Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 13

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 13:0


Prophecies About BabylonProclamation Against BabylonOracles Against Foreign Nations(Isaiah 13:1-18)God Will Punish BabylonAgainst Babylon
Isaiah 13:1-5Isaiah 13:1Isaiah 13:1Isaiah 13:1Isaiah 13:1
(2-5)Isaiah 13:2-3(2-3)Isaiah 13:2-3(2-3)Isaiah 13:2-3Isaiah 13:2-22(2-22)
Judgment on the Day of the LORDIsaiah 13:4-5(4-5)Isaiah 13:4-5(4-5)Isaiah 13:4-5
Isaiah 13:6-16(6-16)Isaiah 13:6-10(6-10)Isaiah 13:6-22(6-22)Isaiah 13:6-10
Isaiah 13:11-16(11-16)Isaiah 13:11-13
Babylon Will Fall to the MedesIsaiah 13:14-16
Isaiah 13:17-22(17-22)Isaiah 13:17-22(17-22)Isaiah 13:17-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compareyour subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Isaiah 13:0 marks a new division in the book of Isaiah that extends through Isaiah 21:17 and also Isaiah 23:1-8. This section of Isaiah deals with judgment of surrounding nations. It is a genre in and of itself. It is very similar to Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32; Amos 1-2; Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah 2:0.

B. YHWH addresses the surrounding nations, both large and small, through His prophet; messages they will never hear or respond to. This demonstrates His universal sovereignty (cf. Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:9)! He is King of the earth; Lord of creation (cf. LXX Deuteronomy 32:8)!

C. The nations addressed are

1. Babylon (or Assyria using Babylonian throne name “King of Babylon”), Isaiah 13:1-23

2. Assyria, Isaiah 14:24-27

3. Philistia, Isaiah 14:28-32

4. Moab, Isaiah 15:1-14

5. Syria, Isaiah 17:1-3

6. Israel, Isaiah 17:4-14

7. Ethiopia (Cush), Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 20:1-6

8. Egypt, Isaiah 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6

9. Babylon, Isaiah 21:1-10

10. Edom, Isaiah 21:11-12

11. Arabia, Isaiah 21:13-17

12. Jerusalem, Isaiah 22:1-25

13. Tyre, Isaiah 23:1-18

You will notice that Assyria seems to break into the context in Isaiah 14:24-27. It is surprising that

1. Babylon is addressed first when the problem in Isaiah's day was Assyria.

2. Babylon is addressed again in Isaiah 21:1-10.

3. Assyria is abruptly mentioned only briefly in Isaiah 14:24-27 with no new heading (i.e., “oracle”).

One way to contextually deal with these problems is to view all of Isaiah 13:1-27 as directed toward Assyria. Assyria completely subjected and conquered Babylon in 689 B.C. and her kings took the title of “king of Babylon” (cf. Isaiah 14:4). If this is right then it is not Neo-Babylon (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar), but earlier Babylon (Merodach-baladan) that fell to Assyria in 729 B.C. and the capital city of Babylon sacked and destroyed in 689 B.C. The NASB Study Bible (p. 976) notes that there is no new “oracle” heading at Isaiah 14:24, which implies one literary unit from Isaiah 13:1-32.

The one problem with this approach is that “the Medes,” who destroyed Neo-Babylon in 539 B.C., are mentioned in Isaiah 13:17. However, with the weakening of Assyria in 660, Media and Babylon combined to rebel against the declining empire under Ashurbanipal (IVP Bible Background Commentary, p. 601). The capital of Assyria fell to a combined army of Media and Babylon in 612 B.C.

D. This is a good place to show how the poetic sections switch from first person (prophet speaking for God) to the third person (the prophet speaking about God).

Isaiah 13:1. Isaiah 13:1-3, first person

Isaiah 13:2. Isaiah 13:4-10, third person

Isaiah 13:3. Isaiah 13:11-16, first person

Isaiah 13:4. Isaiah 13:17-18, first person

Isaiah 13:5. Isaiah 13:19-22, third person

But, Isaiah 13:13 and 19 show how hard it is to follow this structure. In reality the prophet moves freely back and forth to reveal the message “poetically” (word plays, line beat, rare words, change of person).

Verses 1-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 13:1-16 1The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. 2Lift up a standard on the bare hill, Raise your voice to them, Wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles. 3I have commanded My consecrated ones, I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones, To execute My anger. 4A sound of tumult on the mountains, Like that of many people! A sound of the uproar of kingdoms, Of nations gathered together! The LORD of hosts is mustering the army for battle. 5They are coming from a far country, From the farthest horizons, The LORD and His instruments of indignation, To destroy the whole land. 6Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 7Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man's heart will melt. 8They will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, They will look at one another in astonishment, Their faces aflame. 9Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. 10For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. 11Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. 12I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold And mankind than the gold of Ophir. 13Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger. 14And it will be that like a hunted gazelle, Or like sheep with none to gather them, They will each turn to his own people, And each one flee to his own land. 15Anyone who is found will be thrust through, And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword. 16Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces Before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered And their wives ravished.

Isaiah 13:1

NASB, NRSV, REB“oracle” NKJV“burden TEV“a message” NJB“proclamation” LXX“a vision” PESHITTA“the prophecy”

This term (BDB 672, KB 639) can mean “burden” or “load.” It (BDB 672 III) is used eleven times in this section (Isaiah 13-23) of Isaiah to describe oracles of future doom on the nations surrounding Israel. The term may simply denote

1. a voice lifted to proclaim a message

2. a message carried by someone to a recipient

3. a heaviness associated with a judgment oracle.

“Babylon” This was an empire of the Fertile Crescent that affected the people of God. This first major world power of the Fertile Crescent to affect Israel was Assyria, then Neo-Babylon, then Medo-Persia. Babylon is used in the Bible as a symbol of oppression and cruelty (cf. 1 Peter 5:13; Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:5). The downfall of Babylon is revealed in Isaiah 13:1-23 (old Babylon) and Isaiah 21:1-10 (new Babylon). See note in Contextual Insights, C, second paragraph.

“which Isaiah son of Amoz saw” The immediate contemporary enemy of Israel and Judah in Isaiah's day was Assyria. But as a prophet of God he was shown (“saw,” BDB 302, KB 301, Qal PERFECT, cf. Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 13:1; Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1) the future demise of old Babylon, Assyria, Neo-Babylon, and the rise of Cyrus the Great (cf. Isaiah 13:17; Isaiah 44:28-1). Those who deny predictive prophecy exhibit a bias that affects all their interpretations! See Contextual Insights, C, second paragraph.

Predictive prophecy is the main evidence of a unique supernaturally-inspired Bible. See sermons “The Trustworthiness of the Old Testament” and “The Trustworthiness of the New Testament” online at in the “Video Sermons” section under Lakeside Baptist church.

Isaiah 13:2 This describes the gathering of a mighty army (cf. Isaiah 13:9). From Isaiah 13:17 we learn that it is the army of (1) Assyria or (2) Medo-Persia under Cyrus II gathered by God to defeat either “old” or “new” Babylon (cf. Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1).

“Lift up a standard on a bare hill” This describes how ancient armies communicated.

1. banners, flags in easily visible places, cf. Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 31:9; Jeremiah 51:12

2. shouts (whistle, cf. Isaiah 5:26)

3. hand movements, cf. Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 19:16

There is a series of IMPERATIVES denoting YHWH's will.

1. lift up, BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. raise, BDB 926, KB 1202, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

3. wave, BDB 631, KB 682, Hiphil IMPERATIVE, cf. Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 19:16

4. enter, BDB 97, KB 112, Qal IMPERFECT, but used in a JUSSIVE sense (NEB changes vowels and has “draw your swords, you nobles”)

Isaiah 13:3 “I have commanded my consecrated ones” God is in control of history! These Median warriors are not consecrated in a moral or religious sense. For the most part they are unknowing servants of God “set apart” (“consecrated ones,” BDB 872, KB 1073, Pual PARTICIPLE) to do His bidding. This same concept can be seen in Cyrus being called “My anointed” in Isaiah 44:28; “my anointed” in Isaiah 45:1.

The Jewish Study Bible footnotes from JPSOA sees “My consecrated ones” (i.e., “My purified one”) as a reference to a sacrificial meal where the guests are told to prepare themselves (p. 809).

Another option is to see this poem as expressing “Holy War” terminology and if so, then these could refer to angels (cf. Joshua 5:13-15).

Isaiah 13:4 This describes the sounds of battle and victory!

Isaiah 13:5 YHWH is bringing large mercenary armies from the Fertile Crescent to punish His people in Canaan (cf. Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 7:18).

NASB“farthest horizons” NKJV, PESHITTA“the end of heaven” NRSV“the end of the heavens” TEV“the ends of the earth” NJB“from the far horizons” LXX“from the utmost foundation of heaven”

The NRSV is the most literal. It denotes the place where the sun rises, therefore, to the east, the very direction of the homelands of the Mesopotamian powers.

Isaiah 13:6 “Wail” This term (BDB 410, KB 413, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) refers to howling, wailing. Orientals are much more expressive of emotions in grieving than westerners. This term is used often in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:2, Isaiah 15:3; Isaiah 16:7 [twice]; Isaiah 23:1, Isaiah 23:6, Isaiah 23:14; Isaiah 52:5; Isaiah 65:14) and also in Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 25:34; Jeremiah 47:2; Jeremiah 48:20, Jeremiah 48:31, Jeremiah 48:39; Jeremiah 49:3; Jeremiah 51:8).

“for the day of the LORD is near” The creator God is a moral, ethical God. He approaches His creation and creatures in light of His character. Sometimes He approaches from affirmation and blessing, but other times (as here) He approaches from judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 27-29). All moral creatures must give an account both temporally and eschatologically (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15) to the One who gave them life!

“the Almighty” This is the Hebrew title Shaddai. This was the patriarchal name for YHWH (cf. Exodus 6:3). See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY at Isaiah 1:1. There is a sound play (BDB 994) between “destruction” (כשׁד, BDB 994) and “the Almighty” (משׁדי, BDB 994). Note the connection with Joel 1:15.

Isaiah 13:7-8 The approach of YHWH will cause certain fearful responses.

1. “wail,” Isaiah 13:6

2. “all hands will fall limp,” Isaiah 13:7, cf. Ezekiel 7:17; Ezekiel 21:7

3. “every man's heart will melt,” Isaiah 13:7, cf. Isaiah 19:1; Nahum 2:10

4. “they will be terrified,” Isaiah 13:8

5. “pain and anguish will take hold of them,” Isaiah 13:8

6. “writhe like a woman in labor,” Isaiah 13:8, cf. Isaiah 21:3; Isaiah 26:17; Isaiah 66:7

7. “look at one another in astonishment,” Isaiah 13:8

8. “their faces aflame,” Isaiah 13:8

Isaiah 13:9 This verse describes the day of the Lord as it relates to sinners (cf. Isaiah 13:10).

A wasted and unpopulated land is exactly opposite to God's will for His creation (cf. Genesis 1-2).

Isaiah 13:10 The approach of YHWH to His physical creation causes reactions in nature. These reactions are often referred to as apocalyptic, but in reality they are metaphorical in the OT prophets and only turn to apocalyptic in the inter-biblical period and NT.

1. stars and constellations cease to shine (the ancients thought these were life-controlling deities), Isaiah 13:10

2. sun and moon grow dark, Isaiah 13:10

3. the heavens tremble, Isaiah 13:13

4. the earth will be shaken from its place, Isaiah 13:13

The heavens, the abode of God, become dark and fearful (cf. Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-13). But there is a new light coming (cf. Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:1-3, Isaiah 60:19-20).

Isaiah 13:11 “the world” This (BDB 385) is a poetic synonym for ארץ (i.e., “land,” “earth,” see Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth, cf. Isaiah 14:21; Isaiah 24:4; Isaiah 34:1). It is obviously a hyperbole (or maybe not, cf. Isaiah 24:4; Isaiah 34:1), but it does express the theological concept of YHWH the creator and controller of this planet!

Notice how humans are characterized.

1. evil

2. wicked for their iniquity

3. arrogance of the proud

4. haughtiness of the ruthless

These same attributes describe the covenant people in Isaiah 2:9, Isaiah 2:11, Isaiah 2:17; Isaiah 5:15! The deadly tentacles (i.e., self, sin) of the Fall are everywhere (also note Genesis 6:5, Genesis 6:11; Genesis 8:21)!

Isaiah 13:12 “Ophir” This refers geographically to southern Arabia. The allusion here is that living human beings will be very scarce on the day of judgment.

Isaiah 13:14-16 This is a vivid description of the horrors of invasion.

1. hunted like gazelles

2. sheep with no shepherd

3. flee to family and homeland

4. inhabitants thrust through

5. inhabitants fall by the sword

6. little ones dashed to pieces in sight of their parents, cf. Isaiah 13:18; 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 15:16; Hosea 13:16; Nahum 3:10

7. houses plundered

8. wives ravished (NASB), cf. Deuteronomy 28:30

Judgment by invasion was a terrible experience. These warlike nations gave this treatment and received this treatment (cf. Psalms 137:8-9)! The worst of these violent armies was Assyria.

Isaiah 13:16 This footnote of the MT suggests that the VERB “ravish” (BDB 993, KB 1415, Niphal IMPERFECT, cf. Deuteronomy 28:30; Jeremiah 3:2; Zechariah 14:2) be read (Qere) as “be lain with” (BDB 1011, KB 1486, Niphal IMPERFECT, cf. LXX; Leviticus 15:20; Deuteronomy 22:27; Micah 7:5).

Verses 17-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 13:17-22 17Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. 18And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children. 19And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans' pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. 20It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation; Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there, Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there. 21But desert creatures will lie down there, And their houses will be full of owls; Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there. 22Hyenas will howl in their fortified towers And jackals in their luxurious palaces. Her fateful time also will soon come And her days will not be prolonged.

Isaiah 13:17 “the Medes” This is another major power of the Fertile Crescent north and east of Assyria. At first they were allied with “old” Babylon, but later they were incorporated with Persia under Cyrus II (cf. Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1; Jeremiah 51:11).

“Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold” This army will be so bent on revenge there will be no possibility of buying them off!

Isaiah 13:18 “the fruit of the womb” This refers to unborn children and their mothers or young childen.

“eye” It is used here to represent the attitudes/actions of a person (cf. Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 13:8; Deuteronomy 19:13; Ezekiel 7:4; Ezekiel 16:5; Ezekiel 20:17). Here to denote that the invaders will have no pity even on children. This line of poetry is parallel with the line above!

The Median warriors had no compassion or pity (cf. Jeremiah 6:23; Jeremiah 21:7; Jeremiah 50:42).

Isaiah 13:19 Babylon's cultural beauty and sophistication were renowned (i.e., Daniel 4:0 of Neo-Babylon), but it will all be lost and destroyed! However, if this refers to Babylon during the Assyrian period, it was totally destroyed in 689 B.C. by Sennacherib.

“Chaldeans” This was the name of the tribe of southern Babylon and is often used as a synonym for later nations of Neo-Babylon (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar). For other connotations of the term see Daniel 1:4. See Special Topic: Chaldeans.

“Sodom and Gomorrah” These were cities of great wickedness, which God destroyed by fire and brimstone (cf. Genesis 19:24-28; Deuteronomy 29:23).

Isaiah 13:20-22 This is hyperbolic language (cf. Sumerian laments over Ur and visions of Nefertiti over the old Egyptian Kingdom). The city fell in Merodach-baladan's day to Assyria with total destruction. The city fell to the Medo-Persian army in 539 B.C. without widespread destruction.

The book that has really helped me, as a modern western person, to understand eastern prophetic and apocalyptic literature is D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic.

Isaiah 13:20 The destruction was so complete that

1. it was uninhabited for generations

2. Arabs do not camp there

3. no flocks grazed there

4. building remains used only by wild animals (possibly demons, cf. Isaiah 13:21-22; Isaiah 34:13-15; Revelation 18:2)

5. no longer a national entity

This fits “old” Babylon better than “new” Babylon. The Medes abandoned their alliance with Merodach-baladan and joined the Assyrians in destroying the capital city of Babylon in 689 B.C.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.