As we have seen so far, the book of Isaiah contains a mixture of prophecies. Some prophecies concern various people groups as well as prophecies of the Messiah’s first and second coming. They are often mixed together in such a way as to hide information so that the people could not see, hear, or understand the present or the future. It is not unusual for the prophecies to apply to both Isaiah’s time and the future because according to Ecclesiastes 1:9, what has been done will be done again.
Isaiah 13 is no different. It is the burden against Babylon which Isaiah, the son of Amoz saw. The Hebrew word for burden is massa’. It’s an oracle that was uttered concerning the doom of Babylon. The Hebrew word for Babylon is Bavel. It means confusion and comes from the Hebrew word balal which among other things means to mingle or mix. Babylon has existed since the days of Nimrod prior to the Tower of Babel. Let’s keep that in mind as we think of Babylon.
At the beginning of Isaiah 13, the Lord ordered His holy ones to hoist a banner, enter the gate of nobles, and execute His anger. The Lord wanted His heroes to fight the army of kingdoms of the nations which came from distant lands. Many assume this is a reference to the Medes who silently slipped into Babylon at night and took over the kingdom of Babylon. This is not the case because there was no battle or resistance from Babylon at that time.[i] This is a vision of the Day of the Lord which will take place in the future. The Lord will come in fury at this appointed time to desolate the earth and destroy sinners.
Isaiah 13:10 says that on the day of the Lord, the sun, moon, and stars will no longer shine. This is confirmed in many places in the Bible such as Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:10, 3:4, 4:15, and Matthew 24:29 to name a few. This time did not take place in the past and is set for a future day because Acts 2:20 says, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”
Shall we fear this day? How will people escape it? Acts 2:21 continues by saying, “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.”
When will this happen? Revelation 6:12 indicates it will be when the sixth seal is opened. At that time, the Lord will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity. The heavens will tremble and the earth will be shaken from its place. Revelation 6:12 confirms this by telling us that there will be a great earthquake when the sixth seal is opened.
In Isaiah 13:16, the Lord said anyone found will be killed with the sword, their babies will be dashed to pieces, their houses will be looted, and their wives will be raped. After saying this, the Lord said He was sending the Medes who couldn’t be tempted by silver or bought off with gold to attack Babylon. He also said the Medes will tear the young men to pieces and not even spare the children. What’s going on here? Is the Lord and His army of saints going to do this to the Lord’s people? Absolutely not! Isaiah 13:15-18 is a short chiastic structure, the center of which identifies who will be causing the destruction to the earth; the Lord will do this through the Medes. Who is Babylon? Isaiah 13:11 seems to imply it’s the world. There’s obviously more to this prophecy than the Medes conquering ancient Babylon.
Note the similarity this passage has with Zechariah 14:1-7: “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, And your spoil will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; The city shall be taken, The houses rifled, And the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle. 4 And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south. 5 Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee As you fled from the earthquake In the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, And all the saints with You. 6 It shall come to pass in that day That there will be no light; The lights will diminish. 7 It shall be one day Which is known to the Lord — Neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen That it will be light.”
Zechariah sheds light on Isaiah’s burden by giving us the basic order of events:
- The nations will be gathered for battle.
- Jerusalem will be taken by its enemies.
- The houses will be looted.
- The women will be raped.
- Half of the city will go into captivity except for the remnant.
- The Lord will come with His saints and fight against those nations.
- During this time, there will be no light until the evening comes.
The Lord says the destruction of Babylon will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when it’s overthrown by God. It continues by saying Babylon will never be inhabited again. Since it’s still inhabited, this is a reference to the future.
After the worst part is over, the Lord will have compassion on Jacob. He will once again choose Israel to be His bride. He will resettle His people in their own land. Foreigners will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. Israel’s oppressors will become slaves.
Isaiah 14 says, the Lord’s people will sing a taunt against the arrogant king of Babylon (Bavel) who is referred to as the Oppressor. Before this takes place, the vision Isaiah saw in Isaiah 14:12 must be fulfilled. It says, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!” Many assume this has already taken place but Satan still comes and goes before the Lord to accuse man like we see in Job and Zechariah 3:1.
John also saw Satan fall from heaven. Revelation 12:7-9 says, “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” After John saw the dragon was cast down to earth, he saw the dragon persecuting the woman who gave birth to the child, Jesus. This woman represents the Jews. In John’s vision, the woman escaped the dragon and fled into the wilderness, where she was nourished during the 3 1/2 years of tribulation. Since the context of this passage is to occur in the future and because visions usually reveal future events, we should assume that Satan will be cast out of heaven in the future.
According to Isaiah, the King of Babylon will be brought down to the depths of Sheol. The king of Babylon is also known as Lucifer, the morning star, the son of the dawn, the dragon of Revelation, Leviathan (sea serpent), and Satan. He intends to make himself like the Most High on God’s throne by giving his power to the beast before Revelation 20:1-3 is fulfilled: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”
In Isaiah 14:25, Isaiah equates the Assyrian with the king of Babylon. This was possible because the men of the tenth dynasty of Babylonian kings were Assyrians.[ii] The Lord promised to break the Assyrian in His land and tread the Assyrian underfoot on His mountains.
The Assyrian’s yoke will be removed from the shoulders of the Lord’s people. Originally, the Lord used the Medes to do this. Certainly the Lord intends to do the same in the future.
There are many ways we can look at yokes. They can be physical or figurative. They could represent the tributes that were paid to Assyria. It could be the constant intense emotional state brought on by the aggravation, persecution, pain, and terror caused by the Assyrian. It could also be something else.
No matter what, Satan’s intention is to steal, kill, and destroy. This is done in a variety of ways; we’ve already mentioned some of them. As far as Christians go, it could also be related to the meaning of the word bavel. Remember, bavel comes from the word balal which means mix or mingle. Jesus wanted the people to take on His yoke because it was easy and light; this yoke was the law of liberty.[iii] Satan desired to enslave God’s people. What better way than to corrupt the law of the Lord with numerous traditions and interpretations that were not based on the original intent of the law?
The Jews did not do what Deuteronomy 4:2 said. It says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Doing this can cause confusion. It results in a form of an unholy mixture of “wool and linen.” A mixture of tradition and written law was a yoke that was too great for the people to bear. This false religious system only leads to death. Beware of any syncretism of paganism and Christianity OR the teachings of the Pharisees and the law of liberty!
Remember, self-righteousness is the goal of a legalistic adherence to tradition and it is only a counterfeit of true righteousness. True righteousness results from obedience to the written law because Deuteronomy 6:24-25 says, “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. 25 Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.” This is independent of our salvation which is a result of grace by faith in Christ.
Recall Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light. By Jesus’ day, people were in bondage to the oral traditions. Jesus came to do something about this. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
By reading Isaiah 61:1-2a, Jesus explained the purpose of His ministry. At this time, He began to break off the oppressive yoke of Satan and set people free by teaching His interpretation of the law. This did not end after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul told the Romans that the written law was not abolished because of faith; he upheld the law (Romans 3:31). Jesus’ brother James said, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).” This is in harmony with Deuteronomy 30:14-17: “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. 15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.” This shows us the continuity of Scripture.
Jesus’ ministry described in Isaiah 61:1-2a was only the beginning. Unfortunately, people have gone back to their wicked ways. Since the Lord’s people refuse to accept His yoke, He will eventually bring an intense yoke upon them from the nations around them in order to bring them back to Himself. It’s time to repent! Return to the commands of the Lord!
Fortunately, Jesus will eventually returns; He will cast off the yoke of His people’s enemies by carrying out “the vengeance of our God” which is mentioned in Isaiah 61:2b. This brings us back Isaiah’s prophecy of the destruction of Babylon and the death of the King of Babylon as described in Isaiah 13 and 14. While God’s people are waiting for this to happen, believers must demonstrate their faith in Christ by obeying the commands of God.[iv]
[iii] Matthew 11:29-30; James 1:25.
[iv] Revelation 12:17.