Isaiah 13 Commentary


All the nations are under the rule of God, who controls their rise to power and their final destruction according to his purposes. This is the truth that the prophet teaches in the collection of prophecies against various nations in Chapters 13 to 23. The first message is for Babylon, which in Isaiah’s day had not yet risen to a position of international power. The fall of Babylon that is pictured in these chapters would not take place for more than one hundred and fifty years.

The pride and fall of Babylon (13:1-14:23)

Although a combined army of Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon, God was the one who moved them to do it. The prophet pictures the scene as the Medo-Persian army gets ready for battle, with soldiers shouting, signalling, organizing themselves and preparing their weapons (13:1-5). The people of Babylon shake with fear as they see that defeat is upon them (6-8). It is, for them, the day of the Lord, the day of God’s great intervention in judgment (9-10). The chief cause of Babylon’s punishment is its pride, for it boasted of its achievements, mocked God and dealt with people ruthlessly. When God decides that he will no longer tolerate the arrogance of the haughty, he pours out his wrath (11-13).

Enemy armies who invade the proud city show no mercy on its inhabitants, whether they be native Babylonians or foreigners (14-16). The Babylonians try to bribe the Medes into turning back, but the Medes will not listen. They carry on with the slaughter and destruction, till the people are wiped out (17- 18). The city that was once beautiful is left a ruin, inhabited only by wild animals (19-22).

A further reason for the overthrow of Babylon is now revealed. God wants to break the power of Babylon, so that the captive Jews can be released and return to their homeland. Peoples who once oppressed the Jews will now help them rebuild their ruined nation (14:1-2). (The permission for the Jews’ return was given by the conquering Persian king, Cyrus.)

Then comes a song that the Jews sang to the disgrace of their former master, the king of Babylon. The king is seen as the embodiment of all Babylon’s pride and evil (3-6). Now that he is dead and the captive Jews are free from his rule, the whole world rejoices. Nations feel a sense of relief after years of Babylonian oppression (7-8).

Those in the world of the dead welcome the fallen king, reminding him that though he was all- powerful in life, he is no better than they in death (9-11). Arrogant and ambitious, seeking after the highest place, the greatest honour and supreme power, he is brought down to the lowest place, the greatest shame and complete weakness (12-15). Those who see him can scarcely recognize him as the one who



destroyed kingdoms and enslaved entire nations. They find it hard to believe that one who terrified the world can come to such a humiliating end (16-17).

Most kings are buried with honour, but this king is treated with disgrace. He is left unburied, his corpse thrown out to rot in the sun. His sons also are to be killed, to make sure they have no opportunity to copy their father (18-21). The power of Babylon must be destroyed, so that the nation can never rise again (22-23).

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