Isaiah 13

 

 

                                        THE BURDEN OF BABYLON.

 

The series of prophecies which commences with this chapter and continues to the

close of ch.23., is connected together by the word massa, burden. It has been argued

that the term “burden” is an incorrect translation of massa, as used by Isaiah and

later prophets (Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; 12:1; Malachi 1:1); and

that “utterance,” or “prophecy,” would be more suitable (compare Proverbs 30:1;

31:1, where massa is thus rendered in the Authorized Version). But the facts remain

that massa means a “burden” in the ordinary sense, and that the prophecies to which

it is prefixed are generally (in Isaiah always) of a denunciatory character. The

translation may therefore be allowed to stand — at any rate in the present chapter.

It is remarkable that Babylon heads the list of the Church’s enemies in the

present catalogue. Dr. Kay supposes the term “Babel” to be equivalent to

Asshur-Babel,” and to designate “the Assyro-Babylonian Empire.” He

thinks that “Babel” heads the list on account of Assyria’s position, under

Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, in the van of Israel’s adversaries. But

neither Isaiah nor any other sacred writer knows of an Assyro-Babylonian

kingdom or empire. Assyria and Babylonia are distinct kingdoms in

Genesis (10:8-12), in II Kings (18-20.), in II Chronicles (20:12.), in Isaiah

(chps. 36-39.) and in Ezekiel (chps. 23 and 30-31.). They had been at war almost

continuously for above seven centuries before the time of Isaiah (‘Records

of the Past,’ vol. 5. pp. 81-104). Assyria had, on the whole, proved the 

stronger of the two, and had from time to time for a longer or a shorter

period held Babylonia in subjection. But the two countries were never

more one than Russia and Poland, and, until Tiglath-Pileser assumed the

crown of Babylon in 729 B.C., they had always been under separate

monarchs. Individually, I can only account for the high position here given

to Babylon by the prophet, on the supposition that it was thus early (about

725 B.C.) revealed to him that Babylonia was the great enemy to be feared

the ultimate destroyer of Judah and Jerusalem, the power that would

carry the Jewish people into captivity.

 

 

1 “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.”

Which Isaiah... did see (compare ch. 1:1; 2:1, etc.). Isaiah always “sees”

his prophecies, whether they are of the nature of visions (as ch. 6.) or the

contrary. The word is probably used to express the strong conviction that

he has of their absolute certainty.

 

2 “Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them,

shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles.”

Lift ye up a banner; rather, a standard - "an ensign," as in ch. 5:26: 11:12.

"Ensigns" were used both by the Assyrians and the Egyptians. "Banners," or flags,

do not seem to have been employed in the ancient world. Upon the high mountain;

ratherupon a bare mountain - one that was clear of trees, so that the signal

might be the better seen from it. God's army having to be summoned against

Babylon, the summons is made in three ways:


(1) by a signal or ensign lifted up on a high hill;

(2) by a loud call or shout; and

(3) by waving or beckoning with the hand.


The whole description is, of course, pure metaphor. That they may go into the gates

of the nobles. Either that they may enter into the palaces of the grandees in Babylon,

or that they may take the towns of the tributary princes.

 

3 “I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty

ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness.”

I have commanded my sanctified ones. The pronoun "I" is emphatic –

"I myself." Not only will an external summons go forth, but God will lay

His own orders on them whom He chooses for His instruments, and bid

them come to the muster. All who carry out his purposes are, in a

certain sense, "sanctified ones" (compare Jeremiah 22:7 51:27Zephaniah 1:7,

etc.). Here the Medes and Persians are specially intended (see v. 17). 

For mine anger; i.e. "for the purpose of executing my anger." Even them that

rejoice in my highness; rather, my proudly exultant ones (Cheyne,

Rosenmüller, Gesenius). AEschylus calls the Persians ὑπερκόμπους

huperkompous -  ('Persae,' 1. 827); Herodotus, ὑβριστάς – hubristas

(1. 41). The high spirits, however, natural to gallant soldiers on going

out to war, rather than any special haughtiness or arrogancy, are intended.

 

4 “The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people;

a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together:

the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.”

The noise of a multitude in the mountains. I do not know why Isaiah

should not have been "thinking of his geography" (Cheyne). As soon as

the Greeks knew anything of the Persians, they knew of them as a mountain 

people, and attributed their valor and their handy habits to the physical

character of their country (Herod., 9. ad fin.). Jeremiah connects the invading

army which destroyed Babylon with mountains, when he derives it from.

Ararat (compare Genesis 8:4), Minni (Armenia), and Ashchenaz (Jeremiah 51:27).

At any rate, the mention of "mountains" here is very appropriate, both Media

and Persia being, in the main, mountainous countries. A great people; or, 

much people - not necessarily of one nation only. The host of the battle; rather, 

a host of wari.e. a multitude of men, armed and prepared for war.

 

5 “They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD,

and the weapons of His indignation, to destroy the whole land.”

They come from a far country (compare ch. 46:11). Both Media and Persia

were "far countries" to the Hebrews, Persia especially. There is no indication

that they knew of any countries more remote towards the East. Hence the

expression which follows, "from the end of heaven" - the heaven being

supposed to end where the earth ended. Isaiah, like the other sacred writers,

conforms his language on cosmical subjects to the opinions of his

day. Even the Lord. With a most effective anthropomorphism, Jehovah is

made to march with the army that He has mustered (v. 4) against the land

that has provoked His wrath - i.e. BabyloniaThe weapons (compare ch10:15

Jeremiah 50:25; 51:20). To destroy the whole land. Many critics would render 

ha-arets by "the earth" here. It may be granted that the language of the

prophecy goes beyond the occasion in places (especially vs. 11 and 13),

and passes from Babylon to that wicked world of which Babylon is a type;

but, where the context permits, it seems better to restrict than to expand the

meaning of the words employed.

 

6 “Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction

from the Almighty.”  Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand (compare 

Joel 1:15); literally, the expression used in both passages is a day of Jehovah.

The idiom would not, however, allow the use of the article, so that the phrase

is ambiguous. "The day of Jehovah" is properly "that crisis in the history

of the world when Jehovah will interpose to rectify the evils of the present,

bringing joy and glory to the humble believer, and misery and shame to the

proud and disobedient" (Cheyne). But any great occasion when God passes judgment

on a nation is called in Scripture "a day of the Lord." "a coming of Christ." And

so here the day of the judgment upon Babylon seems to be intended. It shall come

as a destruction from the Almighty. Isaiah is thought to quote from Joel (Joel 1:15)

here; but perhaps both prophets quoted from an earlier author. Shaddai (equivalent

to "Almighty') is an ancient name of God, most rarely used by the prophetical

writers (only here, and in Ezekiel 1:24; 10:5Joel 1:15), and never elsewhere

by either Isaiah or Joel. It has generally been said to mean "the Strong One;"

but recently the theory has found favor that it meant originally "the Sender of

storms," from the Arabic sh'da - jeciteffudit. However this may be, the

word is certainly used in the later times mainly to express God's power

to visit and punish, and the present passage might perhaps be best translated,

"It shall come as a destruction from the Destroyer (k'shod mish-Shaddai yabo)."

(I recommend Genesis 17 – Names of God – El Shaddai by Nathan Stone – # 320 this website – CY –

2020)

 

7 “Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt:”

Therefore shall all hands be faint (compare Jeremiah 1:43; Ezekiel 7:17

Zephaniah 3:16). There shall be a general inaction and apathy. Recently

discovered accounts of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus show a great

want of activity and vigor on the part of the defenders. (Remember

the slogan of the Sixties – “Make love, not war.” CY – 2020)  Every man's

heart shall melt (compare Deuteronomy 20:8Joshua 2:11 5:1, etc.).

The general inaction will spring from a general despondency. This

statement agrees much better with the recently discovered documents than

does the statement of Herodotus, that, safe within their walls, the

Babylonians despised their assailants, and regarded themselves as perfectly

secure.

 

8 “And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them;

they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed

one at another; their faces shall be as flames.”  They shall be afraid; 

ratherdismayed. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; literally, 

they shall take hold of pangs and sorrows. They shall be amazed; rather, 

look aghast. Their faces shall be as flames. I know no better explanation

than that of Dr. Kay, that a sudden transition is intended from  despondency

to extreme excitement.

 

9 “Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and

fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and He shall destroy the sinners

thereof out of it.”  The day of the Lord (see the comment on v. 6). 

Cruel; i.e. severe and painful, not really "cruel." To lay the land desolate.

As in v. 5, so here, many would translate ha-arets by "the earth,"

and understand a desolation extending far beyond Babylonia. But this

is not necessary.

 

10 “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give

their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the

moon shall not cause her light to shine.”  The stars of heaven... shall

not give their light. Nature sympathizes with her Lord. When He is

angry, the light of the heavens grows dark. So it was at the crucifixion

of Christ (Matthew 27:45); so it will be at the end of the world

(Matthew 24:29). So it is often, if not always, at the time

of great judgments. The constellations; literally, the Orions. 

Kesil, the Fool, was the Hebrew name of the constellation of Orion,

who was identified with Nimrod, the type of that impious folly which

contends against God. From its application to this particular group

of stars (Job 9:938:31Amos 5:8), the word came to be applied

to constellations in general. The BabyIonians very early marked

out the sky into constellations.

 

11 “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their

iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and

will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”  I will punish the world

for their evil. Here the prophecy certainly goes beyond the destruction

of Babylon, and becomes a general warning to the wicked of all

countries. Each country is to feel that its turn will come. Punishment

will fall especially on the unjust, the proud, and the haughty

(compare ch1:282:11-17).

 

12 “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the

golden wedge of Ophir.”  I will make a man more precious than fine gold 

(compare ch. 4:1). Population shall be so diminished that man shall be

the most highly esteemed of commodities. The more scanty the supply

of a thing, the greater its value. The golden wedge of Ophir; rather, 

pure gold of Ophir. Ophir is mentioned as a gold-region in I Kings 9:28

10:1122:48I Chronicles 29:4II Chronicles 8:189:10Job 22:24

28:16Psalm 45:9. Its locality is uncertain. Gold of Ophir appears to

have been considered especially pure.

 

13 “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove

out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day 

of His fierce anger.” I will shake the heavens (compare Joel 3:16

Haggai 2:7Matthew 24:29). In general, this sign is mentioned in

connection with the end of the world, when a "new heaven and a

new earth" are to supersede the old (ch. 65:1766:22; Revelation

21:1). Isaiah may, perhaps, pass here from signs connected with the

fall of Babylon to those which will announce the last day - each

"day of the Lord" being, as already observed, a type of the final

and great day (see the comment on v. 6). Or, possibly, the

allusion may be to some "shaking" by God of a supra-mundane

kingdom as preliminary to His passing judgment on Babylon

(so Dr. Kay; compare ch. 24:21).

 

14 “And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man

taketh up: they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee

every one into his own land.”  It shall be as the chased roe. When the

visitation comes on Babylon, there shall be a loosening of all

ties between her and the subject nations. Her armies shall disband

themselves, the pressed soldiers from foreign countries deserting,

and hastening with all speed to their several homes. A flight of

the foreign traders and visitors may also be glanced at. 

As a sheep that no man taketh up; rather, as sheep with none

to gather them.

 

15 “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is

joined unto them shall fall by the sword.”  Every one that is found... every

one that is joined unto themi.e. all the population, both native and foreign.

 

16“Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their

houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.” Their children also shall

be dashed to pieces. In the barbarous warfare of the time, even children were not

spared (see Psalm 137:9Nahum 3:10Hosea 13:16). When a town was taken

by assault, they were ruthlessly slaughtered. When spared, it was only to be

dragged off as captives, and to become the slaves of their captors in a foreign

land. Assyrian sculptures often illustrate this latter practice. Their wives

ravished (compare  Lamentations 5:11Zechariah 14:2).

 

17 “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver;

and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.” Behold, I will stir up the Medes

against them. Isaiah's knowledge that the Medes should take a leading part

in the destruction of Babylon is, no doubt, as surprising a fact as almost any

other in the entire range of prophetic foresight, or insight, as set before us in

Scripture. The Medes were known to Moses as an ancient nation of some

importance (Genesis 10:2); but since his time had been unmentioned by

any sacred writer; and, as a living nation, had only just come within the

range of Israelite vision, by the fact that, when Sargon deported the

Samaritans from Samaria, he placed some of them "in the cities of the Medes"

(II Kings 17:6). The Assyrians had become acquainted with them somewhat

more than a century earlier, and had made frequent incursions into their

country, finding them a weak and divided people, under the government

of a large number of petty chiefs. Sargon had conquered a portion of the

tribes, and placed prefects in the cities; at the same time planting colonists

in them from other parts of the empire. That, when the weakness of Media

was being thus made apparent, Isaiah should have foreseen its coming

greatness can only be accounted for by his having received a Divine

communication on the subject. Subsequently, he had a still more exact

and complete communication (ch. 21:2). Which shall not regard silver.

The Medes were not a particularly disinterested people; but in the attack

on Babylon, made by Cyrus, the object was not plunder, but conquest

and the extension of dominion. The main treasures of Babylon - those in

the great temple of Bolus - were not carried off by Cyrus, as appears both

from his own inscriptions, and from Herodotus (1. 181-183).

 

18 “Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have

no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.”

Their bows (compare Jeremiah 50:9,14). Both the Medes and the Persians were

skilled archers. Herodotus tells us that every Persian youth was taught three

things - "to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth" (1. 136). At Persepolis,

Medes and Persians are alike represented as carrying bows and quivers.

AEschyius regards the contest between the Persians and the Greeks as one

between the arrow and the spear ('Persae,' 11. 135, 136).

 

19 “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency,

shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”  Babylon, the glory of

kingdoms. The "glory" of Babylon consisted:


1. In her antiquity. She had been the head of a great empire long before Assyria

    rose to power.

2. In her origination of literature, architecture, and the other arts, which all

    passed from her to Assyria, and thence to the other nations of Asia.

3. In her magnificence and the magnificence of her kings, which provoked

    the admiration of the Assyrians themselves ('Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 15).

 

As time went on, she grew in wealth and splendor. Perhaps it was granted to

Isaiah to see her in ecstatic vision, not merely such as she was in the time of

Sargon under Merodach-Baladan, but such as she became under Nebuchadnezzar,

the greatest of her kings, who raised her to the highest pitch or glory and

eminence. The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency. The Kaldi appear to have

been originally one of the many tribes by which Babylonia was peopled

at an early date, From the expression, "Ur of the Chaldees," which occurs

more than once in Genesis (Genesis 11:28, 31), we may gather that they

were inhabitants of the more southern part of the country, near the coast.

The same conclusion may be drawn from the Assyrian inscriptions, especially

those of Shalmaneser II. - the Black Obelisk king. The term never became a

general name for the Babylonian people among themselves or among the

Assyrians; but, somehow or other, it was accepted in that sense by the Jews,

and is so used, not only by Isaiah, but also by the writers of Kings and

Chronicles, by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Habakkuk. As when God

overthrew Sodom. Equally sudden and complete as that destruction.

 

20 “It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation

to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the

shepherds make their fold there.”  It shall never be inhabited. This part of

the prophecy did not receive its fulfillment till many centuries had gone by.

From the time of Cyrus to that of Alexander the Great, Babylon was one of

the chief cities of the Persian empire. Alexander was so struck with it, and

with the excellence of its situation, that he designed to make it his capital.

It first began seriously to decline under the Seleucidae, who built Seleucia

on the Tigris as a rival to it, and still further injured it by fixing the seat

of government at Antioch. But it had still a large population in the first

century after our era (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 18:9, § 8); and is mentioned as

a place of some consequence in the time of Trajan (Die Cass., 68:27), and

even in that of Severue (Die Cass., 75:9). But after this it went rapidly to

decay. Under the Sassuntans it disappears from sight; and when Benjamin of

Tudela, in the twelfth century, visited the spot, there was nothing to be seen

of the mighty city but those ruins of the Kasr, or palace, which still arrest the

traveler's attention. The site had become, and has ever since remained,

"without inhabitant." Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there. 

A superstitious feeling prevents the Arabs from encamping on the mounds

of Babylon, which are believed to be the haunts of evil spirits (Rich, 'First

Memoir on Babylon,' p. 67; Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 371). Neither

shall the shepherds make their fold there. The nitrous soil of the Babylonian

mounds allows them to produce nothing but the coarsest and most unpalatable

vegetation. The shepherds consequently do not feed their flocks on them.

 

21 “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full

of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.”

Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there. It is not quite clear what particular wild

beasts are intended. Those actually noted on the site of Babylon are lions,

jackals, and porcupines. These sometimes make their lairs in the ruins (Rich,

'First Memoir,' p. 69; Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 342). Doleful creatures; in the

originalokhim. What animal is meant we cannot say, as the word occurs only

in this passage. Mr. Cheyne translates it by "hyenas." Owls shall dwell there;

literallydaughters of the owl (as in Leviticus 11:16Deuteronomy 14:15Job 30:29

Jeremiah 50:39Micah 1:8; and here, ch. 34:1343:20). Mr. Rich says, "In most

of the cavities of the Babil Mound there are numbers of owls and bats." Sir A.

Layard," A large grey owl is found in great numbers, frequently in flocks of

nearly a hundred, in the low shrubs among the ruins of Babylon" ('Nin. and

Bab.,' p. 484, note). Satyrs shall dance there. The word translated "satyr"

is, etymologically, "hairy one," and ordinarily means "a goat." Some have

supposed "wild goats" to be here intended, but they are not found in Babylonia.

The translation "satyr" is defended by many, who think Isaiah might draw

upon current beliefs for some features of his description. Dr. Kay gives

"baboons," since the Moko - a kind of baboon - is known in Babylonia.

 

22 “And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and

dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days

shall not be prolonged.”  Wild beasts of the islands. In the Hebrew, iyyim,

which means "wailers" or "howlers," probably "jackals." The Revised Version

gives "wolves." In their desolate houses; or, in their castles (Cheyne). 

And dragons; i.e. "serpents." These have not been observed recently; but

one of our old travelers notes that "the lande of Baby-lone," in his day,

"was fulle of dragons and grote serpentes, and dyverse other veney-mouse

ecstes alle abouten" (Mandeville, quoted by Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 36). 

Near to come. About one hundred and eighty years elapsed between the

utterance of this prophecy and the fall of Babylon - a short period in the lifetime

of a nation.

 

The teaching of this chapter is the ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY  that

punishment will overtake the wicked.

 

“Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel:  and because I will do

this unto thee, PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD O ISRAEL!”  (Amos 4:12)

 

 

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