III. Prophecies against individual nations of Is­rael’s and Judah’s limited world, Isaiah 13-23

1. The first prophecy against Babylon, Isaiah 13:1-14:2

a.This prophecy is introduced by a prediction of the desolation of the anti-christian world power (the Babylon of Revelation 18) that is still to appear and of which the city and state of Babylon of the Euphra­tes valley was the prophetic type.

The Lord musters the hosts of heaven against it. Judging from its noise, it is a great people that, gathers together, a multitude, kingdoms of nations. And they come from the four comers of the earth to destroy the whole land as the weapons of the Lord’s indigna­tion, Is. 13:2-5.

Doubtless this “multitude” is the Gog and Magog of Ezek. 38:2 and of Rev. 20:8.

b. Prophecy of the final judgment and end of all things.

The day of the Lord is at hand, coming as a de­struction from the Almighty. Aware of this, men’s hearts melt and there is no more spirit left in them; they let their hands fall limp. And well may they. For the day of the Lord cometh cruel with wrath and fierce anger to lay the land desolate and to destroy the sinners out of it. Stars, sun, and moon shall be darkened. The Lord will punish the whole world for its wickedness. In His wrath He shall shake the heavens and the earth shall remove out of her place, vss. 6-13.

c. Prophecy against the city and kingdom of Baby­lon of the Euphrates valley.

It is famed for its glory and excellence; and many persons from all nations have gone to live there. But the time will come when every man will flee the city like a chased roe and seek safety with his own people. For Babylon shall fall. The Lord will stir up the Medes against them. And they shall be activated not by lust of booty but by a different motive. What this motive is the prophet does not reveal. Babylon shall be uninhabited forever, and its palaces desolate. No wandering Arabian shall pitch his tent there, that is, use it as a temporary stopping place, nor a shep­herd. But it shall be the haunt of wild beasts of the desert, vers. 14-22.

The reference here is to that portion of the Eu­phrates valley over which the city and state of Baby­lon has spread itself. At the time when this prophecy was uttered it was the most fertile region on the whole earth. It was “one vast plain, adorned and en­riched by the Euphrates and the Tigris, from which, and from the numerous canals that intersected the country from one river to the other, water was dis­tributed over the fields by manual labor and by hy­draulic machines, giving rise, in that warm climate and rich exhaustless soil, to an exuberance of pro­duce without a known parallel, over so extensive a region, either in ancient or modern times.”

But today this same region is a vast wilderness uninhabited except by wild beasts. And the city of Babylon is a heap, a wilderness, a dry land, a desert. Every one that goeth by is astonished.

So has this prophecy been fulfilled to the very let­ter. Yet at the time of its origination and proclama­tion, the city and state of Babylon as a world power had not yet made its appearance. It was not until at least 70 years after Isaiah’s death that Nabopolassar in alliance with the Median king overthrew Nin­eveh the capital of Assyria and founded this new Ba­bylonian empire. So here we have Isaiah foretelling the passing away and complete desolation of a king­dom 70 years before its appearance.

There is a theory that insists that this and similar prophecies of Isaiah originated long after his death and were spoken by another person, a so-called second or even third Isaiah. Underlying this theory is the view that prophecy, definitely the prophecies of these eighth century prophets such as the one with which we are now occupied, are not prophecies at all but history, that is, the narration of events during or after their transpiration; or at best prediction based on mere human foresight and thus limited as to its range and reach to these prophets’ own historical hor­izon.

Men of today who make a study of our times fore­see war between the Western powers and Russia. But what they see is their own fallible deduction which they Make from the present state of affairs of our world. So, too, the prophets, it is said. As students of world affairs they concluded from the turn of events of their day that Babylon would be destroyed. And that is prophecy of the Bible; it is human specu­lation regarding the future of men and nations.

But this is not the position of faith. True the text at Is. 13:1 does state: “The burden of Baby­lon, which Isaiah the son of Amos did see.” But what Isaiah saw concerning Babylon—its fall and desola­tion—was not a deduction of his own origination but a spectacle that God by special revelation had made to rise before his mind’s eye. Hence the word that he spake was not his own; it was always God’s coun­sel that he proclaimed, communicated to him by God’s Spirit—God’s counsel for all the ages that were still to come. This alone explains the reach of Isaiah’s prophecies (and of all the prophecies of the Bible). It—this reach—extends to the end of time. As we just saw, in this particular discourse Isaiah foretells the final judgment and the end of all things. With this and similar prophecies unbelief knows not what to do. It cannot explain them on the basis of its the­ories; but neither can it deny them. For Isaiah speaks too plainly. So all it can really do with such pro­phecies is to ignore them.

d. Israel’s deliverance. Is. 14:1, 2.

The prophecy contained in vers. 14-22 implies the prediction of Judah’s exile to Babylon. To the king of this coming world power also God’s people will be in bondage. But Babylon will be destroyed, the rea­son being that the Lord will have mercy on His peo­ple. He shall bring them back to their own land. This shall take place with the consent of the heathen, who shall cleave unto them even leading them to their place. Israel shall possess them as servants and hand­maids, and shall hold those prisoners whose captives they formerly were.

e. Prophecy against Babylon’s king. Is. 14:3-23.

In the day that the Lord will send Israel the de­liverance described in vers. 1, 2 Israel will give ut­terance to a derisive speech about the king of Babylon (vers. 3, 4a). The prophet thinks of no particular king, but of the kings of Babylon in their totality, or rather of the king of Babylon in the abstract. He shows that the proud monarch shall be humbled to hell by the power of God.

The first section of his proverb is an exclamation of joy that the spoiler of nations is destroyed. The whole earth rests and sings. The fir trees and the cedars rejoice that they will no more be cut down, vers. 4b-8.

On the other hand, all hell, the kingdom of the dead, bestirs itself to meet the new arrival. Shades of the dead say to him, “Art thou become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?” vers. 9,10.

Then the prophet again takes up the proverb, put­ting it into the mouth of Israel, whom he personates. To what depth of degradation has the Babylon de­scended! His pomp is cast down to the grave. The noise of revelry in his palace is silenced. Worms con­sume his corpse. How has this star fallen! He who would raise himself to the level of the Most High is cast down into the deepest pit of hell, vers. 11-15.

Men see his wretchedness and voice their thoughts about him: Is this the man that shook and devastated the earth? vers. 16, 17. The kings of the nations lie quiet in their tomb but his grave casts him out that the corpse may be trampled. This is his punish­ment for having destroyed the earth and slain his sub­jects. No descendant of his shall ever rise to restore the ruined city and state of Babylon, for his entire evil seed shall be exterminated. His iniquities shall thus be visited upon his children. And all will be the work of the Lord. vers. 18-23.

2. A second prophecy against Assyria.

As the Lord has sworn, so it has come to pass and thus shall it stand. He will break the Assyrian in His land and the people of Israel shall be delivered from this scourge, vers. 24-27.

The prophecy is brief, comprising but a few lines in the text of the Scriptures. There is reason. The passing away of Assyria has already been foretold in the Is. 7-12:6. The prophet will now be oc­cupied with the nations of Israel’s world all of which were hostile and some of whom, such as the Philis­tines, have been menacing the people of Israel almost from the beginning of their existence as a nation. But at the moment the great offender is Assyria; for its kings possess the world power and will con­tinue in the possession thereof for 70 or perhaps a 100 years to come. So before taking up his discourses against the nations the prophet takes another glance at Assyria and assures God’s people anew that this chief of scourges will surely be broken. 

3. Prophecy against Philistia.

Its origination took place in the year of King Ahaz’ death, ver. 29. The Philistines have escaped from the ascendency of some power that was smiting them. But they must not rejoice but howl. For from this power—serpent in the text—shall come forth an ad­der and from the adder a fiery flying dragon, ver. 29. We deal here with imagery. It is not clear who or what is indicated.

But God’s believing people must not be afraid. For they shall feed and lie down in safety. But not so the Philistines. This ancient enemy of Israel will be overtaken by a series of calamities that will re­sult in its complete extirpation. The text reads here, “I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant,” ver. 30. Here the Lord announces Him­self as the destroyer of the Philistines. The agent through whom He will work is a “smoke” that comes from the north, ver. 31. We must understand to be meant the total of hostile armies by which Philistia through the centuries will de devastated to the point of extinction. Perhaps the dragon of ver. 2 is these armies. But it may be too that the reference is to the Messiah. What shall then be the answer of God’s believing people to messengers of the nation? This that the Lord has founded Zion for His people to be­take themselves to it in the times of stress and storm, ver. 32.

The land of Philistia bordered on the west and southwest of Judea. It was included in the allotment of Judah. Its soil was wonderfully fertile. In the twelfth century of our Christian era the country still possessed a numerous population, but today it is un­inhabited except by some peasants. The Philistines as a people have become extinct many centuries ago. The other eighth century prophets have more to say about this people particularly her cities all of which at the present time are deserted ruins as the Scrip­tures foretold.

Prophecy regarding Moab, Isaiah 15, 16.

The prophet depicts the desolation of Moab, direct­ing attention to the judgment as it strikes in various places of the land and to what the terrified and dis­mayed inhabitants experience, say and do, vers. 1-4. Therewith he expresses his heartfelt sympathy and foretells that those of the Moabites who escape the general carnage will become prey to lions, vers. 5-9.

But Moab shall escape the judgment, if he willingly serve Judah to whom he is tributary, and if he show hospitality to the fugitives among God’s people in the day of their visitation, Is. 16:4a. Then when Christ shall sit upon the throne of David, and all oppression on earth shall have ceased, Moab shall share in the sal­vation, vers. 4b-5.

But Moab is too proud for that. Hence the judg­ments run their course. The whole land is filled with lamentation. In the description of the general devas­tation three localities are given prominence: Kirhareseth with its grape cakes (ver. 7), Heshbon with its fertile fields (ver. 8), and Shibnah with its vine­yards (ver. 8).

Profoundly moved by the great distress, the pro­phet joins the chorus of lamenters, ver. 11.

In his calamity Moab turns to his idols, but that, of course, is of no avail, ver. 12.

These troubles are to begin immediately and with­in three years only a small remnant of Moab will be left over so that he shall really have ceased to be a nation, vers. 13, 14.

Substantially the same prediction regarding Moab is contained in the prophecy of Jeremiah. This pro­phets prediction is to the effect that all the cities of Moab will be desolate without any to dwell therein. And according to Zeph. 2:8-10, Moab shall be a per­petual desolation.

Today Moab is a desolation. His cities are de­serted. All but a few are in ruins. Moab has been destroyed from being a people. Such is the report of all such who in modern times have explored this re­gion. They tell us in their “Travels” that common to all the cities of Moab is their entire desolation.

5. Prophecy regarding Damascus, Ephraim, Is. 17.

a. The destruction of Damascus and Ephraim, the Israel of the ten tribes, Is. 17:1-8.

The prophet takes them together in these lines be­cause they are allies. Unitedly they made war against Jerusalem, Is. 7:2, Is. 8:12. But the unholy league will beget them a common ruin. Damascus (the capi­tal city of Syria) will be a heap. The walls of Ephra­im’s cities will be broken down by the same hostile armies. The dominion will cease from Damascus, meaning that Syria will pass away as a kingdom. It will be made to descend to the same depth of degra­dation as that of Ephraim.

b. A prophecy regarding Ephraim alone, vers. 4-8.

Ephraim shall be reduced to almost nothing. The prophet declares this by a threefold figure.

First he compares the destruction of Ephraim to the loss of flesh by a fat man, ver. 4. Second to the cut­ting and gathering of corn, ver. 5. The idea is that Ephraim shall be mowed down like standing grain. Third to the olive harvest, where the fruit is part­ed from the tree by the shaking of the branches, ver. 6.

Yet there is a gleaning that remains both of corn and of fruit, two or three on this branch, four or five on that. The truth imaged is that there will be a rem­nant to Ephraim, and that this remnant will be con­verted to the Lord and thus saved, vers. 6-8.

This remnant exists today. It is being saved still through the ages of this Gospel dispensation. And it includes all the elect, gentiles as well as Jews.

c. Description of Ephraim’s destruction continued; its cause, vers. 9-11. Ephraim sees in her forests the ruined castles of the Canaanites whom he has dispos­sessed ages ago. The cities of Ephraim shall be like these castles, ver. 9.

The cause of Ephraim’s troubles is that he for­sakes the God of his salvation and is unmindful of the Rock of his strength. He cultivates in his land the worship of imported gods and is careful to pro­tect his importations. This is Ephraim’s great sin that the prophet declares by the figure of one engaged in the culture of imported plants and fences in his cherished garden. Ephraim shall surely have a har­vest to consist in a heap of sorrow in the day of sor­row, ver. 11. 

d. The rise and fall of the world-power, vers. 12-14.

The prophet’s message is a dreadful one. To com­fort the remnant he takes another glance at the world power (Assyria and his successors through the ages) and foretells its rise and sudden destruction. He hears and sees in the spirit the noise of approaching nations, which he likens to the rushing sound of many waters. But at the rebuke of God they disappear like chaff and whirling dust before the wind, ver. 13. The even­ing when the tumult approaches is one of trouble; but when the morning is come all is vanished away. This says the prophet, shall be the lot of them that trouble us, ver. 14.

—G.M. Ophoff