Isaiah Chapter 13

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Burden of Babylon. Force of the word "sanctified." The strange creatures
that take up abode in Babylon; why their names are not to be translated.


A thorough change now comes over the spirit of our book. Assyria is no longer the prominent oppressor. The stout heart of the Assyrian has been brought low and that punishment has induced Israel's song. But now the song dies away, and its place is taken by every terrible accompaniment of divine chastening. The whole earth, nation after nation, provides the object of the infliction, even the Jew having to take his place amid those nations, as we shall see. Yet all is but a shadow of what is still overhanging the world. He, by whose severity a whole race of men, with the exception of one family only, was swept away by the waters: He who in His severity sent His armies against Jerusalem, and the awful sufferings of that siege cause Jewish tears to flow to this day: He who still keeps before the eye of Christendom a "nation scattered and peeled": He who by His severity has sent ever and anon the most fearful chastenings on Christendom, from the last of which the nations are still sufferingis He who has spoken in no uncertain terms of a "wrath" still to come, as far exceeding all that has preceded as clearer, greater light increases the guilt of sinning against it. From it there is but one deliverance, and one Deliverer, "even Jesus who delivered us from" it (1 Thess. 1:10). May God write upon our hearts His holy fear as we read of these "burdens."

We here begin, then, the third division of the first main part of our book, and are again met with the number "three," so clearly upon it as to confirm our conviction of its divine intent, for there are

1: Ten "Burdens" Chapters 13-27
2: Six "Woes" Chapters 28-33
3: The end of bothPeace and song after storm and sorrow Chapters 34, 35

Babylon comes first under the divine sentence, called "burden," a word that possibly may include the weight of the sentence announced. But although this comes first, we must not forget that this was written when Babylon had not reached the foremost place amid the nations of the earth. Rationalism and its offspring, Infidelity, with that stern adhesion to "reason" so loudly proclaimed, and so strangely evidenced, argue from this that Isaiah could not possibly be the author of these chapters, since "the standpoint of the writer is in the time of the captivity when the Chaldean Empire was flourishing," and "Isaiah could not transfer his position into that distant future, disregarding the horizon of his own day." In other words, Isaiah could only prove himself a divinely accredited prophet by not foretelling events too far in the future! The limit of the prophet's outlook, or that of the Spirit of God behind him, must correspond exactly with that of these gentlemen! Well does Delitzsch comment: "Stat pro ratione voluntas," which may be freely rendered, a desire to reach a preconceived conclusion is all that is necessary for doing so.

In verse 2 the burden begins in that intensely picturesque and graphic style so characteristic of our prophet, with a three fold signal to some army thus ordered to approach:

2: Lift up an ensign on a bare hill,
Lift up the voice and cry loudly:
Beckon then, urgently waving the hand,
That they enter the gates of the nobles.
3: 'Tis I who thus summon My sanctified ones
'Tis I who do thus call My heroes:
Those who are thus as inflicting My wrath,
My warriors proudly rejoicing.
What could be more vivid than that threefold call! First find a mountain without a tree on it that would obstruct the view, and then place on it the ensign; then the eye being thus attracted, shout to some army to come quickly, and still further hasten them by beckoning with the hand, for the gates that have hitherto only admitted the nobles of Babylon shall now admit its conquerors. It is Jehovah, and none other, who is thus summoning the executors of His wrath, and actually calls the hosts of Persia His "sanctified ones!" Nor does that mean here that these soldiers are essentially holy in character, any more than are the "sanctified" ones of Heb. 10:26, who can have nothing but an awful judgment before them. Nor is the "sanctified" food (1 Tim. 4:5) changed in its character by the thanksgiving with which it is received; nor were the children of the Corinthian Christians, although "holy" and "clean" (1 Cor. 7:14), essentially different in character from all other children. The word "sanctified," in all such cases means that they were "set apart"; if the sanctification be on earth, by some ordinance, or agency, as the altar sanctifying the gift (Matt. 23:19) for some specific purpose. Here it is a divine pronouncement and thus they were, by this call from a bare hill, distinguished from others. So filled are these Persian "sanctified ones" with the assurance of victory, that Jehovah calls them His "proudly rejoicing" ones!

Now comes the answer to this urgent call:

4: Hark to the rumble! A crowd in the hills,
As the noise of a numerous people.
Hark, what a tumult! Ah, 'tis the sound
Of the gathering kingdoms of Gentiles.
Jehovah of Hosts thus musters His force:
His host for the soon-coming battle.
5: They come! They come from a far-off land,
Aye, from the limits of heaven!
'Tis Jehovah who comes with weapons of wrath,
To bring the whole earth to destruction.
6: Wail, for the day of Jehovah is nigh.
As destruction it comes from El-Shaddai.
7: 'Tis this that accounts for all hands hanging down,
And the heart of each frail-man is melting.
8: Troubledthey're seized with anguish and pains,
Aye, writhe as a woman in travail.
Each looks at his neighboris filled with amaze,
For as flashing of flames faces flicker!
Thus is pictured the effect in Babylon of hearing of the approach of this invading host. No courage is left; hands hang feebly at the side; men are no longer "heroes," for the hearts of the bravest are melted like wax, as the dwellers in the doomed city hear a rumbling in the mountains. The terrifying sound tells of an advancing host, but little do either the invaders or the invaded realize that GOD is coming with that host, for it is but the agency whereby He inflicts penalty upon the earth. Little did Titus and his Romans think that they were but the armies of the "King" carrying out God's decreed penalty on Jerusalem (Matt. 22:7). A hostile army overwhelming in numbers and equipment is terrible in itself, but when God is with it the terror becomes limitless. And here the prophet takes that common example of extreme sufferinga parturient woman. Each looks with astonishment at the change that has taken place in his neighbor's appearance, for the face of each flushes and pales as the blood first flows from and then back to the heart, like the changing color of flames.
9: Lo, 'tis the day of Jehovah thus comes,
Cruel with wrath and fierce anger;
To turn once again the earth to a waste,
Sweeping the sinners out from it.
In connection with this last line, note its correspondence with Matt. 13:40, where the "tares" are taken from the earth in judgment. Again similarly in Matt. 24:40, 41, where one is taken away in judgment, and the other is left upon the earth in blessing. In all cases where the Jew is the subject, the earth is the place of blessing. Thus, the being forced out of it is penal, in sharpest contrast with the present heavenly calling of believers, and their rapture out of the earth to their everlasting abode with their Lord in heaven (1 Thess. 4:17). All blessing depends on where God's beloved Son is. Is He in Paradise? Then "far better" it is to be there with Him. Is He reigning over the earth? Then woe to those who are then swept out of it!

But is it possible that any sober mind could be satisfied that it was the very "Day of the Lord," which is to be "on everyone that is proud" (chap. 2:12), when Darius the Mede diverted the course of the Euphrates, so that, in its dried bed, his army could have entrance into Babylon? If there were no other reason, this would appear quite impossible in view of the assurance given long after, that that day has not even yet dawned (2 Thess. 2:3). But that does not forbid that in every upheaval of the existent world empire, there should be a grim pictorial foreshadowing of that final day of wrath; and to one single citysay Babylonall the terror there should afford a perfect picture, in miniature, of the far more wide-spread terror of that coming day.

Nor can any form of catastrophe that seriously affects one country leave the others quite unaffected, for amid the nations of the earth it is also true, that if one suffer, all must suffer with it. When wealth or property, or lives, which are the basis of both, are destroyed, it matters little who effects that destruction, or the motive for it; it is the world of men as a wholethe whole racethat is thus rendered the poorer by the destruction. It is always true, irrespective of the sphere, that a biting and devouring of one another must eventually result in mutual destruction. Wars, then, become a divine judgment; not merely upon the loser, but upon both conqueror and conquered. The Word of doom goes on:

10: The stars of the heavens are darkened and dimmed,
Lightless are now its Orions:
Dark e'en the sun as it rises at morn,
And the moon refuses her shining.
11: On the world of earth-dwellers I'll visit the sin,
And punish the guilt of the wicked.
To silence I'll cause all their boastings to sink
The fear-striking proud ones will humble.
12: More rare than fine gold shall the frailest man be
A poor man than gold-wedge of Ophir.
13: Therefore I'll cause the heavens to shake
The earth from her place shall be moved
Because of the wrath of Jehovah of Hosts,
In the day of His terrible anger.
14: Like a startled gazelle, or shepherdless sheep,
Each man shall turn to his people,
And flee to his own native country.
15: For all that are found by spear-thrust are slain,
Or put to the sword when o'ertaken.
16: Even their infants to pieces are dashed
Before the eyes of their parents:
Their houses are plundered of all they contain:
Their wives are the prey of the victors.
When the Day of the Lord does come, as coming it surely is, it will be in a judgment in which there is no pity, no tenderness. As unlimited sufferings were poured upon the beloved Son, so those who turn their backs to Him become the objects of those same awe-inspiring sufferings! That day may even be termed "cruel"a word the very sense of which is the exclusion of all pityin its effects, for then the long-restrained wrath of God bursts forth so that the earth, the whole earth, not "the land" here, becomes desolate.

The heavens fall into accord with this infliction on their sister planet (ver. 10): they refuse to give cheer or modify distress by their light. For as light and joy are correlative, so are darkness and sorrow, and this is alone now in order. The brilliant Orions1 keep back their glittering glories: the sun when about to rise, "alters its mind" (Delitzsch) and the moon is invisible. When the wrath of God is active, the heavens ever refuse sympathy with the objects of that wrath, and darkness adds (oh, how greatly!) to the terrors.

The whole round globe, wherever men dwell, comes under this visitation. The lesser provides a picture of the greater slaughter, till even a frail mortal man ("Enosh") becomes precious as gold, and earth-born "adam" more valuable than Ophir.

Shaking heavens are a constant accompaniment of God's awakening to judgment. So our Lord tells of "the powers of heaven being shaken," which is not to be dissevered from men's hearts failing them for fear. As when we see waves mountain high we do not attribute that convulsion to the water, but to the invisible wind, so these "powers of heaven" share in the terrific agitation of that Day of the Lord, and must not be identified with the visible stars.

As a timid gazelle starts in instant flight when alarmed, or as a flock of sheep scatter in fright, so the foreigners living in Babylon scatter each to their native land. For there is nothing but death for any who are caught.

That terrible cry for a strictly retributive penalty, which is nothing less than repulsive to a Christian, is yet in perfect keeping with the Jewish spirit found in , "Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones," and is now accomplished. These cruelties had been practised, and must therefore be suffered according to that law which demanded "a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye." But the natural question comes up: Would not such practices necessarily bring the same retribution on those who in their turn did them? That is, if the Medes dashed Babylon's babes to death as the Babylonians had dashed Jerusalem's, why should not the Medes themselves similarly suffer in their turn, and so endlessly? Would not strictest righteousness demand this? Most surely; unless, themselves self-judged penitents, the Medes only acted, even in this, as executioners of God's stern justice, in His fear, and not at all as satisfying their own cruelty and vindictiveness, which would be no less wicked than that which was being avenged. This would be exactly in the spirit of those who were bound to stone without pityit might be a young lad (Deut. 21:18-21), or one to whom one might be attached by strong ties of nature (Deut. 13:6-10). It is the awful judgment of God, which never can be safely exercised in man's hand without a continuation of the very evil that is sought to be put away, till it is in His that are not stained, but "without sin"; to Him alone is finally committed all judgment, for He is the only one who can judge (John 5:22). Empire after empire, each as guilty as its predecessor, has been, and shall be overthrown, "till He comes whose right it is." One must ever bear in mind, too, that in all these inflictions, connected with the government of the earth, there is no question of eternity; no eternal penalty follows these little ones, but they come under the shelter of that same atoning work that is effective for Babylonian and Median, as well as for Israelite babes, for He has come to "save that which was lost" (Matt. 18:11).

17: Behold, I raise up against them the Medes,
Who care not for gold nor for silver.
18: Their bows send forth arrows that dash to the ground;
On the fruit of the womb they've no mercy,
Their eye doth not spare even children.
19: And Babel, that is of all kingdoms the pride,
The boast of all the Chaldeans,
Shall be as the terrible overthrow wrought
By Jehovah on Sodom-Gomorrah.
20: Inhabited never again shall it be,
No dweller shall ever be in it,
From age unto age everlasting.
No wandering Arab shall there pitch his tent,
No shepherd shall e'er fold his flock there,
21: But there the tziim of desert shall couch,
And filled shall their house be with ochim.
The benoth yaanah shall there seek a rest,
The restless seirim shall jump there.2
22: Iim shall there in her palaces howl,
And tannim, in places of pleasure:
Near is the time of Babylon's fall,
Nor shall its days be prolonged.
The overmastering motive of the conquerors, now plainly named Medes, is not booty, although that they shall have. It is their own sufferings from Babylon that they are now intent to redress.

That there has been a striking fulfilment of this prophecy is beyond all controversy. Can any Rationalist bring our faith to confusion, by pointing to a city of Babylon and say, "There is a living refutation of all the claims to divine inspiration that you make for your Bible." How quickly, how vociferously, how constantly, should we be reminded of such a failure of fulfilment, could it be brought! How silent the opponents of faith are as they look on the mounds of earth that cover the temple of Belus, to the glory of which Xerxes gave the last thrust. Alexander the Great thought to rebuild, in spite of the prophecy, and to make it the metropolis of his empire. He was carried off by an early death, and Strabo (60 B. C.) applies to the ruins of the mighty city the words of the poet: "The great desert was the great city." Why should Arab pitch tent where nothing but scant vegetation offered food for his flocks?

But further, is it possible that any sober mind could insist that this prophecy has been finally and exhaustively fulfilled in the past? That "Day," this prophet tells us, was to be "on everyone that is proud" (chap. 2:12). Were there no "proud" then outside those walls of Babylon? Many centuries pass, and still the Spirit of Christ assured those who were then living that the Day of the Lord had not yet come (2 Thess. 2:3). Nor, as I write, nineteen centuries after the Lord Jesus took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, has that "Day" even yet come, although we see its approach to be very near indeed.

Turning to the last two verses, strange and mysterious enough are those outlandish Hebrew words, yet in that very strangeness and mystery, they may, and I believe do, fulfil the intent of the divine Author of the book; for this, and this alone, is consistent with the Old Testament that has the visible alone for its sphere, and those visible things afford pictures of the invisible with which the New Testament has to do. But supposeand surely that is not difficultthat there is nothing in this visible creation that will serve as a symbol of the invisible, so as to typify the varying characteristics of the "unclean spirits" of the heavenlies, how could that difficulty be met better than by just such words of mystery as we have here?

Now we have a Babylon in the New Testament of which the Babylon of old is but a symbol, and these creatures that none can identify with assurance (for not one of them is really known3 afford the most perfect picture, as nothing else that was familiar to us could do, of those demons, unclean spirits, and "hateful birds" that are finding their congenial dwelling in that future Babylon, the unified apostate Christendom (Rev. 18:2). The modern "Confusion" of Christendom is full of them even today.

The one main idea running through all, if etymology is to be consideredas surely it is, for it is absolutely all we have to give us any light on the use of the wordsis of mournful, doleful wails that add their horrors to the desolation of the scene.

The first is tziim, from a root, "to be dry," hence "desert"; and thus the A. V. renders the one word, "wild beasts of the desert." These tziim find their "own place," their congenial home, in "a dry and thirsty land, where no water is," but find no rest there (Matt. 12:43). In just such a scene exactly shall the Babylon of the future be found; for in order to see her, John has also to be carried into the "desert" (Rev. 17:3). These tziim then simply represent "desert-dwellers" whose abode is away from the love and light of God.

"Ochim," from a word whose sound tells its meaning: oh-ach whence "ach," an interjection of sorrow (Ezek. 6:11), and constantly rendered, "Alas!" So these "ochim" are "ever-lamenting ones," "mournfully howling ones," whose only cry is "Alas!"

"Benoth yaanah," literally, "daughters of a doleful cry," is found in Micah 1:8, "I will wail and howl; I will make a mourning as the benoth yaanah," which the translators have rendered "owls," but there are other words for that, and it is but a conjecture: it is again an unknown wailing creature.

"Seirim" is probably the most interesting to us of them all, for while the word is rendered in Lev. 4:24 by "goat," that would be quite impossible in Lev. 17:7: "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto seirim": so here the A.V., following the Septuagint, has "devils," or "demons." So, in 2 Chron. 11:15: "He ordained priests for the high places, and for the seirim (demons) and for the calves which he had made." So we may fairly take the word as referring to those unclean spirits termed in the New Testament "demons," so closely identified with idols that the apostle can say, "The things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God" (1 Cor. 10:20), and this word thus governs the rendering of all these.

"Iim," rendered "wild-beasts-of-the-islands," is a contraction of "ohee," another interjection of lament, and evidently carries on the same idea of "dolefully howling ones," as so perfectly fits the context here: for these shall howl in palaces whose walls once resounded only to songs of revelry. Where Belshazzar feasted a thousand of his lords, and shouts of merriment were on all sides, iim shall howl dolefully. Well may all this throw its gloomy light on "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Note the corresponding picture of that one who, under the power of a legion of these same fallen creatures in Mark 5, amid the tombs, was crying and cutting himself with stones! Who can estimate the spirit-anguish of a spirit's separation from God! Every name here tells of that.

So the last, tannim, is usually supposed to be "jackals"; but we do well to leave this word with the mystery that is also involved in the word "dragon," as our A.V. renders it. For how could it be said that Pharaoh was a "jackal" in the "midst of the seas" (Ezek. 32:2)that would be no place for jackals, so the A.V. renders it "whale"; but in Ezek. 29:3 the same word is rendered "dragon": "I am against thee, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers"; while in Exod. 7:9 Moses' rod becomes a "serpent." In that grand call to universal praise to Jehovah (Ps. 148), which begins with the highest of His creatures, and gradually comes down, the earthly chorus is to be led by "dragons, and all deeps" (ver. 7), where this last word is simply a synonym for "the abyss" or "bottomless pit," in which the devil is to be cast bound for a thousand years. I can but see in this mysterious creature, then, coming here as the climax of doleful spirits, a clear symbol of him who is "the great dragon, the devil."

We cannot greatly err then, in considering the acknowledged mystery enveloping these words as being divinely intended, for it is in this very way that they speak, as otherwise they could not, of what is beyond human ken, what we call the occult, or hidden.

One point may occasion some surprise, for while in Isaiah we have the world-empire Babylon before us, we find in the New Testament that name borne, not by the political or civil government, but by "the harlot sitting on many waters," in whom we discern the spurious imitation of the Bride of Christapostate religious Christendom headed up in Rome. But political world-power is what this apostate claimant of being the "Catholic," or Universal, Church, has ever aimed at. Her Popes have claimed, and do still claimsince it was acknowledged by Pepin (himself a usurper) in the eighth centurynot only spiritual, but temporal authority over the whole earth, as their God-given right. All the promises made to the Lord Jesus Himself have logically to be claimed by him who assumes to be His "vicar": "all kings should fall down before him, all nations should serve him," "his (i.e., the Pope's) enemies must lick the dust"; and never, for one moment, no matter what individual was in "the chair of St. Peter," has he abandoned that claim, or given his consent to that abnegation which Italian bayonets under Garibaldi forced upon him. With keen eyes made the more hungry by abstinence, has he watched the politics of earth, biding his time, yet neglecting no opportunity of thrusting himself into prominence, as the true Arbiter of the earth: a prominence that the civil powers are apparently becoming more and more inclined to restore to him, as they have in principle, in his dominance in the Vatican City, already. Nor among these are any more yielding and complacent than those who, but a comparatively short time ago, were in sternest outspoken opposition to all these claims of the Papacy. But that is a thing of the past: no longer do we hear the old cry, "No Popery," but rather, "No Protestantism,"4 for any protest against these assumptions is frowned upon as being "bigoted." Bigoted! As if the very basic principles of Rome do not compel her to exercise the most uncompromising bigotry wherever she has the power of racking and burning, as her whole history tells.

One thing alone hinders the full fruition of Rome's desire: the presence of the Holy Spirit in His Church! Let that divine Hinderer depart, and quickly shall this compromise be effected, by which the unified harlot-church shall be supported by the unified empire, and then shall the tziim, the ochim, the iim, the seirim, find their congenial home in that Babylon, ruin as she will be, and fill her with their hopeless lamentations of despair. Oh, listen to the voice of the Lord addressed to His people who may even now be in what is Babylon in embryo: "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." For whilst we hear from Heaven "harpers harping with their harps," there is, alas, no music in hell, but weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Footnotes:

1 It is the word so rendered in Job 9:9; 38:31, and Amos 5:8. The word "Orion" comes from one meaning "a fool," and is assumed to speak of the presumptuous folly of Nimrod, who is assumed to be bound to the sky, for his pride. Here it is simply a name inclusive of all constellations.

2 The evident spirit of misery that pervades these verses, has led me to replace the word "dance," so constantly identified with pleasure, by "jump": the prime meaning of the root is "to leap," "to skip," so it is the more literal. Even the Latin poet Virgil calls unclean spirits "Jumping Satyrs."

3 Our commentators are sorely puzzled, and Delitzsch confesses that "it is impossible to determine what are the animals referred to"

4 It is not without significance that as the power of the United States amid the nations has increased, so, proportionately, have Rome's efforts to control that power, and to make Romanism the recognized national religion, increased. The success of these efforts may be gauged by the last step, which has been to advertise throughout the country for $5,000,000 with which to erect a Cathedral in the national Capital, "To the glory of Almighty God, who hath given us Victory, and in honor of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States!"

We are not told who it was who requested that "highly favored" woman to accept this dignity of "Patroness of the United States," or who installed her into it; or whether her own consent to this use of her name has been obtained at all (as is usually esteemed an indispensable pre-requisite in all such cases); or, if so, how that was accomplished. "The end sanctifies" all thatfor that end is the erecting such a building at Washington as may give the appearance, at least, of the whole country being "Roman." Altogether the most suggestive part of the matter is the absence of any protest against it. Think of how it would have been met a hundred years ago!