- Proclamation of War
- Which Babylon?
- Weak Hands and Melted Hearts
- A Woman in Labor
- Sun, Moon, & Stars
- The Dark Day of 1780
- A Dark Sun
- Where Are the Stars?
- An Observation
- The Extinction of Man
- Scattering the People
- Is It Literal?
- Division Among People
- Media-Persia Defeats Babylon
- Death of Children and Babies
- The Wild Beasts
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
Isaiah 13 is where Isaiah gives us a vision concerning the massa of Babylon. Massa is the original Hebrew word which is translated to burden in the KJV and oracle in most modern translations. I like that we can see the different translations because I think together the words give us a better context for the message. It's not just an oracle foretelling what will happen, but a burden that Babylon has created for itself. Like Jeremiah 50-51, the passage discusses the ill-fate of the notoriously sinful nation.
Proclamation of War
The first 5 verses are a declaration of war on God's enemy (Babylon). In these verses God calls His army together together and instructs them to lift a banner or signal high on the mountain. In the past, nations marched into battle with their flag—in fact some families had crests that were put on flags and carried into war. This made it obvious which side a person was on. Today we're into more covert forms of warfare, but the Bible warns us that when the end draws nigh, we will have to make a choice which side we are on. In doing so, we will either receive the seal of God or the mark of the beast. We are to wear our seal of God proudly.
While the army mentioned in these verses could be God's people, and the banner they hold up could be symbolic of choosing between good and evil, it could also be a description of the Medes, who actually defeated ancient Babylon. In fact, later in the chapter (Isaiah 13:17), Isaiah—who lived long before the defeat of Babylon and before the Medes were even a country worth mentioning—names the Medes as the people who would defeat Babylon.
There are two Babylon's mentioned in the Bible. One captured the southern kingdom of Judah and is taught about in our history classes. God promised to destroy the main city (or capital as we would say) or the kingdom so completely that nothing would be built there again. The other Babylon is a symbolic name given to the state of the world during the end times. Revelation, which was written many many years after the fall of the original Babylon, constantly beseeches God's people to come out of Babylon (Revelation 18:2-5) and rejoices at Babylon falling (Revelation 14:8; 17:5; 18:10). This means that when we look back at texts written by prophets like Isaiah, we are often left wondering if the prophecies they attach to Babylon are meant for the first Babylon, the second Babylon, or both.
Most of the events of the Old Testament foreshadow the events of the New Testament. We can see double fulfillments and a repetition of history throughout the Bible. Matthew 24:36-39 tells us that the end times will be just like it was in the days of Noah, who also experienced a judgement day of sorts. This means it is possible that Isaiah is predicting events for both the fall of ancient Babylon and the coming judgement day. After all, at the fall of Babylon the Israelites did return to their own land with their own people and likely other captured groups did the same just as Isaiah predicted.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to determine if God is referring to spiritual Babylon or ancient Babylon is the finality of His judgment on the city. Isaiah relays a message of absolute judgment; when these things were to come to pass, there would be no turning back. Just as it was with Sodom and Gomorrah—other cities that once destroyed by God were never rebuilt—God's judgement would be final. People would cry out but by then it would be too late.
Weak Hands and Melted Hearts
Isaiah 13:7 says that God when the time of judgment comes upon Babylon, the people's hands will be weak and their hearts will melt. If one's hands are weak, they are in a poor physical state; this could be from famine, weariness, or disease. To have your heart melt suggests an effect on your emotional state. When we are in sin, we harden our heart against God's light (and consequently, anyone emitting His light). When He brings His judgment those hearts will melt, but only sorrow and regret can come to them at that point because there isn't any turning back. It's much better for us if we never harden our heart than to force God's hand to unthaw it the hard way.
If you look at the fall of any empire you can see that there isn't just a physical threat, but a mental and emotional threat as well. When people go into survival mode, anything is bound to happen. Even in our own society today, as we see an increase in the media reporting on police brutality and mass shootings in the U.S., we're also seeing an increase in people experiencing mental health issues. Surely in the final days of ancient Babylon and the final days of the world, the emotional state of the people was and will be much worse.
A Woman in Labor
Isaiah describes the pain of the event like a woman in labor. This metaphor is repeated in Matthew 24 to describe the second coming of Jesus. There are multiple interesting things about this metaphor.
For one, God often uses a woman to symbolize the church. Since the church is really the body of Christ, or believers, the passage could be taken to reference persecution of believers. Anytime a city is given over completely to sin, those who remain true to God will be persecuted. Just as light and dark cannot coexist, good and evil cannot coexist either.
Another note is the predictability of the situation. With the exception of a few rare cases, when a woman is pregnant she, and everyone around her, knows. At first there are intimate signs that only she would know (like a missed period). As time goes on, and the child begins to grow, her stomach will grow. Even before fancy technology giving us more accurate due dates, a woman would know the month to expect her child. Thus, when she goes into labor it isn't a surprise, people will likely be prepared and ready to meet the new baby. So, too, one would expect the fall of the city to be predictable; the city might weaken or enemies grow stronger and more disgruntled. There should be signs telling those paying attention that the time is near.
Finally, there's the aspect of bittersweetness. There is immense pain in bringing forth the child, but the end result is worth the pain. Ancient Babylon was a sinful city and spiritual Babylon is even worse. Although the destruction of the city is tragic and people were (or will be) lost forever, it has to happen for the good things that were (and are) to come.
Sun, Moon, & Stars
Isaiah 13:10 gives us one of the most familiar signs of the end times: the sun, moon, and stars being darkened. Ecclesiastes 12:2, Isaiah 24:23, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:10;3:15, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24, Luke 21:25, and Revelation 8:12 all refer to the sun, moon, and stars being darkened.
The Dark Day of 1780
On May 19, 1780, a large portion of the northeastern U.S., along with neighboring regions in Canada, experienced what is called "the dark day." By noon that day everything was dark. Some people believe this is the event foretold in the Bible. Those who do not think this event is the fulfillment of the prophecy often complain that it only occurred in one region of the world. When you consider the fact that at any given time half the world is in darkness because they aren't facing the Sun, it seems plausible to me that the sign could only effect a portion of the Earth.
A Dark Sun
I'm sure you learned about sun spots in school, but if not, a brief recap is that there are these dark patches on the sun where the temperature of the surface is much cooler than the rest of its surface. There are also holes in the surface, known as coronal holes. These create solar storms that can hit the Earth. This year such a hole opened in our sun and it was predicted that one of these storms would hit the Earth in March. Our magnetic field protects us from major damage, but as we continue to pollute the planet, we put ourselves at risk.
We often assume that these verses mean the earth will experience darkness from the sun not shining, but could it be a reference to coronal holes or sunspots appearing on the sun.?
Where Are the Stars?
Growing up, I loved to look out at night and gaze at the stars. Lately, I can't find any stars in the sky. The main reason I can't see stars anymore is because I live between two major cities. It is estimated that light pollution from a city can travel up to 200 miles to obstruct our view of the stars. I was content to believe that was the issue until I talked to my dad and found that they're having the same trouble at home. There's no way there's enough lights in my hometown or that general vicinity to block out the stars. There are no skyscrapers, there's only one traffic light on the 23-mile long road I live on, and the neighboring town just got a McDonald's like 3 years ago, and still doesn't have a Walmart. It seems a bit fishy that they can barely see the stars, too.
Light pollution, though scientific, is actually very interesting in the context of the end times. Obviously, something more will have to happen to obstruct the sun (which is why many people gravitate toward the Dark Day of 1780), but the darkening of the stars is an ongoing issue in developed countries. Cities are growing larger and larger; in fact if I want to stay in my field it will be impossible for me to find a job not in a major city. God doesn't seem to like big cities though—remember the tower of Babel? The people of Babel clumped together in one city, and part of their rebellion against God was that they were trying to avoid being scattered after God told them to go fill the Earth.
Cities have higher depression rates. Also, throughout history, it's been the people who lived in highly developed cities (Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Britain, Germany, etc.) that have gone forth killing and conquering. As we near the end times, it makes sense that populations will gravitate toward cities; between the destruction from natural disasters and the need for the antichrist system to monitor and control everyone, the need to be in close proximity will increase greatly. This would in turn, create more light pollution and block the stars from the view of most people.
When I was younger, I thought it was weird that hurricanes almost always struck at night. Since then, I have read about hurricanes striking during the day, but when I think about it, powerful storms usually cause it to be dark anyway. Wether it's a tornado, hurricane, or fierce thunderstorm, the clouds block out the light of any and all celestial objects that would normally give us lights. Although I don't think this is what is meant by the darkening of the celestial lights, I do think it's interesting that natural disasters, such as those mentioned, have a similar effect and will also increase during the last days.
The Extinction of Man
If you've ever studied animal extinction or read about endangered species, you know that animals don't just disappear over night. It's usually a gradual process that sees a steady decline in population until there aren't enough members of the species to continue. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that before Jesus returns to destroy mankind there will be a decline in our numbers. Isaiah 13:12 tells us that man will be made more precious, or rare, than gold.
This may be hard to imagine considering the population explosion we've been experiencing, but logically it actually makes a lot of sense. Many of the judgments that precede Jesus' second coming will cause massive fatalities (natural disasters, wars, famines, etc.). There will be a decline in moral values which lead to poor conditions among humans—be it relationships between families or the treatment of the poor, the ramifications could easily have a negative effect on population growth.
In fact, as we speak, the fertility rate in the US just hit an all time low. We haven't reached the point that we'll see a population decline due to this, but some of the reasons given for such a decline definitely speak to an end time climate. Stressors such as economic uncertainty and failure to accomplish certain milestones have lead people to hold off on bring children into the world; certainly these will be major factors in the final days as well.
Then you have situations like the one in China. China had a strict one child policy and favored male children to female children. Now, there's a gender imbalance in births.
Scattering the People
When people gathered to make the tower of Babel in an attempt to defy God and make a name for themselves (Genesis 11), God reacted by confusing their language and scattering them across the world. Just before judgment day, another scattering will occur. This time the precursor is the heavens shakings and the Earth moving out of place. Isaiah tells us that after this occurs each person will flee back to his or her own people.
Is It Literal?
Haggai 2:6 also mention the heavens shaking and the Earth moving out of it's place. I don't know if this is meant to be taken literally or if it's a figure of speech, after all, many of us are walking around saying "I'm shook" after learning something shocking despite not being physically shook.
When I first read the passage, I couldn't help but thing of all the astronomy documentaries I've watched. The universe is fascinating and while scientists tend to reject God in their attempt to explain things, they really can't pinpoint exactly what got us to the point. There's still of a lot of "I don't know"s and "this is a possible scenario but we can't explain this one factor"s.
One such example is why Uranus rotates on its side. While there's a new theory brewing about the planet's odd rotational pattern, the leading school of thought is that it was knocked off-center by a very large object. What if something similar happened to Earth?
People often take the stance that if there's a scientific explanation for something, it isn't God, but who do you think created science? Sure, we can measure gravity and inertia, but why do they exist? If a large comet were to hit the Earth in conjunction with the signs of the end time, it would be because God removed His protection from the Earth and allowed the comet to have that path.
Figuratively, I suppose the passage would simply mean that things are shaken up around the universe. People (and angels) are reeling from the times and power structures are about to change. Everything would be in chaos.
Division Among People
Who do consider "your people"? That's who you would run to in the aftermath of whatever cataclysm God is warning us about.
Jeremiah 50:16 and 51:9 reiterate the prophecy that people will be regrouping themselves and retreating back to their own people. For some people this might mean close family, for others it might mean close friends, but I'd wager that for most people, it's going to mean people of similar culture and language.
In the U.S., and many other places where there was both colonization and slavery, there exists racial tension. While many naïvely thought having our first black president showed we had moved past that, the immediate election of Donald Trump after the end of Barak Obama's term says something much different. Mr. Trump's campaign was wrought with racial disparaging and featured supporters physically bullying and harassing non-whites at his rallies. He was even endorsed by prominent members of notorious white supremacist groups such as the KKK and the Alt-Right. Just like that, U.S. is back to an overtly racist climate.
As a black person in the U.S., I definitely see how this verse could be in reference to racism, and possibly even classism. Given the nature and history of people, I envision that when Isaiah says a person will flee to their own people, race and money will play major roles. Race wars and riots have been a threat in the U.S. for quite a while; notorious cult leader and murderer Charles Manson tried to start one in the 1960s. It doesn't seem odd that with the stressors of plagues, famines, wars, and natural disaster set to accompany the end times, that a race war will actually be triggered.
Now, remember, I'm not saying that's what this verse definitively means, I'm mentioning a possibility. I should like to think that a real believer would not fall prey to such foolishness, and will be fleeing toward other believers regardless of skin color, cultural background, economic situation, etc.
Media-Persia Defeats Babylon
Back in the early 1600's when colonies were just starting to pop up in North America, do you think anyone could have predicted that one day those colonies would band together and defeat the most power empire of the time? The region that would become the U.S., a major—if not the major—world power of today, was merely a blip in the world at that point. The people in the colonies were banished from their respective locations and/or fleeing religious persecution. There was absolutely no reason to believe that in less than 200 years, they would overthrow Britain to form their own country, let alone that said country would grow in power to rival that of the countries that were already well established in that day.
That's basically what Isaiah did when he penned the words in Isaiah 13:17. In that moment, Isaiah told his contemporaries that God was telling him a powerless and disorganized people (the Medes) would bring about the destruction of one of the greatest cities of their time (Babylon). Before Isaiah's prophecy could come true, the Medes actually allied themselves with Babylon to destroy Assyria, who had control of both nations at the time. After defeating Assyria, both nations actually rose in power, with Babylon becoming even more powerful. Just when it seemed as though Isaiah had failed as a prophet, Cyrus the Great led his men to capture Babylon. They didn't even plunder the city, just as Isaiah predicted. This began the weakening of the great city which would eventually experience a civil war of sorts that led to the violence and bloodshed mentioned by Isaiah. In the end, the city was destroyed and its population moved to a new city. While many people have attempted to rebuild the once fabulous city, it still lays in ruin, just as God said it would.
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.
Death of Children and Babies
Isaiah 13:18 makes you clutch your imaginary pearls and hang your head—at least that's what I did. The army that ripped through Babylon would be so cold hearted that they would kill pregnant women and their unborn babies. How heartless can you be!? When I first read this, it seemed barbaric and something that clearly would only happen in ancient times. Then I turned on the news and saw the way infants are being snatched away from their mothers at the border. While they may not be murdering children, it shows that we haven't really come that far. There are still depraved people out there who wouldn't hesitate to commit such a heinous act. Clearly, while this army was executing God's anger, they weren't actually of God. It was a situation where God removed His protection from the people due to their defiance.
The Wild Beasts
Isaiah 13:21-22 describes the behavior of "wild beasts." There are wild beasts in the desert, in islands, and in pleasant palaces. If you've ever read Daniel, or done an intense study on prophecy, you know that beasts are symbolic of nations in prophecy. Revelation clearly defines the dragon as Satan, and since Satan is currently ruling our world, it makes sense that he and his agents would be living in palaces up until Jesus' return. As for the beasts in the desert versus the islands, I'm not sure exactly.
On the one hand, the Middle East is a desert. The nations involved—Israel, Babylon, and Media-Persia—are all located in the desert and all stood to lose something from the events. While Israel gained their freedom, they had been in captivity long enough that Babylon had probably started to feel like home. It would almost be like sending descendants of African slaves in the U.S., back to our respective tribes in Africa (if that were even possible). They would have to rebuild their cities and their culture. If we took this understanding, I don't know who the nations of the islands are.
Conversely, it could mean literal animals, with dragon probably translating to some type of lizard or snake. Now that the city is in ruins, the remains of the homes are literally inhabited by animals.
References and Footnotes
- Nicholas Bakalar. "U.S. Fertility Rate Reaches a Record Low". New York Times. July 3, 2017
- Rachael Rettner. "US Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low: What's Behind the Decline?". Live Science. May 17, 2018
- Bill Powell. "Gender Imbalance: How China's One-Child Law Backfired on Men". Newsweek. May 28, 2015
- Evan Andrews. "Remembering New England’s “Dark Day”". History. May 19, 2015
- "Sun Turned Into Darkness". Bible Universe; visited June 2018
- Tom de Castella. "What caused the mystery of the Dark Day?". BBC. May 18, 2012
- Oliver Gruebner, et al. "Cities and Mental Health". Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, pg. 121-127. February 2017
- Rachael Rettner. "Depression Higher in Rich Countries, Study Suggests". Live Science. July 25, 2011
- Diana Kwon. "Does City Life Pose a Risk to Mental Health?". Scientific American. May 20, 2016
- Paul Valentine. "Charles Manson: Racist serial killer who terrified a nation dies at 83". The Independent. November 20, 2017
- Ryan Foster. "A Prophecy About Babylon Confirms the Accuracy of the Bible". Beyond Today. May 3, 2010
- "Search: Woman Gives Birth, Doesn't Know She's Pregnant". Google
- Diane Dreher Ph.D. "The Alarming Rise in Teen Mental Illness". Psychology Today. January 24, 2018
- Dennis Thompson. "More Americans suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, study finds". CBS News. April 17, 2017
- Richard N. Frye. "Cyrus the Great". Encycopædia Britannica. April 12, 2018
- Camila Domonoske and Richard Gonzales. "What We Know: Family Separation And 'Zero Tolerance' At The Border". NPR. June 19, 2018
- "Collision-Free Theory Explains Why Uranus Is Lying on Its Side". MIT Technology Review. December 3, 2009
- "The Sun and Sunspots". National Weather Service; visited July, 2018
- Sean Martin. "NASA solar storm to strike TODAY: Experts warn hole has opened in the SUN". Express News. March 22, 2018
Other Pages to View