And look, here comes a chariot of men with a pair of horsemen!” Then he answered and said, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” Isaiah 21:9
The Oracle concerning the Desert of the Sea
Isaiah continues his predictions of judgments destined to soon strike contemporary nations. The prophet foresees the fall of pagan Babylon, not due to emerge as a dominant world power for yet another 100 years (21:1-10). He also prophesies briefly against Edom and Arabia, who will try futilely to resist Assyria’s power (vv.11-17)
Capital of the Neo-Babylon Empire of the mid-first millennium b.c. Babylon has both a historic role and a theological role in the Bible. Certain themes become associated with it. In the Book of Revelation, these themes culminate in the image of the whore of Babylon. As a result of this biblical imagery, Babylon has transcended its historical significance to become synonymous with sin and pride in Western art and literature.
Babylon first appears in the Bible under the guise of the tower of Babel ( Gen. 11 ). The Hebrew word for “confused” in verse 9 is babal, which sounds like babel [l,b’B] (Babylon). The great evil of the tower builders is their sinful pride against the rule of God. This theme will reappear in the prophetic writings against the city.
During the reign of Hezekiah, envoys from Babylon came to Jerusalem ( 2 Ki 20:12-19 ). The prophet Isaiah chastised the king for showing off the treasures of Judah and predicted that Babylon would some day carry these riches off. This was a startling revelation, for Assyria was the great power of the day and seemingly unassailable. The visit was probably an attempt by Babylon to foment problems for Assyria in the west, thereby diverting attention from Babylon. The postexilic reader would have seen the roots of the destruction of Jerusalem in the foolish pride of Hezekiah and in the greed of Babylon.
The prophets describe Babylon as a city of pride and idolatry. Yet the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon presents the prophets with a dilemma. If God is sovereign and makes use of Babylon to punish Judah, can Babylon — as a tool in the hand of its Master be blamed for its behavior? Isaiah addresses this problem by portraying Babylon as a woman, the queen of kingdoms ( 47:5 ), who should be tender and delicate but is not. God gave his people over into her power, but rather than caring for them she has shown them no mercy. This is a result of her overweening pride, evidenced in her statement that “I am, and there is none besides me” (v. 8). Although the conquest of Jerusalem is in keeping with the will of God, the brutality and greed of the conquerors the fruit of Babylon’s idolatry and failure to recognize the kingship of God are not. Because of Babylon’s pride, she will be destroyed. Psalm 137 personifies Babylon as a woman who is doomed to destruction and whose infant children will be savagely killed.
Jeremiah sees the future destruction of Babylon as a punishment because the Babylonians rejoiced at the destruction of Judah and ruthlessly plundered the people of God ( 50:11 ). Babylon herself will become a “heap of ruins” ( 51:37 ). Daniel reinforces the picture of Babylon as full of pride and defiance toward God. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is punished with madness because he denied God’s control over “Babylon the Great” ( 4:30 ).
Centuries after the destruction of the Neo-Babylonian state by Cyrus of Persia, Babylon reappears in a dramatic role in the Book of Revelation a role marked by numerous references to Old Testament imagery. Pride, idolatry, cruelty, and greed are associated with the city.
The dominant image of Babylon in Revelation is the city’s personification of a rich woman, the “mother of prostitutes” ( 17:5 ). Babylon is a great city that rules over the earth.
Babylon, the historic oppressor of God’s people, represents the new oppressor of Christ’s church. Like the Mesopotamian city, the “great city” (Rome) will be judged and will become a desolate wilderness. The metaphor extends beyond the physical Rome to the entire world, “intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries” ( 17:2 ). The people of God, however, will be delivered from the grasp of the prophetic Babylon just as Ezekiel foretold for the exiles held captive in the historic Babylon.
⇒ The symbolic Babylon will fall too. So, let us not be impressed by nor afraid of it. Its days are numbered. It’s very encouraging to find the same proclamation in Revelation 18:2. It sounds like God is telling us “Don’t worry. It will be gone soon enough.”
The Oracle concerning the Desert of the Sea
21 1 The burden against the Wilderness of the Sea. As whirlwinds in the South pass through, So it comes from the desert, from a terrible land. 2 A distressing vision is declared to me; The treacherous dealer deals treacherously, And the plunderer plunders. Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media! All its sighing I have made to cease. 3 Therefore my loins are filled with pain; Pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor. I was distressed when I heard it; I was dismayed when I saw it. 4 My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me; The night for which I longed He turned into fear for me. 5 Prepare the table, Set a watchman in the tower, Eat and drink. Arise, you princes, Anoint the shield! 6 For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, Let him declare what he sees.” 7 And he saw a chariot with a pair of horsemen, A chariot of donkeys, and a chariot of camels, And he listened earnestly with great care. 8 Then he cried, “A lion, my Lord! I stand continually on the watchtower in the daytime; I have sat at my post every night. 9 And look, here comes a chariot of men with a pair of horsemen!” Then he answered and said, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” 10 Oh, my threshing and the grain of my floor! That which I have heard from the Lord of hosts, The God of Israel, I have declared to you.
The Oracle concerning Dumah
11 The burden against Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” 12 The watchman said, “The morning comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; Return! Come back!”
The Oracle concerning Arabia
13 The burden against Arabia. In the forest in Arabia you will lodge, O you traveling companies of Dedanites. 14 O inhabitants of the land of Tema, Bring water to him who is thirsty; With their bread they met him who fled. 15 For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, From the bent bow, and from the distress of war. 16 For thus the Lord has said to me: “Within a year, according to the year of a hired man, all the glory of Kedar will fail; 17 and the remainder of the number of archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar, will be diminished; for the Lord God of Israel has spoken it.”