In our last essay we studied 11:1-12:6, which concluded a large major section that began at 7:1. In this essay we are ready to take up the next section, which is 13:1-23:18. We are not going to work through the section verse by verse. Instead I will begin by dealing with the entire section, as John Oswalt has analyzed it. Then we will look at the judgment on the Mesopotamian powers of Babylon and Assyria before taking note of the other oracles in a passing way.
The section as a whole is a fairly lengthy series of oracles of judgment against basically all of the nations of the Near East, nearly all of which at one time or another were enemies of Israel (Tyre was not). Isaiah’s purpose in the larger section, 13:1-35:10 is to demonstrate that God is the master of all the nations. And the first way he did that was to prophesy about God’s judgment on the nations in 13:1-23:18.
Human pride and the trustworthiness of God still are the basic issues. And the fact that God brings judgment on all of the nations shows that the fate of all of them is in his hands. In other words he is the master of them all. And for Israel to place her trust in any of those nations would be folly.
Oswalt believes that the oracle against Babylon in 13:1-14:23 at the beginning of the series is more of an attack against the human glory that Babylon symbolized than an attack on Babylon itself. Babylon certainly was the cultural center of the world at the time. So it does fit into Oswalt’s view. But it seems to me that the oracle is a judgment against both Babylon’s culture and against Babylon itself.
Oswalt also believes that the oracle against Tyre that ends the series in chapter 23 is more of an attack against the commercial wealth that Tyre symbolized than against Tyre itself. By the time of David and Solomon, Tyre had become quite a financial power. She accomplished it with a huge fleet of ships that came to dominate Mediterranean commerce. She also produced a purple dye that became a source of great wealth for Tyrians. Thus Tyre also fits Oswalt’s view of the larger section. But again it seems to me that the judgment is against both the symbolism of Tyre’s wealth and against the city itself, not just the former.
Oswalt also suggests that the Tyre oracle was intended to be a sort of “bookend” to the oracle against Babylon (p. 299). He notes that Babylon was at the eastern end of the near eastern world, and Tyre was at the western end. And the two countries symbolized the human glory of culture and wealth respectively for the entire region. Thus in Oswalt’s view they perfectly underscored the point of the larger unit, namely, that all human pride and accomplishment are under God’s judgment.
One problem that arises at chapter 13 is the fact that in the first twelve chapters, the threatening country that has been in view has been Assyria, not Babylon. Babylon didn’t directly threaten Israel until more than a hundred years later. But suddenly at the beginning of chapter 13, it is Babylon that is in view instead of Assyria. And there is no separate oracle in the entire section against Assyria. There are only a few verses at the end of the Babylonian oracle (14:24-27). Oswalt solves the problem with his theory that it was the symbolism of Babylon that was important to Isaiah. Assyria already had been dealt with adequately in the earlier chapters. And the few verses about Assyria at the end of the Babylonian oracle served to remind his original readers that Assyria was the historical threat.
As you can see in verses 13:1-5, God issues a call to arms. Notice that this is God’s army, and the soldiers “come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens,” which is a way of saying from the horizon, or the end of the earth. That’s in verse five. This army is to exult God and carry out his judgments, verse three.
Thanks. Oswalt rightly declares that verses 9-13 amplify the universal nature of the Lord’s judgment. I don’t think he develops that line of thought enough, but he certainly recognizes it. This is not merely a proclamation of a judgment against Babylon; it is an expression of the end-time “day of the Lord.” For example, in verse seven Isaiah says, “every human heart will melt.” Then in verse nine, he declares that God will “make the earth a desolation.” In verse 11 Isaiah says that he “will punish the world for its evil.” And in verse 13 he uses apocalyptic language to describe the event. We see that same imagery used to describe the end-time in the New Testament. Notice in verse 11 that arrogant pride and tyranny, which we have seen Isaiah rail against time and time again, is the primary human problem.
In verse 17 we see Isaiah coming to the particular judgment against Babylon, when he says, “I am stirring up the Medes against them.” The Medes were a people from what is now central Iran. The Medes and Persians are the ones who finally overthrew Babylon in 539 BC.
In verses 19-22 we see the prophecy of Babylonian destruction. The greatest of all human glory is futile against God. Babylon will end up like Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, eventually it will be uninhabited, and wild animals will rule the area.
In 14:1-4a Isaiah returns to the theme of restoration of Israel. God’s judgment against his enemies always is balanced by his compassion for his people. In this particular case I believe that God had revealed to Isaiah both the restoration of Israel following the Babylonian captivity and the end-time restoration.
If you look at 14:4b-21, you will see one of the finest examples of Hebrew poetry in the Bible. Quickly read down through 4b-8, and you will see that those verses show the peace, rest and rejoicing that follows the destruction of Babylon. Verse seven in particular reads, “The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing.”
Verses 9-11 tell of the stir that takes place in Sheol, the place of the dead, when the king of Babylon shows up there. Dead kings of other nations say to him, in verse 10, “You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!”
Then in verses 12-15 the scene shits to heaven, where we see that the king of Babylon had desired to place his throne above God’s clouds and stars, but he ended up in Sheol anyway. Some have wanted to interpret these verses as a reference to Satan (Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:8), but clearly the context demonstrates that it is the king of Babylon who was in view.
Finally, in verses 16-21, the prophecy returns to the earth where the king’s final disgrace, including no decent burial (verses 19-20) and the destruction of his descendants, verse 21.
In verses 14:24-27 Isaiah returns from the future Babylonian threat to the present Assyrian threat. And he reminds his original readers that Assyria also is going to come under God’s judgment. Look at verse 25: “I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot.”
All right, now I suggest you read through the rest of the larger section through 23:18. Your Bible probably has headings at the beginning of each segment. In these chapters you will find a series of judgments against Israel’s neighbors, beginning with the Philistines in 14:28-32. You can read through unit by unit. Then in our next essay we shall take up chapter 24.