The Day of the Lord for Babylon

Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it” (v. 9).

- Isaiah 13

Isaiah first preached the oracles recorded in chapters 7–12 of his book in the context of the threat of Syria and Israel against Judah, and King Ahaz’s need to choose whether to hope in God or the Assyrian Empire for salvation (7:1–9). Ahaz chose Assyria, and Isaiah warned that Assyria would change from Judah’s savior into Judah’s oppressor, the pagan empire becoming the Lord’s means of destroying Israel and Syria, and disciplining Judah (7:10–8:10; 9:8–10:4). Yet Isaiah never saw Assyria as Judah’s ultimate threat. Assyria would invade Judah up to its neck, but it would not cut off the head, namely, the city of Jerusalem (8:8). In fact, God would crush Assyria, which did not acknowledge that it was the rod in the Lord’s hand (10:5–19). Moreover, on the other side of the Assyrian invasion, a new king would arise—the Son of David would rule in righteousness and exalt the holy remnant of God’s people (9:1–7; 10:20–34; 11).

Yet exaltation on the other side of the Assyrian invasion was not the entire story. Isaiah also foresaw that Judah would face a far greater enemy in the form of the Babylonian Empire. As we make our way through Isaiah’s book, this will become clearer, but for now we must note that the prophet predicted that the coming of Israel’s true king and the exaltation of Judah would occur only after the Assyrian invasion and the Babylonian exile (39:1–40:5). In today’s passage, the prophet mentions Babylon for the first time.

Interestingly, Isaiah 13 does not foresee the destruction of Judah but rather the end of Babylon. We can only speculate as to why Isaiah put this oracle in his book before a prophecy of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem, but it seems likely that he did so to give his original audience hope that even the enemy that was soon to come in Isaiah’s day would not oppress them forever. In any case, Isaiah’s description of Babylon uses cosmic language and refers to the day of the Lord (vv. 6, 9). Other biblical writers would later adapt this language to describe the final day of judgment, so the utter defeat of Babylon anticipates what God will do at history’s end (Mal. 4:1–5; Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 3:10).

For instance, Isaiah 13:10 talks about the stars, the sun, and the moon no longer giving their light. This may be imagery we should take literally, but since ancient Near Eastern peoples often worshiped these heavenly bodies, Isaiah could also be talking about the fall of Babylonian deities. Babylon’s fall would also be the fall of its gods.

Coram Deo

Scripture often talks about the overthrow of other gods, but not because the biblical writers saw these gods as real deities that were equivalent in power and position to the one true God of Israel. Instead, the overthrow of these gods was a means by which to illustrate the Lord’s final victory against all that oppose Him. Though Satan and his minions rage against us now, their final defeat is sure, and it will be manifested at the last day.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 12:29–32
Zephaniah 2:11
1 Corinthians 8:4–6
Galatians 4:8

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