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The Humiliation of the Daughter of Babylon
v. 1. Come down and sit in the dust, degraded to the lowest depth, O virgin daughter of Babylon, the city and country being regarded as a virgin queen; sit on the ground, there is no throne, the seat of empire being lost to the former proud ruler, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate, the reference being to the luxury and debauchery and prostitution practiced in connection with the religious rites of the Babylonians and at other times.
v. 2. Take the millstones, those of the hand-mill, as turned by female slaves, and grind meal, the grain being fed in through the center opening above and ground to flour by the revolving of the upper stone; uncover thy locks, taking off the veil, probably together with the plaite(l hair, as worn by Oriental women, its removal being considered a mark of the deepest degradation, make bare the leg, removing the long outer garment worn especially by women of rank, uncover the thigh, gathering up even the inner garment, pass over the rivers, like a slave girl being taken into captivity.
v. 3. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen, a figurative expression for exposing the hidden wickedness of Babylonia. I will take vengeance, for all the evil shown to His people Israel, and I will not meet thee as a man, not pardon or spare any man, but overthrow all the enemies. At this point the prophet causes the congregation of believers to insert a glad hallelujah.
v. 4. As for our Redeemer, the Lord of hosts is His name, whose power is unlimited in carrying out His purposes, the Holy One of Israel, zealous for the welfare of his people. The prophet, in beginning the second strophe of the chapter, once more addresses Babylon directly.
v. 5. Sit thou silent, namely, in captivity, and get thee into darkness, into the darkness of the dungeon, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called The Lady of Kingdoms, the queen and mistress of the world, a position which Babylon enjoyed for less than a century.
v. 6. I was wroth with My people, so the Lord explains the Babylonian captivity, which is hereby also prophesied, I have polluted Mine inheritance, taking away the consecration which Israel possessed as His people, and given them into thine hand, it was an act of the Lord's punishment, not a matter of Babylonia's strength. Thou didst show them no mercy, treating the exiled Jews with the utmost cruelty; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke, not sparing even the aged, but submitting them to indignities with the rest.
v. 7. And thou saidst, flattering herself in her own mind, I shall be a lady forever, haughtily considering her position beyond attack from every side, in an insolence which was an insult to God, so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, she did not consider the extent of her own cruelty, neither didst remember the latter end of it, namely, the consequences of such actions. The pride of the average sinner causes him to disregard or to discount the punishment which follows; it is a species of blindness which leads to destruction.
Babylon's Vain Attempt to Avert the Threatened Destruction
v. 8. Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, living in wantonness, luxury, and licentiousness, that dwellest carelessly, the feeling of false security being characteristic of the people of Babylon in that day, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me, an expression of unbounded haughtiness; I shall not sit as a widow, believing that the Babylonian men, the soldiers of its army, could never be overcome, neither shall I know the loss of children, by being bereaved of her inhabitants in the war;
v. 9. but these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, with frightful suddenness, the loss of children and widowhood, a total bereavement; they, these two great trials, shall come upon thee in their perfection, in full measure, for the multitude of thy sorceries and for the great abundance of thine enchantments, witchcraft in its various forms being one of the outstanding features in many of the ancient nations, as recent excavations also show, for magicians and astrologers are frequently mentioned, and formulas of magic were in general use.
v. 10. For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness, deeming herself secure in spite of her cruelty and tyranny; thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom, particularly that of various magical arts, and thy knowledge, especially the science of mathematics, which was pretty well developed in Babylon, it hath perverted thee, turned the heads of the Chaldeans; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me, imagining herself the mistress of the earth, indulging in self-deification.
v. 11. Therefore shall evil come upon thee, in the Lord's punishment, thou shalt not know from whence it riseth, not being able to banish it; and mischief, misfortune, destruction, shall fall upon thee, thou shalt not be able to put it off, to lay down ransom-money to be delivered from it; and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, as when a destructive storm comes rushing headlong, which thou shalt not know, against which all Babylon's might and wisdom would be powerless.
v. 12. Stand now with thine enchantments, the various magical formulas employed, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth, this having ever been a characteristic of Babylon, as far as its history goes back; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail! It is a bitterly sarcastic challenge: Apply all your magical arts; maybe they will help, they may even instill fear and terror in the heart of Jehovah!
v. 13. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels, driven to despair by the fruitless quest for means and methods to meet the threatened punishment and to avert it. Let now the astrologers, those versed in astronomy, but connecting with their activity that of fortune-telling, the star-gazers, the professional observers of the movements of the sidereal bodies, the monthly prognosticators, men who determined the time of the new moon and gave advice concerning lucky days, stand up and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee, rather, those who at new moons make known, by means of them, the things that shall come upon thee. The challenge is held in an even more sarcastic vein than in the foregoing verse.
v. 14. Behold, they, all the wizards and necromancers and astrologers, shall be as stubble, the fire shall burn them, so that they will be totally destroyed; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame, as the wrath of God comes upon them to their destruction; there shall not be a coal to warm at, the stubble burning down to dead ashes, nor fire to sit before it, total destruction having come upon Babylon.
v. 15. Thus shall they, these men upon whom the Babylonians depended, be unto thee with whom thou hast labored, even thy merchants, from thy youth, for the astrologers and wizards and magicians did a flourishing business at the expense of the citizens of Babylonia; they shall wander every one to his quarter, reeling to and fro in the effort to save his life, if possible; none shall save thee. Such would be the fate of proud Babylon, as it usually is the fate of all those who place their trust in witchcraft and necromancy in its various forms. The warning may be fitly appended also here: "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. "
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Isaiah 47". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter