3 When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
“How the oppressor has ceased,
the insolent fury ceased!
5 The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
the scepter of rulers,
6 that struck the peoples in wrath
with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
with unrelenting persecution.
7 The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
they break forth into singing.
8 The cypresses rejoice at you,
the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
no woodcutter comes up against us.’
9 Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
and worms are your covers.” – Isaiah 14:3-11 ESV
As the opening verses of this chapter suggest, God is a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. And all that He promised to Abraham will come to pass. And much had already taken place by the time Isaiah was writing the book that bears his name. God had made of Abraham a great nation. The people of Israel were living in the land of Canaan, just as God had promised they would be. But they were a divided nation. Due to their unfaithfulness to God and, particularly, the unfaithfulness of Solomon, God had split their nation in two, leaving them with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both nations had experienced a succession of kings who had each proven to be far-from-godly in terms of their leadership. They had promoted idolatry and modeled unfaithfulness to their people. So, while God had kept His part of the covenant, the people had failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Because there was a second covenant made between God and His people, and we find it recorded in the book of Exodus.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV
Unlike the covenant made with Abraham, this covenant was conditional. Notice the word, “if.” They were going to be required to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant. And part of that covenant would include the Ten Commandments, which were given by God a short time later. The whole purpose behind this covenant was to set apart the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. They were to be distinctive and different. Their lives were to be ruled by a different set of standards, provided to them by God. And by living according to this divine standards, they would be separated or sanctified from the pagan nations surrounding them. And through their willful obedience to God’s law, the people would be assured of God’s blessings.
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV
But if they failed to keep their end of the covenant agreement, they would experience the curses that come from disobedience to His law.
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV
The lists of blessings and curses are lengthy and quite specific. And sadly, by the time Isaiah had begun to prophesy, the people of Judah and Israel had begun to experience more curses than blessings. They were reaping the rewards of their unfaithfulness to God.
But what makes this section of Isaiah so remarkable is that God is reminding His people that He will continue to be faithful to them in the midst of their unfaithfulness. They may have failed in their obligation to keep the law of God, but He would not fail to keep His promises to Abraham. It’s interesting to note that, when Moses had delivered the covenant requirements to the people of Israel in the Sinai wilderness, they had eagerly and enthusiasticaly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). But little did they know that their promise would fall far short of reality.
So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because in these verses we find God committing Himself once again to save His people, not because of them, but in spite of them. He predicts a day when the people of Israel will taunt the king of Babylon, casting dispersions against the one who had destroyed their once-great city and taken them captive. Keep in mind, all of this was being disclosed to the people of Judah long before the events themselves had taken place. God is providing them with a glimpse into their future – a future that will include devastating judgment, but also merciful and undeserved restoration. They will experience the curses of God because of their disobedience, but also the blessings of God because of His covenant faithfulness.
In spite of all that was going to happen to them, they would one day find themselves in a position to flaunt their newfound freedom in the face of their former oppressors.
And, as we have seen before, this prophecy must be examined closely in order to determine if it has fully taken place. Has it been fulfilled some time in the past? Or is there some aspect of what God is promising that is “not yet”?
First of all, God promises a future time marked by “rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve” (Isaiah 14:3 ESV). While the people of Judah would return from Babylon after 70 years in captivity, their tenure in the land from that point forward would be far from restful and free from pain and suffering. Yes, they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore the temple and repopulate the land, but they would have no king and find themselves the 80-pound weakling on a block full of much bigger and more powerful bullies.
And yet, God speaks of a day when “the oppressor has ceased” and He has broken the staff of the wicked. He describes a whole earth that is “at rest and quiet.” Verse eight seems to describe a time of peace, because the trees rejoice in the fact that they will not be chopped down to make weapons of warfare. The forests will stand intact, no longer falling to the axes of the enemies who use their wood to build seige engines and fuel their fires.
Everything about these verses seems to speak of a time that has not yet come. While there are aspects of this prophecy that have been fulfilled in part, God is describing a time far into the future that remains as yet unfulfilled. His timeline if far lengthier than ours. His prophetic calendar goes well beyond centuries or millenniums of time. While we focus on the here-and-now, God has His sights set on the hereafter. He knows how the story ends. His plans for Israel and Judah extend far beyond the days of Abraham, Moses, David, or Elijah.
One of the amazing things about the Word of God is the way it paints a comprehensive and cohesive picture of God’s redemptive plan. The Bible is one book containing a single story of God’s plan for the world He has created. It provides us with a complete overview of His entire strategy, from start to finish. And, in the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse into “that day” when much of what we read in Isaiah 14 will actually be fulfilled. John writes:
After all this I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor. He gave a mighty shout:
“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 18:1-3 NLT
While we view Babylon as little more than a once-great city whose fame is little more than ancient history, God knows that it will play a significant part in the future. It is far than just a city, it represents all that is opposed to God in this world. It is the poster-boy for pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, immorality, idolatry, materialism and human achievement. This former icon of man’s power and prestige will show up again in the end times, reviving the same attitude that marked the people of Babel when they tried to build a tower to the heavens. Rather than multiply and fill the land according to God’s command, they had determined to build a city and a reputation for greatness.
Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves… – Genesis 11:4 ESV
Some things never change, like the pride and arrogance of man. But God reveals that a day is coming when His people will rejoice over the demise of Babylon. And He is speaking of far more than an ancient civilization that has been long-gone. He is letting us know that there is a day coming when another Babylon, a far greater and more powerful nation, will also suffer defeat at His hands.
“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT
And just as He told the people of Judah they would one day rejoice over the fall of ancient Babylon, they will also rejoice over the fall of the Babylon that is to come.
Rejoice over her fate, O heaven
and people of God and apostles and prophets!
For at last God has judged her
for your sakes. – Revelation 18:20 NLT
God always has the end in mind. And the thing we have to constantly remember is that the end God has in store will fulfill each and every promise He has ever made.
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.