Isaiah 13:1

I. APPROACH OF THE WARRIORS OF JEHOVAH. On the bare mountain the banner is upraised, and with loud cry and commanding gesture of the hand a host of warriors is summoned from all sides. As in ver. 26, Jehovah is viewed by the poet as a mighty Battle-Leader, Lord of hosts. His voice is heard, "I have given commission to my anointed ones, have called my heroes for my work of punishment, my proudly rejoicing ones!" And then a noise is heard in the mountains as of a great multitude, for Jehovah is mustering his forces from the remotest parts, and preparing with the weapons of his wrath to destroy the earth. A cry of terror will be heard through the land; men's hands will droop, their hearts will melt, for the day of judgment is near. Horror will be depicted on every face. The lightning, the fire that burns up the stubble (Joel 2:6), will be flashed back, as it seems, from the amazed eyes. In prophetic thought every great epoch of calamity and ruin is a judgment, a "day of Jehovah." For wrath and clemency are the two opposite sides of the unity of his being and character. No spring-time is ushered in without storms; no epoch of fruitful manhood is gained without struggles, within or without; no mischief departs from society, no false power is overthrown, without violence. Well for us if, stayed by religious faith, we can see the day of Jehovah shown amidst the darkest times, and when nations are perplexed with fear of change to be able to say, "The Lord reigneth." If he is a living God, then his will must be felt in political change. Nothing good can pass away; only falsehood must be overthrown.

II. THE DAY OF JEHOVAH. Its description is borrowed:

1. From the most fearful phenomena of nature. The stars are hidden, the sunrise is overclouded, the light of the moon is withdrawn. A universal trembling seems to fill the air, while the earth would bound from its place. So close is the sympathy of the human spirit with nature, its dark or bright aspects seem to be the aspect of the God of nature in wrath or in kindness to man.

2. From the most fearful scenes of war. In a few bold lines the picture is struck out. Fugitives are seen flying in every direction, like frightened gazelles, or like a flock of sheep without its shepherd. Those overtaken are pierced by the spear, or struck down by the sword. Children at the breast are dashed to pieces, houses plundered, women outraged. More horrible is the spectacle of a battle-field than that of Nature in her wildest uproar. It is the opening of the hell in the heart of man.

3. Its moral purpose defined. There is, then, some light to be found even here. The God of justice and holiness is "searching home for evil on the face of the earth, and for the guilt of the unrighteous."

"Ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burned thro' the pine-tree roof-here burned and there,
As if God's messenger thro' the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
Feeling for guilty thee and me." The thought that God holds inquisition for evil and evil-doers is deeply stamped in Bible lore. There are heresies which he cannot and will not tolerate. They are not identical with what some call heresies. These are often departures from our fashions of life and of thought; but it is only disagreement with him and his law of inward right that is the condemnable dissent. Again, it is his object to bring down the pride and arrogance of the haughty. How deeply marked, again, is this thought of overstepping our proper limits as the essence of sin, from the Fall onwards! It is fixed in the word "transgression." The "lust to seem the thing we are not" is at the root of display, of ambition, of domineering over others. The prophets saw in the bloated dominion of great states like Egypt and Assyria the effects of these unbalanced lusts, which must sooner or later topple the tyrants into ruin. And thus the purpose of judgment resolves itself into that of sifting mankind - to make the people "rarer than fine gold, and men than Ophir's treasures." When ill weeds are cleared away, there is a chance for good plants to flourish; and when a mass of human evil has disappeared, room is made for something of another quality, to renew the tradition of the Divine in man.

III. THE FINAL DEVASTATION. (Vers. 17-22.) Here is a picture of the Medes - a horde of savages, who despise civilization, and who will pour in upon Babylon, as in later days Attila came with his hosts to tread on the necks of the Romans. The dread memory of the cities of the plain can alone furnish a parallel to what will be seen on the site of Babylon. Where now the sounds of luxury and mirth are heard in proud palaces, soon not a nomad tent will be pitched, nor a shepherd's fold; but only the cries of wild creatures will be heard, and satyrs hold their obscene dances. This magnificent picture of the overthrow of human greatness and pride springs, let us observe, from conscience. And none can study such pictures or visit the ruins of ancient cities without a quickening of the pulse of conscience. Such glimpses as we can gain of ancient life in. those proud cities of the Orient bear out the views of the prophet. It was a life which overpassed life's restrictions, and which ended in death. Mournful is the inscription on Sardanapalus's tomb, "Let us eat, drink, and love; for the rest is of little worth." We may learn the lesson that, when men so speak of life, they have abused it; and while we believe that there is a sacredness in human life and in the grand products of human life, this is only so as long as they reflect the purposes of God. Out of such scenes as those the prophet depicts, a solemn voice seems to speak, declaring that human life and glory are held cheap in comparison with those profound and, from us, half-hidden, half-revealed ends towards which the whole creation moves. - J.







The burden of Babylon.
Whenever we find the word "burden" in this association it means oracle, a speech of doom; it is never connected with blessing, hope, enlarged opportunity, or expanded liberty; it always means that judgment is swiftly coming, and may at any moment burst upon the thing that is doomed.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

"Which Isaiah did see." How did he see it? The word "see" needs to be defined every day. Blind men may see. We do not see with the eyes only, else truly we should see very little; the whole body becomes an eye when it is fun of light, and they who are holiest see farthest. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Men see morally, intellectually, sympathetically, as well as visually. How could Isaiah see this burden of Babylon when it did not fall upon the proud city for two centuries! Is there, then, no annihilation of time and space? Are we the mean prisoners we thought ourselves to be is it so, that we are caged round by invisible iron, and sealed down by some oppressive power, or blinded by some arbitrary or cruel shadow? We might see more if we looked in the right direction; we might be masters of the centuries if we lived with God. Isaiah is never weary of saying that he "saw" what he affirms. He does not describe it as having been seen by some other man; having written his record he signs it, or having begun to deliver his prophecy he writes it as a man writes his will; he begins by asserting that it is his testament, his own very witness, for he was there, saw it, and he accepts the responsibility of every declaration.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

In the New Testament, Babylon, more than any other city, stood for the personification of the forces of the world against God. In the history of Israel Babylon was the scourge of God to them. They were as grain under the teeth of the threshing machine. In the Captivity the Jews felt the weight of Babylon's cruelty, so that in the prophetic literature of the Exile, Babylon became the type of oppression and of the insolence of material force. Thought is carried back to primitive times in the Book of Genesis, in which Babylon is pictured in the vain and arrogant attempt to rival God: "Go to, let us build us a city, and tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." So deeply had the experience of Babylon's cruelty entered into the heart of Israel that even in the New Testament, St. John, in the Book of Revelation, uses the word "Babylon" to describe the material power of Rome. He could not get a better word than just the old word "Babylon" to represent the overwhelming force of the great Roman Empire, with its legions of soldiers, with its policy which made the whole world a network of nerves running back to their sensitive centre in the haughty city on the Tiber. St. John saw past the glitter and the conquest, and recognised in pagan Rome the mighty Babylon which lifts her impious head against God. To him she was the "scarlet woman"; he heard, her say in the pride of her heart, as the prophet had heard Babylon say, "I sit a queen and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow." Thus the very name "Babylon" came to take on the religious signification of the spirit of the world; it stood for the dead weight of the material which resists the spirit.

(Hugh Black, M. A.)

Here the prophet pronounces doom upon the bloated empire which seemed to stand so secure, and notes the evidence of weakness in spite of apparent prosperity and careless trust in material resources. Disregard of human rights, lusts, and selfishness and pride of life, and the impious atheism which disregarded all this he declared would all exact their inevitable price. Cruelty and oppression would react upon the tyrant after their usual historic fashion. The huge accumulations on which they rested would only attract the foe, would weaken her hands in her hour of trial, and make her, in spite of her wealth, an easy prey to the spoiler. To Babylon would come a time when she would have more money than men. It is a picture of absolute ruin which the prophet gives, when the great city would be depopulated (ver. 12).

(Hugh Black, M. A.)

has not left the world, and every great civilisation (for it is not confined to one) is menaced in the same way by the temptation of forgetfulness of God, cruelty of sheer force, insolence of pride, and the empty trust of wealth. Our foes are the old foes with a new face on them.

(Hugh Black, M. A.)

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