Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
God mustereth the armies of his wrath: he threateneth to destroy Babylon by the Medes. The desolation of Babylon.
Before Christ 713.
The SECOND part of the prophesies of Isaiah, containing a wonderful account of God's dealings with the enemies of his church and people, begins at this chapter, and extends to the 24th. It comprises eight discourses. The first concerning the fate of Babylon, Isaiah 13:1 to Isaiah 14:28. The second concerning the destruction of the Philistines, chap. Isaiah 14:28 to Isa_32:20. The third concerning the Moabites, chap. Isaiah 15-16. The fourth concerning the Syrians of Damascus, with whose calamity the destruction of the Ephraimites is connected, and the subsequent punishment of the Assyrians and Egyptians; chap. Isaiah 17-18. The fifth sets forth the fate and destruction of Egypt, in which is involved the calamity of the Ethiopians, chap. Isaiah 19-20. The sixth respects the empire of the Babylonians, and foretels its fall, with which are connected the calamities of Edom and Arabia Deserta, Isaiah 21. The seventh denounces the affliction hanging over Judaea and Jerusalem from Sennacherib, Isaiah 22. And the eighth describes the calamities and destruction of Tyre, Isaiah 23.
Isaiah 13:1.— This prophesy respecting Babylon may be divided into two parts; the former part contained in the present chapter: wherein we have, first, the title, Isaiah 13:1.; secondly, the matter comprehended in this first part, which describes figuratively and strongly the calamity of Babylon, Isaiah 13:2-16 and in the subsequent verses confirms the former prediction. Vitringa is of opinion, from the great similarity of phrases particularly which is found in both, that this prophesy was delivered at the same time with the preceding one concerning Assyria, beginning chap. Isaiah 10:5. The great design of delivering this and the following prophesies of the same kind was, first to set forth the reasons of the divine justice in punishing the enemies of the church, in order to console the minds and confirm the faith of the pious. A second and more immediate design was, to comfort the minds of true believers against that sad and sorrowful event, the Babylonish captivity; and the third to announce, under this figure, the destruction of the spiritual Babylon, the whole kingdom of sin and Satan. See Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:5. It is necessary for every reader who would completely understand the prophesies which respect the several states mentioned in this SECOND part, to make themselves well acquainted with the history of those states. The excellent and judicious Vitringa has affixed to his comment an historical account of each kingdom. We just subjoin from him a brief detail of the state of the Babylonish empire. The kingdom of Babylon was founded by Nimrod, who made Babel the seat of his empire; It was then occupied by the Arabs, who less regarded Babylon; but the Syrians, having founded their monarchy in the East, seized the Babylonish empire, repaired, fortified, adorned and enlarged Babylon, and at first, most likely, governed that province by nobles or deputies, and then placed kings over it, among whom Nabonassar was famous. Those kings became obnoxious to the Assyrians; and afterwards shook off their yoke. It is uncertain whether Merodach-baladan was the first who did so, or the kings who followed Assar-Addin, and principally Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar; the Medes and other nations having before, and perhaps on account of the slaughter of Sennacherib, led them away in their defection from the Assyrians: this was the first step of the greatness of the Babylonish empire. The valour and prosperity of the two kings after Assar-addin,—Nabopolassar, and his son Nebuchadnezzar, very much advanced the dignity of this empire. At length, Ninus being cut off by the Medes, and the Chaldees assisting them, this kingdom and empire was entirely established; for as the Medes, after the destruction of Ninus, had all Asia beyond the Tygris subject to them, except Susiana, the Babylonish kings ruled over all Asia on this side the Tygris, as far as the river Halys and Egypt. See Vitringa, and the Universal History, vol. 4:
The burden of Babylon— This inscription is not so much of a new prophesy as of a new book of prophesies, contra-distinguished from the former book, which also has its inscription; but we have here a different word used, משׂא massaa, the burden, of Babylon, which Vitringa renders, the sentence upon, or delivered concerning Babylon. Bishop Newton observes, (Prophesies, vol. 1: p. 354.) that it is remarkable, that the prophesies uttered against any city or country often carry the inscription of the burden of that city or country; and by burden is commonly understood a threatening burdensome prophesy, big with ruin and destruction; which, like a dead weight, is hung upon the city or country to sink it. But the word משׂא massaa, in the original is of more general import: sometimes it signifies a prophesy at large; sometimes a prophesy of good as well as of evil, as in Zechariah 12:1 sometimes it is translated a prophesy, where there is no prophesy, but only a grave moral sentence; and sometimes it is used of the author, as well as the subject, of a prophesy. The word משׂא massaa, in the original is derived from the verb נשׂא nasa, which signifies to take or lift up, or bring; and the proper meaning of it is, any weighty important matter, or sentence, which ought not to he neglected; but is worthy of being carried in the memory and deserves to be lifted up and uttered with emphasis. See Revelation 2:24. By Babylon we are to understand not only the city of that name, but the whole empire: See Vitringa.
Isaiah 13:2-3. Lift ye up a banner— In this beginning of the discourse we have, first, a figurative declaration of the causes, principal as well as instrumental, of the judgment to be brought upon Babylon; wherein God is introduced as a supreme general, delivering his commands to his ministers to collect a strong and numerous army, which would serve as an instrument of executing that severe judgment which he had decreed against the Babylonians. We have this command in the present verses, and the ready execution of the command in Isaiah 13:4-5. For the analysis of the second part, see on the sixth verse. There seems to be no doubt but that God is the speaker in these verses. See Jeremiah 50:9. It is more doubtful who are those addressed: some think the Medes and Persians; but they cannot be the persons directly addressed, because they constitute the army which was to be collected for the execution of this decree: Others have therefore concluded, that the angels, the ministers of God's providence, are to be understood; but Vitringa observes very justly, that in passages like this, which are in a measure dramatic, there is no need to be so solicitous for the application of every minute particular. The general meaning of the passage is, that God would take care to effect that by his secret providence, which men are used to effect by their ministers and agents. Instead of sanctified ones, Bishop Lowth reads enrolled warriors, in the third verse; and instead of even them, &c.—those that exult in my greatness. Herodotus says remarkably of the Medes and Persians, that they thought themselves to be of all men the most excellent in all things, ανθρωπων μακρω τα παντα αριστους . lib. 1: p. 64. And in Ammianus Marcell. lib. 23: cap. 6 we have a character of this people, which remarkably coincides with the expression of the prophet. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 13:4-5. The noise of a multitude, &c.— The prophet here relates three things, the sudden effects of the divine command; first, the collection and congregation which God had destined to execute his judgments. There is a noise of tumult in the mountains; the appearance of much people; the voice of the tumult of the kingdoms of nations gathered together. No sooner had the Almighty given the command, than the multitude assembles to his banners. Secondly, We have this army disposed in order, and reviewed by its supreme general; The Lord of hosts mustereth, or revieweth the host of the battle: Thirdly, The motion and expedition of this army, immediately accoutred for the march against Babylon: They march from a far country, from the extremity of the heavens; even JEHOVAH, and the instruments of his wrath to destroy this whole land. See Jeremiah 50:25. Media is called a far country, &c. in the usual style of Scripture for any distant place; chap. Isaiah 5:26. Bishop Newton observes it was foretold, that various nations should unite against Babylon; that they should come from a far country; and that among others they should be the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Aschenaz. Jeremiah 51:27 that is the Armenians, Phrygians, and other nations; and accordingly Cyrus's army consisted of various nations besides Medes and Persians, among whom were those very people whom he had conquered before, and obliged to attend him in this expedition.
Isaiah 13:6. Howl ye, &c.— We have here, in this latter member of the first part of the discourse, a premonition to the Babylonians concerning their approaching calamity; Isaiah 13:6. Secondly, the effects of the expedition of their enemies against them are set forth; the stupor, consternation, and despair of the Babylonians, Isaiah 13:7-8 the highest calamity, joined with the greatest evils, falling upon the Babylonians, and the utter subversion of their state; with the causes, namely, their grievous crimes; which calamity is first proposed, Isaiah 13:9-12 and then heightened by new figures and sentences indicating its greatness; Isaiah 13:13-16. It has been observed by Bishop Lowth, that the prophetic writings seem peculiarly excellent in exciting terror; and, though Isaiah generally employs his pen in representing images of pleasure and joy; yet this apostrophe, beginning with the present verse, and ending with the 13th, shews that no one is superior to him in exciting the passion of terror. See his 21st Prelection.
Isaiah 13:7-8. Therefore, &c.— What other effect could the premonition concerning the approach of such formidable enemies produce, than consternation and dismay? So the prophet informs us, eloquently describing in this period the consternation of the Babylonians upon the report of the expedition undertaken against them. This is the general meaning of the figurative expressions made use of in these verses, which are all of easy explication. See Jeremiah 50:43. Deuteronomy 20:8. Psalms 48:6. Jeremiah 49:24. The last phrase, which is literally, Every one is astonished at another, with inflamed face, or their faces are of flames, signifies that through the agitation of their passions, their faces were kindled as it were into flames, and bespoke the fear and anguish of their minds; each looking upon the other with a face glowing as scarlet, his mind in the utmost perturbation through anxiety and despair. The reader cannot but remark the strength and elegance of the expression. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 13:9-12. Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, &c.— The prophet begins here to describe the calamity itself coming upon the Babylonians, but in figures, according to his manner, grand, and adapted to raise a terrible image of that calamity. We have the proposition in the ninth verse, and the enarration of it in the three following. The proposition contains both a confirmation of the approach of the day of the Lord, and a general idea of its sorrowful attributes. The first is set forth in the words, Behold, the day of the Lord cometh; in which the prophet plainly alludes to the sixth verse; and the phrase means, the whole time destined by the divine councils for the chastisement of the Babylonians. See Jeremiah 50:31. The attributes of this day are fierceness, wrath, hot anger, &c. phrases chosen to express in the most lively manner the greatness of the approaching calamity; the first and principal cause whereof he teaches to be the divine justice, about to take severe vengeance upon the Babylonians, whose crimes, we learn from this and other prophets, were particularly pride and luxury, cruelty and inhumanity, idolatry and superstition, and, above all, their sins against the people of God, his religion and sanctuary, and so against God himself. See Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 24:10. The enarration of the three following verses is so constructed, that though the basis of the discourse is figurative, yet the proper expressions are mixed with the metaphorical ones. In the 10th verse the calamity to be brought upon the Babylonians is described under the figure of a dreadful tempest, inducing such a face of things in the heavens as the prophet here describes. See Isaiah 13:13. Ezekiel 32:7 and Vitringa's Comment on Revelation 6:12. The general meaning of the prophet is, that a most grievous calamity should come upon the Babylonians, which should deprive them of all light; that is to say, of all joy and consolation, as well as of the causes of them; and should fill them with sorrow and distress, and a fearful sense of the divine wrath poured forth from heaven upon them. See Job 18:5. Besides, that their state and government should be utterly subverted, their religion and polity entirely overthrown. This is meant by the darkening of the stars, the sun, &c. metaphors which are fully explained in the 11th verse; And I will visit upon this evil world, and upon these wicked, their iniquity, &c. We cannot help thinking of the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, and his remarkable fate, when we read the latter part of the 11th verse. Bishop Warburton observes, that the prophetic style seems to be a speaking hieroglyphic. In the tropical hieroglyphics, a star was the symbol of a king or a god; and to convince us that the figurative style of the prophets was derived thence, we should take notice, that they frequently call empires, kings, and nobles, by the names of the heavenly luminaries, the sun, moon, and stars; their temporary disasters or entire overthrows by eclipses and extinctions, and the destruction of the nobility by stars falling from heaven. See Matthew 24:29. The 12th verse admits of a twofold sense: First, that there shall be so great a slaughter, that but few men shall remain, who, on this account, will become extremely precious, and more valuable than gold. The second, that the Medes and Persians should be so cruel and relentless, as not to be induced by any price to spare the Babylonians, so that a man will not be able to redeem his life for even the best gold, the gold of Ophir. Vitringa prefers the last sense, which he thinks is confirmed by the 17th verse.
Isaiah 13:13-16. Therefore I will shake the heavens— Every one who reads and compares these words with those preceding, must observe, that they contain an explanation of what the prophet had said concerning the mighty storm to be raised against the Babylonians; so that here the same subject is continued and amplified. The same figure is employed in the 13th verse, setting forth the manifestation of the divine justice as the cause of the calamity, the effects of which are related in the following verses; and in the 14th the fear and flight of the Babylonians, in consequence of that fear. And every one shall be as a goat driven away, and as sheep whom no man takes the pains to collect together. They shall look every man to his own people, and shall flee every one to his own land. The metaphor is taken from a dispersed flock of timid sheep and goats; and the prophet refers to those inhabitants in Babylon who were of different nations, and had settled there. See Jeremiah 50:28. The next effect is, the slaughter and desolation of those who should be found; Isaiah 13:15-16. Every one that is joined unto them, according to some, means those soldiers who were called in and hired to their assistance: see Jeremiah 50:30-32. Vitringa, however, seems to prefer the interpretation of Kimchi, who renders it, And every one who is fainting [sick or near to death]: as if the prophet had said, "Not only they who are found, who are at hand, strong and in health, shall be thrust through with the sword, but also the fainting and dying: who, though in a state without hope to escape death, will not be able to obtain from the cruel conqueror, that they may pay this debt to nature. They too shall fall by his bloody and relentless hand."
Isaiah 13:17-18. Behold, I will stir up the Medes— Here follows the second part of this prophesy; in which, what the prophet had foretold principally in figure, is here plainly related; and is easily divided, as it contains the antecedent and consequent, the cause and effect. The antecedent, or efficient causes of the evil to come, are the Medes and Persians, raised up by God himself against the Babylonians, and described from their ruling principle, extremely full of cruelty and avidity of revenge, Isaiah 13:17-18. The consequence is, the desolation of Babylon, and the calamity to be brought upon it, Isaiah 13:19-22. The expression in the 18th verse, Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces, might be rendered, And they shall with their bows dash to pieces the children: according to the Vulgate, They shall kill their little ones with their arrows: cruel and relentless, and thirsting only for blood, no money will be able to bribe them; no gold or silver be able to satiate their thirst of destruction. Ancient historians assure us, that the Medes and Persians were thus notorious for their cruelty, and also that they carried remarkably large bows, and were eminent for their skilfulness in the use of them. Bishop Newton observes, that at the time when Isaiah wrote this prophesy, the Medes were a people of no account, forming only a province under the king of Assyria, and not erected into a separate kingdom till the time of Dioces, about the 17th year of king Hezekiah. They afterwards became a very considerable people, and made up the principal part of the army which was brought against Babylon by Cyrus, whose mother was a Mede. When Babylon was taken by Darius, he ordered 3000 of the principal men to be crucified, and thereby fulfilled the prophesies of the cruelty which the Medes and Persians should use towards the Babylonians, contained in this passage, and in Jeremiah 50:42. See Prophec. vol. 1: p. 295.
Isaiah 13:19-22. And Babylon, the glory— The prophet in this eloquent passage describes to us the consequence of the fury of the enemy raised up by God against Babylon; namely, the devastation and desolation of Babylon; and that extreme and everlasting; so as to exclude all hope of the restoration of this once magnificent city to its former state. The prophet heightens the desolation of Babylon by the consideration of its former great and flourishing state; Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the ornament of the excellency of the Chaldees. According to Herodotus, this city was 480 furlongs or sixty miles in compass. By one means or other it became so celebrated as to give name to a very large empire; and its beauty, strength, and grandeur, its walls, temples, palaces, and hanging gardens, the banks of the river, and the artificial canals and lake made for draining of that river when it overflowed, are described with such pomp and magnificence by heathen authors, that it might deservedly be reputed one of the wonders of the world. This prophesy has been most remarkably fulfilled; both ancient geographers, and modern travellers, informing us, that they cannot trace even its ruins, or fix upon the spot where it once stood. St. Jerome informs us from a certain Elamite, who had been in this place, that Babylon was converted into a royal chace for hunting and breeding wild beasts, which was an exact accomplishment of the words of the prophet, Isaiah 13:21. Wild beasts of the desert shall dwell there: he adds, Their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and dragons shall cry in their pleasant places: and Benjamin of Tudela, a Jew, in his Itinerary, written above 700 years ago, asserts, "Babylon is now laid waste, excepting the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's palace, which men are afraid to enter, on account of the scorpions which have taken possession of it." This account is confirmed by Rauwolf, who informs us, that the supposed ruins of the tower of Babylon are so full of venomous creatures, that no one dares approach nearer to them than half a league; and, to sum up the evidence of the completion of this prophesy, Mr. Hanway informs us, that the ruins of this city are so much effaced, that there are hardly any vestiges of them to point out its situation. What makes the present desolate condition of this place the more wonderful is, that Alexander the Great intended to have made it the seat of his empire, and actually set men to work to rebuild the temple of Belus, to repair the banks of the river, and to reduce the waters again to their old channel; but he met with too many difficulties. How is Babylon become a desolation! How wonderful are such predictions, compared with the events! And what a convincing argument of the truth and divinity of the Holy Scriptures! Well might God allege this as a memorable instance of his prescience, and challenge all the false gods, and their votaries, to produce the like; ch. Isaiah 14:21, Isaiah 46:10. And indeed where can be found a similar instance, but in Scripture, from the beginning of the world to this day? See Bishop Newton on the Prophesies, diss. 10 and the Observations on S. S. page 63.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, A new vision here is given the prophet concerning the fate of the neighbouring kingdoms; and as the captivity of the Jews in Babylon approached, they have this prophesy to comfort them before the time arrives,—that the rod of their oppressor should be broken. It is called the burden of Babylon, a prophesy concerning it, denouncing her heavy doom, crushed in pieces under the combined forces of Media and Persia; and this Isaiah saw in prophesy clearly revealed to him.
1. God gives the command; his standard is unfurled; the forces haste to join their colours, and he musters them armed for the battle. The kings of Media and Persia, with their officers, were employed to summon the soldiers, beckon them to enlist, and lead them to the gates of the nobles, the proud walls of Babel; but it was God's secret impulse which stirred up their spirit, strengthened them for the battle, and crowned their arms with success.
2. The persons employed are his sanctified ones, the Medes and Persians; not that they were therefore gracious souls, but raised up to serve his purposes, and qualified by him for their work: his mighty ones, Cyrus, and Darius, who were instruments in his hand, and clothed with strength to execute his decree: even them that rejoice in my highness, or, as the words will bear to be rendered, that rejoice my highness; they rejoiced in their successes, whereby God was glorified; and a vast army followed them from different nations, from the ends of the earth, the farthest parts of their dominion, and very distant from Babylon; but, when sent on God's errand, no distance or danger could deter them.
3. The design of them is, as weapons of the Lord's indignation, to destroy the whole land of Chaldea, and Babylon the metropolis. Note; When God gives the word against a sinful nation, to pluck up and to destroy, his armies are quickly ready, and resistance is vain.
2nd, The destruction of Babylon being commanded, we have an awful account of its accomplishment.
1. It is the day of the Lord's wrath, and therefore must be terrible; and destruction from the Almighty, and therefore irresistible. Though God for just correction suffered his people to be brought into bondage, he would fully avenge the ill usage they had received.
2. Dismay and terror would overtake the hosts of Babylon. Howling for distress, and trembling, their courage should fail them: pangs like those of a travailing woman should seize them, and each increase the panic by reciprocally communicating their fears: their faces should be dark, as if burnt to a coal, or pale as flames; the terrible wrath and fierce anger of the Lord upon them, and certain ruin, the wages of sin, approaching; the very heavens black and lowering, and the bright luminaries hid: or this is figuratively expressed to describe the ruin of their king and princes, and the dreadful gloom of horror which surrounded them, while no opening appeared for their escape; and all should be embittered by conscious guilt, of which this is the just punishment. God will lay low the arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, and bring their pride into the dust; their country and capital so ruined, that scarcely a man should be left; or so merciless their conquerors, that no ransom would engage them to spare their captives. The thunders above, and the quaking earth beneath, should help forward their destruction; or by these may be signified the utter dissolution of the government. Like a chased roe their warriors should flee; and as a sheep straying from the flock, defenceless, becomes a prey to the wolf, so should they be devoured. Their auxiliary forces shall desert their sinking cause, and, glad to escape with life to their own country, leave the devoted city to ruin. Note; (1.) That is complete misery upon earth, where the terrors of a guilty conscience are added to the heavy judgments of affliction. (2.) Sin, sin is the cause of all human wretchedness. (3.) They who never trembled before shall in the day of God be overwhelmed; and the boldest countenance turn pale at God's bar. (4.) When God devotes a nation to ruin, all her allies will desert her, and fly as from a falling house.
3. The executioners of God's vengeance approach: the Medes, more thirsty for blood than for the spoil, shall raven like lions; universal massacre shall ensue of all that were found in arms, whether Babylonians or auxiliaries. The laws of humanity find no place in a city taken by storm; and God in just retaliation for the violences offered to his people, (Lamentations 5:11; Lamentations 5:22.) will suffer the children of Babylon to be dashed in pieces. Note; (1.) When the native cruelty of the heart is unrestrained, no beast of the forest is more savage than man. (2.) If we shudder at the infant's miseries, let us remember how bitter and evil a thing sin is, and read in their sufferings a pregnant evidence of original guilt. (3.) They who are companions with the wicked, will share in their plagues.
3rdly, The inimitably lively and striking images of the utter desolation of Babylon here displayed, cannot be read without admiration.
1. Her former towering height of glory serves to strengthen the contrast which should be evidenced by her fall, even the fall of Babylon, the beauty of Chaldaea. Utter destruction, like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, approached. Instead of crowded streets, not an inhabitant should remain among the dreary ruins for ever: instead of a fertile soil, such barrenness should succeed, that not even an Arab's tent, or a shepherd's fold, should be seen. Those late proud palaces, where riot, mirth, and pleasure reigned, abandoned, ruinous, are become the dens of ravening beasts; and owls, dragons, satyrs, and every doleful creature, occupy the desolate mansions.
2. The nearness of this heavy judgment is intimated for the comfort of God's Israel when in their captivity. It was more than two hundred years from the time of the prophesy; but with God that is but a moment; it would be quickly at hand, for her days shall not be prolonged, but a final period put to Babylon's prosperity and power; yea, to her very being. And thus shall mystical Babylon also perish, when the day of her recompence shall arrive, Revelation 4:11.
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