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1. The burden of Babylon From this chapter down to the twenty-fourth, the Prophet foretells what dreadful and shocking calamities awaited the Gentiles and those countries which were best known to the Jews, either on account of their being contiguous to them, or on account of the transactions of commerce and alliances; and he does so not without weighty reasons. When various changes are taking place, some think that God sports with the affairs of men, and others, that everything is directed by the blind violence of fortune, as profane history sufficiently testifies; very few are aware that these things are appointed and regulated by the purpose of God. There is nothing of which it is more difficult to convince men than that the providence of God governs this world. Many indeed acknowledge it in words, but very few have it actually engraven on their heart. We tremble and shudder at the very smallest change, and we inquire into the causes, as if it depended on the decision of men. What then shall be done, when the whole world is thrown into commotion, and the face of affairs is so completely changed in various places, that it appears as if everything were going to ruin?
It was therefore highly useful that Isaiah and other prophets should discourse about calamities of this nature, that all might understand that those calamities did not take place but by the secret and wonderful purpose of God. If they had uttered no prediction on those subjects, such a disordered state of affairs might have shaken and disturbed the minds of the godly; but when they knew long beforehand that this would happen, they had in the event itself a mirror of the providence of God. When Babylon was taken, which they had previously learned from the mouth of the Prophet, their own experience taught them that the prediction had not been made in vain, or without solid grounds.
But there was also another reason why the Lord commanded that the destruction of Babylon and other nations should be foretold. These predictions were of no advantage to Babylon or the other nations, and these writings did not reach them; but by this consolation he intended to alleviate the grief of the godly, that they might not be discouraged, as if their condition were worse than that of the Gentiles; which they would have had good reason to conclude, if they had seen them unpunished escape the hand of God. If the monarchy of Babylon had remained unshaken, the Jews would not only have thought that it was in vain for them to worship God, and that his covenant which he had made with Abraham had not been fulfilled, since it fared better with strangers and wicked men than with the elect people; but a worse suspicion might have crept into their minds, that God showed favor to accursed robbers, who gave themselves up to deeds of dishonesty and violence, and despised all law both human and divine. Indeed, they might soon have come to think that God did not care for his people, or could not assist them, or that everything was directed by the blind violence of fortune. Accordingly, that they might not faint or be thrown into despair, the Prophet meets them with the consoling influence of this prediction, showing that the Babylonians also will be punished.
Besides, the comparison taught them how severe was the punishment that awaited them, which they had knowingly and willingly brought upon themselves. For if God pronounces such dreadful threatenings against the unbelieving and irreligious Gentiles, who wandered in darkness, how much greater will be his rigour and severity against a rebellious people who have intentionally sinned against him!
The servant who knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, is justly beaten with many stripes. (Luke 12:47.)
Thus when God threatened such dreadful punishment against the blind Gentiles, the Jews, who had been instructed in the law, might behold as in a mirror what they had deserved.
But the chief design which Isaiah had in view in these predictions was, to point out to the Jews how dear and valuable their salvation was in the sight of God, when they saw that he undertook their cause and revenged the injuries which had been done to them. He spoke first of the desolation and ruin that would befall the kingdom of Judah and of Israel, because judgment must begin at the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17.) God takes a peculiar care of his own people, and gives his chief attention to them. Whenever therefore we read these predictions, let us learn to apply them to our use. The Lord does not indeed, at the present day, foretell the precise nature of those events which shall befall kingdoms and nations; but yet the government of the world, which he undertook, is not abandoned by him. Whenever therefore we behold the destruction of cities, the calamities of nations, and the overturning of kingdoms, let us call those predictions to remembrance, that we may be humbled under God’s chastisements, may learn to gather wisdom from the affliction of others, and may pray for an alleviation of our own grief.
The burden. As to the word burden, which frequently occurs, I shall state briefly in what sense it ought to be understood. It was generally employed by the prophets of God, whenever they threatened any afflictive event, in order to inform the people that no afflictive event happened which the Lord himself did not lay as a burden on men’s shoulders. The wickedness and obstinacy of the people having constrained the prophets to preach incessantly about God’s chastisements, the consequence was, that as a matter of ordinary jesting they called all the prophecies by the name of a burden; as is evident from Jeremiah 23:36, where the Lord kindles into fierce indignation, because they not only spoke of his word contemptuously, but also held it up to dislike. This word makes known to the godly, that the Lord appoints all calamities and afflictions, that every one may suffer the punishment of his own sin.
Which Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw. He expressly states that what he is about to utter was revealed to him by a heavenly vision, that the weight which is thus given to it may render it victorious over all the judgments pronounced by the flesh. It was difficult to believe that a monarchy so flourishing, and so prodigiously rich, could be overturned in any way. Their eyes being dazzled by beholding such vast power, the Prophet draws away their attention from it to believe the heavenly revelation, that they may expect by faith the judgment of God which they could not comprehend by the unaided exercise of their own minds.
2. Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain. The word mountain contains a metaphor; for the discourse relates to Babylon, which, we know, was situated on a plain; but with a view to its extensive dominion, he has assigned to it an elevated situation, like a fortress set on high above all nations. But perhaps it will be thought better to take the word mountain as used indefinitely; as if he had said, “When a signal is given there will be a vast assemblage from very distant countries, because all men will be attracted towards it by the wide and extensive influence of the sight;” and, indeed, I consider this opinion to be more probable, but I chose to mention at first the opinion which had been commonly received. Yet it might be thought absurd that the Prophet here enjoins the creatures to yield, as it were, obedience to him, if God had not fortified the Prophet by his instructions and authority. A private man here commands the Medes and Persians, assembles armies, orders a banner to be lifted up, and sounds the trumpet for battle.
This should therefore lead us to consider the majesty of God, in whose name he spoke, and likewise the power and efficacy which is always joined with the word. Such modes of expression are frequently found in the Prophets, that, by placing the events as it were before our eyes, he may enable us to see that God threatens nothing by his servants which he is not ready immediately to execute. Isaiah might indeed have threatened in plain and direct terms, “The Persians and Medes will come, and will burst through the gates of Babylon, notwithstanding the prodigious strength of its fortifications.” But those exclamations are far more energetic, when he not only assumes the character of a herald and proclaims war, but, as if he exercised the highest authority, orders the Medes and Persians to assemble like hired soldiers. Not only does he show that they will be ready at the bidding of God, because they are moved by his secret influence; but, having been sent by God to announce the ruin of Babylon, he claims for his own voice the accomplishment of what appeared to be beyond belief. It amounts to this, “When God hath spoken about what shall happen, we ought to entertain no doubt concerning it.” It deserves our notice also, that he describes the Persians and Medes, without mentioning their names; for that threatening is more emphatic, when he points them out, as it were, with the finger, as when we say, “This and that man.” This contributes to the certainty of the prophecy, when he points out such distant events as if they were at hand.
Shake the hand, that they may enter within the gates of the nobles. When he says, Shake the hand, and they shall enter, he means that the Persians and Medes shall no sooner begin to advance at the command of God than their road shall be plain and easy in spite of every obstruction. Though the Hebrews call Princes נדיבים, ( Nedibim,) that is, generous and bountiful, on which is also founded that saying of Christ, εὐεργέται καλοῦνται, they are called benefactors, (Luke 22:25,) yet I think that the Prophet draws our attention to the splendor of power in which the Babylonians gloried. They were furnished above others with forces and warlike armaments, so that it appeared to be incredible that they could ever be vanquished. But the Prophet threatens that nothing shall hinder God from opening up a way and entrance to the enemies.
3. I have commanded my sanctified ones. (198) Here the Prophet introduces the Lord as speaking and issuing his commands. He calls the Medes and Persians sanctified ones, that is, those whom he has prepared. The verb קדש ( kadash) is used in various senses; for sometimes it refers to the spirit of regeneration, and this belongs peculiarly to the elect of God. But sometimes it means to wish or prepare, and that meaning is more appropriate to this passage. All who are created by the Lord are likewise appointed by him for a fixed purpose. He does not throw down men at random on the earth, to go wherever they please, but guides all by his secret purpose, and regulates and controls the violent passions of the reprobate, so as to drive them in whatever manner he thinks fit, and to check and restrain them according to his pleasure. He therefore calls them sanctified ones, “set apart and prepared to execute his will,” though they had no such intention. Hence also we are taught to ascribe to the secret judgment of God all violent commotions, and this yields wonderful consolation; for whatever attempts may be made by wicked men, yet they will accomplish nothing but what the Lord has decreed.
I have also called my mighty ones. The phrase, I have called, conveys more than the phrase, I have commanded, which he had used in the former clause. It means that they will be roused to action, not only at the bidding of God, but by the very sound of his voice; as if I were to call a person to me, and he were immediately to follow. He threatens, therefore, that Babylon shall be destroyed by the Medes and Persians, in the same manner as if they obeyed the call of God; for though they were prompted to battle by their own ambition, pride, and cruelty, yet God directed them, without knowing it, to execute his judgment.
(198) “ My appointed ones. ” קדש ( kadash) is to select and set apart for a work, particularly for one of God’s appointment. See Jeremiah 22:7, Zephaniah 1:7. — Stock
FT190 The LORD and the weapons of his indignation. — Eng. Ver.
FT191 From the Almighty. — Eng. Ver.
FT192 “ שד משדי ( shod mishshaddai). This title of God is here employed for the sake of the alliteration, destruction from the destroyer, from him who is all-powerful to destroy ( שדד) ( shadad) as well as to save.” — Rosenmuller
FT193 By a happy coincidence, the English word panic conveys exactly the meaning of the Latin adjective Panicus , which is here said to be derived from the name of the heathen God Pan, the god of the mountains, cattle, &c. — Ed
FT194 Their faces shall be as flames. (Heb. faces of the flames.) — Eng. Ver. “ Faces of flames shall be their faces. ” — Stock
FT195 See Xen. Cyr., book 7, chapter 5.
FT196 Jarchi quotes the words, to add the drunken to the thirsty, (Deuteronomy 29:19,) add year to year, (Isaiah 29:1,) and add burnt-offerings to your sacrifices, (Jeremiah 7:21,) and his annotator Breithaupt translates the verb ספה ( saphah) by a word in his native French, accueillir , which means to gather, or flock together. — Ed
FT197 Which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. — Eng. Ver.
FT198 Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces. — Eng. Ver.
FT199 Shall be as when God overthrew. (Heb. as the overthrowing.)--Eng. Ver.
FT200 But wild beasts of the desert (Heb. Ziim) shall lie there. — Eng. Ver.
FT201 It is a gratifying proof of the progress of knowledge and of the decay of superstition, that such words as Hobgoblins, Hob-thrushes, Robin-goodfellows, and even Fairies, answering to the grotesque names which Calvin has brought from his own vernacular, have grown antiquated, and are not likely to be replaced by terms of modern date. Howell’s definition of Loup-garou is a curious record of superstitious belief. “A mankind Wolfe, such a one as once being flesht on men, and children, will rather starve than feed on any thing else; also, one that, possessed with an extream and strange melancholy, beleeves he is turned Wolfe, and as a Wolfe behaves himselfe,” etc. — Ed
FT202 And the wild beasts of the islands (Heb. Iim) shall cry. — Eng. Ver.
FT203 And hyoenas shall cry in their palaces, and jackals in their tabernacles of delight. — Stock
4. The noise of a multitude in the mountains. He adds a still more lively representation, ( ὑποτύπωσιν,) that is, a description by which he places the event as it were before our eyes. The prophets are not satisfied with speaking, without also giving a bold picture of the events themselves. Words uttered plainly, and in the ordinary manner, do not strike us so powerfully or move our hearts so much as those figures which delineate a lively resemblance of the events. As if he had said, “Now, indeed, you hear a man speaking, but know that this voice will be so powerful that at the sound of it nations shall be roused, peoples shall make a noise, and in vast crowds shall shout and roar to bring destruction on the inhabitants of Babylon. This proclamation, therefore, will be as efficacious, even after that I am dead, as if you now saw what I foretell to you.”
In this event, therefore, we see how great is the efficacy of the word, which all the creatures both in heaven and in earth obey. We ought to be more strongly confirmed in the belief of this doctrine, by perceiving that every one of the events which had been predicted many centuries before has taken place. For this reason he declares that the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle, that the various nations are moved by God’s direction, and that, although nothing was farther from their intention than to inflict the punishment which he had appointed, still they do nothing but according to his command, as if some earthly general were to draw up his forces.
5. Coming from a distant country. He repeats and confirms more fully what I stated a little before, that the operations of war do not spring up at random from the earth; for though everything disorderly is vomited out by the passions of men, yet God rules on high; and therefore Isaiah justly ascribes sovereignty to God. Next, he adds, that armed men are nothing else than the weapons of his indignation. He says that they will come from a distant country, to overturn the monarchy of Babylon, because we are not afraid of dangers unless when they are close at hand. Babylon was so strongly fortified, and was surrounded by so many kingdoms and provinces which were subject to it, that it seemed as if there were no way by which an enemy could approach. In short, as if she had been situated in the clouds, she dreaded no danger.
From the end of heaven. There being no trouble all around that threatened them, he gives warning that the calamity will come from a distance. Though everything appears to be calm and peaceful, and though we are not at variance with our neighbors, God can bring enemies from the end of heaven. There is no reason, therefore, why we should promise to ourselves a lasting and prosperous condition, though we are not threatened with any immediate danger. If this prediction had reached the inhabitants of Babylon, they would undoubtedly have laughed at it as a fable. Even if we should suppose that they paid some respect to the Prophet, yet, having so strong a conviction of their safety, they would have despised those threatenings as idle and groundless. An example may be easily found. When we preach at the present day about the Turk, all think that it is a fable, because they think that he is still at a great distance from us. But we see how quickly he overtook those who were at a greater distance and more powerful. So great is the insensibility of men that they cannot be aroused, unless they are chastised and made to feel the blows. Let the inhabitants of Babylon, therefore, be a warning to us, to dread, before it is too late, the threatenings which the prophets utter, that the same thing may not happen to us as happens to those wicked men, who, relying on their prosperous condition, are so terrified when the hand of God attacks and strikes them, that they can no longer stand, but sink down bewildered.
To destroy the whole land. When he puts the whole land for Babylon, he looks to the extent of the kingdom; that they may not think that the great number of provinces, by which they were surrounded on all sides, could ward off the attacks of enemies. But at the same time he intimates that it will be no slight calamity affecting a single spot, but will be like a deluge overwhelming a large portion of the world.
Jehovah and the vessels of his anger. (199) The Persians and Medes are called vessels of anger in a different sense from that in which Paul gives that appellation to all the reprobate; for, by contrasting the vessels of wrath with the vessels of mercy, (Romans 9:22,) he shows that the undeserved goodness of God shines in the elect, but that the reprobate are monuments of severe judgment. But Isaiah means that the Medes and Persians may be regarded as darts in the hand of God, that by means of them he may execute his vengeance.
(199) Bogus footnote
6. Howl ye. He continues the same argument, and bids the inhabitants of Babylon howl. Not that he directs instruction to them, as if he hoped that it would be of any advantage, but, in foretelling what shall be their condition, he emphatically employs this form of direct address.
For the day of the Lord is at hand. He calls it the day of the Lord, according to the usual custom of Scripture, because when the Lord delays his judgment, he appears to cease from the discharge of his office, like judges when they do not ascend the judgment-seat. This mode of expression deserves notice, for we would gladly subject God to our disposal, that he might immediately pass sentence against the wicked. But he has his own appointed time, and knows the seasons when it is proper both to punish the bad and to assist the good.
It shall come as destruction from the Strong One. (200) He threatens that the severity of judgment will be such that the inhabitants of Babylon will have good reason not only to cry but to howl; because God displays his power to waste and destroy them. שדד ( shadad) signifies to lay waste and plunder. From this verb is derived שדי, ( Shaddai,) one of the names of God, which some render Almighty. There is therefore an elegant allusion to the derivation of the word; as if he had said, that the inhabitants of Babylon shall learn by their own destruction how appropriately God is called שדי, ( Shaddai,) that is, strong and powerful to destroy. (201)
(200) Bogus footnote
(201) Bogus footnote
7. Therefore all hands shall be weakened. He shows that the power of the Lord to destroy the inhabitants of Babylon will be so great, that they shall have no means of withstanding his anger. Though they stood high in wealth and in power, yet their hearts would be so faint, and their hands so weak, that they would have neither disposition nor ability to resist. And thus he indirectly ridicules the cruelty which boiled in the hearts of the Babylonians; for it is in the power of God to soften hearts, and to crush, loosen, or enfeeble hands or arms, so that suddenly all their courage shall fall down, and all their strength shall vanish away. When the heart quakes, what will be the use of fortifications, or armies, or wealth, or bulwarks? What avails a well-stocked workshop without a workman? We see this every day exemplified in those to whom in other respects the Lord had communicated large resources. Hence we see how vain is that confidence which we place in outward resources; for they would be of no use to us, if the Lord should strike our hearts with any alarm.
8. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them. The word צירים ( tzirim) being ambiguous, the Greek translators render it ambassadors. But the comparison of a woman that travaileth, which is added immediately afterwards, sufficiently proves that it denotes pangs; for here, as if by a single word, he explains what he had previously said, that their hearts shall be melted and their hands shall be weakened; because, he says, they shall be struck with terror and dismay. Whence comes this terror? From God. This kind of terror, for which there was no apparent cause, the ancients called a panic; (202) for they gave the name panes to apparitions and objects of this sort, by which men were terrified, even when there was no outward object that ought to have excited the terror. It was not without reason that they did so; but still they erred through gross ignorance, because they did not understand that it proceeded from God.
As a woman that travaileth. So far as relates to the inhabitants of Babylon, there was, indeed, just ground of fear, when they saw that they were attacked by valiant and warlike nations; but yet the Prophet threatens that, though they were able to resist, still they would be like men who were half dead, because through the secret operation of God they fainted and fell down. To the same purpose is what he adds, Every one shall be amazed at his neighbor; as when men are agitated and stare around them in every direction; and not only so, but when no hope of safety is to be seen, they are like men who have lost their senses, and abandon themselves to indolence.
Faces of flames their faces. (203) This clause, in which he attributes to them faces of flames, expresses still more strongly the violence of the terror. Some think that it denotes shame, as if he had said in a single word, They shall blush; but this is too feeble. Isaiah intended to express something greater and more dreadful; for when we are in agony the face glows, and the pressure of grief makes us burn. And, indeed, it would be treating the matter too lightly, when the calamity was so severe, to interpret these words as denoting shame; for he describes a calamity so distressing, that, on account of its severity, flames burst forth from the countenance, which usually happens when men are agonized by intense grief.
The comparison of a travailing woman denotes not only the intensity of the grief, but likewise the suddenness with which it seized them. As the calamity would be severe and violent, so Isaiah threatens that it will be sudden, and not without good reason; for the inhabitants of Babylon, protected by such strong defences, would never have thought that it was possible for any annoyance to reach or distress them.
(202) Bogus footnote
(203) Bogus footnote
9. Behold the day of the Lord will come cruel. He repeats what he had slightly noticed a little before, that though the inhabitants of Babylon are now at ease, and rely on their wealth, the day of the Lord is at hand, to terrify those who are at ease.
But a question might here be raised, Why is the day of the Lord called cruel, since nothing is more desirable than to have God present with us; for his presence alone makes us truly happy? I answer, we ought always to consider who they are that are addressed by the Prophet; for it is customary with the prophets to give various descriptions of God corresponding to the diversity of the hearers. In like manner, David also declares that God is
merciful to the merciful, and cruel and severe to the ungodly. (Psalms 18:25.)
What could wicked men imagine to be in God but the utmost severity? And therefore the slightest mention of God fills them with terror.
The godly, on the other hand, whenever the name of God is mentioned, derive the greatest delight and joy from hearing it; so that nothing can be more highly gratifying. Thus, when the prophets address the godly, as soon as they have mentioned God, they speak of joy and gladness, because the godly will feel that he is gracious and merciful to them; but when they address the ungodly, they hold out the judgment of God, and speak of grief and mourning. As the godly are cheered by the presence of God, because by faith they behold his goodness; so the ungodly are terrified, because the testimony of their conscience reproves and convinces them that he comes as a severe Judge. Since even hypocrites pretend that they eagerly long for the day of the Lord, and boast that he will assist them, the prophets tear off from them this disguise, and show that to them the day of the Lord will be dreadful and alarming. (Amos 5:18.)
Isaiah applies the usual description to this prophecy, in order to show more fully how much we ought to dread the wrath of God; for, being by nature slow, or rather stupid, we would not be powerfully affected if the Lord spoke in plain terms about his judgments. Since, therefore, an unadorned style would be too cold, he contrived new modes of expression, that by means of them he might shake off our sluggishness. When he says, and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it, he means by sinners not all men without distinction, but the ungodly and wicked men who inhabited Babylon.
10. For the stars of heaven. In order to strike our minds with a stronger and more distressing fear of the judgment of God, the prophets are accustomed to add to their threatenings extravagant modes of speaking, which place the anger of God, as it were, before their eyes, and affect all our senses, as if all the elements were now arising to execute his vengeance. And yet the expressions, though unusually strong, do not go beyond the dreadful nature of what took place; for it is impossible to exhibit an image of the judgment of God so alarming that the reality shall not be felt to be more revolting and terrible.
The sun, and the moon, and the stars are mentioned, because they are striking proofs of God’s fatherly kindness towards us. Hence also Christ shows that it is an eminent proof of the goodness of God that
he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. (Matthew 5:45.)
Accordingly, when the sun and moon and stars shine in heaven, God may be said to cheer us by his bright and gracious countenance. Since therefore in the brightness of heaven God shows a cheerful and friendly countenance, as if he might be said to smile upon us, the darkness which the Prophet describes conveys the thought, that God, by hiding his face, cast the men with whom he was angry into the darkness of sorrow.
A similar description is given by the Prophet Joel.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, the moon into blood, before it comes — the day of Jehovah, great and terrible. (Joel 2:31.)
We have already said that this mode of expression is frequently employed by the prophets, in order to inform us that everything will tend to our destruction, when God is against us. Sometimes indeed God gives tokens of his anger by means of the stars; but that is out of the usual course of events, and the darkness which the Prophet now describes will not take place till the second coming of Christ. But we ought to be satisfied with knowing that all the creatures, which by discharging their duties to us are proofs and instruments of God’s fatherly kindness, not only cease to be useful to us, when God arises to judgment, but in some measure are armed for vengeance.
11. And I will visit upon the world wickedness. Here the Prophet does not speak of the whole world; but as Babylon was the seat of the most powerful of all monarchies, he gives to it on that account the name of the world, and he does so emphatically, ( ἐμφατικῶς,) for Babylon was a kind of world, because it appeared to occupy nearly the whole earth. And yet he means that there is nothing in this world so lofty that God cannot easily seize it with one of his fingers. At the same time he gives warning that God will punish the cruelty which was exercised by the Chaldeans. Yet we ought also to learn that the wickedness and crimes of Babylon are brought forward, in order to inform us that the Lord will not be cruel in punishing her so severely, because he inflicts the punishment which that people deserved on account of their transgressions and crimes. Every ground of calumny is therefore taken away, that we may not think that God delights in the afflictions of men; for when he thus deals with men according as they deserve, the mouths of all must be stopped, (Romans 3:19,) since the severity of the afflictions does not proceed from God, but finds its cause in men themselves.
And will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease. We must keep in mind what I have already noticed, that the Prophet yields no small consolation to the godly by assuring them that God, though he spares the inhabitants of Babylon for a time, will at length punish them for their injustice and cruelty. He expresses this still more clearly by taking notice of a particular vice, namely, pride, in consequence of which they loosed the reins, and gave unbounded freedom to their lawless desires to oppress the wretched. For this reason also he reproves their tyranny. But we ought also to draw from it a profitable doctrine, that it is impossible for us to escape punishment from the Lord, if we are puffed up with vain confidence and flatter ourselves. The Prophet here includes every kind of pride; whether men think that they are something, or admire their riches, and despise others in comparison of themselves. God cannot endure any arrogancy, or suffer it to pass unpunished. Seeing therefore, that among a great variety of other crimes with which Babylon abounded, this was the greatest and most remarkable, it was chiefly by their pride that the wrath of God was kindled.
And will lay low the loftiness of tyrants. Arrogance was joined, as it usually is, to violence and cruelty; and therefore he adds the loftiness of tyrants; for when men despise others, this is followed by deeds of violence and injustice and oppression; and it is impossible for men to abstain from doing harm to others, if they do not lay aside all conceit and high estimation of themselves. Let us willingly, therefore, bring down our minds to true humility, if we do not wish to be cast down and laid low to our destruction.
12. I will make a man more precious than pure gold. Here he describes in a particular manner how cruel and savage will be the war that is carried on against Babylon. In like manner believers, instructed by these predictions, implore in the spirit of prophecy what is the utmost exertion of the cruelty exercised in wars, that the Persians and Medes may tear the infants from their mothers’ breasts, and dash them against the stones. (Psalms 137:9.) The general meaning is, that Babylon will not only be destroyed, but will be devoted to utter extermination; for when he says that the life of a man shall be more precious than gold, he asserts that the enemies will be so eager to shed blood, that it will be impossible to rescue a man out of their hands at any price, because they will choose rather to kill than to accept a ransom.
It may be asked, Was this destruction as cruel as Isaiah here describes it to be? For history gives a different account, and Daniel himself, who was an eye-witness of this destruction, relates that the city was only taken, for the Medes and Persians spared the citizens and inhabitants. This argument has constrained some commentators to apply allegorically to all the reprobate what is here related of Babylon; but in doing so they have overstrained the passage, for shortly afterwards (Isaiah 13:17) the Prophet names the Medes and Persians. Besides, those threatenings which will afterwards follow in their proper order, against the Edomites, Moabites, the inhabitants of Tyre and of Egypt, and other nations, sufficiently show that the present discourse is directed literally against the Chaldeans, to whom the Prophet assigns the first rank; not that their destruction was as close at hand as that of other nations, but because none of the enemies of the Church were more dangerous.
It ought to be observed that Isaiah did not utter this prediction while the monarchy of Nineveh was still flourishing; but all that he predicted against heathen nations, during the whole course of his ministry, was collected into one book. Thus the order of events was not observed, but a similarity of subject was the reason why all these prophecies were put into one place. How comes it that Isaiah takes no notice of Nineveh, since he afterwards mentions that the Assyrians alone attacked the Jews, (for the Babylonians lived at peace with them,) but because he does not relate the history of his own time till the Isaiah 23:1, but prophesies about the judgments of God which happened after his death?
Now, when he declares that Babylon will be utterly destroyed, it is certain that he does not merely describe a single calamity, but includes the destruction which followed long afterwards. After having been subdued by the Persians, Babylon continued to flourish, and held the name and rank of a very celebrated city. And although the city Ctesiphon was founded for the purpose of attracting a portion of its splendor and wealth, yet the convenience of its situation, the costly buildings, and the fortifications of the city, rendered it, with the exception of royal rank, not inferior to Persis. Even after the death of Alexander the Great, when Seleucia was built at no great distance, still it could not obliterate the name and reputation of the ancient city. Hence we conclude that those events which are here foretold cannot be limited to a single period.
It is not without reason, however, that the Prophet pronounces such fearful threatening against them, since the revolution of the empire was the forerunner of the various calamities which followed afterwards. Though the people were not entirely slain, yet as the city was taken by storm, and by a sudden assault at the hour of midnight, while the whole court was carousing in drunken revels, it was impossible but that the Medes and Persians must have slain all that came in their way. There can be no doubt, therefore, that there was a great slaughter before the conquerors extended their protection to the whole of the people as having surrendered at discretion. Who can doubt that this haughty nation was roughly handled by barbarian conquerors, for in no other way could it have been reduced to obedience?
Having been gradually weakened, not long afterwards, Babylon again changed its master, and, after having been governed for a short period by Alexander, king of Macedon, immediately passed under the dominion of Seleucus, who endeavored by every method to degrade it till it was completely ruined. Thus, so long as God permitted the city to remain in existence, it presented a shameful and revolting spectacle to the whole world, that the accomplishment of the prophecy might be more evident and more impressive. Hence the Prophet Isaiah has good reason for asserting that the anger of God will not be appeased till that den of robbers be utterly destroyed.
A mortal and a man. So far as relates to the words, some translators render אנוש ( enosh) a warlike or eminent man, and אדם ( adam) an ordinary man. But as the etymology does not correspond to this view, and as I do not think that it occurred to the Prophet’s mind, I consider it to be rather a repetition of the same sentiment, such as we know to have been customary among the Hebrews. The word פז, ( paz,) which, in common with other translators, I have rendered pure gold, is supposed by some to mean a pearl; but from many passages of Scripture we conclude that it is the purest and finest gold
13. Therefore I will shake the heavens. This is another figure of speech which contributes in a similar manner to heighten the picture. God cannot too earnestly urge this doctrine, not only to terrify the wicked, but to afford consolation to the godly, who are often distressed when it is well with the wicked, and when everything succeeds to their wish. David acknowledges that this happened to himself; for he says,
Surely in vain have I purified my heart, and washed any hands in innocency. (Psalms 73:13.)
Properly, therefore, are these pictures set before our eyes, that they may plainly declare to us the destruction of the wicked. Thus it is as if Isaiah had said, “Though heaven and earth be moved, that the ungodly may be shaken and destroyed, nevertheless this will take place.” They think that they are out of all danger, and that they have struck their roots so deep that they cannot be rooted out; but he shows that they are greatly deceived, for the Lord will move both heaven and earth rather than not cast them down headlong. Hence it follows that, though the world present to us a thousand supports both above and below, still there will be no permanency but through the favor of God. And if this is made known in judgments of God relating to particular cases, how much more in the universal judgment, when Christ will ascend his magnificent judgment-seat, to destroy the ungodly!
14. And it shall be as the chased roe. He shows that auxiliary troops will be of no avail to the Babylonians, and by these comparisons he describes the fear which shall seize the soldiers. Babylon employed not only her own soldiers, but likewise foreign and hired soldiers. He says that they will all be like roes, which are timorous creatures, and like scattered sheep, so that they will neither repair to their standards or their post, nor preserve any order.
Every one to his own land. Hence it is easily seen that the Prophet speaks, not only of the natives, or even of the strangers who had formerly dwelt there, but of foreigners who had been brought for the protection of the city. We have formerly said that the hearts of men are in the hand of God in such a manner that, according to his pleasure, either those who formerly were timid or cowardly persons suddenly acquire fresh courage, or those who formerly boasted loudly of being bold and daring lose their fierceness and become effeminate.
15. Every one that is found shall be thrust through. Here he confirms what he had formerly said, that none shall escape from Babylon, and that all who shall be there shall perish. Xenophon also relates that, by the command of Cyrus, they slew every one that they met in the beginning of the night, and next day all that had not laid down their arms. (204) But we have already said that the prediction extends farther; for that slaughter was only the forerunner of others, for which Babylon was purposely preserved, that it might frequently be ruined.
And every one that is joined to them shall fall by the sword. Some translators render this clause differently from what I have done; because the Hebrew verb ספה ( saphah) signifies to destroy or consume, they read it, Whosoever shall be destroyed, and explain it as relating to the old men, who were already worn out with age, and could not otherwise live longer; as if he had said, “Not even the men of advanced age, who are sinking into the grave, shall be spared, even though they are half-dead, and appear to be already giving up the ghost.” But because that is a feeble interpretation, and the verb ספה ( saphah) signifies likewise to add, I rather agree with Jonathan (205) and others, who think that it denotes companies of soldiers, as in taking a city the soldiers are collected together in the form of a wedge, to ward off the attacks of the enemy. But it will perhaps be thought better to understand by it the confederates or allies who were joined to Babylon, and might be said to be united in the same body, in order to show more fully the shocking nature of this calamity.
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16. Their children shall be dashed in pieces. He draws a picture of extreme cruelty. It is the utmost pitch of ferocity exercised by an invading army, when no age is spared, and infants, whose age makes it impossible for them to defend themselves, are slain. He represents it as still more shocking, when he adds, “ in the sight of their parents.” To the same purpose is what follows about plundering houses and ravishing wives; for these things happen when the enemies have forgotten all humanity, and are inflamed to cruelty, and wish that those whom they have subdued, and even their very name, should be rooted out.
17. Behold I raise up against them the Medes. The Prophet, having predicted the destruction of the Babylonians, describes also the authors, or says that God will be the author; and at the same time he explains in what manner, and by means of whom, it will be accomplished; for he says that he will raise up the Medes. He certainly could not have conjectured this by human reason, for there were no jealousies and no quarrels between the Babylonians and the Medes; and if there had been any such, what power did the Medes at that time possess that they could do the Babylonians any harm? Seeing, therefore, that no preparations had been made for the Medes carrying on war against them, it is very certain that this was spoken by divine inspiration, and more especially since he foretold these events more than a hundred years before they took place.
Who shall not think of silver, nor desire gold. (206) When he says that they shall not be covetous of silver and gold, he does not mean that the Medes were not guilty of plundering and covetousness, as if they were so generous that they despised gold and silver; but, on the contrary, he means that the battle will be cruel and bloody, that they will aim at nothing but a general slaughter. For example, the Spaniards of the present day, making it their chief object in war to plunder, more readily spare the life of men, and are not so bloodthirsty as the Germans or the English, who think of nothing but slaying the enemy.
We ought not to think it strange that the Lord, though he is not cruel, yet makes use of agents who are so cruel, for he acts righteously even by the agency of wicked men, and is not stained with their wickedness. It would therefore be improper to form our judgment of the work of God from the executioners of it, for they are prompted either by ambition, or by covetousness, or by cruelty; but we ought to consider God’s righteous punishment which the Babylonians deserved on account of their transgressions.
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18. And with bows they shall dash in pieces the children. (207) Some render it, they shall cut. They think that the language is exaggerated, as if they made use of the children of the Babylonians in place of arrows, and afterwards dashed them to the ground, that they might be broken with greater violence. But I choose rather to take a more simple view of the words, that the cruelty of the Medes will be so great, that they will not spare even infant children, on whom men do not commonly lay hands unless where there is the utmost barbarity; and, in short, that no allowance will be made for age, as we have formerly said.
But we do not read that the Medes exercised so great cruelty, and Babylon stood and flourished for a very long period after that calamity; and although the seat of the empire was removed from it, still it retained its name and reputation. Besides, after the dawn of the following day, no cruelty was exercised but against those who bore arms. Though it was the Prophet’s design to include other judgments of God which awaited the Babylonians, and by which the first calamity was followed long afterwards, yet it is not improperly or unseasonably that he describes the barbarous manners of the nation, that the Jews may be more fully aware that a just reward is prepared for the tyranny of Babylon. Nor can it be doubted that it was in reliance on this promise that believers afterwards presented that prayer;
Blessed is he who shall dash thy little ones against the stones. (Psalms 137:9.)
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19. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms. Here the Prophet intended to give a brief summary of his prophecy about the Babylonians, but enlarges it by some additions tending to show more fully that it will be completely destroyed. In this manner do the prophets speak of the punishment of the wicked, so as to leave no room for compassion by which they may relieve their minds. But the godly, though they may sometimes think that they are severely chastised, are yet supported by the confident hope that the Lord will have compassion on them, and will not altogether destroy them. Hence we may conclude that we ought not always to judge from outward appearances; for we would often think that the children of God are ruined when their salvation is at hand even in the midst of death.
Of Sodom and Gomorrah. This example is frequently employed by the Prophets, in order to inform us that, though the mode of punishment be not the same, yet, since the judgment of God is impartial, that memorable display which he gave in Sodom (Genesis 19:24) has a reference to all the reprobate, and that not less dreadful punishment awaits those who are hardened by similar obstinacy in their sins. They distinguish between the punishment of the elect people and the punishment of the wicked by this circumstance, that God reserves some seed for the Israelites, but none for the ungodly, which agrees with the words which we formerly met with,
Unless the Lord of hosts had left us a seed, we should have been like Sodom. (Isaiah 1:9.)
But he pursues the wicked with vengeance that cannot be appeased, and therefore he threatens against them the same destruction which was executed against the inhabitants of Sodom, that is, utter perdition without any hope of escape.
Shall be like God’s overthrowing. (208) He says that it is God’s overthrowing, that we may not think that it happens by chance, or that it has proceeded from the will of men. As it was not at random that the thunderbolt fell from heaven on Sodom, so it was not at random that Babylon fell down, but by the righteous vengeance of God, who, being always like himself, executed righteous judgment on them; and in like manner will execute the same judgment on all the reprobate till the end.
When Babylon is called the glory of kingdoms and splendid brightness, this is added for the sake of amplification, ( πρὸς αὔξησιν,) in order to inform us, that no glory or splendor can hinder God from bringing the wicked to nought; for that overturn, having been incredible, afforded a more remarkable proof of Divine power.
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20. It shall never be inhabited any more. By the verb תשב, ( thesheb,) shall sit, he means continuance; as if he had said, “There is no hope of restoring Babylon.” All these forms of expression have precisely the same object, that the Babylonians will be destroyed with such a destruction that their ruin shall be perpetual. The picture is still further heightened by adding, that the desolation will be so great that in that place neither will the Arabians pitch their tents, nor the shepherds their folds That place must have been marvellously forsaken and uncultivated, when it was disregarded by those roving tribes; for the Arabians were a wandering and unsettled nation, and had no fixed abode. Having left their native country, because it was barren, and is therefore called Arabia Deserta, (for it is of that country that we speak,) they devoted themselves to feeding flocks and to hunting, and wandered without any fixed residence; for which reason also the Greeks called them σκηνήται, ( skenetai,) dwellers in tents. Now the country around Babylon was exceedingly fertile before that calamity, which rendered this change the more astonishing and almost miraculous, either because the place lost its former fertility, or because the constant slaughter made all men abhor the sight of it. Undoubtedly the Prophet means that not only will the buildings be thrown down, but the very soil will be accursed.
21. But the Ziim shall lie there. (209) He continues the description of a desert place, and alludes to what he had formerly said, that Babylon will be destitute of inhabitants. In what way ציים ( tziim) ought to be translated I cannot easily say, on account of the diversity in the opinions of translators, who differ in this, as in various names of animals and herbs. The use of these things did not continue among them; and the Jews, who are themselves ignorant and unskilful, do not retain the knowledge of these things, though there are some of them who know nothing about either herbs or animals, and yet have the impudence to boast of being physicians. Of those who think that ציים ( tziim) is the name of a wild animal, some will have it to be a quadruped, and others, a bird; but that is a matter of little importance. For my own part, I have no doubt that the Prophet means either wild beasts which cannot be tamed, or birds which build their nests in distant forests.
It will not be amiss to explain what follows about Satyrs or Pans, who are called by the French, according to the various dialects of the provinces, sometimes Luittons , sometimes Follets , and sometimes Loups-garouz (210) As Satan deludes men by various tricks, so he gives to them various names. It is certain that ציים ( tziim) is often used in Scripture for devils; and it is derived from ציה, ( tziyah,) which means dryness, or, a desert, as איים ( iyim) is derived from אים, ( ayam,) which means to terrify. The Devil performs strange tricks by means of Fauns and Satyrs, and on that account their names are given to him.
The design of the Prophet is to show that the solitude will be so great, that not only will the place be deserted by men, but even the devils will there deceive by their tricks; for the devils avail themselves of the tendency of solitary places to produce terror. As enemies and robbers, by sallying forth from concealed lurking-places, frighten men the more, so devils take advantage of the night and the darkness, and of places distant from the view of men, that they may be able to excite greater terror in those who are naturally timorous.
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22. And Iim shall cry (211) He expresses the same thing as had been formerly said, and shows how dreadful that change will be, in order to make it manifest that it proceeds from the judgment of God, and not from chance. The picture is even heightened by adding that this will take place, not in ordinary buildings, but in delightful palaces (212) While the shortness of time which is here laid down refers to the approaching calamity, it was at the same time necessary that the hope of believers should be held longer in suspense. I have said that Babylon was not so speedily overturned, and that the Medes did not inflict such a calamity upon it that it could be compared to a desert. He therefore said that it would quickly happen, because the beginnings of it were soon afterwards seen; for the Jews ought to have been satisfied with knowing that the punishment had not been threatened without good grounds.
And her time is near. The Holy Spirit also keeps in view our ardor and rashness. We would choose that God should immediately execute his judgments, and punish wicked men whenever we wish. But God knows what is the proper time, for which our eagerness does not allow us to wait. Yet if we would take into consideration his eternity, we should quickly find that by patience we laid the bridle on excessive haste; but as our eagerness can hardly be restrained in any other manner, God sometimes deals with us gently to some extent, by declaring that He will soon come. Again, let us not judge of the shortness of time according to our own views, but, disregarding the days of this life, let us raise our hearts to heaven. Especially let us learn to bow, whenever we are made to feel, even in a small degree, the judgments of God, though he delay their full accomplishment for a longer period.
And her days shall not be prolonged. This second clause is added for confirmation; as if he had said that the Lord hath appointed a day, and that none shall be admitted to obtain a truce.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent