Isaiah 47: Sit in the Dust

Isaiah 47: Sit in the Dust (mp3 audio file)

Isaiah 47: Sit in the Dust (pdf study notes and worksheet)


Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 47 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.

Key verses:

Isa. 47:3-4 – “Your nakedness will be uncovered, and your shame will be exposed. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one. The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer; the Lord of Hosts is His name.”

Quick summary:

Babylon’s destruction is foretold. This prophecy is fulfilled in 539 B.C. when Persian King Cyrus captures the city. Babylon’s failure is exposed in verse 6. The Lord has disciplined the Jews, placing them under Babylon’s control, but the captors went beyond reasonable punishment and “showed them no mercy.” Now under God’s judgment, Babylon is challenged to turn to its sorcerers, who must try to do the impossible – to prevent disaster at the hands of the Persians. They will fail because the Lord says, “I will take vengeance; I will spare no one” (v. 3).

Take note:

Twice, Babylon is called “Daughter Chaldea” (vv. 1, 5) and throughout the chapter she is depicted as a pouting mistress. Once “pampered and spoiled,” she must now grind meal with a millstone, remove her veil and bare her thigh as she wades through rivers. She will sit in silence and go into darkness, no longer a “mistress of the kingdoms” (v. 5). Once a lover of luxury who never considered the consequences of her actions, she now experiences loss of children and widowhood in a single day. In the last days, Babylon is depicted in a similar way, indulging in idolatry, immorality and excessive materialism. Like Babylon in Old Testament times, the kingdom in the last days is utterly destroyed and the world grieves her loss, but the judgment comes from God (Rev. 18).

The Shame of Babylon (Isa. 47:1-4)

Proud Babylon will be conquered and its people will become humbled servants, sitting in the dust as a sign of mourning (see Jonah 3:6). The words “Virgin Daughter” depict the people of the city as young and innocent women, possibly meaning the city’s walls have never been breached, or the people have never been captured. The people no longer will be delicate like virgins. Rather, they will endure hardships, grinding meal with millstones, unconcerned about their clothing or modesty. Some no doubt will be abused and raped. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Babylon, the proud queen, is now a humbled slave. ‘I will continue forever—the eternal queen!’ she boasted (v. 7, NIV). But in a moment, the judgment for her sins caught up with her; and she became a widow” (Be Comforted, S. Is 45:1).

Verse 4 predicts the response of the Jews, who will rejoice at the devastating work of God’s hand on their oppressors. They will praise God, realizing that their redemption comes from His direct and divine intervention in human history. “The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer,” they proclaim. “The Lord of Hosts is His name.” Matthew Henry reminds us, “God can make those sit silently that used to make the greatest noise in the world, and send those into darkness that used to make the greatest figure. Let him that glories, therefore, glory in a God that changes not, and not in any worldly wealth, pleasure, or honour, which are subject to change” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 47:1).

The Sins of Babylon (Isa. 47:6-8, 10)

Babylon has conquered Judah only because God has allowed it. More to the point, God chose this proud and pagan nation as His rod of discipline against the unrepentant Jews, a fact that should cause the Babylonians to place their victory in proper perspective. But they see things differently. They treat their captives with impunity, utterly destroying Judah’s capital city and place of worship. Although Yahweh places the Jews under the Babylonians’ control, they show no mercy and make life exceptionally difficult even for the elderly (v. 6). The Babylonians never entertain the thought that their rule is temporary. Brashly, the nation boasts, “I will be the mistress forever” (v. 7). Instead of seeing their triumph as an opportunity to serve the true and living God, they “did not take these things to heart or think about their outcome” (v. 7).

What’s more, the Babylonians think they can never be defeated. Enjoying the spoils of victory, sitting in the lap of luxury, resting in the security an undefeated army provides, the women declare they will never be widowed or know the loss of children (v. 8). But they are led astray by their “knowledge” and their “wisdom” (v. 10). “Their policy and craft, which they called their wisdom, were their confidence. They thought they could outwit all mankind, and therefore might set all their enemies at defiance. But their wisdom and knowledge perverted them, and turned them out of the way, made them forget themselves, and the preparation necessary to be made for hereafter” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 47:7). Those who trust in their wealth, their wisdom and their wickedness will find these false comforts in the end to be their ruin.

The Suffering of Babylon (Isa. 47:5, 9, 11-15)

Babylon is considered nearly impregnable, yet because of her sins the Lord says she will “sit in silence” (the posture of mourning), “go into darkness” (the state of misery) and “no longer be called mistress (queen) of kingdoms” (v. 5). Disaster and devastation are coming suddenly and unexpectedly. The once-invincible Babylonians will be unable to anticipate, avert or escape the calamity. The Babylonians prided themselves in their sorcerers, who supposedly foretold future events and cast spells to exert influence over others. Such alleged knowledge would be of no value in the coming days, for the sorcerers would not be able to see destruction coming or cast spells to make their conquerors go away.

In verses 12-15 the Lord mockingly urges the Babylonians to continue their sorceries and spells. Like Elijah jeering the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Yahweh pokes fun at Babylon’s inept spiritual leaders. “Let them stand and save you – the astrologers who observe the stars … they are like stubble; fire burns them up…. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame … each wanders his own way; no one can save you.” Matthew Henry remarks:  “Witchcraft is a sin in its own nature exceedingly heinous; it is giving that honour to the devil which is due to God only, making God’s enemy our guide and the father of lies our oracle. In Babylon it was a national sin, and had the protection and countenance of the government; conjurors, for aught that appears, were their privy counsellors [sic] and prime ministers of state. And shall not God visit for these things?” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 47:7).

Babylon and Chaldea are especially well known for their astrologers. In Chaldea the astrologers form a particular caste, in which knowledge is passed from father to son. They teach that the universe is eternal and that the movements of the celestial bodies are directed by a council of the gods. Their long and careful study of the heavens makes them more able than others to calculate the movements and influence of the stars. To assist them in their calculations, the astrologers divide the heavens into 12 equal parts, our houses – six above the horizon and six below – “and the various subjects that affect the happiness of human beings, such as fortune, marriage, life, death, religion, etc., were distributed among them. From the position of the stars in these houses the calculations were made…. And from the varied appearances of the heavens they foretold events that not only affected lands and nations, but also brought happiness or unhappiness to kings and common people” (James M. Freeman, Manners & Customs of the Bible. [Rev. ed.], S. 364).

No matter. Yahweh is direct and precise in His judgment that all the labors of the astrologers will come to naught, for He has determined that their season of sin is about to come to an end: “Look, they are like stubble; fire burns them up. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame” (v. 14).

Closing Thought

D.A. Carson comments: “It is Babylon’s proper fate: there can be no mercy, for she has shown none….Yet the description is not without pity. We are watching the triumph of justice, but equally the tragedy of the sinner. Dust and toil, nakedness and shame, silence and darkness – these symbols of damnation have an added bitterness by the glimpse of the arrogant gaiety which they quench for ever. We can enter into her sinking of heart as the trusted expedients fail (the magic spells, sorceries and horoscopes of vs 12–14), and the old associates drift prudently away, ‘each in his own direction’ (15,), like the fair-weather friends that they are” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 47:1).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips