"Babylon is fallen—is fallen."
Little would it interest those living over three thousand years after the event, if the fall of Babylon, foretold in this chapter, had no bearing whatever on our own time, or guidance for us as individuals, each through his one short life. Babylon has gone—gone long ago! The sands of the desert have long covered the palaces of her princes and the hovels of her peasants; the howls of the wild beasts have replaced the songs of her festivals. Nor does our interest in Babylon depend on the mooted question whether that same city is to be rebuilt, and take her place once more as a metropolitan city of the earth. Apart from all such questions, which may justly be the subjects of discussion, there cannot be one shade of doubt that the ancient literal Babylon shall have a successor in the closing days of this age, not of a material, but of a spiritual and religious character in harmony with the character of the present testimony of God upon the earth; and in the fate of the material we may read the doom of the spiritual, till the refrain that we have already heard in our twenty-first chapter: "Babylon is fallen!—is fallen!" shall be heard again as that fast-coming representative of man's spiritual pride is brought to her end, and the strong angel of Rev. 14 shall announce that "Babylon is fallen—is fallen!" (Rev. 14:8); and still once more in the Scriptures, the cry comes to us, like a clear strong echo: "Babylon the Great is fallen!—is fallen!"(Rev. 18:2). Most assuredly the very repetitions are intended to impress upon us the importance of the event in the awful drama of the ages.
Have we then no interest in Babylon? Surely we have. The unification of men politically, welding the present nations of Christendom into one universal State, which is clearly foretold (Dan., chaps. 7, 9; Rev. 17, etc.), has a corresponding unification of men in the same sphere, religiously, in a universal Church, which is equally clearly foretold (Rev., chaps. 17, 18). Both are being strongly urged today, and are the twin goals of statesmen and clergymen alike. If we look carefully through the divinely provided telescope that brings these events very near, we shall even be able to read on the forehead of that one Church, composed as it will be, of the spiritually lifeless members of the present-day Denominations, with Rome at their head: "Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth."
What child of God, who loves his Bible, and is wise enough to observe these things, but must be deeply interested, and anticipate with joy the hour when the foul dishonor that is everywhere being done to his Lord in the very religion of the day shall come to its end, with the cry: "Babylon is fallen!—is fallen!"
I take it then, as Isaiah was anticipating the fall of the material Babylon, which, when he wrote was only beginning to form her glory and greatness, so do we, by the same spirit of faith, stand at the same place, and even before the spiritual "Babylon the Great" has been fully developed or reached her glory, we can see her final doom. Thus we can address ourselves to our chapter with the attention that comes from having a personal interest in what we are reading. Aye, and more; shall we forget that He, to whom we owe everything, has an infinitely deeper interest in those events that must still precede His own reign over the earth? So let us listen to Jehovah's command to Babylon, first noting the now familiar mark in the three divisions.
1: Verses 1-4: A Voice tells Babylon of her doom, and the Remnant recognize it.
1: Down! Down! Sit in the dust,One does not marvel at unregenerate men insisting that this must have been written by someone who lived long after Isaiah, for Babylon was then but in its infancy as a kingdom, and here is its end clearly foretold. The Bible is either divine or—what I will not soil my page by expressing. In that case, the future is just as plain to its Author, God the Holy Spirit, as the present or past, and there is no difficulty whatever. But one has to make up one's mind as to that most fundamental of all questions, the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.
The city of Babylon is addressed as a virgin, since she has not yet been dishonored by capture, and what a striking picture she makes—the dust must be her seat, the ground her throne! A queen over a mighty empire is in a moment a slave, and she who was most delicate is so treated. Into captivity she must go. She is not merely compelled to abandon all royal honor, but she must put off with those dignities even what is only consistent with womanly self-respect. Rivers have to be crossed, yesterday slaves would have carried her in her palanquin over them; today she must wade them on foot as best she can, with such exposure as could only express the deepest humiliation. But there are spectators to the scene, and after a moment of dumbfounded silence, a shout rends the air, a kind of response to Jehovah's word, "No mere man meets thee," and they burst out with a recognition of who has effected this, "Our Redeemer! The Lord of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel! He hath borne long, but interposed at last."
But now the triumph-shout dies down and again that mighty Voice of command is heard, continuing the stern command to Babylon:
5: Sit thee in silence! Creep to the dark,This needs but brief comment, but it is deeply interesting to note the cause of Jehovah's wrath with proud Babylon. He indeed had cause for chastening His people, and made use of Babylon for that purpose. Far too eagerly she had done that work, and overdone it; forgetting, if she ever knew, that Jehovah's love for His people never waned, although His expression of it might be forbidden by their naughtiness. If sweet to the ear of Jehovah was the plea of a Moses to spare the sinful nation, if Phineas is rewarded with an everlasting priesthood for turning away His wrath from His sinning people, then Babylon's opposite conduct of merciless oppression, using Israel's sorrow for her own exaltation, is to Him a most grievous abomination, and brings its inevitable penalty on the oppressor.
Note how perfectly this exponent of human pride assumes the very claim that God alone can justly make to being unrivaled: "I am, and beside me there is none!" Is it possible not to discern, even behind Babylon, another dreadful personage, the highest of created Intelligencies, whose great wisdom and knowledge are all marshaled against us; and who leads his captives in his own path till his own man, the man of sin, shall come, who shall "sit in the temple of God, and show himself that he is God" (2 Thess. 2:4). 'Tis he who instils this, his own crime, into man's but too receptive heart.
Now listen—not to the lip, but to Babel's proud heart, speaking: "I am a Lady forever, and sit a Queen enthroned! I a widow! I bereaved! The very thought is impossible!" Aye, there is indeed but One who can abase thy pride, and now He speaks: "Both these evils shall come upon thee suddenly. In one day thou shalt become as desolate as a widow who has lost her protector, and her children too. Nor shall all thy dealings with the invisible powers of darkness save thee: none of them can ward off thy doom, for the very deeds that thou esteemest to be good, and in which thy trust is placed, are thine evil deeds, and thy religion is really the cause of thy reprobation, as they were of thy father Cain, who was wrathful because the best he could do was rejected as evil." So the stern word continues:
12: Stand with thy sorceries many,Very clearly this third part goes on to the wicked dealings of Babel with the unseen spirit-powers, and with terrible irony Jehovah counsels her to call all these powers to her aid, for she will need them sorely. Let her King Belshazzar "cry aloud for his astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers," and see if they may not profit him by both reading the mystic writing and turning aside the threatened doom it foretells by terrifying the agents of it. From Babylon's very youth she had toiled in the black art, and her wise ones had day and night consulted the heavens, divided the stars into constellations, and issued their monthly bulletins as to what their combinations portended, as in the day of Esther (chap. 3:7). Then let them now stand between her and her doom! Save her! There is not one of them that can save himself from this flame of divine wrath, which is no gentle fire serviceable for warmth and comfort, but a raging conflagration that devours everything in its path. And that shall be the end of all her traffic with the powers of darkness. As for the human merchants5 that have enriched themselves by their dealings with thee, their profit gone, they wander, each to his own way, and none can save doomed Babylon!
Babylon, on the Euphrates, has long since passed away, but her history and end is a divinely given prophecy of what still lies before another Babylon still to come. We see, even today, a Satanic religion, calling itself "Christianity," everywhere dominant as a "queen," a religion that as it, by rapid steps, leaves the basic truths of man's fall and ruin, goes either to superstition on the one hand or infidelity on the other.
Beloved, our day is very dark and very difficult! May grace be granted to both writer and reader to be occupied with our Lord Jesus Christ, till He becomes so real, so precious, to us as to be the load-star and magnet of our lives, attracting us out of every association where He is dishonored, and making us in very deed—not merely in word—"strangers and pilgrims upon earth."
1 "Isaiah's artistic style may be readily perceived both in the three clauses of verse 1 that are comparable to a long trumpet-blast, and also in the short rugged involuntary excited clauses that follow."—Delitzsch.
2 A very doubtful line, as the many vastly different readings evidence. That which I have eventually adopted corresponds with the A.V., and many Hebraists, and seems to accord with the context. The word for "man" being Adam justifies the "mere."
3 The R.V. reads in the text, "Thou shalt not know the dawning thereof," but in the margin, "How to charm it away," and this I have finally adopted, since it is in accord with the parallels that follow.
4 This is the true sense of the word, and is constantly so used, as in Deut. 1:29, "dread," Joshua 1:9, "be not afraid."5 It would seem impossible that those who shall be consumed as in ver. 14, can be the same as those who wander away to their own place in ver. 15; compare with Rev. 18:11.