), Babylon
“Was the seat of the civilization that expressed organized hostility to
God.” (Tenney, Interpreting Revelation). Babylon was later the
capitol of the empire that cruelly conquered Judah. “Babylon, to them (the
Jews), was the essence of all evil, the embodiment of cruelty, the foe of
God’s people, and the lasting type of sin, carnality, lust and greed.” (Tenney)
To those familiar with the Old Testament, the name Babylon is
associated with organized idolatry, blasphemy and the persecution of God's
people. In the New Testament, the worlds system of the last days is
characterized both religiously and commercially as Babylon (Revelation 17 and
18). Therefore, Babylon is a “Suitable representation . . .
of the idolatrous, pagan world-system in opposition to God.” (Martin)
d. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place: Haggai 2:6 and Hebrews 12:25-28 echo this same thought. Since God can shake the heavens and move the earth, and since God Himself is unshakable, it makes a lot more sense to trust in God than even the ground we stand on and the air we breathe.
e. It shall be as the hunted gazelle: The picture of God’s judgment, upon both Babylon and the world in general, is unrelenting. It is like one of the nature movies where the hunted gazelle is overtaken by the lion, and it utterly consumed. There is no escape from God’s unrelenting judgment.
i. If you take comfort in Jesus, remember that this is the same unrelenting judgment that was poured out upon Him on the cross. In this picture from Isaiah, Jesus was the hunted gazelle, and willingly made Himself so!
B. Desolate Babylon.
1. (17-22) Babylon
is laid waste.
“Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them,
who will not regard silver; and as for gold, they will not delight in
it. Also their bows will dash the young men to pieces, and they will
have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye will not spare children. And
Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will
it be settled from generation to generation;
be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah: “The
phrase ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ suggests not only complete destruction but
also its moral cause.” (Grogan)
c. It will never be inhabited: The ancient city of Babylon, once conquered, will never be inhabited again. “When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he did not devastate the city. The walls were left standing until 518 b.c., and general desolation did not set in until the third century b.c. Babylon gradually fell into decay, and the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled. Babylon became completely depopulated by the time of the Muslim conquest in the seventh century a.d., and to this day it lies deserted.” (Wolf)
What good is this to us? Calvin’s note applies a chapter like this: “Whenever
therefore we behold the destruction of cities, the calamities of nations, and
the overturning of kingdoms, let us call those predictions to remembrance,
that we may be humbled under God’s chastisements, may learn to gather wisdom
from the affliction of others, and may pray for an alleviation of our own