Isaiah 21: The Fall of Babylon

For this post we'll be discussing Isaiah 21:1-10. In these verses, Isaiah discusses the fall of Babylon. There are parallels with prophecy in Revelation and events that occur in Daniel.

Introduction

We all know about the city of Babylon—it was infamous for its pagan ways and is used to symbolize God's enemy in Revelation. A powerful and rich nation of it's day, it comes as no surprise that Isaiah dedicated the first part of this chapter(Isaiah 21:1-10) to the judgment that was to befall Babylon. What may be surprising is that Isaiah's wording is identical to the wording about the fall of spiritual Babylon in Revelation. Clearly the original city of Babylon fell centuries ago (covered in Daniel, actually), and was likely the fall Isaiah was prophesying about, but is it possible Isaiah hid some nuggets of prophecy about our time in this message?

Babylon

A Desert in Morocco
Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Sergey Pesterev
The chapter starts off addressing the desert of the sea. When we think of the Middle East, where ancient Babylon was located, we typically think of the literal desert. The edge of Babylon might have extended to the Persian/Arabian Gulf,[1][2] which could be the sea referenced in the verse, but I think there's something symbolic here as well.

In Revelation 17:15, an Angel explains to John that the sea is symbolic of multitudes and nations (and note that this passage is in reference to the Whore of Babylon atop a beast rising from the sea). A desert, would then be symbolic of a place with few people. At it's height, Babylon was a "sea." Many captured nations were part of Babylon and it was a center of trade; using today's language, Babylon would have been a "superpower." However, it was desolate when it comes to spirituality. After the destruction came upon the city, it was never to be rebuilt and remains in ruins to this day. It became a desert.

Isaiah's Reaction

Have you ever watched something or heard someone describe something and felt it in your own limbs? For example, I may be telling you about how I slammed the car door shut on my thumb, and it causes your own thumb to tingle in sympathy. I've had this feeling many times, and apparently Isaiah felt this after hearing what would happen to Babylon. Isaiah is dismayed at the grievous vision that is given to him (Isaiah 21:3-4).

What do you think the significance of this is? Babylon was a ruthless nation, one that would eventually overtake Israel, and yet, here was Isaiah overcome with grief over the vision of judgment he saw pronounced upon them. Why is it important for us to know that he felt sympathy for this nation?

God gave us the ability to feel sympathy for our fellow man because it's an extension of love. Although there are times when God must punish people, it pains Him to see us suffer; He would rather us surrender to Him willingly and accept His gift of love and eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). When we are filled with His Spirit (as Isaiah was in giving this vision), we feel from a place of love, not of hate. Is it possible that Isaiah was anguished by what he saw not only because when filled with the Spirit of God he possessed love that gave him sympathy, but because Isaiah knew that if Israel did not obey God, a similar fate could befall them as well?

Foretelling Who Causes the Fall

If there's one thing I know, it's that all great nations fall. Babylon, Greece, Rome... That probably wasn't common knowledge during Isaiah's era, so predicting the fall of a nation as powerful as Egypt or Babylon was probably a scandalous and outrageous affair. Today, it might seem fairly obvious to us, which is probably why God also told Isaiah who would bring down the nation. What are the odds that he would know that, right?

Isaiah 21:2 tells us that Elam (Persia)[3] and Media would be involved with downfall of Babylon. Darius the Mede and Cyrus, of Persia, both play pivotal roles in conquering Babylon. It is during the Persian rule that the Israelites are released from captivity.[4]

Another miracle of Isaiah's prophecy is seen in verse 5. Here we see that there is a feast of the princes happening when the call to alarm occurs. In Daniel 5, we see Belshazzar, king of Babylon enjoying a great feast before he is overcome with distress (similar to that Isaiah describes early in Isaiah 21). That night he is slain by Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:30-31).

Babylon is Fallen, is Fallen

The first thing that stood out to me in Isaiah 21, is Isaiah 21:9 which is echoed in Revelation 14:8 and 18:2. Let's compare, shall we?
And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.Isaiah 21:9 KJV

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.Revelation 14:8 KJV

And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.Revelation 18:2 KJV

An Angel's Decree

In both Revelation 14:8 and 18:2, it is an angel who is proclaiming the fall of Babylon. Let's add some context. Just before the angel in Revelation 14:8 proclaims the fall of Babylon, we see that the "Lamb of Sion" (Jesus) is standing with the 144,000 who received the seal of God during the last days—I'll do a full post on the 144,000 in time, I promise! The 144,000 are sealed between the sixth and seventh seals (see Revelation 6-8). It makes sense that this is near the very end because the defeat of Babylon occurs with Christ defeats Satan (and thus the beast who is ruling Babylon). The angel from Revelation 18:2 speaks after the seventh vial has been poured out. This angel is calling people out of Babylon, indicating that the great city though fallen spiritually has not been judged yet. At the time of this angel's message, there is still a chance for God's obedient children to leave before the final judgment is executed.

The Relationship Between New and Old Babylon

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/JJ Jordan
God instructs Isaiah to have a watchman describe the events that take place next. Naturally, Israel would be happy when Babylon fell. Even from Isaiah's time the kingdom was a threat to their nation. I imagine the Israelites feelings toward Babylon during Isaiah's era would have been similar to the feelings of US Citizens toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Naturally, they would want someone watching the events of this powerful enemy. For God to have Isaiah set a watchman was a reminder to the people to watch what was happening and be ready for the prophecy.

The same command is given to us today with regards to "the Whore of Babylon" and end time prophecy. When the angel of revelation makes the plea for God's children to come out of Babylon, we want to know. In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus teaches us to be prepared for the groomsman (Him) through the parable of the 10 virgins. Some of them were ready to meet the groom when he appeared, but the others were not. Those who were not ready were not included in the ceremony. We need to be watching for the fall of "new" Babylon just as Isaiah told them to watch for the fall of ancient Babylon.

References

  1. Henry W.F. Saggs. "Babylon". Encyclopædia Britannica. December 1, 2017
  2. William MacDonald. Believer's Bible Commentary, pg. 953-954. 1995
  3. "Elam". Encyclopædia Britannica. September 3, 2014
  4. John F. Walvoord. "6. The Medes And The Persians". Bible.org. January 1, 2008

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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