Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 13

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


The thirteenth chapter of Isaiah commences a new prophecy, and, according to the division of Vitringa, a new book or part of his prophecies. The first book, according to him, extending from Isaiah 1:0 to the close of Isaiah 12:1-6, is occupied with a series of prophecies respecting the Jews. The second portion, from Isaiah 13:0 to Isaiah 35:1-10 inclusive, consists of a number of separate predictions respecting other nations, with which the Jews were in various ways more or less connected. See Introduction.

The thirteenth and the fourteenth chapters, with the exception of the last five verses of Isaiah 14:0, contain one entire prophecy foretelling the destruction of Babylon. The main design is to predict the destruction of that city: but it is also connected with a design to furnish consolation to the Jews. They were to be carried captive there; and the purpose of the prophet was to assure them that the city to which they should yet be borne as exiles would be completely destroyed.

It is not easy to ascertain with certainty the precise time when this prophecy was delivered, nor is it very material. It is certain that it was delivered either during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, or Hezekiah Isaiah 1:1, the reign of the last of whom closed 710 years before the Christian era; and, since the Jews were carried captive to Babylon 586 years before that era, the prophecy must have been delivered 124 years before that event; and, as Babylon was taken by Cyrus 536 years before Christ, it must have been delivered at least 174 years before its accomplishment. Theodoret supposed that this prophecy was published during the latter part of the reign of Hezekiah. Cocceius and Lightfoot supposed that it was delivered about the same period as the former, and this also is the opinion of Vitringa. All that is of importance, is, that if it was a true prophecy of Isaiah, as there is the fullest demonstration, it must have been delivered at least 170 years before the event which it foretells was accomplished. The material points to settle in regard to the prophecies are:

(1) whether they were delivered before the event;

(2) whether the things predicted could have been foreseen by human sagacity;

(3) whether the prediction is so clear, and particular, as to correspond with the event, or not to be mere vague conjecture; and

(4) whether there is such an occurrence of events as to constitute in fact a fulfillment of the prophecy.

If these things meet, there is the fullest evidence that the prediction was from God.

At the time when this prophecy was delivered, the Jews were in the secure possession of their own capital and country. They were harassed, indeed, by surrounding nations, but they were still free. They had no controversy with Babylon; nor had they reason to apprehend danger from that distant people. Their being borne to that land, was itself, in the time of Isaiah, a distaut event, and one that then was not likely to occur. It is remarkable that Isaiah does not distinctly “foretell” that event here, but throws himself to a period of time “beyond” that, when they “would be” in captivity, and predicts their deliverance. His prophecy “supposes” that event to have occurred. It is a vision passing before his mind “after” that event had taken place; when they would be in Babylon; and when they would be sighing for deliverance Isaiah 14:1-2. The prophet, therefore, may be conceived in this vision as taking his “stand” beyond an event which had not yet occurred - the captivity of the Jews and their removal to Babylon - and predicting “another” event still more future, which would result in their deliverance - the complete overthrow of the city, and the consequent deliverance of the Jewish people. We are to conceive him standing, as it were, amidst the captive Jews, and directing his eye onward to the complete recovery of the nation by the destruction of Babylon itself. Isaiah 14:1-2. See Introduction, Section 7, III. (4.)

This prophecy of the destruction of Babylon was delivered, we have seen, at least 174 years before the event occurred. At the time when it was delivered, nothing was more improbable than the ruin of that city as described by Isaiah Isaiah 13:19-22. It was one of the largest, most flourishing, and perhaps the most strongly fortified city of the world. The prediction that it should be like ‘Sodom and Gomorrah;’ that it should ‘never be inhabited;’ that the wild beast of the desert should lie there; and that dragons should be in their pleasant palaces, was wholly improbable; and could have been foreseen only by God. There were no natural causes that were leading to this which man could perceive, or of which a stranger and a foreigner, like Isaiah, could have any knowledge. This will appear evident by a brief description of the condition of this celebrated city. babylon (derived from babel, and probably built on the same spot as the tower of Babel) was the capital of Babylonia, or Chaldea, and was probably built by Nimrod; but it was a long period before it obtained its subsequent size and splendor.

It was enlarged by Belus, and so greatly beautified and improved by Semiramis, that she might be called not improperly the foundress of it. It was subsequently greatly increased and embellished by Nebuchadnezzar. It stood in the midst of a large plain, and on a very deep and fertile soil. It was on both sides of the river Euphrates, and of course was divided by that river into two parts. The two parts were connected by a bridge near the center of the city; and there is also said to have been a tunnel, or subterranean passage, made from the palace on the east of the river to the palace on the west, made under the river. The old city was on the east, and the new city, built by Nebuchadnezzar, was on the west. Both these divisions were enclosed by one wall, and the whole formed a complete square, which Herodotus, who visited it, and who is the most ancient author who has written on it, says, was 480 furlongs in compass, or 120 furlongs on each side: that is, it was fifteen miles on each side, or sixty miles in compass.

Public belief has been greatly staggered by the accounts which are thus given of the size of Babylon. But the account of the extent of the walls given, by ancient authors, is nearly uniform. Thus Herodotus says it was 480 stadia, or furlongs, in circumference. Pliny and Solinus make it the same. Strabo says it was 385 stadia in circumference; Diodorus, 360; Clitarchus, who accompanied Alexander, says it was 365, and Curtius says it was 368. According to the lowest of these estimates, it could not have been less than twelve miles square, or forty-eight miles in circumference; and was at least eight times as large in extent as London and its appendages; and somewhat larger than the entire district of Columbia. - (Calmet, and “Edin. Ency.”) It is not to be inferred, however, that all this vast space was compactly built. It was enclosed with a wall; but a considerable portion of it might have been occupied with the public squares, with palaces, and with hanging gardens, or, possibly, might have been unoccupied.

The walls of Babylon are said by Herodotus to have been eighty-seven feet thick, and 350 high. They were built of brick, or clay dried in the sun, and not burned; and were cemented by a kind of glutinous earth, or bitumen, with which the adjacent region abounded. The whole city was surrounded by an immense ditch, from which this clay had been taken to make the walls of the city, and which, being always filled with water, contributed materially to its defense. There were 100 gates to the city, twenty-five on each side. These gates were ofsolid brass. Between every two of them there were three towers, raised ten feet above the walls. From the gates there were streets, each 151 feet in width, which ran through the city, so that there were fifty streets in all, cutting each other at right angles, and forming 676 squares in the city. A bridge sixty feet in width crossed the Euphrates in the center of the city, and at the extremities of the bridge were two palaces, the old palace on the east, and the new palace on the west.

The temple of Belus, which occupied almost a square, was near the old palace on the east. Babylon was celebrated for its hanging gardens, built on arches, near 400 feet square, and which were elevated one above another, by terraces, until they reached the height of the walls of the city. On the highest terrace was an aqueduct for watering the gardens, supplied with water by a pump, or probably by the “Persian wheel,” by which the water of the Euphrates was raised to this extraordinary height. In order to prevent the danger of being overflown by the rise in the Euphrates, two canals were cut from the river at a considerable distance above the town, by which the superabundant waters were carried into the Tigris. It is to be borne in mind, however, in order to a just view of this prophecy, that Babylon did not attain its highest splendor and magnificence until “after” the time of Isaiah. It was under Nebuchadnezzar, who ascended the throne of Babylon about 100 years after Isaiah died, that it rose to its highest degree of splendor and power. When Isaiah lived, though it was a city of great wealth and power, and distinguished for great commercial advantages, yet it was then dependent on Assyria. It did not become the capital of the vast kingdom of Chaldea until 680 years before Christ, according to the chronology of Hales, when Assaradon became master of Babylon, and reunited the empires of Assyria and Chaldea.

Babylon was the natural seat of empire in the East, and was early distinguished for its commercial advantages. A simple glance at the map of Asia will convince anyone that somewhere in the vicinity of Babylon is the natural seat of power in the East, and that few places on the globe are more eligibly situated for a vast trade, as it was conducted before the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope. The commerce from the rich regions of Asia naturally passed through Babylon on its way to Europe, and to Western Asia. It was the center of a vast fertile region, the productions of which were conveyed to Babylon, and from which they would naturally be borne down on the Euphrates to the ocean; see the note at Isaiah 43:14. The first empire of which the earliest historians furnish any trace, was in the land of Shinar, the land of the Chaldeans Genesis 10:8-10; Genesis 11:1-9. Syria, Arabia, Tyre with all her wealth, and distant Egypt, were subject and tributary to it.

The natural advantages of that region for a vast capital, are shown by the fact, that amidst all changes and revolutions, empire has been disposed to fix her permanent seat somewhere on the banks of the Tigris or the Euphrates. Thus, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was long a mighty and magnificent commercial city, as well as the proud capital of a vast empire. Thus, when Babylon fell, Seleucia rose on the banks of the Tigris, as if prosperity and power were unwilling to leave the fertile plains watered by those rivers. Thus, near Seleucia, arose Ctesiphon, the winter residence of the Parthian monarchs. And thus, under the sway of the Arabians, long after Nineveh, and Babylon, and Seleucia had fallen, Bagdad and Ormus rivaled Babylon and Seleucia, and ‘became, like them, the resort of the merchant, and the home of the learned.’ ‘At this time Bagdad and Bussora are faded tokens of the splendor of these which have faded and fallen.’ The fact that there was in that vicinity such a succession of celebrated cities, demonstrates that there were there some important commercial advantages.

Among those advantages respecting Babylon, was the fact that it was the center of a vast fertile region; that it naturally received the productions of Armenia on the north; and that its midway position rendered it the natural thoroughfare for the caravan trade between Eastern and Western Asia. Accordingly, Babylon was early distinguished for its commerce and manufactures. Babylonian garments, of uncommon value, had made their way to Palestine as early as the times of Joshua Joshua 7:21. Tapestries embroidered with figures of griffons, and other monsters of Eastern imagination, were articles of export. Carpets were made there of the finest material and workmanship, and formed an article of extensive exportation. They were in high repute in the time of Cyrus, whose tomb at Pasargada was adorned with them. - (Arrian, “Exped. Alex.,” vi. 29.) Babylonian robes were also highly esteemed for the fineness of their texture and the brilliancy of their purple, and were used by the royal family of Persia. The commerce of that city and of Babylonia consisted in the traffic in emeralds and other precious stones; silver and gold; carpets, tapestries, and other manufactured cloths; cotton and pearls; cinnamon and other spicery, obtained from the East; and, in general, of whatever articles were produced in the eastern parts of Asia, which were naturally brought to Babylon on the way to Western Asia and to Europe. For a learned and interesting article on the commerce of Babylon, see “Bib. Rep.” vol. vii. pp. 364-390.

Thus, by the fertility of the soil; by its size and strength; by its strong and lofty walls; by its commercial advantages; and by everything that could contribute to the defense of an ancient city, Babylon seemed to be safe; and if there was any ancient city that appeared to bid defiance to the attacks of enemies, or to the ravages of time, it was Babylon. Yet Isaiah said that it should be destroyed; and in the course of our exposition we shall be greatly struck, not only with the certain fulfillment of the prediction, but with the wonderful accuracy and minuteness of the entire prophetic statement.

The vision opens Isaiah 13:2-3, with the command of God to assemble his forces to go forth, and accomplish his work in regard to the city. By a beautiful poetic image, the prophet represents himself as “immediately,” on the issuing of this command, listening to the tumult and noise caused by those who were assembling for war; by the gathering together of nations; by their assembling from a far country to destroy the whole land Isaiah 13:4-5. He then proceeds to depict the consternation that would follow; the alarm of the people; and their distress, when the day of the Lord should come Isaiah 13:6-10. Then, changing the mode of address from himself to God, he sets forth, in a variety of the most distressing and appalling images, the destruction that would come upon the inhabitants of Babylon - the humbling of their pride Isaiah 13:11; the almost entire destruction of the people Isaiah 13:12; the flight of the inhabitants Isaiah 13:13-14; the murder of those who should flee; and the destruction of their wives and children Isaiah 13:15-16. He then specifies Isaiah 13:17 the instruments by which this should be done, and closes the chapter Isaiah 13:19-22 with a minute and most particular account of the complete and final overthrow of the city; of its entire and everlasting desolation. The subsequent chapter which is a continuation of this prophecy, is occupied with an account of the deliverance of the Jews from their captivity, and with a further description of the humbling of that proud city and of its monarch. See an analysis of it at the commencement of the chapter.

The thirteenth chapter ‘is one of the most beautiful examples that can be given of elegance of composition, variety of imagery, and sublimity of sentiment and diction in the prophetic style.’ - (Lowth.) It may be added, that it is one of the clearest predictions of a future event that can anywhere be found; and that the exact and minute fulfillment of it furnishes the highest possible evidence that Isaiah ‘spake as he was moved by the Holy Spirit.’

Verse 1

The burden of Babylon - Or, the burden “respecting,” or “concerning” Babylon. This prophecy is introduced in a different manner from those which have preceded. The terms which Isaiah employed in the commencement of his previous prophecies, were vision (see the note at Isaiah 1:1), or word Isaiah 2:1. There has been considerable diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word ‘burden,’ which is here employed. The Vulgate renders it, Onus - ‘Burden,’ in the sense of load. The Septuagint Ὅρασις Horasis - ‘Vision.’ The Chaldee, ‘The burden of the cup of malediction which draws near to Babylon.’ The Hebrew word משׂא mas's'â', from נשׂא nâs'â', to lift, to raise up, to bear, to bear away, to suffer, to endure”), means properly that which is borne; that which is heavy; that which becomes a burden; and it is also applied to a gift or present, as that which is borne to a man 2 Chronicles 17:11.

It is also applied to a proverb or maxim, probably from the “weight” and “importance” of the sentiment condensed in it Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1. It is applied to an oracle from God 2 Kings 4:25. It is often translated ‘burden’ Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:13; Isaiah 22:1; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 30:6; Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 23:33-34, Jeremiah 23:38; Nehemiah 1:1; Zechariah 1:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1. By comparing these places, it will be found that the term is applied to those oracles or prophetic declarations which contain sentiments especially weighty and solemn; which are employed chiefly in denouncing wrath and calamity; and which, therefore, are represented as weighing down, or oppressing the mind and heart of the prophet. A similar useage prevails in all languages. We are all familiar with expressions like this. We speak of news or tidings of so melancholy a nature as to weigh down, to sink, or depress our spirits; so heavy that we can scarcely bear up under it, or endure it. And so in this case, the view which the prophet had of the awful judgments of God and of the calamities which were coming upon guilty cities and nations, was so oppressive, that it weighed down the mind and heart as a heavy burden. Others, however, suppose that it means merely a message or prophecy which is taken up, or borne, respecting a place, and that the word indicates nothing in regard to the nature of the message. So Rosenmuller, Gesenius, and Cocceius, understand it. But it seems some the former interpretation is to be preferred. Grotins renders it, ‘A mournful prediction respecting Babylon.’

Did see - Saw in a vision; or in a scenical representation. The various events were made to pass before his mind in a vision, and he was permitted to see the armies mustered; the consternation of the people; and the future condition of the proud city. This verse is properly the title to the prophecy.

Verse 2

Lift ye up a banner - A military ensign or standard. The vision opens here; and the first thing which the prophet hears, is the solemn command of God addressed to the nations as subject to him, to rear the standard of war, and to gather around it the mighty armies which were to be employed in the destruction of the city. This command, ‘Lift ye up a banner,’ is addressed to the leaders of those armies to assemble them, and to prepare them for war.

Upon the high mountain - It was customary for military leaders to plant a standard on a tower, a fortress, a city, a high mountain, or any elevated spot, in order that it might be seen afar, and be the rallying point for the people to collect together (see the note at Isaiah 11:10). Here, the prophet does not refer to any particular “mountain,” but means simply, that a standard should be raised, around which the hosts should be assembled to march to Babylon. The Chaldee renders it, ‘Over the city dwelling in security, lift up the banner.’

Exalt the voice - Raise up the voice, commanding the people to assemble, and to prepare for the march against Babylon, Perhaps, however, the word ‘voice’ here (קול qôl) refers to the “clangor,” or sound, of a trumpet used for mustering armies. The word is often used to denote “any” noise, and is frequently applied to thunder, to the trumpet, etc.

Unto them - That is, to the Medes and Persians, who were to be employed in the destruction of Babylon.

Shake the hand - In the way of beckoning; as when one is at so great a distance that the voice cannot be heard, the hand is waved for a sign. This was a command to beckon to the nations to assemble for the destruction of Babylon.

That they may go into the gates of the nobles - The word rendered here ‘nobles’ (נדיבים nedı̂ybı̂ym) means, properly, “voluntary, free, liberal;” then those who are noble, or liberally-minded, from the connection between nobleness and liberality; then those who are noble or elevated in rank or office. In this sense it is used here; compare Job 12:21; Job 34:18; 1 Samuel 2:8; Psalms 107:40; and Proverbs 8:16, where it is rendered ‘princes;’ Numbers 21:18, where it is rendered ‘nobles.’ Lowth renders it here ‘princes.’ Noyes renders it ‘tyrants ‘ - a sense which the word has in Job 21:28 (see the note at that place). There is no doubt that it refers to Babylon; and the prophet designs probably to speak of Babylon as a magnificent city - a city of princes, or nobles. The Chaldee renders it, ‘That they may enter its gates, which open to them of their own accord;’ retaining the original signification of “voluntariness” in the Hebrew word, and expressing the idea that the conquest would be easy. Our common translation has expressed the correct sense.

Verse 3

I have commanded - This is the language of God in reference to those who were about to destroy Babylon. “He” claimed the control and direction of all their movements; and though the command was not understood by “them” as coming from him, yet it was by his direction, and in accordance with his plan (compare the notes at Isaiah 10:7; Isaiah 45:5-6). The “command” was not given by the prophets, or by an audible voice; but it was his secret purpose and direction that led them to this enterprise.

My sanctified ones - The Medes and Persians; not called ‘sanctified because they were holy, but because they were set apart by the divine intention and purpose to accomplish this. The word ‘sanctify’ (קדשׁ qâdash) often means “to set apart” - either to God; to an office; to any sacred use; or to any purpose of religion, or of accomplishing any of the divine plans. Thus, it means to dedicate one to the office of priest Exodus 28:41; to set apart or dedicate an altar Exodus 39:36; to dedicate a people Exodus 19:10-14; to appoint, or institute a fast Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15; to sanctify a war Joel 3:9, that is, to prepare one’s-self for it, or make it ready. Here it means, that the Medes and Persians were set apart, in the purpose of God, to accomplish his designs in regard to Babylon (compare the note at Isaiah 10:5-6).

My mighty ones - Those who are strong; and who are so entirely under my direction, that they may be called mine.

For mine anger - To accomplish the purposes of my anger against Babylon.

Even them that rejoice in my highness - It cannot be supposed that the Medes and Persians really exulted, or rejoiced in God or in his plans, for it is evident that, like Sennacherib Isaiah 10:0, they were seeking to accomplish their own purposes, and were not solicitous about the plans of God (compare the note at Isaiah 47:6). The word rendered ‘my highness’ (גאותי ga'ăvāthı̂y) means, properly, “my majesty,” or “glory.” When applied to people, as it often is, it means pride or arrogance. It means here, the high and exalted plan of God in regard to Babylon. It was a mighty undertaking; and one in which the power, the justice, and the dominion of God over nations would be evinced. In accomplishing this, the Medes and Persians would rejoice or exult, not as the fulfilling of the plan of God; but they would exult as if it were their own plan, though it would be really the glorious plan of God. Wicked people often exult in their success; they glory in the execution of their purposes; but they are really accomplishing the plans of God, and executing his great designs.

Verse 4

The noise of a multitude in the mountains - The prophet here represents himself as hearing the confused tumult of the nations assembling to the standard reared on the mountains Isaiah 13:2. This is a highly beautiful figure - a graphic and vivid representation of the scene before him. Nations are seen to hasten to the elevated banner, and to engage in active preparations for the mighty war. The sound is that of a tumult, an excited multitude hastening to the encampment, and preparing for the conquest of Babylon.

Like as of a great people - Hebrew, ‘The likeness of a great people.’ That is, such a confused and tumultuous sound as attends a great multitude when they collect together.

A tumultuous noise - Hebrew, ‘The voice of the tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together.’

The Lord of hosts - Yahweh, the God of hosts, or armies (note Isaiah 1:9).

Mustereth - Collects; puts in military array. Over all this multitude of nations, hastening with confused sounds and tumult like the noise of the sea, putting themselves in military array, God, unseen, presides, and prepares them for his own great designs. It is not easy to conceive a more sublime image than these mighty hosts of war, unconscious of the hand that directs them, and of the God that presides over them, moving as he wills, and accomplishing his plans.

Verse 5

They come - That is, ‘Yahweh and the weapons of his indignation’ - the collected armies come. The prophet sees these assembled armies with Yahweh, as their leader, at their head.

From a far country - The country of the Medes and Persians. These nations, indeed, bordered on Babylonia, but still they stretched far to the north and east, and, probably, occupied nearly all the regions to the east of Babylon which were then known.

From the end of heaven - The Septuagint renders this, Ἀπ ̓ ἄκρου θεμελίου τοῦ οὐρανοῦ Ap' akrou themeliou tou ouranou - ‘From the “extreme foundation” of the heaven.’ The expression in the Hebrew, ‘From the end, or extreme peri of heaven,’ means, the distant horizon by which the earth appears to be bounded, where the sky and the land seem to meet. In Psalms 19:6, the phrase, ‘from the end of the heaven’ denotes the east, where the sun appears to rise; and ‘unto the ends of it’ denotes the west:

His going forth is from the end of the heaven;

And his circuit unto the ends of it.

It is here synonymous with the phrase, ‘the end of the earth,’ in Isaiah 5:26.

Even the Lord - The word ‘even,’ introduced here by the translators, weakens the three of this verse. The prophet means to say that Yahweh is coming at the head of those armies, which are the weapons of his indignation.

The weapons of his indignation - The assembled armies of the Medes and Persians, called ‘the weapons of his indignation,’ because by them he will accomplish the purposes of his anger against the city of Babylon (see the note at Isaiah 10:5).

To destroy the whole land - The whole territory of Babylonia, or Chaldea. Not only the city, but the nation and kingdom.

Verse 6

Howl ye - Ye inhabitants of Babylon, in view of the approaching destruction.

The day of the Lord - The time when Yahweh will inflict vengeance on you draws near (see the note at Isaiah 2:12; compare Isaiah 13:9).

As a destruction from the Almighty - Not as a desolation from man, but as destruction sent from him who has all power in heaven and on earth. Destruction meditated by man might be resisted; but destruction that should come from the Almighty must be final and irresistible. The word ‘Almighty’ שׁדי shadday, one of the names given to God in the Scriptures, denotes, properly, “one who is mighty,” or who has all power; and is correctly rendered Almighty, or Omnipotent; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 48:3; Exodus 6:3; Ruth 1:20; Job 5:17; Job 6:4, Job 6:14; Job 8:3, Job 8:5; Job 11:7; Job 13:4; Job 15:25. In the Hebrew here, there is a paronomasia or “pun” - a figure of speech quite common in the Scriptures, which cannot be retained in the translation - ‘It shall come as a destruction (כשׁד keshod) from the Almighty (משׁדי mı̂shadday).’

Verse 7

Therefore shall all hands be faint - This is designed to denote the consternation and alarm of the people. They would be so terrified and alarmed that they would have no courage, no hope, and no power to make resistance. They would abandon their plans of defense, and give themselves up to despair (compare Jeremiah 50:43 : ‘The king of Babylon hath heard the report of them, and his hands waxed feeble; anguish took hold of him, and pangs as of a Women in travail;’ Ezekiel 7:17; Zephaniah 3:16).

And every man’s heart shall melt - Or, shall faint, so that he shall have no courage or strength (compare Deuteronomy 20:8). The fact was, that the destruction of Babylon took place in the night. It came suddenly upon the city, while Belshazzar was at his impious feast; and the alarm was so unexpected and produced such consternation, that no defense was attempted (see Daniel 5:30; compare the notes at Isaiah 45:1).

Verse 8

They shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth - This comparison is often used in the Scriptures to denote the deepest possible pain and sorrow, as well as the suddenness with which any calamity comes upon a people Psalms 48:6; Isaiah 21:3; Isaiah 42:14; Jeremiah 6:24; Jeremiah 13:21; Jeremiah 22:23; Jeremiah 49:24; Jeremiah 50:43; Hosea 13:13; Micah 4:9-10; John 16:21; Galatians 4:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

They shall be amazed one at another - They shall stare with a stupid gaze on one another, indicating a state of great distress, anxiety, and alarm. They shall look to each other for aid, and shall meet in the countenances of others the same expressions of wonder and consternation.

Their faces shall be as flames - Their faces shall glow or burn like fire. When grief and anguish come upon us, the face becomes inflamed. The face in fear is usually pale. But the idea here is not so much that of fear as of anguish; and, perhaps, there is mingled also here the idea of indignation against their invaders.

Verse 9

The day of the Lord cometh - See Isaiah 13:6.

Cruel - (אכזרי 'akezārı̂y). This does not mean that “God” is cruel, but that the ‘day of Yahweh’ that was coming should be unsparing and destructive to them. It would be the exhibition of “justice,” but not of “cruelty;” and the word stands opposed here to mercy, and means that God would not spare them. The effect would be that the inhabitants of Babylon would be destroyed.

Fierce anger - Hebrew, (חרון אף 'aph chărôn) ‘A glow, or burning of anger.’ The phrase denotes the most intense indignation (compare Numbers 25:4; Numbers 32:14; 1 Samuel 28:18).

To lay the land desolate - Chaldea, Isaiah 13:5.

Verse 10

For the stars of heaven - This verse cannot be understood literally, but is a metaphorical representation of the calamities that were coming upon Babylon The meaning of the figure evidently is, that those calamities would be such as would be appropriately denoted by the sudden extinguishment of the stars, the sun, and the moon. As nothing would tend more to anarchy, distress, and ruin, than thus to have all the lights of heaven suddenly and forever quenched, this was an apt and forcible representation of the awful calamities that were coming upon the people. Darkness and night, in the Scriptures, are often the emblem of calamity and distress (see the note at Matthew 24:29). The revolutions and destructions of kingdoms and nations are often represented in the Scriptures under this image. So respecting the destruction of Idumea Isaiah 34:4 :

And all the hosts of heaven shall be dissolved,

And the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll;

And all their host shall fall down,

As the leaf falleth from off the vine,

And as a falling fig from the fig-tree.

So in Ezekiel 32:7-8, in a prophecy respecting the destruction of Pharaoh, king of Egypt:

And when I shall put time out,

I will cover the heavens, and make the stoa thereof dark,

I will cover the sun with a cloud,

And the moon shall not give her light.

And the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee.

And set darkness upon thy land.

(Compare Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15-16.) Thus in Amos 8:9 :

I will cause the sun to go down at noon,

And I will darken the earth in a clear day.

See also Revelation 6:12-14 :

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo,

The sun became black as sackcloth of hair,

And the moon became as blood;

And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth,

Even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs

When she is shaken of a mighty wind:

And the heaven deputed as a scroll when it is rolled together.

Many have supposed that these expressions respecting the sun, moon, and stars, refer to kings, and princes, and magistrates, as the “lights” of the state; and that the sense is, that their power arid glory should cease. But it is rather a figurative representation, denoting calamity “in general,’ and describing a state of extreme distress, such as would be if all the lights of heaven should suddenly become extinct.

And the constellations thereof - (וּכסיליהם ûkı̂sı̂ylēyhem). The word (כסיל kesı̂yl) means properly “a fool;” Proverbs 1:32; Proverbs 10:1, Proverbs 10:18; Proverbs 13:19-20, “et al.” It also denotes “hope, confidence, expectation” Job 31:24; Proverbs 3:26; Job 8:14; also “the reins, the flanks or loins” Leviticus 3:4, Leviticus 3:10, Leviticus 3:15; Psalms 38:7. It is also, as here, applied to a constellation in the heavens, but the connection of this meaning of the word with the other significations is uncertain. In Job 9:9; Job 38:31, it is translated ‘Orion.’ In Amos 5:8, it is translated the ‘seven stars’ - the Pleiades. In Arabic, that constellation is called ‘the giant.’ According to an Eastern tradition, it was Nimrod, the founder of Babylon, afterward translated to the skies; and it has been supposed that the name the “impious” or “foolish one” was thus given to the deified Nimrod, and thus to the constellation. The rabbis interpret it “Simis.” The word ‘constellations’ denotes clusters of stars, or stars that appear to be near to each other in the heavens, and which, on the celestial globe, are reduced to certain figures for the convenience of classification and memory, as the bear, the bull, the virgin, the balance. This arrangement was early made, and there is no reason to doubt that it existed in the time of Isaiah (compare the notes at Job 9:9).

Verse 11

And I will punish the world - By the ‘world’ here is evidently meant the Babylonian empire, in the same way as ‘all the world’ in Luke 2:1, means Judea; and in Acts 11:28, means the Roman empire. Babylonia, or Chaldea, was the most mighty empire then on earth, and might be said to comprehend the whole world.

And I will cause the arrogancy - This was the prevailing sin of Babylon, and it was on account of this pride mainly that it was overthrown (see the notes at Isaiah 14:0; notes at Isaiah 47:1-7; compare Daniel 4:22, Daniel 4:30).

Verse 12

I will make a man ... - I will so cut off and destroy the men of Babylon, that a single man to defend the city will be more rare and valuable than fine gold. The expression indicates that there would be a great slaughter of the people of Babylon.

Than fine gold - Pure, unalloyed gold. The word used here (פז pâz) is often distinguished from common gold Psalms 19:11; Psalms 119:127; Proverbs 8:19.

Than the golden wedge of Ophir - The word (כתם kethem) rendered ‘wedge’ means properly “gold;” yellow gold; what is hidden, precious, or hoarded; and is used only in poetry. It indicates nothing about the shape of the gold, as the word, wedge would seem to suppose. ‘Ophir was a country to which the vessels of Solomon traded, and which was particularly distinguished for producing gold; but respecting its particular situation, there has been much discussion. The ‘ships of Tarshish’ sailed from Ezion-geber on the Red Sea, and went to Ophir 1 Kings 9:26; 1Ki 10:22; 1 Kings 22:48. Three years were required for the voyage; and they returned freighted with gold, peacocks, apes, spices, ivory, and ebony (1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:11-12; compare 2 Chronicles 8:18). The gold of that country was more celebrated than that of any other country for its purity. Josephus supposes that it was in the East Indies; Bruce that it was in South Africa; Rosenmuller and others suppose that it was in Southern Arabia. It is probable that the situation of Ophir must ever remain a matter of conjecture. The Chaldee Paraphrase gives a different sense to this passage. ‘I will love those who fear me, more than gold in which people glory; and those who observe the law more than the tried gold of Ophir.’ (On the situation of Ophir the following works may be consulted: The “Pictorial Bible,” vol. ii. pp. 364-369; Martini Lipenii, “Dissert. de Ophir;” Joan. Christophori Wichmanshausen “Dissert. de Navig. Ophritica:” H. Relandi, “Dissert. de Ophir;” Ugolini, “Thes. Sac. Ant.” vol. viii.; and Forster “On Arabia.”)

Verse 13

Therefore I will shake the heavens - A strong, but common figure of speech in the Scriptures, to denote great commotions, judgments, and revolutions. The figure is taken from the image of a furious storm and tempest, when the sky, the clouds, the heavens, appear to be in commotion; compare 1 Samuel 22:8 :

Then the earth shook and trembled,

The foundation of heaven moved and shook,

Because he was wroth.

See also Isaiah 24:19-20; Haggai 2:6-7.

And the earth shall remove out of her place - A common figure in the Scriptures to denote the great effects of the wrath of God; as if even the earth should be appalled at his presence, and should tremble and flee away from the dread of his anger. It is a very sublime representation, and, as carried out often by the sacred writers, it is unequalled in grandeur, probably, in any language. Thus the hills, the mountains, the trees, the streams, the very heavens, are represented as shaken, and thrown into consternation at the presence of God; see Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:10 :

He stood and measured the earth;

He beheld and drove asunder the nations;

And the everlasting mountains were scattered.

The perpetual hills did bow;

His ways are everlasting.

The mountains saw thee and they trembled;

The overflowing of the water passed by;

The deep uttered his voice,

And did lift up his hands on high.

See Revelation 20:11 : ‘And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.’ The figure in Isaiah is a strong one to denote the terror of the anger of God against Babylon.

Verse 14

And it shall be - Babylon shall be.

As the chased roe - Once so proud. lofty, arrogant, and self-confident; it shall be as the trembling gazelle, or the timid deer pursued by the hunter, and panting for safety. The word (צבי tsebı̂y) denotes a deer of the most delicate frame; the species that is most fleet and graceful in its movements; properly the “gazelle” (see Bochart’s “Hieroz.” i. 3. 25). ‘To hunt the antelope is a favorite amusement in the East, but which, from its extraordinary swiftness, is attended with great difficulty. On the first alarm, it flies like an arrow from the bow, and leaves the best-mounted hunter, and the fleetest dog, far behind. The sportsman is obliged to call in the aid of the falcon, trained to the work, to seize on the animal, and impede its motions, to give the dogs time to overtake it. Dr. Russel thus describes the chase of the antelope: “They permit horsemen, without dogs, if they advance gently, to approach near, and do not seem much to regard a caravan that passes within a little distance; but the moment they take the alarm, they bound away, casting from time to time a look behind: and if they find themselves pursued, they lay their horns backward, almost close on the shoulders, and flee with incredible swiftness. When dogs appear, they instantly take the alarm, for which reason the sportsmen endeavor to steal upon the antelope unawares, to get as near as possible before slipping the dogs; and then, pushing on at full speed, they throw off the falcon, which being taught to strike or fix upon the cheek of the game, retards its course by repeated attacks, until the greyhounds have time to get up.”’ - (Burder’s “Orient. Cus.”)

As a sheep - Or like a scattered flock of sheep in the wilderness that has no shepherd, and no one to collect them together; an image also of that which is timid and defenseless.

That no man taketh up - That is astray, and not under the protection of any shepherd. The meaning is, that that people, once so proud and self-confident, would become alarmed, and scattered, and be afraid of everything.

They shall every man turn unto his own people - Babylon was the capital of the pagan world. It was a vast and magnificent city; the center of many nations. It would be the place, therefore, where numerous foreigners would take up a temporary residence, as London and other large cities are now. Jeremiah Jeremiah 50:37 describes Babylon as containing a mingled population - ‘and upon all the mingled people that are in the midst of her’ - that is, “the colluvies gentium,” as Tacitus describes Rome in his time. Jeremiah also Jeremiah 50:28 describes this mingled multitude as fleeing and escaping out of the land of Babylon, when these calamities should come upon them. The idea in Isaiah is, that this great and mixed multitude would endeavor to escape the impending calamities, and flee to their own nations.

Verse 15

Every one that is found - In Babylon, or that is overtaken in fleeing from it. This is a description of the capture of the city, and of the slaughter that would ensue, when the invaders would spare neither age nor sex.

Every one that is joined unto them - Their allies and friends. There shall be a vast, indiscriminate slaughter of all that are found in the city, and of those that attempt to flee from it. Lowth renders this, ‘And all that are collected in a body;’ but the true sense is given in our translation. The Chaldee renders it, ‘And every one who enters into fortified cities shall be slain with the sword.’

Verse 16

Their children also shall be dashed to pieces - This is a description of the horrors of the capture of Babylon; and there can be none more frightful and appalling than that which is here presented. That this is done in barbarous nations in the time of war, there can be no doubt. Nothing was more common among American savages, than to dash out the brains of infants against a rock or a tree, and it was often done before the eyes of the afflicted and heartbroken parents. That these horrors were not unknown in Oriental nations of antiquity, is evident. Thus, the Psalmist implies that it would be done in Babylon, in exact accordance with this prediction of Isaiah; Psalms 137:8-9 :

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed:

Happy shall he be who rewardeth these as thou hast served us;

Happy shall he be who taketh and dasheth thy little ones

Against the stones.

Thus, also, it is said of Hazael, that when he came to be king of Syria, he would be guilty of this barbarity in regard to the Jews (2 Kings 8:13; compare Nahum 3:10). It was an evidence of the barbarous feelings of the times; and a proof that they were far, very far, from the humanity which is now deemed indispensable even in war.

Their houses shall be spoiled - Plundered. It is implied here, says Kimchi, that this was to be done also ‘before their eyes,’ and thus the horrors of the capture would be greatly increased.

Verse 17

Behold, I will stir up - I will cause them to engage in this enterprise. This is an instance of the control which God claims over the nations, and of his power to excite and direct them as he pleases.

The Medes - This is one of the places in which the prophet specified, “by name,” the instrument of the wrath of God. Cyrus himself is subsequently mentioned Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1 as the agent by which God would accomplish his purposes. It is remarkable, also, that ‘the Medes’ are mentioned here many years before they became a separate and independent nation. It was elsewhere predicted that the Medes would be employed in this siege of Babylon; thus, in Isaiah 21:2 : ‘Go up, O Elam (that is, Persia), besiege, O Media;’ Jeremiah 51:11 : ‘Jehovah hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, for his device is against Babylon to destroy it.’ Media was a country east of Assyria, which is supposed to have been populated by the descendants of Madai, son of Japheth Genesis 10:2. Ancient Media extended on the west and south of the Caspian Sea, from Armenia, on the north, to Faristan or Persia proper, on the south.

It was one of the most fertile regions of Asia. It was an ancient kingdom. Ninus, the founder of the Assyrian monarchy, is said to have encountered one of its kings, whom he subdued, and whose province he made a part of the Assyrian empire. For 520 years, the Medes were subject to the Assyrians; but, in the time of Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser, they revolted, and, by the destruction of the army of Sennacherib before Jerusalem - an event which was itself subsequent to the delivery of this prophecy respecting Babylon - they were enabled to achieve their independence. At the time when this prophecy was uttered, therefore, Media was a dependent province of the kingdom of Assyria. Six years they passed in a sort of anarchy, until, about 700 years b.c., they found in Dejoces an upright statesman, who was proclaimed king by universal consent. His son and successor, Phraortes, subdued the Persians, and all upper Asia, and united them to his kingdom.

He also attacked Assyria, and laid siege to Nineveh, the capital, but was defeated. Nineveh was finally taken by his successor, Cyaxares, with the aid of his ally, the king of Babylon; and Assyria became a province of Media. This widely-extended empire was delivered by him to his son Astyages, the father of Cyrus. Astyages reigned about 35 years, and then delivered the vast kingdom to Cyrus, about 556 years b.c., under whom the prediction of Isaiah respecting Babylon was fulfilled. In this way arose the Medo-Persian kingdom, and henceforward “the laws of the Medes and Persians” are always mentioned together Esther 1:9; Esther 10:2; Daniel 6:8, Daniel 6:12. From this time, all their customs, rites, and laws, became amalgamated. - (Herod. i. 95-130). In looking at this prophecy, therefore, we are to bear in mind:

(1) the fact that, when it was uttered, Media was a dependent province of the kingdom of Assyria;

(2) that a long time was yet to elapse before it would become an independent kingdom;

(3) that it was yet to secure its independence by the aid of that very Babylon which it would finally destroy;

(4) that no human foresight could predict these revolutions, and that every circumstance conspired to render this event improbable.

The great strength and resources of Babylon; the fact that Media was a dependent province, and that such great revolutions must occur before this prophecy could be fulfilled, render this one of the most striking and remarkable predictions in the sacred volume.

Which shall not regard silver ... - It is remarkable, says Lowth, that Xenophon makes Cyrus open a speech to his army, and, in particular, to the Medes, who made the principal part of it, with praising them for their disregard of riches. ‘Ye Medes and others who now hear me, I well know, that you have not accompanied me in this expedition with a view of acquiring wealth.’ - (“Cyrop.” v.) That this was the character of the Medes, is further evident from several circumstances. ‘He reckoned, says Xenophon, that his riches belonged not anymore to himself than to his friends. So little did he regard silver, or delight in gold, that Croesus told him that, by his liberality, he would make himself poor, instead of storing up vast treasures for himself. The Medes possessed, in this respect, the spirit of their chief, of which an instance, recorded by Xenophon, is too striking and appropriate to be passed over.

When Gobryas, an Assyrian governor, whose son the king of Babylon had slain, hospitably entertained him and his army, Cyrus appealed to the chiefs of the Medes and Hyrcanians, and to the noblest and most honorable of the Persians, whether, giving first what was due to the gods, and leaving to the rest of the army their portion, they would not overmatch his generosity by ceding to him their whole share of the first and plentiful booty which they had won from the land of Babylon. Loudly applauding the proposal, they immediately and unanimously consented; and one of them said, “Gobryas may have thought us poor, because we came not loaded with coins, and drink not out of golden cups; but by this he will know, that men can be generous even without gold.”’ (“See” Keith “On the Prophecies,” p. 198, Ed. New York, 1833.) This is a remarkable prediction, because this is a very unusual circumstance in the character of conquerors. Their purpose has been chiefly to obtain plunder, and, especially, gold and silver have been objects to them of great value. Few, indeed, have been the invading armies which were not influenced by the hope of spoil; and the want of that characteristic among the Medes is a circumstance which no human sagacity could have foreseen.

Verse 18

Their bows also - Bows and arrows were the usual weapons of the ancients in war; and the Persians were particularly skilled in their use. According to Xenophon, Cyrus came to Babylon with a great number of archers and slingers (Cyrop. ii. 1).

Shall dash the young men ... - That is, they shall dash the young men to pieces, or kill them by their bows and arrows. Vulgate, ‘And with their arrows shall they slay the young.’ The meaning of the word here rendered ‘dash to pieces,’ is to smite suddenly to the ground.

Verse 19

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms - That is, the capital or chief ornament of many nations. Appellations of this kind, applied to Babylon, abound in the Scriptures. In Daniel 4:30, it is called ‘great Babylon;’ in Isaiah 14:4, it is called ‘the golden city;’ in Isaiah 47:5, ‘the lady of kingdoms;’ in Jeremiah 51:13, it is, spoken of as ‘abundant in treasures;’ and, in Jeremiah 51:41, as ‘the praise of the whole earth.’ All these expressions are designed to indicate its immense wealth and magnificence. It was the capital of a mighty empire, and was the chief city of the pagan world.

The beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency - Hebrew, ‘The glory of the pride of the Chaldees;’ or the ornament of the proud Chaldees. It was their boast and glory; it was that on which they chiefly prided themselves. How well it deserved these appellations we have already seen.

Shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah - Genesis 19:24. That is, shall be completely and entirely overthrown; shall cease to be inhabited, and shall be perfectly desolate. It does not mean that it shall be overthrown in the same manner as Sodom was, but that it should be as completely and entirely ruined. The successive steps in the overthrow of Babylon, by which this prophecy was so signally fulfilled, were the following:

(1) The taking of the city by Cyrus. This was accomplished by his clearing out the “Pallacopas,” a canal that was made for the purpose of emptying the superfluous waters of the Euphrates into the lakes and marshes formed by it in the south - west borders of the province toward Arabia. Into this canal he directed the waters of the Euphrates, and was thus enabled to enter the city in the channel of the river under the walls (see the notes at Isaiah 45:1-2). He took the city by surprise, and when the inhabitants, confident of security, had given themselves up to the riot of a grand public festival; and the king and the nobles were revelling at a public entertainment. From this cause, also, it happened that the waters, which were thus diverted from their usual channel, converted the whole country into a vast, unhealthy morass, that contributed greatly to the decline of Babylon.

(2) The “second” capture of Babylon by Darius Hystaspes. Cyrus was not the destroyer of the city, but he rather sought to preserve its magnificence, and to perpetuate its pre-eminence among the nations. He left it to his successor in all its strength and magnificence. But, after his death, it rebelled against Darius, and bade defiance to the power of the whole Persian empire. Fully resolved not to yield, they adopted the resolution of putting every woman in the city to death, with the exception of their mothers and one female, the best beloved in every family, to bake their bread. All the rest, says Herodotus (iii. 150), were assembled together and strangled. The city was taken at that time by Darius, by the aid of Zopyrus, son of Megabyzus, who, in order to do it, mutilated himself beyond the power of recovery. He cut off his nose and ears, and having scourged himself severely, presented himself before Darius. He proposed to Darius to enter the city, apparently as a deserter who had been cruelly treated by Darius, and to deliver the city into his hands.

He was one of the chief nobles of Persia; was admitted in this manner within the walls; represented himself as having been punished because he advised Darius to raise the siege; was admitted to the confidence of the Babylonians; and was finally entrusted with an important military command. After several successful conflicts with the Persians, and when it was supposed his fidelity had been fully tried, he was raised to the chief command of the army; and was appointed to the responsible office of τειχοφύλαξ teichophulax, or guardian of the walls. Having obtained this object, he opened the gates of Babylon to the Persian army, as he had designed, and the city was taken without difficulty (Herod. iii. 153-160). As soon as Darius had taken the city, he ‘leveled the walls, and took away the gates, neither of which things had Cyrus done before. Three thousand of the most distinguished of the nobility he ordered to be crucified; the rest he suffered to remain.’ - (Herod. iii. 159.)

(3) After its conquest by Darius, it was always regarded by the Persian monarchs with a jealous eye. Xerxes destroyed the temples of the city, and, among the rest, the celebrated temple or tower of Belus (Strabo, xvi. 1, 5.) ‘Darius,’ says Herodotus, ‘had designs upon the golden statue in the temple of Belus, but did not dare to take it; but Xerxes, his son, took it, and slew the priest who resisted its removal.’

(4) The city was captured a third time, by Alexander the Great. Mazaeus, the Persian general, surrendered the city into his hands, and he entered it with his army - “velut in aciem irent” - ‘as if they were marching to battle.’ - (Q. Curtius, v. 3.) It was afterward taken by Antigonus, by Demetrius, by Antiochus the Great, and by the Parthians; and each successive conquest contributed to its reduction.

(5) Cyrus transferred the capital from Babylon to Susa or Shusan Nehemiah 1:1; Ezra 2:8; Ezra 4:16; Ezra 9:11, Ezra 9:15, which became the capital of the kingdom of Persia, and, of course, contributed much to diminish the importance of Babylon itself.

(6) Seleucus Nicator founded Seleucia in the neighborhood of Babylon, on the Tigris, chiefly with a design to draw off the inhabitants of Babylon to a rival city, and to prevent its importance. A great part of its population migrated to the new city of Seleucia (Plin. “Nat. Hist.” vi. 30). Babylon thus gradually declined until it lost all its importance, and the very place where it stood was, for a long time, unknown. About the beginning of the first century, a small part of it only was inhabited, and the greater portion was cultivated (Diod. Sic. ii. 27). In the second century, nothing but the walls remained (Pausanius, “Arcad.” c. 33). It became gradually a great desert; and, in the fourth century, its walls, repaired for that purpose, formed an enclosure for wild beasts, and Babylon was converted into a hunting place for the pastime of the Persian monarchs. After this, there is an interval of many ages in the history of its mutilated remains, and of its mouldering decay (Keith, “On the Prophecies,” p. 216; Jerome, “Commentary on Isa.” ch. xiv.) Benjamin of Tudela vaguely alludes to the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, which, he says, could not be entered, on account of its being the abode of dragons and wild beasts. Sir John Maundeville, who traveled over Asia, 1322 a.d., says, that ‘Babylone is in the grete desertes of Arabye, upon the waye as men gert towarde the kyngdome of Caldce. But it is full longe sithe ony man durste neyhe to the toure, for it is alle deserte and full of dragons and grete serpentes, and fulle dyverse veneymouse bestes all abouten.’

Verse 20

It shall never be inhabited - This has been completely fulfilled. It is now, and has been for centuries, a scene of wide desolation, and is a heap of ruins, and there is every indication that it will continue so to be. From Rauwolff’s testimony it appears, that in the sixteenth century ‘there was not a house to be seen;’ and now the ‘eye wanders over a barren desert, in which the ruins are nearly the only indication that it had ever been inhabited. It is impossible to behold this scene and not be reminded how exactly the predictions of Isaiah and Jeremiah have been fulfilled, even in the appearance Babylon was doomed to present, “that she should never be inhabited.”’ - (Keppel’s “Narrative,” p. 234.) ‘Babylon is spurned alike by the heel of the Ottoman, the Israelites, and the sons of Ishmael.’ - (Mignan’s “Travels,” p. 108.) ‘It is a tenantless and desolate metropolis.’ - (Ibid. p. 235; see Keith “On Prophecy,” p. 221.)

Neither shall it be dwelt in ... - This is but another form of the expression, denoting that it shall be utterly desolate. The following testimonies of travelers will show how this accomplished: ‘Ruins composed, like those of Babylon, of heaps of rubbish impregnated with nitre, cannot be cultivated.’ - (Rich’s “Memoir,” p. 16.) ‘The decomposing materials of a Babylonian structure doom the earth on which they perish, to lasting sterility. On this part of the plain, both where traces of buildings are left, and where none stood, all seemed equally naked of vegetation; the whole ground appearing as if it had been washed over and over again by the coming and receding waters, until every bit of genial soil was swept away; its half-clay, half-sandy surface being left in ridgy streaks, like what is often seen on the flat shores of the sea after the retreating of the tide.’ - (Sir R. K. Porter’s “Travels,” vol. ii. p. 392.) ‘The ground is low and marshy, and presents not the slightest vestige of former buildings, of any description whatever.’ - (Buckingham’s “Travels,” vol. ii. p. 278.) ‘The ruins of Babylon are thus inundated so as to render many parts of them inaccessible, by converting the valleys among them into morasses.’ - (Rich’s “Memoir,” p. 13.)

Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there - The Arabians dwelt chiefly in tents; and were a wandering people, or engaged in traffic which was conducted in caravans traveling from place to place. The idea here is, that Babylon, so far from being occupied as a permanent residence for any people, would be unfit even for a resting place. It would be so utterly desolate, so forsaken, and so unhealthy, that the caravan would not even stop there for a night. What a charge this from its former splendor! How different from the time when it was the place of magnificent palaces, when strangers flocked to it, and when people from all nations were collected there!

Neither shall the shepherds ... - This is an additional image of desolation. Babylon was situated in the midst of a most fertile region. It might be supposed that, though it was to be destroyed, it would still furnish pasturage for flocks. But no, says the prophet, it shall be so utterly and entirely desolate, that it shall not even afford pasturage for them. The reasons of this are:

(1) that the whole region round about Babylon was laid under water by the Euphrates after the city was taken, and became a stagnant pool, and of course an unfit place for flocks; and

(2) that Babylon was reduced to an extended scene of ruins; and on those ruins - those extended wastes of broken walls, of bricks and cement - no grass would grow.

The prophecy has been remarkably fulfilled. It is said that the Arabs cannot be persuaded to remain there even for a night. They traverse these ruins by day without fear; but at night the superstitious dread of evil spirits deters them from remaining there. ‘Captain Mignan was accompanied by six Arabs completely armed, but he “could not induce them to remain toward night, from the apprehension of evil spirits. It is impossible to eradicate this idea from the minds of these people, who are very deeply imbued with superstition ... And when the sun sunk behind the Mujelibe, and the moon would have lighted his way among the ruins, it was with infinite regret that he obeyed the summons of his guides.”’ - (Mignan’s “Travels,” as quoted by Keith, pp. 221, 222.) ‘All the people of the country assert that it is extremely dangerous to approach the mound’ (the mound in Babylon called Kasr, or Palad) ‘after nightfall, on account of the multitude of evil spirits by which it is haunted.’ - (Rich’s “Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon,” p. 27.) The Joseph Wolff, speaking of his visit to Babylon, says, ‘I inquired of them (the Yezeedes), whether the Arabs ever pitched their tents among the ruins of Babylon. No, said they, the Arabs believe that the ghost of Nimrod walks amidst them in the darkness, and no Arab would venture on so hazardous an experiment.’

Verse 21

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there - Hebrew, (ציים tsı̂yı̂ym). This word denotes properly those animals that dwell in dry and desolate places, from צי tsı̂y “a waste, a desert.” The ancient versions have differed considerably in the interpretation. The Septuagint in different places renders it, Θηριά Thēria - ‘Wild animals;’ or δαιμόνια daimonia - ‘Demons.’ The Syriac, ‘Wild animals, spirits, sirens.’ Vulgate, ‘Beasts, demons, dragons.’ Abarbanel renders it, ‘Apes.’ This word is applied to people, in Psalms 72:9; Psalms 74:14; to animals, Isaiah 23:13; Isaiah 34:14; Jeremiah 50:39. Bochart supposes that wild cats or catamounts are here intended. He has proved that they abound in eastern countries. They feed upon dead carcasses, and live in the woods, or in desert places, and are remarkable for their howl. Their yell resembles that of infants. (“See” Bochart’s “Hieroz.” i. 3. 14. pp. 860-862.)

And their houses shall be full of doleful creatures - Margin, ‘Ochim,’ or ‘Ostriches.’ אחים 'ochı̂ym. The Septuagint renders this ‘Clamours,’ or ‘Howlings,’ without supposing that it refers to any particular animals. The Hebrew word is found nowhere else. Bochart supposes that the yell or howl of wild animals is intended, and not animals themselves (“Hieroz.” i. 3. 15).

And owls shall dwell there - Hebrew, ‘Daughters of the owl or ostrich.’ The owl is a well-known bird that dwells only in obscure and dark retreats, giving a doleful screech, and seeking its food only at night. It is not certain, however, that the owl is intended here. The Septuagint renders it, Σειρῆνες Seirēnes - ‘Sirens.’ The Chaldee, ‘The daughter of the ostrich.’ Bochart has gone into an extended argument to prove that the ostrich is intended here (“Hieroz.” xi. 2. 14). The Hebrew does not particularly denote the kind of bird intended, but means those that are distinguished for their sound - ‘the daughters of sound or clamor.’ ‘The ostrich is a sly and timorous creature, delighting in solitary barren deserts. In the night they frequently make a very doleful and hideous noise; sometimes groaning as if they were in the greatest agonies.’ (Shaw’s “Travels,” vol. ii. p. 348, 8vo; Taylor’s “Heb. Con.;” see Job 30:29; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 50:39; Micah 1:8; Leviticus 11:16; Deuteronomy 14:15; Lamentations 4:3.) The word does not elsewhere occur.

And satyrs shall dance there - (שׂערים s'e‛ı̂rı̂ym). A “satyr,” in mythology, was a sylvan deity or demigod, represented as a monster, half man and half goat, having horns on his head, a hairy body, with the feet and tail of a goat (Webster). The word used here properly denotes that which is “hairy,” or “rough,” and is applied to “goats” in Genesis 25:25; Psalms 68:21; Leviticus 13:10, Leviticus 13:25-26, Leviticus 13:30, Leviticus 13:32. It is often rendered “hair.” (“see” Taylor). In Isaiah 34:14, it is rendered ‘satyr;’ in Deuteronomy 32:2, it is rendered ‘the small ram;’ in Leviticus 17:7, and 2 Chronicles 11:15, it is rendered ‘the devils,’ meaning objects of worship, or idols. Bochart supposes that it refers to the idols that were worshipped among the Egyptians, who placed “goats” among their gods. Doderlin supposes that it means either “fawns,” or a species of the monkey tribe, resembling in their rough and shaggy appearance the wild goat.

They are here represented as ‘dancing;’ and in Isaiah 34:14, as ‘crying to each other.’ It is evident that the prophet intends animals of a rough and shaggy appearance; such as are quick and nimble in their motions; such as dwell in deserts, in forests, or in old ruins; and such as answer to each other, or chatter. The description would certainly seem more applicable to some of the “simia” or monkey tribe than to any other animals. It is “possible,” indeed, that he means merely to make use of language that was well known, as describing animals that the ancients “supposed” had an existence, but which really had not, as the imaginary beings called satyrs. But it is possible, also, that he means simply wild goats (compare Bochart’s “Hieroz.” xi. 6. 7). The Septuagint renders it Δαιμόνια Daimonia - ‘Demons, or devils.’ The Vulgate, Pilosi - ‘Shaggy, or hairy animals.’ The Chaldee, ‘Demons.’ The essential idea is, that such wild animals as are supposed to dwell in wastes and ruins, would hold their revels in the forsaken and desolate palaces of Babylon. The following remarks of Joseph Wolff may throw light on this passage: ‘I then went to the mountain of Sanjaar, which was full of Yezeedes. One hundred and fifty years ago, they believed in the glorious doctrine of the Trinity, and worshipped the true God; but being severely persecuted by the neighboring Yezeedes, they have now joined them, and are worshippers of the devil.

These people frequent the ruins of Babylon, and dance around them. On a certain night, which they call the Night of Life, they hold their dances around the desolate ruins, in honor of the devil. The passage which declares that “satyrs shall dance there,” evidently has respect to this very practice. The original word translated “satyr,” literally means, according to the testimony of the most eminent Jewish rabbis, “devil worshippers.”’ ‘It is a curious circumstance,’ says Mr. Rich, in his “Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon,” p. 30, in describing the Mujelibe, ‘that here I first heard the oriental account of satyrs. I had always imagined the belief of their existence was confined to the mythology of the west; but a Choadar who was with me when I examined this ruin, mentioned by accident, that in this desert an animal is found resembling a man from the head to the waist, but having the thighs and legs of a sheep or a goat; he said also that the Arabs hunt it with dogs, and eat the lower parts, abstaining from the upper on account of their resemblance to the human species.’ ‘The Arabians call them Sied-as-sad, and say that they abound in some woody places near Semava on the Euphrates.’

Verse 22

And the wild beasts of the islands - (איים 'ı̂yı̂ym); see the notes at Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 41:1, on the word rendered ‘islands.’ The word denotes islands, or coasts, and as those coasts and islands were unknown and unexplored, the word seems to have denoted unknown and uninhabited regions in general. Boehart supposes that by the word here used is denoted a species of wolves, the jackal, or the “thoes.” It is known as a wild animal, exceedingly fierce, and is also distinguished by alternate howlings in the night (“see” Bochart’s “Hieroz.” i. 3. 12). The word wolf probably will not express an erroneous idea here. The Chaldee renders it, ‘Cats.’

Shall cry - Hebrew, ‘Shall answer, or respond to each other.’ This is known to be the custom of wolves and some other wild animals, who send forth those dismal howls in alternate responses at night. This alternation of the howl or cry gives an additional impressiveness to the loneliness and desolation of forsaken Babylon.

And dragons - (תנין tannı̂yn). This word, in its various forms of “tannim, taninim, tannin, and tannoth,” denotes sometimes “jackals or thoes,” as in Job 30:29; Psalms 44:19; Micah 1:8; Malachi 1:3. But it also denotes a great fish, a whale, a sea monster, a dragon, a serpent. It is translated ‘a whale’ in Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12; Ezekiel 32:2; ‘serpents,’ Exodus 7:9-10, Exodus 7:12; ‘dragons,’ or ‘dragon,’ Deuteronomy 32:33; Nehemiah 2:13; Psalms 44:19; Psalms 74:13; Psalms 91:13; Psalms 148:7; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Jeremiah 14:6; Jeremiah 51:34; Malachi 1:3, “et al.;” and once ‘sea monsters,’ Lamentations 4:3. A “dragon” properly means a kind of winged serpent much celebrated in the dark ages. Here it may not improperly be rendered “jackal” (“see” Bochart’s “Hieroz.” i. 1. 9, p. 69).

In their pleasant palaces - Hebrew, ‘Their palaces of luxury and pleasure.’ The following testimonies from travelers will show how minutely this was accomplished: ‘There are many dens of wild beasts in various parts.’ ‘There are quantities of porcupine quills.’ ‘In most of the cavities are numberless bats and owls.’ ‘These caverns, over which the chambers of majesty may have been spread, are now the refuge of jackals and other savage animals. The mouths of their entrances are strewed with the bones of sheep and “goats;” and the loathsome smell that issues from most of them is sufficient warning not to proceed into the den.’ - (Sir R. K. Porter’s “Travels,” vol. ii. p. 342.) ‘The mound was full of large holes; we entered some of them, and found them strewed with the carcasses and skeletons of animals recently killed. The ordure of wild beasts was so strong, that prudence got the better of curiosity, for we had no doubt as to the savage nature of the inhabitants. Our guides, indeed, told us that all the ruins abounded in lions and other wild beasts; so literally has the divine prediction been fulfilled, that wild beasts of the deserts should lie there.’ - (Keppel’s “Narrative,” vol. i. pp. 179, 180.)

And her time is near to come - This was spoken about 174 years before the destruction of Babylon. But we are to bear in mind that the prophet is to be supposed to be speaking to the captive Jews “in” Babylon, and speaking to them respecting their release (see Isaiah 14:1-2; compare remarks on the Analysis of this chapter). Thus considered, supposing the prophet to be addressing the Jews in captivity, or ministering consolation to them, the time was near. Or if we suppose him speaking as in his own time, the period when Babylon was to be destroyed was at no great distance.

On this whole prophecy, we may observe:

(1) That it was uttered at least 170 years before it was fulfilled. Of this there is all the proof that can be found in regard to any ancient writings.

(2) When uttered, there was the strongest improbability that it would be fulfilled. This improbability arose from the following circumstances:

(a) The Jews were secure in their own land, and they had no reason to dread the Babylonians; they had no wars with them, and it was improbable that they would be plucked up as a nation and carried there as captives. Such a thing had never occurred, and there were no circumstances that made it probable that it would occur.

(b) The great strength and security of Babylon rendered it improbable. It was the capital of the pagan world; and if there was any city that seemed impregnable, it was this.

(c) It was improbable that it would be overthrown by “the Medes.” Media, at the time when the prophecy was uttered, was a dependent province of Assyria (note, Isaiah 13:17), and it was wholly improbable that the Medes would revolt; that they would subdue their masters; that they would be united to the Persians, and that thus a new kingdom would arise, that should overthrow the most mighty capital of the world.

(d) It was improbable that Babylon would become uninhabitable. It was in the midst of a most fertile country; and by no human sagacity could it have been seen that the capital would be removed to Susa, or that Seleucia would be founded, thus draining it of its inhabitants; or that by the inundation of waters it would become unhealthy. How could mere human sagacity have foreseen that there would not be a house in it in the sixteenth century; or that now, in 1839, it would be a wide and dreary waste? Can any man now tell what London, or Paris, or New York, or Philadelphia, will be two years hence? Yet a prediction that those cities shall be the residence of ‘wild beasts of the desert,’ of ‘satyrs’ and ‘dragons,’ would be as probable now as was the prediction respecting Babylon at the time when Isaiah uttered these remarkable prophecies.

(3) The prophecy is not vague conjecture. It is not a “general” statement. It is minute, and definite, and particular; and it has been as definitely, and minutely, and particularly fulfilled.

(4) This is one of the evidences of the divine origin of the Bible. How will the infidel account for this prophecy and its fulfillment? It will not do to say that it is accident. It is too minute, and too particular. It is not 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 Yahweh as he claimed to be - for none but the omniscient Jehovah can foresee and describe future events as the destruction of Babylon was foreseen and described. 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. For a very interesting account of the present state of the ruins of Babylon, furnishing the most complete evidence of the fulfillment of the Prophecies in regard to it, the reader may consult an article in the “Amos Bib. Rep.,” vol. viii. pp. 177-189. (See also the two “Memoirs on the Ruins of Babylon,” by C. John Rich, Esq. London, 1816 and 1818.) The frontispiece to this volume, compiled from the sketches of recent travelers, gives accurate and interesting views of those ruins.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.