Jehovah Humbles an Arrogant City
1. How far ahead does the book of Isaiah now look?
THE prophetic book of Isaiah was written in the eighth century B.C.E. against the background of the Assyrian invasion of the Promised Land. As has been seen in previous chapters of his book, Isaiah foretells with remarkable accuracy the course that events will take. However, the book looks beyond the time of Assyrian ascendancy. It foretells the return of Jehovah’s covenant people from exile in many lands, including Shinar, the location of Babylon. (Isaiah 11:11) In Isaiah chapter 13, we find a remarkable prophecy that upon fulfillment will open the way for such a return. This prophecy is introduced with these words: “The pronouncement against Babylon that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw in vision.”—Isaiah 13:1.
‘Haughtiness I Shall Abase’
2. (a) How does Hezekiah get involved with Babylon? (b) What is the “signal” that will be raised up?
2 Judah becomes involved with Babylon during Isaiah’s lifetime. King Hezekiah falls seriously ill and then recovers. Ambassadors from Babylon come to congratulate him on his recovery, likely with the secret purpose of enlisting Hezekiah as an ally in their war against Assyria. Unwisely, King Hezekiah shows them all his treasures. As a result, Isaiah tells Hezekiah that after the king’s death, all that wealth will be carried off to Babylon. (Isaiah 39:1-7) This is fulfilled in 607 B.C.E. when Jerusalem is destroyed and the nation is taken into exile. However, God’s chosen people will not stay in Babylon forever. Jehovah foretells how he will open the way for their return home. He begins: “Upon a mountain of bare rocks raise up a signal, you men. Lift up the voice to them, wave the hand, that they may come into the entrances of the nobles.” (Isaiah 13:2) The “signal” is a rising world power that will dislodge Babylon from its place of eminence. It will be raised “upon a mountain of bare rocks”—in plain view from a great distance. Summoned to assault Babylon, that new world power will force its way through “the entrances of the nobles,” the gates of that great city, and will conquer it.
3. (a) Who are the “sanctified ones” that Jehovah will raise up? (b) In what sense are pagan armies “sanctified”?
3 Jehovah now says: “I myself have issued the command to my sanctified ones. I have also called my mighty ones for expressing my anger, my eminently exultant ones. Listen! A crowd in the mountains, something like a numerous people! Listen! The uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathered together! Jehovah of armies is mustering the army of war.” (Isaiah 13:3, 4) Who are these “sanctified ones” appointed to bring down haughty Babylon? They are combined national armies, “nations gathered together.” They descend against Babylon from a distant mountainous region. “They are coming from the land far away, from the extremity of the heavens.” (Isaiah 13:5) In what sense are they sanctified? Certainly not in the sense of being holy. They are pagan armies with no interest in serving Jehovah. However, in the Hebrew Scriptures, “sanctified” means “set apart for use by God.” Jehovah can sanctify the armies of the nations and use their selfish ambitions in order to express his anger. He used Assyria in this way. He will use Babylon similarly. (Isaiah 10:5; Jeremiah 25:9) And he will use other nations to punish Babylon.
4, 5. (a) What does Jehovah foretell for Babylon? (b) What will those attacking Babylon have to deal with?
4 Babylon is not yet the dominant world power. Yet, issuing a proclamation through Isaiah, Jehovah looks to the time when she will occupy that position, and he foretells her fall. He says: “Howl, you people, for the day of Jehovah is near! As a despoiling from the Almighty it will come.” (Isaiah 13:6) Yes, Babylon’s boasting will be replaced by grief-filled howling. Why? Because of “the day of Jehovah,” the day when Jehovah executes judgment against her.
5 How, though, will it be possible for Babylon to be despoiled? When Jehovah’s time for this comes, the city will appear to be secure. Invading armies will first have to deal with the natural defenses provided by the Euphrates River, which runs through the center of the city and is tapped to fill a protective moat and to supply the city with drinking water. Then there will be Babylon’s massive double walls, which are seemingly impregnable. Moreover, the city will be well stocked with food. The book Daily Bible Illustrations says that Nabonidus—the last king of Babylon—“had taken immense pains to store the town with provisions, and it was reckoned to contain enough [food] to sustain the inhabitants for twenty years.”
6. What will unexpectedly happen when the foretold assault on Babylon occurs?
6 However, appearances can be deceptive. Isaiah says: “That is why all hands themselves will drop down, and the whole heart itself of mortal man will melt. And people have become disturbed. Convulsions and birth pains themselves grab hold; like a woman that is giving birth they have labor pains. They look at each other in amazement. Their faces are inflamed faces.” (Isaiah 13:7, 8) When the conquering armies invade the city, the ease of its inhabitants will be replaced by pain as sudden and intense as that of a woman giving birth. Their hearts will melt with fear. Paralyzed, their hands will drop down, unable to make a defense. Their faces will be “inflamed” with fear and anguish. In amazement they will look at one another, wondering how their great city could fall.
7. What “day of Jehovah” is coming, and what will be the results for Babylon?
7 Nevertheless, fall it will. Babylon is to face a day of reckoning, a “day of Jehovah,” that will be painful indeed. The supreme Judge will express his anger and bring well-deserved judgment upon Babylon’s sinful inhabitants. The prophecy says: “Look! The day of Jehovah itself is coming, cruel both with fury and with burning anger, in order to make the land an object of astonishment, and that it may annihilate the land’s sinners out of it.” (Isaiah 13:9) Babylon’s prospects are gloomy. It is as though the sun, moon, and stars all cease giving light. “For the very stars of the heavens and their constellations of Kesil will not flash forth their light; the sun will actually grow dark at its going forth, and the moon itself will not cause its light to shine.”—Isaiah 13:10.
8. Why does Jehovah decree the fall of Babylon?
8 Why such a fate for this proud city? Jehovah says: “I shall certainly bring home its own badness upon the productive land, and their own error upon the wicked themselves. And I shall actually cause the pride of the presumptuous ones to cease, and the haughtiness of the tyrants I shall abase.” (Isaiah 13:11) The outpouring of Jehovah’s wrath will be punishment for Babylon’s cruelty to God’s people. The whole land will suffer because of the badness of the Babylonians. No longer will these proud tyrants openly defy Jehovah!
9. What awaits Babylon on Jehovah’s day of judgment?
9 Jehovah says: “I shall make mortal man rarer than refined gold, and earthling man rarer than the gold of Ophir.” (Isaiah 13:12) Yes, the city will come to be depopulated, waste. Jehovah continues: “That is why I shall cause heaven itself to become agitated, and the earth will rock out of its place at the fury of Jehovah of armies and at the day of his burning anger.” (Isaiah 13:13) Babylon’s “heaven,” her multitude of gods and goddesses, will be agitated, unable to help the city in its time of need. “The earth,” the Babylonian Empire, will be rocked out of place, passing into history as just another dead empire. “It must occur that, like a gazelle chased away and like a flock without anyone to collect them together, they will turn, each one to his own people; and they will flee, each one to his own land.” (Isaiah 13:14) All of Babylon’s foreign supporters will forsake her and flee, hoping to set up new relationships with the conquering world power. Babylon will finally experience the agony of a conquered city, an agony that she inflicted on so many others in the days of her glory: “Every one that is found will be pierced through, and every one that is caught in the sweep will fall by the sword; and their very children will be dashed to pieces before their eyes. Their houses will be pillaged, and their own wives will be raped.”—Isaiah 13:15, 16.
God’s Instrument of Destruction
10. Whom will Jehovah use to defeat Babylon?
10 Which power will Jehovah use to bring about the fall of Babylon? Some 200 years ahead of time, Jehovah reveals the answer: “Here I am arousing against them the Medes, who account silver itself as nothing and who, as respects gold, take no delight in it. And their bows will dash even young men to pieces. And the fruitage of the belly they will not pity; for sons their eye will not feel sorry. And Babylon, the decoration of kingdoms, the beauty of the pride of the Chaldeans, must become as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Isaiah 13:17-19) Magnificent Babylon will fall, and Jehovah’s instrument for bringing this about will be armies from the distant, mountainous country of Media.* Eventually, Babylon will be as desolate as the grossly immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.—Genesis 13:13; 19:13, 24.
11, 12. (a) How does Media become a world power? (b) What unusual trait does the prophecy mention about Media’s armies?
11 In Isaiah’s day, both Media and Babylon are under the Assyrian yoke. About a century later, in 632 B.C.E., Media and Babylon join forces and overthrow Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. This opens the way for Babylon to become the predominant world power. Little does she realize that about 100 years after that, Media will destroy her! Who but Jehovah God could make such a bold prediction?
12 When identifying his chosen instrument of destruction, Jehovah says that Media’s armies “account silver itself as nothing and . . . as respects gold, take no delight in it.” What an unusual trait for battle-hardened soldiers! Bible scholar Albert Barnes says: “Few, indeed, have been the invading armies which were not influenced by the hope of spoil.” Do the Median armies prove Jehovah true in this regard? Yes. Consider this comment found in The Bible-Work, prepared by J. Glentworth Butler: “Unlike most nations that have ever waged war, the Medes, and especially the Persians, thought less of gold than of conquest and glory.”* In view of this, it is not surprising that when he releases the Israelites from Babylonian exile, the Persian ruler Cyrus restores to them thousands of gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar looted from Jerusalem’s temple.—Ezra 1:7-11.
13, 14. (a) Although not interested in spoil, for what are the Median and the Persian warriors ambitious? (b) How does Cyrus overcome the vaunted defenses of Babylon?
13 While the Median and the Persian warriors have little passion for spoil, they are nevertheless ambitious. They do not intend to remain second to any nation on the world stage. Moreover, Jehovah puts “despoiling” into their hearts. (Isaiah 13:6) Hence, with their strong bows—which are used to shoot arrows that will ‘dash to pieces’ enemy soldiers, the offspring of Babylonian mothers—they are determined to conquer Babylon.
14 Cyrus, leader of the Medo-Persian armies, is undeterred by Babylon’s fortifications. On the night of October 5/6, 539 B.C.E., he orders the diverting of the waters of the Euphrates River. As the water level falls, the invaders stealthily make their way into the city, walking along the riverbed through thigh-deep water. Babylon’s inhabitants are caught unawares, and Babylon falls. (Daniel 5:30) Jehovah God inspires Isaiah to prophesy these events, leaving no doubt that He is directing matters.
15. What future awaits Babylon?
15 How complete will the destruction of Babylon be? Listen to Jehovah’s pronouncement: “She will never be inhabited, nor will she reside for generation after generation. And there the Arab will not pitch his tent, and no shepherds will let their flocks lie down there. And there the haunters of waterless regions will certainly lie down, and their houses must be filled with eagle owls. And there the ostriches must reside, and goat-shaped demons themselves will go skipping about there. And jackals must howl in her dwelling towers, and the big snake will be in the palaces of exquisite delight. And the season for her is near to come, and her days themselves will not be postponed.” (Isaiah 13:20-22) Utter desolation will be the city’s fate.
16. The present condition of Babylon gives us what confidence?
16 This did not happen immediately in 539 B.C.E. Still, today it is very clear that everything Isaiah foretold regarding Babylon has come true. Babylon “is now, and has been for centuries, a scene of wide desolation, and is a heap of ruins,” says one Bible commentator. Then he adds: “It is impossible to behold this scene and not be reminded how exactly the predictions of Isaiah and Jeremiah have been fulfilled.” Clearly, no man in Isaiah’s day could have foretold Babylon’s fall and her eventual desolation. After all, Babylon’s fall to the Medes and the Persians occurred some 200 years after Isaiah wrote his book! And her final desolation came centuries later. Does this not strengthen our faith in the Bible as the inspired Word of God? (2 Timothy 3:16) Moreover, since Jehovah fulfilled prophecies in times past, we can have absolute confidence that Bible prophecies yet unfulfilled will be realized in God’s due time.
“Rest From Your Pain”
17, 18. The defeat of Babylon will mean what blessings for Israel?
17 Babylon’s fall will be a relief for Israel. It will mean release from captivity and the opportunity to return to the Promised Land. Hence, Isaiah now says: “Jehovah will show mercy to Jacob, and he is yet certain to choose Israel; and he will actually give them rest upon their soil, and the alien resident must be joined to them, and they must attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And peoples will actually take them and bring them to their own place, and the house of Israel must take them to themselves as a possession upon the soil of Jehovah as menservants and as maidservants; and they must become the captors of those holding them captive, and they must have in subjection those who were driving them to work.” (Isaiah 14:1, 2) “Jacob” here refers to Israel as a whole—all 12 tribes. Jehovah will show mercy to “Jacob” by allowing the nation to return home. They will be accompanied by thousands of foreigners, many of whom will serve the Israelites as temple servants. Some Israelites will even come to have authority over their former captors.*
18 Gone will be the anguish of living in exile. Instead, Jehovah will give his people “rest from [their] pain and from [their] agitation and from the hard slavery in which [they] were made a slave.” (Isaiah 14:3) Having been freed from the physical burdens of slavery, Israel will no longer suffer the pain and agitation of living among worshipers of false gods. (Ezra 3:1; Isaiah 32:18) Commenting on this, the book Lands and Peoples of the Bible says: “To the Babylonian his gods were altogether such as himself, in all the worst aspects of his character. They were cowards, drunkards and imbeciles.” What a relief to escape such a degraded religious environment!
19. What is needed if Israel is to enjoy Jehovah’s forgiveness, and what do we learn from this?
19 Nevertheless, Jehovah’s mercy is not unconditional. His people must express remorse for their wickedness, which moved God to punish them so severely. (Jeremiah 3:25) Open, heartfelt confession will bring Jehovah’s forgiveness. (See Nehemiah 9:6-37; Daniel 9:5.) This same principle holds true today. Since “there is no man that does not sin,” all of us need Jehovah’s mercy. (2 Chronicles 6:36) Jehovah, the merciful God, lovingly invites us to confess our sins to him, to repent, and to cease any wrong course, in order that we may get healed. (Deuteronomy 4:31; Isaiah 1:18; James 5:16) This not only helps to restore us to his favor but also brings us comfort.—Psalm 51:1; Proverbs 28:13; 2 Corinthians 2:7.
A “Proverbial Saying” Against Babylon
20, 21. How do Babylon’s neighbors rejoice at her fall?
20 More than 100 years before Babylon’s rise as the preeminent world power, Isaiah foretells the world’s reaction to her fall. Prophetically, he commands Israelites who have been freed from captivity to her: “You must raise up this proverbial saying against the king of Babylon and say: ‘How has the one driving others to work come to a stop, the oppression come to a stop! Jehovah has broken the rod of the wicked ones, the staff of the ruling ones, the one striking peoples in fury with a stroke incessantly, the one subduing nations in sheer anger with a persecution without restraint.’” (Isaiah 14:4-6) Babylon has built up quite a reputation as a conqueror, an oppressor who turns free people into slaves. How fitting that her fall be celebrated with a “proverbial saying” directed primarily at the Babylonian dynasty—starting with Nebuchadnezzar and ending with Nabonidus and Belshazzar—that presided over the glory days of the great city!
21 What a difference her fall will make! “The whole earth has come to rest, has become free of disturbance. People have become cheerful with joyful cries. Even the juniper trees have also rejoiced at you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Ever since you have lain down, no woodcutter comes up against us.’” (Isaiah 14:7, 8) The kings of the nations round about were, to Babylon’s rulers, like trees to be cut down and used for their own purposes. Well, all of that is finished. The Babylonian woodcutter has cut his last tree!
22. In a poetic sense, how is Sheol affected by the fall of the Babylonian dynasty?
22 So astonishing is the fall of Babylon that the grave itself reacts: “Even Sheol underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in. At you it has awakened those impotent in death, all the goatlike leaders of the earth. It has made all the kings of the nations get up from their thrones. All of them speak up and say to you, ‘Have you yourself also been made weak like us? Is it to us that you have been made comparable? Down to Sheol your pride has been brought, the din of your stringed instruments. Beneath you, maggots are spread out as a couch; and worms are your covering.’” (Isaiah 14:9-11) What a powerful poetic image! It is as if the common grave of mankind were to wake up all those kings who preceded the Babylonian dynasty into death so that they can greet the newcomer. They mock the Babylonian ruling power, which is now helpless, lying on a bed of maggots instead of on a costly divan, covered with worms instead of expensive linens.
“Like a Carcass Trodden Down”
23, 24. What extreme arrogance is shown by Babylon’s kings?
23 Isaiah continues the proverbial saying: “O how you have fallen from heaven, you shining one, son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who were disabling the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12) Selfish pride prompts Babylon’s kings to elevate themselves above those around them. Like a star shining brightly in the early morning sky, they arrogantly wield power and authority. A particular source of pride is Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem, a feat that Assyria failed to accomplish. The proverbial utterance portrays the proud dynasty of Babylon as saying: “To the heavens I shall go up. Above the stars of God I shall lift up my throne, and I shall sit down upon the mountain of meeting, in the remotest parts of the north. I shall go up above the high places of the clouds; I shall make myself resemble the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13, 14) Could there be anything more outrageous?
24 In the Bible the kings of the royal line of David are likened to stars. (Numbers 24:17) From David on, those “stars” ruled from Mount Zion. After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the name Zion came to apply to the whole city. Under the Law covenant, all male Israelites were obliged to travel to Zion three times a year. Thus, it became “the mountain of meeting.” By determining to subjugate the Judean kings and then remove them from that mountain, Nebuchadnezzar is declaring his intention to put himself above those “stars.” He does not give Jehovah credit for his victory over them. Rather, in effect, he arrogantly puts himself in Jehovah’s place.
25, 26. How does the Babylonian dynasty meet a disgraceful end?
25 What a reversal is in store for the proud Babylonian dynasty! Babylon is far from being elevated above the stars of God. Rather, Jehovah says: “Down to Sheol you will be brought, to the remotest parts of the pit. Those seeing you will gaze even at you; they will give close examination even to you, saying, ‘Is this the man that was agitating the earth, that was making kingdoms rock, that made the productive land like the wilderness and that overthrew its very cities, that did not open the way homeward even for his prisoners?’” (Isaiah 14:15-17) The ambitious dynasty will come down to Hades (Sheol), just like any human.
26 Where, then, will be the power that conquered kingdoms, destroyed productive land, and overthrew cities without number? Where will be the world power that took captives and never allowed them to go back home? Why, the Babylonian dynasty will not even have a decent burial! Jehovah says: “All other kings of the nations, yes, all of them, have lain down in glory, each one in his own house. But as for you, you have been thrown away without a burial place for you, like a detested sprout, clothed with killed men stabbed with the sword that are going down to the stones of a pit, like a carcass trodden down. You will not become united with them in a grave, because you brought your own land to ruin, you killed your own people. To time indefinite the offspring of evildoers will not be named.” (Isaiah 14:18-20) In the ancient world, it was considered a disgrace for a king to be deprived of an honorable burial. So, what about Babylon’s royal dynasty? It is true that individual kings are probably interred with honor, but the imperial dynasty of kings that descended from Nebuchadnezzar is discarded “like a detested sprout.” It is as if the dynasty were thrown into an unmarked grave—like a mere foot soldier slain in battle. What a humiliation!
27. In what way do future generations of Babylonians suffer for the error of their forefathers?
27 The proverbial saying ends with final orders to the conquering Medes and Persians: “Make ready, you men, a slaughtering block for his own sons because of the error of their forefathers, that they may not rise up and actually take possession of the earth and fill the face of the productive land with cities.” (Isaiah 14:21) The fall of Babylon will be permanent. The Babylonian dynasty will be rooted out. There will be no renaissance. Future generations of Babylonians will suffer because of “the error of their forefathers.”
28. What was the root of the sin of the Babylonian kings, and what do we learn from this?
28 The judgment pronounced against the Babylonian dynasty provides a valuable lesson for us. The root of the Babylonian kings’ sin was their endless ambition. (Daniel 5:23) Their hearts were filled with a desire for power. They wanted to dominate others. (Isaiah 47:5, 6) And they lusted after glory from men, which rightly belongs to God. (Revelation 4:11) This is a warning to any in authority—even in the Christian congregation. Ambition and selfish pride are characteristics that Jehovah will not tolerate, either in individuals or in nations.
29. The pride and ambition of the Babylonian rulers was a reflection of what?
29 The pride of the Babylonian rulers was a reflection of the spirit of “the god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil. (2 Corinthians 4:4) He too lusts for power and longs to place himself above Jehovah God. As was the case with the king of Babylon and the people he subjugated, Satan’s unholy ambition has resulted in misery and suffering for all mankind.
30. What other Babylon is mentioned in the Bible, and what spirit has she shown?
30 Moreover, in the book of Revelation, we read of another Babylon—“Babylon the Great.” (Revelation 18:2) This organization, the world empire of false religion, has also shown a prideful, oppressive, and cruel spirit. As a result, she too has to face a “day of Jehovah” and be destroyed in God’s due time. (Isaiah 13:6) Since 1919 the message has sounded around the earth: “Babylon the Great has fallen!” (Revelation 14:8) When she was unable to hold God’s people in captivity, she experienced a fall. Soon she will be completely destroyed. Of ancient Babylon, Jehovah commanded: “Pay back to her according to her activity. According to all that she has done, do to her. For it is against Jehovah that she has acted presumptuously, against the Holy One of Israel.” (Jeremiah 50:29; James 2:13) Babylon the Great will receive a similar judgment.
31. What will soon happen to Babylon the Great?
31 Hence, Jehovah’s final statement of this prophecy in the book of Isaiah applies not only to ancient Babylon but also to Babylon the Great: “I will rise up against them . . . And I will cut off from Babylon name and remnant and progeny and posterity . . . And I will make her a possession of porcupines and reedy pools of water, and I will sweep her with the broom of annihilation.” (Isaiah 14:22, 23) The desolated ruins of ancient Babylon show what Jehovah will soon do to Babylon the Great. What a comfort for lovers of true worship! What an encouragement to strive never to allow the satanic characteristics of pride, arrogance, or cruelty to develop in us!
Isaiah mentions only the Medes by name, but a number of nations will be allies against Babylon—Media, Persia, Elam, and other smaller nations. (Jeremiah 50:9; 51:24, 27, 28) Neighboring nations refer to both Medes and Persians as “the Mede.” Further, in Isaiah’s day, Media is the dominant power. Only under Cyrus does Persia become dominant.
It appears, however, that later on the Medes and the Persians developed a great love for luxury.—Esther 1:1-7.
For example, Daniel was appointed as a high official in Babylon under the Medes and the Persians. And about 60 years later, Esther became queen of the Persian King Ahasuerus, and Mordecai became prime minister of the whole Persian Empire.
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Fallen Babylon will become the haunt of desert creatures
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Like ancient Babylon, Babylon the Great will become a heap of ruins