Isaiah 13:1
The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XIII.

(1) The burden of Babylon . . .—The title “burden,” which is repeated in Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 21:1; Isaiah 22:1; Isaiah 23:1, indicates that we have in this division a collection of prophetic utterances, bearing upon the future of the surrounding nations, among which Babylon was naturally pre-eminent. The authenticity of the first of these oracles has been questioned, partly on the ground of differences of style, partly because it seems to anticipate the future destruction of Babylon with a distinctness which implies a prophecy after the event. The first of these objections rests, as will be seen from the numerous coincidences between these and other portions of Isaiah, on no sufficient evidence. The second implies a view of prophecy which excludes the element of a divinely given foreknowledge; and that view the present writer does not accept.

Accepting the two chapters as Isaiah’s, we have to ask how Babylon came at the time within the prophet’s historical horizon, and what were at the time its political relations with Assyria. (1) It is obvious that the negotiations which Ahaz had opened with Tiglath-pileser, the passage to and fro of armies and ambassadors, the journeys of prophets like Jonah and Nahum, the commerce of which we have traces even in the days of Joshua (Joshua 7:21), must have made Babylon, as well as Nineveh, familiar to the leading men of Judah. As a matter of fact, it was probably more familiar. Babylon was the older, more famous, more splendid city Nineveh (if we accept the conclusions of one school of historians) had been overpowered and destroyed by the Medes under Arbaces, and the Babylonians under Belesis (B.C. 739), the Pul of Bible history, under whom Assyria was a dependency of Babylon (Lenormant, Anc. Hist., p. 38). In Tiglath-pileser the Assyrians found a ruler who restored their supremacy. The Chaldæans, however, revolted under Merôdach-baladan, and Sargon records with triumph how he had conquered him and spoiled his palace. As the result of that victory, he took the title of king of Babylon. Merôdach-baladan, however, renewed his resistance early in the reign of Sennacherib, and though again defeated, we find him courting the alliance of Hezekiah either before or after the destruction of that king’s army (Isaiah 39). We can scarcely doubt that the thought of a Babylonian, as of an Egyptian, alliance had presented itself to the minds of the statesmen of Judah as a means of staying the progress of Assyrian conquests. The chapters now before us, however, do not seem written with reference to such an alliance, and in Isaiah 14:25 Babylon seems contemplated chiefly as the representative of the power of Assyria. It seems probable, accordingly, that the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:4 is to be identified with Sargon, the Assyrian king, who took the title of “Vicar of the Gods in Babylon” (Records of the Past, vol. xi. 17).

The word “burden,” prefixed to this and the following prophecies, is a literal translation of the Hebrew. It seems to have acquired a half-technical sense as announcing the doom which a nation or a man was called to bear, and so to have acquired the meaning of an “oracle,” or “prophecy.” This meaning, which is first prominent in Isaiah (in Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1 it is used of an ethical or didactic utterance thought of as inspired), was afterwards given to it in the speeches of the false prophets (Lamentations 2:14); and in Jeremiah 23:33-40 we have a striking play upon the primary and derived meaning of the word. (See Note on Jeremiah 23:33.) It continued in use, however, in spite of Jeremiah’s protest, and appears in Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1. Oracle is perhaps the best English equivalent. We note as characteristic (see Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1), that the “burden” is described as that which Isaiah saw.

Isaiah 13:1. The burden of Babylon — Of the city and empire of Babylon. The original word, משׂא, here rendered burden, is, by Dr. Waterland, after Vitringa, translated, The sentence upon, or, delivered concerning Babylon. It is “derived from a verb, which signifies to take, or lift up, or bring; and the proper meaning of it is, any weighty, important matter or sentence, which ought not to be neglected, but is worthy of being carried in the memory, and deserves to be lifted up, and uttered with emphasis.” See Revelation 2:24, and Vitringa. Bishop Newton and others have observed, that “the prophecies uttered against any city or country, often carry the inscription of the burden of that city or country: and that by burden is commonly understood a threatening, burdensome prophecy, big with ruin and destruction: which, like a dead weight, is hung upon the city or country to sink it.” But it appears that the word is of more general import, and sometimes signifies a prophecy at large, sometimes a prophecy of good as well as of evil, as in Zechariah 12:1; and sometimes, where the original word is used, it is translated prophecy, where there is no prophecy, but only a grave moral sentence.

This prophecy against Babylon, which consists of two parts, the former contained in this chapter, the latter in the next, was probably delivered, as Vitringa has shown, in the reign of Ahaz, about two hundred years before the completion of it, and a hundred and thirty before the Jews were even carried captive to Babylon; which captivity the prophet does not expressly foretel here, but supposes, in the spirit of prophecy, as what was actually to take place. “And the Medes, who are expressly mentioned, Isaiah 13:17, as the principal agents in the overthrow of the Babylonian monarchy, by which the Jews were to be released from that captivity, were at this time an inconsiderable people; having been in a state of anarchy ever since the fall of the great Assyrian empire, of which they had made a part under Sardanapalus; and did not become a kingdom till about the seventeenth of Hezekiah.” — Bishop Lowth. The great design of God in inspiring his prophet with the knowledge of these future events, and exciting him to deliver these prophecies concerning them, seems to have been, 1st, To set forth the reasons of his justice, in punishing the enemies of his church, in order to console the minds and confirm the faith of the pious. 2d, With respect to this prophecy especially, concerning the destruction of Babylon, the design was to comfort the minds of true believers against that sad and sorrowful event, the Babylonish captivity. And, 3d, Under the figure of that destruction, to announce the destruction of the spiritual Babylon, the whole kingdom of sin and Satan. See Vitringa, and Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:5.

“The former part of this prophecy,” says Bishop Lowth, “is one of the most beautiful examples that can be given, of elegance of composition, variety of imagery, and sublimity of sentiment and diction, in the prophetic style: and the latter part consists of an ode of supreme and singular excellence. The prophecy opens with the command of God to gather together the forces which he had destined to his service, Isaiah 13:2-3. Upon which the prophet hears the tumultuous noise of the different nations crowding together to his standard; he sees them advancing, prepared to execute divine wrath, Isaiah 13:4-5. He proceeds to describe the dreadful consequences of this visitation; the consternation which will seize those that are the objects of it; and transferring unawares the speech from himself to God, Isaiah 13:11, sets forth, under a variety of the most striking images, the dreadful destruction of the inhabitants of Babylon, which will follow, Isaiah 13:11-16; and the everlasting desolation to which that great city is doomed, Isaiah 13:17-22. The deliverance of Judah from captivity, the immediate consequence of this great revolution, is then set forth without being much enlarged upon, or greatly amplified, chap. 14:1, 2. This introduces, with the greatest ease, and the utmost propriety, the triumphant song on that subject, Isaiah 13:4-22. The beauties of which, the various images, scenes, persons introduced, and the elegant transitions from one to another, I shall endeavour to point out in their order.”

13:1-5 The threatenings of God's word press heavily upon the wicked, and are a sore burden, too heavy for them to bear. The persons brought together to lay Babylon waste, are called God's sanctified or appointed ones; designed for this service, and made able to do it. They are called God's mighty ones, because they had their might from God, and were now to use it for him. They come from afar. God can make those a scourge and ruin to his enemies, who are farthest off, and therefore least dreaded.The burden of Babylon - Or, the burden "respecting," or "concerning" Babylon. This prophecy is introduced in a different manner from those which have preceded. The terms which Isaiah employed in the commencement of his previous prophecies, were vision (see the note at Isaiah 1:1), or word Isaiah 2:1. There has been considerable diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word 'burden,' which is here employed. The Vulgate renders it, Onus - 'Burden,' in the sense of load. The Septuagint Ὅρασις Horasis - 'Vision.' The Chaldee, 'The burden of the cup of malediction which draws near to Babylon.' The Hebrew word משׂא mas's'â', from נשׂא nâs'â', to lift, to raise up, to bear, to bear away, to suffer, to endure"), means properly that which is borne; that which is heavy; that which becomes a burden; and it is also applied to a gift or present, as that which is borne to a man 2 Chronicles 17:11.

It is also applied to a proverb or maxim, probably from the "weight" and "importance" of the sentiment condensed in it Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1. It is applied to an oracle from God 2 Kings 4:25. It is often translated 'burden' Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:13; Isaiah 22:1; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 30:6; Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 23:33-34, Jeremiah 23:38; Nehemiah 1:1; Zechariah 1:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1. By comparing these places, it will be found that the term is applied to those oracles or prophetic declarations which contain sentiments especially weighty and solemn; which are employed chiefly in denouncing wrath and calamity; and which, therefore, are represented as weighing down, or oppressing the mind and heart of the prophet. A similar useage prevails in all languages. We are all familiar with expressions like this. We speak of news or tidings of so melancholy a nature as to weigh down, to sink, or depress our spirits; so heavy that we can scarcely bear up under it, or endure it. And so in this case, the view which the prophet had of the awful judgments of God and of the calamities which were coming upon guilty cities and nations, was so oppressive, that it weighed down the mind and heart as a heavy burden. Others, however, suppose that it means merely a message or prophecy which is taken up, or borne, respecting a place, and that the word indicates nothing in regard to the nature of the message. So Rosenmuller, Gesenius, and Cocceius, understand it. But it seems some the former interpretation is to be preferred. Grotins renders it, 'A mournful prediction respecting Babylon.'

Did see - Saw in a vision; or in a scenical representation. The various events were made to pass before his mind in a vision, and he was permitted to see the armies mustered; the consternation of the people; and the future condition of the proud city. This verse is properly the title to the prophecy.

CHAPTER 13

Isa 13:1-22. The Thirteenth through Twenty-third Chapters Contain Prophecies as to Foreign Nations.—The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Twenty-seventh Chapters as to Babylon and Assyria.

The predictions as to foreign nations are for the sake of the covenant people, to preserve them from despair, or reliance on human confederacies, and to strengthen their faith in God: also in order to extirpate narrow-minded nationality: God is Jehovah to Israel, not for Israel's sake alone, but that He may be thereby Elohim to the nations. These prophecies are in their right chronological place, in the beginning of Hezekiah's reign; then the nations of Western Asia, on the Tigris and Euphrates, first assumed a most menacing aspect.

1. burden—weighty or mournful prophecy [Grotius]. Otherwise, simply, the prophetical declaration, from a Hebrew root to put forth with the voice anything, as in Nu 23:7 [Maurer].

of Babylon—concerning Babylon.God’s armies, Isaiah 13:1-5. The destruction of Babylon by the Persians and Medes: their great distress and anguish; and their utter desolation, Isaiah 13:6-22.

The burden: this title is commonly given to sad prophecies, which indeed are grievous burdens to them upon whom they are laid. See 2 Kings 9:25 Jeremiah 23:33,36.

Of Babylon; of the city and empire of Babylon by Cyrus, for their manifold and great sins, and in order to the deliverance of his people.

The burden of Babylon,.... That is, a prophecy concerning Babylon, as the word is rendered, Proverbs 31:1. The Septuagint and Arabic versions translate it "the vision"; it signifies a taking up (w) a speech against it, and pronouncing a heavy sentence on it, such an one as should sink it into utter destruction; which will be the case of mystical Babylon, when it shall be as a millstone cast into the sea, never to be brought up again, Revelation 18:21. The Targum is,

"the burden of the cup of cursing to give Babylon to drink:''

after some prophecies concerning the Messiah and his kingdom, and the church's song of praise for salvation by him, others are delivered out concerning the enemies of the people of God, and their destruction, and begin with Babylon the chief of these enemies, and into whose hands the people of Israel would be delivered for a while; wherefore this prophecy is given forth, in order to lay a foundation for comfort and relief, when that should be their case; by which it would appear that they should have deliverance from them by the same hand that should overthrow them:

which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see: by a spirit of prophecy; for this he saw not with his bodily eyes, though it was as clear and certain to him as if he had. The Targum is,

"which Isaiah the son of Amoz prophesied.''

(w) a "tollere".

The {a} burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

(a) That is, the great calamity which was prophesied to come on Babel, a grievous burden which they were not able to bear. In these twelve chapters following he speaks of the plagues with which God would smite the strange nations (whom they knew) to declare that God chastised the Israelites as his children and these others as his enemies: and also that if God does not spare these who are ignorant, they must not think strange if he punishes them who have knowledge of his Law, and do not keep it.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. The superscription, prefixed by an editor who attributed the prophecy to Isaiah.

The burden] Rather, The utterance, or “oracle.” The word occurs ten times in the headings of this section of the book (also in ch. Isaiah 30:6). The Heb. is massâ’, and means literally a “lifting up (of the voice).” See 2 Kings 9:25. The A.V., following several ancient versions, takes it in its commoner sense of “burden” (thing lifted), a confusion which seems as old as the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:33-40) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 12:10).

which Isaiah … did see] See on Isaiah 1:1, Isaiah 2:1.

Isaiah 13:1The heading in Isaiah 13:1, "Oracle concerning Babel, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see," shows that chapter 13 forms the commencement of another part of the whole book. Massâh (from נסא), efferre, then effari, Exodus 20:7) signifies, as we may see from 2 Kings 9:25, effatum, the verdict or oracle, more especially the verdict of God, and generally, perhaps always, the judicial sentence of God,

(Note: In Zechariah 12:1. the promise has, at any rate, a dark side. In Lamentations 2:14 there is no necessity to think of promises in connection with the mas'oth; and Proverbs 30:1 and Proverbs 31:1 cannot help us to determine the prophetic use of the word.)

though without introducing the idea of onus (burden), which is the rendering adopted by the Targum, Syriac, Vulgate, and Luther, notwithstanding the fact that, according to Jeremiah 23:33., it was the scoffers who associated this idea with the word. In a book which could throughout be traced to Isaiah, there could be no necessity for it to be particularly stated, that it was to Isaiah that the oracle was revealed, of which Babel was the object. We may therefore see from this, that the prophecy relating to Babylon was originally complete in itself, and was intended to be issued in that form. But when the whole book was compiled, these headings were retained as signal-posts of the separate portions of which it was composed. Moreover, in the case before us, the retention of the heading may be regarded as a providential arrangement. For if this "oracle of Babel" lay before us in a separate form, and without the name of Isaiah, we should not dare to attribute it to him, for the simple reason that the overthrow of the Chaldean empire is here distinctly announced, and that at a time when the Assyrian empire was still standing. For this reason the majority of critics, from the time of Rosenmller and Justi downwards, have regarded the spuriousness of the prophecy as an established fact. But the evidence which can be adduced in support of the testimony contained in the heading is far too strong for it to be set aside: viz., (1.) the descriptive style as well as the whole stamp of the prophecy, which resembles the undisputed prophecies of Isaiah in a greater variety of points than any passage that can be selected from any other prophet. We will show this briefly, but yet amply, and as far as the nature of an exposition allows, against Knobel and others who maintain the opposite. And (2.) the dependent relation of Zephaniah and Jeremiah - a relation which the generally admitted muse-like character of the former, and the imitative character of the latter, render it impossible to invert. Both prophets show that they are acquainted with this prophecy of Isaiah, as indeed they are with all those prophecies which are set down as spurious. Sthelin, in his work on the Messianic prophecies (Excursus iv), has endeavoured to make out that the derivative passages in question are the original passages; but stat pro ratione voluntas. Now, as the testimony of the heading is sustained by such evidence as this, the one argument adduced on the other side, that the prophecy has no historical footing in the circumstances of Isaiah's times, cannot prove anything at all. No doubt all prophecy rested upon an existing historical basis. But we must not expect to be able to point this out in the case of every single prophecy. In the time of Hezekiah, as Isaiah 39:1-8 clearly shows (compare Micah 4:10), Isaiah had become spiritually certain of this, that the power by which the final judgment would be inflicted upon Judah would not be Asshur, but Babel, i.e., an empire which would have for its centre that Babylon, which was already the second capital of the Assyrian empire and the seat of kings who, though dependent then, were striving hard for independence; in other words, a Chaldean empire. Towards the end of his course Isaiah was full of this prophetic thought; and from it he rose higher and higher to the consoling discovery that Jehovah would avenge His people upon Babel, and redeem them from Babel, just as surely as from Asshur. The fact that so far-reaching an insight was granted to him into the counsels of God, was not merely founded on his own personality, but rested chiefly on the position which he occupied in the midst of the first beginnings of the age of great empires. Consequently, according to the law of the creative intensity of all divinely effected beginnings, he surveyed the whole of this long period as a universal prophet outstripped all his successors down to the time of Daniel, and left to succeeding ages not only such prophecies as those we have already read, which had their basis in the history of his own times and the historical fulfilment of which was not sealed up, but such far distant and sealed prophecies as those which immediately follow. For since Isaiah did not appear in public again after the fifteenth year of Hezekiah, the future, as his book clearly shows, was from that time forth his true home. Just as the apostle says of the New Testament believer, that he must separate himself from the world, and walk in heaven, so the Old Testament prophet separated himself from the present of his own nation, and lived and moved in its future alone.

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