The five chapters (Isaiah 13, 14, 24–26) discussed in this commentary look at God’s character. They describe the battle between good and evil for our hearts and our nations. They lay out Yahweh’s end-game goals. This is a lot to pack into less than one scroll. As if that were not enough, I believe these chapters also cover or allude to aspects of history from the beginning of time till its end.
The groundwork of my thinking includes the following concepts. Ancient Hebrew writing uses tangible items, people, and events as object lessons for concepts or even other beings. Prophecy is often directed through time, having meaning for more than one era or situation. Words such as wrath or love are actions of God, not feelings. They describe the interaction God has with events or people. (You can get a quick sense of this thinking in Paul’s description of love to the Corinthians.) Understanding the original meaning of words is important. I will point out some of them. If I took time and space to translate more, I would certainly find you dozing into your cup of tea.
In these chapters we find several aspects of the Ruler of the Universe. Jehovah Tsaba is translated The Lord of Hosts. Hosts can be an army of heavenly beings, earthly ones, or a mix. God is a title of majesty, power, and creativity. Almighty is El Shaddai. One translation of El Shaddai is The Breasted One. In this role, the deity is nurturer/protector. Lord or Yahweh is the embodiment of the covenant, a sacred relationship of agreements between the Ruler of Heaven and mortals.
It’s important we remember that though Isaiah was a Hebrew, his warnings were also to other nations. For instance, as we know from the story of Daniel, God did not want Babylon to fall. If the rulers and the people of that country had chosen to reform and follow Yahweh’s principles, their history would have been similar to that of the Assyrians in the time of Jonah. “The Lord . . . is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It is harmful attitudes and behaviors that God curses. Heaven would like to save every people and all nations. God’s requirements are only that we make choices that nurture.
That said, Heaven does not take away the choices of those who practice harm but will allow the consequences of stubbornly embraced harmful behaviors. “Your grace is shown to the wicked; they do not learn righteousness . . . they go on doing evil!” (26:10). “I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless” (13:11). “How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!” (14:3).
In this week’s texts, Isaiah, with his usual poetic power, describes what will happen if Babylon, often described as history’s most powerful military monarchy, does not listen to her warnings. “Wail! The day of Yahweh is near; it will come like destruction from El Shaddai” (14:6). “Babylon will never be inhabited or lived in though all generations” (14:20). “I will humble the pride of the ruthless” (13:11). As important as Babylon is in her own place of history, it appears that she is also an object lesson.
Isaiah’s words, ostensibly written to and about that country of arrogant beauty, power, and influence, also describe a being who existed in a place far from Earth and long before our time began.
How have you fallen from Heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to Earth, you who once laid low the nations! You have said in your heart . . . “I will raise my throne above the stars of the Mighty, Powerful, Creator. I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly . . . I will make myself like the Most High” . . . You are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit (14:12-15).
In another analogy of the adversary, Isaiah writes “The God of Covenants will punish with His sword, His fierce great and powerful sword, Leviathan, the gliding serpent” (27:1). The Hebrew word for serpent used here is nahas, a venomous snake. It is the same word used to describe the serpent in Eden, whose selfish willingness to harm began the cataclysm of pain that has permeated Earth’s history.
Those who choose to cause self-centered harm for any reason are exhibiting qualities of nahas. Be it an individual, people, church, or nations, any entity that causes suffering, turmoil, harsh labor (14:3); all who “in anger strike down peoples with unceasing blows . . . and subdue nations with relentless aggression” (14:6) are representatives of nahas. They are the antithesis of the One who lives self-sacrificing love. To preserve life, their actions must be cut short.
Isaiah’s prophecies and lessons continue to stretch across time. In the chapters we are studying, Babylon, Philistia, and Assyria were sent a prophecy, or burden, of warning about their choices. Exegetically, understanding that prophecy can refer to more than one era; “the rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sins” (13:10) can refer to historical events in the sky that happened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and can be a warning that arrogance, ruthlessness, and treachery will be punished, even in our era.
For Isaiah, God’s endgame is clear:
All the lands are at rest and at peace (13:7)
The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming (13:9)
You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress; a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat (25:3)
The Protector/Nurturer will provide a feast for all peoples (25:6)
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces (25:8)
Faced with Isaiah’s impassioned writings, we have choices we must make. It is the great desire of the Holy Ones that we choose the way of love.
Catherine Taylor is a family therapist who specializes in the development of benevolent systems. She has been a Sabbath School teacher, sermon presenter, Bible study facilitator, camp meeting speaker, and writer on various Bible topics.
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