Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 13 likely takes place at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign.
Isa. 13:13: Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will shake from its foundations at the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, on the day of His burning anger.
The Lord, who uses Babylon as an instrument of judgment against Judah, will punish the Babylonians for their wickedness. The instrument of God’s wrath will become the object of it.
Isaiah’s warning about the brutality of the Medes raises questions about God’s justice. If God is using the Medes to punish the Babylonian leaders and their army, why does Isaiah warn that the “children will be smashed [to death] … and their wives raped” (v. 16)? We will address this issue in the notes that follow.
Prophecies about Babylon (Isa. 13:1-5)
Isaiah plunges headlong into a description of battle complete with banners, cries, and hand signals. While the immediate context of chapter 13 concerns Babylon, Isaiah seems to foreshadow the day in which God will judge the whole earth (see vv. 6-16). Verse 3 illustrates God’s sovereignty. The Lord speaks of “My chosen ones” and “My warriors” who will “exult in My triumph” and “execute My wrath.” These soldiers are serving God and His purposes, whether they know it or not. As D.A. Carson points out, the reference to these warriors is non-moral and does not seek to describe believers (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 13:1). The “army” of verse 4 is that of Medo-Persian troops under the command of Cyrus, who conquers Babylon in 539 B.C.
It is clear that the Lord of Hosts is in command. Matthew Henry writes:
He raises them, brings them together, puts them in order, reviews them, has an exact account of them in his muster-roll, sees that they be all in their respective posts, and gives them their necessary orders…. All the hosts of war are under the command of the Lord of hosts; and that which makes them truly formidable is that, when they come against Babylon, the Lord comes, and brings them with him as the weapons of his indignation, v. 5. Note, Great princes and armies are but tools in God’s hand, weapons that he is pleased to make use of in doing his work, and it is his wrath that arms them and gives them success (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 13:1).
Judgment on the Day of the Lord (Isa. 13:6-16)
In these 11 verses, Isaiah uses the term “the day of the Lord” twice and the phrase “the day of His burning anger” once. Surely, God will use the Medes to destroy the Babylonians. Yet there is a longer view in mind here – perhaps, as some commentators suggest, a foreshadowing of the tribulation that precedes Christ’s return. “Sometimes when a historical day of the Lord was being described, the writer included some references to future end-time judgment and blessing,” according to Robert B. Hughes and Carl J. Laney. “The events described in 13:10-13 go beyond the historical judgment on Babylon in 539 b.c. and suggest the end-time judgments of the Tribulation” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, S. 262).
But why make Babylon the focus of current and future judgment? Perhaps because Babylon has long been a rallying point of activity against God, beginning with the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Throughout the centuries, as various dynasties ruled that part of the world, it was viewed as a center of animosity toward God. Even in the tribulation, this will be so, although some consider the apostle John’s references to Babylon to be figurative rather than literal (see Rev. 17-18).
But now we come to a most thorny issue: If what is about to happen to Babylon is from the Lord, and if what is to come about at the time of Christ’s return is from the Lord, then how can a loving God act in a way that results in human horror, pain and agony (v. 8)? How can the Day of the Lord be described as “cruel, with rage and burning anger” (v. 9)? How can the children of the wicked be “smashed [to death]” and “their wives raped” (v. 16)?
There are several observations to be made:
- Man is sinful. His heart is “more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). All people are sinners (Rom. 3:23).
- Sin has consequences. All human suffering may be traced to the Fall, including suffering as a result of natural disasters (Rom. 8:22). Even more, the “wages of sin is death,” wrote the apostle Paul (Rom. 6:23). Our rebellion against God leads to spiritual and physical death. In the case of Babylon, the wickedness of its rulers would lead to terrible acts of brutality against her women and children at the hands of the Medes and Persians.
- God judges sin. Because He is holy, God does not even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13).
- God’s judgment may be directed against individuals, families, nations and even the whole world.
- God’s judgment takes on many forms. He may act directly, through angels, through human agents, through armies of wicked men, or even through nature itself. In Isaiah 13, God is going to use the Medes and Persians to judge the Babylonians for their arrogance and wicked acts against His people.
- God gives ample time for repentance before He wields judgment. The Amorites had more than 400 years to repent before God destroyed them (Gen. 15:16).
- God takes no pleasure in the death of evil people (Ez. 33:11).
- God judged our sin in His own Son so that we can be forgiven by God’s grace (2 Cor. 5:21).
- Those who reject God’s goodness and persist in evil bring judgment upon themselves.
- The acts of brutality about to be visited upon the Babylonians are the full responsibility of the Medes and Persians, but God will use their sinfulness to bring judgment on the Babylonians.
- God judges from an eternal perspective. All people will stand before Christ in final judgment one day (John 5:28-29). He will reward and punish based on His holiness and knowledge of all things, including the thoughts and intents of the heart. We have every reason to believe that the truly innocent – babies, for example – will be compensated in eternity for what was taken from them in time.
Gary V. Smith writes that the horrors about to befall Babylon – and later, the world – are best understood as “the immoral pit that sin will eventually lead this violent world to wallow in.” He adds: “The picture is more horrible than what anyone can imagine or describe. The earth will be in disarray as the dependable forces of nature will disintegrate and people will turn to a savage form of debased animal existence. Government, respect, civility, kindness, and hope will totally disappear. The vile evil of sin and its horrible consequences will be in full view, but God will finally eradicate it all from the face of the earth” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 302).
Babylon Will Fall to the Medes (Isa. 13:17-22)
Isaiah now takes the principle that God will destroy proud sinners on “the day of the Lord” and applies it to the kingdom of Babylon in the near term. The reference to the Medes as God’s instrument of judgment is parallel to God’s use of Assyria to punish the northern kingdom (Isa. 10:5) and His sending Nebuchadnezzar to defeat Judah (Jer. 25:1, 9). In each case, God directs the course of history through His use of powerful armies.
The Medes are described as determined soldiers who cannot be bribed with gold or silver (v. 17). They will ferociously destroy their enemies with “no compassion on little ones” or “pity on children” (v. 18). Isaiah likens the destruction of Babylon to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were not rebuilt. Since prophets like Isaiah usually do not know the date of the fulfillment of their prophecies, it’s impossible to know with certainly whether God is speaking through him about Assyria’s defeat of Babylon in 689 B.C. or Babylon’s defeat at the hands of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, in 539 B.C. It is true that following Assyria’s attack in 689 B.C., King Sennacherib tore down Babylon’s walls, flooded the area, depopulated the city, and turned the city into a meadow.
J. Vernon McGee comments: “The future Babylon will become a great center on earth. The man of sin, the willful king, called the Antichrist, will reign in that place. It will be destroyed just as the ancient Babylon was destroyed. Babylon is a memorial to the fact of the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy and a testimony to the fact that God will also judge the future Babylon” (Isaiah: Vol. 1, p. 122).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Some commentators believe this chapter was written during the reign of Jotham or Ahaz because of the description of Judah in verses 6-8. But it may be better to consider King Uzziah’s reign, which was noted for its prosperity, power and pride. More specifically, Isaiah’s sermons in chapters 2-12 likely happened some time after the Syro-Ephraimite War in 734-32 B.C. In any case, this prophecy was given during the early years of Isaiah’s ministry.
Isa. 2:12: For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. (NASB)
The Lord will establish His kingdom on earth in “the last days,” and will executive judgment in a “day of reckoning.”
It’s clear that chapter 2 addresses the future, particularly the last days. Note how Isaiah identifies this time:
- “the last days” (v. 2)
- “on that day” (v. 11)
- “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts is [coming]” (HCSB) / “the Lord of Hosts will have a day of reckoning” (NASB) (v. 12)
- “the Lord alone will be exalted on that day” (v. 17)
- “On that day” (v. 20)
- “when He rises to terrify the earth” (v. 21)
The city of peace (Isa. 2:1-4)
The first four verses of this chapter describe a future day in which a final and lasting peace comes to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. At least two things are clear: God is the One who establishes and maintains this lasting peace, and He does it in “the last days,” or, from a New Testament perspective, in the days encompassing the first and second comings of Christ.
The term “last days” is used at least 13 times in the Bible (HCSB) and describes the final period of the world as we know it. In the Old Testament, the last days are anticipated as the age of Messianic fulfillment (Isa. 2:2; Micah 4:1), while the New Testament writers consider themselves living in the last days – the era of the gospel (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). “The last days, then, are the days of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are preliminary to and preparatory for the last day of final judgment of unbelievers and the dawn of eternal glory for believers” (Tyndale Bible Dictionary, p. 800).
Gary V. Smith adds a cautionary note: “The phrase ‘in the last days’ cannot be associated with the millennium or with the church age in Isaiah’s thinking, because such concepts were not known to the prophet. He is simply talking about the last events in human history, when the kingdom of God would begin. New Testament readers must be careful not to read later NT information back into earlier texts and make them say things that God did not reveal to the prophets” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 129).
The plural use of “days” implies a sustained length of time. While those living in Old Testament times may have viewed the coming Messianic age as singular and continuous, New Testament revelation shows us that the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are to be fulfilled in two stages. First, Messiah will come as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53), or Lamb of God (John 1:29). Then He will return one day as the Lion of Judah to defeat the wicked and establish His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19:11 – 20:6).
Isaiah’s reference to the “mountain of the Lord” (v. 2) points to His kingdom, authority or rule. One day the kingdoms of men will become the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24). Isaiah also draws an analogy between the kingdom of God and the Temple on Mount Moriah, which towers above the countryside in Isaiah’s day. The kingdom of God will rise above, overshadow, and nullify the arrogant, warring and fleeting kingdoms of men. The prophet Daniel makes reference to these days when interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue, which symbolized earthly kingdoms: “Then the iron, the fired clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were shattered and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors. The wind carried them away, and not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35; emphasis mine).
The Lord Himself will settle disputes between nations. Ruling in majesty, power, justice and wisdom, He will so change the nature of worldly authority that people will “turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives” … “and they will never again train for war” (v. 4). These opening verses of chapter 2 are almost identical to Micah 4:1-5.
The Day of the Lord (Isa. 2:5-22)
Verse 12 warns that a day of reckoning is coming. Various translations describe it as:
- “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts” (HCSB)
- “the day of the Lord” (KJV)
- “a day of reckoning” (NASB)
- “a day against all that is proud and lofty” (ESV)
- “a day in store” (NIV)
“The day of the Lord” is different from the previous reference to “the last days.” Specifically, it refers to God’s supernatural intervention in human history, usually with reference to events that will take place at the end of time. “Most often,” according to Wilmington’s Bible Handbook, “it relates to the Tribulation preceding the return of Christ” (Isa. 2:12).
Isaiah catalogues the reasons God has abandoned His people:
- They have adopted religious superstitions from their neighbors (v. 6).
- They have formed national alliances for strength rather than relying on God (v.6).
- They have accumulated wealth and built up huge armaments rather than trusting God for their provision (v. 7).
- And they have embraced idolatry, worshiping the creature rather than Creator (v. 8; see also Rom. 1:25).
Since Israel has made itself look and act like the heathen nations around it, God will judge Israel in a manner appropriate for the heathen. It’s likely that Isaiah does not see the lengthy time frame of repeated judgment, stretching out more than two millennia into the future, yet he is clear that Judah has been sufficiently rebellious to attract God’s wrath now. “The Lord alone,” he proclaims, “will be exalted on that day” (v. 11). He will break down the arrogance of all people, specifically:
- “cedars” and “oaks” – a reference to haughty nobles and princes (v. 13; see also Amos 2:9; Zech. 11:2).
- “high mountains” and “lofty hills” – an image of government and society (v. 14).
- “every high tower” and “every fortified wall” – a picture of military might (v. 15).
- “every ship of Tarshish” and “every splendid sea vessel” – a reference to commerce (v. 16).
- “human pride” and “the loftiness of men” (v. 17).
- “idols” (v. 18).
While these appear to be figurative references, it’s probable that the people of Judah in Uzziah’s day literally took pride in their fortified cities, tall towers, large ships and beautiful trees.
There is a parallel in Rev. 6:15-17 to how the wicked are seen responding to God’s wrath in Isa. 2:19-21: “Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?'” Just as God will bring judgment on His people for their rebellion in Isaiah’s day – through the Assyrian and Babylonian empires – the Lord Himself will execute judgment directly on the whole earth on “the last day.”
There is hope for Judah in Isaiah’s day, as there is for us today. “Come and let us walk in the Lord’s light,” the prophet urges in verse 5, adding in verse 22, “Put no more trust in man, who has only the breath in his nostrils. What is he really worth?”
Gary V. Smith summarizes: “This sermon provides two unmistakable theological choices to any reader/listener. One can follow the path of proud leaders like Uzziah, or a person can ‘stop trusting in man’ now and exalt God alone. The theological choice is clear and presented as two opposite alternatives with two opposite consequences: life with God in his glorious kingdom (2:1-5), or frightful humiliation and destruction (2:6-22). There is no middle ground for people to hide” (Smith, p. 142).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips