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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 13

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


DIVISION II (Isaiah 13-23)

This division contains Isaiah’s prophecies against the nations, some twelve in all, the first one being contained in Isaiah 13 and all of Isaiah 14 (except the last five verses).


Here is contained one of the most glorious predictive prophecies in all the Word of God; and, of course, critical enemies of God’s word shout their denials as convincingly as they can; but to no avail. There is no evidence of any kind whatever, either external or internal, that casts the slightest doubt on the authenticity and integrity of this great prophecy. For that matter, critics offer no proof of their arrogant denials. Kelley stated that, “This is one of the sections in the articles against the nations that must be dated later than the prophet Isaiah.”(F1) Peake supposed that, “The prophecy must have been written near the close of the Exile.”(F2) Why do such scholars “suppose” or “allege” such things? O, they say, “The historical situation presupposed in this chapter is much later than Isaiah.” So what? When Micah predicted the birth of Christ in Bethlehem seven centuries before the event, were not the historical conditions when Christ was born different to those when Micah prophesied?

The only thing we have here, then, is the knee-jerk reaction of critics to one of their satanic rules that “There is no such thing as predictive prophecy !” Therefore we reject such arrogant denials for what they are, merely the glib, unsupported falsehoods of unbelievers, unworthy of belief on the part of any Christian.

We are very grateful for the emergence of many young scholars today, among whom are Homer Hailey and John Willis, whose writings we are quoting in this commentary, who have rejected the fulminations of Bible enemies against such passages as this 13th chapter. Willis, for example, approvingly quoted Albert Barnes’ immortal words regarding this prophecy against Babylon. We give the same quotation here:

“This is one of the clearest predictions of a future event that can anywhere be found, and the exact, minute fulfillment of it furnishes the highest possible evidence that “Isaiah spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost.”(F3) How will the infidel account for this prophecy and its fulfillment? It will not do to say that it was an accident. It is too minute and too particular. It is not due to human sagacity. No human sagacity could have foretold it. It is not fancied fulfillment. It is real in the most minute particulars. And if so, then Isaiah was commissioned by Jehovah as he claimed to be. And, if this prophecy was inspired by God, by the same train of reasoning it can be proved that the whole Bible is a revelation from heaven.(F4)

The truth which confounds the critics here is seen in the fact that Isaiah here looks far beyond the event of Israel’s captivity which lay far in the future when Isaiah wrote this to the fall of Babylon to the Medes and the deliverance for God’s people which would follow, indicating at the same time the awful punishment laid up for Babylon. The critical theory, of course, denies that the captivity itself was prophesied in advance, the absurdity of which critical allegation is seen in the fact that from the date of Isaiah’s first-born son, the captivity as well as the return of a remnant were symbolically prophesied in the name Shear-Jashub. Was that also done “after the exile”? Of course not!

Also, let it be noted that the Medes were never the dominant portion of the Medo-Persian power that destroyed Babylon; and as Cheyne pointed out, it is absolutely ridiculous to suppose that anyone writing “after the exile” would have ignored the part of Persia in Babylon’s punishment; but God, revealing the punishment at least 175 years before it was executed introduced the name of the Medes as having a part in it. Did they have a part? Certainly. The Scriptures reveal that when Babylon fell, “It was Darius the Mede who took the kingdom at age 62” (Daniel 5:30-31). However, nobody writing “after the exile” would have paid any attention whatever to the Medes. The allegation of Peake to the effect that the post-exilic writer made a mistake by attributing the fall of Babylon to the Medes is preposterous!(F5)

Summarizing this chapter, we have: God commands the assembly of the armies destined to be his instrument in the destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 13:1-3); a prophetic vision of the armies advancing to destroy Babylon (Isaiah 13:4-5); Isaiah gradually shifted from his own words to those of God as the awful consequences of God’s wrath were described (Isaiah 13:6-10); a description of the dreadful destruction destined to befall Babylon (Isaiah 13:11-16); the everlasting desolation to which the city was doomed (Isaiah 13:17-22).

Verses 1-3

“The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see. Set ye up an ensign upon the bare mountain, lift up the voice unto them, wave the hand that they may go into the gates of the nobles. I have commanded my consecrated ones, yea, I have called my mighty men for mine anger, even my proudly exulting ones.”

“The burden of Babylon” The word here rendered “burden” is also translated oracle, or prophecy; but, the Hebrew word carries the ordinary meaning of ’burden.’ “Generally in the Old Testament, and always in Isaiah, it refers to a Divine denunciation.”(F6) Surely the prophecy concerning Babylon carried a “burden” of woe to that city.

The mustering of the great mass of armies was to be accomplished by a triple signal (all of them metaphorical) of an ensign lifted high on a bare mountain, a loud call, and the waving of a hand.

The Babylonians called the gates of their city the “gates of the gods”; but Isaiah here put that in its proper perspective.

The picture that emerges here is that of God Himself in absolute control and command of all the powers on earth, which powers are summonsed here to execute the wrath of God upon Babylon.

Verses 4-5

“The noise of a multitude in the mountains, as of a great people! the noise of the tumult of the nations of the kingdoms gathered together! Jehovah of hosts is mustering the host for the battle. They come from a far country, from the uttermost part of heaven, even Jehovah and the weapons of his indignation to destroy the whole land.”

“The host for the battle” “This means, `a multitude of men, armed and prepared for war.’“(F7) Note the type of signals employed to bring together this vast host: a flag on a bare hill, a vocal call, and the wave of a hand. It was no trouble at all for Almighty God to muster whatever was needed against Babylon.

Verses 6-8

“Wail ye; for the day of Jehovah is at hand; as destruction from the Almighty shall it come. Therefore shall all hands be feeble, and every heart of man shall melt: and they shall all be dismayed; pangs and sorrow shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman in travail: they shall look in amazement one at another; and their faces shall be faces of flame.”

“The Almighty” The Hebrew has the word [~Shaddai] for “The Almighty” in this passage. “This word is used frequently in the Pentateuch; it is not often found in the prophets; and, when it occurs, the severe and awful aspect of God’s divine nature is the more prominent.”(F8)

“The day of Jehovah” (Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:9) in the Old Testament often refers to the eternal judgment scheduled to come at the end of the Christian dispensation; although, in the prophets, there were predicted many “days of Jehovah,” all of them typical of the Day of Judgment and resulting in the destruction of a succession of wicked cities and civilizations. The specific mention of Babylon in this passage is very significant, because it indicates that Babylon would be in some special way an archetype of human rebellion against God. Therefore we have overtones in this chapter of the “Mystery Babylon the Great” in the prophecy of Revelation.

The primary reference here, of course, “is to the events of 539 B.C.”;(F9) but this fall of Babylon is prophetically typical of the fall of the latter-day Babylon (Revelation 14:8). As we proceed in this chapter, we shall see that far more than the mere fall of ancient Babylon was here prophesied, especially, the total, permanent desolation of the once proud city took place, not immediately, but hundreds of years later. By the first century B.C., it had become a desert. Therefore, if the critics must find a post-exilic author for the first part of this prophecy, they must also find a post-60 B.C. for the author of Isaiah 13:20, below.! It is really surprising that they have not invented such an author. Nothing is too absurd for Bible enemies.

Verses 9-11

“Behold the day of Jehovah cometh, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger; to make the land a desolation, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; and the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity: and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”

Some have failed to see the eschatological impact of this passage, but Kidner properly understood it:

“While Babylon is the focal point of this chapter, it stands for something much bigger than itself, since the ambiguous word “earth” (Isaiah 13:5; Isaiah 13:9) (`land’ in KJV) gives place to `world’ in Isaiah 13:11, in a setting of cosmic upheaval such as the New Testament uses to depict the last days (See Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-13). Babylon here is the city of man, not of one nation.”(F10)

Verses 12-16

“I will make a man more rare than fine gold, even a man than the pure gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens to tremble, and the earth shall be shaken out of its place, in the wrath of Jehovah of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger. And it shall come to pass, that as the chased roe, and as sheep that no man gathereth, they shall turn every man to his own people, and shall flee every man to his own land. Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and everyone that is taken shall fall by the sword. Their infants also shall be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be rifled, and their wives ravished.”

These verses recount the atrocities that were common in the fall of ancient cities. Horrible as such cruelties were, they were the common procedures when any enemy of that ancient era overcame a city they attacked.

Isaiah 13:14 here speaks of a time when, “The forces of the king of Babylon, destitute of their leader and all of his auxiliaries, collected from Asia Minor and other distant countries, shall disperse and flee to their respective homes.”(F11) Exactly the same things were prophesied of Nineveh (Nahum 1-3), especially Nahum 2:8).

Verses 17-19

“Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, who shall not regard silver, and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. And their bows shall dash the young men in pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; and their eyes shall not spare children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”

This is the first specific mention of Babylon since the head of the chapter; and the mention of the Medes as the destined destroyers of Babylon must have come as a shock to that generation in which Isaiah wrote, because they were, at that time, probably the last people on earth that any human student of the current era would have chosen for such a task. Assyria was the big power when Isaiah wrote this. Babylon, which would later overthrow Assyria and take Israel captive, was, when Isaiah’s prophecy was given by the Lord, no threat at all to Assyria. Here indeed is a sensational leap in predictive prophecy.

The statement in Isaiah 13:17 that the destroyers of Babylon would not regard silver or gold, “does not mean that they were a rude or barbaric people, but that they could not be bought off”(F12) from their purpose of destroying Babylon.

The mention of “bows” (Isaiah 13:18) designates the chief weapon of the Medo-Persian conquest. This weapon continued to dominate ancient warfare until the deployment of the Macedonian phalanx by Alexander the Great, the chief weapon of which was the spear.

Verses 20-22

“It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall shepherds make their flocks to lie down there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and ostriches shall dwell there, and wild goats shall dance there. And wolves shall cry in their castles, and jackals in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.”

“It shall never be inhabited” (Isaiah 13:20). All right, let the arrogant destructive critics tell us how any post-exilic author of this section of Isaiah could possibly have written a line like this. Even as late as the conquest of Babylon, anyone with the slightest information about world affairs in that day would have been hailed as a lunatic for authoring a line like this. It was only Isaiah’s deserved reputation as a true prophet of God that protected him from the same fate.

This marvelous prophecy regarding Babylon was inspired by God. No human wisdom could have foreseen it; no brilliant evaluator of the fate of nations could have predicted it. Such a fate for Babylon was as totally beyond “thinkability” on the part of any person in that whole time period as a prediction today that New York City would eventually be uninhabited! From the times of Cyrus until those of Alexander of Macedon (334-320 B.C.) Babylon remained one of the chief cities of the Persian empire. Alexander intended to make it his capital; but his death thwarted his plans. Afterward Babylon began to decline; and Strabo (born in 60 B.C.) described Babylon as “a perfect desert.”(F13) Josephus, however, stated that the place had a large population during the first century of our era.(F14) But not for long, “It went rapidly to decay and soon disappeared from sight. The place became and has ever since remained `uninhabited.’“(F15) From these observations the shameful efforts of some critics to deny the Isaiah authorship of this prophecy are exposed as illogical and totally unacceptable.

Regarding Babylon today, Dummelow observed that, “Its glory lingered for a time, but it died away before the beginning of the Christian era; and Babylon is now, and has long been, only a heap of ruins.”(F16)

“And her time is near to come” Peake complained that the prophecy predicted the downfall of Babylon would take place near in the future,(F17) but since it did not occur for about 180 years after Isaiah revealed this prophecy, it must mean that the prophecy was written during the exile! As Rawlinson explained, however, “A hundred eighty years is indeed but a short time in the history of a nation.”(F18)

This great prophecy, however, covered a time period far greater than that of the relatively short time between the prophecy and the physical fall of Babylon, but embraced at the same time many generations beyond that. Note the statement in Isaiah 13:20, “from generation to generation.” It would be impossible to state any more emphatically than this does it that the prophecy is not merely for weeks or years but for generations and generations and centuries of time. How perfectly was the prophecy fulfilled! All of the infidels on earth cannot possibly deny a single line of it.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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