Isaiah (Part 16): Intro to Judgment (Ch 13-14:2)
The major outline of Isaiah so far to our current position—beginning chapter 13—is as follows:
I. Isaiah 1-5 – INTROCDUCTION TO BOOK
II. Isaiah 6-12 – REMNANT PROMISE
III. Isaiah 13-39 – REMNANT PROVIDENCE
A. Isaiah 13-24 – Nations Judged
1. Isaiah 13-14:23 – Intro to subsection
a. 13:1-5 – Realize God’s Judgment
b. 13:6-16 – Repine over God’s Judgment
c. 13:17-22 – Recognize God’s Judgment
d. 14:1-2 – Restored by God’s Judgment
e. 14:3-23 – Rest through God’s Judgment
We will cover four of the five points under the intro to the Judgment subsection in this summary.
Isaiah 13:1-5 – Realize God’s Judgment
As Isaiah begins the introduction, he uses military imaging to picture how God is beginning his judgment. Of course, this is a good image precisely for the fact that God’s judgment will be through the conquering of the disobedient nation by another. In this introduction, Isaiah uses Babylon both as a specific nation to which God is bringing judgment and as representative of all nations who will be judged for self-centered arrogance, ignoring God. The introduction will mention Babylon specifically, but, as it begins, the terms used are broader, giving the sense that God is describing and readying judgment for more than the historical city of Babylon.
The beginning of chapter 13, then, is the call to God’s means of judgment—other nations. As in normal military maneuvering of the time, a signaler is sent to the top of a barren mountain (no trees obstructing view) so that divisions of troops miles away may see and respond to the flag waving.
The call, we learn in verse 2, is to have the armies march through the “gates of the nobles.” The purpose is clear. The nation will not just do battle, but is called to take over control of Babylon (the headquarters where the nobles reside and govern). The word translated nobles is the Hebrew word meaning generous. Thus, just as in English the virtuous word noble is applied to the leadership position, so also the Hebrew word meaning generous is used to refer to those in leadership. We have already learned in Isaiah chapters 1 through 5 that God’s complaint about the Jewish leaders was that they were not acting very noble or generous. They used their positions to benefit themselves rather than to care for the people. God had intended his image bearers to reflect his own care-giving. That God uses the term nobles or generous ones of these to whom he is bringing judgment is a touch of sarcasm against these rulers who were anything but noble.
In verse 3 God refers to the nations being called as “My chosen ones.” Other translations use sanctified ones or consecrated ones. These are all legitimate alternatives. The idea is that God is appointing or separating these people for a specific task. Some translations elect to substitute “holy” for “chosen.” The word holy, however, does not really fit the context. Holy has the connotation of purity from defilement, and that is not the idea being put forward. The nation that God will use to bring judgment to Babylon certainly has its own defilement, so it is not holy. But it is sanctified or consecrated in the sense that it is being appointed for this particular task.
God continues in verse 3 by saying that his warriors are those “who exult in My triumph.” This sounds as if the nation is rejoicing about the fact that God is triumphing in judgment. This certainly can’t be so because in the case of the Medes and Persians who conquered Babylon, they were in it for their own glory, not God’s. So what does this phrase in verse 3 really mean? The NIV translates it much the same as the HCSB—“those who rejoice in My triumph.” However, both the ESV and the NASB rearrange the words a little to give a different meaning. Their translations speak of “my proudly exalting ones.” The “triumph” of the HCSB is the Hebrew “pride.” The ESV/NASB then moves the pride to an adverb of the rejoicing/exalting adjective. This does make better sense because now we see self-pride and rejoicing for selfish concern as the motivation of the Medes. The problem, however, is that this translation does not line up with the Hebrew. In the Hebrew phrase, two words are used. One concerns the rejoicing ones. The other is literally “my pride.” The ESV/NASB translation mixes up these two words, moving the possessive from pride to the rejoicers. The Amplified Bible provides a little more help. Its translation is “My proudly exalting ones—those who are made to triumph for My honor.” In this we see a distinction. Yes, the Medes were proud and exalting in themselves as they conquered Babylon. But, although they didn’t realize it, this was God’s purpose and victory. We can now go back to the HCSB translation—“who exult in My triumph”—and see the sense. The Medes exalted in triumph, but God is claiming that it is his triumph. The phrase does not imply that the Medes had battled motivated for God.
Verses 4 and 5 are meant to awaken us to what was actually going on. This is not simply human action through history. This is God coordinating, orchestrating, accomplishing his will, and his will is to judge evil.
Isaiah 13:6-16 – Repine over God’s Judgment
In the next division of this introduction, we see the horror of God’s judgment. We are not left to wonder whether it really is God who brings about the judgment. The dramatic heavenly disturbances in verses 10 and 13 signal that this is no mere orchestration of man. Humankind does not control the sun, moon, and stars. Their disturbance tells us that God is moving; God’s wrath is shaking the order of events. We see the same display of heavenly disturbance at several points throughout Scripture when view of divine wrath is intended: Ecclesiastes 12:2; Jeremiah 15:9; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; 2:31; 3:15; Amos 8:9; and Micah 3:6. The same imagery carries into the New Testament in Matthew 24:29 as well as several places in Revelation, including 6:12 and 8:12. The imagery of heavenly disturbances both indicates God’s control and emphasizes his opposition to sin. We should recognize this construct in the Old Testament and carry it with us into the New Testament so that we don’t weaken NT imagery by interpreting these phenomena in Revelation as mere literal events. The passion and force of God in judgment should be seen.
We also see in this section how God effects judgment. God uses ungodly nations to judge other ungodly nations. These judgments on nations seen throughout the Old Testament—especially in Daniel—are ordered in succession. However, in Isaiah we find indication that the culmination of all judgment will be when all disobedient nations and peoples are judged without another corresponding nation of victory besides God’s people. This eventual, ultimate judgment is what we find in Revelation 16 as the bowls of wrath are being poured out upon the world.
But note what constitutes the judgment. In Isaiah 13:17-18 we read of people being stabbed, children smashed to death before their parents’ eyes, and wives being raped. Are these the caused acts of God? Although this is the judgment of God, the horrors committed in this judgment are the acts of evil people. We must keep hold of two basic concepts: one is that God is sovereign and controls everything, and the second is that God does not cause sin. God works his control in his involvement and withdrawal in history, events, and lives (Romans 1). Thus, as God withdraws, evil naturally and necessarily increases. God describes himself as light—a good analogy. As the source of light enters a room, the effect of light impacts the darkness, reducing it. As the light is withdrawn, darkness grows. God is both source and effect of goodness. As he withdraws, goodness withdraws, and evil increases. God’s judgment is in withdrawing his good hand so that, left to the natural consequence of self-centered, relationless people, violence and destruction follow.
As illustration of this, we read in Genesis 11 about the world’s initial society building a tower at Babel—a tower intended to unite them in arrogance apart from God. God immediately stops the activity and scatters their language and location. Why does God act in that way? Most of our English translations may seem to suggest (in verse 6) that God was worried about humanity actually becoming stronger than God. But that is a misinterpretation. Translating the Septuagint gives us a better idea of the meaning. That phrase in Genesis 11:6 reads, “and now nothing shall fail from them of all that they may have undertaken to do.” God’s concern is that humanity, without him, is self-focused, purposed for self-exaltation. Thus, although ostensibly they gather in unification, without God the ultimate result will be a tearing apart of each other as each strives for glory of self. God prevented that because it was not time. God wanted redemption and restoration. So he scattered the people. At Armageddon the story will be different. That will be the ultimate judgment with God withdrawing from the frenzied madness of those who deny him.
Isaiah 13:17-22 – Recognize God’s Judgment
In the next section of the introduction, God specifies that the Medes rising up against Babylon is his means of judgment against them. Verse 17 tells us that they cannot be bought off—a common practice of the time for nations in fear of stronger neighbors. But notice in this judgment the withdrawal of God. Throughout Isaiah we had seen God’s emphasis on his care-giving. In verse 18 we read of no compassion and no pity—evidence that God has removed his good hand.
Isaiah 14:1-2 – Restored by God’s Judgment
We have a change in scene that occurs in the first two verses of chapter 14. Chapter 14 begins with the Hebrew word translated “for.” Many English translations leave it out, but they shouldn’t. The idea is not that we had been discussing judgment, and now, having finished that discussion, we’re discussing God’s care for the remnant. The transitional word “for” tells us that God cares for his people by the judgment just described. Remembering that this opening chapter and a half is introductory to the full scope of God’s judgment prophecy for these nations and the whole earth lets us know that judging sin is one means by which God cares for his people.
The word compassion in verse 1 expresses the Hebrew meaning of tender affection—a cherishing of his people. This is the same word used of the mother who would rather give up her child than allow him to be harmed before Solomon’s wise investigation in 1 Kings 3:26. That feminine characteristic of tender, soothing affection is constantly in view in the care-giving of our God, from pre-cursed Eden to Christ’s embrace of the children in the Gospels.
The verse also tells us that God settles his own in the land. This is a reference to another full Bible theme—the Sabbath rest. God progressively reveals this theme in the Garden, in the Law, in the New Covenant (as explained in Hebrews), and in our blessed hope of everlasting love relationship with our God.
Verse 2 is difficult. It begins with nations accompanying Israel to the homeland. This is almost universally understood as the gathering of Gentiles with Jews into the true Israel of God through the work of Christ. Yet the next couple of statements seem odd. The terms “captives” and “rule” seem to fight against the understanding of relational bliss under God. However, we must keep focus on the overall picture presented. It is a military image from 13:1 all the way through. In a military image, those from other nations come to the conqueror only as captives. We even see that illustration in the New Testament in Ephesians 4. But the idea is only that the captivity and subjection is the giving up of self-focus to become God-focused.