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In the closing verse of the previous chapter, add had given the assurance that his people should certainly be delivered from their captivity in Babylon, and restored to their own land. In this chapter, he describes the vengeance which he would take on Babylon, and the entire chapter is occupied in portraying, under various images, the prostration and humiliation of that proud and oppressive seat of magnificence and of empire. Babylon is described under the image of a lady, carefully nourished and decorated; and all the images of her destruction are drawn from those circumstances which would tend to humble a happy and proud female that had been accustomed to luxury, and unused to scenes of humiliation, poverty, and bereavement. The scope of the chapter is, to state the crimes for which she would be humbled and punished, and the manner in which it would be done. These are intermingled, but they may be contemplated separately. The chapter may, therefore, be regarded as consisting of the following items:
I. Babylon is addressed, by an apostrophe to her, as the seat of empire, and her humiliation is directly predicted under the image of a happy and delicately reared female, suddenly reduced to circumstances of great humiliation and disgrace Isaiah 47:1-5. She is commanded to sit down in the dust; she should no longer be treated as tender and delicate Isaiah 47:1; she would be reduced to the most abject condition - like a delicate and tender female from elevated life compelled to perform the most menial offices, and stripped of all her fine attire Isaiah 47:2-3; she was to sit in darkness, or obscurity; her honor was to be taken away, and she was no more to be called the lady of kingdoms Isaiah 47:5; and all this was to be done by Yahweh, to take vengeance on the oppressors of his people Isaiah 47:3-4.
II. God states the reasons why he would thus humble and punish her Isaiah 47:6-7. It was because she had shown no mercy to his people, and had laid a heavy yoke on an ancient nation Isaiah 47:6; and because she had vainly calculated that her power and magnificence would continue forever, notwithstanding the manner in which she had oppressed the people whom God had given into her hand Isaiah 47:7.
III. The nature of the punishment which should come upon her for this is more distinctly and fully predicted, intermingled with further statements of the causes why she should be punished and humbled Isaiah 47:8-9. The causes were, that luxury and effeminacy abounded; that she was proud, and did not apprehend that it was possible that she should be reduced from her state of magnificence and grandeur; and that she had cherished sorcerers and enchantments. The punishment was, that she should be reduced in a moment to the condition of a widow, and to the state of one who had been suddenly bereft of all hcr children.
IV. The crime and the punishment of the city are further stated Isaiah 47:10-11. The crime was, that she had supposed no avenging God saw her; and that she had become proud and vain of her wisdom and knowledge. The punishment would be, that evil would come upon her from a quarter where she little expected it, and in a manner which she could not prevent.
V. Babylon is sarcastically called on to invoke to her aid those in whom she had trusted - the astrologers, the star-gazers, and those who practiced sorcery and enchantments Isaiah 47:12-13.
VI. The chapter concludes with a statement of the utter vanity of the sorcerers, and the absolute folly of trusting in them Isaiah 47:14-15. Even the flame would pass over them; and so far were they from having any power to deliver those who trusted in them, that they had no power to preserve themselves from ruin.
This chaptcr, therefore, contains many very particular statements about the manner in which Babylon was to be destroyed, statements which will be found to have been fulfilled with surprising accuracy. They are statements, moreover, which could not have been the result of conjecture, or mere political sagacity, for political conjecture and sagacity do not descend to minute particulars and details. It is to be borne in remembrance that this prophecy was uttered a hundred and fifty years before its fulfillment, and that there were no circumstances existing in the time of Isaiah which could have laid the foundation for conjecture in regard to the events predicted here. The temple was then standing; the city of Jerusalem was strongly fortified; the kingdom of Judah was powerful; Babylon was just rising into magnificence; the power which ultimately overthrew it had scarcely begun to start into being: and none of the causes which ultimately led Cyrus to attack and destroy it, had as yet an existence. And if these things were so then the conclusion is inevitable that Isaiah was under the influence of divine inspiration. It is the particularity of the description in the prophets long before the events occurred, which, more than anything else, distinguishes them from mere political conjecture; and if the particular descriptions here and elsewhere recorded of the overthrow of Babylon, and of other future events, were actually made before the events occurred, then the conclusion is irresistible that they were inspired by God.
Come down - Descend from the throne; or from the seat of magnificence and power. The design of this verse has already been stated in the analysis. It is to foretell that Babylon would be humbled, and that she would be reduced from her magnificence and pride to a condition of abject wretchedness. She is therefore represented as a proud female accustomed to luxury and ease, suddenly brought to the lowest condition, and compelled to perform the most menial services.
And sit in the dust - To sit on the ground, and to cast dust on the head, is a condition often referred to in the Scriptures as expressive of humiliation and of mourning Joshua 8:6; Job 2:12; Job 10:9; Psalms 22:15; Lamentations 3:29. In this manner also, on the medals which were struck by Titus and Vespasian to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem, Jerusalem is represented under the image of a female sitting on the ground under a palm-tree, with the inscription Judaea capta (see the notes at Isaiah 3:26). The design here is, to represent Babylon as reduced to the lowest condition, and as having great occasion of grief.
O virgin daughter of Babylon - It is common in the Scriptures to speak of cities under the image of a virgin, a daughter, or a beautiful woman (see the notes at Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 37:22; compare Lamentations 1:15; Jeremiah 31:21; Jeremiah 46:11). Kimchi supposes that the term ‘virgin’ is here given to Babylon, because it had remained to that time uncaptured by any foreign power; but the main purpose is doubtless to refer to Babylon as a beautiful and splendid city, and as being distinguished for delicacy, and the prevalence of what was regarded as ornamental. Gesenius supposes that the words ‘virgin daughter of Babylon,’ denote not Babylon itself, but Chaldea, and that the whole land or nation is personified. But the common interpretation, and one evidently more in accordance with the Scripture usage, is to refer it to the city itself.
There is no throne - Thou shalt be reduced from the throne; or the throne shall be taken away. That is, Babylon shall be no longer the seat of empire, or the capital of kingdoms. How truly this was fulfilled, needs not to be told to those who are familiar with the history of Babylon. Its power was broken when Cyrus conquered it; its walls were reduced by Darius; Seleucia rose in its stead, and took away its trade and a large portion of its inhabitants, until it was completely destroyed, so that it became for a long time a question where it had formerly stood (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0; Isaiah 16:1-14)
Thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate - A place to which luxuries flow, amid where they abound. The allusion is to a female that bad been delicately and tenderly brought up, and that would be reduced to the lowest condition of servitude, and even of disgrace. It is possible that there may be an allusion here to the effeminacy and the consequent corruption of morals which prevailed in Babylon, and which made it a place sought with greediness by those who wished to spend their time in licentious pleasures. The corruption of Babylon, consequent on its wealth and magnificence, was almost proverbial, and was unsurpassed by any city of ancient times. The following extract from Curtius (v. 1), which it would not be proper to translate, will give some idea of the prevailing state of morals:
‘Nihil urbis ejus corruptius moribus, nihil ad irritandas illiciendasque immodicas voluptates instructius. Liberos conjugesque cum hospitibus stupro coire, modo pretium flagitii detur, parentes maritique patituntur. Babylonii maxime in vinum, et quae ebrietatem sequuntur effusi sunt. Foeminarum conviva ineuntium, in principio modestus est habitus, dein summa quaeque amicula exuunt paulatimque pudorem profanant; ad ultimum (horror auribusest) ima corporum velamenta projiciunt. Nee meretricum hoc dedecus est, sed matronarum virginumque apud quas comitas habetur vulgati corporis vilitas.’
See also the description of a loathsome, disgusting, and abominable custom which prevailed nowhere else, even in the corrupt nations of antiquity, except Babylon, in Herod. i. 199. I cannot transcribe this passage. The description is too loathsome, and would do little good. Its substance is expressed in a single sentence, πασᾶν γυναῖκα ἐπιχωρίην...μιχθὴναι ἀνδρὶ ξείνῳ pasan gunaika epichōriēn...michthēnai andri cheinō. It adds to the abomination of this custom that it was connected with the rites of religion, and was a part of the worship of the gods! Strabo, speaking of this custom (iii. 348), says, Ἔθος κατά τι λόγιον ξένῳ μίγνυσθαι Ethos kata ti logion chenō mignusthai. See also Baruch 6:43, where the same custom is alluded to. For an extended description of the wealth and commerce of Babylon, see an article in the Amer. Bib. Rep. vol. vii. pp. 364-390.
Take the millstones, and grind meal - The design of this is plain. Babylon, that had been regarded as a delicately-trained female, was to be reduced to the lowest condition of poverty and wretchedness - represented here by being compelled to perform the most menial and laborious offices, and submitting to the deepest disgrace and ignominy. There is an allusion here to the custom of grinding in the East. The mills which were there commonly used, and which are also extensively used to this day, consisted of two stones, of which the lower one was convex on the upper side, and the upper one was concave on thee lower side, so that they fitted into each other. The hole for receiving the grain was in the center of the upper stone, and in the process of grinding the lower one was fixed, and the upper one was turned round, usually by two women (see Matthew 24:41), with considerable velocity by means of a handle. Watermills were not invented until a little before the time of Augustus Caesar; and windmills long after. The custom of using handmills is the primitive custom everywhere, and they are still in use in some parts of Scotland, and generally in the East. (See Mr. Pennant’s “Tour to the Hebrides,” and the Oriental travelers generally. Grinding was usually performed by the women, though it was often regarded as the work of slaves. It was often inflicted on slaves as a punishment.
Molendum in pistrino; vapulandum; habendae compedes.
Terent. Phormio ii. 1. 19.
In the East it was the usual work of female slaves see (Exodus 11:5, in the Septuagint) ‘Women alone are employed to grind their corn.’ (Shaw, “Algiers and Tunis,” p. 297) ‘They are the female slaves that are generally employed in the East at those handmills. It is extremely laborious, and esteemed the lowest employment in the house.’ (Sir John Chardin, Harmer’s Obs. i. 153) Compare Lowth, and Gesen. “Commentary uber Isaiah.” This idea of its being a low employment is expressed by Job 31:10 : ‘Let my wife grind unto another.’ The idea of its being a most humble and laborious employment was long since exhibited by Homer:
A woman next, then laboring at the mill,
Hard by, where all his numerous mills he kept.
Gave him the sign propitious from within.
twelve damsels toiled to turn them, day by day
Meal grinding, some of barley, some of wheat,
Marrow of man The rest (their portion ground)
All slept, one only from her task as yet
Ceased not, for she was feeblest of them all;
She rested on her mill, and thus pronounced:
‘Jove, Father, Governor, of heaven and earth!
‘O grant the prayer
Of a poor bond-woman. Appoint their feast,
This day the last, that in Ulysses’ house,
The suitors shall enjoy, for whom I drudge,
Grinding, to weariness of heart and limb,
Meal for their use.’
The sense here is, that Babylon should be reduced to the lowest state, like that of reducing a female delicately and tenderly reared, to the hard and laborious condition of working the handmill - the usual work of slaves.
Uncover thy locks - Gesenius renders this, ‘Raise thy veil.’ The word used here (צמה tsamâh) is rendered ‘locks,’ in Song of Solomon 4:1, Song of Solomon 4:3; Song of Solomon 6:7, as well as here. It occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Gesenius derives it from צמם tsāmam, “to braid, to plaid,” and then “to bind fast,” as a veil; to veil. Jerome renders it, Denuda turpetudinem tuam. The Septuagint renders it, Τὸ κατακάλυμμα σου To katakalumma sou - ‘Thy veil.’ The Syriac also renders it, ‘Thy veil.’ The Chaldee has paraphrased the whole verse thus: ‘Go into servitude; reveal the glory of thy kingdom. Broken are thy princes; dispersed are the people of thy host; they have gone into captivity like the waters of a river.’ Jarchi says, that the word used here (צמה tsamâh) denotes whatever is bound up, or tied together Kimchi says that it means the hair, which a woman disposes around her temples over her face, and which she covers with a veil, deeming it an ornament; but that when a female goes into captivity this is removed, as a sign of an abject condition.
It properly means that which is plaited, or gathered together; and it may refer either to the hair so plaited as an ornament, or a covering for the head and face (compare the note at 1 Corinthians 11:15); or it may denote a veil. To remove either would be regarded as disgraceful. It is known that oriental females pay great attention to their hair, and also that it is a universal custom to wear a close veil. To remove either, and to leave the head bare, or the face exposed, was deemed highly humiliating and dishonorable (see the notes at Isaiah 3:24). ‘The head,’ says the Editor of the “Pictorial Bible,” ‘is the seat of female modesty in the East; and no woman allows her head to be seen bare. In our traveling experience, we saw the faces of very many women, but never the bare head of any except one - a female servant, whose face we were in the constant habit of seeing, and whom we accidentally surprised while dressing her hair. The perfect consternation, and deep sense of humiliation which she expressed on that occasion, could not easily be forgotten, and furnish a most striking illustration of the present text.’
Make bare the leg - In the interpretation of this, also, commentators vary. Jerome renders it, “Discoopteri humerum” - ‘Uncover the shoulder.’ The Septuagint, Ἀνακάλυψαι τὰς πολιάς Anakalupsai tas polias - ‘Uncover thy gray locks.’ The Syriac, ‘Cut off thy hoary hairs.’ Jarchi and Kimchi suppose it means, ‘Remove the waters from the paths, so that they might pass over them.’ The word used here (שׁבל shobel), is derived from שׁבל shâbal, “to go; to go up, to rise; to grow; to flow copiously.” Hence, the noun in its various forms means a path Psalms 77:19; Jeremiah 18:15; ears of corn, שׁבלת shibbôleth Genesis 41:5, Judges 12:6; Ruth 2:2; Job 24:24; Isaiah 17:5; floods Psalms 69:15; branches Zechariah 4:12. In no place has it the certain signification of a leg; but it rather refers to that which flows: flows copiously; and probably here means the train of a robe (Gesenius, and Rosenmuller): and the expression means ‘uncover, or make bare the train;’ that is, lift it up, as would be necessary in passing through a stream, so that the leg would be made bare. The Orientals, as is well known, wore a long, loose, flowing robe, and in passing through waters, it would be necessary to lift, or gather it up, so that the legs would be bare. The idea is, that she who had sat as a queen, and who had been clad in the rich, loose, and flowing robe which those usually wore who were in the most elevated ranks of life, would now be compelled to leave the seat of magnificence, and in such a manner as to be subject to the deepest shame and disgrace.
Uncover the thigh - By collecting, and gathering up the train of the robe, so as to pass through the streams.
Pass over the rivers - Hebrew, ‘Pass the rivers;’ that is, by wading, or fording them. This image is taken from the fact that Babylon was surrounded by many artificial rivers or streams, and that one in passing from it would be compelled to ford many of them. It does not mean that the population of Babylon would be removed into captivity by the conquerors - for there is no evidence that this was done; but the image is that of Babylon, represented as a delicately-reared and magnificently attired female, compelled to ford the streams. The idea is, that the power and magnificence of the city would be transferred to other places. Rosenmuller remarks that it is common in the countries bordering on the Tigris and the Euphrates, for females of bumble rank to ford the streams, or even to swim across them.
Thy nakedness - This denotes the abject condition to which the city would be reduced. All its pride would be taken away; and it would be brought to such a state as to fill its inhabitants with the deepest mortification and shame. Vitringa supposes that it means, that all the imbecility and weakness; the vileness; the real poverty; the cruelty and injustice of Babylon, would be exposed. But it more probably means, that it would be reduced to the deepest ignominy. No language could more forcibly express the depths of its shame and disgrace than that which the prophet here uses.
I will take vengeance - This expresses literally what had been before expressed in a figurative manner. The whole purpose of God was to inflict vengeance on her for her pride, her luxury, and oppression, and especially for her want of kindness toward his people (see Isaiah 47:6).
And I will not meet thee as a man - This phrase has been very variously interpreted. Jerome renders it, ‘And man shall not resist me.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘I will take that which is just of thee, and will no more deliver thee up to men.’ The Syriac, ‘I will not suffer man to meet thee.’ Grotius, ‘I will not suffer any man to be an intercessor.’ So Lowth, ‘Neither will I suffer man to intercede with me.’ Noyes, ‘I will make peace with none.’ So Gesenius (Lex. by Robinson) renders it, ‘I will take vengeance, and will not make peace with man; that is, will make peace with none before all are destroyed.’ The word used here (אפגע 'epega‛) is derived from פגע pâga‛, which means, “to strike upon” or “to strike against”; “to impinge upon anyone, or anything; to fall upon in a hostile manner” 1 Samuel 22:17; “to kill, to slay” Judges 8:21; Judges 15:12; “to assail with petitions, to urge, entreat anyone” Ruth 1:16; Jeremiah 7:16; “to light upon, or meet with anyone” Genesis 28:11, and then, according to Gesenius, “to strike a league with anyone, to make peace with him.” Jarchi renders it, ‘I will not solicit any man that he should take vengeance;’ that is, I will do it myself. Aben Ezra, ‘I will not admit the intercession of any man.’ Vitringa renders it. ‘I will take vengeance, and will not have a man to concur with me; that is, although I should not have a man to concur with me who should execute the vengeance which I meditate; on which account I have raised up Cyrus from Persia, of whom no one thought.’ In my view, the meaning which best accords with the usual sense of the word, is that proposed by Lowth, that no one should be allowed to interpose, or intercede for them. All the interpretations concur in the same general signification, that Babylon should be totally destroyed; and that no man, whether, as Jerome supposes, by resistance, or as Lowth, by intercession, should be allowed to oppose the execution of the divine purpose of vengeance.
As for our Redeemer - This verse stands absolutely, and is not connected with the preceding or the following. It seems to be an expression of admiration, or of grateful surprise, by which the prophet saw Yahweh as the Redeemer of his people. He saw, in vision, Babylon humbled, and, full of the subject, he breaks out into an expression of grateful surprise and rejoicing. ‘O! our Redeemer! it is the work of our Saviour, the Holy One of Israel! How great is his power! How faithful is he! How manifestly is he revealed! Babylon is destroyed. Her idols could not save her. Her destruction has been accomplished by him who is the Redeemer of his people, and the Holy One of Israel.’ Lowth regards this verse as the language of a chorus that breaks in upon the midst of the subject, celebrating the praises of God. The subject is resumed in the next verse.
Sit thou silent - The same general sentiment is expressed here as in the preceding verses, though the figure is changed. In Isaiah 47:1-3, Babylon is represented under the image of a frivolous and delicately-reared female, suddenly reduced from her exalted station, and compelled to engage in the most menial and laborious employment. Here she is represented as in a posture of mourning. To sit in silence is emblematic of deep sorrow, or affliction (see Lamentations 2:10): ‘The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground and keep silence, they have cast up dust upon their heads;’ - see the note at Isaiah 3:26 : ‘And she (Jerusalem) being desolate shall sit upon the ground;’ Job 2:13 : ‘So they (the three friends of Job) sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him, for they saw that his grief was very great.’ Compare Ezra 9:4.
Get thee into darkness - That is, into a place of mourning. Persons greatly afflicted, almost as a matter of course, shut out the light from their dwellings, as emblematic of their feelings. This is common even in this country - and particularly in the city in which I write where the universal custom prevails of making a house dark during the time of mourning. Nature prompts to this, for there is an obvious similarity between darkness and sorrow. That this custom also prevailed in the East is apparent (see Lamentations 3:2): ‘He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, and not into light;’ Mic. 8:8: ‘When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.’ The idea is, that Babylon would be brought to desolation, and have occasion of sorrow, like a delicately-trained female suddenly deprived of children Isaiah 47:9, and that she would seek a place of darkness and silence where she might fully indulge her grief.
O daughter of the Chaldeans - (See the notes at Isaiah 47:1).
For thou shalt no more be called The lady of kingdoms - The magnificence, splendor, beauty, and power, which have given occasion to this appellation, and which have led the nations by common consent to give it to thee, shall be entirely and forever removed. The appellation, ‘lady of kingdoms.’ is equivalent to that so often used of Rome, as ‘the mistress of the world;’ and the idea is, that Babylon sustained by its power and splendor the relation of mistress, and that all other cities were regarded as servants, or as subordinate.
I was worth with my people - In this verse and the following, a reason is assigned why God would deal so severely with her. One of the reasons was, that in executing the punishment which he had designed on the Jewish people, she had done it with pride, ambition, and severity; so that though God intended they should be punished, yet the feelings of Babylon in doing it, were such also as to deserve his decided rebuke and wrath.
I have polluted mine inheritance - Jerusalem and the land of Judea see the notes at Isaiah 43:28). He had stripped it of its glory; caused the temple and city to be destroyed; and spread desolation over the land. Though it had been done by the Chaldeans, yet it had been in accordance with his purpose, and under his direction Deuteronomy 4:20; Psalms 28:9.
Thou didst show them no mercy - Though God had given up his people to be punished for their sins, yet this did not justify the spirit with which the Chaldeans had done it, or make proper the cruelty which they had evinced toward them. It is true that some of the Jewish captives, as, e. g., Daniel, were honored and favored in Babylon. It is not improbable that the circumstances of many of them were comparatively easy while there, and that they acquired possessions and formed attachments there which made them unwilling to leave that land when Cyrus permitted them to return to their own country. But it is also true, that Nebuchadnezzar showed them no compassion when he destroyed the temple and city, that the mass of them were treated with great indignity and cruelty in Babylon. See Psalms 137:1-3, where they pathetically and beautifully record their sufferings:
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,
Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
And they that wasted us rcquired of us mirth.
Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
Thus also Jeremiah Jeremiah 1:17 describes the cruelty of their conquerors: ‘Israel is a scattered sheep - the lions have driven him away; this Nebuchadnezzar hath broken his bones’ (see also 2 Kings 25:5, 2Ki 25:6, 2 Kings 25:27; Jeremiah 51:34; Lamentations 4:16; Lamentations 5:11-14).
Upon the ancient - That is, upon the old man. The idea is, that they had oppressed, and reduced to hard servitude, those who were venerable by years, and by experience. To treat the aged with veneration is everywhere in the Scriptures regarded as an important and sacred duty Leviticus 19:32; Job 32:4-6; and to disregard age, and pour contempt on hoary hairs, is everywhere spoken of as a crime of an aggravated nature (compare 2 Kings 2:23-25; Proverbs 30:17). That the Chaldeans had thus disregarded age and rank, is a frequent subject of complaint among the sacred writers:
They respected not the persons of the priests,
They favored not the elders.
Princes are hanged up by their hand.
The faces of eiders were not honored.
Laid the yoke - The yoke in the Bible is an emblem of slavery or bondage Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 28:48; of afflictions and crosses Lamentations 3:27; of punishment for sin Lamentations 1:14; of God’s commandments Matthew 11:29-30. Here it refers to the bondage and affliction which they experienced in Babylon.
And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever - This passage describes the pride and self-confidence of Babylon. She was confident in her wealth; the strength of her gates and walls; and in her abundant resources to resist an enemy, or to sustain a siege. Babylon was ten miles square; and it was supposed to contain provisions enough to maintain a siege for many years. There were, moreover, no symptoms of internal decay; there were no apparent external reasons why her prosperity should not continue; there were no causes at work, which human sagacity could detect, which would prevent her continuing to any indefinite period of time.
Thou didst not lay these things to thy heart - Thou didst not consider what, under the government of a holy and just God, must be the effect of treating a captured and oppressed people in this manner. Babylon supposed, that notwithstanding her pride, and haughtiness, and oppressions, she would be able to stand forever.
Neither didst remember the latter end of it - The end of pride, arrogance, and cruelty. The sense is, that Babylon might have learned from the fate of other kingdoms that had been, like her, arrogant and cruel, what must inevitably be her own destiny. But she refused to learn a lesson from their doom. So common is it for nations to disregard the lessons which history teaches; so common for individuals to neglect the warnings furnished by the destruction of the wicked.
Therefore hear now this - The prophet proceeds, in this verse and the following, to detail more particularly the sins of Babylon, and to state the certainty of the punishment which would come upon her. In the previous verses, the denunciation of punishment had been figurative. It had been represented under the image of a lady delicately trained and nurtured, doomed to the lowest condition of life, and compelled to stoop to the most menial offices. Here the prophet uses language without figure, and states directly her crimes, and her doom.
That art given to pleasures - Devoted to dissipation, and to the effeminate pleasures which luxury engenders (see the notes at Isaiah 47:1). Curtius, in his History of Babylon as it was in the times of Alexander (v. 5. 36), Herodotus (i. 198), and Strabo Georg. xvi.), have given a description of it, all representing it as corrupt, licentious, and dissipated in the extreme. Curtius, in the passage quoted on Isaiah 47:1, says, among other things, that no city was more corrupt in its morals; nowhere were there so many excitements to licentious and guilty pleasures.
That dwellest carelessly - In vain security; without any consciousness of danger, and without alarm (compare Zephaniah 2:15).
I am, and none else besides me - The language of pride. She regarded herself as the principal city of the world, and all others as unworthy to be named in comparison with her (compare the note at Isaiah 45:6). Language remarkably similar to this occurs in Martial’s description of Rome (xii. 8):
Terrarum dea gentiumque, Roma,
Cui par est nihil, et nihil secundum -
Rome, goddess of the earth and of nations, to whom nothing is equal, nothing second.’
I shall not sit as a widow - On the word ‘sit,’ see the note at Isaiah 47:1. The sense is, that she would never be lonely, sad, and afflicted, like a wife deprived of her husband, and a mother of her children. The figure is changed from Isaiah 47:1, where she is represented as a virgin; but the same idea is presented under another form (compare the note at Isaiah 23:4).
In a moment, in one day - This is designed, undoubtedly, to describe the suddenness with which Babylon would be destroyed. It would not decay slowly, and by natural causes, but it would not decay slowly, and by natural causes, but it would be suddenly and unexpectedly destroyed. How strikingly this was fulfilled, it is not needful to pause to state (see Isaiah 13:0, note; Isaiah 14:1, note) In the single night in which Babylon was taken by Cyrus, a death-blow was given to all her greatness and power, and at that moment a train of causes was originated which did not cease to operate until it became a pile of ruins.
The loss of children, and widowhood - Babylon would be in the situation of a wife and a mother who is instantaneously deprived of her husband, and bereft of all her children.
They shall come upon thee in their perfection - In full measure; completely; entirely. You shall know all that is meant by this condition. The state referred to is that of a wife who is suddenly deprived of her husband, and who, at the same time, and by the same stroke, is bereft of all her children. And the sense is, that Babylon would know all that was meant by such a condition, and would experience the utmost extremity of grief which such a condition involved.
For the multitude of thy sorceries - This was one of the reasons why God would thus destroy her, that sorceries and enchantments abounded there. Lowth, however, renders this, ‘Notwithstanding the multitude of thy sorceries.’ So Noyes, ‘In spite of thy sorceries.’ The Hebrew is, ‘in the multitude (ברב berôb) of thy sorceries.’ Jerome renders it, ‘On account of (“propter”) the multitude of thy sorceries.’ The Septuagint: ‘In (ἐν en) thy sorcery.’ Perhaps the idea is, that sorcery and enchantment abounded, and that these calamities would come notwithstanding all that they could do. They would come in the very midst of the abounding necromancy and enchantments, while the people practiced these arts, and while they depended on them. That this trust in sorcery was one cause why these judgments would come upon them, is apparent from Isaiah 47:10-11. And that they would not be able to protect the city, or that these judgments would come in spite of all their efforts, is apparent from Isaiah 47:13. The idea is exactly expressed by a literal translation of the Hebrew. They would come upon her in, that is, “in the very midst” of the multitude of sorceries and enchantments. The word rendered here ‘sorceries,’ means magic, incantation, and is applied to the work of magicians (2 Kings 9:22; Nehemiah 3:4; Micah 5:11; compare Exodus 7:2; Deuteronomy 18:10; Daniel 2:2; Malachi 3:5). Magic, it is well known, abounded in the East, and indeed this may be regarded as the birthplace of the art (see the note at Isaiah 2:6).
And for the great abundance of thine enchantments - Hebrew, ‘And in the strength;’ that is, in the full vigor of thine enchantments. While they would abound, and while they would exert their utmost power to preserve the city. The word rendered ‘enchantments,’ means properly society, company, community - from being associated, or bound together; and then spells, or enchantments, from the notion that they bound or confined the object that was the subject of the charm. The idea was that of controlling, binding, or restraining anyone whom they pleased, by the power of a spell.
For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness - The word ‘wickedness’ here refers doubtless to the pride, arrogance, ambition, and oppressions of Babylon. It means, that she had supposed that she was able by these to maintain the ascendancy over other nations, and perpetuate her dominion. She supposed that by her great power, her natural advantages, and her wealth, she could resist the causes which had operated to destroy other nations. Men often confide in their own wickedness - their cunning, their artifices, their frauds, their acts of oppression and cruelty, and suppose that they are secure against the judgments of God.
None seeth me - Compare Psalms 10:11 : ‘He said in his heart, God hath forgotten; he hideth his thee; he will never see it.’ See also Psalms 94:7.
Thy wisdom - Probably the wisdom here referred to, was that for which Babylon was distinguished, the supposed science of astrology, and the arts of divination and of incantation. It may, however, refer to the purposes of the kings and princes of Babylon; and the meaning may be, that it had been perverted and ruined by relying on their counsels. But it more probably refers to the confidence in the wisdom and science which prevailed there.
Hath perverted thee - Margin, ‘Caused thee to turn away.’ That is, hath turned thee away from the path of virtue, truth, and safety. It has been the cause of thy downfall.
I am ... - (See Isaiah 47:8)
Therefore shall evil come upon thee - In consequence of thy pride and self-confidence; of the prevalence of corruption, licentiousness, and sin; of the prevalence of the arts of magic and of divination abounding there; and of the cruel and unfeeling oppression of the people of God; for all these crimes ruin shall come certainly and suddenly upon thee.
Thou shalt not know from whence it cometh - Margin, ‘The morning thereof.’ The margin expresses the true sense of the phrase. The word used here (שׁחר shachar) means “the aurora,” the dawn, the morning (see the notes at Isaiah 14:12). Lowth has strangely rendered it, ‘Evil shall come upon thee, which thou shalt not know how to deprecate.’ But the word properly means the dawning of the morning, the aurora; and the sense is, that calamity should befall them whose rising or dawning they did not see, or anticipate. It would come unexpectedly and suddenly, like the first rays of the morning. It would spring up as if from no antecedent cause which would seem to lead to it, as the light comes suddenly out of the darkness.
And mischief - Destruction; ruin.
Thou shalt not be able to put it off - Margin, ‘Expiate.’ This is the sense of the Hebrew (see the notes at Isaiah 43:3). The meaning is, that they could not then avert these calamities by any sacrifices, deprecations, or prayers. Ruin would suddenly and certainly come; and they had nothing which they could offer to God as an expiation by which it could then be prevented. We need not say how strikingly descriptive this is of the destruction of Babylon. Her ruin came silently and suddenly upon her, as the first rays of morning light steal upon the world, and in such a way that she could not meet it, or turn it away.
Stand now with thy enchantments - (See the notes at Isaiah 47:9). This is evidently sarcastic and ironical. It is a call on those who practiced the arts of magic to stand forth, and to show whether they were able to defend the city, and to save the nation.
Wherein thou hast labored - Or in practicing which thou hast been diligently employed.
From thy youth - From the very commencement of thy national existence. Babylon was always distinguished for these arts. Now was a time when their value was to be put to the test, and when it was to be seen whether they were able to save the nation.
If so be - Or perhaps or possibly, they may be able to profit thee - the language of irony. Perhaps by the aid of these arts you may be able to repel your foes.
Thou art wearied - Thou hast practiced so many arts, and practiced them so long, that thou art exhausted in them. The ‘counsels’ here referred to, are those which the astrologers and diviners would take in examining the prognostications, and the supposed indications of future events.
Let now the astrologers - Call in now the aid of the various classes of diviners on whom thou hast relied to save thee from the impending calamity and ruin. The words rendered here ‘astrologers’ (שׁמים הברי hoberēy shâmayim) mean properly “the dividers of the heavens;” those who divided, or cut up the heavens for the purpose of augury, or to take a horoscope (Gesenius). What this art was is not certainly known. It is probable that it referred to their designating certain stars, or constellations, or conjunctions of the planets in certain parts of the heavens, as being fortunate and propitious, and certain others as unfortunate and unpropitious. At first, astrology was synonymous with astronomy. But in process of time, it came to denote the science which professes to discover certain connections between the position and movements of the heavenly bodies, and the events which occur on the earth.
It was supposed that the rising and setting, the conjunction and opposition of the planets, exerted a powerful influence over the fates of people; over the health of their bodies, the character of their minds, and the vicissitudes of their lives. Some regarded, it would seem, the positions of the stars as mere signs of the events which were to follow; and others, and probably by far the larger portion, supposed that those positions had a positive influence in directing and controlling the affairs of this lower world. The origin of this science is involved in great obscurity. Aristotle ascribes the invention to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Ptolemy concurs in this opinion, and Cicero traces it to the same origin. Lucian says that both these nations, as well as the Lybians, borrowed it from the Ethiopians, and that the Greeks owed their knowledge of this pretended science to the poet Orpheus. The science prevailed, it is probable, however, much more early in India; and in China it appears to be coeval with their history.
The Arabians have been distinguished for their attachment to it; and even Tycho Brahe was a zealous defender of astrology, and Kepler believed that the conjunctions of the planets were capable of producing great effects on human affairs. It is also a remarkable fact that Lord Bacon thought that the science required to be purified from errors rather than altogether rejected. Those who wish to inquire into the various systems of astrology, and the arts by which this absurd science has maintained an influence in the world, may consult the “Edin. Encyclopedia,” Art. “Astrology,” and the authorities enumerated there. The thing referred to in the passage before us, and which was practiced in Babylon, was, probably, that of forecasting future events, or telling what would occur by the observation of the positions of the heavenly bodies.
The star-gazers - Those who endeavor to tell what will occur by the contemplation of the relative positions of the stars.
The monthly prognosticators - Margin, ‘That give knowledge concerning the months.’ That is, at the commencement of the months they give knowledge of what events might be expected to occur during the month; - perhaps from the dip of the moon, or its riding high or low, etc. Something of this kind is still retained by those persons who speak of a dry or wet moon; or who expect a change of weather at the change of the moon - all of which is just as wise as were the old systems of astrology among the Chaldeans. This whole passage would have been more literally and better translated by preserving the order of the Hebrew. ‘Let them stand up now and save thee, who are astrologers; who gaze upon the stars, and who make known at the new moons what things will come upon thee.’
Behold, they shall be as stubble - They shall be no more able to resist the judgments which are coming upon the city, than dry stubble can resist the action of the fire. A similar figure is used in Isaiah 1:31 (see the notes at that verse). Compare also Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30, where fire is a symbol of the devouring judgments of God.
They shall not deliver themselves - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘Their souls.’ The meaning is, that they would be unable to protect themselves from the calamities which would come upon them and the city.
There shall not be a coal to warm at - The meaning is, that they would be entirely consumed - so completely, that not even a coal or spark would be left, as when stubble, or a piece of wood, is entirely burned up. According to this interpretation, the sense is, that the judgments of God would come upon them and the city, so that entire destruction would ensue. Rosenmuller, however, Cocceius, and some others, suppose this should be rendered, ‘there shall not remain a coal so that bread could be baked by it.’ But the more common, and more correct interpretation, is that suggested above. Compare Gesenius and Rosenmuller on the place.
With whom thou hast labored - The multitude of diviners, astrologers, and merchants, with whom thou hast been connected and employed. The idea is, that Babylon had been the mart where all of them had been assembled.
Even thy merchants from thy youth - Babylon was favorably situated for traffic; and was distinguished for it. Foreigners and strangers had resorted there, and it was filled with those who had come there for purposes of trade. The sense here is, that the same destruction which would come upon the diviners, would come on all who had been engaged there in traffic and merchandise. It does not mean that the individuals who were thus engaged would be destroyed, but that destruction would come upon the business; it would come in spite of all the efforts of the astrologers, and in spite of all the mercantile advantages of the place. The destruction would be as entire as if a fire should pass over stubble, and leave not a coal or a spark. What a striking description of the total ruin of the commercial advantages of Babylon!
From thy youth - From the very foundation of the city.
They shall wander every one to his own quarter - All shall leave Babylon, and it shall be utterly forsaken as a place of commerce, and all who have been engaged in mercantile transactions there shall go to other places. The phrase, ‘his own quarter’ (לעברו le‛eberô), means, “to his own way;” they shall be driven from Babylon, and wander to other places. They shall flee from the danger; and if they practice their arts, or engage in commerce, it shall be done in other places besides Babylon.
None shall save thee - How truly this was fulfilled need not here be stated. All its arts of astrology, its wealth, its mercantile advantages, the strength of its walls and gates, were insufficient to save it, and now it lies a wide waste - a scene of vast and doleful ruin (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0; Isaiah 14:0) So certainly will all the predictions of God be accomplished; so vain are the arts and devices of man, the strength of fortifications, and the advantages for commerce, when God purposes to inflict his vengeance on a guilty nation. The skill of astrology, the advantages of science, accumulated treasures, brass gates and massive walls, and commercial advantages, the influx of foreigners, and a fertile soil, cannot save it. All these things are in the hands of God; and he can withdraw them when he pleases. Babylon once had advantages for commerce equal to most of the celebrated marts now of Europe and America. So had Palmyra, and Tyre, and Baalbec, and Petra, and Alexandria, and Antioch. Babylon was in the midst of a country as fertile by nature as most parts of the United States. She had as little prospect of losing the commerce of the world, and of ceasing to be a place of wealth and power, as Paris, or London, or Liverpool, or New York. Yet how easy was it for God, in the accomplishment of his plans, to turn away the tide of her prosperity, and reduce her to ruins.
How easy, in the arrangements of his providence, to spread desolation over all the once fertile plains of Chaldea, and to make those plains pools of water. And so with equal ease, if he pleases, and by causes as little known as were those which destroyed Babylon, can he take away the commercial advantages of any city now on earth. Tyre has lost all its commercial importance; the richly-laden caravan has ceascd to pause at Petra; Tadmor lies waste. Baalbec is known only by the far-strewed ruins, and Nineveh and Babylon are stripped of all. that ever made them great, and can rise no more. God has taken away the importance and the power of Rome, once, like Babylon, the mistress of the world, by suffering the malaria to desolate all the region in her vicinity; and so with equal truth, all that contributes to the commercial importance of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, London, or Paris, are under the control of God. By some secret causes he could make these cities a wide scene of ruins; and they may be, if they are like Babylon and Tyre and Tadmor in their character, yet like them in their doom. They should feel that the sources of their prosperity and their preservation are not in themselves, but in the favor and protection of God. Virtue, justice, and piety, will better preserve them than wealth; and without these they must be, in spite of their commercial advantages, what the once celebrated cities of antiquity now are.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 47". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter