17 Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold.
18 Their bows will slaughter the young men;
they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
their eyes will not pity children.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
21 But wild animals will lie down there,
and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there wild goats will dance.
22 Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged. – Isaiah 13:17-22 ESV
Having spoken of a future judgment to come, an eschatological period of time that has yet to happen, God turns His attention back to Babylon. He warns them of a more imminent judgment to come, one that will be directed at them in particular. And the details concerning that judgment are very specific. These prophetic statements regarding the more near-term judgments of Babylon (Revelation 13:17-22) and Assyria (Revelation 14:24-27), are meant to be foreshadowings of the greater judgment to come “in that day” – the period of the Great Tribulation that will come on the earth and is described in Revelation 13:2-16.
God is providing proof that what He is saying is true and will take place. His warnings of coming judgment against Babylon will unfold in a much shorter period of time. And the accuracy of God’s pronouncements against Babylon, as recorded by Isaiah, will act as evidence for the veracity of all God’s prophetic pronouncements.
There are those who argue that the book of Isaiah was written by someone who lived long after the events described actually took place. Writing under the pseudonym, Isaiah, the author simply chronicled all that happened and presented it as prophecy. But this book, like all the others included in the canon of Scripture, is the inspired word of God. The words penned by Isaiah were given to him by the Spirit of God and far in advance of the dates of the actual events.
God specifically mentions the Medes, a nation that had already proved to be powerful and a potential player in the geopolitical landscape of the day. The territory they occupied was located in what is now central Iran. God announces that He will use the Medes to destroy the Babylonians. And what makes this pronouncement so remarkable is that the Medes would actually form an alliance with the Babylonians in order to wipe out the last of the Assyrian Empire in 609 BC. Then the Medes would eventually form an alliance with the Persians to overthrow Babylon in 539 BC.
God mentions that the Medes would not be driven by a desire for plunder. Their real motivation would be conquest and revenge. They would fight alongside the Persian armies of King Cyrus in order to defeat the Babylonians. By the late 700s BC, Babylon had become a wealthy and highly influential nation. But, like all the other nations in that region of the world, she had been conquered by the Assyrians and lived under their yoke. But the day would come when Babylon would rise to power and overcome the Assyrians with the help of the Medes. And it was Babylon’s growing strength and image as a potential ally that caused Judah to look to them for potential help. In fact, Babylon and Egypt would prove to be the two nations Judah would turn to when facing the threat of outside attack. Rather than turning to and placing their trust in God, they would rely on the aid of pagan nations.
But God seems to be warning Judah that their reliance upon nations like Babylon will prove ill-placed and unhelpful in the end. Even the mighty Babylonians would eventually suffer defeat. The bullies on the block, while their names may change, all suffer the same fate. It is God who is in control, not them. It is God who directs the fates of men and nations.
And God makes it painfully clear that the fate of Babylon will be far from enjoyable.
Babylon, the most admired of kingdoms,
the Chaldeans’ source of honor and pride,
will be destroyed by God
just as Sodom and Gomorrah were. – Isaiah 13:19 NLT
The Medes would ruthlessly and mercilessly wipe out men, women and children. They would slaughter the young and old alike. And the once-great nation of Babylon would be brought to nothing by the hand of God. While the Medes and Persians would be the tools through which God worked, the destruction would be His and His alone. And He would leave Babylon in a similar state as Sodom and Gomorrah. And this reference to these two ancient cities, destroyed by God for their rampant immorality, has more to say about the spiritual state of Babylon than it does about the actual physical effects of their destruction. Yes, God describes Babylon as being a wasteland after His judgment falls, but the mention of Sodom and Gomorrah reveals how God viewed Babylon’s spiritual condition. They were immoral, decadent, prideful, and idolatrous. And like Sodom and Gomorrah, they would be punished by God for their wickedness.
The devastation God pronounces upon Babylon is full and complete.
No one will live there again;
no one will ever reside there again.
No bedouin will camp there,
no shepherds will rest their flocks there. – Isaiah 13:20 NLT
But the question this raises is whether this prophecy has been fulfilled. Yes, Babylon eventually fell in 689 BC at the hands of King Sennacherib and his forces. While the city was devastated, it was eventually rebuilt. The city would still be in existence when Babylon was conquered by King Cyrus in 539 BC. And while Babylon does not exist as a city today, it is far from unoccupied. In fact, there were major efforts to rebuild the city under the leadership of Saddam Hussein. He had attempted to rebuild the Ishtar Gate and other famous Babylonian sites. It remains incomplete, a victim of two wars and the demise of Saddam Hussein. And yet, we know that the influence of Babylon is far from over. Its name appears prominently in the book of Revelation. It plays a significant part in the end times chronology outlined in John’s vision. There seems to be some indication that the once-great city of Babylon will be rebuilt and reclaim some of its former glory.
John describes her as the “mighty city, Babylon” (Revelation 18:10 ESV). He details her luxury and prideful arrogance but warns of her coming demise.
“She glorified herself and lived in luxury,
so match it now with torment and sorrow.
She boasted in her heart,
‘I am queen on my throne.
I am no helpless widow,
and I have no reason to mourn.’
“Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day—
death and mourning and famine.
She will be completely consumed by fire,
for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” – Revelation 18:7-9 NLT
A rebuilt and revitalized Babylon will exist in the end times. And this revived city will have many of the same attributes of its infamous predecessor. But just as the original Babylon experienced the wrath of God Almighty, so will the Babylon that exists during the period of the Great Tribulation.
“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
a hideout for every foul vulture
and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:2-3 NLT
So, when Isaiah recorded the oracle of God against the nation of Babylon, it contained a now-/not yet aspect to it. Babylon would fall, but as a representation of man’s stubbornness and sin-motivated resilience, it would be one day be rebuilt. And so, God’s pronouncement of utter destruction and desolation are still pending. But John provides us with a glimpse into the future fate of this pride-filled, sin-fueled city of man:
“Just like this, the great city Babylon
will be thrown down with violence
and will never be found again.
The sound of harps, singers, flutes, and trumpets
will never be heard in you again.
No craftsmen and no trades
will ever be found in you again.
The sound of the mill
will never be heard in you again.
The light of a lamp
will never shine in you again.
The happy voices of brides and grooms
will never be heard in you again.” – Revelation 18:21-23 NLT
God’s word always comes to fruition. He keeps His promises and brings about all His divine pronouncements. He is not limited by time. His prophecies, while seemingly incomplete and unfulfilled from our perspective, will one day happen just as He has said.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
– Numbers 23:19 NLT
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.