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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 14

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 14 Exiled Israel Will Be Restored. Further Judgments on the King of Babylon. Judgment on Assyria and The Rejection of Philistine Ambassadors.

Having depicted the demise of Babylon Isaiah now looks more closely at more of its causes. She would humiliate Israel and Judah and her king would exalt himself to heaven.


Verse 1-2

Despite Their Exile, Israel’s Cause Is Not Lost (Isaiah 14:1-2).

Typical of Isaiah is that in the midst of the burden of Babylon, and the descriptions of its downfall, come promises of restoration for Israel and Judah. In the midst of it all Yahweh has not forgotten His people.

Analysis.

a For Yahweh will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel (Isaiah 14:1 a).

b And set them in their own land, and the stranger will join himself with them (Isaiah 14:1 b).

c And they will cleave to the house of Jacob (Isaiah 14:1 c).

c And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place (Isaiah 14:2 a).

b And the house of Israel will possess them in the land of Yahweh, for servants and for handmaids (Isaiah 14:2 b).

a And they will take them captive whose captives they were, and they will rule over their oppressors (Isaiah 14:2 c).

In ‘a’ Yahweh will yet have compassion on Israel and again set His choice on them, and in the parallel the result will be that their situation will be overturned, and they will make captive their captors, and will rule over their oppressors. In ‘b’ He will set them in their own land and foreigners will join with them, and in the parallel the foreigners will be possessed in the land of Yahweh for servants and for handmaids. In ‘c’ these foreigners will cleave to the house of Jacob, and they will bring them to their place.

Isaiah 14:1-2

‘For Yahweh will have compassion on Jacob,

And will yet choose Israel,

And set them in their own land,

And the stranger will join himself with them,

And they will cleave to the house of Jacob,

And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place,

And the house of Israel will possess them in the land of Yahweh,

For servants and for handmaids,

And they will take them captive whose captives they were,

And they will rule over their oppressors.’

One guarantee of the shortlived nature of any Babylonian glory is the fact that God is to restore His people to spiritual greatness. Having witnessed the devastation of Samaria and the dragging of the cream of Israel’s leaders into captivity, Isaiah promises that one day they will be restored. Yahweh will yet have compassion on them, and again choose them. Their loss of status before God is only temporary. They are His beloved people, beloved because He has chosen to love them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). They will be re-established in the land which God had given them as an inheritance centuries before, ‘the land of Yahweh’, and they will be set there by Him to enjoy His rest (see Deuteronomy 12:10; 2 Samuel 7:1) and aliens will join themselves with them and seek to become part of them.

Indeed God will turn the tables on the world. Those who had oppressed them will assist in their deliverance and become their servants and captives, for they will come under Israel’s rule. Thus is given the guarantee of the final triumph of God’s people, although, as often stressed elsewhere, it will be of but a remnant. And other nations will share in that triumph by their connection with them. Compare Isaiah 45:14-25; Isaiah 49:22-26; Isaiah 60; Isaiah 66:19-24.

We must not see this latter as the demeaning of the nations. This was the conception of the time of the way in which an empire was established, with the leading nation having under it the subsidiary nations who served them and provided servants.

There was partial fulfilment of this after the later exile of Judah. Israel and Judah were re-established in the land and their power and area of authority grew, with many reversals, so that in the century or so prior to the time of Jesus the Jews had widespread rule with erstwhile enemies under them. Thus it had a literal, though partial, earthly fulfilment. Then it was partly fulfilled as the Jewish Christian Apostles and teachers went out into the world, winning men to Christ, and the nations, including those who had oppressed Israel, submitted to the Apostolic authority, captured by love. But in the end the coming Davidic kingdom must be in mind here, the everlasting kingdom described in earthly terms, when all nations would be gathered in the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:23) in the other world.

We must ever remember that to Isaiah and the prophets both Israel and Judah were still within the promises of God. Thus the final triumph under the Davidic king was promised to both.


Verses 3-23

The Demise of Babylon And Humiliation of Its Boastful Kings (Isaiah 14:3-23).

The coming of the Babylonian ambassadors to Hezekiah had had a profound influence on Isaiah. As he thought on the future, with the Assyrians seen as a doomed empire because of what God had revealed to him, he began to realise that Babylon, the permanent enemy of God, the city with great ambitions, of which he was keenly aware through their recent visit, would take advantage of it, and again rise to prominence. Great Babel would rise again to seek to restore its glorious past and would in turn crush the people of God, as God had revealed to him (Isaiah 39:6-7), and entangle them in what Babylon stood for (which is why later he would warn them to flee from it - Isaiah 48:20). It was an idea that took possession of him with all its consequences, so much so that later he would seek to prepare God’s people for those consequences. Others no doubt thought that he had become obsessed with the idea. But if so his obsession was of God. And included in that obsession was the certainty that Babylon must finally be destroyed.

He had already prophesied Babylon’s downfall (chapter 13). But now he was beginning to realise that its final downfall, although finally certain, would not be yet. This might well partly have resulted from the fact that although Babylon was defeated by the Assyrians, first under Sargon II, and then under Sennacherib, it became clear that it was not the final downfall of which God had assured him. Thus he began to realise that there would have to come a further rise in power and glory before its final fall. And he clearly began to link that with the downfall of Assyria (Isaiah 14:24-27).

The result was that he even perhaps began to visualise something of Babylon’s future greatness, (although he never depicts it as in quite the league of Assyria) of which there were already traces in its pride and boasting, and the devastation it would then wreak on the world of those days, as the pride and arrogance of Assyria had before it. He had the example of Assyria to go by, and it was not an encouraging one. And he knew that the judgment that was to come on Judah (Isaiah 6:10-11) would be at the hands of the very kings of Babylon to whom Hezekiah was looking for support. That indeed is what he informed Hezekiah quite clearly (Isaiah 39:6-7). And as all he knew of great conquering overlords was gleaned from his knowledge of Assyria and their ways, he foresaw the inevitable carrying away into exile of people from Judah, as spoils for the king of Babylon.

Thus he felt it necessary to issue this declaration that any coming greatness of Babylon should not be seen as too great a concern as it would be only temporary. It would be followed by God’s certain judgment. Babel could not, and would not, be allowed to prosper permanently.

Analysis of Isaiah 14:3-23.

a And it will come about in the day that Yahweh will give you rest from your sorrow, and from your trouble, and from the hard service with which you were made to serve (Isaiah 14:3).

b That you will take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, “How has the oppressor ceased, how has the exactor (or ‘place of gold’) ceased” (Isaiah 14:4).

c Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers, (Isaiah 14:5).

d Who smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, who ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that none restrained (Isaiah 14:6).

e The whole earth is at rest and is quiet, they break out into singing. Yes, the fir trees rejoice at you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, “Since you are laid down, no feller has come up against us” (Isaiah 14:7-8).

f Sheol from beneath is moved for you, to meet you at your coming. It stirs up the shades (Rephaim) for you, even all the he-goats of the earth. It has raised up from their thrones the kings of the nations (Isaiah 14:9).

g They all will answer and say to you, “Are you also become as weak as us? Have you become like us?” (Isaiah 14:10).

h Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the noise of your harps. The worm is spread under you, and worms cover you (Isaiah 14:11).

i How are you fallen from heaven, O day-star (helel), son of the morning (shahar - dawn). How are you cut down to the ground, who laid low the nations (Isaiah 14:12).

j And you said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13 a).

j “I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north” (Isaiah 14:13 b).

i “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14).

h Yet you will be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit (Isaiah 14:15).

g Those who see you will look on you narrowly, they will consider you, saying, “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble? Who shook kingdoms?” (Isaiah 14:16).

f “Who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew its cities. Who did not loose his prisoners to their home?” (Isaiah 14:17).

e All the kings of the nations, all of them sleep in glory, every one in his own house, but you are cast out, away from your sepulchre, like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain who are thrust through with the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, as a carcass trodden underfoot (Isaiah 14:18-19).

d You will not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people. The seed of evildoers will not be named for ever (Isaiah 14:20).

c Prepare slaughter for his children, because of the iniquity of their fathers, that they rise not up nor possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities (Isaiah 14:21).

b “And I will rise up against them,” says Yahweh of hosts, “And cut off from Babylon name and remnant, and son and son’s son,” says Yahweh (Isaiah 14:22).

a “And I will also make it a possession for the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” says Yahweh of hosts. (Isaiah 14:23).

In ‘a’ in the day that Yahweh will give them rest from their sorrow, and from their trouble, and from the hard service with which they were made to serve, that in the parallel He will make Babylon a possession for the hedgehog, and pools of water, and will sweep it with the broom of destruction (He will perform His hard service on Babylon). In ‘b’ they were to take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, “How has the oppressor ceased, how has the exactor (or ‘place of gold’) ceased”, and in the parallel their oppressor has ceased and his son, and his son’s son. Even their name has been cut off.

In ‘c’ Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers (of Babylon), and in the parallel He has prepared slaughter for his children because of their father’s iniquity so that they may not rise up or possess the earth or fill the face of the world with cities. In ‘d’ the tyrant had smitten the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, and ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that none restrained, and in the parallel, it was precisely because the tyrants had destroyed their land, and slain their people that they would not be joined with them in burial, and would not be named for ever.

In ‘e’ The whole earth is at rest and is quiet, the people break out into singing, the fir trees rejoice at him, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, “Since you are laid down, no feller has come up against us”, (all is at peace), and in the parallel all the kings of the nations, all of them sleep in glory, every one in his own house, (all are at peace), while in contrast the Babylonian tyrants are cast out, away from their sepulchre, like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, thrust through with the sword, and go down to the stones of the pit, as a carcass trodden underfoot.

In ‘f’ Sheol (the grave world) from beneath is moved to meet the tyrant at his coming. It stirs up the shades (Rephaim) for him, even all the he-goats (chief men) of the earth, and has raised up from their ‘thrones’ the kings of the nations, in order to challenge him and in the parallel we are told why they are stirred up, it is because he had made their world as a wilderness, and overthrew its cities, and did not loose his prisoners to their home, (which is one reason why they want to challenge him). In ‘g’ they ask him “Are you also become as weak as us? Have you become like us?” while in the parallel they look on him narrowly, and consider him, saying, “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble? Who shook kingdoms?”

In ‘h’ his pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the noise of his harps. The worm is spread under him, and worms cover him, and in the parallel he is brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit. In ‘i’ the prophet says, “How are you fallen from heaven, O day-star (helel), son of the morning (shahar - dawn)? How are you cut down to the ground, who laid low the nations?” and in the parallel he had said “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High”. In ‘j’ he had said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”, and in the parallel he had said “I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north”.

It is quite clear that some of these parallels cannot possibly be written off as a coincidence. There is on the whole a remarkable equation between them.

Isaiah 14:3

‘And it will come about in the day that Yahweh will give you rest from your sorrow, and from your trouble, and from the hard service with which you were made to serve, that you will take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, “How has the oppressor ceased, how has the exactor (or ‘place of gold’) ceased.” ’

There is no thought here of exile. However, at the time of the visiting ambassadors from Babylon Isaiah had informed Hezekiah of the fate that awaited Judah as a result of Hezekiah’s folly. Everything that he and Judah had would be carried off to Babylon along with his sons and the nobles of their people, and they would become slaves in Babylon (Isaiah 39:6-7). Thus now he seeks to bring some comfort on the back of his warning, both on behalf of those who would be taken (he had no conception of the full exile) and on behalf of those who would be hardly treated in Judah itself.

Isaiah must have been well aware that any return of Israel/Judah from Assyrian territory would not happen until Assyrian domination has ceased (Assyria would not allow it), that Assyria would be limited in its treatment of Judah because of Yahweh’s help (Isaiah 37:6-7; Isaiah 37:33-35), and that on Assyria being weakened Babylon would inevitably rise again. Or perhaps he is just seeing Babylon as exerting itself in its periods of independence. Either way he knows that both Israel and Judah will at some stage suffer under the hand of Babylon, and that if any royal exiles are to return from Babylon (as opposed to returning from elsewhere) it will have to be connected in some way with the demise of Babylon, for such royal exiles were to be the direct consequence of Hezekiah’s action, and they would also result from Babylon’s belligerence (39).

Note that in fact in context here no mention is made of any other exiles from Judah, but even though not exiled they were still under bondage to Assyria and, once freed from Assyria would be to Babylon (for that was the implication of the royal exiles being taken). On the other hand Isaiah may have seen what would happen to Judah as simply a continuation of what had happened to Israel, seeing all as the one people of God, and thus have connected exiles from Israel with Judah. This would explain further why he realises that the return of all exiles cannot happen until Babylon’s future power is broken.

He speaks of the tribulation that Israel/Judah are going through. They are enduring sorrow (see 1 Chronicles 4:9) including painful toil (compare Genesis 3:16; Genesis 5:29), great trouble (inner fear and rage) and oppressive bondage in their ‘service’. But this will be removed. (But there is no mention of exile).

He puts words about the king of Babylon into their mouths because he knows that by the time deliverance from oppression comes it is Babylon who will be responsible for oppression, as he had told Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:6-7). Although not mentioned here Judah will be included in the punishment. For Judah must be punished for relying on Babylon, and the exiles of Israel will share in that punishment because Babylon has taken over as their oppressor because they are connected with Judah (compare Isaiah 11:12). Thus it is from Babylon overlordship that they will finally have to be delivered. And anyway in Isaianic terms in the end all who would be redeemed must be redeemed from ‘Babylon’, for Babylon is the great enemy of God who must rise at the end prior to its doom.

The word for ‘parable’ is mashal meaning a parable, a saying, a way of expressing things. Thus this is an expression of what the king of Babylon is seen to be. He is an oppressor and an exactor. The latter word is of unknown meaning. Some take it as from the root thhb (gold) and read ‘place of gold’ (RV ‘golden city’). In that case there would be an ironic contrast, the place of oppression and the golden place. But the stress is undoubtedly on oppression.

Isaiah 14:5-6

‘Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked,

The sceptre of the rulers,

Who smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke,

Who ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that none restrained.’

The exultation is in the fact that Yahweh has stepped in to act. He has broken the staff of the wicked. The staff was broken when a man was removed from office, as a sign that his authority was over and done with, and here it was the wicked ruler’s sceptre that was broken. Thus here in vision the king of Babylon’s power has been broken. He has been removed from office.

He is described in strong terms. He had beaten the people continually and unmercifully, he had persecuted the peoples without restraint, and all because of the anger that bubbled up within him. He is seen as a raging tyrant. No wonder then that the nations rejoiced at his removal from power. Thus we have here his presentiment that Babylon will yet seek to lord it over the nations. In view of how he saw Babylon it was inevitable.

Later he will make clear that in fact Yahweh will ensure that the very names of these tyrants will be wiped out, with the further guarantee that their sons will be prevented from following in their footsteps (Isaiah 14:21-22).

Isaiah 14:7-8

‘The whole earth is at rest and is quiet,

They break out into singing.

Yes, the fir trees rejoice at you,

And the cedars of Lebanon, saying,

“Since you are laid down,

No feller has come up against us.” ’

All creation (the known world) will rest and relax, and rejoice at the tyrant’s downfall. ‘Laid down’ here signifies the sleep of death. Now that the Babylonian tyrant has been dealt with the world can be spared God’s wrath. This suggested comparison sees the feller as God’s instrument of judgment as in Isaiah 10:33-34. Others however consider the feller to be descriptive of oppressive kings, and their rejoicing to be because now that he is dead there is no oppressor.

Isaiah 14:9-10

‘Sheol from beneath is moved for you,

To meet you at your coming.

It stirs up the shades (Rephaim) for you,

Even all the he-goats of the earth.

It has raised up from their thrones the kings of the nations.

They all will answer and say to you,

“Are you also become as weak as us?

Have you become like us?” ’

Sheol is the world of the grave, the shadowy underworld where life is not real life but a half-life as a shadow. The dead kings have thrones but they are not reigning. Their thrones are but the identifying shadows of what once was.

So the idea is that the shadowy world of Sheol is all that awaits him. Sheol is depicted here as moving in order to welcome the king of Babylon. It stirs up the shadows, but only in order to ask the question which demonstrates that he too has become like them, a shadow without reality (they could not imagine nothingness). Could such a king become but a shadow? The answer expected was ‘yes’. It was a way of emphasising just what he had become.

Later in Isaiah 14:16 the question will be, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble?’ as they see in his present state his total lack of any power.

‘He-goats’. With their fierceness and strength and vigour these are often used to depict powerful leaders.

This is not to be seen as an accurate picture of the world beyond the grave. It was rather the picture given by those who could not imagine such a world, to whom death was really the end, but who also could not imagine nothingness. The recognition and conversation is but a way of getting over the message. We may gather from it the idea of future life and future recognition, but it is doubtful if Israel saw it in that way. Their point was that the only world left to them after this life was the shadowy world of the grave.

Isaiah 14:11

‘Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,

And the noise of your harps.

The worm is spread under you,

and worms cover you.’

The picture is sarcastic. The king so splendid and gorgeously arrayed in life had as it were brought his pomp down to the tomb, but it was a pomp of worms. And his ears still rang with the sound of the musical instruments that had comforted him on earth, but what crawled over him was worms. Now the maggots covered him, crawling over him both above and below in his cold, unwelcoming tomb. All his oils and his perfumes went for nothing here. Compare here Ezekiel 32:18-31. It was a world of graves.

Isaiah 14:12

‘How are you fallen from heaven,

O day-star (helel), son of the morning (shahar - dawn).

How are you cut down to the ground,

Who laid low the nations.’

While on earth the unidentified king of Babylon had depicted himself as semi-divine. He had seen himself as the equivalent of Helel, the day-star, the shining one. Helal, the son of Shahar (the Dawn) is known from the Ugaritic texts, and the whole account is based on the myth of the lesser deity who seeks to depose the chief gods only to be hurled from the heavens. The comment is sarcastic. The king’s claims to semi-deity are revealed as nonsense by his descent into the grave. He had not really ‘fallen from heaven’, that was sarcasm, he had rather fallen from earth into his grave.

It is possible that we are to see Isaiah here as representing the king’s false claims in terms of a Canaanite myth known to his readers, rather than as the king actually claiming to be that particular god. The king would think in terms of his own gods. But whichever way it was the point is clear. All his claims to any kind of divinity have proved false.

More realistic was his claim to have laid low the nations. But now this too has collapsed about him for he himself is laid low.

Isaiah 14:13-14

‘And you said in your heart,

“I will ascend into heaven,

I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,

I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north,

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,

I will be like the Most High.’

The king’s fivefold claims are indicative of a false covenant, for five is the number of covenant. They are in contrast with the five titles of Immanuel (Isaiah 9:6). Note the continual ‘I’. He has eyes only for himself. He is his own god. First we find the king’s decision to ‘ascend into heaven’, to become a wonder. This is followed by placing his throne above the lesser deities, to become the counsellor. Then he ascends further to the ‘mount of the assembly in the uttermost parts of the north’, which was a description of the home and gathering of the gods as described in the Ugaritic texts, thus becoming the mighty god. Then he ascends above the heights of the clouds which surround the chief gods, seeking to be the everlasting father. And in the end he challenges the chief god himself, he seeks to be the great prince. Thus this is a depiction of the gradual climb of the ambitious ‘semi-deity’ towards his ultimate goal of being the chief god, before being cast down for his presumption. Isaiah sets it in a context where his challenge is to the Most High God Himself.

It may well be that this was to some extent acted out ritually in the temple of Marduk, but men were expected to see beyond the depiction and recognise a greater ‘reality’, just as the Egyptians were expected to accept that the visible Pharaoh was Horus. The picture is thus drawn by Isaiah of the overweening pride of the kings of Babylon, and the proof of their falsehood in the fact of their deaths and descent into the grave.

It should be noted here that there are no Scriptural grounds for referring this description to Satan, although certainly we may consider that it is an apt picture of rebellion against God, and as such illustrative of how Satan might have behaved. But we can go no further than that.

Isaiah 14:15-17

‘Yet you will be brought down to Sheol,

To the uttermost parts of the pit.

Those who see you will look on you narrowly,

They will consider you, saying,

“Is this the man who made the earth to tremble?

Who shook kingdoms?

Who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew its cities.

Who did not loose his prisoners to their home?” ’

Here it is made clear that the king is but a man. Isaiah has no time at all for his false claims. Rather than reaching ‘to the uttermost parts of the north’, he will be brought down to Sheol, to ‘the uttermost parts of the pit’. ‘The pit’ is one name for Sheol which reflects its worst aspect. And it puts his career into perspective. He had been great on earth, and his greatness is emphasised in question form, but now he had been levelled by the great leveller. Note the five questions which deliberately contrast with the king’s own five statements of intent. Their basis was that, rather than rising to be with the gods, had he not in reality caused trouble on earth? Had he not made the earth tremble, had he not shaken kingdoms, had he not turned the world into a wilderness, had he not overthrown its cities, had he not refused to release the prisoners so that they could return to their own countries? The criticism is of that which is earthly, destructive and evil, revealing his real nature as a tyrant, not as a god. The nations do not see him as a god. But he had so shocked by his cruelty even these men of war, who were used to violence, that he was seen as a destroyer and as utterly callous.

Isaiah 14:18-20

‘All the kings of the nations,

All of them sleep in glory.

But you are cast out, away from your sepulchre,

Like an abominable branch,

Clothed with the slain who are thrust through with the sword,

Who go down to the stones of the pit.

As a carcass trodden underfoot.

You will not be joined with them in burial,

Because you have destroyed your land,

You have slain your people.

The seed of evildoers will not be named for ever.’

And because of his life of shame he will not be allowed proper burial. All the kings whom he defeated and who slavishly served him will be buried in honour and ‘sleep in glory’, in the gorgeous clothing and jewels in which kings were buried, and in their great mausoleums, their splendid buildings for the important dead. But he is to be cast out, his clothing to be that of the bodies of the slain killed with the sword, their blood testifying to his evil ways and his lust for conquest. And he himself will be tossed into the bottom of a forgotten pit to be trodden underfoot because men have forgotten where he is buried.

‘Because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people.’ This was why his fate was as it was. He had brought destruction on his own people. Possibly the thought includes that he is to so be humiliated because he has tried to ensure that his chosen heirs inherited the throne, resulting in a failed civil war. Or it may simply mean that he brought destruction on his people and land because of his own warlike ways, and the arousing of the enmity of others. But either way he who thought of himself as so successful had failed as a king and destroyed his own people.

‘Like an abominable branch.’ He is the total opposite of the righteous branch of Isaiah 11:1. Instead of being righteous and introducing righteousness like the righteous branch, he will introduce evil and do iniquity, encouraging others to do the same.

We are not necessarily to see here any particular king of Babylon. It is the kingship as a whole that is being described, with its continued arrogance through the centuries, and its final shame and ignominy that is being emphasised. It is not necessarily a specific, real burial that is in mind, but the picturing of a worthy end for such a tyrant, (although Isaiah may have known more than we do).

‘Because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people. The seed of evildoers will not be named for ever.’ What he has brought on his own land means that his seed must be wiped out, not even to be named. This may suggest that the reason why he does not have a proper burial is due to the practise of kings, who sought to ensure the appointment to the throne of their chosen heirs by getting rid of rivals towards the end of their reign, which often involved civil war. It may possibly be suggesting that he had attempted that here and had failed, being usurped by a rival, and that his own ignominious death and the death of his children had resulted (compare 2 Kings 10:1-14). The final comment is then Isaiah’s comment on the situation, amplified in the next verse. His chosen descendants will lose even their name because he has been so evil in his deeds that Yahweh has determined that his seed will not inherit.

On the other hand the suggestion may simply be that by his activities each king has brought destruction and suffering on his own people. Their grandiose ideas had ended again and again in misery for their people. Thus God will not allow their dynasty to continue.

Isaiah 14:21

‘Prepare slaughter for his children,

Because of the iniquity of their fathers,

That they rise not up nor possess the earth,

And fill the face of the world with cities.’

In any successful rebellion not only would the king be disposed of, but any possible heirs would also be slaughtered. There was always the possibility that such might rally support and rebuild Babylon. Thus to ensure that they did not seek to take possession of the land or to build strong cities in order to establish their position, they too would be put to death. They suffered for the sins of their fathers as well as for their own. We should always remember that what we do with our lives and the way we behave often affects our children’s destiny.

Or this may simply be a general statement that God’s sentence is on all related to the kings of Babylon. They are doomed by the sins of their fathers which they share. The result being that Babylon will never finally rise again to possess the earth or build its fortresses.

‘And fill the face of the world with cities.’ There may well here be a reference to Genesis 10:11-12.

Isaiah 14:22

‘ “And I will rise up against them,”

Says Yahweh of hosts,

“And cut off from Babylon name and remnant,

And son and son’s son,” says Yahweh.’

Yahweh was determined to ensure that the dynasty in Babylon could never rise again. Their name would be cut off by removing all traces of the royal house. Every last remnant would be removed. The point being made here is that God would make so sure that the end of Babylon really was the end of Babylon, that no sons of the royal house would be allowed to survive so as to restore it. In no other way could it be ensured that Babylon would not rise again.

Isaiah 14:23

‘ “And I will also make it a possession for the hedgehog,

And pools of water,

And I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,”

Says Yahweh of hosts.’

Babylon would finish up as waste ground where the hedgehog would live in holes, and pools of water would form in hollows, because God had swept it clean with the broom of destruction. The picture of the broom sweeping clean emphasises the completeness of the judgment. This picture of God hard at work ‘spring cleaning’ Babylon parallels the hard labour that Israel and Judah had performed for Babylon (Isaiah 14:3). Babylon’s extraction of labour from Yahweh’s people was now receiving its own reward.

It is clear from all this how infamously special Babylon was seen to be. It was seen as the great enemy of God. It was a picture of all that was bad in the world, and its end was in accordance with the picture. It illustrated all sinfulness and was a warning of what sinfulness would bring men to. And in the end, although it would take many centuries, all was fulfilled. But in all that is written here we should note that there is no hint of Judah’s exile in Babylon.


Verses 24-27

Judgment on Assyria (Isaiah 14:24-27).

But the reader is asking, what of Assyria? Thus Assyria is dealt with briefly and for the last time judgmentwise in this section. To Isaiah it is of no more consequence. But the picture of the destruction of Babylon reminds him that Assyria must also be destroyed. Its days are numbered (even though its empire would last for another hundred years) until it is ready to worship Yahweh (Isaiah 19:23-24).

Analysis of Isaiah 14:24-27.

a Yahweh of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely as I have thought, so will it come about, and as I have purposed, so will it stand” (Isaiah 14:24).

b “That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountain tread him under foot” (Isaiah 14:25 a).

b Then his yoke will depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulder (Isaiah 14:25 b).

a This is the purpose which is purposed on the whole earth (or ‘land’), and this is the hand that is stretched out on all the nations. For Yahweh of hosts has purposed, and who will disannul it, and His hand is stretched out and who will turn it back?

In ‘a’ Yahweh’s purpose is stated, and in the parallel the fact that He has purposed it and it is His purpose is repeated threefold stressing that it is so. In ‘b’ the Assyrian is to be broken and trodden underfoot, and the result will be that that his yoke is removed from them, and the burden of him removed from His people’s shoulders.

Isaiah 14:24-25

‘Yahweh of hosts has sworn saying,

“Surely as I have thought, so will it come about,

And as I have purposed, so will it stand,

That I will break the Assyrian in my land,

And on my mountain tread him under foot.

Then his yoke will depart from off them,

And his burden depart from off their shoulder.”

Isaiah now declares God’s thoughts and purpose for Assyria, certain because sworn by an oath. What God thinks concerning Assyria will become fact, what God purposes will become a reality. The thought (or plan) refers to the initial idea, the purpose to its worked out fulfilment. And His thought and purpose are that He is about to break the Assyrian in His own land, in Judah. Assyria had presumptuously invaded God’s land and trodden on His mountain (the central highlands are regularly called ‘the mountain’ in Scripture - e.g. Exodus 15:17; Psalms 78:54). Now God would break him and tread him underfoot, and it would be in His land because of his effrontery in so behaving towards God’s land. Thus would Judah’s burden be removed, the yoke would be removed from his shoulder (compare Isaiah 10:27). They would no longer be subservient to Assyria.

In about 701 BC this was fulfilled when Assyria’s might was indeed broken in God’s land by the mysterious death of a large proportion of its army as they were investing Jerusalem and Libnah (Isaiah 37:36) which resulted in the Assyrian retreat. So much for their previous derision about what Yahweh could do (Isaiah 36:18-20).

Isaiah 14:26-27

‘This is the purpose which is purposed on the whole earth (or ‘land’),

And this is the hand that is stretched out on all the nations.

For Yahweh of hosts has purposed, and who will disannul it,

And his hand is stretched out and who will turn it back?’

As he does regularly Isaiah now speaks universally (that is, universally in the terms of his day). God is not just concerned for His own land. The whole earth is His. Thus all the known earth will be affected, and His hand will be stretched out on all nations. Thus Assyria is doomed and will finally be totally broken. No one can prevent it for it is Yahweh’s purpose and will be accomplished by His hand which no one can turn back once it has begun to act. And that will be the end of Assyria.

Note ‘the purpose which is purposed -- for Yahweh has purposed’, a threefold emphasis on the fact that this is the purpose of Yahweh. His people need not fear. Assyria may appear invulnerable, but not in the face of Yahweh’s purposing.

The brevity of this whole declaration emphasises its certainty. Assyria is already doomed, and can be dismissed in a couple of sentences.


Verses 28-32

The Burden of Philistia (Isaiah 14:28-32).

This comes ‘in the year that King Ahaz died’. Thus it is probable that we are to see some connection between the death and the oracle. Philistia are told that they must not rejoice at the breaking of ‘the rod’, for another will arise to continue their harassment, and they will also experience famine and further invasion.

Philistia had often experiened subjugation by the house of David. They were subdued by David (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 21:15) and still paid tribute in the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:11), but rebelled against Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16-17), were again subdued by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6), and again shook off the yoke in the reign of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Analysis of Isaiah 14:28-32.

a This burden was in the year that King Ahaz died. ‘Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you, because the rod that smote you is broken, for out of the snake’s root will come forth a viper, and his fruit will be a fiery flying snake (Isaiah 14:28-29).

b And the firstborn of the poor will feed, and the needy will lie down in safety, and I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant will be slain (Isaiah 14:30).

b Howl, O gate, cry, O city, you are melted away (demoralised), Philistia, all of you. For there comes a smoke out of the north, and none stands aloof at his appointed times.

a What then shall one answer the messengers of the nation? That Yahweh has founded Zion, and in her will the afflicted of her people seek refuge.

In ‘a’ Philistia are seen as rejoicing over the death of Ahaz because his loyalty to Assyria had been a hindrance to the anti-Assyrian confederacy, and being warned that Hezekiah will not be any better for them, because he will not join with their plans and will prove more than a match for any aggressors, while in the parallel the assurance is given the Yahweh has founded Zion which will be a strength to those who seek refuge in her, a further warning not to meddle with Judah. In ‘b’ they are assured that under Hezekiah the nation will again prosper after the bad days at the end of Ahaz’s reign when they were under siege by their neighbours, while Philistia will suffer famine and slaughter, while in the parallel has only punishment from Assyria to look forward to, and they will not be able to stand aloof from it.

Isaiah 14:28

‘This burden was in the year that King Ahaz died.’

Again we have the strange indication of time given on the basis of a king’s death. (Normally reference would be to the next king’s accession). Thus we would expect some connection with what follows.

Isaiah 14:29

‘Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you,

Because the rod that smote you is broken,

For out of the snake’s root will come forth a viper,

And his fruit will be a fiery flying snake.’

The most obvious explanation of the breaking of the rod is the death of Ahaz, ‘the rod’ thereby being broken. This has been objected to on the grounds that he was not in a position to hurt Philistia. But as a vassal of the king of Assyria he may well have been provided with Assyrian troops under an Assyrian commander, so that they could mingle with his own and be used to punish Philistia for some infraction against them or, it may be that with Assyrian soldiers temporarily stationed in Judah with his approval, he had at some stage been a rod to keep Philistia in line. Thus he could have been a rod to them.

Others see ‘the rod that smote you’ as referring to David, and thus by inference to the Davidic house. For David and his descendants were certainly a rod to Philistia. Ahaz is then seen as ‘the broken rod’ because he had lost his independence and had become a mere vassal king. This again ties the rod in with Ahaz. In this case Isaiah is telling Philistia not to rejoice that the Davidic house has lost its independence.

These words were possibly spoken when an embassy came from Philistia with proposals for a rebellion. It is not likely that this was on the death of a king of Assyria (rebellions regularly occurred when kings died) for none fit the timing, but it may well have been a rebellion fomented by Egypt which Ahaz’s loyalty to Assyria had previously thwarted. Thus Ahaz’s death might have been seen by them as increasing the possibility of support from Judah, and their hopes may thus have been placed in the new young king Hezekiah. If so Isaiah clearly disapproved of it, as we would expect, for he would be urging Hezekiah to trust in Yahweh alone. Indeed it may have been their subsequent punitive expedition to punish Hezekiah for observing Isaiah’s request that resulted in Hezekiah’s defeat of them in the fourth year of his reign (2 Kings 18:8).

‘All of you.’ This would be the combined force of Philistine cities, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ashdod. (The king of Ekron was loyal to Assyria which was why Hezekiah at some stage imprisoned him in Jerusalem). They were constantly seeking opportunities to break free from Assyria. In 734 BC Gath refused to pay tribute and was sacked. In 720 BC Gaza, Ashkelon and Gath all sided with Egypt against Assyria, and when the Egyptian forces were defeated at Gaza found themselves again defeated and occupied. In 711 BC Ashdod played a major part in a joint rebellion with west Palestine states and it too was defeated. Thus this attempt was one among many.

The idea of the rod becoming a snake comes from the Exodus narrative (Isaiah 4:2-3; Isaiah 7:10-12). The snake’s root may be Assyria. The viper in their midst is then not identified but would be far worse for them than Ahaz and would bring on them the might of Assyria, pictured in terms of the snake which as it struck with amazing speed appeared as if to fly (compare Isaiah 30:6). If a rebellion did arise it was certainly crushed.

But the idea may equally be that Ahaz was the rod which became the snake’s root producing the viper Hezekiah who became a flying serpent to rout Philistia as mentioned above.

Isaiah 14:30

‘And the firstborn of the poor will feed,

And the needy will lie down in safety,

And I will kill your root with famine,

And your remnant will be slain.’

This would suggest that the last part of Ahaz’s reign was a time of shortage, possibly due to Philistine retaliation once the Assyrian forces had gone, so that the poor had seen their firstborn die of starvation and the needy and undefended had lived precariously. The satisfactory feeding of the firstborn was a measure of general prosperity. The firstborn would be the first to receive food after the parents because of his status, thus if the firstborn did not feed neither did the others. This demonstrates that the times had indeed been desperate. But the accession of Hezekiah has produced better days so that their firstborn now have sufficient food and the needy sleep soundly. So God will now return the compliment and bring famine and warfare on the Philistines. While the root of the Davidic house will prosper, the root of the Philistines will starve.

Isaiah 14:31-32

‘Howl, O gate, cry, O city,

You are melted away (demoralised), Philistia, all of you.

For there comes a smoke out of the north,

And none stands aloof at his appointed times.

What then shall one answer the messengers of the nation?

That Yahweh has founded Zion, and in her will the afflicted of her people seek refuge.’

We know from 2 Kings 18:7 that Hezekiah had broken with Assyria. Thus Philistia may well have done so at the same time. Both therefore await ‘the smoke from the north’, that is the dust clouds raised by the advancing Assyrians. But while Hezekiah will be confident in Yahweh the Philistines will all be demoralised for they have no one to look to, and they are desperately seeking allies. Therefore they will howl. The gate was the point of attack for any advancing army. That is why the howl will come from the gate as the army approaches.

‘None stands aloof at his appointed times.’ This must refer to the fact that none can evade what is coming. None can stand back and pretend not to be part of it. For when their appointed time comes they will be forced to face the invading army whatever happens, or alternatively to surrender and face the consequences in excessive tribute and severe punishment.

In view of this how should Hezekiah respond to the Philistine approaches? What answer should he give to the messenger from the allied nations? Isaiah’s answer is simple. It is Yahweh Who has founded Zion and thus it is Zion which is a safe place of refuge at this time when He still looks with favour on it. So as the armies approach the people can flee for refuge into the city that is God’s foundation, which He has established and will therefore protect, and there they will be secure. They therefore have no need of alliances with foreign nations. We are always safest when our reliance is on God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 14:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-14.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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