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Friday, May 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 47

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter is a prophecy of the destruction of Babylon. The Lord, through Isaiah, had already denounced the idols of that great city and had foretold their worthlessness and impotence for providing any kind of assistance to the city in the time of her calamity; but here he detailed the doom and destruction of Babylon itself. The speaker throughout is God Himself except for Isaiah 47:4, which may be attributed to a heavenly chorus,(F1) after the manner of the proleptic passages in Revelation, to the prophet Isaiah, or to the faithful among the captives.

The chapter consists of four strophes or stanzas, composed of 4 verses (Isaiah 47:1-4), 3 verses (Isaiah 47:5-7), 4 verses (Isaiah 47:8-11), and 4 verses (Isaiah 47:12-14).(F2) Cheyne’s rendition of the first stanza is so interesting that we have chosen it instead of the American Standard Version for the text here:

Verses 1-4

“Come down and sit in the dust; sit on the ground without a throne, O virgin daughter of Chaldea, for thou shalt no more be called Delicate and Luxurious. Take the millstone and grind meal; remove thy veil, strip off the train; uncover the leg, wade through the rivers. Let thy nakedness be uncovered, yea, let thy shame be seen: I will take vengeance, neither shall I meet any. As for our Goel, Jehovah Sabaoth is his name, the Holy One of Israel.”

First, we should notice the snide, derogatory remark of Wardle who wrote that, “Babylon is here erroneously personified as a virgin, as if never before captured.”(F3) The source of such a ridiculous remark is Mr. Wardle’s blind allegiance to one of the silly dictums of critical butchers of the Word of God, namely, that the application of the word “virgin” to any nation means that such a nation had never suffered defeat; but the rule is absolutely worthless. The prophet Jeremiah in the very discussion of the terrible defeat of Israel, and in fact after the loss of all the ten northern tribes wrote this: “Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach” (Jeremiah 14:17). He also, a moment later, referred to “the virgin of Israel” (Isa. 18:13). It is too bad that critics like Wardle are simply ignorant of the Biblical usage of certain terminology.

Babylon indeed had frequently been defeated in her past history; it will be remembered that Sennacherib defeated Babylon and placed his son on the throne. Nothing however depreciates the appropriate beauty of this passage’s reference to the nation as “Virgin daughter of Babylon.” That, of course, was not God’s estimate of her character, but her position in the world at that time, not only as she considered it, but as all the world also recognized it.

No one should fail to see the “signature of Isaiah” in every line of this. As Delitzsch noted, “Isaiah’s artistic style may be readily perceived.”(F4)

“Our Goel” Has the meaning of `Our Redeemer,’ employing a Pentateuchal word for `next of kin,’ the relative who was obligated to buy back a brother Israelite sold into slavery.

“Without a throne” This prophecy removed forever the existence of a throne in Babylon. How could any alleged Second Isaiah have known anything like this? Yet, “It is a fact that after the capture of Babylon by Cyrus she was never more the capital of a kingdom.”(F5) Furthermore, this prevailed forever, even in the face of Alexander the Great’s announced intention of making Babylon his capital. He died before he could achieve that, and the Seleucidae retained the capital at Shushan (Susa); and Babylon gradually became a total ruin. What a powerful demonstration of the power of three little words in the sacred text of God’s Word! Without a throne!

“Take the millstones and grind meal” This task was considered the lowest kind of drudgery, generally assigned to slave women. Water mills or other types of power grinders were not known until the times of Augustus Caesar.(F6) No greater shame and reduction could be imagined than that of a princess, or queen, undergoing such a calamity. In place of her royal clothing and finery, she would wear the coarse garments of a peasant. Moreover, her work would be as a domestic among the numerous canals of suburban Babylon, where she would have to wade them, exposing her legs, or in cases of even deeper water, lifting her skirts to reveal her nakedness!

Such humiliation of women was also mentioned in Nahum where the Lord said of Nineveh:

“Behold, I am against thee, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will uncover thy skirts upon thy face: and I will show the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame” (Nahum 3:5).

The exact meaning of Isaiah 47:3 is disputed, but Henderson wrote that it means, “I will not meet thee as a man but as God, whom none can resist.”(F7)

Summarizing the teaching of these first four verses, Archer has this:

“The passage presents vanquished Babylon, cast down from imperial power, reduced to the status of a half-naked slave gift grinding meal with the heavy grindstones. Babylon would never rise again to independence or imperial power.”(F8)

Hailey stressed the fact that such terrible punishments upon Babylon were deserved. “The very foundation upon which the throne of God rests demands an avenging of all unrighteousness, a vindication of His righteous and holy Godhead, and of his sacred laws. God will neither withdraw the declaration of his judgments nor make exceptions to them.”<8b>

Before leaving this first strophe, we must note that Babylon here, and throughout the Bible, is a symbol of carnal pride and enmity against the eternal God. There are no less than three Babylons in scripture: (1) the literal Babylon here spoken of, (2) the spiritual Babylon, identified as the beast coming up out of the earth in Revelation 13, and (3) Babylon the Great, also called Mystery Babylon the Great, which was defined by Leon Morris as, “Man in organized community, and opposed to God.”(F9) This Babylon, in short is urban civilization in its corporate rebellion against Almighty God. It is given three names in Revelation 11:8, where it is called Egypt, Sodom, and Jerusalem (where the Lord was crucified); but it is not a single city anywhere on earth; it is all the cities of mankind, where are entrenched the luxuries, the godlessness, the sensual pleasures, the wickedness, the pride, arrogance and atheism which were the essential characteristics of the first Babylon. The three Babylons are: Ancient Babylon, The Apostate Christian Church, and Godless Urban Civilization.

And we have pointed all this out in order to emphasize that the doom of Babylon here is a type of the ultimate doom of Mystery Babylon the Great, which will occur at the eschatalogical conclusion of the present dispensation of the Mercy of God.

Verses 5-7

“Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called the mistress of kingdoms. I was wroth with my people, I profaned mine inheritance, and gave them into thy hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke. And thou saidest, I shall be mistress forever; so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end thereof.”

God here revealed why His anger was kindled against Babylon. For the necessary punishment of Israel, God, for a season had committed them to Babylon to achieve that punishment; but Babylon went far beyond anything that was just. “They exceeded the bounds of justice and humanity by oppressing and destroying God’s people; and although they were punishing God’s rebellious people, yet as it regarded themselves, they were only indulging their greed, lust, ambition, and violence.”(F10) The Prophet Zechariah gave this comment on what happened: “I was but a little angry, and they helped forward the affliction” (Isaiah 1:15).

There is a similar pattern throughout God’s dealings with mankind. When a nation’s wickedness has exceeded all boundaries, God uses another wicked nation to punish them; but that punishment is usually excessive with a result that the erstwhile executor of God’s punishment becomes itself the object of punishment by still another! The revelation should not be overlooked here that God controls and directs all history, according to his will. See Daniel 4:25.

“The sorrows of Babylon are her proper fate; there can be no mercy, for she has shown none (James 2:13).”(F11) Yet the terrible description here arouses an emotion of pity on our part. Yes, it is the triumph of justice, but it is equally the exhibition of an unspeakable tragedy, that of sinful departure from the will of God.

Verses 8-11

“Now therefore hear this, thou that art given to pleasures, that sittest securely, that sayest in thy heart, I am, and there is none else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children: but these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood; in their full measure shall they come upon thee, in the multitude of thy sorceries, and the great abundance of thine enchantments. For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness; thou hast said, None seeth me; thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thy heart, I am, and there is none else besides me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know the dawning thereof: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it away: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou knowest not.”

The various sins of Babylon are listed here: (1) her egotistical boasting; (2) her reliance upon the black arts of sorcery and enchantments; (3) her having given herself wholly to lustful, sinful pleasures; (4) her trusting in her wickedness; (5) her over-confident sense of security; (6) her reliance upon her own wisdom and knowledge; and (7) most importantly of all the attitude that is mentioned twice, in Isaiah 47:8; Isaiah 47:10, her self-deification visible in her thoughts that, “I am, and there is none else besides me!” What is glaringly plain in such an attitude is that there is no consciousness of God or belief in Him whatsoever. This was the greatest and the worst of Babylon’s sins.

The false sense of security in Babylon was described by Xenophon thus: “The inhabitants of Babylon could not but have laughed at the siege of Cyrus, knowing that they had provisions for more than twenty years; and they treated his siege with mockery.”(F12) They had never learned the lesson that “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; and unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Psalms 127:1).

Verses 12-15

“Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels: let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from the things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: it shall not be a coal to warm, nor a fire to sit before. Thus shall the things be unto thee wherein thou hast labored: they that have trafficked with thee from thy youth shall wander everyone to his own quarter; there shall be none to save thee.”

Are the vast majority of human beings today trusting anything any more substantial than these objects of misplaced trust in ancient Babylon? Behold the millions that are trusting in alcohol or drugs, that are given continually and without intermission to pleasures, who feel secure in their complacent rejection of God’s Word and his imperatives for all men, who, to all intents and purposes, are saying by their actions, “I am, and there is none else besides me!” who give no more thought regarding God Almighty himself than if he did not exist? As a nation today, we are investing $3,000,000,000 annually in astrological readings, the signs of the Zodiac, etc.; and there is a full quarter-page of such nonsense every day in the daily newspapers. In every large city, there may be found in every square mile of them some “Madam So and So,” reading palms or something, predicting futures, solving problems, and guiding lives by the same old black arts found in ancient civilizations. Who bothers to seek God and to pray about his needs or problems?

Family ties are greatly strained; the Biblical conception of monogamous marriage is threatened by the “live in” libertines; and every department store in the nation adds a surcharge of at least 15 percent to protect themselves from shop-lifting. Such people are materialists, living only for material rewards, and measuring themselves and all whom they know by material standards alone. God have mercy upon our new race of Babylonians.

“The reference to `monthly prognosticators’ (Isaiah 47:13) apparently refers to the monthly reports which the official astronomers at the various observatories in the empire were required to send in every month to the king.”(F13) They certainly missed it in that month in which the drunken Belshazzar was slain.

Barnes’ comment on this chapter is appropriate:

“This chapter contains some very particular statements about the manner in which Babylon was to be destroyed, statements which were fulfilled with remarkable accuracy. They are statements that could not have been the result of conjecture, nor of mere political sagacity; and it should be borne in remembrance that this prophecy was uttered one hundred fifty years before its fulfillment.”(F14)

The last two verses here are very similar to the flight and disappearance of all Nineveh’s previous allies as soon as God’s judgment fell upon her. The traffickers, whether applied to the merchants, or to the traffickers in the black arts, will not be around when they are needed. The statement that each shall wander to his own quarter, does not mean “his quarter of the city,” but rather that he shall go about his business and leave Babylon to perish. This is exactly what was prophesied of Nineveh in Nahum 2:8. “They shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land (Isaiah 13:14).”(F15)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 47". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-47.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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