Isaiah 13 (ESV)
This is the beginning of a new section of the book. Isaiah chapters 13 – 23 contain prophecies against the nations. It is fitting for cleansing to begin at the house of God, so the Lord has first spoken to Israel and Judah, condemning their sins and outlining his judgment against them. But now the Lord speaks against the nations, beginning with Babylon.
The Judgment of Babylon
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
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 enemies.
2 On a bare hill raise a signal;
cry aloud to them;
wave the hand for them to enter
the gates of the nobles.
3 I myself have commanded my consecrated ones,
and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger,
my proudly exulting ones.
4 The sound of a tumult is on the mountains
as of a great multitude!
The sound of an uproar of kingdoms,
of nations gathering together!
The Lord of hosts is mustering
a host for battle.
5 They come from a distant land,
from the end of the heavens,
the Lord and the weapons of his indignation,
to destroy the whole land.
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
7 Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will melt.
8 They will be dismayed:
pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
Jesus quoted from verse 10 as he spoke to his disciples about the future:
Mark 13:24-25 (NIV)
“But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’”
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,
and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger.
14 And like a hunted gazelle,
or like sheep with none to gather them,
each will turn to his own people,
and each will flee to his own land.
15 Whoever is found will be thrust through,
and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed in pieces
before their eyes;
their houses will be plundered
and their wives ravished.
17 Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
“In 539 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of the Medes and the Persians, with an unprecedented military engagement known as the Battle of Opis. The famed walls of Babylon were indeed impenetrable, with the only way into the city through one of its many gates or through the Euphrates, which ebbed beneath its thick walls. Metal gates at the river’s in-flow and out-flow prevented underwater intruders, if one could hold one’s breath to reach them. Cyrus (or his generals) devised a plan to use the Euphrates as the mode of entry to the city, ordering large camps of troops at each point and instructing them to wait for the signal. On an evening of a national feast among Babylonians (generally thought to refer to the feast of Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel V), Cyrus’ troops diverted the Euphrates river upstream, causing the Euphrates to drop to about ‘mid thigh level on a man’ or to dry up altogether. The soldiers marched under the walls through the lowered water. The Persian Army conquered the outlying areas of the city’s interior while a majority of Babylonians at the city center were oblivious to the breach. The account was elaborated upon by Herodotus, and is also mentioned by passages in the Hebrew Bible.”
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold.
18 Their bows will slaughter the young men;
they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
their eyes will not pity children.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
The Hanging Gardens — one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, in the city of Babylon. “In addition to its size,” wrote Herodotus, a Greek historian in 450 BC, “Babylon surpasses in splendor any city in the known world.”
Legends says that the Gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar so that the queen, his wife, would have a lovely, private, terraced garden to enjoy and to remind her of the landscape of her childhood home.
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
21 But wild animals will lie down there,
and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there wild goats will dance.
22 Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged.
Babylon was a great city that was never rebuilt.
In the Pergamon Museum in Berlin there is a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate into the inner city of Babylon. It is built from materials excavated from a dig in the ancient city in the early part of the twentieth century. It is stunning — 47 feet high and 100 feet wide. I saw it when I was 17; I was a foreign exchange student in Germany for the summer and I took a day tour into East Berlin to see the museum.
The judgment is severe, the devastation is far-reaching — but we who know the truth of God — that He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son — need not fear. We can rest in “The Mercy of God,” sung HERE by Geoff Bullock