A translation and sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan KS, 14 Oct 2007
1. Get down and sit upon the dust, virgin daughter of Babylon.
Sit to the ground, Chaldean’s daughter; there is no throne,
for you will not continue to make them call you tender and delicate.
2. Take millstones and grind flour; uncover your hair;
hike up the robe; uncover the leg; pass over streams.
3. Your nakedness will be uncovered, also your disgrace will be seen.
I will take vengeance, and I will not interpose a man.
4. Our Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts is His name, the Holy One of Israel.
5. Sit silently and go into the darkness, Chaldean’s daughter,
for you will not continue to make them call you Lady of the Kingdoms.
6. I was angry over my people; I profaned my inheritance, and I gave them into your hand.
You did not lay unto them mercies; upon the elderly you made your yoke to be exceedingly heavy.
7. And you said, “Forever I will be a lady!”
until you did not lay these upon your heart – you did not remember its aftermath.
8. And now hear this:
the one who sits for the security,
the one who says in her heart, “There is nothing else but me! I will not sit a widow, and I will not know bereavement.”
9. So these two will come to you instantly in one day: bereavement and widowhood.
They come upon you in their totality,
in a multitude of your witchcrafts and in an exceeding abundance of your associations.
10. Yet you were secure in your evil;
you said, “There is not one who sees me!”
Your wisdom and your knowledge—this has deceived you,
and you said, “There is nothing else but me!”
11. So evil will come upon you – you will not know its arrival,
and disaster will fall upon you – you will not be able to atone for it,
and ruin will suddenly come upon you – you will not know.
12. Stand, if you please, with your associations
and with the multitude of your witchcrafts in which you have labored since your youth.
Perhaps you will be able to profit; perhaps you will tremble.
13. You become weary with your many counsels.
Let them stand and save you – those who dissect the heavens, the ones who gaze into the stars,
making known for the months some of the things which will come upon you.
14. Look, they have become like stubble; a fire burns them.
They will not cause their own soul to be delivered from the hand of the flame.
There is not a coal to heat, a light before which to sit!
15. Thus, for you, are the things on which you labored.
Your merchants from your youth have wandered each to his exit; there is no one saving you!
The fall of Babylon is a pivotal event in the Bible. Every one of the major prophets contain an account of the fall of Babylon. In fact, Isaiah has already given us a prophecy concerning Babylon in the first half of his book, chapter 13. Here in the second half of his book, chapter 47, Isaiah expands on that prophecy. Incidentally, the Apostle John will expand further on this prophecy of the fall of Babylon in his book of Revelation, chapters 17-18.
In order to get some idea of who he is addressing, I want to read a description of the fabulous city of Babylon based on the writings of Heroditus:
It was through Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon acquired the extent and magnificence and stupendous works… which rendered it the wonder of the world and of posterity… The empire of Babylon, established by Nebuchadnezzar, however, fell at the feet of Cyrus, the great Persian conqueror of Asia. But though the city had lost its power and independence, yet her riches and luxury continued to be an astonishment to the ancient world. Her productive soil and extensive commerce supplied every want and gratified every desire. [It was during this Persian period that the Greek historian Herodotus visited Babylon.]
Babylon’s wealth was supposed to form one third of the wealth of Asia; and she was therefore the most important of all the Persian satrapies. The satrap received daily, as the produce of his province, twelve gallons and a half of silver; and he was enabled to keep 800 horses and 16,000 mares, in addition to the horses used in war. He likewise had an immense number of Indian dogs. This foreign breed, which was very extensively imported by the ancients from the far east, was said to be the largest and strongest in existence. It was the best adapted for hunting wild beasts, and would even readily attack the lordly lion. The Persians were still as much attached to the pleasures of the chase as when they had roved over their own bleak and rugged mountains. The nobles therefore kept a large pack of these famous dogs, and were even accustomed to take them with them on their journeys and military expeditions; but the satrap of Babylon maintained an incredible number, and exempted four towns in his government from the payment of all taxes upon the condition of their supplying his dogs with sufficient food.
The first thing, of course, which attracted our traveler's attention was the extraordinary arrangement and architecture of the city, and the peculiar appearance of the people.
Long straight streets, leading down to the banks of the river in parallel lines and intersected by other lines of streets at right angles. Magnificent palaces, constructed of the finest brick, and surrounded by beautiful gardens, elevated one above the other upon a succession of broad terraces. Houses rising three or four stories in height, and spreading over a very large area. Immense bazaars, glittering with merchandise, and crowded with people.
Within the city walls, and even bordering on the busiest streets, he saw pastures covered with cattle, and corn lands covered with the harvest, sufficient as he was told, to maintain the entire city during the most protracted blockade. The people were habited, not in the cool garments of Hellas, nor in the tight-fitting raiment of Persia, but in a costume which was at once loose, warm, and luxurious. It consisted of a gown of linen or cotton, flowing down to the feet; over this was an upper woolen garment; and a white woolen mantle covered the whole. Their hair was very long, and kept together by their turbans; and they appeared to be very fond of anointing their entire bodies with perfumes. Every man wore a signet ring, and carried a curiously wrought staff; and on every staff was carved either an apple, a rose, a lily, an eagle, or something else of the same kind; for it was not allowable to carry a stick without a device.
After a few days, Herodotus learned something of the shape and size of the city. It was an immense square, of which the city wall measured on each side fifteen English miles in length. The streets, fields, and gardens within the walls, therefore, measured sixty miles in circumference, and comprehended an area of more than two hundred square miles. The stupendous walls were said to be five hundred and forty feet high, and eighty-five feet in thickness; but they had been to a great extent destroyed by the Persian conquerors, though they were still surrounded by a wide and deep moat. The banks of the Euphrates, which flowed through the center of the city, were likewise protected by walls of baked brick… and where the streets descended toward the river there were brazen gates opening through the river wall, and leading down to the water's edge…
Over the river was a bridge, connecting the two halves of the city, which stood, the one on its eastern, and the other on its western, bank, the river running nearly north and south. The bridge was 5 furlongs in length, and 30 feet in breadth, and had a palace at each end, with, it is said, a subterraneous passage beneath the river, from one to the other - the work of Semiramis.
On either side of the river, according to Diodorus, adjoining to the bridge, was a palace, that on the western bank being by much the larger. This palace was eight miles in circumference, and strongly fortified with three walls one within another. Within it were the celebrated pensile or hanging gardens, enclosed in a square of 400 feet. Those gardens were raised on terraces, supported by… by piers, laid over with broad flat stones, the arch appearing to be unknown to the Babylonians, which courses of piers rose above one another till they reached the level of the top of the city walls. On each terrace or platform, a deep layer of mould was laid, in which flowers, shrubs and trees were planted, some of which are said to have reached the height of 50 feet. On the highest level was a reservoir, with an engine to draw water up from the river by which the whole was watered. This novel and astonishing structure… was undertaken to please [Nebuchadnezzar’s] wife Amyitis; that she might see an imitation of the hills and woods of her native country, Media. Herodotus could not gain admission; but he admired the immense brazen gates which led to the splendid enclosure, and heard stories which seemed almost fabulous, of the beauty and brilliancy of the spacious and magnificent halls...
In the other division of the city was the immense temple of Bel.., the deification of the Sun as he was worshiped by the Babylonians. This temple was a square building, a quarter of a mile in length and breadth. In the midst of it rose a solid square tower, one eighth of a mile in length and breadth, upon -which were built seven towers, one upon the top of the other, so that there were eight in all of decreasing dimensions to the summit. An ascent was on the outside, and ran spirally round all the towers. Halfway up there was a landing-place and seats for resting on. In the topmost tower was a spacious chamber, splendidly furnished with a large couch and a golden table... This was the observatory, by the benefit of which the Babylonians arrived to such perfection in astronomy, that Calisthenes the philosopher, who accompanied Alexander to Babylon, found astronomical observations for 1,903 years backwards from that time, which reach as far as the 115th year after the flood of Noah. Beneath this observatory was a chapel, and within it was a large golden statue of Bel in a sitting posture with a magnificent table of solid gold before it. The throne on which Bel was sitting, and likewise the step to it, were all made of pure gold. The Chaldaeans told Herodotus that the gold altogether weighed 800 talents, which would be equal to twenty-two tons... This is the kind of luxury and opulence which Isaiah addresses. (SOURCES: Biblical and Theological Dictionary by Richard Watson, 1856, and The Life and Travels of Herodotus in the Fifth Century Before Christ By James Talboys Wheeler, 1856)
Twelve imperatives are issued to the great city of Babylon in verses 1-8: Get down, sit down, sit, (v.2) take hold of the millstones, grind flour, uncover, strip off, uncover, pass through streams, (v.5) sit silently, go into the darkness, and (v.8) listen.
1. Deposition: In verse 1, those commands have to do with coming down from an exalted position. Babylon would be overthrown. There would no longer be a throne for her, only a seat on the dirty ground. E.J. Young comments that “Not to sit upon a chair was regarded in Babylon as a sign of degradation.” Verse 8 tells us that Babylon once sat up in a secure seat, but now three times Babylon is told to sit down in a lowly place.
Babylon is described as a virgin who had never been conquered, but Cyrus would depose her from the heights of imperial power. She who was once in the spotlight of history would silently fade into dark obscurity (v.5).
2. Slavery: She who had once been called “tender” and “delicate” would begin to lead the rough life of a slave. According to John Calvin’s research, when Cyrus conquered Babylon, “he assigned Chaldeans to the operations of slaves and kept them from honorable employments” – which were reserved for Persians.
Verse 2 describes the degradation of a slave. They would have to do the hard, menial work of pushing a millstone around and around like Samson was forced to do in the book of Judges. Because of the hard work, they couldn’t afford to wear all the fine clothing and veils and cloaks and jewelry. Slaves had to strip that all off. They would have to hike up their skirts to wade streams too, perhaps in the process of scouring the countryside to gather firewood as the Gibeonite slaves had to do for the Israelites in Joshua 9.
3. Exposure to shame: Remember that this is a personification of a city, being described as though the city were a woman. V.3 speaks of her nakedness being uncovered and her disgrace being seen. When Cyrus conquered Babylon and deposed its ruling class, all the corruption that had been hidden behind that attractive veneer of wealth and power was exposed to the public eye and suddenly didn’t look so attractive anymore.
Instead of boasting, they begin pleading the fifth and trying to hide – v.5 says they sit in silence and go into the darkness. When former President Clinton was faced with impeachment, the machismo left him and he didn’t want to talk about it. All who follow the ways of Babylon will fall into shame & disgrace.
4. Destruction: V.3 also says that God will take vengeance in which no man will be spared. The second half of this verse is difficult to translate because the verb is first person (I) and is translated with somewhat opposite meanings: meet, spare; deliver, stand against; intercede, and resist. Then it is followed by an object meaning “a man.” I take it to mean that God has no plan for a substitute to pour out His wrath on, like there was for His people in Isaiah 43:4 "Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.” Instead the prophecy against Babylon back in chapter 13 will come true: “I will make mortal man more scarce than pure gold…” God will reduce them to nothing.
Verse 9 says that bereavement and widowhood will come upon Babylon in full measure suddenly in one day. Verse 11 describes the coming destruction as “evil,” “disaster/destruction/mischief,” and “ruin/desolation which will come upon [them] suddenly.” Daniel 5 as well as the historical account by Herodotus attest that the overthrow of Babylon was indeed sudden.
Degradation, Slavery, Shame, and Destruction are prophecied for Babylon. Why?
1. PRIDE – setting themselves in the place of God
The reason God issues these 12 commands at the beginning of the chapter is to show Babylon who is boss. She thinks she is a great lady who is above all other nations and above all other gods, above accountability.
Twice God recalls her arrogant statement, “There is no one else but me” or “I am, and there is no one besides me.” This is reminiscent of the words of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in Daniel 4 when he said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling-place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”
God hates pride. This statement seems to have really gotten under God’s skin. Perhaps it is because it is a direct contradiction to God’s statements about Himself in the previous two chapters:
Isaiah 46:9b …I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me;
Isaiah 45:5 I am Jehovah, and there is none else; besides me there is no God…
Isaiah 45:6 …there is none besides me: I am Jehovah, and there is none else.
Isaiah 45:18b …I am Jehovah; and there is none else.
She says “No one sees me” when there is a God watching everything. She says “I will be lady forever” when there is only one Lord who will be forever. She has put herself in the place of God.
Have you ever thought of being mean to your sister or saying something mean to your brother just because you can? Have you ever thought, “No one is watching, I can get away with this.” Have you ever thought, “What’s important is what I want.” Watch out! This is the sin of Babylon.
This kind of arrogance and lack of regard for God’s accountability leads to a lack of concern for all other people and a willingness to be cruel to others.
2. Indifference toward others leading to hatred and cruelty.
The greatest example of this is Babylon’s treatment of the Jews under their captivity. Verse 6 informs us that when God gave the Jews into the power of the Babylonians, the Babylonians treated the Jews cruelly. They did not show mercy, and they even saddled elderly men with extraordinarily hard work. James 2:13 teaches that judgment will be merciless to him who shows no mercy.
It’s all too easy to forget about the hungry and homeless people in our town – keep them out of sight in the homeless shelter. It’s all too easy to hold back on being generous and kind – that guy racing past all of us sensible folk who merged into the merge lane before the construction zone doesn’t deserve to be let in front of me! Do you ever expect unreasonable things of your children or of people under your authority? This is the sin of Babylon!
3. Expecting to always live in pleasure
In v.8, Babylon is the pleasure-lover, the voluptuous one who enjoys living in luxury. She thinks she will never lose her husband or children. This may be figurative of losing her king and her population in war. She thinks she laid enough magic spells to protect herself. Let me tell you, no health insurance plan can protect you from losing your health. No life insurance plan can protect you from losing your life. No insurance plan can protect you from losing your job. And if you walk into the Geico office complaining that you lost your child to rebellion, you’re just going to get a funny look. You can’t control the future. If you think that life is about your personal peace and prosperity, you have fallen into the sin of Babylon.
4. Doing evil, disgraceful things
As we’ve seen in v.3, Babylon had been doing disgraceful, shameful deeds. Women were used and abused in Babylon. Debauchery was common in Babylon. Babylon trusted in their wickedness, it says in v.10, thinking that no one saw.
If you tolerate any wickedness in your life, you are right there with the sin of Babylon.
Verses 9 and 12 and perhaps 11 mention “sorcery/divination/witchcraft.” Ephesians 5:11-12 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
Do you ever wish that you could control things that are beyond human control? This is the first step toward witchcraft.
6. Spending all their energy on councils and trade
Herodotus described how the Armenian merchants would build wooden-ribbed circular boats covered with leather which they would fill with wine jars, donkeys, straw, and other goods and float down the Euphrates river to Babylon. In Babylon, they’d sell all the goods in the boat, including the wooden ribs, then tie the leather on the back of the donkey and ride the donkey back home (because you can’t sail back up the river). (Heroditus’ Inquiries Translated By Schlomo Felberbaum www.losttrails.com/pages/Tales/Inquiries/Herodotus_7.html)
Verse 15 mentions “the things on which you labored. Your merchants from your youth” All her life, Babylon had labored to build trade associations. They were workaholics, desperately trying to maintain the good life that they so loved. They labored all their life at it and “wearied [themselves] with a multitude of counsels.”
Their priorities were wrong. Work and income are not what we should spend all our energy on. Our job won’t save us. We must fulfill God’s calling and seek first God’s kingdom. That certainly includes working and providing for your family, but it also means stopping when it’s time to raise children and disciple them, it also means stopping when it’s time to minister to others and stopping for the Sabbath day to rest and worship God.
Have you fallen into the trap of working when God calls you to family or ministry or rest? That is another one of Babylon’s sins.
What is a sinner to do? Must we go down with Babylon in its sins of pride, indifference, pleasure-loving, wickedness, witchcraft, and workaholism? Although the message of salvation is not very overt in this chapter, it is there.
1. Knowledge: v.7 – “You said, ‘I shall be Lady forever!’ until you did not lay these things to your heart or remember its aftermath.” Where was Babylon looking for knowledge about the future? To her own dreams. The Hebrew wording implies that she repeated this lie over and over to herself until she believed it. Hitler’s P.R. man was right when he said that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually believe it.”
In v. 10, it says “your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray when you said in your heart, ‘There is no one but me!’”... “No one sees me” Babylon’s claim that no one was greater than her, that there was no greater power that could call them to account was self-deception. Wishful thinking does not form solid ground to life your life on, neither does anyone else’s lie.
In v. 13, the Babylonians are also looking toward another natural source of wisdom, that is the moon and stars and the human astrologers, the men who divide the heavens into the various zodiac constellations and make prophecies and predictions.
The Babylonians believed that the motions of the moon and planets and stars determined the course of events on earth. For this reason they would consult the astrologers to find out if it was a good day to do business, and if they said, “Wait ‘till next month,” then the deal was off until next month! People around the world still do this kind of thing today. Their knowledge has deceived them. The moon and stars are not what determine the future; God determines the future. Don’t look to the stars, look to God for wisdom and knowledge, and your business will go a lot better!
In v.9 and 11, the verb “it is coming” appears four times in relation to God’s judgment, but twice it says that they do not know it. In other words, God is coming in from outside the box of humanism and they don’t know this judgment is coming because they are only looking inside their human box of wisdom. There is a God out there who defines what is right and wrong and who will judge the earth based on His standard of ethics, not your standard of ethics.
Isaiah 13:6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 …the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
I heard this illustrated in a recorded debate between Christian philosopher Greg Bahnsen and the President of the American Atheist Society, Gordon Stein. At the end of the debate, a student asked Dr. Stein, “What would it take for you to believe in God?” He suggested that if the podium were to rise up into the air five feet for no observable reason, he would believe in God. Dr. Bahnsen called his bluff by reminding Dr. Stein that he was committed to human reason and scientific observation alone, which rules out the possibility of accepting a miraculous event as being caused by God. If the podium had suddenly risen into the air, Dr. Stein would have assumed that some natural force had acted upon the podium and would not assume that God had miraculously picked it up to prove Himself. On Judgment Day, God will tell Dr. Stein, “I did a lot more than just parlor tricks like that! Look, I even raised people from the dead and you wouldn’t believe me.” And this will take Dr. Stein by surprise because he is “willingly ignorant” like the people in 2 Peter 3.
When we limit our knowledge to human observation, we cut ourselves off from a vast body of wisdom and knowledge that God offers to us if we will believe Him. Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
2. Salvation from judgment
God promises in v.3 to “take vengeance and spare no one” and in v.11 that “disaster will fall” on them. Verse 14 describes judgment in terms of a “fire,” which sounds mighty like the fires of hell, a burning fire that no one can escape from. Some take the last phrase of v.14 as a humorous understatement – the fires of hell are not a hearth fire to warm yourself by or a little candle-light to read by; don’t take them lightly! Judgment is coming; are you safe?
The people of Babylon are described as running to witchcraft and to other people for help. v.9 describes the curse of bereavement and widowhood coming in their fullness “during/despite their many sorceries” The Babylonians thought that if they cast enough spells they would be safe from destruction, but the last phrase of that verse paints a picture of getting in over their heads with magic and getting hurt by it – like the seven sons of Sceva in the book of Acts who got beat up by demons when they started playing around with exorcisms.
I take the end of verse 14 to mean that the astrologers have no real warmth or light. They can’t save themselves, so they can’t save anybody else either.
Astrologists were not able to interpret Pharoah’s dream and save Egypt in Joseph’s time, and astrologers were not able to interpret the King’s dreams and save Babylon in Daniel’s time. She will look to all her partners with whom she has traded since her youth, and v.15 says, “there is none saving you.”
They also run to their “associations.” Other translations render this word “enchantments/spells,” but it literally means “to associate” and I think it ties in better with another class of people that Babylon looked to for help. These people are called “merchants/traders/traffickers” in v.15. These are the foreigners who are described in chapter 13 as leaving Babylon when she is in distress, and the “merchants of the earth” described in Revelation 18.
John Calvin wrote that it was the custom of Chaldean augurs to stand still for long periods of time, looking for a certain bird to appear as an omen of the future. Verse 12 may be referring to that as God tauntingly speaks to this stubborn woman and says, “O.K. if that’s what you want, then stand in your associations and in your witchcraft, we’ll see if they profit.”
If, however, they had looked to God for knowledge, they would have known from Isaiah 30:5 that people won’t profit and from Isaiah 44:9 that idols won’t profit. Isaiah 48:17 says that only God teaches to profit! Salvation does not come from witchcraft or from humans, it comes from God.
Isaiah 43:2 says that if God is with you, the flame will not hurt you! How do you get that?
3. The Key to Salvation is verse 4. “Our Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts is His name, The Holy One of Israel.” This key verse tells us three things about God:
In v. 11, God tells the Babylonians that they cannot atone for the disaster that will befall them, but God says elsewhere in Isaiah that there is atonement available. It is a substitionary atonement where Jesus interposes for us and takes our iniquity on Himself and bears God’s wrath upon Himself in order to save us from the fires of hell. That is how we are redeemed! If we believe that God is Holy, that He is the Lord of Hosts, that He is our Redeemer and we trust Jesus to take care of us, then we are saved!
When we appropriate these keys to salvation, fearing and honoring God and the Bible as the source of knowledge and wisdom and believing in the salvation that God offers us through Jesus, we will turn the six sins of Babylon upside down:
· Instead of pride and setting ourselves in God’s place, we will worship God, we will be humble, we will be thankful.
· Instead of Indifference and Cruelty toward others, we will love others, showing kindness and mercy.
· Instead of expecting to always live on this earth in luxury, we will expect to suffer and endure hardship on this earth because we have been united to Christ who suffered and endured hardship on this earth.
· Instead of practicing evil, disgraceful things, we will pursue God’s righteousness and holiness.
· Instead of practicing witchcraft and astrology, we will pray to God.
· Instead of spending all our energy on councils and business, we will seek first the kingdom of God and will look for ways to minister to others and extend the kingdom of God.
We live in a modern-day Babylon. Humanism is the order of the day.
People are preoccupied with pleasure, and the architecture and fashions of our times easily rival the glories of ancient Babylon.
But destruction is coming. As difficult as it may be for you to believe that all this wealth and power will evaporate, Babylon is going down.
Run away from Babylon and her ways!
Hide yourself in our Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel!