Isaiah 13:17
Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Behold, I will stir up the Medes.—The Hebrew form Madai meets us in Genesis 10:2, among the descendants of Japheth. Modern researches show them to have been a mixed people, Aryan conquerors having mingled with an earlier Turanian race, and differing in this respect from the Persians, who were pure Iranians, both in race and creed. The early Assyrian inscriptions, from Rimmon Nirari III. onward (Cheyne), name them, as also does Sargon (Records of the Past, xi. 18), among the enemies whom the kings subdued. Their name had been recently brought before the prophet’s notice by Salmaneser’s deportation of the Ten Tribes to the cities of the Medes (2Kings 17:6). In naming the Medes, and not the Persians, as the conquerors of Babylon, Isaiah was probably influenced by the greater prominence of the former, just as the Greeks spoke of them, and used such terms as “Medism” when they came in contact with the Medo-Persian monarchy under Darius and Xerxes. So Ӕschylus (Pers. 760) makes “the Median” the first ruler of the Persians. It is noticeable that they were destined to be the destroyers both of Nineveh and Babylon: of the first under Cyaxares, in alliance with Nabopolassar, and of the second under Cyrus the Persian, and, we may add, the Mede Darius of Daniel 5:31. If we accept the history of a yet earlier attack on Nineveh by Arbaces the Mede and Belesis of Babylon, we can sufficiently account for the prominence which Isaiah, looking at Babylon as the representative of Assyrian rather than Chaldæan power, gives to them as its destroyers. (See Lenormant, Anc. Hist., 1, p. 337.)

Which shall not regard silver.—The Medes are represented as a people too fierce to care for the gold and silver in which Babylon exulted. They would take no ransom to stay their work of vengeance. So Xenophon, in his Cyropædia (5:3), represents Cyrus as acknowledging their unbought, unpaid service.

Isaiah 13:17-18. Behold, &c. — Here follows the second part of this prophecy, in which the calamity which the prophet had foretold, principally in figure, is plainly related and set forth in its causes and consequences. Its causes are stated to be the Medes, raised up by God himself against the Babylonians, and described as being extremely full of cruelty and avidity of revenge, Isaiah 13:17-18. The consequences are, the desolation of Babylon, and the calamity to be brought upon it, Isaiah 13:19-22. I will stir up the Medes — Under whom he comprehends the Persians, who were their neighbours and confederates in this expedition. Which shall not regard silver, &c. — That is, comparatively speaking. They shall more eagerly pursue the destruction of the people than the getting of spoil. Their bows also — Under which are comprehended other weapons of war; shall dash the young men to pieces — Or, shall pierce the young men through, as the Chaldee renders it. But, as both Herodotus and Xenophon affirm that the Persians used τοξα μεγαλα, large bows, according to the latter, bows three cubits long, and undoubtedly proportionably strong; we may easily conceive, as Bishop Lowth observes, that, with such bows, especially if made of brass, as bows anciently often were, (see Psalm 18:35; Job 20:24,) the soldiers might dash and slay the young men, the weaker and unresisting part of the inhabitants, (here joined with the fruit of the womb and the children,) in the general carnage in taking the city.13:6-18 We have here the terrible desolation of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Those who in the day of their peace were proud, and haughty, and terrible, are quite dispirited when trouble comes. Their faces shall be scorched with the flame. All comfort and hope shall fail. The stars of heaven shall not give their light, the sun shall be darkened. Such expressions are often employed by the prophets, to describe the convulsions of governments. God will visit them for their iniquity, particularly the sin of pride, which brings men low. There shall be a general scene of horror. Those who join themselves to Babylon, must expect to share her plagues, Re 18:4. All that men have, they would give for their lives, but no man's riches shall be the ransom of his life. Pause here and wonder that men should be thus cruel and inhuman, and see how corrupt the nature of man is become. And that little infants thus suffer, which shows that there is an original guilt, by which life is forfeited as soon as it is begun. The day of the Lord will, indeed, be terrible with wrath and fierce anger, far beyond all here stated. Nor will there be any place for the sinner to flee to, or attempt an escape. But few act as though they believed these things.Behold, I will stir up - I will cause them to engage in this enterprise. This is an instance of the control which God claims over the nations, and of his power to excite and direct them as he pleases.

The Medes - This is one of the places in which the prophet specified, "by name," the instrument of the wrath of God. Cyrus himself is subsequently mentioned Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1 as the agent by which God would accomplish his purposes. It is remarkable, also, that 'the Medes' are mentioned here many years before they became a separate and independent nation. It was elsewhere predicted that the Medes would be employed in this siege of Babylon; thus, in Isaiah 21:2 : 'Go up, O Elam (that is, Persia), besiege, O Media;' Jeremiah 51:11 : 'Jehovah hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, for his device is against Babylon to destroy it.' Media was a country east of Assyria, which is supposed to have been populated by the descendants of Madai, son of Japheth Genesis 10:2. Ancient Media extended on the west and south of the Caspian Sea, from Armenia, on the north, to Faristan or Persia proper, on the south.

It was one of the most fertile regions of Asia. It was an ancient kingdom. Ninus, the founder of the Assyrian monarchy, is said to have encountered one of its kings, whom he subdued, and whose province he made a part of the Assyrian empire. For 520 years, the Medes were subject to the Assyrians; but, in the time of Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser, they revolted, and, by the destruction of the army of Sennacherib before Jerusalem - an event which was itself subsequent to the delivery of this prophecy respecting Babylon - they were enabled to achieve their independence. At the time when this prophecy was uttered, therefore, Media was a dependent province of the kingdom of Assyria. Six years they passed in a sort of anarchy, until, about 700 years b.c., they found in Dejoces an upright statesman, who was proclaimed king by universal consent. His son and successor, Phraortes, subdued the Persians, and all upper Asia, and united them to his kingdom.

He also attacked Assyria, and laid siege to Nineveh, the capital, but was defeated. Nineveh was finally taken by his successor, Cyaxares, with the aid of his ally, the king of Babylon; and Assyria became a province of Media. This widely-extended empire was delivered by him to his son Astyages, the father of Cyrus. Astyages reigned about 35 years, and then delivered the vast kingdom to Cyrus, about 556 years b.c., under whom the prediction of Isaiah respecting Babylon was fulfilled. In this way arose the Medo-Persian kingdom, and henceforward "the laws of the Medes and Persians" are always mentioned together Esther 1:9; Esther 10:2; Daniel 6:8, Daniel 6:12. From this time, all their customs, rites, and laws, became amalgamated. - (Herod. i.-95-130). In looking at this prophecy, therefore, we are to bear in mind:

(1) the fact that, when it was uttered, Media was a dependent province of the kingdom of Assyria;

(2) that a long time was yet to elapse before it would become an independent kingdom;

(3) that it was yet to secure its independence by the aid of that very Babylon which it would finally destroy;

(4) that no human foresight could predict these revolutions, and that every circumstance conspired to render this event improbable.

The great strength and resources of Babylon; the fact that Media was a dependent province, and that such great revolutions must occur before this prophecy could be fulfilled, render this one of the most striking and remarkable predictions in the sacred volume.

Which shall not regard silver ... - It is remarkable, says Lowth, that Xenophon makes Cyrus open a speech to his army, and, in particular, to the Medes, who made the principal part of it, with praising them for their disregard of riches. 'Ye Medes and others who now hear me, I well know, that you have not accompanied me in this expedition with a view of acquiring wealth.' - ("Cyrop." v.) That this was the character of the Medes, is further evident from several circumstances. 'He reckoned, says Xenophon, that his riches belonged not anymore to himself than to his friends. So little did he regard silver, or delight in gold, that Croesus told him that, by his liberality, he would make himself poor, instead of storing up vast treasures for himself. The Medes possessed, in this respect, the spirit of their chief, of which an instance, recorded by Xenophon, is too striking and appropriate to be passed over.

When Gobryas, an Assyrian governor, whose son the king of Babylon had slain, hospitably entertained him and his army, Cyrus appealed to the chiefs of the Medes and Hyrcanians, and to the noblest and most honorable of the Persians, whether, giving first what was due to the gods, and leaving to the rest of the army their portion, they would not overmatch his generosity by ceding to him their whole share of the first and plentiful booty which they had won from the land of Babylon. Loudly applauding the proposal, they immediately and unanimously consented; and one of them said, "Gobryas may have thought us poor, because we came not loaded with coins, and drink not out of golden cups; but by this he will know, that men can be generous even without gold."' ("See" Keith "On the Prophecies," p. 198, Ed. New York, 1833.) This is a remarkable prediction, because this is a very unusual circumstance in the character of conquerors. Their purpose has been chiefly to obtain plunder, and, especially, gold and silver have been objects to them of great value. Few, indeed, have been the invading armies which were not influenced by the hope of spoil; and the want of that characteristic among the Medes is a circumstance which no human sagacity could have foreseen.

17. Medes—(Isa 21:2; Jer 51:11, 28). At that time they were subject to Assyria; subsequently Arbaces, satrap of Media, revolted against the effeminate Sardanapalus, king of Assyria, destroyed Nineveh, and became king of Media, in the ninth century B.C.

not regard silver—In vain will one try to buy his life from them for a ransom. The heathen Xenophon (Cyropædia, 5,1,10) represents Cyrus as attributing this characteristic to the Medes, disregard of riches. A curious confirmation of this prophecy.

The Medes; under whom he comprehends the Persians, who were their neighbours and confederates in this expedition.

They shall not delight in it; which is to be understood comparatively. They shall more eagerly pursue the destruction of the people than the getting of spoil; whereby it shall appear that they are only the executioners of my vengeance against them; they will accept no ransom to save their lives. Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them,.... The Babylonians; this explains who are meant by the sanctified and mighty ones, Isaiah 13:3 the Medes were a people that descended from Medai, one of the sons of Japheth, Genesis 10:2 as Josephus observes (i); under these the Persians are included, though they are only mentioned, because Cyrus was sent by Cyaxares king of Media on this expedition against Babylon, and was made by him general of the Medes, and acted as such under him; and when Babylon was taken, and Belshazzar slain, Darius the Median took the kingdom, Daniel 5:31 now these are mentioned by name some hundreds of years before the thing came to pass, as Cyrus their general in Isaiah 45:1 which is a strong proof of the truth of prophecy, and of divine revelation; and, whatever might be the moving causes of this expedition, the affair was of God; it was he that put it into the hearts of the Medes, and stirred up their spirits to make war against Babylon; and though God is not the author of sin, yet he not only suffered the things to be done before and after mentioned, but in his providence ordered them as just punishments on a sinful people:

which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it; not but that they had a regard for, gold and silver, as appears by their spoiling of the houses of the Babylonians, Isaiah 13:16 but that they had not so great a regard for these things as to spare the lives of any for the sake of them; they were so intent upon taking away their lives, that they disregarded their substance; their first work was to slay, and then to spoil; they first destroyed, and then plundered; no man with his gold and silver could obtain a ransom of his life from them. Cyrus (k) in his speech to his army said,

"O ye Medes, and all present, I truly know that not for want of money are ye come out with me,'' &c.

(i) Antiqu. Jud. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 1.((k) Cyropaedia, l. 5. sect. 3.

Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. the Medes] This Iranian people first became a leading power in Asia when it divided with the Chaldæans the spoils of the Assyrian Empire (b.c. 606), but it was not till the rise of the great conqueror Cyrus that it became a formidable enemy to Babylon. Cyrus, according to the classical historians, was originally a vassal king of the Median Empire, reigning over the narrow territory to which the name Persia or Persis was at first restricted. He is called, however, in Babylonian inscriptions “King of Anzan,” which is explained by Assyriologists to be a small kingdom in the north of Elam. (See Sayce, in Rec. of the Past, l.c.) About the year 549 he overthrew the ruling Median dynasty and placed himself at the head of the whole empire. It has been argued by some scholars that previous to that event there could be no expectation of a conquest of Babylon by the Medes, and that therefore the prophecy must be dated between 549 and 538. Others again hold that if it had been written after 549 the enemy would have been called the Persians. Both inferences, however, are inconclusive. The first overlooks the fact that before the accession of Cyrus the Medes were a powerful nation, and indeed the only probable human agents of a chastisement of Babylon. And against the second it has to be borne in mind that the name Persia, for the united empire, made its way slowly in antiquity. In the Bible it first becomes common in the time of Ezra, although long after that we still read of Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:28; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12) or Persians and Medes (Esther 1:3; Esther 1:14; Esther 1:18). Greek writers also speak of the wars of independence against Xerxes as τὰ Μηδικά. The verse, therefore, furnishes no particular indication of the date of the prophecy.

which shall not regard (regard not) silver …] They cannot be bought off by a ransom. Xenophon puts into the mouth of Cyrus in addressing the Medes the words: οὐ χρημάτων δεόμενοι σὺν ἐμοὶ ἐξήλθετε (Cyrop. Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 13:20).

17, 18. The description of the character of the invaders, perhaps even the mention of their name, is of the nature of a climax to the terrors of the picture.Verse 17. - Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. Isaiah's knowledge that the Medes should take a leading part in the destruction of Babylon is, no doubt, as surprising a fact as almost any other in the entire range of prophetic foresight, or insight, as set before us in Scripture. The Medes were known to Moses as an ancient nation of some importance (Genesis 10:2); but since his time had been unmentioned by any sacred writer; and, as a living nation, had only just come within the range of Israelite vision, by the fact that, when Sargon deported the Samaritans from Samaria, he placed some of them "in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:6). The Assyrians had become acquainted with them somewhat more than a century earlier, and had made frequent incursions into their country, finding them a weak and divided people, under the government of a large number of petty chiefs. Sargon had conquered a portion of the tribes, and placed prefects in the cities; at the same time planting colonists in them from other parts of the empire. That, when the weakness of Media was being thus made apparent, Isaiah should have foreseen its coming greatness can only be accounted for by his having received a Divine communication on the subject. Subsequently, he had a still more exact and complete communication (Isaiah 21:2). Which shall not regard silver. The Medes were not a particularly disinterested people; but in the attack on Babylon, made by Cyrus, the object was not plunder, but conquest and the extension of dominion. The main treasures of Babylon - those in the great temple of Bolus - were not carried off by Cyrus, as appears both from his own inscriptions, and from Herodotus (1. 181-183). The prophet now hears again the voice of Jehovah revealing to him what His purpose is - namely, a visitation punishing the wicked, humbling the proud, and depopulating the countries. "And I visit the evil upon the world, and upon sinners their guilt, and sink into silence the pomp of the proud; and the boasting of tyrants I throw to the ground. I make men more precious than fine gold, and people than a jewel of Ophir." The verb pâkad is construed, as in Jeremiah 23:2, with the accusative of the thing punished, and with על of the person punished. Instead of 'eretz we have here tēbel, which is always used like a proper name (never with the article), to denote the earth in its entire circumference. We have also ‛ârı̄tzı̄m instead of nedı̄bı̄m: the latter signifies merely princes, and it is only occasionally that it has the subordinate sense of despots; the former signifies men naturally cruel, or tyrants (it occurs very frequently in Isaiah). Everything here breathes the spirit of Isaiah both in thought and form. "The lofty is thrown down:" this is one of the leading themes of Isaiah's proclamation; and the fact that the judgment will only leave a remnant is a fundamental thought of his, which also runs through the oracles concerning the heathen (Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 21:17; Isaiah 24:6), and is depicted by the prophet in various ways (Isaiah 10:16-19; Isaiah 17:4-6; Isaiah 24:13; Isaiah 30:17). There it is expressed under the figure that men become as scarce as the finest kinds of gold. Word-painting is Isaiah's delight and strength. 'Ophir, which resembles 'okir in sound, was the gold country of India, that lay nearest to the Phoenicians, the coast-land of Abhira on the northern shore of the Runn (Irina), i.e., the salt lake to the east of the mouths of the Indus (see at Genesis 10:29 and Job 22:24; and for the Egypticized Souphir of the lxx, Job 28:16).
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