Isaiah 13:1-23:18 contains prophecies against nations that were either a menace to God’s people or they would become a menace. There is a series of 10 oracles in these chapters and verses. Oracles are weighty, solemn, and grievous utterances. The Hebrew oracle can also meant to lift up or carry. This gives the connotation of lifting up ones voice in sorrow or carrying a heavy burden. Nations include Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Babylon a second time, Dumah, Arabia, Jerusalem, and Tyre. We find prophecies regarding the near future appearing with those that refer to a more distant or remote time. The fall of Babylon was so certain that Israel was apprised of the taunt that would be sung on the day the city fell. One of the things we know about Isaiah’s prophecy is that he describes events as having already taken place while also telling of the same event in the future. Compare 21:6-20 with 39:6. This group of prophecies was chiefly threatening but it also contained wonderful promises of blessing. Israel’s mightiest foes would share with her in this blessedness. By Isaiah including a prophecy against Judah and Jerusalem in the midst of prophecies against pagan nations, he would emphasize that Israel’s identity as God’s people would not protect them from God’s punishment when they sinned as the other nations did.
At the time of this prophecy Assyria was the major power in the world. But Isaiah anticipated the rise of Babylon as an even crueler kingdom that would destroy both Judah and Jerusalem. Verses 13:12-14:23 suggest that in this context, Babylon represents all the wicked and arrogant nations in the same way as Babylon the Great does in the Book of Revelation. So, while this description of Babylon’s fall applies to the historic Babylon in 539 B.C., it also applies until the final judgement against the ultimate kingdom of evil. (Revelation 19). Babylon was one of the greatest cities of ancient Mesopotamia. By 2100 B.C. It was already an important city. It had an up and down history and in 1531 B.C. It was sacked by the Hittites. The city came to power again from 625-539 B.C. with their most famous king being Nebuchadnezzar. Using his vast riches he transformed Babylon into the most magnificent capital in antiquity. The ruins of this city now lie some 53 miles south of modern day Baghdad in an area that is a roughly 2100 acres in size. The city was surrounded by two walls, the inner of which was 21 feet thick. There was dirt piled up between the two walls and a moat from Euphrates River water that surrounded the city. Nebuchadnezzar’s palace covered 50 acres within the city and there were more than 50 temples and shrines to various gods and idols throughout the city. Cyrus the Great and the Medes defeated the Babylonians in 539, marching into the city without contest. The Medes lived in what is now the northwest portion of modern day Iran.
Isaiah speaks about ‘The Day of the Lord’ in chapter 13. The day of the Lord is a time of retribution when God judges His enemies in wrath and fury, whether they come from Israel, Judah, Syria, Assyria or Babylon. The ungodly receive the punishment they deserve, while the righteous enter into their full salvation. On the day of the Lord, God will manifest His awe inspiring lordship over all creation. When God comes in glory, humans will experience terror because all human support structures…religious, economic, military, and social…will come under His scrutiny. God alone will be exalted, while all merely human endeavors will be brought down. The full meaning of the day of the Lord extends beyond a specific period of time and place. Even when the prophet singles out a particular nation, that nation symbolizes something more significant. For example, Babylon represents any power independent of God. The day of the Lord provides assurance to God’s people that God is sovereign in judging nations and people throughout human history until the last battle and the final judgement.
The taunt for the Babylonian king is a mocking comparison in song form. Here the king of Babylon is compared to a dead man entering the world of the dead. The land and the people will be at rest because the opposition has ended and the king of Babylon has died. The whole creation will join in praise, able to sing once again. The Babylonians saw the place of the dead as a place of no return. The thrones here reflect the Babylonian concept of the life hereafter as a continuation of the same mode of existence as the present life. It appears that the other kings are honoring the great king of Babylon, but the following verses tell a very different story. In fact, the Babylonian king had NO power over anyone after death and was unable to leave Sheol, the place of the dead. The Israelites will mock this great king who on earth appeared to have no weakness. Instead of might and power, there were maggots and worms, signs of decay and decomposition.
The Oracle against Assyria has no introduction, leading some scholars to believe this is simply a continuation of the Oracle against Babylon. In fact Assyria may have represented all of the Mesopotamian powers. Or, it just may mean there is a very close connection between Assyria and Babylon. Isaiah prophecies that no nation can either diminish or resist God’s plans to bring judgement against Assyria or His plans in general. This prophecy told what would happen when Sennacherib attacked Hezekiah some years later in 701B.C. When it comes to Philistia the king who attacked was probably Ahaz. The rod is most likely a metaphor for the Assyrian king and a more poisonous snake probably refers to one of the later Assyrian kings, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, or Ashurbanipal. It really just means there would be more trouble and when they came out of the north, the size of the army would stir up clouds of dust that resembled smoke that could be seen for miles.
Moab was Judah’s enemy, situated on the east side of the Dead Sea. The destruction would be sudden and decisive and those who managed to escape would seek refuge in Zion. Many of the locations referenced here are no longer in existence. The people of Moab were related to the people of Judah, being the descendants of Lot and his oldest daughter. Hair was a big deal in this time and place. Isaiah declared that every head was shaved and every beard was cut off. In context this was a sign of mourning. Shaving the head and face was not normal fashion but a way of expressing grief. Israelites had some distinctive customs regarding hair. Men were forbidden to trim the hair along the sides or edges of their beards. Hair played a role in Nazarite vows, being cut off at the end of the vow and added to the fellowship offering fire. Cutting off another man’s beard was considered an insult but cutting off one’s own hair or beard was a sign of mourning. Moab was known for its sheep and lambs were sent as tribute to Judah in recognition of Judah’s sovereignty over Moab.
The destruction would be complete. All of Moab weeps. Farms are abandoned. Vineyards were deserted. There is no joy at harvest because there are no crops. But amid all that, the people will not cry out to the Lord. Instead they turned to their pagan gods. That will do them no good and the glory of Moab will come to an end. Not only would the people be destroyed but so will the worthless gods they worshiped. Only a few will be left alive. God will leave a remnant just like he would with the people of both Israel and Judah.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W