Isaiah 13 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 13
Pulpit Commentary
The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.
Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles.
Verse 2. - Lift ye up a banner; rather, a standard - "an ensign," as in Isaiah 5:26: 11:12. "Ensigns" were used both by the Assyrians and the Egyptians. "Banners," or flags, do not seem to have been employed in the ancient world. Upon the high mountain; rather, upon a bare mountain - one that was clear of trees, so that the signal might be the better seen from it. God's army having to be summoned against Babylon, the summons is made in three ways:

(1) by a signal or ensign lifted up on a high hill;

(2) by a loud call or shout; and

(3) by waving or beckoning with the hand.

The whole description is, of course, pure metaphor. That they may go into the gates of the nobles. Either that they may enter into the palaces of the grandees in Babylon, or that they may take the towns of the tributary princes.
I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness.
Verse 3. - I have commanded my sanctified ones. The pronoun "I" is emphatic - "I myself." Not only will an external summons go forth, but God will lay his own orders on them whom he chooses for his instruments, and bid them come to the muster. All who carry out his purposes are, in a certain sense, "sanctified ones" (comp. Jeremiah 22:7; Jeremiah 51:27; Zephaniah 1:7, etc.). Here the Modes and Persians are specially in. tended (see ver. 17). For mine anger; i.e. "for the purpose of executing my anger." Even them that rejoice in my highness; rather, my proudly exultant ones (Cheyne, Rosenmüller, Gesenius). AEschylus calls the Persians ὑπερκόμπους ('Persae,' 1. 827); Herodotus, ὑβριστάς (1. 41). The high spirits, however, natural to gallant soldiers on going out to war, rather than any special haughtiness or arrogancy, are intended.
The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.
Verse 4. - The noise of a multitude in the mountains. I do not know why Isaiah should not have been "thinking of his geography" (Cheyne). As soon as the Greeks knew anything of the Persians, they knew of them as a mountain people, and attributed their valor and their handy habits to the physical character of their country (Herod., 9. ad fin.). Jeremiah connects the invading army which destroyed Babylon with mountains, when he derives it from. Ararat (comp. Genesis 8:4), Minni (Armenia), and Ashchenaz (Jeremiah 51:27). At any rate, the mention of "mountains" here is very appropriate, both Media and Persia being, in the main, mountainous countries. A great people; or, much people - not necessarily of one nation only. The host of the battle; rather, a host of war; i.e. a multitude of men, armed and prepared for war.
They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.
Verse 5. - They come from a far country (comp. Isaiah 46:11). Both Media and Persia were "far countries" to the Hebrews, Persia especially. There is no indication that they knew of any countries more remote towards the East. Hence the expression which follows, "from the end of heaven" - the heaven being supposed to end where the earth ended. Isaiah, like the other sacred writers, conforms his language on cosmical subjects to the opinions of his day. Even the Lord. With a most effective anthropomorphism, Jehovah is made to march with the army that he has mustered (ver. 4) against the land that has provoked his wrath - i.e. Babylonia. The weapons (comp. Isaiah 10:15; Jeremiah 1:25; 51:20). To destroy the whole land. Many critics would render ha-arets by "the earth" here. It may be granted that the language of the prophecy goes beyond the occasion in places (especially vers. 11 and 13), and passes from Babylon to that wicked world of which Babylon is a type; but, where the context permits, it seems better to restrict than to expand the meaning of the words employed.
Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
Verse 6. - Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand (comp. Joel 1:15); literally, the expression used in both passages is a day of Jehovah. The idiom would not, however, allow the use of the article, so that the phrase is ambiguous. "The day of Jehovah" is properly "that crisis in the history of the world when Jehovah will interpose to rectify the evils of the present, bringing joy and glory to the humble believer, and misery and shame to the proud and disobedient" (Cheyne). But any great occasion when God passes judgment on a nation is called in Scripture "a day of the Lord." "a coming of Christ." And so here the day of the judgment upon Babylon seems to be intended. It shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Isaiah is thought to quote from Joel (Joel 1:15) here; but perhaps both prophets quoted from an earlier author. Shaddai (equivalent to "Almighty') is an ancient name of God, most rarely used by the prophetical writers (only here, and in Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 10:5; Joel 1:15), and never elsewhere by either Isaiah or Joel. It has generally been said to mean "the Strong One;" but recently the theory has found favor that it meant originally "the Sender of storms," from the Arabic sh'da - jecit, effudit. However this may be, the word is certainly used in the later times mainly to express God's power to visit and punish, and the present passage might perhaps be best translated, "It shall come as a destruction from the Destroyer (k'shod mish-Shaddai yabo)."
Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt:
Verse 7. - Therefore shall all hands be faint (comp. Jeremiah 1:43; Ezekiel 7:17; Zephaniah 3:16). There shall be a general inaction and apathy. Recently discovered accounts of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus show a great want of activity and vigor on the part of the defenders. Every man's heart shall melt (comp. Deuteronomy 20:8; Joshua 2:11; Joshua 5:1, etc.). The general inaction will spring from a general despondency. This statement agrees much better with the recently discovered documents than does the statement of Herodotus, that, safe within their walls, the Babylonians despised their assailants, and regarded themselves as perfectly secure.
And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
Verse 8. - They shall be afraid; rather, dismayed. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; literally, they shall take hold of pangs and sorrows. They shall be amazed; rather, look aghast. Their faces shall be as flames. I know no better explanation than that of Dr. Kay, that a sudden transition is intended flora despondency to extreme excitement.
Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
Verse 9. - The day of the Lord (see the comment on ver. 6). Cruel; i.e. severe and painful, not really "cruel." To lay the land desolate. As in ver. 5, so here, many would translate ha-arets by "the earth," and understand a desolation extending far beyond Babylonia. But this is not necessary.
For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
Verse 10. - The stars of heaven... shall not give their light. Nature sympathizes with her Lord. When he is angry, the light of the heavens grows dark. So it was at the crucifixion of Christ (Matthew 27:45); so it will be at the end of the world (Matthew 24:29). So it is often, if not always, at the time of great judgments. The constellations; literally, the Orions. Kesil, the Fool, was the Hebrew name of the constellation of Orion, who was identified with Nimrod, the type of that impious folly which contends against God. From its application to this particular group of stars (Job 9:9; Job 38:31; Amos 5:8), the word came to be applied to constellations in general. The Baby-Ionians very early marked out the sky into constellations.
And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
Verse 11. - I will punish the world for their evil. Here the prophecy certainly goes beyond the destruction of Babylon, and becomes a general warning to the wicked of all court-tries. Each country is to feel that its turn will come. Punishment will fall especially on the unjust, the proud, and the haughty (comp. Isaiah 1:28; Isaiah 2:11-17, etc.).
I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.
Verse 12. - I will make a man more precious than fine gold (comp. Isaiah 4:1). Population shall he so diminished that man shall be the most highly esteemed of commodities. The more scanty the supply of a thing, the greater its value. The golden wedge of Ophir; rather, pure gold of Ophir. Ophir is mentioned as a gold-region in 1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:11; 1 Kings 22:48; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 2 Chronicles 9:10; Job 22:24; Job 28:16; Psalm 45:9. Its locality is uncertain. Gold of Ophir appears to have been considered especially pure.
Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.
Verse 13. - I will shake the heavens (comp. Joel 3:16; Haggai 2:7; Matthew 24:29). In general, this sign is mentioned in connection with the end of the world, when a "new heaven and a new earth" are to supersede the old (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1). Isaiah may, perhaps, pass here from signs connected with the fall of Babylon to those which will announce the last (lay - each "day of the Lord" being, as already observed, a type of the final and great day (see the comment on ver. 6). Or, possibly, the allusion may be to some "shaking" by God of a supra-mundane kingdom as preliminary to his passing judgment on Babylon (so Dr. Kay; comp. Isaiah 24:21).
And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man taketh up: they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.
Verse 14. - It shall be as the chased roe. When the visitation comes on Babylon, there shall be a loosening of all ties between her and the subject nations. Her armies shall disband themselves, the pressed soldiers from foreign countries deserting, and hastening with all speed to their several homes. A flight of the foreign traders and visitors may also be glanced at. As a sheep that no man taketh up; rather, as sheep with none to gather them.
Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword.
Verse 15. - Every one that is found... every one that is joined unto them; i.e. all the population, both native and foreign.
Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.
Verse 16. - Their children also shall be dashed to pieces. In the barbarous warfare of the time, even children were not spared (see Psalm 137:9; Nahum 3:10; Hosea 13:16). When a town was taken by assault, they were ruthlessly slaughtered. When spared, it was only to be dragged off as captives, and to become the slaves of their captors in a foreign land. Assyrian sculptures often illustrate this latter practice. Their wives ravished (comp. Lamentations 5:11; Zechariah 14:2).
Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
Verse 17. - Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. Isaiah's knowledge that the Medes should take a leading part in the destruction of Babylon is, no doubt, as surprising a fact as almost any other in the entire range of prophetic foresight, or insight, as set before us in Scripture. The Medes were known to Moses as an ancient nation of some importance (Genesis 10:2); but since his time had been unmentioned by any sacred writer; and, as a living nation, had only just come within the range of Israelite vision, by the fact that, when Sargon deported the Samaritans from Samaria, he placed some of them "in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:6). The Assyrians had become acquainted with them somewhat more than a century earlier, and had made frequent incursions into their country, finding them a weak and divided people, under the government of a large number of petty chiefs. Sargon had conquered a portion of the tribes, and placed prefects in the cities; at the same time planting colonists in them from other parts of the empire. That, when the weakness of Media was being thus made apparent, Isaiah should have foreseen its coming greatness can only be accounted for by his having received a Divine communication on the subject. Subsequently, he had a still more exact and complete communication (Isaiah 21:2). Which shall not regard silver. The Medes were not a particularly disinterested people; but in the attack on Babylon, made by Cyrus, the object was not plunder, but conquest and the extension of dominion. The main treasures of Babylon - those in the great temple of Bolus - were not carried off by Cyrus, as appears both from his own inscriptions, and from Herodotus (1. 181-183).
Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.
Verse 18. - Their bows (comp. Jeremiah 1:9, 14). Both the Medes and the Persians were skilled archers. Herodotus tells us that every Persian youth was taught three things - "to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth" (1. 136). At Persepolis, Modes and Persians are alike represented as carrying bows and quivers. AEschyius regards the contest between the Persians and the Greeks as one between the arrow and the spear ('Persae,' 11. 135, 136).
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
Verse 19. - Babylon, the glory of kingdoms. The "glory" of Babylon consisted:

1. In her antiquity. She had been the head of a great empire long before Assyria rose to power.

2. In her origination of literature, architecture, and the other arts, which all passed from her to Assyria, and thence to the other nations of Asia.

3. In her magnificence and the magnificence of her kings, which provoked the admiration of the Assyrians themselves ('Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 15). As time went on, she grew in wealth and splendor. Perhaps it was granted to Isaiah to see her in ecstatic vision, not merely such as she was in the time of Sargon under Merodach-Baladan, but such as she became under Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of her kings, who raised her to the highest pitch or glory and eminence. The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency. The Kaldi appear to have been originally one of the many tribes by which Babylonia was peopled at an early date, From the expression, "Ur of the Chaldees," which occurs more than once in Genesis (Genesis 11:28, 31), we may gather that they were inhabitants of the more southern part of the country, near the coast. The same conclusion may be drawn from the Assyrian inscriptions, especially those of Shalmaneser II. - the Black Obelisk king. The term never became a general name for the Babylonian people among themselves or among the Assyrians; but, somehow-or other, it was accepted in that sense by the Jews, and is so used, not only by Isaiah, but also by the writers of Kings and Chronicles, by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Habakkuk. As when God overthrew Sodom. Equally sudden and complete as that destruction.
It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.
Verse 20. - It shall never be inhabited. This part of the prophecy did not receive its fulfillment till many centuries had gone by. From the time of Cyrus to that of Alexander the Great, Babylon was one of the chief cities of the Persian empire. Alexander was so struck with it, and with the excellence of its situation, that he designed to make it his capital. It first began seriously to decline under the Seleucidae, who built Seleucia on the Tigris as a rival to it, and still further injured it by fixing the seat of government at Antioch. But it had still a large population in the first century after our era (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 18:9, § 8); and is mentioned as a place of some consequence in the time of Trajan (Die Cass., 68:27), and even in that of Severue (Die Cass., 75:9). But after this it went rapidly to decay. Under the Sassuntans it disappears from sight; and when Benjamin of Tudela, in the twelfth century, visited the spot, there was nothing to be seen of the mighty city but those ruins of the Kasr, or palace, which still arrest the traveler's attention. The site had become, and has ever since remained, "without inhabitant." Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there. A superstitious feeling prevents the Arabs from encamping on the mounds of Babylon, which are believed to be the haunts of evil spirits (Rich, 'First Memoir on Babylon,' p. 67; Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 371). Neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. The nitrous soil of the Babylonian mounds allows them to produce nothing but the coarsest and most unpalatable vegetation. The shepherds consequently do not feed their flocks on them.
But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.
Verse 21. - Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there. It is not quite clear what particular wild beasts are intended. Those actually noted on the site of Babylon are lions, jackals, and porcupines. These sometimes make their lairs in the ruins (Rich, 'First Memoir,' p. 69; Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 342). Doleful creatures; in the original, okhim. What animal is meant we cannot say, as the word occurs only in this passage. Mr. Cheyne translates it by "hyenas." Owls shall dwell there; literally, daughters of the owl (as in Leviticus 11:16; Deuteronomy 14:15; Job 30:29; Jeremiah 50:39; Micah 1:8; and infra, Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20). Mr. Rich says, "In most of the cavities of the Babil Mound there are numbers of owls and bats." Sir A. Layard," A large grey owl is found in great numbers, frequently in flocks of nearly a hundred, in the low shrubs among the ruins of Babylon" ('Nin. and Bab.,' p. 484, note). Satyrs shall dance there. The word translated "satyr" is, etymologically, "hairy one," and ordinarily means "a goat." Some have supposed "wild goats" to be here intended, but they are not found in Babylonia. The translation "satyr" is defended by many, who think Isaiah might draw upon current beliefs for some features of his description. Dr. Kay gives "baboons," since the Moko - a kind of baboon - is known in Babylonia.
And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.
Verse 22. - Wild beasts of the islands. In the Hebrew, iyyim, which means "wailers" or "howlers," probably "jackals." The Revised Version gives "wolves." In their desolate houses; or, in their castles (Cheyne). And dragons; i.e. "serpents." These have not been observed recently; but one of our old travelers notes that "the lande of Baby-lone," in his day, "was fulle of dragons and grote serpentes, and dyverse other veney-mouse ecstes alle abouten" (Mandeville, quoted by Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 36). Near to come. About one hundred and eighty years elapsed between the utterance of this prophecy and the fall of Babylon - a short period in the lifetime of a nation.

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