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the Third Week after Easter
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 13

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verse 1


Isaiah 13:1. The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.

In 2 Kings 17:0 we find an account of the invasion of Israel by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:1-6). Then follows a long enumeration of the sins which had brought this Divine visitation upon the ten tribes, ending with the words, “So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day” (2 Kings 17:23). If the scourge was no longer in the hands of the king of Assyria, it would be transferred to other hands not less terrible.

1. Would this scourge destroy the life of the Jewish nation? This was the awful question which presented itself to the minds of the prophets when they saw one and another limb of this nation lopped off, when they saw that a great numerical majority of the tribes would be carried away. Isaiah’s eyes were opened to see whence the permanence of the race was derived, how great critical moments of its life discovered Him who was everlastingly present with it. The child born in hours of trouble and rebuke had borne witness to him of the continuance of the regal family as well as of the people of God’s covenant, when the rage of their enemies as well as their own faithlessness were threatening them with destruction. Nor was this all. In the miserable, heartless reign of Ahaz the vision had been presented to him of a “Rod coming out of the stem of Jesse, which should stand for an ensign of the people. To it should the Gentiles seek, and His rest should be glorious.” Consider the Rod out of Jesse, what it betokened (Isaiah 11:10-12)! The immediate fruits which Isaiah saw coming out of this root might have appeared in the days of any patriotic and prosperous prince, and did actually appear in the latter days of Hezekiah. No doubt Hezekiah might become, and did actually become, “an ensign to the nations,” just as Solomon had been before him, one to whom they brought presents, whose alliance they sought, whose elevation out of a deep calamity was a proof that some mighty God was with him. But—

2. Though we need not seek in any more distant days than those of Hezekiah for a very satisfactory fulfilment of these predictions (and let it never be forgotten that what may seem to us, when we look back over 3000 years, an exaggerated description of deliverance and restoration, must have seemed inadequate and almost cold to those who experienced the blessing),—though Hezekiah was a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and though the Spirit of the Lord did rest upon him (Isaiah 11:2),—though the peacefulness and order of his last years might faithfully carry out the symbols of the wolf and the lamb lying down togther, yet it was no less impossible for the prophet to think chiefly of Hezekiah when he was uttering these words than it would have been for him to fancy that he was the King whom he saw sitting on the throne, and his train filling the temple in the year that Uzziah died (chap. Isaiah 6:1-4). There was, however, this great blessing which came to Isaiah from his being able to connect the Divine King with an actual man—the belief that a man must embody and present the Godhead, that only in a man could its blessedness and glory appear, acquired a force and vividness from his hope of Hezekiah’s government and from his actual experience of it, which we may say, without rashness or profaneness, would have been otherwise wanting in him. In using that language, we are only affirming that any method but the one which we know the Divine Wisdom has adopted for conveying a truth to a man’s spirit must be an imperfect method. Hezekiah’s existence was necessary to the instruction of Isaiah, and through him of all generations to come. Perhaps Shalmaneser and Sennacherib were, in another way, scarcely less necessary.

Apparently the prophet passes in this chapter to an entirely new subject. The Assyrian seems to be forgotten. He opens with the burden of Babylon; he goes on to the burden of Damascus, &c. But Babel or Babylon represented to the prophets the attempt to establish a universal society, not upon the acknowledgment of the Divine care and protection, but upon the acknowledgment of a mere power in nature against which men must try to measure their own. The order and history of the Jewish nation were made, from age to age, silently to testify against it. “Babylon is the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency” (Isaiah 13:19); her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged (Isaiah 13:22). But these and similar words must refer to more than the destruction of a certain Chaldean city then or afterwards. How can we limit them to it when we find such words as those in Isaiah 13:11-13? Instead of being, as some suppose, an interpolated fragment, the burden of Babylon comes in to make all the visitations upon the other tribes of the earth intelligible. They are diverse but harmonious portions of the same Divine message to man—a message of terror, but also of deliverance and hope. In chap. 14 we feel how wonderfully these are combined.

But though most feel something of the grandeur of this poetry, and a few the truth of this prophecy, we do not enough consider upon what both are founded. The God-Man was the ground upon which the Jewish nation stood; here you have the contrast—the Man-God; he would ascend up to heaven and exalt his throne above the stars of God. This is the natural ruler of a society which counts the gold of Ophir more precious than human beings. We have here the Babylonian power and the Jerusalem power, that parody of human and Divine greatness which is seen in an earthly tyrant, that perfect reconciliation of divinity and humanity which is seen in the Redeemer. Consider both images well. Both are presented to us; we must admire and copy one of them; and whichever we take, we must resolutely discard the other. If we have ever mixed them together in our minds, a time is at hand that will separate them for ever. The Babylonian mark and image, your own evil nature, a corrupt society, the evil spirit, have been striving to stamp you ever since your childhood. Each hour you are tempted to think a man less precious than the gold of Ophir; the current maxims of the world take for granted that he is; you in a thousand ways are acting on those maxims. Oh, remember that in them, and in the habits, which they beget, lies the certain presage of slavery for men and nations, the foretaste of decay and ruin, which no human contrivances can avert, which the gifts and blessings of God’s providence only accelerate. May God grant us power to cast Babylonian principles out of our hearts, that when they come before us we may despise them and laugh them to scorn, knowing that not against us but against the Holy One the enemy is exalting himself. In that day may we be able to sing the song which the prophet said should be sung in the land of Judah (Isaiah 26:1-4).—F. D. Maurice, M.A.: Prophets and Kings, pp. 272–290.

Verse 6


Isaiah 13:6. Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand.

Sad and unnatural is the condition of those to whom the coming of “the day of the Lord” is a cause for dismay. But this is the condition of the wicked. They can think of God prevailing and asserting Himself only with dread. Dread must take possession of them whenever they think of the future, for the profoundest and most ineradicable instincts of their nature assure them that the “day of the Lord”—a day of judgment and retribution—must come.

Thus far all is plain. But when we read and think about what is to take place on “the day of the Lord” (Isaiah 13:7-8; Isaiah 13:15-16; Isaiah 13:18), astonishment takes possession of us, and we feel disposed to call it “the day of the devil.” How can a day like this be called “the day of the Lord”? Note—

1. That all the cruelties here described were inflicted by men.
2. That these men were moved to inflict these cruelties by their own passions; that they acted as free agents, and without any thought of fulfilling a Divine purpose.
3. That the supreme passion by which they were moved was the passion of revenge—of revenge for cruelties equally frightful inflicted by the sufferers of that day. Nothing can exceed in horror the picture which the Babylonians themselves drew of the enormities perpetrated by them on conquered nations.
4. That, consequently, the Babylonians were reaping as they had sown. The day that was coming upon them was a day of retribution, and in this sense emphatically “a day of the Lord.” As a matter of fact, retribution is one of the laws under which we live (H. E. I., 4609, 4611, 4612), and it is a Divine law, a law worthy of God. It is an ordinance of mercy, for the tendency of it is to restrain men from sin. By their knowledge of its existence and the certainty of its operation (P. D., 2995), wicked men are undoubtedly greatly restrained from wickedness. Were it not for the days when it is manifestly seen in operation, when great transgressors are overwhelmed with great sufferings, atheism would prevail; a reign of terror and of unrestrained cruelty would begin, and every day would be a day of the devil.
5. This day, with all its horrors, was an essential preliminary to the accomplishment of God’s purposes of mercy in regard to His people. For them it was emphatically “a day of the Lord,” for it was the day of their deliverance from bondage, a day of exultant thanksgiving that the power of their relentless oppressors was for ever broken (chap. Isaiah 14:1-6). In the history of our race there have been many such days, e.g., the French Revolution of 1789, the American Civil War; days when the worst passions of humanity were manifested without restraint; but days when the wisdom of God was displayed in bringing good out of evil, in punishing the iniquities of the past, in ushering in a brighter and better era of freedom and justice.

The record of such “days of the Lord” should be eminently instructive to us.

1. They should teach us the true characters of those statesmen who use national power for purposes of unrighteous national aggrandisement. They are patriots but traitors, rendering inevitable a bitter harvest of national shame and sorrow.
2. They show the folly of supposing that the great power of any nation justifies it in the hope that it may safely deal unjustly with other and weaker nations. Guilty nations set in operation forces mightier and surer in their operation than any they can command—those forming the instrumentality by which God governs the earth, and in spite of human passions, maintains the existence and carries forward the development of the human race; these, combining, bring on a “day of the Lord,” in which, by the overthrow of the haughtiest wrongdoers, His existence and authority, and the folly of the practical atheism to which great nations are prone, are demonstrated (P. D., 2544).

Verse 16


Isaiah 13:16. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes.

Consider this terrible declaration—

I. As it regards man.

1. As a revelation of the degradation of which he is capable. History may be said to be a manifold revelation to this effect; the Bible alone gives hope for man, by disclosing his capabilities of development and exaltation.
2. As a remindal that no earthly empire is in and of itself secure against utter over throw.
3. As a remindal that what are called national disasters, are made up of sufferings endured by a vast number of individuals.

II. As it regards God. So considered, it should be remembered—

1. That His permission of such things is, when viewed comprehensively, only part of the great mystery of the permission of evil.
2. That this is an instance of the working of one of the great natural laws by which God governs the universe—the law of retribution.
3. That in the heart of this terrible prediction there is a bright ray of hope. When you see a surgeon performing a terrible operation on a patient, you are sure that he is confident that the patient will be restored to health. So when we look at the world as it is, we are certified that there is a better world to be. God would never have permitted the world to be, if He did not see how out of this present misery He could educe eternal and triumphant blessedness. Towards that better future God is leading on the world (H. E. I., 3421–3423). The revulsion of feeling with which we read this prediction is one proof of it; there was a time when such incidents in the prosecution of a war would have been regarded as a matter of course. That it should not be so now marks an advance, and is a prophecy of further advances.

Verse 17


Isaiah 13:17. The Medes … shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.

I. One of the most universal and powerful of all passions is the love of money. Consider—

1. How wide-spread is this passion. The instant men rise above utter barbarism, it manifests itself. Paradoxical as it may sound, it is one of the first signs that civilisation has begun. In every civilised land, and among all classes, it constantly manifests itself [1021] It is one of the inspiring and moulding forces that are always at work.

2. How powerful it is in its operation! It drives men to exhausting toil. It leads them to face appalling dangers. It persuades them to endure distressing privations. It betrays them into the basest crimes. Up to a certain point, it may be said to be a useful servant; it works to promote our welfare, by overbalancing other tendencies that would degrade and ruin us; but when once that limit is overpassed, it transforms itself into a tyrannical master. Like many an Eastern tyrant, it destroys all other lawful passions that might dispute with it the throne (H. E. I., 400, 402).

[1021] In many of those who seem utterly free from the love of money, it is only dormant; like the thirst for blood in that tiger which, captured when a cub, was brought up as a household pet, but showed itself to be a tiger indeed when, licking a slight wound in its master’s hand, it first tasted blood. So, many who appear to be utterly free from the love of money are so simply because they have never possessed more than sufficed for their bare necessities. Let them possess more, and avarice will show itself. This is the explanation of the familiar fact, that many who become prosperous become niggardly; they may continue to give, but it is always in a steadily diminishing proportion to their income (H. E. I., 4013; P. D., 3068, 3488).

II. But this passion, powerful as it is, may be controlled and conquered. “The Medes … shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.” This means, not that they should be exempt from the influence of this worldwide passion, but that in them it would be temporarily overborne by another more powerful passion—the passion for revenge. For years the dominion of Babylon over them had been maintained by the most relentless rigour and frightful cruelties; and when the hour for successful revolt came, the one thought of the Medes would be—Revenge! That one intense longing would consume all others; the men on whom it had laid hold would forget their thirst for riches.

This really is only an instance and illustration of what Dr. Chalmers used to call “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Many other affections come up to the human heart, and expel avarice; e.g., love of wife or children, ambition, vanity, &c. We see, therefore, that the love of money can be conquered, and as reasonable men always in danger of being overcome by it, we should ask by what passion or principle it can be conquered most nobly. That principle and that passion is the love of Christ. Of those who are truly possessed by it, it may be truly said that they do not regard silver; and as for gold, they do not delight in it. They may have much money, and by their splendid genius for business may be constantly gaining much more; but they possess it, it does not possess them; they are its masters. By the use of it they are ennobled. Let us pray that our hearts may be garrisoned by this more powerful and noble passion; then all the assaults of avarice upon them shall be made in vain. We shall meet them as Christ Himself met the offer of all the wealth and glory of the world; and the result will be, that we shall possess the true riches which will be valuable in the eternal world (Matthew 4:8-10; Matthew 6:19-21).

Verse 18

(Sunday-School Anniversary Sermon.)

Isaiah 13:18. Their eye shall not spare children.

This declaration is made concerning the Medes, by whom the power of Babylon was destined to be broken. So thoroughly bent will they be upon their mission of revenge, that they will not be turned away from it by any appeals either to their avarice (Isaiah 13:17) or to their pity (text). The helplessness of infancy and the innocence of youth, which are naturally so impressive and persuasive, will not avail to stay them in their devastating career.

We should display a singular ignorance of the world in which we live, if we were therefore to pronounce the Medes exceptional monsters of iniquity. Alas! there are many imitators of their relentless cruelty. In our own land children are not spared in relation to evils even more terrible than war. Youth is always beset by dangers, even when it is most carefully guarded; but when it is specially under the influence of wicked men, it is often ruthlessly sacrificed. Widespread is the spirit of evil which knows not how to pity it. Examples of its existence and operations are to be found—

1. In houses where the most hurtful principles and vicious practices are continually set before children. From their youth up they are not spared from the most disastrous influences (H. E. I., 775–779).
2. In business, where often the most sacred interests of childhood are sacrificed for the sake of gain. Their health, by inflicting upon them excessive labour. Even their morality, by fiends who tempt them into haunts of vice. Compared with these incarnations of diabolical cruelty, the Medes were merciful.

The season of childhood appeals to our concern and should awake our compassion—

1. By its helplessness. It has to lean upon others.

2. By its ignorance. It has had no time to learn (H. E. I., 780).

3. By its inexperience. Unless it is aided by the guidance of mature wisdom, it must almost necessarily go astray.

4. By its peculiar susceptibility to every kind of moral influence. To these appeals let us give reverent, cheerful, and thoughtful heed. Let us not be content to shudder at this prediction concerning the Medes, or at such historical records as that of the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:0); let us make the children the objects of our care.

1. Let us spare our own children, from all unreasonable demands upon them, from the mischiefs that will inevitably come upon them if we do not carefully train them in the way they should go.

2. Let us spare the children of the poor from the evils of ignorance. These evils are terrible and far-reaching. Not to rescue them from these evils when we have the power to do so, is to doom them to them. In the Sunday-school we have a means of rescue which we cannot neglect without sin.—William Manning.

Verse 19


Isaiah 13:19. And Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms, &c.

The anticipated destruction of Babylon is here compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, because of its completeness, and because of the hopelessness of any return of that city to its former glory (Isaiah 13:20-22). The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah should be pondered, not merely because it is here used as a symbol of the fate of Babylon, but also because of the solemn lessons it affords in relation to sin. That memorable overthrow occurred—I. As a Divine vengeance upon long-continued and unmitigated wickedness (Genesis 18:20-21). II. Notwithstanding the influence of a good man in their midst (2 Peter 2:7-8). A man like Lot, even though he perhaps suffered injury to his own character, could not live among people like the Sodomites without being a witness for better things and a testimony against their crimes. III. Notwithstanding the fervent intercessions on their behalf of an eminently godly man (Genesis 18:23, &c.). IV. The overthrow came at last without any suspicion on the part of their guilty inhabitants that their doom was so near (Proverbs 29:1).

But why dwell upon a fate so awful, and that occurred so long ago? Because it is a solemn warning to men to-day. Listen to our Saviour’s teaching on this point (Matthew 11:20-24). From this we learn that the fate of those who reject Christ will be more severe even than that which befell those guilty cities—

1. Because of clearer light against which they sinned. It cannot be in any way a trivial thing to possess the Gospel (2 Corinthians 2:16).

2. Because of the more abundant opportunities of salvation which were afforded them.
3. Because of the more abundant and excellent examples set before them.
4. Because of the multiplied examples of warning to which they should have given heed.—William Manning.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/isaiah-13.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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