The Pride of the Nations
God's Judgment of the Nations (Isaiah 13—23)
Beginning in chapter 13, Isaiah delivers oracles against all the nations around Israel. God will bring about judgment on all the nations of the world for one primary sin: pride.
The common sin of each of these nations is their arrogance. They each believed in their own strength and abilities and were proud. They did not give God his due consideration.
Isaiah did not communicate this message to these nations. Rather, the message probably was given to demonstrate to Judah of God's abhorrence of the sin of arrogance and the inevitable punishment this arrogance brings. Furthermore, it is a warning to Judah not to trust these nations for deliverance.
This section of the book is structured around a series of “oracles” seen by Isaiah. The word “oracle” can also be translated as “burden.” These are not merely messages, but they are serious weights felt by Isaiah as he pronounces God's wrath and judgment against the pride of the nations.
It is not clear exactly when these oracles were seen by Isaiah. In 14:28, the oracle against Philistia was given in the year of King Ahaz's death. It is likely that each of these oracles was given around that time (715 BC). However, this section of the book was edited not on chronology, but on the subject matter. It is collection of Isaiah's greatest prophecies against the nations.
Judgment of the Pride of Babylon and Assyria (13:1—14:27)
The Oracle Against Babylon (13:1—14:23)
The first “oracle” or “burden” is concerning the nation of Babylon. Babylon was not a military power at this time. It would be another 100 years before Babylon would gain sufficient strength to defeat the Assyrians. But Babylon was a significant cultural influence in Mesopotamia. For example, Tiglath-Pileser thought it necessary to be crowned the king, not just of Assyria, but also Babylon (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1 - 39 300) . Isaiah's oracle against Babylon is therefore also an oracle against the cultural of arrogance represented by Babylon.
Announcement of Judgment (13:1—8)
The Lord of hosts is mustering his army for a battle. The term “of hosts” is a military term, speaking of the armies of heaven (13:4). God is raising the armies of heaven for a battle against Babylon. God's army, however, will be another nation, the Medes (13:17), which he will bring from a distant land (14:5). The coming invasion of the Medes against Babylon will be their “day of the Lord, ” as God uses this as punishment for Babylon.
Indeed, King Cyrus will unite the forces of the Medes and Persians and invade Babylon some 160 years after this prophesy in 539 BC.
Cause of the Judgment (13:9—11)
Why will Babylon be punished? For their evil, their iniquity and their arrogance (13:11).
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. (Isaiah 13:11 ESV)
It is the arrogance of Babylon that will be its downfall. Babylon's pride was in their ability to read the stars to determine the future. They were master astrologers. Today we see a great distinction between astronomy and astrology. But before the rise of modern science, there was no distinction. To be able to read the stars, understanding the motion of the planets and the heavenly bodies, meant you were able to understand the calendar. You could determine when the seasons would change. To understand the calendar meant you were able to predict the future, for you knew when winter was coming or when summer was to begin.
Babylon was well known for their advanced calendar and for its astronomical wisdom. This is most obvious in the book of Matthew when “wise men” from the east follow a star to Bethlehem to find the new born Jesus. These were astrologers from Babylon who knew that certain astronomical events were announcing the birth of a king.
It is exactly this astronomical wisdom in which Babylon boasted and was proud. It would also be their punishment.
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. (Isaiah 13:10 ESV)
Result of the Judgment (13:12—22)
As a result, their population will be decimated (13:12), and this cosmopolitan city of culture wil be left in ruin.
The invading Medes will be ruthless against Babylon. They will kill infants (13:16) and children (13:18) and will rape their women (13:16b).
They will leave Babylon without the glory, splendor and pomp of their nation (13:19). The land will be desolate and uninhabited (13:20) and will be left for the wild animals (13:21-22)
Hope for Israel in Babylon's Judgment (14:1-10)
Chapter 14 continues the oracle against Babylon. But it describes this coming wrath against them as the Lord 's compassion on Israel. It is through the destruction of Babylon that God will allow his people to return back to their land. Israel's former captors will now be their slaves (14:3), and as a result, Israel will find their rest (14:4).
Israel will then led the taunt against the king of Babylon, for God has dethroned their rulers (14:5). Now the whole earth will rejoice at their destruction (14:7).
The Origin of Pride (14:11—23)
Isaiah describes the arrogance of Babylon as something far more profound. This description is not merely the arrogance of a human king, but reaches to the very root of arrogance. Isaiah shows that pride and arrogance are the very root of the original rebellion against God.
In 14:12, the object of God's wrath is given the title "the Star of the Morning." This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew. This same word often is translated as the proper noun, Lucifer. When reviewing the sins listed in this passage with the thought of Lucifer, our adversary, it appears that Isaiah is describing to us the fall of not just Babylon, but Satan himself.
His sin and his banishment from heaven are described in five “I Will” statements:
- I will ascend into heaven.
- I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.
- I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north.
- I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.
- I will be like the Most High
The original sin of Lucifer, and the sin of each of the nations condemned in the first 28 chapters of Isaiah, is considered by God to be the most heinous of sins. Arrogance, or the belief that one can be as great as God himself, is abhorrent to God. God humiliates those who are arrogant and proud.
But Lucifer, Babylon and all those who believe themselves to be equal to God will be brought low and all the earth will wonder what happened. The nation of Babylon will be cut off so that they have no descendents (14:22)
The Oracle Against Assyria (14:24-27)
Isaiah finishes this first oracle by including the king of Assyria in with the punishment of Babylon. Already in 10:12, the arrogance of Assyria has been condemned. Isaiah reiterates that the same fate awaiting Babylon will come to Assyria (14:25). The rise and fall of Assyria and Babylon are a demonstration that God is the one who causes nations to rise and fall. This is all part of God's plan for the whole earth (14:26-27).
Judgment on Judah's Neighbors (14:28—18:7)
The second series of oracles are concerning the nations that border Israel and Judah. In the midst of the threat of Assyria, these are the nations with whom Judah might be tempted to seek help against the invading armies of Assyria and Babylon. However, Isaiah demonstrates that putting your faith in the military strength of neighboring nations is futile, for they too are under the judgment of God for their arrogance.
The Oracel Against Philistia (14:28—32)
The first oracle is against Philistia, Judah's neighbor to the southwest. Their destruction will come out of the north (14:31), a reference to Assyria. Judah will not find refuge in an alliance with Philistia, for they will soon be destroyed.
In light of this, how should the new king of Judah respond to the envoys from Philistia? He should inform them that they would find refuge not in alliance, but in Zion, which the Lord has established as a refuge for His people.
What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The Lord has founded Zion, and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.” (Isaiah 14:32 ESV)
The Oracle Against Moab (15:1—16:13)
The second oracle is against Moab, Judah's neighbor to the east. The oracle against Moab, however, is unique amongst the burden of the nations.
- The prophet seems to have genuine grief over the coming judgment for Moab (15:5, 16:9, 16:11).
- Judah is called to welcome the refugees from Moab's destruction (16:4). The people are called to welcome and shelter them (14:3). Furthermore, when the Messiah comes, he will judge whether or not justice and righteousness was given to the Moabite refugees (16:5).
- It seems that Isaiah is describing events of the past, but is now refreshing this prophecy and putting these events into a three-year timetable (16:13-14).
Moab was unique among the nations listed in this section of the book. The Moabites were distant cousins to the Jews, having descended from Abraham's nephew, Lot. Because of this relationship, God prohibited Israel from conquering the land of Moab (Deuteronomy 2:9). It could be for this reason that God tempers his judgment against them.
Nonetheless, there are also significant similarities in the oracle against Moab and the other oracles. First, the destruction will be thorough. The crops and the vegetation will be desolate (15:6), and the remnant will be hunted by lions (15:9). Secondly, the reason for Moab's judgment is her pride, arrogance, insolence and idle boasting (16:6). Their false gods will fail them (16:12).
Moab, then, cannot be relied upon to defend Judah. In fact, Judah is called upon to defend the refugees from Moab.
The Oracle Against Damascus (17:1-6)
The final oracle against Judah's neighbors is against Damascus, the capital city of Syria. God tells Judah that they will fall and become deserted just like Israel became deserted (17:3) in the invasion by the Assyrians.
God will cause their crops to become unproductive (17:6). They will plant as they normally would, but the harvest will come up empty (17:11).
A Call To Dependence on the Lord (17:7-18:7)
None of Judah's neighbors can be relied upon in the coming invasion of Assyria. The only place in which they can find hope is in the Lord .
Judah had forgotten the God of their salvation and the rock of their refuge (18:10). Therefore many nations will rise up and terror will come to loot and plunder Judah (17:13-14).
The result will be that Judah will give up on their false gods (17:8) and instead will look to their creator the Holy One of Israel (17:7). The coming crisis will be used by God to drive people to himself.
Crisis typically will do one of two things. It will either drive people back to God as they seek him as their refuge, or it will drive people away from God as they blame him for their troubles. Just as the coming plunder against Judah would serve to force this decision, so also the suffering in our lives can be used by God to refine us and force us out of a complacent faith, and require us to either step up and trust in the Lord or reject him all together.
Therefore, Judah need not fear the coming plunder at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. This was part of God's design to bring his people back to himself. Furthermore, they should not trust in alliances with the neighboring nations. In fact, rather than looking to the surrounding nations for help, their neighbors will someday actually come to Judah for aid. “At that time” the nations near and far will bring tribute to the Lord of hosts.
At that time tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 18:7 ESV)
Judgment Against Egypt (19:1—20:6)
Isaiah's oracle against Egypt is lengthy, covering two chapters and includes a very specific sign from God (20:1—6). As will be seen in chapters 30—32, Egypt was the most likely military power with whom Judah would ally themselves against Assyria. They were the strongest power in the region and the only military hope. But Isaiah shows that they too cannot be trusted, for they are also under the Lord 's judgment.
The Oracle Against Egypt (19:1—15)
The Lord is coming to Egypt riding on a cloud, and the gods of Egypt and the people of Egypt will tremble at his coming (19:1).
First, the Lord will create a civil war within Egypt. They will fight each other. In the midst of this, He will confuse their counsel (19:2). The idols, the mediums, and the magicians will give poor advice, resulting in civil unrest (19:3). Out of this chaos will come a tyrant who will rule over them (19:4).
The judgment against Egypt hits them right in the place of their strength and their pride. Egyptian priests were known for their wisdom and their ability to ascertain the will of the gods. But they will be confused (19:14), unable to determine the purposes of the Lord (19:12). Their wise men will be deluded (19:13) and deluded (19:14b).
The second place Egypt placed their pride was their economic strength. The source of this economic power was the Nile River. God hits them in their strength as He sends a drought (19:5). The Nile will diminish and the canals will dry up and become foul (19:6). The result is economic ruin. Fishermen (19:8), textile workers (19:9), and common laborers (19:10) will all suffer as a result.
The Restoration of Egypt (19:16—25)
Isaiah then describes a remarkable turn of events in Egypt. Egypt will turn to worship the Lord . The time of this repentance is described in a series of events preceded by the phrase “in that day.”
- In that day, the Egyptians will tremble with fear before the Lord (19:16-17).
- In that day, five Egyptian cities will ally themselves with the Lord and Judah (19:18).
- In that day, there will be an altar to the Lord in Egypt and He will be their God. Furthermore, God will send them a savior (19:19-22).
- In that day, there will be a highway from Assyria to Egypt facilitating the worshippers of God (19:23).
- In that day, Israel, Egypt and Assyria will all turn to worship the Lord (19:24-25).
Why then should Judah look to Egypt for deliverance when in the future Egypt will look to Judah for salvation?
The Sign Against Egypt (20:1—6)
Chapter 20 continues the prophecy against Egypt. However, this time it comes in the form of a sign. The Lord tells Isaiah to strip down naked and barefoot. For three years (20:3) he does so to show that Assyria will conquer Egypt and lead them away barefoot and naked into captivity (20:4). There are many who were counting on Egypt to deliver them from the coming Assyrian invasion. However, when Egypt is crushed, so then the hopes of these people will be crushed as well (20:6).
Final Series of Judgments (21:1—23:18)
If Judah cannot look to her neighbors for help, and they cannot look to Egypt for assistance, perhaps they will look elsewhere. Perhaps Judah will look to Babylon and her allies. Perhaps they will look to their own defenses. However, even the strongest defenses, such as those found in Tyre, will not be sufficient to withstand the judgment of God.
Jugdment Against Babylon and Her Allies (21:1-17)
If one were looking for allies against the strength of Assyria in the time of Isaiah, Babylon would be a very likely candidate. The Babylonians mounted several rebellions against Assyria through the centuries, and would eventually in the be the ones to conquer Assyria in the seventh century BC. Furthermore, we know that Judah sought out friendly relations with Babylon during the reign of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 39). Therefore, Judah may have been tempted to put their trust in Babylon instead of the Lord .
This prophecy is titled, the “oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.” Because Assyria controlled the northern passage of the Fertile Crescent, if Judah wanted to send envoys to Babylon safely, they would have to cross the Arabian desert. The phrase “wilderness of the sea” probably refers to this desert. Further evidence of this is found in the oracles against Dumah (21:11), Arabia (21:13) and the mention of Seir (21:11), the Dedanites (21:13), Tema (21:14) and Kedar (21:16). These are all tribes and locations found in the Arabian Desert.
The vision of the destruction of Babylon and Arabia is very troubling for Isaiah. He felt the pain and anguish over this message (21:3-4) as the traitor and the destroyer comes (21:2). Isaiah is called by God to set a watchman to look for the horsemen as they come (21:7). The riders come, first in verse 9 as Babylon falls and her idols are destroyed (21:9). The riders come again against Arabia (21:11). The Arabians will become refugees and within a year their glory will end and their warriors will be decimated (21:16-17).
The cry announcing the fall of Babylon in 21:9 (“Fallen, fallen is Babylon”) is used again in Revelation 18:2. Both here and in Revelation the fall of Babylon is a type of the fall of the great world cultural system. It is the destruction of human civilization at its greatest. It is a cause for mourning as the very best of human achievement is destroyed because of the idolatry, drunkenness and sexual immorality promoted by this culture.
Judgment Against Jerusalem (22:1—24)
Chapter 22 is concerning Jerusalem (22:9-10), but is titled ironically the “oracle concerning the valley of vision,” for Jerusalem sat upon a hill, not a valley. The condemnation found in this oracle is against the advisors to the Judean king who placed their faith not in God (22:7), but in military strength (22:8) and defensive strategies (21:10-11). These advisors did not have the vision of someone on a hill, but had the vision of someone in a valley that cannot see the coming armies.
This chapter is very specific, condemning the counsel of Shebna (21:15), who was King Hezekiah's treasurer. This chapter is referring to events that will take place in chapters 36-39, and will be dealt with more fully in the discussion of these chapters.
Judgment Against Tyre (23:1—18)
The final oracle in this final series of judgments is against Tyre. Tyre and Sidon are cities of the sea-faring Phoenicians. They were the traders of the day and “the merchants of the nations” (23:3).
However, Tyre was also pompous and proud (23:9). Their wealth was able to buy them political power (23:8), and they boasted in this power as they were honored by the nations (23:8).
Because of their arrogance, the Lord purposed to defile the proud and dishonor the honored (23:9). Their strongholds would not stand against the siege towers of the Assyrians anymore than the Babylonians could not stand (23:13). Their ships, the pride of Tyre, would not be able to save them (23:14).
After their destruction, there will be a rest period of seventy years. After this, Tyre will be able to woo her former trading partners back, just as a prostitute might be able to (24:17). But Tyre and her merchant fleet will be used to provide goods and supplies for the people who dwell before the Lord (23:18).
In chapter 21, Judah is reminded not to put her trust in the cultural and civilization of Babylon. Now in chapter 23, Judah is reminded not to put her trust in economic power. Neither can save them. Both will be used to serve the Lord , so why not put your trust in Him instead.
God's Final Judgment and Restoration (Isaiah 24—27)
Judgment Against the Whole World (24:1—23)
Chapters 24—27 serve as a dramatic climax to this series of oracles in Isaiah. Whereas chapters 13—23 pronounced judgment against specific peoples and nations, now that judgment is proclaimed against the whole world.
Chapter 24 speaks of the universality of God's judgment. The master and slave, the people and the priest, the buyer and the seller, all are under his judgment (24:2). The earth will be utterly plundered, for all of earth's inhabitants are guilty of violating their covenant with God (24:5).
There will be no more singing and drinking (24:7-8), and even praise to God, which comes not just from Israel, but also from the east and the west (24:14-15) seems muted by the destruction (24:16).
There is no escape from the judgment. If you crawl out of the pit, the snare will get you. If you crawl out of the snare, you will fall into the pit (24:17-18).
On that terrible day, even the host of heaven and the great kings of the earth will be punished (24:21-22). Even demonic forces will be shut down from their arrogant opposition to God when He rules in Jerusalem (Revelation 20:2—3).
The lights of the sky will be seen as nothing compared to the brilliant light of the Lord of Hosts who will reign in Jerusalem (24:23).
Finally, the holiness and greatness of God seen by Isaiah in chapter 6 will be made known to all people. Finally, the fear of the Lord will be known to all peoples, from every walk of life and in every nation.
Restoration of Judah (25:1—27:13)
The Lord Saves (25:1—12)
While chapter 24 paints a bleak and fearful picture at the coming judgment of the Lord , chapter 25, this chapter brings hope in the midst of destruction. While the day of God's judgment brings despair to the proud and the powerful, it brings salvation to the humble and the oppressed.
The connection between the despair and the hope is found in the seat of god's rule, Mount Zion in Jerusalem. The great host of heaven and the kings of the earth will be confounded under the Lords reign in Zion (24:23). Yet, it is from this same holy mountain (25:6) that God will serve a great feast, swallowing up from here the protection of the nations (25:7) and swallowing up death itself (25:8).
The day of the Lord is a day of fear for the strong (25:3) and for the pompous (25:11), for this day will bring them low, destroying their fortified cities (25:2).
However, for the poor and the needy, the Lord is their fortified city (24:4). They will partake in the feast (25:6). They shall not see death or tears (25:8), for their oppressors, the proud, and the wicked shall be taken from the earth (25:8).
For the humble and oppressed, the judgment of chapter 24 is an exhibition of God's love. The ruthless evil of the world was about to destroy God's remnant, and his judgment is his defense, protection and shelter to His people. For those who are suffering under the wickedness of the world, they are asking how God can allow evil people to get away with destroying those who faithfully serve Him? Ultimately he won't. He will be a faithful protector to his people (25:1).
The wrath of God and the love of God are often thought to be a paradox of God's character. However, the juxtaposition of chapters 24 and 25 demonstrate that God's wrath and God's love are not two competing elements of God's character, but are in fact the same characteristic of God. God is a holistic God and his unified character will be perceived by the arrogant and the wicked as wrath, but will be perceive by the humble and the righteous as love.
Therefore, on this same day of judgment, the people of God say:
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
(Isaiah 25:9 ESV)
The Song of Judah (26:1—21)
The praise for God's salvation continues in chapter 26 with a song to be sung in Judah, as they anticipate the Lord 's deliverance of the lowly as he destroys the arrogant evil doers.
The faithful, those who trust in the Lord will be allowed into the strong gates and the walls of God (26:1-3). Therefore, the song calls on us to trust in Him.
Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:4 ESV)
However, this day has not yet arrived for Isaiah's audience. Therefore, the song speaks of waiting (26:8), yearning (26:9) and seeking the coming judgment (26:9). Right now, the oppressor cannot see the coming judgment/deliverance, so the singers ask that they might see the zeal for his people (26:11).
The people have lived under other lords (26:13), but they are all dead now (26:14). But the Lord has caused the nation to prosper and enlarge its borders (26:15).
Their troubles have been like birth pangs (26:16-18) as they await deliverance. However, this final hope is still to come: namely, the resurrection from the dead (25:8, 26:19):
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. (Isaiah 26:19 ESV)
First, we must wait patiently for the fury of the Lord to pass by (26:20), for the Lord must still punish the earth for its sin (26:21).
Destruction of Satan & Restoraton of Judah (27:1—13)
The song of hope and redemption for the people of God continues in chapter 27. It begins with the defeat, “in that day,” of the great Leviathan or fleeing serpent. This is likely a metaphor for Satan, the same arrogant Lucifer, who in chapter 14 sought to be like the Most High. The Lord will slay this dragon of the sea (Revelation 12:9-10).
In these days, Israel and Judah will blossom and fill the earth with its prosperity (27:6). Whereas in Isaiah 5, they were a wild vineyard that bore no fruit, now they are a pleasant vineyard (27:2) and He is their keeper (27:3), protecting it against the thorns and the briars as he tends his people (27:4).
Israel was likely wondering if god was still protecting them in this time, having been conquered and lead into exile little by little. But God assures them that He has not struck them as hard as He will strike their oppressors (27:7). Furthermore, there will come a time where their punishment will be removed (27:8).
At that time, their sin will be removed and their guilt atoned for (27:9). Their idols will be removed and they will worship Him alone (27:9b).
In that day, God will blow a trumpet, and the exiles in Assyria and Egypt will return to Mount Zion and they will worship the Lord again (27:13).
There are many who struggle to believe in a judging, wrathful God who punishes. It is easier to see Him as an all-loving God. However, chapters 24-27 show us that it is the love of God that compels him to act in judgment. In his judgment of Israel, God is bringing them back from a path that leads to destruction so that they might be saved. This is an act of love. In his judgment of the powerful and the arrogant, God is delivering His people from the oppression and violence done against them. God's judgment, therefore, is not arbitrary or malicious. It is necessary in order to act out his love.
A father who allows his child to take drugs without intervention is not a loving father. A loving father steps in and disciplines his child. In the same way, God's actions against Israel in Isaiah is the discipline of a loving father.
A man who would allow an intruder to enter a home and rape his daughter is not a loving father. A loving father defends his child and prevents evil from happening. In the same way, God's judgment of Assyria and Babylon and the surrounding nations is the act of a loving God who is preventing harm to his people.
God's love and God's wrath are one in the same thing. How it is perceived depends upon whether you are arrogant or whether you are humble. For God's loving-wrath will bring destruction to the arrogant, but salvation to the meek.