The first part of the prophecy – chapter 13 – tells what God intends to do regarding Babylon; this text tells why God will act in that way. Once again Bible makes plain that God is knowable – not hidden from his people, not remote or disconnected. Unlike false gods whose worshipers stumble around in dark with no clue what their god really expects from them, what he plans to do next. Imagine as a child, father never smiles, frowns, speaks; whenever you approach, never know whether to expect open hand of blessing or fist of punishment or no response at all. If demands change, you won’t know what they are or how to satisfy them. Certainly difficult, even impossible, if you are older sibling, to reliably guide younger brothers and sisters – how to please, how not to displease, how to relate to father.
Aren’t you glad God isn’t like that?? From beginning, even with perfect parents Adam and Eve, God didn’t leave them for a moment to figure it out on their own. As soon as they drew breath, God communicated with them, making plain what sort of God he was, what sort of people he expected them to be. While ways of communication have changed over time, God hasn’t changed in nature, character, expectations of his people. All we must know to believe rightly in God and behave rightly before God – recorded in 66 books in Bible.
Word of text given through Isaiah to instruct/encourage people living in Judah in 8th cent. before Christ. 1000 years earlier God had made a covenant with Jacob as he had with Abraham and Isaac – appeared to Jacob in dream, ladder from heaven to earth, angels up and down, God at head of the ladder (Gen. 28:10-15). Covenant still in effect, God wanted people to know that; same basic rules for life still in effect, too. Explains why God would act as he said: God loves his people and opposes the proud. Jesus followed his parable about Pharisee and publican with statement: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luk 18:14)
Life was going to get tough for God’s people: one superpower doesn’t knock off another without a few awkward moments. God reassures his people through Isaiah that he hadn’t written them off. He promises blessing to them, speaks a parable about Babylon focusing on the head of state, then proclaims his will for Babylon’s future.
A. God promises blessing v.1-3
mercy – the reason why “Babylon’s time is almost up” (13:22-1a) God’s intent regarding Israel was to correct them, not crush them; discipline, not destroy. Goal of discipline: correct wrong behavior/ways of thinking, achieve right thinking and behavior. By time 70 years of captivity had passed, God would be ready to show mercy to his people.
particular love – will choose (1a) God doesn’t love those whom he chooses, he chooses those whom he loves (Deut. 7:7-8). He loved Israel, whether natural-born or adopted citizens in the covenant community, chose them to be his particular people. He especially loved those who possessed the same faith as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (to whom he made covenant promises). They stood to inherit full measure of blessing.
pledge of adoption – placed/deposited in the land where they belong as God’s special people (1a) Picked up from place of captivity, deposited in place that was down-payment on eternal inheritance – earthly land that was God’s guarantee of much greater blessing, heaven. Abraham lived in tent as resident alien, looking forward to city with foundations (Heb. 11:9-10); hope was in heaven, not Palestine.
promise of increase (1b-2a) – the nations will voluntarily join themselves to Israel, demonstrating faith in promises given to Jacob, Gentiles added even in OT times to family of God.
reversal of circumstances (2b) – servants will rule, those who had formerly been oppressed will rule over their oppressors. Accomplished in small measure when Jews returned to land after exile; will be fully accomplished in the Church through Christ as he subdues all his enemies and rules over them.
rest from sorrow and fear and bondage (3a) Just as Canaan was small down-payment on big inheritance, so too is rest promised here and experienced on sabbath/Lord’s day. Land flowing with milk and honey foreshadowed restored creation and land of heaven; sabbath rest foreshadows rest from labor and captivity experienced in heaven.
fulfillment of promises made to Jacob – references to Jacob indicate God’s fidelity to his promises, covenant made with patriarchs and those who by faith are included in covenant.
B. God speaks a parable v.4-21
the tables have turned (4-8) Superpower that used force and fear to subdue opposition now nowhere to be seen. World that had been in turmoil finally at peace, king has been weighed in balances and found desperately lacking. In fact, he has been replaced by another superpower.
Hell welcomes a new resident (9-11) One of her own, both the actual king and all that Babylon stands for, true and deserving residents of hell. Having rebelled against God and his authority, rejected truth of God’s Word even when brought into the very palace by Daniel and his friends, what else could they expect? A mocking welcome from those who had gone before – you thought you were smarter, immune, more powerful, look at you now!
the one who would rule heaven is cast down to hell (12-15) Sharing some traits with his father, the devil, king of Babylon convinced himself that he deserved to sit as king over God. Opposed by God, his life was cut off, he was confined to hell, his power ended and his proud arrogance humbled.
the tyrant is now an inmate (16-17) No longer resembling the king of a superpower, those who see him shake their heads in wonder – stripped of all power, authority, regal splendor, wearing only the uniform of eternal prison and indistinguishable from the crowd.
no dignity even in death (18-20a) Kings, even bad ones, usually lie in state, have a proper burial in ancestral plot or national place of honor. This king will be thrown on the garbage dump in disgust – no burial, no headstone, no remembrance, no posterity.
Babylon is done (20b-21) God declares a final and incontrovertible end to Babylonian empire; no phoenix this one, 2500 years have passed with no sign of the empire other than deserted ruins serving as tourist attractions and archaeological dig sites.
C. God proclaims his will v.22-23
He will rise up against Babylon – God defends his people against their enemies, he will be at the head of the army moving against the enemy. When God promised to lead Hebrew children to Canaan from Egypt, also declared that if they obeyed “he would be an enemy to their enemies, adversary to their adversaries. (Ex. 23:22) Babylon had set itself against Israel and God himself, endeavoring to bring an end to God’s plan for a Messiah. When it came down to a choice between Babylon and God, really not a choice – God wins.
He will cut off Babylon’s posterity – no survivors, not even hope of survivors. Given God’s declaration, for Saddam Hussein to proclaim himself the reincarnated Nebuchadnezzar was height of audacity, attempting to set himself above God as Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar did.
He will make it desolate – home only to wild animals. The nation that claimed to possess the world will be possessed by wild animals, further indication that God will deal with all that Babylon stands for. He will do so in such a way that the empire will never rise again.
He will sweep it clean – as for it being a world power, a place of beauty and importance, Babylon will be swept clean of every trace. Its humiliating overthrow will be complete and permanent.
God indeed declaring his purpose with regard to Babylon and the Jewish people (interpretation). Pictures also what God’s purpose is with regard to true children of Abraham, those who share the same faith (application). Much comfort and encouragement to be found here for Christian: if God kept his promise then, he’ll keep them now. If God loved his people enough to deal with their enemies then, he will do the same for the church now. If God cared enough about his people to send prophets and write books, he still cares about his people now.
Also word of warning here – if we don’t want to be treated like Babylon, we must be sure to not act like Babylon. A faith like Abraham’s, an attitude like Moses’ – more humble than anyone else on face of the earth (Num. 12:3), child-like confidence that God can be trusted in all things, determination to obey God to best of our ability and understanding – that is what God expects and blesses.
Remember God’s goal for the Christian: to be “conformed to the image of his son” (Rom. 8:29), made to look and act like we belong in the family. It takes the power of God and the molding of his hands on our lives to achieve that; may God exercise his molding influence on us individually and as a church family, that we may be blessed by God and be a blessing to others.