Isaiah 13:19
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(19) And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms.—The words paint the impression which the great city, even in Isaiah’s time, made upon all who saw it. So Nebuchadnezzar, though his work was mainly that of a restorer, exulted in his pride in the greatness of the city of which he claimed to be the builder (Daniel 4:30). So Herodotus (i. 178) describes it as the most famous and the strongest of all the cities of Assyria, adorned beyond any other city on which his eyes had ever looked. (Compare the descriptive notices in Jeremiah 51:41, and the constantly recurring epithet of “gold-abounding Babylon” in the Persians of Ӕschylus.)

As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.—The phrase had clearly become proverbial, as in Isaiah 1:9; Jeremiah 50:40; Deuteronomy 29:23, carrying the picture of desolation to its highest point. The present state of the site of Babylon corresponds literally to the prediction. It is “a naked and hideous waste” (Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, p. 484). The work was, however, accomplished by slow degrees, and was not, like the destruction of Nineveh, the result of a single overthrow. Darius dismantled its walls, Xerxes pulled down the Temple of Belus. Alexander contemplated its restoration, but his designs were frustrated by his early death. Susa and Ecbatana, Seleucia and Antioch, Ctesiphon and Bagdad, became successively the centres of commerce and of government. By the time of Strabo (B.C. 20) the work was accomplished, and “the vast city” had become a “vast desolation” (Strabo, xvi. 15). At no time within the range of Old Testament literature did such a consummation come within the range of the forecast which judges of the future by an induction from the past.

Isaiah 13:19. Babylon, the glory of kingdoms — Which once was the most noble and excellent of all the kingdoms then in being, and was more glorious than the succeeding empire, and therefore is represented by the head of gold, Daniel 2:37. The beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency — The famous and beautiful seat of the Chaldean monarchy; shall be as when God overthrew Sodom, &c. — Shall be totally and irrecoverably destroyed, as is more fully expressed in the following verses. Babylon, “according to the lowest account given of it by ancient historians, was a regular square, forty-five miles in compass, enclosed by a wall two hundred feet high and fifty broad; in which there were one hundred gates of brass. Its principal ornaments were the temple of Belus, in the middle of which was a tower of eight stories,” (or towers placed one above another, diminishing always as they went up,) “upon a base of a quarter of a mile square; a most magnificent palace; and the famous hanging gardens, which were an artificial mountain, raised upon arches, and planted with trees of the largest, as well as the most beautiful sorts.” What is very remarkable, “this great city was rising to its height of glory at this very time, while Isaiah was repeatedly denouncing its utter destruction. From the first of Hezekiah to the first of Nebuchadnezzar, under whom it was brought to the highest degree of strength and splendour, are about one hundred and twenty years.” See Bishop Lowth.13:19-22 Babylon was a noble city; yet it should be wholly destroyed. None shall dwell there. It shall be a haunt for wild beasts. All this is fulfilled. The fate of this proud city is a proof of the truth of the Bible, and an emblem of the approaching ruin of the New Testament Babylon; a warning to sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and it encourages believers to expect victory over every enemy of their souls, and of the church of God. The whole world changes and is liable to decay. Wherefore let us give diligence to obtain a kingdom which cannot be moved; and in this hope let us hold fast that grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms - That is, the capital or chief ornament of many nations. Appellations of this kind, applied to Babylon, abound in the Scriptures. In Daniel 4:30, it is called 'great Babylon;' in Isaiah 14:4, it is called 'the golden city;' in Isaiah 47:5, 'the lady of kingdoms;' in Jeremiah 51:13, it is, spoken of as 'abundant in treasures;' and, in Jeremiah 51:41, as 'the praise of the whole earth.' All these expressions are designed to indicate its immense wealth and magnificence. It was the capital of a mighty empire, and was the chief city of the pagan world.

The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency - Hebrew, 'The glory of the pride of the Chaldees;' or the ornament of the proud Chaldees. It was their boast and glory; it was that on which they chiefly prided themselves. How well it deserved these appellations we have already seen.

Shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah - Genesis 19:24. That is, shall be completely and entirely overthrown; shall cease to be inhabited, and shall be perfectly desolate. It does not mean that it shall be overthrown in the same manner as Sodom was, but that it should be as completely and entirely ruined. The successive steps in the overthrow of Babylon, by which this prophecy was so signally fulfilled, were the following:

(1) The taking of the city by Cyrus. This was accomplished by his clearing out the "Pallacopas," a canal that was made for the purpose of emptying the superfluous waters of the Euphrates into the lakes and marshes formed by it in the south - west borders of the province toward Arabia. Into this canal he directed the waters of the Euphrates, and was thus enabled to enter the city in the channel of the river under the walls (see the notes at Isaiah 45:1-2). He took the city by surprise, and when the inhabitants, confident of security, had given themselves up to the riot of a grand public festival; and the king and the nobles were revelling at a public entertainment. From this cause, also, it happened that the waters, which were thus diverted from their usual channel, converted the whole country into a vast, unhealthy morass, that contributed greatly to the decline of Babylon.

(2) The "second" capture of Babylon by Darius Hystaspes. Cyrus was not the destroyer of the city, but he rather sought to preserve its magnificence, and to perpetuate its pre-eminence among the nations. He left it to his successor in all its strength and magnificence. But, after his death, it rebelled against Darius, and bade defiance to the power of the whole Persian empire. Fully resolved not to yield, they adopted the resolution of putting every woman in the city to death, with the exception of their mothers and one female, the best beloved in every family, to bake their bread. All the rest, says Herodotus (iii. 150), were assembled together and strangled. The city was taken at that time by Darius, by the aid of Zopyrus, son of Megabyzus, who, in order to do it, mutilated himself beyond the power of recovery. He cut off his nose and ears, and having scourged himself severely, presented himself before Darius. He proposed to Darius to enter the city, apparently as a deserter who had been cruelly treated by Darius, and to deliver the city into his hands.

He was one of the chief nobles of Persia; was admitted in this manner within the walls; represented himself as having been punished because he advised Darius to raise the siege; was admitted to the confidence of the Babylonians; and was finally entrusted with an important military command. After several successful conflicts with the Persians, and when it was supposed his fidelity had been fully tried, he was raised to the chief command of the army; and was appointed to the responsible office of τειχοφύλαξ teichophulax, or guardian of the walls. Having obtained this object, he opened the gates of Babylon to the Persian army, as he had designed, and the city was taken without difficulty (Herod. iii.-153-160). As soon as Darius had taken the city, he 'leveled the walls, and took away the gates, neither of which things had Cyrus done before. Three thousand of the most distinguished of the nobility he ordered to be crucified; the rest he suffered to remain.' - (Herod. iii.159.)

(3) After its conquest by Darius, it was always regarded by the Persian monarchs with a jealous eye. Xerxes destroyed the temples of the city, and, among the rest, the celebrated temple or tower of Belus (Strabo, xvi. 1, 5.) 'Darius,' says Herodotus, 'had designs upon the golden statue in the temple of Belus, but did not dare to take it; but Xerxes, his son, took it, and slew the priest who resisted its removal.'

(4) The city was captured a third time, by Alexander the Great. Mazaeus, the Persian general, surrendered the city into his hands, and he entered it with his army - "velut in aciem irent" - 'as if they were marching to battle.' - (Q. Curtius, v. 3.) It was afterward taken by Antigonus, by Demetrius, by Antiochus the Great, and by the Parthians; and each successive conquest contributed to its reduction.

(5) Cyrus transferred the capital from Babylon to Susa or Shusan Nehemiah 1:1; Ezra 2:8; Ezra 4:16; Ezra 9:11, Ezra 9:15, which became the capital of the kingdom of Persia, and, of course, contributed much to diminish the importance of Babylon itself.

(6) Seleucus Nicator founded Seleucia in the neighborhood of Babylon, on the Tigris, chiefly with a design to draw off the inhabitants of Babylon to a rival city, and to prevent its importance. A great part of its population migrated to the new city of Seleucia (Plin. "Nat. Hist." vi. 30). Babylon thus gradually declined until it lost all its importance, and the very place where it stood was, for a long time, unknown. About the beginning of the first century, a small part of it only was inhabited, and the greater portion was cultivated (Diod. Sic. ii. 27). In the second century, nothing but the walls remained (Pausanius, "Arcad." c. 33). It became gradually a great desert; and, in the fourth century, its walls, repaired for that purpose, formed an enclosure for wild beasts, and Babylon was converted into a hunting place for the pastime of the Persian monarchs. After this, there is an interval of many ages in the history of its mutilated remains, and of its mouldering decay (Keith, "On the Prophecies," p. 216; Jerome, "Commentary on Isa." ch. xiv.) Benjamin of Tudela vaguely alludes to the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, which, he says, could not be entered, on account of its being the abode of dragons and wild beasts. Sir John Maundeville, who traveled over Asia, 1322 a.d., says, that 'Babylone is in the grete desertes of Arabye, upon the waye as men gert towarde the kyngdome of Caldce. But it is full longe sithe ony man durste neyhe to the toure, for it is alle deserte and full of dragons and grete serpentes, and fulle dyverse veneymouse bestes all abouten.'

19. glory of kingdoms—(Isa 14:4; 47:5; Jer 51:41).

beauty of … excellency—Hebrew, "the glory of the pride" of the Chaldees; it was their glory and boast.

as … Gomorrah—as utterly (Jer 49:18; 50:40; Am 4:11). Taken by Cyrus, by clearing out the canal made for emptying the superfluous waters of the Euphrates, and directing the river into this new channel, so that he was able to enter the city by the old bed in the night.

The glory of kingdoms; which once was the most noble and excellent of all the kingdoms then in being, and Was more glorious than the succeeding empires, whence it was represented by the head of gold, Daniel 2:32.

The beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency; the famous and beautiful seat of the Chaldean monarchy.

Shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; shall be totally and irrecoverably destroyed, as is more fully expressed in the following verses; which yet was not done immediately upon the taking of the city by Darius and Cyrus, but was fulfilled by degrees, as is confessed by historians, and appears this day. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,.... The first and most ancient kingdom, Genesis 10:10 and now, at the time of its fall, the largest and most extensive; wherefore of the image Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, which was a representation of several kingdoms, this was the head, the head of gold, Daniel 2:31 so Babylon is called the "lady of kingdoms", Isaiah 47:5 the word here used for "glory" is the same with that which is rendered a "roe", Isaiah 13:14. Babylon was once as a pleasant roe, but now a chased one:

the beauty of the Chaldees excellency; the glory of that nation; what they gloried in, being so famous for pompous buildings, number of inhabitants, riches and wealth, see Daniel 4:30. Pliny (n) calls it the head of the Chaldean nations, and says it obtained great fame in the whole world:

shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; which, though not at once, and by fire from heaven, as that was, yet was of God, and, when completed, was, like that, irrecoverable; which was begun by Cyrus and Darius, and in after times finished; and besides there was a circumstance which made it similar to that; for as the men of Sodom were eating and drinking, when their destruction came upon them, so Belshazzar, and his nobles, were feasting and revelling when the city was taken. The Jews (o) say, that, after Belshazzar was slain, Darius reigned one year, and in his second year the city was overthrown, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven; but without any foundation; for certain it is that Babylon was in being many years after this, and continued to the time of Alexander the great.

(n) Nat. Hist. l. 6. c. 26. (o) Jarchi & Kimchi ex Seder Olam Rabba, c. 28.

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
19. the Chaldees’ excellency] The territory of the Chaldæans lay near the head of the Persian Gulf. Their dominion over Babylon began with Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar.

as when God overthrew, &c.] See on Isaiah 1:7 and cf. Amos 4:11, where the same phrase occurs (also Jeremiah 50:40).Verse 19. - Babylon, the glory of kingdoms. The "glory" of Babylon consisted:

1. In her antiquity. She had been the head of a great empire long before Assyria rose to power.

2. In her origination of literature, architecture, and the other arts, which all passed from her to Assyria, and thence to the other nations of Asia.

3. In her magnificence and the magnificence of her kings, which provoked the admiration of the Assyrians themselves ('Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 15). As time went on, she grew in wealth and splendor. Perhaps it was granted to Isaiah to see her in ecstatic vision, not merely such as she was in the time of Sargon under Merodach-Baladan, but such as she became under Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of her kings, who raised her to the highest pitch or glory and eminence. The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency. The Kaldi appear to have been originally one of the many tribes by which Babylonia was peopled at an early date, From the expression, "Ur of the Chaldees," which occurs more than once in Genesis (Genesis 11:28, 31), we may gather that they were inhabitants of the more southern part of the country, near the coast. The same conclusion may be drawn from the Assyrian inscriptions, especially those of Shalmaneser II. - the Black Obelisk king. The term never became a general name for the Babylonian people among themselves or among the Assyrians; but, somehow-or other, it was accepted in that sense by the Jews, and is so used, not only by Isaiah, but also by the writers of Kings and Chronicles, by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Habakkuk. As when God overthrew Sodom. Equally sudden and complete as that destruction. Thus does the wrath of God prevail among men, casting down and destroying; and the natural world above and below cannot fail to take part in it. "Therefore I shake the heavens, and the earth trembles away from its place, because of the wrath of Jehovah of hosts, and because of the day of His fierce anger." The two Beths have a causative meaning (cf., Isaiah 9:18). They correspond to ‛al-cēn (therefore), of which they supply the explanation. Because the wrath of God falls upon men, every creature which is not the direct object of the judgment must become a medium in the infliction of it. We have here the thought of Isaiah 13:9 repeated as a kind of refrain (in a similar manner to Isaiah 5:25). Then follow the several disasters. The first is flight.
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