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Chapter 47 Babylon Is To Be Destroyed.
If salvation is to triumph, and if righteousness is to be exalted, and if God’s people are to be glorious (Isaiah 46:12-13) then it can only come about through the destruction of evil and of idolatry, and from Isaiah’s religious viewpoint that means the destruction of Babylon. Until Babylon is dealt with the Servant is restrained.
We should note at once that this destruction of Babylon is not attributed to Cyrus. We can only find such an idea there if we read it into the passage. Nor is it directly related to the return of exiles, although it is partly related to her ill-treatment of God’s people. Because she has ill-treated God’s people, God will ill-treat her. Indeed He will destroy her. But even that is not given as the main reason for God’s destruction of Babylon.
Rather what is to happen is seen as God’s judgment on something which is the epitome of evil, just as it was in chapters 13-14. It is because Yahweh is the Redeemer of His people (Isaiah 47:4), and as such must deal with the continuous menace of Babylon. It will occur because to Isaiah Babylon is more than just a city. It is because it is an idea. It represents Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). It has been the symbol of rebellion from the beginning, and is the earthly symbol of all enmity against God. And its total end is therefore necessary because this enmity must be dealt with if the Servant is to perform his task. Here therefore it is to be faced up to head on.
In order to fully appreciate the idea here it is necessary to appreciate that to Isaiah Babylon is set over against the Servant. She is the exact opposite of the Servant. She is proud and boastful. She could never be a servant! In her distant splendour she sums up all that is in opposition against God. It is thus she who must be finally dealt with if the Servant’s work is to prosper. So while even for Egypt and Assyria there is future hope, there is no future hope for Babylon. John recognised this in the Book of Revelation where again Babylon was depicted as summing up man’s opposition to God and His ways, and needing to be destroyed.
Even the nations saw Babylon as exceptional long before it rose to its later period of supremacy, both because of its glory and its proud claims, and because of its past. Conquering kings restored her and treated her with reverence. The world marvelled at her glories and her superlativeness. She was famed for her lascivious lifestyle. If you wanted to really live you went to Babylon. And she was famed for being the home of the occult and of ‘wise men’ and of those who could supposedly delve into all mysteries and understood the past and could discern the future. She was the centre of corrupt civilisation. She was the home of mystery. She was the bastion of the gods.
That is why Isaiah saw her destruction as so totally necessary. It would stress God’s judgment on all such lascivious behaviour and would indicate the certainty of the final defeat of the gods. They could be seen as congregated there, but they would fail in their attempt to protect it, and in that would be their downfall. And it is surely due to that fact that after this description of the downfall of Babylon, the false gods, which have previously been mentioned constantly, are not again mentioned in the section of Isaiah up to chapter 55. They were seen as doomed along with Babylon.
We saw in Isaiah 46:1-2 the weakness of the gods of Babylon. That was a preparation for this. Now we are to see it manifested in the destruction of Babylon itself, the final proof of the inadequacy of what were even seen as the greatest of gods (Bel/Marduk was highly revered even by the conquerors of Babylon). They can only stand by and do nothing because of what Yahweh has determined.
In fact the reason for Babylon’s destruction in context is made clear. It is because she called herself ‘the Lady of the kingdoms’ (Isaiah 47:5 compare Isaiah 13:19). It is because she will oppress the people of God (Isaiah 47:6 as threatened in Isaiah 39:6-7). It is because she considered herself eternal (Isaiah 47:7). It is because she saw herself as the incomparable and the invincible (Isaiah 47:8; Isaiah 47:10). It is because she was full of sorcery and enchantments (Isaiah 47:9), because she thought of herself as divine - ‘I am and there is none beside me’ (Isaiah 47:10 - previously used regularly of Yahweh in chapter 45. See also Isaiah 46:9). She was the anti-God. That was why she had to be destroyed. She is therefore to lose everything.
This was something that Cyrus’ conquest in no way achieved. Indeed the priests of Marduk welcomed him, for he sustained the glory of Babylon and supported its priests with their sorcery and enchantments. Under him they prospered. What is described here is much more extreme than anything that Cyrus did, and awaited Babylon’s final end after many humiliations. The activities of Cyrus, if in mind at all, would only be another stage in its demise, for God had determined a more extreme fate for Babylon. The thought here is of its final end. Isaiah was very conscious of the fact that Babylon must be destroyed for ever.
‘Come down and sit in the dust,
O virgin daughter of Babylon,
Sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chaldeans.
For you will no longer be called tender and delicate.
Take the millstones and grind meal,
Remove your veil,
Strip off the robe, uncover the leg,
Pass through the rivers.
Your nakedness will be uncovered,
Yes, your shame will be seen.’
The picture is vivid and not suited to the modern Christian mind. It is a picture of a tender and delicate young queen who is dethroned and made to sit on the ground in the dust, then has to take the lowliest and most undesirable of occupations in order to survive, and is finally dragged down and raped. It is the picture of a woman’s worst nightmare, and is describing the fate of Babylon. It will be reduced to poverty and servitude, and will be stripped and raped. The slow progress of her degradation admirably fits the slow progress of judgment on Babylon revealed in history, until its final end came and it was stripped naked of all that it was.
‘Virgin’ is not a strictly accurate translation although it is difficult to think of another which is succint enough. ‘Bethulah’ could at this time be used of a young married woman (married goddesses are called ‘virgins’, and later even temple prostitutes would be called ‘virgins’). It is rather intended here to indicate a woman ripe for sex, but reserved for those seen as chosen (compare the woman in Revelation 17:0).
‘The Chaldeans.’ These were initially a people in South Babylonia but the name had come to mean Babylonians in general.
She is called on to descend from her throne and to sit on the ground, in the dust, because she is no longer to be looked on as tender and delicate, as a lady. She is to be humiliated and distressed, possibly even becoming a beggar. Then she is told that if she wants to eat and drink she must take millstones and grind meal. This was a task for the very poor, the very humble and for prisoners (compare Exodus 11:4).
Then she is told to unveil herself, take her clothes off, and ‘pass through the rivers’, probably a euphemism for rape, for her nakedness will be uncovered (see Leviticus 18:6-19; Leviticus 20:17-21 where this describes illicit sexual intercourse). To pass through the rivers was to go through difficult times (compare Isaiah 43:2). She is to be totally shamed. The idea is that the worst that can possibly happen will come upon Babylon.
Some, however, see ‘pass through the rivers’ as an indication of going into ignominious captivity, for captives were often led off naked (compare Isaiah 20:4), while still others see the picture as depicting a woman taking off her long skirt and uncovering her legs so she that she could do work in the fields and wade through the irrigation ditches of the rivers. She would become not only a beggar (Isaiah 47:1) but a field servant.
“I will take vengeance,
And I will meet no man.”
This is the reality. God will exact vengeance on Babylon in full because of her behaviour. Her sin will receive its deserved punishment to the full. There will be no quarter. ‘I will meet no man’ may mean that God is saying, ‘I will spare no man’, or it may indicate a refusal to parley, a refusal to draw back from complete punishment. Either way it is now too late for mercy. Babylon must face its final doom.
YAHWEH IS ABOUT TO ACT SO AS TO ESTABLISH HIS PEOPLE AND PREPARE THE WAY FOR HIS SERVANT (Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 48:22 ).
As with what has gone before it is necessary for us to determine the viewpoint from which we will see these narratives, and in order to do so we must put ourselves in the shoes of Isaiah. Chapters 1-39 were mainly behind him, Hezekiah was dead, and what lay before him was the future in terms of Manasseh’s reign. That reign had not had a promising beginning. Manasseh had taken the people back to the old ways,and the ways of Assyria, and had thereby defiled the Temple (2 Kings 21:2-7; 2 Chronicles 33:2-10). The voice of Isaiah was silent (Isaiah 1:1). Judah was once more in subjection to Esarhaddon, the King of Assyria (Isaiah 37:38), who was overseeing Judah from Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11). The people were corrupted, the Temple was defiled, and Babylon was to be seen by Judah as the great enemy, as, in Isaiah’s eyes, it had always been.
Isaiah had already prophesied something of what the future held. He had informed Hezekiah that his sons would be carried off as trophies to Babylon (Isaiah 39:6-7), and had declared that God’s punishment must come on the personnel who ran the Temple (Isaiah 43:27-28), and the miserable fate of those who trusted in idols (Isaiah 43:27; Isaiah 44:11). (And this would in fact all actually happen in the near future (2 Chronicles 33:11). For invasion from Babylon would result in Manasseh and his entourage being taken captive to Babylon, the Temple inevitably being sacked, and the people being decimated in the warfare that accompanied it).
But the question now was, how did this fit in with what he had already been saying. How could the Servant whose future had looked so glowing be restored, and what was going to be Yahweh’s response to the situation. These chapters will now deal with that question.
As we have seen the problems were threefold. The first was that the condition of Yahweh’s people was in doubt because of their spiritual position and condition (Isaiah 42:19-25; Isaiah 43:22-28), the second was the persistent interference of false gods (Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 44:9-20), especially those of Assyria and Babylon, and the third was that the nations were still preventing His people from coming home (Isaiah 41:11-12; Isaiah 42:13-16; Isaiah 43:1-7). So before the Servant could be restored, and in order that ‘he’ might fulfil his proper function, each of these matters would have to be dealt with. In this section therefore we will discover how Yahweh intends to deal with these questions.
· In the case of the first He will rebuild Jerusalem and re-establish (or lay the foundations of) a new Temple (Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 44:28), using the house of Cyrus as His instrument.
· In the case of the second He will destroy the daughter of Babylon who is responsible for all the lies and deceit connected with the occult and with false gods (Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 47:1-15). But here Cyrus is not mentioned as involved.
· In the case of the third He will deal with all the nations whose lands contain exiles, so that His Servant might be restored in order that ‘he’ may begin again (Isaiah 44:27; Isaiah 45:1-7) in line with God’s promises to Abraham (Isaiah 41:8). This section will include prophecies concerning the subjection of Egypt/Ethiopia (Isaiah 45:14-17), the humbling of Babylon’s gods (Isaiah 46:1-2), and the destruction of the great enemy Babylon from which all men must flee (47; Isaiah 48:20).
In the terms of those days the restoration of Jerusalem and the building or restoration of the Temple were prerequisites if the Servant was to be able to do his work, and it had become necessary because the previous Temple had been defiled and those who served in it were rejected (Isaiah 43:28). Thus it was essential that God should make all things new. Equally important if the gods and the occult were to be dealt a bitter blow was the downfall of Babylon, because from there came all that was deceptive and evil, as it cultivated idolatry and the occult, and thought itself so superior that it could behave as though it was unobserved, even setting itself up against Yahweh (Isaiah 47:10; compare Isaiah 14:10-13), as it had always done (Genesis 11:1-9). And finally if His people who were exiled all around the world were to return, it would be necessary to find someone who could deal with the nations who held them captive, so that they could be enabled to do so.
These are the matters that the narrative will now look at. The section opens with a declaration of Yahweh’s credentials:
1) He is their Redeemer Who formed them from the womb. Compare for this Isaiah 43:1 which demonstrates that it is describing Israel, ‘thus says Yahweh Who formed you, O Israel, fear not for I have redeemed you’. For formation from the womb see Isaiah 44:2 where Yahweh, speaking to ‘Jacob my Servant, and Israel whom I have chosen’ says that He has ‘formed them from the womb and will help them.’ Compare also Isaiah 49:1 where The Servant, Who is identified as spiritual Israel (Isaiah 49:3 with 5-6), is ‘called from the womb’, and Isaiah 49:5 where he is ‘formed from the womb to be His Servant’. Clearly then He is also speaking to His Servant here.
2) He is the One Who, with none around to help, made all things, stretching out the heavens alone, and spreading out the earth when none was with Him. He alone is the Creator of all things.
3) He is the One Who oversets the occult world, frustrating and making fools of deceitful ‘diviners’, and showing up the recognised ‘magicians’, the ‘wise men’, by deliberately acting in order to show up their knowledge as foolish.
4) In contrast He is the One Who confirms the word of His true Servant and performs the counsel of His true messengers, that is He fulfils their prophecies so that all may be aware that they are His true prophets.
So Yahweh, the Creator of all things, Who opposes and countermands the exponents of the occult by making things happen in such a way as to make them look foolish, has chosen His Servant, the true Israel within Israel, from the womb (it is all in His divine sovereignty) in order that He might confirm his teaching and fulfil his prophecies. Whatever the true Servant is and does will be confirmed and carried into effect by Yahweh. He is the one who is to bear God’s message to the world (compare Isaiah 2:4).
But having done so He must prepare the way before them. And in doing this He will restore the situation for them. At present the nations hold many of them captive, Jerusalem has been laid waste, and the Temple is defiled, all of which prevent His Servant Israel from fulfilling their obligation. So now He declares how He is going to remedy matters.
It will be noted initially how firmly these ideas are introduced, and in each case they are introduced, not as concerned about a catastrophe but as a guarantee of their fulfilment. For above all they are introduced as being the work of Yahweh.
It is first made clear that the source of these actions is the One Who does everything according to His will, in fulfilment of His word.
1) He says to Jerusalem, “You shall be inhabited”, and to the cities of Judah, “You shall be built. And I will build up its waste places.”
2) He says to the deep, “Be dry, and I will dry up your rivers.”
3) He says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd and will perform all My pleasure.”
4) Even saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built”, and to the Temple, “You shall be established” (or ‘your foundations shall be laid.”
If we see this as a chiasmus with 1). and 4). going together, and 2). and 3). going together, there are two emphases. The first is the important one of the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah after its mauling by Sennacherib, and after its future destruction by Esarhaddon (hinted at in Isaiah 39:6-7; Isaiah 43:28), and as it later turns out again by Nebuchadnezzar, because Israel does not take advantage of the opportunity gained by Manasseh’s repentance. The guarantee given by His word is that Jerusalem will be reinhabited after its mauling, the cities of Judah will be rebuilt after their devastation caused by war, the waste places caused by war and famine will be restored (built up), and this will include the re-establishing (and as it later turns out the total rebuilding) of the Temple, all of which have been prepared for previously (Isaiah 41:17-18; Isaiah 43:19-20; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 43:28).
The second is Yahweh’s action in the drying up of the deep and the rivers, through the activities of His shepherd, Cyrus, who will do all His pleasure (further expanded on in Isaiah 45:1-7). Countries in those days were often defined in terms of their rivers (compare Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 7:18; Isaiah 7:20; Nahum 3:8), which were of such vital importance to them, and their drying up was seen as a judgment on them (Isa 19:45; Isaiah 42:15; Isaiah 50:2; Psalms 74:15; Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 51:36; Ezekiel 30:12; Zechariah 10:11). The drying up of the deep and the rivers may well therefore signify the desolation of the land of The River, and therefore of both Assyria and Babylon, in which case this is the promise that both will be dealt with through this instrument whom Yahweh has chosen and anointed. But their drying up also reflects what Yahweh had previously done to Egypt when He dried up their deep (Isaiah 51:10; Isaiah 63:13; Joshua 2:10), and what He had done when He entered Canaan (Joshua 4:23; compare Psalms 114:3-5), and on top of that it parallels the boast of Sennacherib that with the sole of his feet he had dried up the rivers of all the places that he besieged (Isaiah 37:25). As he had done to others, so would be done to Assyria, and their accomplice Babylon. As a result restoration was promised to God’s people, which would include the opportunity of return from exile, the restoration of life in Judah, the reinhabiting of Jerusalem, the restoration of the Temple, and destruction to their enemies.
Noteworthy in this description is the total lack of mention of the enemies that Cyrus will deal with. The house of Cyrus has not been raised up in order to deliver them from the Babylonian empire, but to deliver them from all their enemies (Isaiah 45:1-7), whoever they may be, and to be God’s instrument as Yahweh fulfils His purpose to restore Judah and the Temple (Isaiah 44:26-28) in readiness for God’s outpouring of righteousness and salvation (Isaiah 45:8; compare Isaiah 44:1-5). Isaiah does not pretend to know the details, and shows no awareness of the activities of Nebuchadnezzar. He still thinks in terms of Assyrian Babylon..
It will be noted that in what follows, describing the activities of Cyrus, it is his destruction of nations and taking of their cities and treasures, ‘for Jacob my Servant’s sake and Israel my chosen’, that is emphasised (Isaiah 45:1-3). While he would also certainly play his part in giving permission for the building of a new Temple (Isaiah 44:28 with Ezra 1:1), on our reading of it that is here seen as a by-product of his activity. The raising up of the new Temple was to be the work of Yahweh. That was not, of course, to prevent Cyrus having a part in the process. But no heathen king could establish the Temple of Yahweh. (Apart from the lessons learned however, it actually matters little which view we take for Cyrus II was undoubtedly involved in both). Cyrus’ main assignment was to be the defeat and denuding of the nations for Israel’s sake (Isaiah 44:27-28 a; Isaiah 45:1-6).
So as we go into this new section we carefully note God’s promise of a restored Judah, a new or restored Temple, and a new or restored Jerusalem, alongside of which the idolatrous city of Babylon will be destroyed because of all that it represents. This latter is, however, not connected with Cyrus, which from the point of view of accuracy was a good job because Cyrus did not desolate Babylon. Rather having taken it easily, and being welcomed by the priests of Marduk, he restored it to its previous importance within his empire. The final demise of Babylon in fulfilment of Isaiah’s words took place much later.
Isaiah accepts these strands of information without flinching, and without trying to fit them together. He is very much lacking in the full details. What he is aware of are the principles involved. The Temple must be restored, the exiles must return from all over the world, Babylon must be destroyed. But it is important from our point of view to recognise that while Cyrus is very much involved in the general picture, he is not described as being involved with Babylon, and once he has made the world ready for Yahweh’s Servant, he departs immediately from the picture.
So the consequence is that, having in His eternal counsels, brought Abraham to the land like a ‘bird of prey’ (Isaiah 46:11), He will not allow Abraham’s seed to fail, but will restore them so that they might fulfil their task as His Servant..
This description of Abraham as a ‘bird of prey’ is interesting and significant. There can seem little doubt that in using it he has in mind that having originally, within the eternal purposes of God, arrived in the land, Abraham had, like a great bird of prey, descended on the king of Babylon and had driven him off and spoiled him (Isaiah 41:2; Genesis 14:0), just as his seed would later do with the Canaanites. Thus Isaiah is now to see the continued presence of Abraham in the land in his seed (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 45:4) who are God’s Servant, as a guarantee that Babylon will again suffer through the hand of their Kinsman Redeemer as He acts on behalf of His people, as He did in the days of Abraham. Yahweh too will swoop on Babylon, but this time to destroy it completely.
Further Note on Babylon.
In view of all that he has previously said about Babylon (Isaiah 44:13-14) it is clear that Isaiah could have expected nothing less than its destruction. Nor could he have doubted that it was necessary. For the shadow of Babylon, the great Anti-God and proponent of the occult, continually hung over the world, and over the people of God, and had to be dealt with. Her evil spiritual influence was known throughout the Near Eastern world, and was affecting the future of Yahweh’s Servant. There was therefore no alternative to her permanent destruction.
And yet that has not been the theme of Isaiah’s message. Indeed Babylon has only been mentioned once, and that almost incidentally, in Isaiah 43:14. At this stage Isaiah is interested in the work of the Servant, not in Babylon. He does not see Babylon as the threat to Israel’s freedom and independence, (he does not even mention it in chapter 45), only as the centre of all that is devilish.
And this is despite the fact that Babylon had yet to appear in order to loot David’s house and take the errant sons of David to become eunuchs in the house of the king of Babylon as God had already revealed through him (Isaiah 39:6-7). But that was a different issue dealing with the rejection of the current house of David. It said nothing about the destruction of the Temple or the future of the Servant.
So while, as we have gathered in Isaiah 43:28, he was becoming more and more aware that the Temple had been profaned and must be replaced, he does not make any claim that he knows how or when it will come about. Nothing is said about the way in which it will come to be in that state. He simply knows that it will necessarily be so because God’s people have defiled it (Isaiah 43:22-28). But at no stage, when speaking of the restoration of the Temple, does he mention Babylon as involved, or connected with its destruction in any way. Had he known specifically he would surely have said so. But that was something not revealed to him. While he knew that the Temple must be replaced because defiled, and may well have suspected who the culprit might be, he clearly did not see it as part of his message to Israel.
What he did know was that it was through the folly and unbelief of Ahaz that Assyria had come to tread Israel down (Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 52:4). And at this present time he sees that threat as slightly altered in that the direction of the threat now comes from a Babylon, through whom Assyria was operating. This is clear from the fact that later, when Manasseh was arraigned for misbehaviour against Assyria, it was to Babylon that he was carried off in chains to give account (2 Chronicles 33:11). And this involvement of Babylon in the affairs of Israel as acting on behalf of Assyria would chill Isaiah’s heart, for he knew what God had said about Hezekiah’s children and that Babylon was the permanent enemy of God from the beginning. Indeed it was he who had been called upon to demand its permanent destruction, never to be restored (Isaiah 13:19-20; see also 14; Isaiah 21:9; Isaiah 23:13). And he knew that through the folly of Hezekiah Babylon had been awakened to the prosperity of Judah and would one day come for her treasures (Isaiah 39:6-7). So when it began acting as broker on behalf of Assyria, in Isaiah’s eyes Babylon, the great Anti-God, came to the fore. Esarhaddon, King of Assyria, rebuilt Babylon and appointed one of his sons there as crown representative and prince, and it would seem that Babylon was now the taskmaster acting on behalf of Assyria with regard to Judah. As the primeval rebellious city, and as the great Anti-God, it had even ingratiated itself with Assyria. It had to be destroyed
So that is why Babylon itself, with its encroaching ways, has to be got rid of, and Yahweh will now assure Israel from his own experience that the gods of Babylon, having been humiliated by the Assyrians, had been revealed as what they were (Isaiah 46:1-2). Babylon herself was thus doomed (47). All men are therefore to turn from any consideration of, or affinity, with Babylon and recognise the triumph of Yahweh in establishing His people (Isaiah 48:20). So physically Israel’s deliverance from the nations will be by the hand of a Persian king, but spiritually their spiritual life will be saved by the establishment of the new Temple (Isaiah 44:28) and by the destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 48:20), the great threat to Yahwism (47; compare Isaiah 14:13-15).
These then are now the matters with which Isaiah will deal, and the ideas that are mentioned are in huge contrast, and are all important for the work of the Servant, but he does not interconnect them. On the one hand there is to be the full restoration of a pure, new, and undefiled Temple, a place through which the Servant can operate if ‘he’ is willing, and on the other there is to be the destruction of the evil daughter of Babylon with all her false sorceries and idols. For until both these things have occurred the work of the Servant will continue to be hindered. However, this destruction of Babylon is more connected with Assyria (Isaiah 46:1-2) than with Cyrus.
Cyrus is rather seen as the one whose conquests will prepare the way for Israel by conquering the nations and acting on Israel’s behalf. For what Cyrus will do is to be ‘for Jacob, My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect’ (Isaiah 45:4). That is the specific reason why Yahweh has called him by name and put His own name on Him (surnamed him), even though he himself does not know Yahweh. It is because he is acting in order that the Servant might benefit. We must not confuse the two activities of preparing the way for the Servant, which was the purpose of raising up Cyrus, and the destruction of Babylon which will occur through the hand of Yahweh. Both were necessary but no connection is identified between them. To Isaiah they represented the good and the bad about the future as stunningly revealed by Yahweh.
There is no thought in these chapters that Isaiah is over-anxious. He is perfectly aware, on his pinnacle of faith and with his magnificent view of God (40), that the situation is no-contest. And once he has introduced the one who will restore the Servant (45), he puts the gods of Babylon firmly in their place as burdens on the backs of beasts which far from helping them can only make the weary beasts stumble (Isaiah 46:1-2), and proclaims the end of the daughter of the Chaldeans (47). Then, the great enemy having been dealt with, He reintroduces the Servant in his ministry to His people and to the world (49). It is clear that until Babylon is out of the way the Servant cannot finalise his ministry.
It should be noted how little detail is given with regard to these external threats. Isaiah is not necessarily aware of all the full ramifications of them, and is certainly not concerned about them. His whole thought is concentrated on what Yahweh is doing. It is those facts of which he is sure.
End of note.
‘Our redeemer, Yahweh of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.’
But Who is this ‘I’. This interjected comment gives the answer. It is an indication of how Isaiah sees it. This judgment on Babylon will in fact deliver Israel from Babylon’s unwanted attentions. Yahweh is acting as Israel’s Redeemer. A ‘redeemer’ was someone who paid up on behalf of a poor relative (Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:48). So here Yahweh may be seen as acting on behalf of Israel, looked on as His poor relative, although it is only an interjection and secondary to the main gist of the passage.
The idea of redemption indicated delivery by the exercise of power (Genesis 48:16; Exodus 6:6) . The basic meaning was delivering by the payment of a price; by the payment of money, the provision of a substitute or by the expending of power. We are not told which is the basic idea here. Possibly all three. The name ‘Yahweh of hosts’ brings out that He is the God of battle and of all power. Thus His redemption will succeed. ‘The Holy One of Israel’ is a reminder of His purity and grandeur (Isaiah 6:3). He is the unique and righteous One, and acts righteously against the unrighteous.
‘Sit there silently, and get into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans,
For you will no more be called ‘the Lady of the kingdoms’.’
Here Babylon is depicted as being degraded and becoming like a lowly ladies’ maid or servant who is dismissed to sit quietly in the darkness, away from the lighting, until bidden, and is not allowed the luxury of sharing the bright lighting. She is excluded from the inner circle. Thus Babylon is no longer to be the proud ‘Lady of the kingdoms’, feted by all. She is to lose her position, her luxuries and her privilege. She is to be humiliated and to become a serving woman. And in the end her silence and darkness will be permanent.
Others see ‘silence’ as signifying loss of authority and therefore of a right to speak, with darkness possibly indicating imprisonment.
(Some see ‘darkness’ as always referring to Babylon in this section (see Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 45:19) but it is difficult to see how that is so here. It could be seen as indicating exile, away from the land of light, but why should Babylon be the land of light? It is far better to see it as a general expression of lack of what is good or as lack of light).
“I was angry with my people,
I profaned my inheritance and gave them into your hand.
You showed them no mercy.
You have very heavily laid your yoke on the aged.’”
At certain stages Babylon fronted for Assyria in oppressing God’s people. It was to Babylon that Manasseh was taken in chains. But that was only the outward manifestation of an oppression that had been going on for years. And in Isaiah 39:6-7 Isaiah had demonstrated that Judah and Jerusalem were to be invaded by Babylon and stripped of their wealth because Hezekiah had been unable to resist showing it off. To God it was as though that also had already happened. But as ever with invaders they would overplay their hand and exact more than was reasonable. They would make the heaviest of demands extracting heavy tribute, and also possibly forced labour, from the old. The old were one of the classes for which God had a special care, and He expected the same attitude from others. ‘The aged’ may, however, represent the distinguished leaders. This particular form of inhumanity is blamed on the Babylonians by Jeremiah twice in Lamentations 4:16; Lamentations 5:12, and in both cases he connects the word with a parallel term denoting rank or office, viz. priests and princes.
It should again be noted that there is no reference to the exile of the large numbers of citizens that did in fact take place, indicating that this was written before the event.
‘I was angry with my people.’ That is He felt it necessary to punish their sins as they deserved. ‘I profaned my inheritance.’ He allowed unclean Babylon to invade the land that was His inheritance. His own people had rendered it unclean, so He magnified its uncleanness.
“And you said, ‘I will be a lady for ever,
So that you did not lay these things to your heart,
Nor did you remember its latter end.’ ”
But Babylon was supremely arrogant (compare chapter 14). She abrogated the role of the everlasting God. No one could be sure of the future for ever except God. But she was so sure of her own everlastingness that she did not consider her behaviour or her doings, nor consider that all earthly things have an end, and that that end would be determined by her behaviour. She believed that she would last for ever and retain all her privileges. She did not need God.
To be a lady meant to be pampered and cosseted, and because of Babylon’s glory, and her reputation, that was what happened to her. She tended to be treated as special even by conquerors. Esarhaddon of Assyria restored her. Assyrian princes ruled over her. Cyrus the Persian made her a capital city. She was clearly used to such treatment. Thus because she was used to being pampered she assumed that the gods, even Yahweh, would pamper her. That is why she did not consider her ways. She was presumptious. Nor would she bring to mind what the consequences of such evil behaviour would be. (Even though history had revealed it often enough). She thought she was eternal.
“Now therefore hear this, you are who are given to pleasures,
You who dwell carelessly, who say in your heart,
‘I am and there is none else beside me.
I will not sit as a widow, nor will I know the loss of children.’ ”
This is all one with the previous statement. She was given to excessive pleasures and considered that she had a unique right to them. And history records the extravagant living in Babylon. She was noted for it. She dwelt carelessly, confident that no one could call her to account. And above all she spoke as though she was above all others, almost the equal of Yahweh (compare Isaiah 45:5-6; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 45:21; see Isaiah 14:12-14). And she arrogantly assumed that no harm could befall her, and that she could not lose her protector, either her king or her god Marduk (Bel), nor see her children, her citizens, slaughtered. This may be seen as reflecting a time when she was virtually independent, but not necessarily. Babylon felt herself superior even to her conquerors. She seduced them to her will. It was an attitude that prevailed whatever condition she was in.
Isaiah sees no inconsistency between ‘bethulah’ in Isaiah 47:1 and widowhood and children here. At this time a ‘bethulah’ could be married and have children (unlike an ‘almah). She was not at this time an intact virgin in the modern sense.
“But these two things will come to you in a moment in one day,
The loss of children, and widowhood.
They will come on you in their full measure,
In spite of the multitude of your sorceries,
And the great abundance of your enchantments.”
Her claims would be repudiated by events. She would lose her protector and see her children slaughtered. And this would happen in spite of all her multiplied sorceries and enchantments. And Babylon, famous for its priests, its sorcerers and its enchanters who would one day be exclusively given the name of Chaldeans (but not yet), would discover that in the end they could not save her.
‘In a moment, in one day.’ When her judgment came it would come extremely quickly. And in that day she would lose everything.
‘They will come on you in their full measure.’ Not just a normal defeat, but an overwhelming humiliation and end. The idea far exceeds that of Cyrus. The point all the way through is that this Babylon is an unusual case and will be dealt with unusually.
“For you have trusted in your wickedness.
You have said, ‘No one sees me.’
Your wisdom and your knowledge, it has perverted you,
And you have said in your heart, ‘I am and there is none else beside me’.”
Her trust was in her wickedness. This probably signifies all the host of her methods of magic and of the involving of the supernatural by occult means (compare Zechariah 5:8). But that it also includes other forms of wickedness comes out in the claim, ‘No one sees me.’ She did shameful things that had to be done in the dark. Note what the words imply. She knew in her heart that what she did was wrong. She just thought that if no one knew she could get away with it.
Indeed her very wisdom and knowledge had perverted her. She thought that she knew so much that she was almost the equal of God, that she was unique and that her citizens were above all ordinary mortals. Great knowledge often makes men think foolishly.
“Therefore will evil come on you.
You will not know its dawning.
And mischief will fall on you.
You will not be able to ward it off by atonement.
And desolation will come on you suddenly,
Which you know not.”
Because she has trusted in extreme wickedness, wicked things (same word) will come on her. She will sow what she has reaped. And it will come surreptitiously, she will not know its dawning (in spite of her fortune-tellers and diviners). And she will not be able to ward off what is coming by atonement. She has gone too far for atonement. Her sin is unforgivable. So will come on her such desolation as she could not even begin to comprehend, for it is beyond anything she has ever known or heard of.
Again the ideas go far beyond anything Cyrus would do. What is being described here does not have Cyrus in mind. It is the ultimate judgment that will leave her stripped and bare.
“Stand now with your enchantments,
And with the multitude of your sorceries,
In which you have laboured from your youth.
If so be that you will be able to profit.
If so be that you may prevail.
You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels.
Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators,
Stand up and save you from the things that will come on you.”
Isaiah now calls on her to do what she can with what she has. It will be of no use. Her enchanters and sorcerers have many decades of experience of magic and sorcery, let them now take their stand with it. It will not benefit her, but she may as well try. She will not prevail, but again, she may as well try. Indeed she is worn out by all the advice and words from the gods, and from their ancestors, and from the stars, described as the ‘multitude of your counsels’. And she was so proud of them. Well, let all those who engage in foretelling the future now stand up and save her from what is to come on her. But they will not be able to.
The multiplicity of their counsels, conflicting advice from many sources, is in stark contrast to the one counsel of Yahweh (Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 46:11). Yahweh’s counsel does not weary men by its continual contradictions. It has simply to be responded to or ignored.
‘Enchantments’ (what binds) are those means used to bind the supposed heavenly powers to perform on their behalf, the ‘sorceries’ are the actual incantations which they utilise in the process. The astrologers divided up the heavens into sections and sought to read the future from the stars (not unknown today, and just as spurious. At least the ancients believed they were gods. The moderns believe they are fate). The stargazers interpreted unusual signs in the heavens. The monthly prognosticators did their work at the new moon.
We are probably to see that all these people are in stark contrast with Yahweh’s Servant. He would not seek to such extremes, he would simply listen to the voice of God
“Behold they will be as stubble,
The fire will burn them.
They will not deliver themselves from the power of the flame.
It will not be a coal to warm at, nor a fire to sit in front of.”
All such people will be burned up along with all their paraphernalia, as stubble is burned in the fields. They will be unable to deliver themselves from the flames because of their intensity, for this will be no friendly brazier but intense flames.
“Thus will be the things to you in which you have laboured.
Those who have traded with you from your youth,
Will wander every one to his quarter.
There will be none to save you.”
The things in which they have laboured, all their magic and sorcery, will have been burned up along with the practitioners. Those who have traded with them even from youth will wander off back to their own trading centre. So they will have no religious guides, and no trading partners. They will have no one to look to for deliverance.
Their trading partners might have been potential allies. But God will make them lose interest in the partnership so that they do nothing, simply ignoring Babylon’s need. Such is what happens to those who think and behave like Babylon. Babylon will be deserted by all. Babylon is doomed.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 47". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany