Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 13

The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

On a bare hill raise a signal; cry aloud to them; wave the hand for them to enter the gates of the nobles. I myself have commanded my consecrated ones, and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger, my proudly exulting ones.

The sound of a tumult is on the mountains as of a great multitude! The sound of an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The Lord of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the Lord and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt. They will be dismayed: pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame.

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. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. And like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with none to gather them, each will turn to his own people, and each will flee to his own land. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.

Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there; no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. But wild animals will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there wild goats will dance. Hyenas will cry in its towers, and jackals in the pleasant palaces; its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged. (Is. 13)

Isaiah moves from prophetic proclamation over Assyria to her successor, Babylon, who will be the one who will destroy Jerusalem and subjugate Judah historically. Here Isaiah proclaims the destruction of Babylon (even before she rises) as a judgment sent by God on the wicked empire who oppresses His people. The picture is here given of a signal raised on the hill calling upon Babylon's conqueror to come and enter Babylon to conquer it (v. 2). Furthermore, the conqueror enters through "the gate of the nobles", thus showing forth first, Babylon's wealth and her cultured people, and secondly, that all of that would not help Babylon but instead be the reward for her conqueror. The people doing this are set apart for God for this very purpose (ie 'consecrated' in this sense) (v. 3), and are therefore ordained and empowered by God for the very purpose of destroying Babylon and therefore executing God's wrath on her.

Verse 4 shows us the gathering army comes from diverse people, of which Media and Persia is made up of. The various tribes and kingdoms of Media and Persia would unite together to form a great army, and behind this is the hand of God in gathering them. They came from a place which is rather distinct for people during that time living in the Middle East, as further east is the land of India which they do not know much about, and thus the threat posed by them was ignored. Functioning as the LORD's tool of His indignation at the way Babylon oppress His people, the conquering army would put to waste the cities and strongholds of Babylon, laying waste to the pomp of Babylon.

In light of this fact, the people are called to wail and mourn, for the Lord's anger is coming in judgment and they are doomed (v. 6). The courage and strength and hope of the people will melt because nothing can withstand the power of God through the conquering army, looking aghast as the futility of their situation would become known to them (v. 7-8)

The wrath of God will manifest itself in the cruelty of the invading army against the objects of God's wrath, to execute God's judgments against the wicked (v. 9). Borrowing an imagery from apocalyptic literature, the day would seem as if the end of the world has came (v. 10) for such people, as their world is destroyed in one fell stroke and pandemonium reigns. Through the cruelty of the conquerors, God will judge the proud and wicked empire of Babylon and her rulers and humiliate her people (v. 11). Again using hyperbole, the destruction of Babylon is likened as to making people there rare, as multitudes would be killed, so that expensive and rare gold, even the rare gold of Ophir, is more plenteous than people (v. 12).

The news of the destruction of Babylon would reverberate throughout the nations, and the heavens is said to tremble as the wrath of God is manifested in such cruelty (v. 13), and all peoples will scatter, each back to their own peoples (v. 14) instead of presenting a united front against the (outside) conqueror. The cruel and horrific judgment of God on Babylon can be seen in verses 15-16, as all who are found will be killed, infants killed without pity (v. 18), their wives raped as the invaders invaded.

Verse 17 identifies for us the identity of the invader ordained by God to perform such a task. — the Medes, who as hill people aren't exactly so civilized to delight in gold and silver. Yet, it is God's will that they be His instrument to punish Babylon and deal with them so cruelly. Babylon that is so glorious, the head of Gold (Dan. 2:36-38), would fall in judgment for persecuting God's people as well as her idolatry (being the location of Babel and thus the progenitor of all idolatry), and God will make her into a wasteland like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 19). The entire area of Babylon was prophesied to be made desolate such that nobody will live in it ever (v. 20), nor even an Arab herdsman coming to tent there, thus showing forth that the area would not be a place for people to settle in. In a final insult to Babylon, wild animals will be her inhabitants, even in her towers and pleasant palaces (v. 21-22). The whole area is destined to be a wasteland where once it was a thriving metropolis.

With regards to the destruction of Babylon, the destruction was not immediate as the invading Persians did not wipe it out immediately. Yet, over time, the city known as Babylon was abandoned and fell into ruins. Where once God's people were mocked by the Babylonians, yet God overthrew their oppressors and their pride and arrogance (v. 19) and eliminated them as punishment for gloating over the plight of His people. God will repay the wicked even as they gloat in their victory and oppress God's people. In the end, God's name will be vindicated and His justice manifest.

So therefore, we, like the Israelites of old, have no need to fear. For God's enemies, even if they triumph, will not have the last word. Instead, God will in judgment punish our oppressors and the enemies of His truth. This should serve to comfort us, who see the growth in wickedness and persecution of Christians worldwide. Yet God is not silent, and in time will punish our oppressors, even in cruelty. Let us therefore trust God, knowing that in the end justice will be served and His cause vindicated.

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