Why Do The Nations Rage?
1 An oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw:
2 Raise a banner on a bare hilltop,
shout to them;
beckon to them
to enter the gates of the nobles.
3 I have commanded my holy ones;
I have summoned my warriors to carry out my wrath—
those who rejoice in my triumph.
4 Listen, a noise on the mountains,
like that of a great multitude!
Listen, an uproar among the kingdoms,
like nations massing together!
The LORD Almighty is mustering
an army for war.
5 They come from faraway lands,
from the ends of the heavens—
the LORD and the weapons of his wrath—
to destroy the whole country.
6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
7 Because of this, all hands will go limp,
every man's heart will melt.
8 Terror will seize them,
pain and anguish will grip them;
they will writhe like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at each other,
their faces aflame.
9 See, the day of the LORD is coming
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations
will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold,
more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the LORD Almighty,
in the day of his burning anger.
14 Like a hunted gazelle,
like sheep without a shepherd,
each will return to his own people,
each will flee to his native land.
15 Whoever is captured will be thrust through;
all who are caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;
their houses will be looted and their wives ravished.
17 See, I will stir up against them the Medes,
who do not care for silver
and have no delight in gold.
18 Their bows will strike down the young men;
they will have no mercy on infants
nor will they look with compassion on children.
19 Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
the glory of the Babylonians' pride,
will be overthrown by God
like Sodom and Gomorrah.
20 She will never be inhabited
or lived in through all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there,
no shepherd will rest his flocks there.
21 But desert creatures will lie there,
jackals will fill her houses;
there the owls will dwell,
and there the wild goats will leap about.
22 Hyenas will howl in her strongholds,
jackals in her luxurious palaces.
Her time is at hand,
and her days will not be prolonged.
1 The LORD will have compassion on Jacob;
once again he will choose Israel
and will settle them in their own land.
Aliens will join them
and unite with the house of Jacob.
2 Nations will take them
and bring them to their own place.
And the house of Israel will possess the nations
as menservants and maidservants in the LORD's land.
They will make captives of their captors
and rule over their oppressors.
3 On the day the LORD gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
How the oppressor has come to an end!
How his fury has ended!
5 The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked,
the scepter of the rulers,
6 which in anger struck down peoples
with unceasing blows,
and in fury subdued nations
with relentless aggression.
7 All the lands are at rest and at peace;
they break into singing.
8 Even the pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon
exult over you and say,
"Now that you have been laid low,
no woodsman comes to cut us down."
9 The grave below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
all those who were kings over the nations.
10 They will all respond,
they will say to you,
"You also have become weak, as we are;
you have become like us."
11 All your pomp has been brought down to the grave,
along with the noise of your harps;
maggots are spread out beneath you
and worms cover you.
12 How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart,
"I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High."
15 But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.
16 Those who see you stare at you,
they ponder your fate:
"Is this the man who shook the earth
and made kingdoms tremble,
17 the man who made the world a desert,
who overthrew its cities
and would not let his captives go home?"
18 All the kings of the nations lie in state,
each in his own tomb.
19 But you are cast out of your tomb
like a rejected branch;
you are covered with the slain,
with those pierced by the sword,
those who descend to the stones of the pit.
Like a corpse trampled underfoot,
20 you will not join them in burial,
for you have destroyed your land
and killed your people.
The offspring of the wicked
will never be mentioned again.
21 Prepare a place to slaughter his sons
for the sins of their forefathers;
they are not to rise to inherit the land
and cover the earth with their cities.
22 "I will rise up against them,"
declares the LORD Almighty.
"I will cut off from Babylon her name and survivors,
her offspring and descendants,"
declares the LORD.
23 "I will turn her into a place for owls
and into swampland;
I will sweep her with the broom of destruction,"
declares the LORD Almighty.
24 The LORD Almighty has sworn,
"Surely, as I have planned, so it will be,
and as I have purposed, so it will stand.
25 I will crush the Assyrian in my land;
on my mountains I will trample him down.
His yoke will be taken from my people,
and his burden removed from their shoulders."
26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?
28 This oracle came in the year King Ahaz died:
29 Do not rejoice, all you Philistines,
that the rod that struck you is broken;
from the root of that snake will spring up a viper,
its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent.
30 The poorest of the poor will find pasture,
and the needy will lie down in safety.
But your root I will destroy by famine;
it will slay your survivors.
31 Wail, O gate! Howl, O city!
Melt away, all you Philistines!
A cloud of smoke comes from the north,
and there is not a straggler in its ranks.
32 What answer shall be given
to the envoys of that nation?
"The LORD has established Zion,
and in her his afflicted people will find refuge."
1 An oracle concerning Moab:
Ar in Moab is ruined,
destroyed in a night!
Kir in Moab is ruined,
destroyed in a night!
2 Dibon goes up to its temple,
to its high places to weep;
Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba.
Every head is shaved
and every beard cut off.
3 In the streets they wear sackcloth;
on the roofs and in the public squares
they all wail,
prostrate with weeping.
4 Heshbon and Elealeh cry out,
their voices are heard all the way to Jahaz.
Therefore the armed men of Moab cry out,
and their hearts are faint.
5 My heart cries out over Moab;
her fugitives flee as far as Zoar,
as far as Eglath Shelishiyah.
They go up the way to Luhith,
weeping as they go;
on the road to Horonaim
they lament their destruction.
6 The waters of Nimrim are dried up
and the grass is withered;
the vegetation is gone
and nothing green is left.
7 So the wealth they have acquired and stored up
they carry away over the Ravine of the Poplars.
8 Their outcry echoes along the border of Moab;
their wailing reaches as far as Eglaim,
their lamentation as far as Beer Elim.
9 Dimon's waters are full of blood,
but I will bring still more upon Dimon —
a lion upon the fugitives of Moab
and upon those who remain in the land.
1 Send lambs as tribute
to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, across the desert,
to the mount of the Daughter of Zion.
2 Like fluttering birds
pushed from the nest,
so are the women of Moab
at the fords of the Arnon.
3 "Give us counsel,
render a decision.
Make your shadow like night—
at high noon.
Hide the fugitives,
do not betray the refugees.
4 Let the Moabite fugitives stay with you;
be their shelter from the destroyer."
The oppressor will come to an end,
and destruction will cease;
the aggressor will vanish from the land.
5 In love a throne will be established;
in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
and speeds the cause of righteousness.
6 We have heard of Moab's pride—
her overweening pride and conceit,
her pride and her insolence—
but her boasts are empty.
7 Therefore the Moabites wail,
they wail together for Moab.
Lament and grieve
for the men of Kir Hareseth.
8 The fields of Heshbon wither,
the vines of Sibmah also.
The rulers of the nations
have trampled down the choicest vines,
which once reached Jazer
and spread toward the desert.
Their shoots spread out
and went as far as the sea.
9 So I weep, as Jazer weeps,
for the vines of Sibmah.
O Heshbon, O Elealeh,
I drench you with tears!
The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit
and over your harvests have been stilled.
10 Joy and gladness are taken away from the orchards;
no one sings or shouts in the vineyards;
no one treads out wine at the presses,
for I have put an end to the shouting.
11 My heart laments for Moab like a harp,
my inmost being for Kir Hareseth.
12 When Moab appears at her high place,
she only wears herself out;
when she goes to her shrine to pray,
it is to no avail.
13 This is the word the LORD has already spoken concerning Moab. 14 But now the LORD says: "Within three years, as a servant bound by contract would count them, Moab's splendor and all her many people will be despised, and her survivors will be very few and feeble."
1 An oracle concerning Damascus:
"See, Damascus will no longer be a city
but will become a heap of ruins.
2 The cities of Aroer will be deserted
and left to flocks, which will lie down,
with no one to make them afraid.
3 The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
and royal power from Damascus;
the remnant of Aram will be
like the glory of the Israelites,"
declares the LORD Almighty.
4 "In that day the glory of Jacob will fade;
the fat of his body will waste away.
5 It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain
and harvests the grain with his arm—
as when a man gleans heads of grain
in the Valley of Rephaim.
6 Yet some gleanings will remain,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches,
four or five on the fruitful boughs,"
declares the LORD, the God of Israel.
7 In that day men will look to their Maker
and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
8 They will not look to the altars,
the work of their hands,
and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles
and the incense altars their fingers have made.
9 In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.
10 You have forgotten God your Savior;
you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.
Therefore, though you set out the finest plants
and plant imported vines,
11 though on the day you set them out, you make them grow,
and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud,
yet the harvest will be as nothing
in the day of disease and incurable pain.
12 Oh, the raging of many nations—
they rage like the raging sea!
Oh, the uproar of the peoples—
they roar like the roaring of great waters!
13 Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters,
when he rebukes them they flee far away,
driven before the wind like chaff on the hills,
like tumbleweed before a gale.
14 In the evening, sudden terror!
Before the morning, they are gone!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
the lot of those who plunder us.
1 Woe to the land of whirring wings
along the rivers of Cush,
2 which sends envoys by sea
in papyrus boats over the water.
Go, swift messengers,
to a people tall and smooth-skinned,
to a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
whose land is divided by rivers.
3 All you people of the world,
you who live on the earth,
when a banner is raised on the mountains,
you will see it,
and when a trumpet sounds,
you will hear it.
4 This is what the LORD says to me:
"I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place,
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest."
5 For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone
and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives,
and cut down and take away the spreading branches.
6 They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey
and to the wild animals;
the birds will feed on them all summer,
the wild animals all winter.
7 At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty
from a people tall and smooth-skinned,
from a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
whose land is divided by rivers—
the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.
1 An oracle concerning Egypt:
See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud
and is coming to Egypt.
The idols of Egypt tremble before him,
and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.
2 "I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—
brother will fight against brother,
neighbor against neighbor,
city against city,
kingdom against kingdom.
3 The Egyptians will lose heart,
and I will bring their plans to nothing;
they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead,
the mediums and the spiritists.
4 I will hand the Egyptians over
to the power of a cruel master,
and a fierce king will rule over them,"
declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
5 The waters of the river will dry up,
and the riverbed will be parched and dry.
6 The canals will stink;
the streams of Egypt will dwindle and dry up.
The reeds and rushes will wither,
7 also the plants along the Nile,
at the mouth of the river.
Every sown field along the Nile
will become parched, will blow away and be no more.
8 The fishermen will groan and lament,
all who cast hooks into the Nile;
those who throw nets on the water
will pine away.
9 Those who work with combed flax will despair,
the weavers of fine linen will lose hope.
10 The workers in cloth will be dejected,
and all the wage earners will be sick at heart.
11 The officials of Zoan are nothing but fools;
the wise counselors of Pharaoh give senseless advice.
How can you say to Pharaoh,
"I am one of the wise men,
a disciple of the ancient kings"?
12 Where are your wise men now?
Let them show you and make known
what the LORD Almighty
has planned against Egypt.
13 The officials of Zoan have become fools,
the leaders of Memphis are deceived;
the cornerstones of her peoples
have led Egypt astray.
14 The LORD has poured into them
a spirit of dizziness;
they make Egypt stagger in all that she does,
as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.
15 There is nothing Egypt can do—
head or tail, palm branch or reed.
16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the LORD Almighty raises against them. 17 And the land of Judah will bring terror to the Egyptians; everyone to whom Judah is mentioned will be terrified, because of what the LORD Almighty is planning against them.
18 In that day five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD Almighty. One of them will be called the City of Destruction.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. 20 It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. 21 So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them. 22 The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."
1 In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it- 2 at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, "Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet." And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
3 Then the LORD said, "Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, 4 so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt's shame. 5 Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. 6 In that day the people who live on this coast will say, 'See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?' "
1 An oracle concerning the Desert by the Sea:
Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland,
an invader comes from the desert,
from a land of terror.
2 A dire vision has been shown to me:
The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot.
Elam, attack! Media, lay siege!
I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused.
3 At this my body is racked with pain,
pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor;
I am staggered by what I hear,
I am bewildered by what I see.
4 My heart falters,
fear makes me tremble;
the twilight I longed for
has become a horror to me.
5 They set the tables,
they spread the rugs,
they eat, they drink!
Get up, you officers,
oil the shields!
6 This is what the Lord says to me:
"Go, post a lookout
and have him report what he sees.
7 When he sees chariots
with teams of horses,
riders on donkeys
or riders on camels,
let him be alert,
8 And the lookout shouted,
"Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower;
every night I stay at my post.
9 Look, here comes a man in a chariot
with a team of horses.
And he gives back the answer:
'Babylon has fallen, has fallen!
All the images of its gods
lie shattered on the ground!' "
10 O my people, crushed on the threshing floor,
I tell you what I have heard
from the LORD Almighty,
from the God of Israel.
11 An oracle concerning Dumah :
Someone calls to me from Seir,
"Watchman, what is left of the night?
Watchman, what is left of the night?"
12 The watchman replies,
"Morning is coming, but also the night.
If you would ask, then ask;
and come back yet again."
13 An oracle concerning Arabia:
You caravans of Dedanites,
who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
14 bring water for the thirsty;
you who live in Tema,
bring food for the fugitives.
15 They flee from the sword,
from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow
and from the heat of battle.
16 This is what the Lord says to me: "Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the pomp of Kedar will come to an end. 17 The survivors of the bowmen, the warriors of Kedar, will be few." The LORD, the God of Israel, has spoken.
1 An oracle concerning the Valley of Vision:
What troubles you now,
that you have all gone up on the roofs,
2 O town full of commotion,
O city of tumult and revelry?
Your slain were not killed by the sword,
nor did they die in battle.
3 All your leaders have fled together;
they have been captured without using the bow.
All you who were caught were taken prisoner together,
having fled while the enemy was still far away.
4 Therefore I said, "Turn away from me;
let me weep bitterly.
Do not try to console me
over the destruction of my people."
5 The Lord, the LORD Almighty, has a day
of tumult and trampling and terror
in the Valley of Vision,
a day of battering down walls
and of crying out to the mountains.
6 Elam takes up the quiver,
with her charioteers and horses;
Kir uncovers the shield.
7 Your choicest valleys are full of chariots,
and horsemen are posted at the city gates;
8 the defenses of Judah are stripped away.
And you looked in that day
to the weapons in the Palace of the Forest;
9 you saw that the City of David
had many breaches in its defenses;
you stored up water
in the Lower Pool.
10 You counted the buildings in Jerusalem
and tore down houses to strengthen the wall.
11 You built a reservoir between the two walls
for the water of the Old Pool,
but you did not look to the One who made it,
or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.
12 The Lord, the LORD Almighty,
called you on that day
to weep and to wail,
to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.
13 But see, there is joy and revelry,
slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep,
eating of meat and drinking of wine!
"Let us eat and drink," you say,
"for tomorrow we die!"
14 The LORD Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: "Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for," says the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
15 This is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says:
"Go, say to this steward,
to Shebna, who is in charge of the palace:
16 What are you doing here and who gave you permission
to cut out a grave for yourself here,
hewing your grave on the height
and chiseling your resting place in the rock?
17 "Beware, the LORD is about to take firm hold of you
and hurl you away, O you mighty man.
18 He will roll you up tightly like a ball
and throw you into a large country.
There you will die
and there your splendid chariots will remain—
you disgrace to your master's house!
19 I will depose you from your office,
and you will be ousted from your position.
20 "In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. 24 All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.
25 "In that day," declares the LORD Almighty, "the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down." The LORD has spoken.
1 An oracle concerning Tyre:
Wail, O ships of Tarshish!
For Tyre is destroyed
and left without house or harbor.
From the land of Cyprus
word has come to them.
2 Be silent, you people of the island
and you merchants of Sidon,
whom the seafarers have enriched.
3 On the great waters
came the grain of the Shihor;
the harvest of the Nile was the revenue of Tyre,
and she became the marketplace of the nations.
4 Be ashamed, O Sidon, and you, O fortress of the sea,
for the sea has spoken:
"I have neither been in labor nor given birth;
I have neither reared sons nor brought up daughters."
5 When word comes to Egypt,
they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre.
6 Cross over to Tarshish;
wail, you people of the island.
7 Is this your city of revelry,
the old, old city,
whose feet have taken her
to settle in far-off lands?
8 Who planned this against Tyre,
the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants are princes,
whose traders are renowned in the earth?
9 The LORD Almighty planned it,
to bring low the pride of all glory
and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
10 Till your land as along the Nile,
O Daughter of Tarshish,
for you no longer have a harbor.
11 The LORD has stretched out his hand over the sea
and made its kingdoms tremble.
He has given an order concerning Phoenicia
that her fortresses be destroyed.
12 He said, "No more of your reveling,
O Virgin Daughter of Sidon, now crushed!
"Up, cross over to Cyprus ;
even there you will find no rest."
13 Look at the land of the Babylonians,
this people that is now of no account!
The Assyrians have made it
a place for desert creatures;
they raised up their siege towers,
they stripped its fortresses bare
and turned it into a ruin.
14 Wail, you ships of Tarshish;
your fortress is destroyed!
15 At that time Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the span of a king's life. But at the end of these seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:
16 "Take up a harp, walk through the city,
O prostitute forgotten;
play the harp well, sing many a song,
so that you will be remembered."
17 At the end of seventy years, the LORD will deal with Tyre. She will return to her hire as a prostitute and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. 18 Yet her profit and her earnings will be set apart for the LORD; they will not be stored up or hoarded. Her profits will go to those who live before the LORD, for abundant food and fine clothes.
The opening words of Psalm 2 pose a question that has baffled mankind through the centuries. The Psalmist asks, "Why do the nations rage?" That is, why is it so difficult to bring about international peace? Why, after thousands of peace conferences held through the centuries, are we no closer to world peace?
In the 60's, the Burmese statesman U Thant, who was then Secretary-General of the United Nations, convened an international conference to try to discover a way to world peace and to help resolve the international conflicts of that day. Some 1600 delegates from 42 different countries assembled in the United Nation's headquarters. In his opening address, U Thant asked three remarkable questions: What element is lacking so that with all our skill and all our knowledge we still find ourselves in the dark valley of discord and enmity? What is it that inhibits us from going forward together to enjoy the fruits of human endeavor and to reap the harvest of human experience? Why is it that, for all our professed ideals, our hopes and our skills, peace on earth is still a distant objective, seen only dimly through the storms and turmoils of our present difficulties? Here is an honest cry of frustration and bafflement from the heart of a statesman wrestling with the problem, "Why do the nations rage?"
That question is answered many times in the Scriptures, but notably here in this section of Isaiah, beginning with Chapter 13. In these chapters the prophet is given a vision concerning the great world powers that surrounded Israel in that day. The prophecy begins with a word concerning Babylon; then focuses on Assyria, Moab, Egypt, Edom and other nations; and ends in Chapter 23 with the burden of the city-nation of Tyre.
These messages were wholly predictive when they were uttered. They point out things that are going to happen from Isaiah's time onward. As we look back on history we can see that much of this prophecy has already been fulfilled. One of the secrets of understanding Old Testament prophecy is to separate the historic from the yet still future. These nations are not only historic but are symbols of forces at work in every age and every generation. What makes this passage so real and valuable to us is that through the experience of these nations we begin to understand our own personal struggles.
I wish I could cover these passages in detail, but I must move rather rapidly. Chapters 13 and 14 concern the city of Babylon; "the burden of Babylon," or, "the oracle concerning Babylon," as it is in the RSV. When Isaiah wrote this, Babylon was not yet a world power but only a small city on the banks of the Euphrates River. It would not come into world prominence for 200 years after Isaiah. What the prophet is describing here is not the rise of Babylon as a great city and world power, but the fall of the empire. The chapter opens in beautiful poetic language with a description of an army assaulting the gates of the city, and the summons comes from God to enter its gates and capture the city. This is historically fulfilled in Chapter 5 of the book of Daniel. There is recorded the story of the conquering of Babylon under its king, Belshazzar. During a great feast which the king gave in the palace he brought out the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem and used them in riotous debauchery. A supernatural hand appeared and wrote on the wall, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," meaning, "Your kingdom has been numbered and divided among the Medes and Persians."
That very night Darius the Mede took the city, just as Isaiah predicts. I will call your attention only to certain verses in this section. In Verse 6 the prophet says:
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come! (Isaiah 13:6 RSV)
Isaiah labels this time of the fall of Babylon as a manifestation of "the day of the Lord," a time of judgment from God, even though that judgment came at the hands of another nation. This is God's process throughout history: he uses one nation to judge another. In World War II, he used Hitler to judge the nations of the world; then he used the other nations to judge Germany under Hitler. Here this judgment is called "the day of the Lord."
In Verse 9 Isaiah repeats this phrase, but he is now talking about a future "day of the Lord," the final, terrible "Day of the Lord." Notice how the language expands here:
Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the earth[not the land, but the Earth] a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising
and the moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world[not just the Earth but the World] for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,
and lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless.
I will make men more rare than fine gold,
and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:9-13 RSV)
Many times in the Old Testament prophets you will find a description of "the terrible day of the Lord." This is a day yet future, described in the book of Revelation under the symbol of the trumpets and the vials of judgment that are poured out upon the earth. One of the signs of "that day" is this prediction, repeated several times in Scripture, that the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. In the 24th chapter of Matthew our Lord himself spoke of a time when "the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars will fall from the heavens," Matthew 24:29). Then shall be the great tribulation that has been long predicted in the Scriptures. This is what we have here in Isaiah.
In Verse 14 through to the end of the chapter, the prophet returns to the historic destruction of the great city of Babylon after its rise to empire status. This is accomplished, we read in Verse 17, by the Medes:
Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold. (Isaiah 13:17 RSV)
We know that history has fulfilled this in the capture of Babylon under Darius the Mede. The closing verses of this chapter give the ultimate fate of this great city. Verses 20-24:
It will never be inhabited
or dwelt in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there,
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
But wild beasts will lie down there,
and its houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there satyrs will dance.
Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged. (Isaiah 13:20-22 RSV)
This, too, is history now. For centuries the site of Babylon was actually lost. So totally destroyed was the city that no one could even find where it had been located, great as it had been. Only in the early part of this century did the spade of the archaeologist turn it up again. For all those long centuries these words were literally fulfilled. Babylon was a total desolation, without life, except by wild animals.
The animals mentioned, hyenas, jackals, satyrs, ostriches, etc., are not the actual names of the dwellers among the ruins. No one really knows what these words refer to. The animals named are only guesses on the part of the translators. This in itself indicates there is something hidden here. Scripture uses Babylon as the symbol of a terrible evil that pervades our whole race and finds its judgment at last in the terrible scenes of the book of Revelation. In Chapter 17 of that book there is a remarkable description given of a beast with seven heads, upon which is seated a woman. The Apostle John, the writer, says in Verse 4:
The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities f her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations." (Revelation 17:4-5 RSV)
The opening two verses of Chapter 18 give the fate of this woman:
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. And he called out with a mighty voice,
"Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; (Revelation 18:1-2 RSV)
The reason that Isaiah's translators cannot translate these names of animals (or whatever they are) is that these are really names of demonic beings. From these names we see confirmation of the biblical use of Babylon as a symbol of spiritual evil.
Babylon gets its name from the Tower of Babel, which means "confusion." That is where God confused the languages of earth. That tower was built by people who said, "Come, let us make a name for ourselves. We will build a tower that reaches unto heaven," Genesis 11:4). Thus, all through the Scriptures, Babylon becomes a symbol of the use of false religion to gain earthly prestige and prominence. Babylon is very much present with us today.
The cults are Babylonish in that sense. They distort the true faith to gain an earthly following, to gain power and prestige among men. Babylonianism is formed in every church to some degree, Protestant, Catholic, whatever. The fall of Babylon as an earthly city did not mean the end of Babylonianism. The error it represents goes on. That gives us a hint as to how these great visions of Isaiah are to be treated.
It is not surprising that Chapter 14, which continues the vision of Babylon, opens with a description of the nation Israel at rest in its own land, free from captivity, and master of its own destiny.
The Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and aliens will join them and 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 Lord's land as male and female slaves; they will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them. (Isaiah 14:1-2 RSV)
This is not a description of the return from Babylon, recorded in the prophecies of Malachi and Haggai, because Israel was still a vassal of Babylon. This prophecy looks on to the end, when Israel will be restored to its land under its own Messiah. He will lead them as they move out against their enemies to gain first place among the nations of the earth. Then they will rejoice in their freedom and break forth into song, as Isaiah records,
When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: (Isaiah 14:3a RSV)
[The last king of Babylon was Belshazzar, but the words of this song indicate that this king is more than an earthly king. Clearly, Verse 12 and following describe a supernatural figure who, in the invisible world of the spirit, is behind the earthly kingdom of Babylon. These words are very significant:]
"How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn![literally "O Lucifer, Lightbearer"] How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven, above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.' But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit." (Isaiah 14:12-15 RSV)
We are here looking at what has been called, in theology, "the fall of Satan." Lucifer, the brightest and most beautiful of the angels of God, the nearest to his throne, became so entranced with his own beauty that he rebelled against the government of God and thus became the adversary, Satan. Here he is seen as brought at last to the bottomless pit, mentioned in the book of Revelation.
We are clearly looking beyond the events of earth to that spiritual world which governs those events. As the Apostle Paul put it, "We do not wrestle with flesh and blood, [people are not really the problem] but with wicked spirits in high places, with the rulers of this world's darkness," (Ephesians 6:12). What an instructive term that is. The great king of evil is behind all human wrong. This is why the nations rage, why we cannot achieve peace among men at the level of human counsel. We must reckon with these supernatural beings who are behind the mistakes and mistaken deeds of men.
In this passage we learn the origin and the nature of sin. The root of sin is self-occupation. Ezekiel 28 (which is a parallel passage to this), describes the king of Tyre in similar language to this as a supernatural being, and says, "Your heart became proud on account of your beauty and you corrupted your wisdom because of your brightness," (Ezekiel 28:2, 28:17). Thus the fundamental character of evil is to become occupied with one's self. This is behind the narcissism of the day in which we live. The media constantly push people to look out for themselves, to speak of "My rights, my desires, my plans. What's in it for me." This is the philosophy that, like a ferment, keeps troubling the pot of international relationships, boiling over again and again in wars and conflicts.
The answer to the question, "Why do the nations rage?" is that Lucifer, the Lightbearer, forgot his dependence on God. In self-sufficiency he uttered these five "I wills" recorded here:
"I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God;"
"I will set my throne on high;"
"I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north;"
"I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;"
"I will make myself like the Most High." (Isaiah 14:13b-14 RSV)
The nature of sin is to play God in our own little world. It does not matter whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, what constitutes sin is to feel you are in control of your own destiny, that you have all it takes to handle life. First John 3:8 says: "If any man commits sin, he is of the devil, for the devil sinned from the beginning." Playing God is the nature of sin. It is an extremely pleasurable experience. We all have felt, from personal experience, "How sweet it is!" We love it. A Christian businessman of my acquaintance wrote of his own experience:
It's my pride that makes me independent of God. It's appealing to feel I am the master of my fate. I run my own life, I call my own shots, I go it alone. But that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can't go it alone. I have to get help from other people. I can't ultimately rely on myself. I'm dependent on God for my very next breath. It's dishonest of me to pretend that I'm anything but a man; small, weak and limited. Living independent of God is self-delusion. It's not just a matter of pride being an unfortunate little trait and humility being an attractive little virtue. It's my inner psychological integrity that's at stake. When I am conceited I'm lying to myself about what I am. I am pretending to be God and not man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself; and that is the national religion of hell.
This is why these passages that deal with Babylon are so significant to us, for we all have Babylon at work in our lives. Chapters 15 and 16 present what is called "The burden (or the oracle) of Moab." These chapters describe a terrible desolation that is to fall upon Moab. The reason is given in Chapter 16, Verse 6:
We have heard of the pride of Moab,
how proud he was;
of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence
his boasts are false. (Isaiah 16:6 RSV)
Moab was a relative of Israel, born of incest. The sordid story is related in Genesis (Genesis 19:29-38). Lot, Abraham's nephew, lay with two of his daughters and from that was born two sons, Moab and Ammon (the nations that make up the present country of Jordan). Moab lived on the edges of the land of Israel but could not inhabit the land. According to several passages in the book of Numbers (Numbers 22-24), the king of Moab, Balak, once hired Balaam, the false prophet, to teach the people of Israel to do two things: to worship idols and to commit fornication. Moab forever stands in Scripture as a picture of religious worldliness that loves wealth and luxury and regards sexual immorality with an easy tolerance that becomes at times arrogant insolence. There is much of Moab in the church today. Verse 10 of Chapter 16 describes the fate of Moab:
And joy and gladness are taken away
from the fruitful field;
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
no shouts are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
the vintage shout is hushed. (Isaiah 16:10 RSV)
The zest and gladness of life has disappeared from Moab. Coldness, emptiness and meaninglessness take over. This is the fate of all who yield to sexual immorality, carried on under a religious guise. Jaded boredom-that is the last word concerning Moab. Two verses in Chapter 17 describe the future of Damascus, a city much in the news today.
An oracle concerning Damascus.
Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city,
and will become a heap of ruins.
Her cities will be deserted for ever;
they will be for flocks,
which will lie down, and none will make them afraid. (Isaiah 17:1-2 RSV)
That has not yet been fulfilled. The infallible Word of God says that Damascus. a large and very old city, ultimately will be destroyed. We are not told how or when this will happen but it will happen, as the Word of God declares. Chapter 18 has fascinated many who adopt a superficial approach to Scripture and see in it a reference to the United States.
Ah, land of whirring wings[literally, "overshadowing wings"]
which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia;
which sends ambassadors by the Nile,
in vessels of papyrus upon the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
to a nation, tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide. (Isaiah 18:1-2 RSV)
Some say the "land of overshadowing wings" is a reference to the American eagle, the symbol of the United States. It is described as "a nation tall and smooth [they do not have beards] ... whose land the rivers divide." These interpreters say that, since Isaiah did not know of the western world, he could only describe it as "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia," i.e. to the west of Ethiopia and is a reference to the new world, probably to the United States. This illustrates the ease with which such prophecies can be misused and misapplied.
Actually, as I have pointed out before, Hebrew is a difficult language to translate because many Hebrew words can be taken in various ways. A careful comparison of the words used here as they are used elsewhere in the Old Testament, results in an almost entirely different translation.
In the first place, the word that is translated "Ethiopia" is the word "Cush." The ancient name of Ethiopia was Cush, but the problem is, there are two Cushes in the Bible. One is in Africa, which we identify as Ethiopia, with the Nile River as its great river. There was another Cush, however, in Asia, north of Palestine, around the headwaters of the Euphrates. That Cush would be identified with Assyria, and the great river running out of it was the Euphrates. So that this "land of overshadowing wings," which is "beyond the rivers of Cush" (the Nile on one side, the Euphrates on the other) would be a land that protects or in some way influences another nation.
Adopting that translation, the area of the globe referred to would be the Gentile powers of earth. They will "overshadow" by a covenant, a treaty of protection, with a nation which is described as "a nation tall and smooth." "A people feared from its beginning" is a better translation. It is also "a nation under the line" literally, under the judgment of God, a disciplined nation, a nation chastised by God, "whose land the rivers [the Nile and the Euphrates] divide" among themselves.
Historically this describes the nation of Israel. Caught between the great superpowers of the day, their armies crisscrossing it often, this nation has been divided between these great powers. But in the end times there will be a covenant made with it (we read of this in the book of Daniel), and that covenant will be with the great Gentile nations of the world of that day. The result will be an invasion (which Ezekiel describes) from the north that will eventuate in the destruction of the great world powers (called by Ezekiel Gog and Magog) on the mountains of Israel. There is a reference to that in Verse 6 of Isaiah 18:
They shall all of them be left
to the birds of prey of the mountains
and to the beasts of the earth.
And the birds of prey will summer upon them,
and all the beasts of the earth will winter upon them. (Isaiah 18:6 RSV)
But the last word is that there will be a final restoration. Verse 7:
At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord of hosts
from a people tall and smooth, from a a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide,
to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 18:7-8 RSV)
Again, this is a picture of the restoration of Israel to its land and the tribute of the Gentile nations.
The first fifteen verses of Chapter 19, "the burden of Egypt," have been already fulfilled. But beginning with Verse 16, there is an amazing prediction of a coming change in Egypt. This will take place in six stages, each of which is introduced by the phrase "in that day." That phrase always carries us forward to the end times. Have you ever wondered why Egypt is the only Arab nation to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, putting herself in jeopardy with the rest of the Arab world as a result? Perhaps the reason for that is given here. Ultimately, according to this passage, Egypt will become a believing nation and will be one with Israel and Assyria in the last days. The first of the six changes is found in Verse 16:
In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand which the Lord of hosts shakes over them. And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians; every one to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose which the Lord of hosts has purposed against them. (Isaiah 19:16 RSV)
Egypt seems to be the first of the nations who, following the return of the Messiah to Israel, recognizes that God is with his people and begins to fear what he will do by means of a nation that has been restored to his blessing. The land of Judah will cause Egypt to fear. Then the second stage comes:
In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt which speak the language of Canaan[Hebrew] and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of the Sun[the ancient city of Heliopolis, the Greek form of the words "the City of the Sun"]. (Isaiah 19:18 RSV)
You can visit Heliopolis today. It is a beautiful, but still unbelieving, city. But "in that day" it will be one of five cities which will have turned to Israel so totally that its inhabitants will actually speak the Hebrew language. Verse 19 introduces a third step in Egypt's transformation:
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. (Isaiah 19:19 RSV)
That passage has been interpreted as referring to the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Several cults look to the Great Pyramid as a kind of a prophetic monument, whose dimensions stand for certain numbers of years. (The Rosicrucians here in San Jose have much to say along this line about the Great Pyramid.) But this could hardly be a reference to the Great Pyramid. First, the passage refers to an altar, while the pyramid is but an empty tomb. Secondly, the pyramid was already in existence when Isaiah wrote these words, while this is something that will come into existence "in that day." The pillar, of course, is a reference to the pillar that Jacob erected after his vision of God at the city of Bethel. Thus the altar and the pillar are a sign of Egypt's conversion. They simply speak of a Gentile recognition of the God of Israel and the fact that Egyptians begin to worship that God. Verse 20 confirms this:
It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors he will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them. (Isaiah 19:20 RSV)
Then there is another step of change:
And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. And the Lord will smite Egypt, smiting and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will heed their supplications and heal them. (Isaiah 19:21-22 RSV)
This "smiting" is the discipline of God. When we come to him today he corrects us, chastising us in order to heal us. This will happen to Egypt in that day. Then the final stage:
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria,[across the land of Israel] and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage." (Isaiah 19:23-24 RSV)
Clearly this is a millennial scene. The nations will no longer rage and jostle with one another, but peace and harmony will reign throughout the whole of the earth. Assyria and Egypt will cease their ancient enmity and w ill be recognized, with Israel, as the people of God.
Chapter 20 returns to the historic fulfillment of Egypt's judgment. Chapters 21 and 22 give additional details on Babylon under the title, "the oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea," the desert of the sea, a strange term. Here also are given the judgment of Dumah, which is Edom, and a brief word on the judgment of Arabia, which we cannot take in detail now. Chapter 22 describes Jerusalem under the name of "the valley of vision" and predicts its chastisement.
The final burden in this section calls upon Tarshish, the colony of Tyre, and Egypt and Sidon to behold the desolation of the Lord upon this city. The prophet inquires why this is coming to pass, asking in Chapter 23, Verse 8:
Who has purposed this
against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
whose traders were the honored of the earth?[The answer comes:]
The Lord of hosts has purposed it,
to defile the pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth. (Isaiah 23:8-9 RSV)
Jesus once said, "That which is highly esteemed among men [honored of men] is abomination in the sight of God," (Luke 16:15 KJV). God despises the love of luxury, the lust for creature comforts, and the pursuit of material gain which Tyre stands for in the Scriptures. Its sin is crass materialism. Tyre is still noted for this. A man told me today that he never saw so many Cadillacs and Mercedes in his life than he saw in Tyre. For seventy years it was judged, following its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar the Great, and then restored, as the prophecy goes on to say in Verse 17. But in (Verse) 18 we have that great leap of time again. In the end there is a different fate for Tyre:
Her merchandise and her hire will be dedicated to the Lord["holiness to the Lord"]; it will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. (Isaiah 23:18 RSV)
Let us remember the words of the apostle in First Corinthians: "Now all these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians. 10:11). What does he mean? These judgments depict things that are true of us. Babylon, Tyre, Assyria and Egypt appear all the way through the Scriptures, and they always picture the same thing: the world in its varied attack upon us. Egypt is ever the picture of the corruption and defilement of the world. Babylon pictures the deceitfulness of the world and the great Deceiver behind it, using false religion to lead astray. Tyre is a picture of the crass materialism of the world, storing up wealth and treasure for this life only with little concern for that which is to come. Assyria is ever a picture of the violence and cruelty of the world. The other nations mentioned, Moab, Edom, Ammon, and Arabia, depict the enemy we call the "flesh." It is within us, the enemy we are related to. It manifests itself as jealousy, envy, lust, anger, and all those things that are called in Scripture "the works of the flesh," (Galatians 5:19).
Yes, but, in the Lord Jesus, God has a solution to the world, the flesh, and the devil. As we live in relationship to him he provides the power and strength to overcome the world, the flesh, and behind them, the devil. In these passages Isaiah describes in a marvelous way how we too can rely on the presence of the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in our midst, and can daily triumph over these enemies of our faith. Someday it will be Israel that so triumphs. Today it is our right.
Our Heavenly Father, how fantastic it is to see these words of Scripture confirm our experience. They speak of the world as it really is, stripping it bare before our eyes. We have all felt the attractiveness of the world and the flesh. We know these things so well. Thank you for showing us how destructive they are to us; how we, as Christian people, cannot entertain these, but by the power committed to us by the Lord Jesus and his presence in our hearts we have strength to say no to these and to walk in faithfulness before you. In Jesus' name. Amen.
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