In the first twelve chapters Isaiah talked mostly about Judah, and that would have made sense to his original audience, and to you and me as his readers today. Judah belonged to God, so of course God would be concerned about Judah’s spiritual state, and about their lifestyle.
But the next eleven chapters, starting here in chapter thirteen, are going to be about God’s judgement on other nations.
How can that make sense?
What does God have to do with other people groups and governments that have nothing to do with God?
There are two reasons that come to mind.
- First, these nations represented a challenge to God’s people.
- But the second reason is more compelling. These nations challenged God’s sovereignty. God is king of all kings, sovereign over every person, every people group, every government, every everything, whether God is recognized and acknowledged, or not.
Each of these other nations claimed their own gods which rivaled Almighty God.
Were these gods equal to God?
Would God have to agree to dividing up the world into God’s portion, and portions for these other gods?
Or is God not only sovereign over all earthly rulers, the Lord also reigns supreme over the whole spiritual realm as well?
The Day of the Lord
Remember that these oracles were all part of an enormous vision that Isaiah was seeing. Isaiah would go from panel to panel and portray what he saw lay before him. Now, he saw someone on a bare hill with a banner held up high as a signal to all the nations across the Fertile Crescent.
On a bare hill raise a signal;Isaiah 13:2 (NRSV)
cry aloud to them;
wave the hand for them to enter
the gates of the nobles.
We find out it is the Lord God holding up the banner, consecrating armies for the Lord’s use.
I myself have commanded my consecrated ones,Isaiah 13:3 (NRSV)
have summoned my warriors, my proudly exulting ones,
to execute my anger.
Isaiah went on to describe the enormous din of all these armies gathering together under the Lord’s banner, then explained why their gathering was so thunderous.
They come from a distant land,Isaiah 13:5 (NRSV)
from the end of the heavens,
the Lord and the weapons of his indignation,
to destroy the whole earth.
Gradually, the reader realizes this is sounding more and more like something bigger than God’s judgement on a particular nation
Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will melt,
… See, the day of the Lord is coming,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the earth a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world for its evil
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant
and lay low the insolence of tyrants.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,Isaiah 13:6-7, 9-11, 13 (NRSV)
and the earth will be shaken out of its place
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger.
Yet, in an unexpected left turn, Isaiah focused on the near-term again, depicting the atrocities of ancient warfare in the next few verses.
Who would be swept up in this horrifying scene?
Destruction of Babylon
Well, in verse 17 Isaiah specifically mentioned the Medes, signaling to the reader this is now near-term prophecy. Two verses later, Isaiah named Babylon.
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans,
… will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
Arabs will not pitch their tents there;
shepherds will not make their flocks lie down there.
… its time is close at hand;Isaiah 13:19-20, 22 (NRSV)
and its days will not be prolonged.
Babylon has a long history in the Bible, beginning clear back in Genesis 10 with the first mention of Babel.
Over time, Babylon came to mean more than a city. It became Biblical code-language for human self-promotion, and rebellion against God.
Babylon began with Nimrod, the grandson of Ham.
Nimrod, Founder of Babel
Nimrod’s story begins with the history of his grandfather, one of the survivors of the great flood narrative recounted in Genesis 6-9.
Ham, if you remember Noah’s story, “uncovered his father’s nakedness” and tried to get his brothers involved.
According to the ancient record, Ham produced four sons and their descendants. The Table of Nations, found in Genesis 10, shows all the great empires coming from Ham: the Egyptians, the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians. Some Biblical scholars believe Ham’s descendants also became the Aztecs and the Mayans.
Noah knew that Ham’s unrepentant tolerance of perversion, his delight in it, would influence his children. The same sins tend to cycle through one generation of a family after another until finally someone determines to put an end to it.
Guided by divine wisdom, Noah prophesied the results of corruption in Canaan.
Sure enough, Nimrod was called a “a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The Jewish Talmud says that he was “a hunter of the souls of men.” In fact, this description linked him to the ancient Canaanite Nephilim, who introduced a perverted, degraded form of religion into the world.
So it comes as no surprise that Nimrod founded the city Babel, found in Genesis 11.
When the first consonant of Nimrod’s name is dropped and the other consonants lined up together, without the vowels (as would have been the case in Hebrew), the result is MRD, the basic root for the name of the god of Babylon, Marduk. Most scholars identify Marduk with Nimrod.
In the Babylonian religion, Nimrod (or Marduk) and his goddess wife Semiramis had a son whom Semiramis claimed was virgin born, the seed story of a mother-and-child cult.
This ancient Babylonian cult of the mother-and-child spread to other parts of the known world of antiquity. Today, we can find this cultic trope in
- The ancient Egyptian religious corpus as Isis and Osiris.
- Greece as Venus and Adonis.
- India as Ushas and Vishnu.
- Jeremiah warning the Israelites against offering sacrifices to “the Queen of Heaven.”
This cultic precursor and knock-off trope of the true Virgin-and-Son account found in the Greek scriptures culminates in the book of Revelation.
You and I might recognize the hand of God’s enemy, the Adversary, whose first appearance comes early in the scriptures, and whose perfidy is traced throughout the words of God as preserved in the Bible.
So, the destruction of Babylon means far more than God’s judgement against one particular nation. It also means God’s judgment against Satan, against false gods and all evil.
Defeat of the Adversary
God would defeat the Lord’s enemy in God’s own land.
Near-term, God defeated the Babylonians and God defeated the Assyrians, right at the gates of Jerusalem.
Then, four hundred years later, God defeated Satan at the foot of the cross.
In a time still future to us, yet imminent, God will judge evil for all time and cleanse the universe of sin, corruption, and death.