Isaiah 13 Study Notes


13:1 Pronouncement (Hb massa’, lit “burden”) is often used in the context of judgment pronouncements against the nations. This is a “war oracle,” a declaration of war. Babylon is the object, which is surprising since Babylon was not the major player on the world scene in Isaiah’s time. But Babylon will play a major role in the judgment of God’s people in Judah. Babylon represented cultural arrogance and human self-reliance.

13:2 The call to lift a banner is a call to rally troops before a battle (5:26; 11:10,12). The identity of the army and the object of their attack are unspecified. Even though an actual gate of the nobles is unknown, the name evokes ideas of elitism, power, and pride.

13:3 My warriors might be angelic, but the reference is more likely to human warriors whom God will use for his purposes. Since they may not be conscious of such a divine purpose (10:5-11), they are not necessarily an army of the faithful.


Hebrew pronunciation [ZA am]
CSB translation indignation, wrath
Uses in Isaiah 5
Uses in the OT 22
Focus passage Isaiah 13:5

Za‘am indicates God’s wrath (Is 10:5) seven times. It refers to God in all but two instances: God fills Jeremiah with indignation (Jr 15:17), and the tongues of ungodly leaders have insolent tongues (Hs 7:16). Za‘am appears ten times as indignation, sometimes with other words for God’s “wrath”: qetseph, which stresses rage (Ps 102:10); chemah, which emphasizes heat (Nah 1:6); and ’aph, which implies anger (Hab 3:12). Further words for “wrath” include charon (Ps 2:5), which connotes burning (Ex 15:7), and ‘ebrah, which involves outbursts (Jb 21:30). Za‘am suggests fury (Is 30:27), rage (Jr 10:10), and fierceness (Lm 2:6). The verb za‘am (12x) means show wrath (Is 66:14), be angry (Zch 1:12), and rage (Dn 11:30). It can involve executing justice (Ps 7:11). When the angry expression is verbal, za‘am denotes denounce (Nm 23:7) and curse (Mal 1:4). Passive forms describe angry looks (Pr 25:23) and an accursed short measure (Mc 6:10).

13:4 The Lord of Armies is God’s name that signifies his activity in warfare. The commotion on the mountains emanates from God’s army that gathers there. While it is possible that the mountains are the Zagros east of Babylon, it is not certain.

13:5 The distant land is not specified, but it may be a reference to the Medes (v. 17) whom God will use (as part of the Persian Empire) to defeat Babylon (the whole country).

13:6 The day of the Lord is a future time when God will wage war against those who oppose him.

13:7 Weak hands and a melted heart refer to physical and psychological reactions to fear.

13:8 Isaiah used the theme of a woman in labor, one that appears often in prophetic literature (21:3; Jr 4:31; 6:24; 22:23; 30:6; Mc 4:9). It is a graphic image of the pain and distress that will result from God’s warring activity.

13:9 Here and in v. 6 are the only two references to the day of the Lord in Isaiah.

13:10 The incursion of God as warrior causes nature to go into convulsions. On the day of God’s judgment, the sun . . . moon, and stars, which God created to provide the world with light (Gn 1:14-19), will go out, plunging the world into darkness (Ezk 32:7; Jl 2:2; 3:1,15; Am 5:18; Mc 3:6; Mt 24:29; Lk 21:25; Rv 8:12).

13:11 The object of God’s wrath is pride that leads people to trust in themselves rather than in him.

13:12 God’s warring judgment will reduce the population of the earth dramatically.

13:13 When the divine warrior appears, not only will the heavenly bodies convulse (v. 10); so will the earth.

13:14-15 The destroyed city had residents from many different lands. Once destroyed, the people will be leaderless and will quickly run (like wandering gazelles) back to their homeland. However, they may not make it back. The road will be lined with dangers, including robbers and perhaps even an enemy army.

13:16 In ancient times defeated cities endured the horrible atrocities described in this verse. The worst was that their children would be killed.

13:17 At last, the attacking army is described as the implacable Medes, a people known as early as the ninth century BC. They came from the Zagros Mountains east of the Mesopotamian plain. These warlike people are known in history as Babylon’s allies when they defeated Assyria. However, in the sixth century BC they were engulfed by Persia. The combined armies of the Medes and Persians defeated Babylon in 539 BC.

13:18 This largely repeats the message of v. 16.

13:19 For the first time Babylon is named as the object of God’s warring activity. They are described as the jewel of the kingdoms in anticipation of the position they will assume after their defeat of Assyria at the end of the seventh century BC. The Chaldeans were the leading tribe that produced the leaders (Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar) who led the Babylonian resurgence. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is described in Gn 19. This account in Isaiah implies a horrible end. It associates Babylon with the perverse sin that led to the destruction of those cities.

13:20 In 689 BC the Assyrian king Sennacherib “defeated Babylon, tore down its walls, flooded the area, depopulated the city, and made the city into a meadow” (Gary Smith, NAC). The Medes may also have been involved. The Medes and Persians destroyed Babylon again in 539 BC.

13:21-22 These verses describe animals that lived in ruins and desolate places. Ostriches and owls were considered unclean (Lv 11:15-16).