The armies of God's wrath. (1-5) The conquest of Babylon. (6-18) Its final desolation. (19-22)
Verses 1-5 The threatenings of God's word press heavily upon the wicked, and are a sore burden, too heavy for them to bear. The persons brought together to lay Babylon waste, are called God's sanctified or appointed ones; designed for this service, and made able to do it. They are called God's mighty ones, because they had their might from God, and were now to use it for him. They come from afar. God can make those a scourge and ruin to his enemies, who are farthest off, and therefore least dreaded.
Verses 6-18 We have here the terrible desolation of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Those who in the day of their peace were proud, and haughty, and terrible, are quite dispirited when trouble comes. Their faces shall be scorched with the flame. All comfort and hope shall fail. The stars of heaven shall not give their light, the sun shall be darkened. Such expressions are often employed by the prophets, to describe the convulsions of governments. God will visit them for their iniquity, particularly the sin of pride, which brings men low. There shall be a general scene of horror. Those who join themselves to Babylon, must expect to share her plagues, ( Revelation 18:4 ) . All that men have, they would give for their lives, but no man's riches shall be the ransom of his life. Pause here and wonder that men should be thus cruel and inhuman, and see how corrupt the nature of man is become. And that little infants thus suffer, which shows that there is an original guilt, by which life is forfeited as soon as it is begun. The day of the Lord will, indeed, be terrible with wrath and fierce anger, far beyond all here stated. Nor will there be any place for the sinner to flee to, or attempt an escape. But few act as though they believed these things.
Verses 19-22 Babylon was a noble city; yet it should be wholly destroyed. None shall dwell there. It shall be a haunt for wild beasts. All this is fulfilled. The fate of this proud city is a proof of the truth of the Bible, and an emblem of the approaching ruin of the New Testament Babylon; a warning to sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and it encourages believers to expect victory over every enemy of their souls, and of the church of God. The whole world changes and is liable to decay. Wherefore let us give diligence to obtain a kingdom which cannot be moved; and in this hope let us hold fast that grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
Isaiah 13:1-22 . THE THIRTEENTH THROUGH TWENTY-THIRD CHAPTERS CONTAIN PROPHECIES AS TO FOREIGN NATIONS.--THE THIRTEENTH, FOURTEENTH, AND TWENTY-SEVENTH CHAPTERS AS TO BABYLON AND ASSYRIA.
The predictions as to foreign nations are for the sake of the covenant people, to preserve them from despair, or reliance on human confederacies, and to strengthen their faith in God: also in order to extirpate narrow-minded nationality: God is Jehovah to Israel, not for Israel's sake alone, but that He may be thereby Elohim to the nations. These prophecies are in their right chronological place, in the beginning of Hezekiah's reign; then the nations of Western Asia, on the Tigris and Euphrates, first assumed a most menacing aspect.
1. burden--weighty or mournful prophecy [GROTIUS]. Otherwise, simply, the prophetical declaration, from a Hebrew root to put forth with the voice anything, as in Numbers 23:7 [MAURER].
of Babylon--concerning Babylon.
2. Lift . . . banner--( Isaiah 5:26 , 11:10 ).
the high mountain--rather, "a bare (literally, "bald," that is, without trees) mountain"; from it the banner could be seen afar off, so as to rally together the peoples against Babylon.
unto them--unto the Medes ( Isaiah 13:17 ), the assailants of Babylon. It is remarkable that Isaiah does not foretell here the Jews' captivity in Babylon, but presupposes that event, and throws himself beyond, predicting another event still more future, the overthrow of the city of Israel's oppressors. It was now one hundred seventy-four years before the event.
shake . . . hand--beckon with the hand--wave the hand to direct the nations to march against Babylon.
nobles--Babylonian. Rather, in a bad sense, tyrants; as in Isaiah 14:5 , "rulers" in parallelism to "the wicked"; and Job 21:28 [MAURER].
3. sanctified ones--the Median and Persian soldiers solemnly set apart by Me for the destruction of Babylon, not inwardly "sanctified," but designated to fulfil God's holy purpose ( Jeremiah 51:27 Jeremiah 51:28 , Joel 3:9 Joel 3:11 ; where the Hebrew for prepare war is "sanctify" war).
for mine anger--to execute it.
rejoice in my highness--"Those who are made to triumph for My honor" [HORSLEY]. The heathen Medes could not be said to "rejoice in God's highness" MAURER translates, "My haughtily exulting ones" ( Zephaniah 3:11 ); a special characteristic of the Persians [HERODOTUS,1.88]. They rejoiced in their own highness, but it was His that they were unconsciously glorifying.
4. the mountains--namely, which separate Media and Assyria, and on one of which the banner to rally the hosts is supposed to be reared.
tumultuous noise--The Babylonians are vividly depicted as hearing some unwonted sound like the din of a host; they try to distinguish the sounds, but can only perceive a tumultuous noise.
nations--Medes, Persians, and Armenians composed Cyrus' army.
5. They--namely, "Jehovah," and the armies which are "the weapons of His indignation."
far country--Media and Persia, stretching to the far north and east.
end of heaven--the far east ( Psalms 19:6 ).
destroy--rather, "to seize" [HORSLEY].
6. day of the Lord--day of His vengeance on Babylon ( Isaiah 2:12 ). Type of the future "day of wrath" ( Revelation 6:17 ).
destruction--literally, "a devastating tempest."
from the Almighty--not from mere man; therefore irresistible. "Almighty," Hebrew, Shaddai.
7. faint . . . melt--So Jeremiah 50:43 ; compare Joshua 7:5 . Babylon was taken by surprise on the night of Belshazzar's impious feast ( Daniel 5:30 ). Hence the sudden fainting and melting of hearts.
8. pangs--The Hebrew means also a "messenger." HORSLEY, therefore, with the Septuagint translates, "The heralds (who bring word of the unexpected invasion) are terrified." MAURER agrees with English Version, literally, "they shall take hold of pangs and sorrows."
woman . . . travaileth--( 1 Thessalonians 5:3 ).
amazed--the stupid, bewildered gaze of consternation.
faces . . . flames--"their visages have the livid hue of flame" [HORSLEY]; with anguish and indignation.
9. cruel--not strictly, but unsparingly just; opposed to mercy. Also answering to the cruelty (in the strict sense) of Babylon towards others ( Isaiah 14:17 ) now about to be visited on itself.
the land--"the earth" [HORSLEY]. The language of Isaiah 13:9-13 can only primarily and partially apply to Babylon; fully and exhaustively, the judgments to come, hereafter, on the whole earth. Compare Isaiah 13:10 with Matthew 24:29 , Revelation 8:12 . The sins of Babylon, arrogancy ( Isaiah 13:11 , Isaiah 14:11 , Isaiah 47:7 Isaiah 47:8 ), cruelty, false worship ( Jeremiah 50:38 ), persecution of the people of God ( Isaiah 47:6 ), are peculiarly characteristic of the Antichristian world of the latter days ( Daniel 11:32-37 , Revelation 17:3 Revelation 17:6 , Revelation 18:6 Revelation 18:7 Revelation 18:9-14 Revelation 18:24 ).
10. stars, &c.--figuratively for anarchy, distress, and revolutions of kingdoms ( Isaiah 34:4 , Joel 2:10 , Ezekiel 32:7 Ezekiel 32:8 , Amos 8:9 , Revelation 6:12-14 ). There may be a literal fulfilment finally, shadowed forth under this imagery ( Revelation 21:1 ).
constellations--Hebrew, "a fool," or "impious one"; applied to the constellation Orion, which was represented as an impious giant (Nimrod deified, the founder of Babylon) chained to the sky.
11. world--the impious of the world (compare Isaiah 11:4 ).
arrogancy--Babylon's besetting sin ( Daniel 4:22 Daniel 4:30 ).
the terrible--rather, tyrants [HORSLEY].
12. man . . . precious--I will so cut off Babylon's defenders, that a single man shall be as rare and precious as the finest gold.
13. Image for mighty revolutions ( Isaiah 24:19 , 34:4 , Habakkuk 3:6 Habakkuk 3:10 , Haggai 2:6 Haggai 2:7 , Revelation 20:11 ).
roe--gazelle; the most timid and easily startled.
no man taketh up--sheep defenseless, without a shepherd ( Zechariah 13:7 ).
every man . . . to his own people--The "mingled peoples" of foreign lands shall flee out of her ( Jeremiah 50:16 Jeremiah 50:28 Jeremiah 50:37 , 51:9 ).
15. found--in the city.
joined--"intercepted" [MAURER]. "Every one that has withdrawn himself," namely, to hide in the houses [GESENIUS].
16. ( Psalms 137:8 Psalms 137:9 ).
17. Medes--( Isaiah 21:2 , Jeremiah 51:11 Jeremiah 51:28 ). At that time they were subject to Assyria; subsequently Arbaces, satrap of Media, revolted against the effeminate Sardanapalus, king of Assyria, destroyed Nineveh, and became king of Media, in the ninth century B.C.
not regard silver--In vain will one try to buy his life from them for a ransom. The heathen XENOPHON (Cyropædia, 5,1,10) represents Cyrus as attributing this characteristic to the Medes, disregard of riches. A curious confirmation of this prophecy.
18. bows--in the use of which the Persians were particularly skilled.
19. glory of kingdoms--( Isaiah 14:4 , 47:5 , Jeremiah 51:41 ).
beauty of . . . excellency--Hebrew, "the glory of the pride" of the Chaldees; it was their glory and boast.
as . . . Gomorrah--as utterly ( Jeremiah 49:18 , 50:40 , Amos 4:11 ). Taken by Cyrus, by clearing out the canal made for emptying the superfluous waters of the Euphrates, and directing the river into this new channel, so that he was able to enter the city by the old bed in the night.
20. Literally fulfilled.
neither . . . Arabian pitch tent--Not only shall it not be a permanent residence, but not even a temporary resting-place. The Arabs, through dread of evil spirits, and believing the ghost of Nimrod to haunt it, will not pass the night there (compare Isaiah 13:21 ).
neither . . . shepherds--The region was once most fertile; but owing to the Euphrates being now no longer kept within its former channels, it has become a stagnant marsh, unfit for flocks; and on the wastes of its ruins (bricks and cement) no grass grows.
21. wild beasts--Hebrew, tsiyim, animals dwelling in arid wastes. Wild cats, remarkable for their howl [BOCHART].
doleful creatures--"howling beasts," literally, "howlings" [MAURER].
owls--rather, "ostriches"; a timorous creature, delighting in solitary deserts and making a hideous noise [BOCHART].
satyrs--sylvan demi-gods--half man, half goat--believed by the Arabs to haunt these ruins; probably animals of the goat-ape species [VITRINGA]. Devil-worshippers, who dance amid the ruins on a certain night [J. WOLFF].
22. wild beasts of the islands--rather, "jackals"; called by the Arabs "sons of howling"; an animal midway between a fox and a wolf [BOCHART and MAURER].
cry--rather, "answer," "respond" to each other, as wolves do at night, producing a most dismal effect.
dragons--serpents of various species, which hiss and utter dolorous sounds. Fable gave them wings, because they stand with much of the body elevated and then dart swiftly. MAURER understands here another species of jackal.
her time . . . near--though one hundred seventy-four years distant, yet "near" to Isaiah, who is supposed to be speaking to the Jews as if now captives in Babylon ( Isaiah 14:1 Isaiah 14:2 ).