Those united in hatred seek only the death of their enemies. In them the lesser lusts of the material world submit to the goal of their hatred, death. Once sated, all that remains is for them to consider their own fragile mortality and turn on one another.
This section of Isaiah from chapter 13 through 23, is a series of divine judgements against the nations: punishments for the sin they have committed against God and the nation of Israel. These judgements are called “Burdens” and deal with Israel’s neighbors.
There are a similar group of judgements in Jeremiah (Chapters 46-51), and in Ezekiel (Chapters 25-32). A careful reading of the Hebrew text suggests that Jeremiah was acquainted with Isaiah 13.
The first to be judged (keeping in mind that God has already judged Israel through the prophet’s previous proclamations) is Bavel, that is Babylon, the capital of the Chaldean Empire, situated in modern day Iraq. Babylon is used symbolically throughout Scripture as the center of the proud God defying pagan world. It is a figure denoting the seat of Satan’s power on earth and is seen as being part of an empire that resists both God and His chosen people ethno-religious Israel, the Jews.
This prophecy against Babylon, was fulfilled approximately 240 years after it was recorded. The Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great (Isa. 45:8) of Persia conquered the Babylonian empire in 539 BCE. Cyrus was of Median descent and thus he was the perfect candidate for leading the combined armies of the Medes and Persians.
As is the case with all Hebrew prophecy, the cyclical nature of the prophecy allows for multiple fulfillments. Therefore, given that the literal location of Babylon (85km south of Baghdad) is now the subject of modern restoration projects, one must conclude that in order for this prophecy to made perfect it must be fully filled at the end of days. Thus, the prophecy of Revelation, as it pertains to Babylon and the Serpent (Satan) is intrinsically linked to the present text.
“And a mighty messenger took up a stone, it was a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be cast down, and shall be found no more at all.” -Revelation 18:21
Isa 13:1 Masa Burden of Bavel (Babylon: Confusion), which chazah is perceived, seen, foreseen, by Yeshayahu (Isaiah: The Salvation of YHVH [Mercy] is his) the son of Amotz (Strong).
A burden of confusion foreseen by the one for whom Salvation is from Mercy, he is a son born of strength.
The Targum Yonatan (1 Century BCE) reads:
"the burden of the cup of cursing to give Babylon to drink:''
It’s important to note that the entire chapter is qualified by the fact that this is a prophecy concerning Babylon, which is, from the prophet’s perspective, in far off Chaldea. Therefore, the locations, the land (ha-aretz) etc. are all geographically linked to that eastern region and do not relate to the land of Israel. This is one of the exceptions to the use of ha-aretz as it is explained in my previous commentary on Isaiah.
The Hebrew “Masa” translated “Burden”, is derived from the root nasah, which means “to lift up, carry, bear”. In the present text it denotes the fact that the prophet is lifting up his voice against the enemies of Israel and is unable to keep silent because the weight of the prophecy given to him is too much to contain.
“And the rage of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) fills me, I am weary, impatient, grieved and offended, I cannot contain the measure of it.” -Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) 6:11
Given the use of the Hebrew “chazah”, it is possible that Isaiah saw these things in a vision.
Isa 13:2 Upon a mountain swept bare, seu lift up, carry, take neis a sign, miracle, banner, lift up your kol voice to them: they waved a hand and they enter into the doorways, openings, gates of nediyviym nobles, generous, princes, willing hearted.
The phrasing here is typical of Isaiah’s imagery throughout the scroll, and makes the arguments of those who say this was written by someone else and or redacted, untenable (5:26; 11:10; 18:3).
A cleared hill or mountain top was typically used to summon tribes and armies from distant places to gather for war. As warriors approached hand gestures were used and they would be called to from the hill top, “Enter into the gates of the nobles!”
This mountain or hill top is situated in the region of the Chaldean empire in modern day Iraq. Some claim that there was actually a gate to Babylon called “The Gate of the Nobles”.
“Vitringa thinks there may be an allusion to the mountain Zagrius, which divides Media and Persia from Assyria, mentioned by Strabo.” - Geograph. l. 11. p. 359
Babylon itself is spoken of as a mountain in the book of Jeremiah:
“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, says Hashem (YHVH), which destroys all the earth; and I will stretch out my hand upon you, and roll you down from the rocks, and will make you a burnt mountain.” -Yermiyahu (Jeremiah 51:25
The Hebrew “Neis”, meaning sign, miraculous sign, banner etc. is used in Talmudic literature to refer to a proclamation of war:
"to gather against the mountain that is quiet, and trusts in its tranquillity, lift up a banner to the nations.''-Yarchi
We need not choose between the various meanings given for neis: it denotes something miraculous that God is doing as well as being a practical sign for the accumulation of the armed forces who are to fight against Babylon.
“Lift up your kol voice to them” refers to those being called to war against the city of Babylon, that is the Medes (13:17).
Isa 13:3 Ani I have tziveitiy given My orders lim’kudashay to My consecrated, sanctified, set apart ones, also, I have called My mighty men for my flaring nostril (anger), even My proudly exulting ones.
It is difficult for the modern reader to understand why HaShem would call otherwise pagan nations “My consecrated” and “My mighty men”, and “My proudly exulting ones”. This is where an understanding of the Hebrew concept of holiness kadosh is necessary.
“Lim’kudashay”, translates as “My consecrated ones” but is best understood as “My set apart ones”, meaning that the pagan nations of Mede and Persia have been set apart for a divine task. This does not mean that they are worshippers of the God of Israel, it simply means that God is in control of all things and calls nations to do His will for the sake of the redemption of Israel and the nations.
Isa 13:4 A kol voice, sound, noise of a multitude behariym in the mountains, in the likeness of a great am people! A kol voice, sound, noise of sheon a din, crash, uproar, tumult of the kingdoms of goyim nations gathered together! HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tzevaot (Who goes forth to war, of heavens armies) is mustering tzeva those who go forth to battle.
The poetry, word play and turn of phrase in the Hebrew text is delightful. Tzevaot the God “Who goes out to war” is mustering tzeva those “who go out to battle”.
The noise of this great army was probably heard in the mountains of Media or on the mountains that bordered Chaldea, as the troops gathered to do battle against Babylon under the leadership of Cyrus the Great.
We know from Jeremiah that the army of Cyrus consisted not only of Medians and Persians but also of a number of smaller nations from the region.
“Set up a standard in the land, blow the horn among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a marshal against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough canker- worm.” -Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) 51:28
Isa 13:5 They come from meieretz a land in a distant place, from the extremity of the heavens, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy all Ha-aretz the land.
The phrase Ha-aretz usually refers to the land of Israel. However, in the context of the present judgement it is qualified by the fact that the entire portion of Isaiah 13 refers to God’s wrath against Babylon and the empire of the Chaldeans. Therefore, ha-aretz here refers to the Land of what is now known as modern Iraq.
“They” refers to the Medes, Persians, and the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz.
Isa 13:6 Heiylilu Wail, howl, because near is yom a day of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy); keshod violence, havoc, destruction, devastation and ruin miShaday from the Almighty shall it come.
The Babylonians are instructed to howl in terror at the coming wrath of God. “Keshod meShaddai” destruction from the One Who is the All Sufficient Protector.
Isa 13:7 Upon, therefore col yadayim all hands a disheartening, and every levav inner being (heart) of a person will yimas dissolve, melt:
Complete and utter hopelessness will descend upon the people of Babylon and Chaldea, both civilian and soldier alike. Not only will their physical strength grow weak with hands hanging down but also their inner being and spiritual assurance will be dissolved like worthless chaff dissolved in sulphur pools.
Isa 13:8 and they will be terrified, hurried, dismayed; tziyriym envoys (pangs) vachavaliym and attached companies (sorrows) will grasp, seize, possess and take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in the travail of labour: they will look to one another in amazement; peneiy their faces lehaviym like flaming blade faces.
“The king of Babylon has heard the fame of them, and his hands wax feeble; anguish has taken hold of him, and pain, as of a woman in travail.” -Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) 50:43
The Hebrew phrase “Peneiy lehaviym peneiyhem”, their faces like flaming blade faces, denotes both red faced terror and the act of turning and striking a companion. Thus, in their terror at the wrath coming against them the Babylonians turned on each other. God has used similar circumstances to save Israel on other occasions.
“HaShem confused the enemy camp, so that the Ammonite and Moabite troops attacked and completely destroyed those from Edom. Then they turned against each other and fought until the entire camp was wiped out!” -2 Chronicles 20:22-23
“When the three hundred trumpets sounded, HaShem caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.” -Judges 7:22
Isa 13:9 Hinei, Now, behold, yom a day of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is coming, cruel, with an outpouring of wrath, fury, and fierce nostril flaring anger; to appoint Ha-aretz the land a desolation, and to destroy the sinners removing them from it.
Here the Hebrew text speaks of “a day of the Lord” rather than “the day of the Lord”. However, verse 13 speaks of “the day of His anger”. It seems that wrath will be poured out upon Babylon on a specific day during a figurative day, which can be understood to be the day of the Lord (A figurative day spanning many literal days).
Isa 13:10 For the stars (fig. brothers) of ha-shamayim the heavens and the constellations will not yaheilu give (fig. boast of) their oram light; choshakh darkened will be ha-shemesh the sun in its going forth, and the moon will not shine his (its) light.
This portion of the text employees personification as a figurative example of the all-encompassing distress that will be poured out upon Babylon and her empire.
The distress of the constellations and luminaries is of special significance to the Babylonians because they worshipped various deities associated to the heavenly host. Their gods would be in as much distress as they would. Thus, the complete devastation of the physical and spiritual nature of Babylon and the Chaldean empire and all that it represents. That is, the seat of Satan’s work on earth.
Isa 13:11 Upakad’tiy And I will punish, number, reckon al-tevel upon the world ra’ah evil, distress, misery and upon the wicked for their avonam perversity, iniquity: and I will put an end to the prideful presumption, and the haughty ones will be laid low with awful terror.
The phrase “upon the world” refers specifically to the world of Babylon. After all, the Medes and Persians who were to attack her were not at that time suffering punishment.
Isa 13:12 Esteemed of great value will be enosh a human being like fine gold, veadam and humanity will be like gold from Ophiyr (Reduced to ashes).
This is a figurative way of saying that there will be few Babylonians left to tell the tale. It is ironic that the gold of Ophiyr is referenced, as Ophiyr literally means “Reduced to ashes”.
Interestingly, the Targum Yonatan ( 1st Century BCE) gives figurative paraphrase of this verse and suggests that the survivors mentioned are actually righteous Israelites who lived within Babylon when she was overthrown:
"I will love them that fear me more than gold, of which men glory; and those that keep the law more than the fine gold of Ophir;'' -Targum Yonatan
Isa 13:13 Accordingly therefore, shamayim heavens will tremble and shaken will be Ha-aretz the land from its place, in the wrath of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tzevaot (Who goes forth to war, of heavens armies), uveyom and in the day of his nostril flaring anger.
This can be taken both literally and figuratively relative to the worship of the celestial bodies.
The land referred to is the region including and surrounding modern day Iraq.
This language is also reminiscent of the description of wrath following the seventh bowl of Revelation:
“And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” – Revelation 16:17
Isa 13:14 Vehayah And it comes to pass, that as kitzviy the roebuck (beauty) mudakh is driven away, and as sheep that no man gathers, they will turn every man amo to his own people, and will flee every man artzo to his own land.
It comes to pass that like beauty driven away and sheep without anyone to gather them, each one will turn to his own people, each one fleeing to his own land.
Literally this verse describes those living in Babylon who have originated from other nations either by choice or by conquest. They will flee in terror to the nations and tribes of their birth.
Figuratively, the beauty of Babylon is driven away.
“Cut off the sower from Babylon, and him that handles the sickle in the time of harvest: for fear of the oppressing sword they shall turn everyone to his people, and they shall flee everyone to his own land.” – Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) 50:16
Isa 13:15 All that is found will be pierced through; and all who are hanispeh caught up, swept away, taken, shall fall by the sword. Isa 13:16 Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted, and their wives raped.
Simply put, everyone who is found in the city when it is taken will be put to death in callus ways.
“And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” -Revelation 18:4
Isa 13:17 Hineniy Now, behold, I am ready, I will incite upon them the Maday (Medes: middle land), who will not regard silver, and as for gold, they will not delight in it.
The Medes and Persians suffered under the Chaldean empire and its capital Babylon. Thus, they came against her with vengeance in mind rather than for the purpose of gaining wealth. Therefore, they had no intention of showing mercy in battle. Those united in hatred seek only the death of their enemies. In them the lesser lusts of the material world submit to the goal of their hatred, death. Once sated, all that remains is for them to consider their own fragile mortality and turn on one another.
Isa 13:18 And bows will dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.
The Medes were renowned for their prowess with the bow. The historian Xenophon suggests that Cyrus came to Babylon with a great number of archers and slingers (Cyropaedia, l. 2. sect. 1.).
The national vengeance of the Medes and Persians would be such that they would wantonly slay even mothers and babies.
The Medes were notorious for their cruelty, which eventually resulted in the ruin of their empire (Ammian. Marcellin. l. 23. c. 6. Diodor. Sicul. l. 13. p. 342.).
Isa 13:19 And it comes to pass that Bavel (Babylon: confusion, mixing), the beauty of kingdoms, the splendour and majesty of the Kasdiym (Chaldeans' clod breakers) their pride, will be destroyed by Elohiym (God: Judge) like Sedom (Sodom: Burning) and Amorah (Gomorrah: submersion).
The first and most ancient of kingdoms was Bavel, confusion, Babylon the Great (Gen. 10:10). In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar recorded in Daniel Babylon is represented as the head of gold (Daniel 2:31), she is also later called “lady of kingdoms” by Isaiah (Isa. 47:5).
Babylon is the ultimate symbol of human pride, it first divided the peoples when at the tower of Bavel (Gen. 11) the nations unified under her banner sought to be gods. Later Nebuchadnezzar would make a proud claim:
“The king spoke, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).
Like the very symbols of prideful and ancient debauchery Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon would not be allowed to continue indefinitely.
Isa 13:20 Never to be inhabited in perpetuity, neither will it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither will the Araviy (Arabian: mixed) pitch tent there; neither will shepherds allow their flocks to lie down there.
Babylon was destroyed and left desolate in 539 BCE, however, as the centuries have gone on restoration projects have been working toward its rebuilding. Thus, the first fulfilment of the prophecy is only partly qualified by the present text. Therefore, we await the perfection of this prophecy in the future. The Revelation affirms this by describing the ultimate and lasting destruction of Babylon, which is a figure for Satan’s seat of power on earth.
Isa 13:21 But wild beasts of the desert will lie there; and their houses will be full of howling animals; and benot yaanah a daughter bird (ostriches) will dwell there, usheiyriym and hairy demonic goats shall dance there.
There are a number of folk allusions in this verse. “Daughter of a bird” is literal but is also seen as a figurative description of sirens or bird women, which were demonic beings in ancient folk lore. The Hairy goats are seen by ancient commentators (Targum etc.) as demonic goats, satyrs (man goat hybrids) possessed goats (like the pigs Yeshua allowed a legion of demons to go into [Matt. 8:31-33; Mark 5:11-13; Luke 8:31-33]).
“And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” -Revelation 18:2
Isa 13:22 Veanah And testifying, answering, howling will be the jackals in the widow houses (deserted structures), vetaniym and the serpent beheiychleiy in the temples of delight: and near to come is her time, and her days shall not be prolonged.
We notice here the intrinsic connection to the final destruction of the satanic agenda and the seat of Satan’s power on earth. The Serpent may well have his temple of delight, but one day soon it will be left eternally desolate.
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” -Revelation 20:2
Copyright Yaakov Brown 2018