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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 47

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-11

Isa 47:1-11

Isaiah 47:1-4

This chapter is a prophecy of the destruction of Babylon. The Lord, through Isaiah, had already denounced the idols of that great city and had foretold their worthlessness and impotence for providing any kind of assistance to the city in the time of her calamity; but here he detailed the doom and destruction of Babylon itself. The speaker throughout is God Himself except for Isaiah 47:4, which may be attributed to a heavenly chorus, after the manner of the proleptic passages in Revelation, to the prophet Isaiah, or to the faithful among the captives.

The chapter consists of four strophes or stanzas, composed of 4 verses (Isaiah 47:1-4), 3 verses (Isaiah 47:5-7), 4 verses (Isaiah 47:8-11), and 4 verses (Isaiah 47:12-14). Cheyne’s rendition of the first stanza is so interesting that we have chosen it instead of the American Standard Version for the text here:

Isaiah 47:1-4

"Come down and sit in the dust; sit on the ground without a throne, O virgin daughter of Chaldea, for thou shalt no more be called Delicate and Luxurious. Take the millstone and grind meal; remove thy veil, strip off the train; uncover the leg, wade through the rivers. Let thy nakedness be uncovered, yea, let thy shame be seen: I will take vengeance, neither shall I meet any. As for our Goel, Jehovah Sabaoth is his name, the Holy One of Israel."

First, we should notice the snide, derogatory remark of Wardle who wrote that, "Babylon is here erroneously personified as a virgin, as if never before captured." The source of such a ridiculous remark is Mr. Wardle’s blind allegiance to one of the silly dictums of critical butchers of the Word of God, namely, that the application of the word "virgin" to any nation means that such a nation had never suffered defeat; but the rule is absolutely worthless. The prophet Jeremiah in the very discussion of the terrible defeat of Israel, and in fact after the loss of all the ten northern tribes wrote this: "Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach" (Jeremiah 14:17). He also, a moment later, referred to "the virgin of Israel" (Jeremiah 18:13). It is too bad that critics like Wardle are simply ignorant of the Biblical usage of certain terminology.

Babylon indeed had frequently been defeated in her past history; it will be remembered that Sennacherib defeated Babylon and placed his son on the throne. Nothing however depreciates the appropriate beauty of this passage’s reference to the nation as "Virgin daughter of Babylon." That, of course, was not God’s estimate of her character, but her position in the world at that time, not only as she considered it, but as all the world also recognized it.

No one should fail to see the "signature of Isaiah" in every line of this. As Delitzsch noted, "Isaiah’s artistic style may be readily perceived."

"Our Goel ..." (Isaiah 47:4). Has the meaning of `Our Redeemer,’ employing a Pentateuchal word for `next of kin,’ the relative who was obligated to buy back a brother Israelite sold into slavery.

"Without a throne ..." (Isaiah 47:1). This prophecy removed forever the existence of a throne in Babylon. How could any alleged Second Isaiah have known anything like this? Yet, "It is a fact that after the capture of Babylon by Cyrus she was never more the capital of a kingdom." Furthermore, this prevailed forever, even in the face of Alexander the Great’s announced intention of making Babylon his capital. He died before he could achieve that, and the Seleucidae retained the capital at Shushan (Susa); and Babylon gradually became a total ruin. What a powerful demonstration of the power of three little words in the sacred text of God’s Word! Without a throne!

"Take the millstones and grind meal ..." (Isaiah 47:2). This task was considered the lowest kind of drudgery, generally assigned to slave women. Water mills or other types of power grinders were not known until the times of Augustus Caesar. No greater shame and reduction could be imagined than that of a princess, or queen, undergoing such a calamity. In place of her royal clothing and finery, she would wear the coarse garments of a peasant. Moreover, her work would be as a domestic among the numerous canals of suburban Babylon, where she would have to wade them, exposing her legs, or in cases of even deeper water, lifting her skirts to reveal her nakedness!

Such humiliation of women was also mentioned in Nahum where the Lord said of Nineveh:

"Behold, I am against thee, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will uncover thy skirts upon thy face: and I will show the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame" (Nahum 3:5).

The exact meaning of Isaiah 47:3 is disputed, but Henderson wrote that it means, "I will not meet thee as a man but as God, whom none can resist."

Summarizing the teaching of these first four verses(Isaiah 47:1-4), Archer has this:

"The passage presents vanquished Babylon, cast down from imperial power, reduced to the status of a half-naked slave gift grinding meal with the heavy grindstones. Babylon would never rise again to independence or imperial power."

Hailey stressed the fact that such terrible punishments upon Babylon were deserved. "The very foundation upon which the throne of God rests demands an avenging of all unrighteousness, a vindication of His righteous and holy Godhead, and of his sacred laws. God will neither withdraw the declaration of his judgments nor make exceptions to them."<8b>

Before leaving this first strophe, we must note that Babylon here, and throughout the Bible, is a symbol of carnal pride and enmity against the eternal God. There are no less than three Babylons in scripture: (1) the literal Babylon here spoken of, (2) the spiritual Babylon, identified as the beast coming up out of the earth in Revelation 13, and (3) Babylon the Great, also called Mystery Babylon the Great, which was defined by Leon Morris as, "Man in organized community, and opposed to God." This Babylon, in short is urban civilization in its corporate rebellion against Almighty God. It is given three names in Revelation 11:8, where it is called Egypt, Sodom, and Jerusalem (where the Lord was crucified); but it is not a single city anywhere on earth; it is all the cities of mankind, where are entrenched the luxuries, the godlessness, the sensual pleasures, the wickedness, the pride, arrogance and atheism which were the essential characteristics of the first Babylon. The three Babylons are: Ancient Babylon, The Apostate Christian Church, and Godless Urban Civilization.

And we have pointed all this out in order to emphasize that the doom of Babylon here is a type of the ultimate doom of Mystery Babylon the Great, which will occur at the eschatalogical conclusion of the present dispensation of the Mercy of God.

Isaiah 47:5-7

"Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called the mistress of kingdoms. I was wroth with my people, I profaned mine inheritance, and gave them into thy hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke. And thou saidest, I shall be mistress forever; so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end thereof."

God here revealed why His anger was kindled against Babylon. For the necessary punishment of Israel, God, for a season had committed them to Babylon to achieve that punishment; but Babylon went far beyond anything that was just. "They exceeded the bounds of justice and humanity by oppressing and destroying God’s people; and although they were punishing God’s rebellious people, yet as it regarded themselves, they were only indulging their greed, lust, ambition, and violence." The Prophet Zechariah gave this comment on what happened: "I was but a little angry, and they helped forward the affliction" (Isaiah 1:15).

There is a similar pattern throughout God’s dealings with mankind. When a nation’s wickedness has exceeded all boundaries, God uses another wicked nation to punish them; but that punishment is usually excessive with a result that the erstwhile executor of God’s punishment becomes itself the object of punishment by still another! The revelation should not be overlooked here that God controls and directs all history, according to his will. See Daniel 4:25.

"The sorrows of Babylon are her proper fate; there can be no mercy, for she has shown none (James 2:13).” Yet the terrible description here arouses an emotion of pity on our part. Yes, it is the triumph of justice, but it is equally the exhibition of an unspeakable tragedy, that of sinful departure from the will of God.

Isaiah 47:8-11

"Now therefore hear this, thou that art given to pleasures, that sittest securely, that sayest in thy heart, I am, and there is none else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children: but these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood; in their full measure shall they come upon thee, in the multitude of thy sorceries, and the great abundance of thine enchantments. For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness; thou hast said, None seeth me; thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thy heart, I am, and there is none else besides me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know the dawning thereof: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it away: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou knowest not." The various sins of Babylon are listed here: (1) her egotistical boasting; (2) her reliance upon the black arts of sorcery and enchantments; (3) her having given herself wholly to lustful, sinful pleasures; (4) her trusting in her wickedness; (5) her over-confident sense of security; (6) her reliance upon her own wisdom and knowledge; and (7) most importantly of all the attitude that is mentioned twice, in Isaiah 47:8; Isaiah 47:10, her self-deification visible in her thoughts that, "I am, and there is none else besides me!" What is glaringly plain in such an attitude is that there is no consciousness of God or belief in Him whatsoever. This was the greatest and the worst of Babylon’s sins.

The false sense of security in Babylon was described by Xenophon thus: "The inhabitants of Babylon could not but have laughed at the siege of Cyrus, knowing that they had provisions for more than twenty years; and they treated his siege with mockery." They had never learned the lesson that "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; and unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Psalms 127:1).

Isaiah 47:1-6 ABASED: Babylon is going to come down from its pinnacle of world rulership. In fact, she is going to lose her identity as a nation altogether. The Hebew word bethulath is translated virgin. It probably refers to the idea that Babylon (from her conquest of Nineveh about 612 B.C. until being conquered by Cyrus 539 B.C.) never suffered foreign invasion. She was untouched until Cyrus spoiled her.

The words raccah and ‘anuggah, translated tender and delicate probably emphasize the luxuriousness of Babylonian life; raccah literally means effeminancy and ‘anuggah means pleasure, luxury, sport. They are descriptive of the indulgent, immoral wickedness of Babylon. From her position as pampered, indulged, haughty queen of the world she would be dethroned and abased. She would become like the lowliest servant-girl doing the most humiliating tasks. Grinding meal is the hardest, most menial task for women slaves. Removal of the veil and stripping off the train means to take off the clothing of a lady of leisure and put on the clothing of a common slave. Uncovering the leg and passing through the rivers probably pictures a slave-girl rolling up her garments to walk across streams and rivers bearing burdens for her master. Slaves were simply the property of their owners and could be treated anyway the owner desired. Most of them, especially women, were treated shamefully. When sold in the slave market they were undressed and their bodies exposed, more to humiliate them than anything else. Jehovah is going to expose Babylon for what it really is. The whole world will see Babylon naked, without all the false luxury and haughtiness she arrogated to herself. God will spare no man—no human being on the face of the earth will deter Jehovah from His humiliation of Babylon.

Verse four is a pause of praise on the part of the prophet. It is like those digressions of the apostle Paul in Ephesians and Romans. The sovereign program of God’s redemption for Israel elicits spontaneous testimony from Isaiah to Babylon that the Redeemer of Israel is Jehovah (Covenant-God) of hosts, the Holy One of Israel. The testimony also serves to show the contrast between Israel’s God and the gods of Babylon. Israel’s God would raise her out of humiliation to glory (through the Servant-Messiah to come), while Babylon’s gods would be impotent to save them from going from glory to humiliation.

When Babylon’s degradation comes at the hand of Jehovah she will sit silently dumbfounded. Her shameful humiliation by the conquering Medes and Persians was totally unexpected and incomprehensible from a human point of view. She was the one upon whom the spotlight of the world was focused; but her prominence will soon be gone—all will be darkness for her. She shall no longer be the queen of the world. The Hebrew word gevereth is translated mistress but it does not mean mistress in the sense of a “kept woman” or a fornicator. Gevereth means mistress in the sense of royalty, hence, a queen. The proper name Gabriel comes from the same root. The wealth and luxury and power of Babylon was almost unbelievable. No other empire before had exerted such influence on the world. But it would all disappear suddenly because she opposed and humiliated the covenant people of Jehovah.

God has been talking of mighty Babylon, but suddenly the little nation of Judah moves into the center of the picture. The center of history is God’s covenant people not the mighty empires which seem to dominate the world. God’s people strayed from their messianic destiny and incurred the holy wrath of God. He allowed profane Babylon to swallow up Judah for a proper period of chastening. But even profane and pagan people are subject to certain moral standards before the Absolute God (cf. Amos ch. 1–2). The obvious standards of humane treatment were not observed toward the Jews, especially toward older people. Babylon apparently ignored the commonest laws of reasonableness and mercifulness (cf. Romans 1:18 f) written on the consciences of most human beings (cf. comments on verse ten below). Therefore Jehovah will judge her. One should read Isaiah ch. 13–14; Jeremiah 50-51; Daniel 1-5 in connection with these verses.

Isaiah 47:7-11 ABUSED: Babylon boasted that she would be gevereth (mistress) or queen forever. She never gave a thought to the warnings of conscience or the lessons of history. Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it! She seemed unaware of the natural law all around that whatever is sown is eventually reaped. She did not seem to consider where such haughty disregard for humaneness and mercy might lead. The failure of tyrants and dictators to learn where cruelty and immorality ends is almost incredible! It was difficult for most of the world of the 1940’s to believe Adolph Hitler was ignorant that the atrocities of the Third Reich would lead to self-destruction. But Hitler “did not remember the latter end thereof” and slaughtered over six million people in his concentration camps which eventuated in degradation and partitioning of Germany which it had never known before.

‘Aediynah is from the Hebrew root ‘adan and means voluptuousness, pleasurable, luxurious, sensuous. It is the same root from which we get Eden (Genesis 2:8, etc.). One only has to read Daniel ch. 5 to understand that Babylon was characterized by its bent to pleasure. The kings of Babylon apparently had as their goal the satisfaction of their every pleasure. Wealth, wine and women gave them security. They used their wealth to build gold-plated gods and temples; a massive city with huge, thick walls; hanging gardens and banquet halls; then retired to admire the work of their hands and revel in the sensuous luxury of it all. They told themselves “this is great Babylon. . .” (cf. Daniel 4:28-30). All the world, even the majority of the Jewish people, stood in awe of mighty Babylon. The world expected Babylon to exist forever. Certainly Babylon herself never expected to mourn like a widow or a mother who has lost her children. She anticipated eternal reveling and gaiety and luxury. Apparently the emperors of Babylon decreed themselves to be gods (cf. Isaiah 14:12-14), and believed themselves to be invincible (much like Adolph Hitler, centuries later). But the real Sovereign of the world, Jehovah, predicts that exactly what Babylon said could never happen would happen suddenly and fully. The haughty and satiated Babylonians would one day mourn and grieve like a woman who has lost her husband and a young mother whose children have died tragic deaths. Their affliction would be without warning and in full measure. One day on top of the world; the next day devastated and conquered by the Persians. Babylon fell in one night! (cf. Dan. ch. 5). Babylon was noted for its multitude of astrologers and sorcerers. She was famous for her magic. No other nation since has been as prolific or elaborate in its cultivation of such sorcery. Babylon’s whole culture, political, economic and religious was built around its astrologers and enchanters and wise-men. In spite of this elaborate and long established system of pseudo-science and religion, Babylon would fall. Her “star-gazers” would not be able to work magic or charm away the judgment of Jehovah.

Babylon trusted in its wickedness. There is a false sense of autonomy and sovereignty that comes as a result of deliberately practiced wickedness. That is what the devil promised Eve in the Garden of Eden (“. . . in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil . . .”). Professing to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. They refused to have God in their knowledge (cf. Romans 1:22-32). Babylon trusted in her cruelty and cunning and decided she could do as she pleased and no one could stop her. She believed she was sovereign. There was no One to whom she could be held accountable (“None seeth me . . .”). This wicked exercise of power seared Babylon’s conscience—it perverted her reason. She went against the most fundamental revelation of nature itself (that there is a divine power higher than man to whom man is morally responsible—cf. Romans 1:18-21) and denied the existence of God.

But judgment (evil) will surely come upon haughty Babylon. She will now know the shakherah (dawning) of it. This probably means (in keeping with the context) she will not “be able to conjure away” or able to keep it from coming by all her incantations and sorceries. There are three different Hebrew words used to describe the judgment: ra‘ah (break in pieces, calamity, evil); hovah (mischief, or, literally, yawning—utter destruction); sho’ah (deserted, wasted, desolation). These words give a graphic description of the process of Babylon’s judgment. It will come suddenly. Daniel; ch. 5, records that Babylon’s overthrow came in one night! It was completely unexpected! First she was broken, then came the destruction and to this day there is only a deserted waste place where once mighty Babylon stood. The fall of Babylon is inexplicable except as one understands the prophecy of God by Isaiah!

Verses 12-15

Isa 47:12-15

Isaiah 47:12-15

"Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels: let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from the things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: it shall not be a coal to warm, nor a fire to sit before. Thus shall the things be unto thee wherein thou hast labored: they that have trafficked with thee from thy youth shall wander everyone to his own quarter; there shall be none to save thee."

Are the vast majority of human beings today trusting anything any more substantial than these objects of misplaced trust in ancient Babylon? Behold the millions that are trusting in alcohol or drugs, that are given continually and without intermission to pleasures, who feel secure in their complacent rejection of God’s Word and his imperatives for all men, who, to all intents and purposes, are saying by their actions, "I am, and there is none else besides me!" who give no more thought regarding God Almighty himself than if he did not exist? As a nation today, we are investing $3,000,000,000 annually in astrological readings, the signs of the Zodiac, etc.; and there is a full quarter-page of such nonsense every day in the daily newspapers. In every large city, there may be found in every square mile of them some "Madam So and So," reading palms or something, predicting futures, solving problems, and guiding lives by the same old black arts found in ancient civilizations. Who bothers to seek God and to pray about his needs or problems?

Family ties are greatly strained; the Biblical conception of monogamous marriage is threatened by the "live in" libertines; and every department store in the nation adds a surcharge of at least 15 percent to protect themselves from shop-lifting. Such people are materialists, living only for material rewards, and measuring themselves and all whom they know by material standards alone. God have mercy upon our new race of Babylonians.

"The reference to `monthly prognosticators’ (Isaiah 47:13) apparently refers to the monthly reports which the official astronomers at the various observatories in the empire were required to send in every month to the king." They certainly missed it in that month in which the drunken Belshazzar was slain.

Barnes’ comment on this chapter is appropriate:

"This chapter contains some very particular statements about the manner in which Babylon was to be destroyed, statements which were fulfilled with remarkable accuracy. They are statements that could not have been the result of conjecture, nor of mere political sagacity; and it should be borne in remembrance that this prophecy was uttered one hundred fifty years before its fulfillment."

The last two verses here are very similar to the flight and disappearance of all Nineveh’s previous allies as soon as God’s judgment fell upon her. The traffickers, whether applied to the merchants, or to the traffickers in the black arts, will not be around when they are needed. The statement that each shall wander to his own quarter, does not mean "his quarter of the city," but rather that he shall go about his business and leave Babylon to perish. This is exactly what was prophesied of Nineveh in Nahum 2:8. "They shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land (Isaiah 13:14)."

Isaiah 47:12-15 ANNIHILATED: Jehovah now challenges Babylon to call upon the full force of its massive and complex system of sorcery, astrology and magic to save it. The ancient peoples not only worshiped the stars, but many of them built their political and economic structures on a “science” of star-gazing and horoscope casting. These pseudo-sciences were elaborately constructed and Babylon was more prolific than all the ancients. Determining things from the motions of the stars was not something Babylon merely toyed with. She had built her whole national identity on this from her very beginning. She went to war or sued for peace on the basis of what the stars “said.” She crowned emperors or deposed them only after casting a horoscope. She conducted business and built buildings and practiced the healing arts by interpreting dreams, saying incantations and practicing sorcery. So, if Babylon had any resource greater than any other empire of the past (Egypt, Assyria, etc.) it would be her star-gazing. If she was to prevail against the God of Israel her elaborate system of astrology would have to stand up. The many hours of study devoted to astrology, the voluminous writings of the wisemen and the staggering (and sometimes repulsive) amount of time consumed to practice all the hocus pocus involved wearied the general populace. There is evidence that even emperors became exasperated at the sham of it all (cf. Daniel 2:1-12). The Hebrew word modiy‘iym (prognosticators) is from yada’ (to know, perceive, discern) and the word khadashim means, new moons or months. The position of the moon was a determining factor in the Babylonian system of astrology.

But none of this shall save Babylon! Even this great, elaborate pervasive system of astrology shall be as vulnerable as dry wheat stubble thrown on a fire. It will go up in smoke, suddenly. Nothing will be left of it. Wood thrown on a fire leaves coals and lasts long enough to provide warmth. But poof, like stubble, Babylon and all her star-gazers will be gone! So much for all the years of toil and energy invested in Babylon’s elaborate system of astrology! All those sokherayik (traveling merchants) who “trafficked” with Babylon were interested only in financial gain. As long as they were making profit from trading with Babylon they were her friends. But when she needed assistance against her enemies they “wandered to their own quarters,” not wishing to suffer the judgments coming upon her. They have merely taken advantage of Babylon and have no genuine concern for her no matter how glibly they may have dealt with her when she was alive and prosperous. It was predicted that the magnificent Roman empire of the apostle John’s day would come to the same despicable ruin (cf. Revelation 17, 18). Rome would say in her heart she was a “queen” and not a “widow.” Rome would be burned with fire. The merchants of the earth would mourn Rome’s demise because it would mean financial loss for them (not that anyone was genuinely concerned for Rome’s fall). Thus “Babylon” is used as a symbol, a type, of the Roman empire (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 18:2; Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:21, etc.).

Babylon fell! Great and sudden was her fall! It was totally unexpected! During a night of drunken revelry and carousing by the emperor (Belshazzar), his noblemen and concubines, Cyrus the Persian marched in on a dry river bed (whose waters had been diverted by Cyrus) and Belshazzar was slain. Rome’s fall was not quite so sudden, but it fulfilled the predictions of John just as certainly as Babylon’s fall fulfilled the predictions of Isaiah and Jeremiah. And just as certainly, all human governments must ultimately fall and give way to the kingdom of God for whom the new heavens and the new earth are to be created.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 47". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/isaiah-47.html.
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