Terrifying Report of the Fall of Babylon — Isaiah 21:1-10

Horror movies have never been something that our family has watched.  How can you call it entertainment to be scared out of your wits by graphic images of blood and gore?  Yet in this short oracle concerning Babylon, the prophet finds himself immersed in a horror reality movie that affects him both physically and emotionally.  The prophet is impacted so intensely because he is both a faithful communicator of God’s hard messages and one that empathizes with the suffering of God’s people.  He hates to see Judah going down the destructive path of trusting in the arm of the flesh.  Just as we saw last week that they were tempted to trust in Egypt; now we are going to see similar lessons today as they are tempted to trust in Babylon to combat the threat of Assyria.

HORROR STRIKES THOSE WHO PERCEIVE THE DESTRUCTIVE CONSEQUENCES OF TRUSTING IN THE ARM OF THE FLESH

Many preachers today are not struck with such horror; they are false prophets who blindly go about trying to soothe people by saying “Peace, Peace” where there is no peace; by removing the language of sin and guilt and judgment from their messages; by avoiding the hard parts of God’s Word and picking and choosing what they want to preach … not so for the prophet Isaiah.  He truly was faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God just as the Apostle Paul testified at the conclusion of his ministry.  He felt the burden of God’s message – communicated by this introductory word “oracle” – and he was terrified by the consequences that God promised would result from trusting in the arm of the flesh.

I.   THE PROBLEM IDENTIFIED BY THE PROPHET

II.  THE PAIN EXPERIENCED BY THE PROPHET

III. THE PREDICTION ANNOUNCED BY THE PROPHET

IV.  THE PERSPECTIVE MAINTAINED BY THE PROPHET

I.   (:1-2)  THE PROBLEM IDENTIFIED BY THE PROPHET

ATTEMPTS AT STOPPING THE AGGRESSOR –

HARSH VISION OF UNRELENTING ATTACKS

A.  Cryptic Identification of Babylon as the Focus of the Oracle

The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.

We know from vs. 9 that Babylon is in view – remember Chap. 13-14 the first oracle delivered in this series of judgments against the nations concerned God’s judgment in the last days against Babylon; conflicting imagery – nothing could be more different than the desert and the sea; God will eventually bring to desolation (desert) that which seems to have the potential for fertility (sea)

Vine:The desert of the sea” is Babylon (cp. Jer. 50:38; 51:13, 36, 55).

Seems like this could be prophetic of how the Lord would eventually judge Babylon and dry up the waters around her to make her a desert area where there had been abundant seas

Rich Cathers: reference to the open plain area around the city of Babylon. It had once been flooded with the water of the Euphrates, looking like a sea, but when the city grew, the marshes were drained.

Jim Bomkamp: Today, the city of Babylon lies in ruins within the country of Iraq.

Two major options for what destruction of Babylon is in view in this section:

1)  539 B.C. – major fall of Babylon when it was a big time world power –

            Attractive because of the feasting picture in Daniel 5 in the court of Belshazzar (vs.4);

            This is the more the major fall in view back in the earlier oracle

2)  689 B.C. – immediate fall of Babylon before it becomes such a major world player – ties into the context of the previous chapter – warning about putting trust in the arm of the flesh – Egypt and now Babylon; idea of dealing treacherously fits this context

Is. 39  [we had looked at the previous chapters last week which dealt with the threat from Assyria and how Judah was tempted to trust in Egypt] – here we see some of the interaction between Judah and Babylon

Martin: passages referring to the fall of Babylon in 539 indicate that it was something about which Israel was to rejoice (because it soon resulted in the return of the Jews to their homeland), whereas this fall of Babylon was terrifying, something to be feared.  “The Desert by the Sea” (v.1) most likely refers to the area around the gulf known today as the Persian Gulf, that it, territory near Babylon. As already mentioned, in Isaiah’s previous oracles (chaps. 13-20) he wrote of the Assyrian incursion into other countries in the ancient world and the effects it had on the Syro-Palestine region.  In 722 B.C. a Chaldean prince from the Persian Gulf region, named Marduk-apal-iddina (called Marodach-Baladan in 39:1), revolted against Assyria, captured Babylon, and was crowned king of Babylon.  Elam, a nation northeast of Babylon, supported his revolt.  Not till 710 B.C. was Sargon able to evict Marduk-apal-iddina from Babylon.  After the defeat of Sargon in 705 Marduk-apal-iddna along with Elamite troops revolted against Sennacherib.  In 702 Sennacherib finally defeated him (and Elam) and devastated his home area around the Persian Gulf.  Undoubtedly Isaiah was prophesying about this situation.  Hezekiah, king of Judah, and other members of his royal court felt that Marduk-apal-iddina would be able to break the strength of the Assyrian Empire.  But Isaiah was warning them that this would not happen.

Complex Solution:

In this whole section we have seen there is an immediate context and an end times ultimate fulfillment as well; Here it is even more complex – because there is an intermediate context as well – all 3 of these historical and future contexts are in play in this passage – very complicated which lends itself to the vague language that is used; difficult to pin down the specific references; but easy to take away the main principles of the teaching

B.  Cosmic Imagery Picturing Unrelenting, Suffocating, Destructive Force of the Attacks

As windstorms in the Negev sweep on, It comes from the wilderness, from a terrifying land.

Describing the attacks of that savage and brutal nation = Assyria??  Medes and Persians??  Babylonians??   All of them??

–          Unrelenting – wave after wave; they keep springing up; not just one incident

–          Suffocating – no place to hide or escape

–          Destructive – consumes everything in its path; terrible impact on people’s lives

Imagine being caught in the windstorms that are stirred up from the Negev

Impact = Terrifying – Judah constantly under siege and in danger – still true today

C.  Cruel Insight — No Stopping the Savage Brutality of the Attacks

A harsh vision has been shown to me;

The treacherous one still deals treacherously, and the destroyer still destroys.

Isaiah did not long for such a message as this; painful to be shown the incessant nature of such treacherous attacks

No justice or righteousness being administered here; Assyria/Babylon?? is not yet getting what she deserves; the world can be a harsh and treacherous place; the law of the kingdom is not what is being practiced – you don’t see the meek inheriting the earth; you don’t see blessing heaped on those who are poor in spirit; you don’t see humility and a servant spirit being rewarded

Babylon deals treacherously as well – Which nation is in view here??

D.  Contrasting Intentions – Arm of the Flesh vs the Providence of the Lord

Go up, Elam, lay siege, Media;

I have made an end of all the groaning she has caused.

Difficult to tell who is speaking here and what this is about …

–          Calling upon Elam and Media to join in confederacy against the Assyrians before the fall of 689?

–          Calling upon the Medes and Persians to finally conquer Babylonians in 539 and deliver the Jews

–          End times application??

Elam not really a factor in the 539 incident – has been subsumed into the Persian kingdom – but from Isaiah’s perspective it was the Medes and Persians that would eventually proved Babylon’s undoing

Think of all of the groaning of the people of God in captivity in Babylon – at some point, God makes an end of this …. Just as in the last days He will make an end of all of her groaning …

Only God can make an end of all the groaning

But for the prophet, the dominant emotion is not one of rejoicing – but of severe horror over all that God’s people will experience in terms of suffering until that blessed millennial kingdom; look at all that must happen before there will be a complete end to the groaning

II.  (:3-4)  THE PAIN EXPERIENCED BY THE PROPHET

ANGUISH OF ISAIAH –

HORROR OVERWHELMS GOD’S PROPHET

A.  Physical Anguish – Cramping and Labor Pains

For this reason my loins are full of anguish;

Pains have seized me like the pains of a woman in labor.

Not just hours of labor pains … but centuries of labor pains that will culminate in some terrifying horrors in the last days

B.  Sensory Anguish – Cannot Hear or See

I am so bewildered I cannot hear,

so terrified I cannot see.

So much is going on – Isaiah cannot even wrap his mind around all of the details; but he comes away with the emotional impact of severe anguish

C.  Mental and Emotional Anguish – Completely Wasted

My mind reels,

horror overwhelms me;

He is completely overcome

D.  Prolonged and Intensified Anguish

The twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling.

Hoped for resolution keeps getting prolonged; it seems like the times of suffering will never end

III.  (:5-9)  THE PREDICTION ANNOUNCED BY THE PROPHET

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE FALL OF BABYLON –

 HOPES CRUSHED BY THE SHATTERING OF THE ARM OF THE FLESH

A.  (:5)  Complacent Unpreparedness

1.  Climate of Feasting

They set the table, they spread out the cloth, they eat, they drink;

Third person here does not seem to fit God’s people as well …

Seems to best fit the context of Daniel 5 and the Babylonians;   They seem unconcerned; complacent; more concerned with comforts of life and entertaining; oblivious to the imminent danger; not standing watch like they should

2.  Command to Forearm Your Troops

Rise up, captains, oil the shields,

Mobilize; Arm your troops

Bomkamp: The oiling of shields was felt in that day to cause swords and spears to bounce off of the shields.

Cathers: shields were often made out of leather. The leather was oiled to keep it from drying out and cracking.

Or were the shields made out of metal??

Eph. 6 – putting on the whole armor of God – you wouldn’t want to go into battle unprepared with your armor sitting in the corner all dusty

B.  (:6-7)  Call to Attention

1.  Position the Lookout

For thus the Lord says to me, ‘Go, station the lookout,’

            2.  Commission the Lookout

let him report what he sees.

                    a.  Commissioned to Watch

b.  Commissioned to Warn

3.  Instruct the Lookout

When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, A train of donkeys, a train of camels,

Let him pay close attention, very close attention.

This is how the Medes and Persians would attack

C.  (:8-9)  Crisis Alert

1.  Standing Watch

Then the lookout called, ‘O Lord, I stand continually by day on the watchtower,

And I am stationed every night at my guard post.’

            2.  Seeing

Now behold, here comes a troop of riders, horsemen in pairs.

            3.  Shattered Hopes

And one answered and said, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon;

And all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground.”’

Look at all that Assyria destroyed in 689 B.C.:  crushing the hopes of Judah in terms of trusting in Babylon

–          The military power of Babylon

–          The culture of Babylon

–          The religion of Babylon

This is a foretaste of the further destruction of Babylon in 539 B.C. when all of her hopes were crushed and then her ultimate demise in Rev. 14:8; chapters 17-18 where she becomes a representative for the worldwide anti-God system

Again, all 3 contexts are in view

IV.  (:10)  THE PERSPECTIVE MAINTAINED BY THE PROPHET

APPLICATION BY THE PROPHET OF GOD –

HARD TIMES LIE AHEAD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD BEFORE MILLENNIAL BLESSING

A.  Compassion for the Afflictions of God’s People

O my threshed people, and my afflicted of the threshing floor!

Understand that we will experience much suffering;

Don’t be surprised at the calamities that arise among international affairs even in our day;

God is still in control; He uses trials to purify His people;

He will be faithful to His promises about end time blessings

B.  Faithfulness to Communicate God’s Hard Message

What I have heard from the LORD of hosts, The God of Israel, I make known to you.

Only the promises of the Word of God bring hope and comfort to an afflicted people

Grogan: The people of Judah, who had already suffered much at the hands of the Assyrians, are depicted as prostrate – and yet alive – like grain that has fallen – bruised and yet safe – on the threshing floor after the thresher has battered it severely with his flail (v.11).  The image underlining their helpless condition was also perhaps intended to convey a note of hope.  Judah was not chaff but grain, and the Lord Almighty who had used Assyria to bring the downfall of Babylon was also the God of Israel who would protect his people and fulfill his purposes for them.  Their main human hope had gone, but this would leave them free to put their trust in the Lord.

CONCLUSION:

I. HARSH VISION OF UNRELENTING ATTACKS

II. HORROR OVERWHELMS GOD’S PROPHET

III. HOPES CRUSHED BY THE SHATTERING OF THE ARM OF THE FLESH

IV. HARD TIMES LIE AHEAD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD BEFORE MILLENNIAL BLESSING

CLICK HERE FOR FULL PDF COMMENTARY LIBRARYView or download all commentaries by Paul Apple

CLICK HERE FOR ALL PAUL APPLE SERMONS ON AUDIO FROM SERMON AUDIO.COM