3/24/2015

How You Have Fallen (Isaiah 13-14)

Isaiah 13-14 (Isa 13:1-19; 14:1-2, 9-17, 22, 24-27)

"I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty" (Isa 13:11, NLT). "How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!" (Isa 14:12)

Theme: God, who is sovereign over all, will triumph over the self-sufficient, the proud and the arrogant; they will be humbled and brought low.

Babylon in the Bible typifies humankind's will to be its own savior. She represents humanity's bid to organize life and create security and stability by its own resources without reference to God. She is a fitting symbol of the arrogant pomp and power of the world that were/are characteristic of the nations as a whole in their rebellion against God. It is the embodiment of that worldly arrogance that defies God and tramples on others in its lust for power. It lies at the heart of all the horrendous acts of inhumanity which human beings and notions still commit against one another today.

Isaiah sees in Babylon the proud evil that influences and sets the whole world against God (Isa 13:11; 14:26; Dan 4:30; Rev 14:8; 17:5; 18:2-3). For Isaiah, the story of Babylon is the story of all nations that defy God. This began soon after the Flood with the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), the Hebrew name for Babylon, which means "gate of God." God put an end to Babylon when Persia conquered her about 100 years after the time of Isaiah. God will put an end to Babylon forever when Christ comes again.

Revelation best expresses God's attitude toward Babylon:
  • A second angel followed and said, "'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,' which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries." (Rev 14:8, NIV). "...her passionate immorality" (Rev 14:8, NLT). "...her fornication" (Rev 14:8, NKJV).
  • "The name written on her forehead was a mystery: babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth" (Rev 17:7, NIV). "...obscenities" (Rev 17:7, NLT). "...vile things" (Rev 17:7, HCSB).
  • With a mighty voice he shouted: "'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!' She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries" (Rev 18:2-3, NIV).
Isaiah's warning, while here applied to Babylon, speaks to all who imagine that the prosperity and ease of their life will continue forever, even as injustices and sin accumulate. There is a coming judgment directed not just against a particular region or country but against the world that has rebelled against God and his good creation.

Isaiah 13-14 contain two prophesies concerning Babylon: an oracle (13:1-22) and a taunt (14:3-23). Wedged between them is a contrasting announcement of salvation for Jacob/Israel (14:1-2). These oracles are spoken to remind Israel that no matter what the nations do to her, her final destiny is secure, because it is the Lord, not they, who shapes the course of history. He is the Lord of the nations, and his judgment on them has as its ultimate goal the salvation of his people.
  1. The oracle (13:1-22). Read 1-19.
    • The day of the Lord (1-16).
    • The end of Babylon's kingdom (17-22).
  2. The promise (14:1-2). The heart of history is that of the Lord's people. This expresses the theology of election. These two short verses undergirds the comprehensive promise of salvation.
  3. The taunt (14:3-23; 24-27). Read 9-17, 22, 24-27. This taunt has the form of a funeral lament. But instead of expressing sorrow it communicates profound satisfaction, even delight. In this ironic fashion, it celebrates the downfall of arrogance and oppression.
    • The end of Babylon's king (3-23).
    • Assyria: An interim assurance (24-27).
Sheol, the abode of the dead is where Isaiah goes on an imaginative trip to in Isa 14:9-15. Sheol reacts with surprise to the arrival of the arrogant king of Babylon (Isa 14:9-10), which is a sharp contrast to his ambitions and self-estimation (Isa 14:11-15). Here we learn several OT truths:
  1. The grave or "Sheol" (Isa 14:9, 11, 15) is the place of the abode of the dead. It is not the cemetery where the body lies but the "place" where the soul continues in life. The grave exposes the fragility of our humanity. The soul is the person as much as the body is; both are referred to as "you." The dissolution of the body in the grave matches the weakness of the soul in Sheol.
  2. The dead are alive. In the Bible "death" is never "termination," but always
    • change of place (from earth to Sheol),
    • change of state (from body-soul/spirit unity to the separate life of the soul) and
    • continuity of person.
  3. In Sheol there is personal recognition. The king is recognized as he arrives (Isa 14:10). People in Sheol are the same people as once they were on earth. Thus, Revelations says, "Let the one who does wrong [unjust, unrighteous, evildoer, doing harm] continue to do wrong; let the vile [filthy] person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy" (Rev 22:11, NIV).
  4. In Sheol, the soul without the body is but a half-life. The OT awaits the Lord Jesus to meet its implied need of the resurrection of the body.
People, driven by their own ego and pride, cannot but use and abuse people in order to achieve and accomplish their own ends. The king of Babylon may be the representative of all who think of themselves as the king who rules their own lives. But anyone who attempts to "go up," will be "brought down." Whoever wants to ascend to the heights will descend to the very depths. Like it or not, anyone who wants to save their own lives will eventually lose it (Mt 16:25a; Mk 8:35a; Lk 9:24a).

God, who is almighty, is the very opposite of Babylon. God, who dwells in the highest, descended to the lowest regions. Jesus, in his condescension (Phil 2:5-8), lived out the truth that the "way down" is the "way up." The way of humility and condescension is the way of triumph and exaltation (Phil 2:9-11).
References:
  1. The Whole World in His Hands (Isaiah 13-27).
  2. Divine Judgment on the Evil Kingdom (Isa 14:3-23).
  3. God Rules Over the World (Isaiah 13). My daily bread from Dec 2010.
  4. Who Can Thwart God's Purpose (Isaiah 14). My daily bread from Dec 2010.