1 The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
2 On a bare hill raise a signal;
cry aloud to them;
wave the hand for them to enter
the gates of the nobles.
3 I myself have commanded my consecrated ones,
and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger,
my proudly exulting ones.
4 The sound of a tumult is on the mountains
as of a great multitude!
The sound of an uproar of kingdoms,
of nations gathering together!
The Lord of hosts is mustering
a host for battle.
5 They come from a distant land,
from the end of the heavens,
the Lord and the weapons of his indignation,
to destroy the whole land.
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
7 Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will melt.
8 They will be dismayed:
pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it. – Isaiah 13:1-9 ESV
At this point, the emphasis shifts from that of good news to bad news, and the focus shifts from Judah to Babylon. This is the first of ten oracles that God will pronounce and Isaiah will deliver. And what makes this particular oracle unique is that it deals with a nation that will not even come to power and prominence for another century. In fact, the details concerning Babylon are so specific and accurate that some have concluded that the book of Isaiah could not have been written by him. Rather than accept the fact that God, through the Holy Spirit, provided Isaiah with prophetic insights into the future, these individuals find it more plausible to believe that some unknown author, living long after the events described by Isaiah, wrote down the details of what had happened.
But the claim of the author, namely Isaiah, is that he received these five oracles from God Himself. These are not post-event, historic recollections disguised as prophecy. They are the oracles of God concerning nations that had not yet risen to power and events that had not yet taken place.
The Hebrew word that is translated as “oracle” is massa’ and it carries a range of meanings. It literally means, “a burden.” In this context it is used as a message from God, but it contains burdensome news from God that will be difficult for the hearer to bear.
Babylon was an ancient city that had a well-known reputation for its arrogance and pride. While it was not yet a global super-power, it had been around long enough to influence many of the nations around it. It’s story goes all the way back to Genesis 11 and the story of Babel. In the preceding chapters of Genesis, we have recorded the story of the flood that God had sent to destroy the earth. The only survivors of this global, God-ordained disaster, were Noah and his family, as well as all the birds, animals and reptiles he had loaded on the ark. When the flood had subsided, God had commanded Noah:
“Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives. Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” – Genesis 8:15 NLT
They were to be fruitful and multiply on the earth, the same command God had given to Adam and Eve in the garden.
“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.” – Genesis 1:28 NLT
By the time we get to Genesis 11 and a time period long after the flood, we find the descendants of Noah spreading out across the earth. The text tells us that they shared a common language because they shared a common ancestry. But something happened.
…they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. – Genesis 11:2 NLT
This sounds innocent enough, but the heart behind their actions is revealed in the following verses.
Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” – Genesis 11:4 NLT
In direct violation of God’s command, they determined to locate in one place, construct a monument to their own significance, and build a reputation to their own glory. But we’re told, “the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building” (Genesis 11:5 NLT). And, being God, He saw into their hearts. He knew their intentions and the motivation behind their actions.
“The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!” – Genesis 11:6 NLT
Their sense of community and their commonly shared language promoted a spirit of pride and arrogance within them. They viewed themselves as self-sufficient and capable of accomplishing anything they determined to do. But there is no mention of God. There is no display of humble obedience to the commands of God. So, God removed their capacity to communicate with one another by creating other languages. The immediate result was their inability to complete construction on the city they had begun to build, and then they scattered across the globe. But the city remained and its name became Babel. And people continued to occupy that city over the centuries, all the way to Isaiah’s day.
While Babylon was a real nation, it appears to be used here as a symbol of man’s pride and arrogance. It represents all those who would refuse to honor and obey God, choosing instead to view themselves as their own gods, the masters of their own fates.
As has been the case so far, God continues to speak of a coming day – that day – when He will send His Son as the King of kings and Lord of lords. But in that day, while things will go especially well for the people of Israel, the Babylons of the world will suffer His wrath. Isaiah warns, “the day of the Lord is near” (Isaiah 13:6 ESV). And that news should cause the people of Babylon to wail, because that day will bring with it the judgment of God in the form of “a great multitude,” “a host for battle” (Isaiah 13:4 ESV). And that army will bring destruction upon the nations of the earth.
For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
and all the sinners destroyed with it. – Isaiah 13:9 NLT
The picture here is one of global judgment. While the oracle is directed at Babylon, the content of the oracle is much more widespread and universal in terms of its impact. Babylon represents an attitude that will one day be widespread on the earth. The hubris modeled by Babylon will have spread to all the nations of the earth. So, God will use “the weapons of his indignation to destroy the whole land” (Isaiah 13:5 ESV).
This is speaking of a future judgment to come. Just as Israel and Judah would enjoy a restored relationship with God “in that day,” the pagan nations will be forced to endure the unrelenting judgment of God for their refusal to acknowledge Him as God.
And Isaiah describes this coming day of the Lord as near. The Hebrew word is qarowb and it conveys the idea of readiness. In other words, God has prepared the day and has it set on His divine calendar. So that, when the time arrives, it will happen quickly and without delay. The use of the term, “near” does not indicate imminence, but inevitability. Isaiah is not saying “that day” is right around the corner, but that when the day comes, it will come quickly and prove to be unavoidable and unstoppable.
In Revelation 11, John is given a vision of that day. With the blowing of the seventh and final trumpet, the seven bowl judgments will be poured out on the earth. But with the blowing of the trumpet, John heard voices in heaven shouting, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15 ESV). Even before the pouring out of the final judgments on the earth and the return of Christ, the heavenly host are celebrating His victory as if it has already taken place. It is so inevitable, they speak as if it has already happened. And they go on to sing:
“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were filled with wrath,
but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
and reward your servants the prophets,
as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
all who have caused destruction on the earth.” – Revelation 11:17-18 NLT
This is the day of which Isaiah speaks. The nations rage, but God rules. The people of earth, in their pride and arrogance, shake their fists in the face of God, but He brings them to nothing. He humbles their hubris. He punishes their pride. He destroys their petty kingdoms and sets up His Son as the sole sovereign of the universe. And Isaiah reminds us, “the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!” (Isaiah 13:6 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.