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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 13

Verses 1-22

In the thirteen chapters which follow, the prophet, like a watchman, raises his voice, and denounces woes against all the surrounding nations, and finally against his own country.

Isaiah 13:1 . The burden of Babylon. The LXX merely read ode or song. Isaiah puts his name to it, being fully assured of its truth. The burden of these terrific predictions was laid upon him, he must utter them in the sublimest strains of eloquence.

Isaiah 13:2 . Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain. Babylon is here called a mountain, though built on a plain, because of her power. Jeremiah 51:25. Behold I am against thee, oh destroying mountain. The fourth verse adds, the noise of a multitude on the mountains, which evidently means the nations which Cyrus visited, and from whence he gathered his allies, towards the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates, where they first lifted up their banners against Babylon. A fuller account of the fall of this city we reserve for the forty fifth chapter.

Isaiah 13:10 . The sun shall be darkened. A frequent figure of speech, signifying the total obscuration of a nation, whose sun should never rise again. Thus the Hebrew sun was to be darkened, Matthew 24:29; as Joel and others had foretold. St. John augured the fall of pagan Rome in similar terms. Revelation 6:12-13.

Isaiah 13:12 . The golden wedge of Ophir. That is, as in the original, afri, africa, a country without cold. The Romans called it Africa. The o in Ophir is privative, as in the Saxon orphan, without father; orgild, unfind.

Isaiah 13:14 . And it [the remnant, as in the LXX] shall be as a chased roe.

Isaiah 13:17 . I will stir up the Medes. At that time the Medes were an inconsiderable nation, no way likely to overthrow Babylon.

Isaiah 13:20 . It shall never be inhabited. The ruins of Babylon are discovered as overgrown with various trees, a wide instructive heap, where no Arab can pitch his tent, or feed his flock. The bricks dried in the sun, of which the city was built, would soften and return to clay. Truly the Hebrew prophets were divinely inspired. Had Babylon revived as Rome did, what would have become of the truth of prophecy? Babylon was cursed for a world of blood, and with a malediction which must for ever remain. What a subject for elegy, for rhetoric, for the powers of verse: what a monitress for nations!


Babylon the first and greatest of kingdoms, Babylon the queen of cities, here received its sentence; which sentence the prophets continued to repeat for about one hundred and sixty years before the execution, because they saw a portentous cloud constantly suspended over a proud and bloody people. The national crimes which caused her to sink in the high balances of heaven, are recited at large by Jeremiah and Daniel. Isaiah saw the armies assembling in Media, and the nations joining Cyrus in his circuitous route. They assembled from the end of heaven, Media being the remotest oriental kingdom which the Hebrews knew.

The invading army, called God’s sanctified ones, because of their divine commission, was to meet with no particular opposition. Hence, according to Xenophon’s Cyropædie, Cyrus never had one serious affair in his vast career of conquest.

The nations presently joined him: and in the battle on the plain before Babylon, the immense multitude fled to the city almost on the first onset, except a column of veteran Egyptians. The sun and moon were darkened, which figuratively implies that it was a dark and dismal day for the proud and bloody city, and that the king and his satraps should be confounded in their counsels. All hands were weak, and all hearts faint. How dreadful is the situation of the wicked, when overtaken with the visitations of heaven. They are appalled by terror of conscience, and paralized by the recollection of their crimes. When they cry, heaven mocks, because the age of mercy is past, and the grace of repentance is denied.

The fall of Babylon was to be with immense slaughter. Every one found, and not sheltered in his house, was to be thrust through. So it was for several days after the armies entered the city. Xenophon’s words imply, I think, that every one found in the palaces was put to the sword. The houses, in many cases, were forced for plunder, the little ones dashed to pieces, and the women treated with horrible indignities. Here the human heart unveiled itself on a broad scale; here rage, avarice, and every bad passion took vengeance, not on vanquished victims only, but on helpless infancy, and unprotected innocence. These are scenes which bear the nearest resemblance to hell of any which the history of man affords. And thou, oh God, didst sit all calm in the heavens, and look on in righteous repose. Why didst thou see multitudes bleed, myriads of whom were innocent and helpless, and call thy victors thy sanctified ones? Was it because, instead of repenting, this haughty city sat as a queen, and was hardened in every crime? Was it because those very Babylonians had committed all those atrocities in Jerusalem. Lamentations 5:11, and because they had made Nineveh and so many other cities of the earth without an inhabitant? Oh yes and thy justice which had long been beclouded as to the returns of vengeance, now shone forth with spotless lustre, and all the surrounding nations applauded its equity.

The cite of proud Babylon should be accursed and made desolate. Venomous reptiles should inhabit its ruins; and the satyrs, shaggy and voracious beasts, should make their dens there. After the Medes left it, its glory faded; and when Alexander the great sought to make it a seat of his empire, which would have contradicted these prophecies, God took him away in the thirtieth year of his age. And Seleucus, fixing his residence at Seleucia, about four leagues distant, gradually drew off the inhabitants. Hence Babylon was swept with a besom of destruction; and like Sodom, a monument of God’s vengeance in its ruins, that all the cities of the earth might be instructed by its fall.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.