Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 13

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verse 1


Overview main part 1.2 – Isaiah 13-27

God and the nations

The second part of the first main part (Isaiah 1-35) contains Isaiah 13-27 and can be divided as follows:

1. Prophecy about Babylon (Isaiah 13:1-14:23)
2. Prophecy about Assyria (Isaiah 14:24-14:27)
3. Prophecy about the Philistia (Isaiah 14:28-32)
4. Prophecy about Moab (Isaiah 15:1-16:14)
5. Prophecy about Damascus and Ephraim (Isaiah 17:1-14)
6. Prophecy about Cush (Isaiah 18:1-7)
7. Prophecy about Egypt (Isaiah 19:1-25)
8. Prophecy about Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:1-6)
9. Prophecy about Babylon (Isaiah 21:1-10)
10. Prophecy about Edom (Isaiah 21:11-12)
11. Prophecy about Arabia (Isaiah 21:13-17)
12. Prophecy about Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:1-25)
13. Prophecy about Tyre (Isaiah 23:1-18)
14. The (prophetic) earth is judged (Isaiah 24:1-23)
15. Psalms and predictions of judgment and deliverance (Isaiah 25:1-12)
16. Praise, prayer and prophecy (Isaiah 26:1-21)
17. The restoration of Israel (Isaiah 27:1-13)

Introduction on Isaiah 13

In Isaiah 1-12 the hand of the LORD is stretched out against His people (Isaiah 5:26), but in the part of Isaiah 13-23 the hand of the LORD is stretched out “against all the nations” (Isaiah 14:26). The part of Isaiah 13-23 contains the ’oracles concerning’ or the ‘burdens of’ the heathen peoples in the near east. The word “oracle” or “burden” appears here frequently and makes it clear that these chapters form one whole. “Burden” means that the Word as judgment from God, which first “falls” on Israel (Isaiah 9:8), now also falls on all the nations as a heavy weight.

These chapters are the answer to the call: “Make known His deeds among the peoples” (Isaiah 12:4). Before the nations can praise the LORD (Isaiah 12:4), they must first be cleansed by the judgment of God, just like the people of Israel. The next part, Isaiah 24-27, concerns the whole earth.

There is a danger that we skip these chapters if we read the book of Isaiah because we believe there is little spiritual gain for us in it. But all Scripture is inspired by God and useful to us (2 Timothy 3:16). The nations that surround Israel are seen in their relations with Israel. The burdens of these peoples connect the events coming in the days of Isaiah with the end of time.

They are a fitting sequel to the great subject of the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah 7-12. Therein it is predicted that the authority of the Messiah will be exercised over all kingdoms of the world. They also contain comforting messages for the ultimate blessing and glory of Israel. In accordance with this, the downfall of the heathen powers is foretold. One power after the other is going down, so that there will be room for the establishment of the realm of peace.

Once again, it must be remembered that many oracles about a power have a meaning that goes beyond the imminent judgment on that power. That is to say that much in the description of the downfall of a power is also – and sometimes only – fulfilled in the end time and especially at the end of the ‘great tribulation’. In this book this period is called “the indignation” (of the LORD) (Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 10:25Isaiah 26:20).

Isaiah 13-14 is the introduction to this period, while at the end of Isaiah 27 is briefly referred to the realm of peace. The part of Isaiah 14:28-27:13 is a description of events in the world from the last days of the great tribulation until the beginning of the millennial realm of peace. Israel is also mentioned again, but then as part of the world.

The nations that successively are judged are judged because of their idolatry and their attitude towards Israel. The reason they are mentioned, while many other nations are not mentioned, is the way in which they have behaved toward God’s people in the past and that they have assaulted it. God’s people are “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). So whoever touches His people hits the LORD in His heart.

The two other great prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, also prophesy of this judgment on the surrounding peoples (Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32). Isaiah and Jeremiah speak in their prophecies about the nations mainly about the destruction of Babylon, although they also speak about other nations, while Ezekiel speaks mainly about God’s judgment on Egypt.

Prophecy About Babylon

After the judgment on Judah and Jerusalem that has been before us in the previous chapters, Isaiah 7-12, comes now, in Isaiah 13-27, the judgment on the nations of the world. As an introduction to this, God begins with the judgment on Babylon (Isaiah 13-14). It begins with “the oracle concerning Babylon” or “the burden of Babylon” (Isaiah 13:1), for Babylon will destroy the world domination of Assyria and succeed it.

What Isaiah has seen is called “burden” because it is a word from God that is imposed upon the prophet as a burden (Jeremiah 23:33-Matthew :). Most prophecies in the following chapters begin with this word “oracle” or “burden”. Again, “Isaiah” is called by name. The fact that he has ‘seen’ this burden emphasizes that it is real prophecy, which was spoken before the fall of Babylon, because in the time of Ahaz, when Isaiah writes this, Babylon is far from being a world power. It also makes clear that with Isaiah 13 a new part begins.

When Scripture speaks of Babylon, it can refer to both the city and the country. Babylon is the same as Babel. Babylon is the Greek name and Babel the Hebrew name. The reader must then see whether this means the city or the country. The first kingdom mentioned in Scripture is that of Babel. It is founded by a man who is a tyrant, a man of violence, and a hunter, i.e. a blood-spilling man (Genesis 10:8-2 Samuel :).

In Babylon, the primordial society of mankind after the deluge is together in unity. If the whole earth uses the same language and the same words, man in Babylon wants to build a tower that reaches to heaven in order to increase his power on earth. God prevents this and in Babel scatters mankind by the confusion of language (Genesis 11:1-1 Samuel :). Because of this mankind is divided over the five continents.

The overthrow of the power of Assyria is described in the book of Nahum. There we read of the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. At the moment Isaiah utters this prophecy, there is not much to be seen of Babylon as a world power. That Isaiah can start with Babylon as the first nation is only because he sees prophetically the rise of Babylon and also the rise of the next empires. Babylon is the power that will judge Judah because Judah lives in idolatry and rebellion against the LORD. Babylon is also the power that in the end time will make a covenant with the apostate Israel under the antichrist.

The description of the capture of Babylon shows that it happens very violently, unlike the capture of Babylon a century and a half later, in 539 BC, by the Medes and the Persians, which happens almost silently. This is because the emphasis here is on the destruction of the prophetic Babylon in the future, namely that of the first beast, with the ten horns, the leader of the restored Roman Empire, the united states of (ex-Christian) Europe (Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :).

By the way, Assyria is a type of the future king of the North, the leader of the (northeastern) Arab Islamic (Shiite?) alliance, supported by Gog and Magog (Russia). Remarkably, Psalm 83 also mentions an alliance consisting of ten countries (Psalms 83:5-Ruth :).

Finally, we find the king of the south – not mentioned here, but in Daniel 11 (Daniel 11:40) – by which we can understand an alliance of (southern) Arab Islamic (Sunni?) peoples. They will be the first to attack Israel, followed by the king of the North. If the king of the North has destroyed Israel and especially Jerusalem, he will then attack and overpower the king of the south. Then he will return to Israel because of the coming of the army of the beast (Europe) and be destroyed by Christ (Daniel 11:41-Romans :).

Verses 2-5

Tools of God’s Anger

The prophecy begins with a triple call or command. On “the bare hill”, that is a mountain without afforestation, that is without anything that obstructs sight, first a sign, “a standard” as a symbol of battle, must be lifted up so that it is clearly visible (Isaiah 13:2). The standard is followed, secondly, by a cry, “raise your voice,” and, thirdly, by a gesture, “wave the hand,” in order to call God’s armies to action. The call is meant to put the armies in a state of readiness.

The waving of the hand is the sign to let them pull up to enter the gates of Babylon. These gates still contain the nobles who form the city government, but it’s time for the conquerors to take power. There is no mention of any opposition. Babylon was also taken without opposition.

The command goes out from the LORD – “I”, with emphasis – (Isaiah 13:3). The Medes (Isaiah 13:17) and Persians are called to fulfill their task. They have been chosen by God to put an end to the reign of Babylon. That is why God calls them “My consecrated ones”, for they have been set apart by Him for that purpose and with that mission. It has nothing to do with the persons themselves, that they should be holy in character.

God also calls them “My mighty warriors”. He makes them invincible warriors, for they must execute His anger. The armies of the Medes and the Persians “exultingly” fulfill their mission. They feel like it because the Majesty of God urges them. The fact that the LORD Himself gives personal command to destroy Babylon is an indication that in the future He will personally, and then without human instruments, destroy the restored Roman Empire (Daniel 2:45).

The single sound of the voice that commands, the voice of the LORD, is replaced by a “sound of tumult on the mountains” (Isaiah 13:4). It is the tumult “of many people”, the armies which the LORD has consecrated to do His work. The armies of the Medes and Persians come from far and wide as “His instruments of indignation, To destroy the whole land” [that is the Babylonian world empire] (Isaiah 13:5).

Their cheering in the execution of this work does not mean that they are aware that they are executing God’s commission or cooperating with God’s plan with consent. In the same way, Titus and the Romans do not know that they as an army of “the king,” they are execute the judgment on Jerusalem that the Lord Jesus speaks of in His parable (Matthew 22:7).

It is about the downfall of the land of Babylon (Jeremiah 50-51). Babylon is what we know today as southern Iraq to Baghdad. Assyria is what we know today as northern Iraq north of Baghdad to Pakistan. Media is further to Iran, today’s Kurdistan.

Abraham comes from the land of the Chaldeans or Babylon (Genesis 15:7; Acts 7:2-Numbers :). He has converted to the true God. His descendants are brought back to Babylon in exile because Israel has fallen away from the true God. They end up in the land where their ancestor comes from and there they have served the idols of Babylon. The time of the world domination of Babylon lasts seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11).

Prophetically, this section about Babylon is a shadow of the future judgment on the restored Roman Empire or the future united states of Europe led by a man called ‘the beast’ (Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :). Then the Lord Jesus Himself, in person, will come “from a distant land, from the end of heaven,” with the celestial armies to execute the judgment on Babylon (Revelation 19:11-Ecclesiastes :).

Verses 6-13

The Day of the LORD Is Coming

In these verses the prophetic scene moves from the imminent downfall of Babylon as a shadow of the future to the future judgments of God on the restored Roman Empire and the whole world in the end time, which is to the coming of “the day of the LORD” (Isaiah 13:6). It is a day that cannot be stopped or wallowed off, for it comes “as the destruction from the Almighty”. That day clearly did not begin in 539 BC, when Babylon was defeated by the Medes and the Persians. Then that city is not destroyed. That happens much later. No, that day will take place in the future regarding the prophetic Babylon (Revelation 16:19).

Here, before the eye of the prophet, the judgment on Babylon merges with the final judgment on the restored Roman Empire. In the fulfillment there are many centuries between the two judgments, but in essence they are one. One is a type, a foreshadow, of the other. Babylon is the first of the four great empires (Daniel 2:37-Matthew :; Daniel 7:1-Judges :) and is a shadow of the last representative of the empires, that is the restored Roman Empire.

In our days we see that more and more taking shape in the united Europe, the European Union. For God everything is one whole. The judgment on Babylon is a prelude to the judgment on the beast in the end times. Babylon, represented as a woman, the great harlot, and the beast are closely connected (Revelation 17:3). The great harlot emphasizes the religious aspect of Babylon – the counterpart of the bride – while the beast emphasizes the political aspect of Babylon – the counterpart of Jerusalem, the city of the great king.

The LORD shall prove the great Name of His omnipotence in the judgments which He causes to come. In Isaiah 13:7-Ruth : we see people’s reactions to that. The hands become weak, powerless. “Every man’s heart” melts away, there is no more courage. The horror and bewilderment can be read on their faces. Their posture of shrinking like a woman in labor and woes fits the horror and pain that plagues them. It all shows that they have not taken into account a judgmental God.

Man’s sin and his unrepentance are the cause that the LORD will judge “cruel, with fury and burning anger” on His day when He takes control of the government (Isaiah 13:9). His judgments affect both “the land” and “its sinners”. He makes the land a desolation and sinners are exterminated from the land. Here, to say the likeness of the tares and the wheat, those who do lawlessness are gathered and thrown into the furnace of fire (Matthew 13:40-Luke :; Matthew 24:40-Mark :).

The whole of creation ends up in darkness because “the stars of heaven and their constellations” and “the moon” do not let their “light” shine (Isaiah 13:10). If there is any hope that the sun will rise at daybreak, then that hope turns out to be vain, because “sun will be dark when it rises” (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24).

The judgment on Babylon at the appearance of Christ in the end time affects the whole “world” and not just a certain area as in the time of Isaiah (Isaiah 13:11; cf. Luke 21:35). It is like the deluge that is also worldwide. God’s judgment is on the world because of its “evil”. That evil is expressed in the “iniquity” of “the wicked”, “the arrogance of the proud” and “the haughtiness of the ruthless”. God will retaliate the evil, stop the arrogance and humiliate the haughtiness. God has the appropriate answer to all evil.

It is also striking that the judgment on Babylon is made by Cyrus, who is called “His anointed” (Isaiah 45:1), a beautiful picture of Christ (= Anointed). The name Cyrus means ‘sun’, which is the title of Christ Himself (Malachi 4:2).

The fall of Babylon occurs unexpectedly. While the city is celebrating, the army of the Medes and Persians crawls under the city wall after having first shifted the course of the canal that flows through the city. Thus, the coming of Christ to exterminate Babylon will happen like a thief in the night, unexpectedly.

Isaiah 13:12 predicts the reduction of the world population at the end of time, just as the Lord Jesus predicts (Matthew 24:22; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 9:19). Through these judgments all the wicked are wiped out. What remains is a remnant that consists of “mortal man”. This indicates that they are no more valuable in themselves than the wicked who have perished. Because of their small number, this remnant is rarer than the rarest and most precious metals. They are spared because of their positive attitude toward Israel (cf. Matthew 25:31-Mark :).

It is important to distinguish between the rapture of the believers (1 Thessalonians 4:15-Job :) and the appearance of the LORD to judge in this section. In the rapture, believers are taken from the earth and unbelievers are left behind. At the appearance of the LORD, the Lord Jesus, the wicked are taken away from the earth by the judgment and the believers are left on earth to enter the realm of peace (Matthew 24:40-Mark :).

The consequences of the judgments are described in still more detail in Isaiah 13:13 than in Isaiah 13:10. In Isaiah 13:10 the effects of the judgment are seen in certain parts of creation, while in Isaiah 13:13 we see the consequences of the judgment for heaven and earth as a whole. Heaven trembles and the earth shakes from its place (Haggai 2:7-Ruth :; Hebrews 12:25-Joel :; Zechariah 14:4-Deuteronomy :). These are the overwhelming consequences of the outpouring of “the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger”. This confirms the remembrance of the deluge, in which heaven and earth have also come in great turmoil.

Verses 14-18

The LORD Punishes Evil

In Isaiah 13:14 the prophecy returns to the destruction of Babylon. This is evident from the rest of the chapter. All foreigners who were first attracted by the riches of Babylon and sought their advantage on this world market will flee the city to return to their own people and land. Skittish as “a hunted gazelle” and scattered “like sheep” without a shepherd, they will want to escape the advancing armies of the Medes and Persians. Also the restored Roman Empire (Europe) will consist of people from many countries. When the verdict will come, these people will flee and return to their own people and their own land.

Those who do not flee or are caught on the run fall into the hands of an enemy who spares nothing and no one (Isaiah 13:15-Job :). What they encounter on their way is thrust through without pardon or cut down by the sword (Isaiah 13:15). Respect for what belongs to others in life, possession, and marriage, they do not have (Isaiah 13:16). They do not have the feelings that go with it. Ruthlessly they dash to pieces small children in front of their parents and ravish women, insensitive to begging them not to do so.

They do not allow themselves to be bribed, insensitive as they are to silver and gold, which means nothing to them (Isaiah 13:17). Their goal is to destroy their enemies with ruthless cruelty and to make sure that no new growth can come. Therefore, they dash to pieces boys, kill children already in the womb, and spare no child already born (Isaiah 13:18).

Verses 19-22

Babylon Completely Destroyed

These verses describe the judgment on Babylon. Babylon, which has presented itself as a beauty of all kingdoms, will be stripped of all its splendor and pride (Isaiah 13:19). It will go with Babylon as with Sodom and Gomorrah turned upside down by God. It will be completely depopulated and never to be inhabited again (Isaiah 13:20). No Arab of the itinerant Arab nomads (Bedouins) will pitch his tent there anymore because there is nothing more to gain. There is also no more shepherd who will bring his flock there because of the crowds of wild animals that are there.

The only inhabitants will be the desert creatures (Isaiah 13:21-Song of Solomon :). The animals mentioned in these verses living in the fallen Babylon are reminiscent of Revelation 18 (Revelation 18:2). It emphasizes that the final destruction, similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, lies in the distant future. Destruction in the short term is indicated by the words “her [fateful] time also will soon come” (Isaiah 13:22). However, the destruction of Babylon in the short term is not like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, because Babylon will revive. Here again we have the principle of the double layer in prophecy, where there is a first fulfillment in the near future and a final fulfillment in the, at that moment, distant future.

The key to whether Babylon will reappear as the center of power and then suffer his final destruction is given in the beginning of Isaiah 14. In that chapter an explanation of the foregoing follows. Isaiah 14 tells of the day of Israel’s liberation and millennial blessing. This is the day of the LORD who gives them rest from sorrow and fear and slavery and on which they will rejoice because of the destruction of Babylon and express their scorn to the city of the oppressor.

There has been no such utterance about the devastation that has now taken place some two and a half thousand years ago. However, in the future there will be such an expression at the fall of the resurrected city (Revelation 18:20). Then the prophecy of this part of Isaiah will have its complete fulfillment. Europe will remain in a ruined state at the beginning of the millennial realm of peace with few inhabitants and so it will remain throughout the whole realm of peace.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.