“The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw” (Isaiah 13:1)
The Old Testament prophet, much like today’s New Testament pastor, was to be a herald of God’s truth. The prophet was never at liberty to minimize God’s blessings of judgments. He was to announce, in the God sourced and directed oracle, what it was that the LORD wanted the people to know. Whether they be sinners or saints, God has always chosen to reveal Himself and His will to people.
Such is the case with Isaiah 13. It is an oracle or a pronouncement. It concerns the ancient Kingdom of Babylon. The title Babylon not only refers to the ancient city but also the E. Mediterranean Empire, which was located in present day Iraq. It is an oracle concerning Babylon which the Prophet Isaiah received information about from God. The chapter is filled with imagery and apocryphal language.
Dr. R. C. Sproul comments that, “Isaiah 13 uses astronomical imagery (v. 10) to predict Babylon’s fall to the Medes (v. 17), who were later conquered by the Persians. These were no small events, it was a crisis of great proportions when one empire fell to another in the ancient world. One’s whole way of life might change: a new religion might be imposed on the conquered nation; the tax system would be different; no one knew how the new empire would treat its new citizens. The changing of empires was epoch-making; consequently, it might feel as if the very universe itself was out of whack at such times, and the people living in these circumstances used vivid images, like those in Isaiah, to convey this reality”.
The Old Testament clearly presents the startling revelation that God chose to use the pagan nation of Babylon to bring judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah in the 7th century B.C. (2 Chronicles 36; Habakkuk 1-3; Daniel 1). However, Isaiah 13 also reveals that as God chose Babylon to punish Judah for its sin, He would also use the Medes and the Persians to punish Babylon for their own sin (Isaiah 45:1-2l; Daniel 5).
The LORD’s judgment upon Babylon was not only prophesied by Isaiah, but also by the Prophets Jeremiah (50-51) and Habakkuk (2:6-17). However, the fulfillment of this prophecy in history foreshadows a greater fulfillment yet future when God will conquer the final pagan nation known as Babylon (Revelation 18) by the personal invasion by the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Dr. Don Carson writes, “The Medes (Isaiah 13:17), as the major partner in Cyrus’s Medo-Persian kingdom, were destined to conquer Babylon under Cyrus in 539 bc. Their military prowess (17–18), which overthrew the Babylonian Empire, was not needed against the city itself, taken without a struggle. This was, however the beginning of the end for Babylon. Vs 19–22 telescope a decline which became irreversible when Seleucus Nicator abandoned the city in the late fourth century bc to build his new capital Seleucia, 40 miles (64 km) away. Even so, its desertion was not total until the second century ad. The creatures of vs 21–22 (cf. 14:23; 34:11–15; but 35:7) are not all identifiable, but are evidently sinister and ceremonially unclean. Hence, ‘satyrs’ (a kind of demon; cf. Lv. 17:7) is a more likely translation in v 21 than wild goats, since goats were ritually clean. The contrast between the jewel of kingdoms (19) and this ‘haunt for every evil spirit, … every unclean and detestable bird’ (Rev. 18:2) reappears in the final overthrow of the ungodly world in Rev. 18, pictured as Babylon—the world whose glory Satan offered to Jesus in Mt. 4:8–9.”
Isaiah 13 is a terrifying chapter depicting the inevitable judgment upon sin by the one, true holy God of the universe. Even more terrifying is that what occurred in a local region in history, prefigures a future judgment which will be worldwide. Take time today to praise the LORD for saving your soul from His judgment. Pray that He will use you today to share the glorious truth of the Gospel to those who are in need of His mercy and grace.
Soli deo Gloria!