THE WRATH OF GOD DIRECTS INSTRUMENTS OF DESTRUCTION AGAINST EVIL NATIONS ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR PRIDE AND SELF SUFFICIENCY
We open a new section of the book of Isaiah as we come to chapter 13. In the early introductory chapters of 1-5, we saw the focus on the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. 1:4 “Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.” Still the Lord was gracious to offer cleansing and salvation if they would just turn from their false allegiances and repent and put their trust in Him. 1:18 “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.”
We saw glimpses of God’s glorious future for the Jewish nation in the coming Messianic kingdom; but we also saw the terrible wrath of God that would be displayed in the preparatory Day of the Lord. After Isaiah’s commission in chapter 6 where he confessed his personal sinfulness in light of the Holy One of Israel, we were introduced to the theme of Immanuel who would come as the ultimate Savior-King. This one rejected by King Ahaz but who would bring blessing not only to the Jews but to believing Gentiles as well. 9:6 “And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
Judgment of the Nations (chapters 13-23 — broadens the focus of God’s judgment to include 10
Gentile nations. [Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom, Arabia, & Tyre]) = Important theme in OT prophecy; much space devoted to this:
We just haven’t heard many sermons from these sections of God’s Word
Brian Bell: 5 Reasons for God’s Judgment:
 To preserve Israel from despair when Gentile nations oppress them.
[don’t give up when persecution comes your way!]
 To prevent Israel from forming an alliance w/the nations.
[trust 100% in God, not others!]
 To predict the eventual downfall of all Gentile powers.
[know God’s prophecies are 100% accurate!]
 To produce faith in Israel.
 To proclaim Messiah’s authority over all earthly gentile powers.
[no reason to fear any nation!]
1) Alternating between sections dealing with near term attack by the Medes and fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. to Cyrus and final eschatological Day of the Lord [mingled together]
2) Alternating between sections dealing with the Lord speaking directly and Isaiah speaking [still the Lord speaking]
We will look at the passage more thematically – What does it highlight about the Wrath of God?
THE WRATH OF GOD DIRECTS INSTRUMENTS OF DESTRUCTION AGAINST EVIL NATIONS ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR PRIDE AND SELF SUFFICIENCY
(:1) HEADING – JUDGMENT PRONOUNCED AGAINST BABYLON
“The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.”
“oracle” – “burden” – prophet weighed down with a heavy message to deliver; this is serious stuff; word used 15 other times in OT (9 in Isaiah) in similar headings to prophecies
Significance of this Predictive Prophecy: Babylon not yet a dominant world power as it later became under Nebuchadnezzar
How could Isaiah be writing about Babylon when Assyria was the force to be reckoned with at present?
Constable: When Isaiah wrote, it was a town within the Assyrian Empire that was asserting itself and was a real threat to Assyrian supremacy.
Significance of Babylon:
– Name = confusion caused by godlessness; Gen. 11:9 – tower where God confused the languages of the pride of man, “gate of god” – symbolic of worldly pride
– Location = southern Iraq; 50 miles south of modern Baghdad; river Euphrates runs by the ruins
– Founded in 3000 BC by Nimrod; root of occult systems of worship
– Why treated first here by Isaiah? Because of its end time significance; Rev 17-18 – symbolizes the godless world system that opposes the true God; capital for Antichrist – 17:5 “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” – not very flattering!
– Babylon is both a city & a system! – Like we speak of Wall Street & Madison Ave. – They are actual streets, but also stand for the financial or advertising enterprises. (Brian Bell) Always in contrast to Jerusalem.
I. (:2-8) WRATH COMMANDED – DOOMSDAY HERALDED
A. (:2-3) The Angry God Summons His Warriors = Initiation of His Wrath
“Lift up a standard on the bare hill, Raise your voice to them, Wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles. I have commanded My consecrated ones, I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones, To execute My anger.”
1. Rallying object = the standard or banner — cf. 5:26
2. Rallying cry – Raise your voice
3. Rallying hand signal – wave the hand to direct the troops to push forward into the battle
Motyer: all second person plurals, creating the impression that the Lord has his agents posted and ready to signal the muster for the last battle. The banner symbolizes divine direction of history.
Look at description of the intended targets as “nobles” – they think very highly of themselves;
But interestingly the instruments the Lord is rallying for the execution of His wrath are also described as “my proudly exulting ones” (not consciously exulting in the Lord but in their own strength) – yet they are also consecrated (set apart) and called for this divine mission
Beall: Perhaps Young is correct in translating the phrase, “my proudly exulting ones,” referring to the pride of the Medes.
B. (:4-5) The Enemy Nations Gather for Battle = Instruments to Execute His Wrath
“A sound of tumult on the mountains, Like that of many people! A sound of the uproar of kingdoms, Of nations gathered together! The LORD of hosts is mustering the army for battle. They are coming from a far country From the farthest horizons, The LORD and His instruments of indignation, To destroy the whole land.”
1. Emphasis on large number of troops – creates quite a tumult; impossible for them to assemble quietly; they are approaching with great force; takes a lot to get such a wide range of nations with their own political priorities to unite together against a common foe
2. Emphasis on how far they have come to gather to fight
How far away? Media and Persia, to the north and the east. The area of the Medes is about 300 miles to the east of Babylon.
Van Parunak: This is no local skirmish, but a major war of empires.
Emphasis on these troops being sovereignly directed by the Lord of Hosts, the Sovereign of the Universe as His instruments of indignation
C. (:6-8) The Terrified Babylonians Wail in Anguish = Impotent Targets of His Wrath
“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man’s heart will melt. And they will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, They will look at one another in astonishment, Their faces aflame.”
Beall: exhortation to wail (Wlyliyhe helilu, an onomatopoetic word used to indicate a time of distress, used 10 times in Isaiah) because the day of the Lord is near (bArq’).
This destruction is not coming by accident; it is not some out of control event that cannot be explained. This is described as “destruction from the Almighty.”
MacArthur: The comparison of labor pains is often a figure to describe human sufferings in the period just before the final deliverance of Israel (21:3; 26:17, 18; 66:7f; Jer. 4:31; 13:21, 22, 23; Hoa 13:13; Mix 4:10; 5:2, 3: Mt 24:8; 1 Th 5:3). Usually it was the suffering of Israel, but here it pictured the misery of Babylon.
Motyer: The picture of a woman in labour is not a simile of fruitful pain here but of that which is sudden, inevitable and inescapable; the end result of a process that cannot now be stopped
cf. 1 Thes. 5:2-3 “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ Then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”
Embarrassment and surprise captured on their faces. They had been smug and self assured. They had no inkling that they could be so easily destroyed. They had trusted in their supreme power.
So this Inescapable Wrath was Commanded by the Lord of Hosts
II. (:9-13) WRATH EXECUTED – DESTRUCTION DESCRIBED
A1. (:9a) Day of the Wrath of the Lord
“Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger,”
Look how cruel the Babylonians had been in their attacks on other nations. Here the Lord responds in kind as divine accountability kicks into play.
B1. (:9b) Impact on Creation – the Land
“To make the land a desolation;”
“And He will exterminate its sinners from it.”
C1. (:10) Impact on Creation – the Heavens
“For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises, And the moon will not shed its light.”
MacArthur: Scripture frequently associates cosmic upheavals with the period of tribulation just before Christ’s return (24:23; Eze 32:7, 8; Joel 2:2, 10, 30, 31; Am 8:9; Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24, 25; Lk 21:25; Rev 6:12-14).
These great cosmic signs have not been unleashed yet – shows that this passage still has reference to ultimate future fulfillment
Rich Cathers: constellations — Orion; the Hebrew word actually means fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, arrogant one. Orion was the same as Nimrod, the founder of Babylon. Apparently the Hebrews didn’t think much of him.
At the heart of the chiasmus lies the root problem: Man’s awful sin and pride
D1. (:11a) Impact on Sinners
“Thus I will punish the world for its evil,
And the wicked for their iniquity;”
D2. (:11b-12) Impact on Sinners
“I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud, And abase
the haughtiness of the ruthless.”
“I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold, And mankind than the gold of Ophir.”
C2. (:13a) Impact on Creation – the Heavens
“Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble,”
B2. (:13b) Impact on all Creation – the Land
“And the earth will be shaken from its place”
A2. (:13c) Day of the Wrath of the Lord
“At the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger.”
III. (:14-18) WRATH INESCAPABLE AND BRUTAL – DEFENSELESS SLAUGHTERED
A. Two Images of Defenseless Prey – No Protection
1. The Hunted Gazelle
“And it will be that like a hunted gazelle,”
the most timid and easily startled.
2. The Shepherdless Sheep
“Or like sheep with none to gather them,”
Motyer: The first animal is endangered by the attentions of people, the second is endangered without their attention. So, finding the Lord as their enemy and losing him as their shepherd, humankind is indeed helpless and hopeless, with everything to flee from and nowhere to flee to.
While there is still time, Isaiah pleads, come under the care of the Good Shepherd.
B. Futile Attempts at Seeking Refuge – No Place to Hide
1. Seeking Safety in Desperation
“They will each turn to his own people,
And each one flee to his own land.”
Motyer: The picture of gathering armies with which the poem of the day of the Lord began (2-5) is balanced by this concluding picture of people scattering from the disaster – and being overtaken by it.
2. Slain by the Sword Without Mercy
“Anyone who is found will be thrust through,
And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword.”
While there is still time, Isaiah pleads, seek refuge in the One who is the Rock, the Fortress, the ultimate Hiding Place.
C. (:16) Savage Brutality – No Limits
1. Children Slain
“Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces Before their eyes;”
2. Houses Plundered
“Their houses will be plundered”
3. Wives Raped
“And their wives ravished.”
D. (:17-18) Destructive Mindset – No Mercy
1. Reputation of the Medes
“Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them,”
2. No Hope of Brokering Deals – no acceptance of tribute money
“Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold,”
Rich Cathers: You won’t be able to buy them off. The secular historian Xenophon (Cyropaedia, 5,1,10) represents Cyrus as attributing this characteristic to the Medes.
Constable: Part of the Lord’s warriors would be the Medes, who occupied what is now central Iran. In Isaiah’s day, the Medes were already a powerful people that the Assyrians dreaded. They would destroy Babylon. They united with the Babylonians to destroy the last vestiges of the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C. Still later, it was the Medes and the Persians who overthrew Babylon in 539 B.C. (cf. Esth. 10:2; Dan. 5:30-31; 6:8, 12, 15). The Medes valued silver and gold less than military conquest; they could not be bought off, but mercilessly slew every enemy (vv. 17-18). Revenge motivated them more than booty.
3. No Hope in Battle
“And their bows will mow down the young men,”
4. No Compassion on the Young
“They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb,”
“Nor will their eye pity children.”
IV. (:19-22) WRATH UNRELENTING — DESOLATION PERSISTS
A. (:19) Fall of Babylon Compared to Sodom and Gomorrah
“And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”
– Compared in terms of the completeness of the destruction
– Compared in terms of the moral cause
B. (:20-22a) Desolation Complete and Final
1. Rendered Desolate
a. Uninhabitable by humans
1) No Permanent Cities
“It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation;”
MacArthur: Though nothing like its glorious past, the site of Babylon has never been void of inhabitants. A city or town of one type or another has always existed there, so this prophecy must point toward a yet future desolation.
Warren Wiersbe: The city of Babylon was completely destroyed in 689 B.C. by Sennacherib and the Assyrian army, but it was rebuilt by Sennacherib’s son. In 539 B.C., Darius the Mede captured the city (Dan. 5:31), but he did not destroy it. In the centuries that followed, Babylon had its “shining moments”, but after the death of its last great conqueror, Alexander the Great, the city declined and soon was no more. Isaiah’s prophesy was fulfilled, for the city was not rebuilt.”
2) No Nomadic Dwellers
“Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there,”
b. Unusable for Grazing
“Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there.”
2. Inhabited by Forlorn Creatures
a. Desert Creatures
“But desert creatures will lie down there”
“And their houses will be full of owls,”
“Ostriches also will live there,”
d. Shaggy Goats
“and shaggy goats will frolic there.”
“And hyenas will howl in their fortified towers”
“And jackals in their luxurious palaces.”
Oswalt: These are animals that inhabit dark and lonely settings. There is something vaguely ominous about many of them. The mighty city is silent except for the hoots and howls of the night-dwellers.
C. (:22b) Judgment Coming Soon
“Her fateful time also will soon come And her days will not be prolonged.”
– It would be folly to imagine that Doomsday is not coming. Wrath of God has been Commanded and is hanging over the head of the wicked like a guillotine ready to be released
– The Impact of Destruction when divine wrath is Executed shows the awfulness of our sin
– Divine Wrath will be Inescapable and Brutal – not a pretty picture – certainly Christ dying on the cross for our sins is not a pretty picture as well
– This Divine Wrath will be Unrelenting – will persist in eternal judgment and torment forever
“’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet they will be as white as snow; thought they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you will refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
That is the burden of the prophet Isaiah.