Rev. 14:8 – A second angel followed, saying: “It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen, who made all nations drink the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath.” (HCSB)
A second angel followed
A second angel now appears, saying, “It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen, who made all nations drink the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath.” The angel takes up the prophetic announcement of the fall of the city of Babylon in the Old Testament:
- “Babylon has fallen, has fallen. All the images of her gods have been shattered on the ground.” (Isa. 21:9)
- “Suddenly Babylon fell and was shattered.” (Jer. 51:8a)
God uses Babylon as an instrument of His judgment against Judah. This wicked nation to the east basks in idolatry and exports it to others. Proud, powerful, and ambitious, the Babylonians destroy the temple, sack Jerusalem, and carry the Jewish people into captivity. This is exactly what the prophets warned would happen, but the Babylonians are foolish to think they control the world’s destiny; they are, in fact, a tool in the hand of God. Years later, the Medes and Persians tunnel beneath Babylon’s seemingly impenetrable walls and take the city in a single night. Babylon the Great falls. This dark period in Judah’s history is well-known to John’s readers, and they may readily apply its message to the words of the second angel.
LISTEN to PODCAST: Isaiah 56 – Israel’s Blind Watchmen
READ: Isaiah 56 – Notes
STUDY: Isaiah 56 – 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 56 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 and ultimate glory.
Isa. 56:10-11 – Israel’s watchmen are blind, all of them, they know nothing; all of them are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they dream, lie down, and love to sleep. These dogs have fierce appetites; they never have enough. And they are shepherds who have no discernment; all of them turn to their own way, every last one for his own gain.
Chapter 56 begins the final section of the book of Isaiah. While chapters 40-55 survey the Babylonian exile and speak of redemption largely in terms of a Jewish homecoming, chapters 56-66 focus on the homeland, which is seen partly as a place of corruption (Isa. 56:9 – 59:15a) and devastation (Isa. 63:7 – 64:12), but also as a place of restoration and beauty when touched by the Lord’s hand (Isa. 60-62). “The final chapters (65–66), like the prelude (56:1–8), show God’s welcome of the outsider and the heathen to his holy mountain and eternal kingdom, but press home the peril of an everlasting exclusion from these glories” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed., S. Is 55:6). Specifically, chapter 56 contrasts God’s grace and man’s wickedness, as evidenced in the lives of Judah’s leaders.
The Gentiles who believe will be included in God’s blessings for Israel. The Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s plan for worldwide blessing is addressed in many passages of Scripture, for example:
- Gen. 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
- Acts 15:16-18: After these things I will return and will rebuild David’s tent, which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins and will set it up again, so that those who are left of mankind may seek the Lord – even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does these things, which have been known from long ago (quoting Amos 9:11-12; Isa. 45:21).
- Gal. 3:6-9: Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, so understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed in you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.
- Eph.3:4-6: By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah. This was not made known to people in other generations as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
A House of Prayer (Isa. 56:1-8)
Isaiah begins the chapter with a command from the Lord to live righteously “for My salvation is coming soon, and My righteousness will be revealed” (v. 1). The word “salvation” may be seen here as both spiritual deliverance (from idolatry and other sins) and physical protection (from the Assyrians now and from extinction during Babylonian exile later). While salvation always has been a work of God’s grace, the Jews are exhorted to live righteously as an acknowledgement of their special relationship with Yahweh. Since the Sabbath is a sign of Israel’s covenant with the Lord, keeping the Sabbath signifies belief in the covenant and trust in the covenant-keeping God (v. 2). In a similar manner, our good works as Christians are the natural response to God’s work of grace in our lives and are intended to bring glory to God (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:10).
In verses 3-5 the Lord reminds believing Gentiles that they have a part in His salvation and a place in His kingdom. God’s intention always has been to redeem people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Equally gracious is God’s promise to eunuchs who, under the Law, are excluded from the full rights and privileges of citizenship (Deut. 23:1). The reason for their segregation is that their parents have deliberately mutilated them for the purpose of serving in the palaces of kings and noblemen. Such a focus on status and cultural extremes would serve to take their eyes off Yahweh and prevent them from having children who would honor the one true and living God. Though the eunuchs are not at fault for their parents’ actions, the consequences are a reminder to all Jews not to allow foreign beliefs and practices to influence them. Eunuchs, however, are never excluded from God’s salvation, and the Lord adds to spiritual deliverance the promise of full citizenship in the Messianic kingdom, including “a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters” (v. 5).
Foreigners who “love the Lord’s name” will be regathered along with believing Israelites. They demonstrate their belief in Yahweh by serving Him and honoring His covenant with Israel. It should not be overlooked in this passage that Gentiles are invited to observe the Sabbath along with the Jews. Warren W. Wiersbe explains: “God never before asked the Gentiles to join the Jews in keeping the Sabbath, but here He does so. He calls the very people He prohibited from entering His covenant nation: foreigners and eunuchs (Deut. 23:1–8). This is another picture of the grace of God (see Acts 8:26ff). The invitation is still, ‘Ho, everyone! Come!’ It applies to sinners today, but it will apply in a special way when Israel enters her kingdom, the temple services are restored, and the Sabbath is once again a part of Jewish worship” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 55:1).
In the future, the Lord will bring Jews and Gentiles alike to His holy mountain, where they will rejoice in His house of prayer. There, they will offer burnt offerings and sacrifices on His altar. But a question arises: If this promise points to the Millennium, which comes well after Messiah’s sacrifice on the cross, why are animal sacrifices necessary, or even appropriate? One possible explanation is that these are not blood sacrifices, but spiritual ones. The apostle Paul, for example, exhorts us as Christians to present our bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God; this is our “spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). The writer of Hebrews tells us to “offer up a sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15). And Peter reminds us that we are “living stones … built into a house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In this case, the Lord’s “altar” could be a reference to the cross, where the Old Testament sacrifices are fulfilled and done away with and which sanctifies our sacrifices of prayer and praise.
Another possible explanation is that God will reinstitute the sacrificial system as a memorial to His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The shed blood of innocent animals will serve as a reminder of the penalty for sin and the great price Jesus paid to redeem us from our sins. In either case, the focus of this promise is that redeemed people from across the world will gather in Jerusalem and worship the Lord.
Sleeping Watchmen (Isa. 56:9-12)
While much of chapters 49-57 offer a glimpse of Israel’s future glory, the closing verses of this chapter and all of chapter 57 describe the spiritual situation in Isaiah’s day and serve as a condemnation of the nation’s wicked. In verse 9, the “animals of the field and forest” are invited to “come and eat!” This is a call to the Gentile nations – Babylon in particular – to devour Israel as punishment for her spiritual stupor. Israel’s “watchmen” – the priests and other religious leaders – are described as “blind” and “ignorant.” They are ravenous dogs who love to eat and sleep, yet as mute beasts are unable to sound a warning of approaching danger. The leaders also are depicted as shepherds with no discernment, acting like the very sheep they are supposed to lead. Concerned only with their own comfort, they drink wine, guzzle beer and tell themselves the future is bright.
Warren Wiersbe comments: “Spiritual leaders are ‘watchmen’ (Ezek. 3:17–21; 33:1–11) who must be awake to the dangers that threaten God’s people. They are ‘shepherds’ who must put the care of the flock ahead of their own desires. When the foreign invaders (‘beasts of the field’) come, the shepherds must protect the flock, no matter what the danger might be. See Acts 20:18–38 for the description of a faithful spiritual ministry” (Be Comforted, S. Is 56:9).
Matthew Henry writes: “[W]hy are the dogs set to guard the sheep if they cannot bark to waken the shepherd and frighten the wolf? Such were these; those that had the charge of souls never reproved men for their faults, nor told them what would be in the end thereof, never gave them notice of the judgments of God that were breaking in upon them. They barked at God’s prophets, and bit them too, and worried the sheep, but made no opposition to the wolf or thief…. They loved their ease, and hated business, were always sleeping, lying down and loving to slumber. They were not overcome and overpowered by sleep, as the disciples, through grief and fatigue, but they lay down on purpose to invite sleep … It is bad with a people when their shepherds slumber (Nah. 3:18), and it is well for God’s people that their shepherd, the keeper of Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 56:9).
This eight-part series addresses common objections to the Bible as the Word of God.
Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Critics argue that the God of the Old Testament is distant, vengeful and harsh, engaging in genocide and punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, they say, the God of the New Testament is loving, kind and gracious, eager to forgive. Further, His Son Jesus is a gentle, meek, selfless and all-too-human being who speaks in adoring terms of His Father in Heaven. Complicating things further, the God of the Old Testament is described as one (Deut. 6:4) while the New Testament hints at a triune Godhead consisting of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Gods of the Old and New Testaments be reconciled as one?
God’s nature and progressive revelation
First, it’s important to note that this objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. The writers of www.gotquestions.org put it very well: “The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.”
For example, the Old Testament in many places describes God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex.34:6; see also Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). In the New Testament, God’s love for mankind is manifested more fully in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Or, consider that in the Old Testament, God deals with the Israelites much as a loving father deals with his children, punishing them for their idolatry but delivering them when they repent of their sins. In much the same way, the New Testament tells us God chastens Christians for their own good. Hebrews 12:6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, says, “[f]or the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.”
God’s wrath – and jealousy
But what about God’s wrath – and jealousy? Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God delivers judgment on the unrepentant. He orders the Jews to completely destroy a number of people groups living in Canaan, but only after allowing them hundreds of years to repent (see, for example, Gen. 15:13-16). In addition, God’s order to destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites and others has a divine purpose: “so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18).
When the Old Testament describes God as “jealous” (see Deut. 4:24, for example), the word translated “jealous” (qanna) also means “zealous.” God’s jealousy “is an expression of His intense love and care for His people and His demand that they honor His unique and incomparable nature” (Apologetics Study Bible, p. 273). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Jesus Himself often had harsh words for hypocrites (see Matt. 23) and even acted violently against them (John 2:15). He spoke more about hell than heaven, and He is depicted as an angry and wrathful judge in verses foretelling His return (Rev. 19:11-16). Put simply, a God who loves what is good must necessarily hate what is evil.
A Redeemer for a wrecked human race
Throughout the Bible we see a God who patiently and lovingly calls people into a relationship with Him. The entire human race is wrecked by sin, resulting in spiritual and physical death and separation from our Creator (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Paul writes that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). But from the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He provided a way for that broken fellowship to be restored. He began with a promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); instituted a sacrificial system in which an innocent and spotless animal would shed its blood to atone for – or temporarily cover – man’s sin; and then He sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). When one reads the entire Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Old and New Testaments does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Is God one – or three?
Finally, what about the one God of the Old Testament and the triune God of the New Testament? There is no contradiction here. While the Bible emphatically declares that there is one true and living God (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19), the Old Testament hints at the triune Godhead, and the New Testament more fully reveals one God in three persons (see Gen. 1:1-2, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:1, 14; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; Col. 1:16; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Peter 1:2). An ancient saying sums up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity but the necessity of believing in it: “He who would try to understand the Trinity would lose his mind, and he who would deny the Trinity would lose his soul.”
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 16 is a continuation of the prophecy against Moab that begins in chapter 15. It likely takes place during the reign of Hezekiah when the Assyrians are trying to gain control of the countries around Judah; however, some scholars place this earlier, about three years prior to Assyria’s invasion in 732 B.C.
Isa. 16:14 And now the Lord says, “In three years, as a hired worker counts years, Moab’s splendor will become an object of contempt, in spite of a very large population. And those who are left will be few and weak.”
Arriving in Edom, the Moabite refugees should turn to God through their neighbor Israel, but in pride they refuse to do so. As a result, the fruitfulness of their land will cease.
Isaiah provides a three-year time frame for fulfillment of this prophecy. Whether this is Sennacherib’s invasion in 701 B.C. or an earlier invasion is not clear. However, Isaiah’s listeners throughout Judah and Moab are able to see the fulfillment of his prophecy and confirm that he is speaking the word of the Lord. If the short-term prophecies come to pass, Isaiah’s credibility is enhanced as he foretells Judah’s judgment, the virgin birth of the Messiah, and the Messiah’s reign on the throne of David.
The Plea of Moab (Isa. 16:1-5)
The one place the Assyrians cannot conquer is Jerusalem, although they have tried (see Isa. 36-37). But rather than flee to Mt. Zion, the Moabite refugees flee south to the fords of the Arnon River and the rock city of Sela (Petra) in Edom. From there, they send a request for asylum to the king of Judah, along with sheep as a form of tribute (see 2 Kings 3:4).
Isaiah is not impressed with their plea. He calls the Moabites extortionists, spoilers and oppressors, and says the nation is destined to be destroyed. Why so harsh? Because the Moabites want Judah’s protection but not Judah’s God. Verse 5 is messianic, pointing to the day when the Messiah will sit on the throne of David and reign in righteousness and mercy.
The Pride of Moab (Isa. 16:6-14)
Warren Wiersbe’s comments on these verses are instructive:
We can understand the pride of a city like Babylon (14:12-14), but what did the tiny nation of Moab have to boast about? Their pride kept them from submitting to Judah, and this led to their defeat. Their boasting would turn into wailing and their songs into funeral dirges. Moab would become like a vineyard trampled down and a fruitful field left unharvested. Isaiah 16:9-11 describes the prophet’s grief-and the Lord’s grief-over the destruction of Moab. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11). Isaiah could have rejoiced at the destruction of an old enemy, but instead, he wept (Prov. 24:17-18)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 15:1).
Moab’s pride (v. 6) is perhaps best understood in light of her idolatry (v. 12). Although on the run from the Assyrians and facing certain defeat, the Moabites reject Israel’s God and cling instead to the idol Chemosh on Mt. Nebo. There, Isaiah points out, the Moabites will become fatigued with burdensome and empty rituals, and their prayers will not prevail.
Chemosh is the national god of the Moabites, known as the destroyer, subduer, or fish-god. In Scripture, the Moabites are called the “people of Chemosh” (Num. 21:29; Jer. 48:7, 13, 46). Solomon, under the influence of his idolatrous wives, introduced the Israelites to the worship of Chemosh. He built a high place in the mount before Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7), but Josiah abolished this idolatrous worship (2 Kings 23:13).
The Moabites have always had close ties with Israel (see Gen. 19:30-38; Ruth 4:10, 18-22) but oppose them spiritually and politically (see Num. 25; Judges 3:12-14; 1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:2, 11-12; 2 Kings 3). The Lord makes it clear that her day of reckoning will come within three years. Whether Assyria’s invasion in 732 B.C. or 701 B.C. is in view – it is difficult to set this chapter specifically in either time frame – most people who hear this prophecy live to see it fulfilled and learn that the God of Israel, unlike the idol Chemosh, is true and trustworthy.
The prophecy concerning Moab makes several key theological points, according to Gary V. Smith: “First, God controls what is happening to all the people on earth and he understands why they wail and suffer pain and ruin…. Second, God’s message and his relationship with people is one of identification with the pain of the sufferer (15:5; 16:9)…. Third, God warns people about the future and then confronts them with their errors (particularly pride) for two reasons: (a) so that they will have some comprehension of why they will suffer (16:6), and (b) so that they will have an opportunity to choose a different path” (New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 338).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips