Judgment on Babylon

In contrast to God’s loving patience with God’s own own people, and God’s promise to put God’s salvation in them, was the judgment coming to Babylon.

Come down and sit in the dust,
    virgin daughter Babylon!
Sit on the ground without a throne,
    daughter Chaldea!
For you shall no more be called
    tender and delicate.

Isaiah 47:1 (NRSV)
V0034440 The fall of Babylon; Cyrus the Great defeating the Chaldean Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The fall of Babylon; Cyrus the Great defeating the Chaldean army. Mezzotint by J. Martin, 1831, after himself, 1819. 1819-1831 By: John MartinPublished: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

 The Chaldeans, by the way, were the tribal group that had achieved original domination over Babylon in the distant past. You and I also recognize this is Abraham’s background, for God had called him out of a city (“Ur” means “city” in ancient Akkadian) in Chaldea.

  • This was Babylon’s ethnic background.
  • Sitting in the dust was an ancient form of mourning, along with ashes and sackcloth.
  • Babylon was described as a virgin because this great city had never, up to that time, been invaded. There was a false sense of impregnability perhaps, a Chaldean confidence that Babylon could do as it pleased, out in the open.

In very real terms, Isaiah described the shameful treatment and forced labor the Babylonians had inflicted on the people groups they had conquered. Now those tables would be turned.

The prophet brought out not only their humiliation but also the Babylonians’ horrific treatment of captive women. Now, their own women would be at risk. The imagery is of a woman being despoiled in heart-wrenching language for us to read today. Yet in Isaiah’s day, these were the routine matters of invasion and conquest.

“I will take vengeance,
    and I will spare no one.”
Our Redeemer—the Lord of hosts is his name—
    is the Holy One of Israel.

“…  you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke
    exceedingly heavy.
You said, ‘I shall be mistress forever’”

 47:3-4, 6-7 [READ]

God had given over the Judahite kingdom into Babylonian captivity as judgment against the people. But now, God would judge the Babylonian captors for their own unspeakable abuse of God’s people.

As Isaiah delivered his oracle, he moved from the imagery of virgin Babylon, never before invaded, to another metaphor, the loss of children and the tragedy of widowhood. In other words, Babylon’s future would be wiped out, they would not be able to simply start over and rebuild. With no husbands, and no children, it would be a very long time before Babylon would recover. Instead, the remnant of this once indomitable world power would, in fact, be in danger of absorption into the surrounding nations.

I AM and There Is No Other

God gave three main reasons for this judgment:

  1. Isaiah 47:6 – They had been the instrument of God’s discipline on God’s own people, but their treatment of God’s people was cruel and merciless, universally sinful in any people as our consciences will tell us.
  1. Isaiah 47:7-8 – Years of Babylonian supremacy had created a false sense of security in their own attributes.  Babylon was wealthy and powerful, the reigning world power of their day.
  1. Isaiah 47:10 – The rulers of Babylon had exalted themselves in the same way the ancient people of Babel had done, seeing themselves as equals with God, able to impose their will on God’s people.

God had stated of God’s own Person (in Isaiah’s preceding oracle):

“for I AM God, and there is no other;
    I AM God, and there is no one like me

Isaiah 46:9 (NRSV)

Now read God’s indictment of Babylon:

“You felt secure in your wickedness;
    you said, “No one sees me.”
Your wisdom and your knowledge
    led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
   ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’

Isaiah 47:10 (NRSV)

This is the basic message of much spiritualized philosophy today—that humanity has reached a new level of knowledge, sophistication, and wisdom which will enable people to realize themselves as gods.

So Isaiah warned Babylon that in a single day all this would change.

Prophecy Fulfilled

They would go from being the most powerful nation on earth to sudden and complete ruin. And that sudden, startling demise is recorded in Daniel’s account who was actually there when it all happened! The parallels are astonishing.

By Foster, William A. [from old catalog] – flickr, Source book page: , No restrictions,

VerseIsaiah’s Preexilic OracleDaniel’s Eyewitness Account (Daniel 5)
47:10“You felt secure in your wickedness; you said, ‘No one sees me.’”’ Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray”That night Belshazzar, king of Babylon, was having a big party. He was getting drunk, so he lost his inhibitions, and, secure in his wickedness, having no thought for what God would see, he had the stolen temple vessels brought out and passed them around as wine cups.
47:12“Stand fast in your enchantments
    and your many sorceries”
The Babylonians were fascinated with sorcery. Now, before their terrified eyes, the disembodied fingers of a hand appeared and began to write on the wall.  
47:12-13“You are wearied with your many consultations;
    let those who study the heavens stand up and save you”
The king’s wise men came in, but they could not understand the writing. None of the enchanters, magicians, or astrologers could do anything with what the hand had written. Finally, Daniel was called in and he gave them the bad news—God was about to hand Babylon over in judgment to the Medes and Persians.
47:14-15“See, they are like stubble;
    the fire consumes them;
they cannot deliver themselves
    from the power of the flame.”
Daniel described the frenzy, panic, and utter confusion. That very night Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede took over.    
47:15   ” there is no one to save you.”Babylon was overcome because the rulers continued to rely upon their idols, even though they knew about God, and had even paid lip service to God’s reality and power.
Comparison of Isaiah 47 and Daniel 5

Daniel, that very night, explained why God now placed them under judgment. By harboring the people of God for seventy years, and by having God’s glory among them, they had been given the opportunity to join with God’s people.

But they did not.

Opportunity Lost

“You, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven!

“The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose power is your very breath and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.

 “So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed.And this is the writing that was inscribed: 

“mene, tekel, and parsin

“This is the interpretation of the matter: 

  • mene: God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; 
  • tekel: you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; 
  • peres: your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Daniel 5:18-28 (NRSV, modifications mine)
Belshazzar’s feast *oil on canvas *167,6 x 209,2 cm *signed c.r.: Rembrand/F 163(.) *inscribed t.r.: Mene mene tekel upharsin | By Rembrandt – Codart, Public Domain

 These were not just the sins of their government. These were national sins. The people knew about God, they had every chance to turn to God, yet instead they grew increasingly dismissive of God and God’s word. They eventually became so unconcerned about God’s holiness and majesty, God’s reality, they used the temple vessels as party platters and beer flagons.

Without gratefulness to God, blessings can lead to godlessness

You and I can grow used to enjoying relative wealth, relative safety, and our creature comforts. Complacent contentment, if left unchecked, might lead us away from, not towards God. We can grow dismissive of God’s presence in the daily niceness of our lives. We can forget our calling to be agents of righteousness and ambassadors of redemption. God has a very real interest in the laws, morality, and treatment of marginalized people groups in all the nations, including ours. How invested are we in this?

None of the experts the Babylonian king turned to could give him answers. Of course, we know why only Daniel could help—because Daniel alone served the Lord.

So I just wonder what answers you and I hold for our communities today because we, too, serve the Lord? 

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