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Isaiah 13


Prophecies About Babylon Proclamation Against Babylon Oracles Against Foreign Nations
God Will Punish Babylon Against Babylon
13:1-5 13:1 13:1 13:1 13:1
(2-5) 13:2-3
13:2-3 13:2-22
Judgment on the Day of the Lord 13:4-5
Babylon Will Fall to the Medes     13:14-16  

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Chapter 13 marks a new division in the book of Isaiah that extends through 21:17 and also 23:1-8. This section of Isaiah deals with judgment of surrounding nations. It is a genre in and of itself. It is very similar to Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32; Amos 1-2; Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah 2.


B. YHWH addresses the surrounding nations, both large and small, through His prophet; messages they will never hear or respond to. This demonstrates His universal sovereignty (cf. 2:1-4; 9:7; 11:9)! He is King of the earth; Lord of creation (cf. LXX Deut. 32:8)!


C. The nations addressed are

1. Babylon (or Assyria using Babylonian throne name "King of Babylon"), 13:1-14:23

2. Assyria, 14:24-27

3. Philistia, 14:28-32

4. Moab, 15:1-16:14

5. Syria, 17:1-3

6. Israel, 17:4-14

7. Ethiopia (Cush), 18:1-7; 20:1-6

8. Egypt, 19:1-25; 20:1-6

9. Babylon, 21:1-10

10. Edom, 21:11-12

11. Arabia, 21:13-17

12. Jerusalem, 22:1-25

13. Tyre, 23:1-18

You will notice that Assyria seems to break into the context in 14:24-27. It is surprising that

1. Babylon is addressed first when the problem in Isaiah's day was Assyria.

2. Babylon is addressed again in 21:1-10.

3. Assyria is abruptly mentioned only briefly in 14:24-27 with no new heading (i.e., "oracle").

One way to contextually deal with these problems is to view all of 13:1-14:27 as directed toward Assyria. Assyria completely subjected and conquered Babylon in 689 b.c. and her kings took the title of "king of Babylon" (cf. 14:4). If this is right then it is not Neo-Babylon (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar), but earlier Babylon (Merodach-baladan) that fell to Assyria in 729 b.c. and the capital city of Babylon sacked and destroyed in 689 b.c. The NASB Study Bible (p. 976) notes that there is no new "oracle" heading at 14:24, which implies one literary unit from 13:1-14:32.

The one problem with this approach is that "the Medes," who destroyed Neo-Babylon in 539 b.c., are mentioned in v. 17. However, with the weakening of Assyria in 660, Media and Babylon combined to rebel against the declining empire under Ashurbanipal (IVP Bible Background Commentary, p. 601). The capital of Assyria fell to a combined army of Media and Babylon in 612 b.c.


D. This is a good place to show how the poetic sections switch from first person (prophet speaking for God) to the third person (the prophet speaking about God).

1. Verses 1-3, first person

2. Verses 4-10, third person

3. Verses 11-16, first person

4. Verses 17-18, first person

5. Verses 19-22, third person

But, vv. 13 and 19 show how hard it is to follow this structure. In reality the prophet moves freely back and forth to reveal the message "poetically" (word plays, line beat, rare words, change of person).


1The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
2Lift up a standard on the bare hill,
Raise your voice to them,
Wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles.
3I have commanded My consecrated ones,
I have even called My mighty warriors,
My proudly exulting ones,
To execute My anger.
4A sound of tumult on the mountains,
Like that of many people!
A sound of the uproar of kingdoms,
Of nations gathered together!
The Lord of hosts is mustering the army for battle.
5They are coming from a far country,
From the farthest horizons,
The Lord and His instruments of indignation,
To destroy the whole land.
6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near!
It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
7Therefore all hands will fall limp,
And every man's heart will melt.
8They will be terrified,
Pains and anguish will take hold of them;
They will writhe like a woman in labor,
They will look at one another in astonishment,
Their faces aflame.
9Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
Cruel, with fury and burning anger,
To make the land a desolation;
And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
10For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light.
11Thus I will punish the world for its evil
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud
And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.
12I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold
And mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the Lord of hosts
In the day of His burning anger.
14And it will be that like a hunted gazelle,
Or like sheep with none to gather them,
They will each turn to his own people,
And each one flee to his own land.
15Anyone who is found will be thrust through,
And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
16Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces
Before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished.


TEV"a message"
LXX"a vision"
Peshitta"the prophecy"

This term (BDB 672, KB 639) can mean "burden" or "load." It (BDB 672 III) is used eleven times in this section (chapters 13-23) of Isaiah to describe oracles of future doom on the nations surrounding Israel. The term may simply denote

1. a voice lifted to proclaim a message

2. a message carried by someone to a recipient 

3. a heaviness associated with a judgment oracle.


▣ "Babylon" This was an empire of the Fertile Crescent that affected the people of God. This first major world power of the Fertile Crescent to affect Israel was Assyria, then Neo-Babylon, then Medo-Persia. Babylon is used in the Bible as a symbol of oppression and cruelty (cf. I Pet. 5:13; Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5). The downfall of Babylon is revealed in 13:1-14:23 (old Babylon) and 21:1-10 (new Babylon). See note in Contextual Insights, C, second paragraph.

▣ "which Isaiah son of Amoz saw" The immediate contemporary enemy of Israel and Judah in Isaiah's day was Assyria. But as a prophet of God he was shown ("saw," BDB 302, KB 301, Qal perfect, cf. 1:1; 2:1; 13:1; Amos 1:1; Mic. 1:1; Hab. 1:1) the future demise of old Babylon, Assyria, Neo-Babylon, and the rise of Cyrus the Great (cf. v. 17; 44:28-45:1). Those who deny predictive prophecy exhibit a bias that affects all their interpretations! See Contextual Insights, C, second paragraph.

Predictive prophecy is the main evidence of a unique supernaturally-inspired Bible. See sermons "The Trustworthiness of the Old Testament" and "The Trustworthiness of the New Testament" online at in the "Video Sermons" section under Lakeside Baptist church.

13:2 This describes the gathering of a mighty army (cf. v. 9). From v. 17 we learn that it is the army of (1) Assyria or (2) Medo-Persia under Cyrus II gathered by God to defeat either "old" or "new" Babylon (cf. 44:28; 45:1).

▣ "Lift up a standard on a bare hill" This describes how ancient armies communicated.

1. banners, flags in easily visible places, cf. 5:26; 31:9; Jer. 51:12

2. shouts (whistle, cf. 5:26)

3. hand movements, cf. 10:32; 19:16

There is a series of imperatives denoting YHWH's will.

1. lift up, BDB 669, KB 724, Qal imperative

2. raise, BDB 926, KB 1202, Hiphil imperative

3. wave, BDB 631, KB 682, Hiphil imperative, cf. 10:32; 11:15; 19:16

4. enter, BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperfect, but used in a jussive sense (NEB changes vowels and has "draw your swords, you nobles") 


13:3 "I have commanded my consecrated ones" God is in control of history! These Median warriors are not consecrated in a moral or religious sense. For the most part they are unknowing servants of God "set apart" ("consecrated ones," BDB 872, KB 1073, Pual participle) to do His bidding. This same concept can be seen in Cyrus being called "my shepherd" in 44:28; "my anointed" in 45:1.

The Jewish Study Bible footnotes from JPSOA sees "My consecrated ones" (i.e., "My purified one") as a reference to a sacrificial meal where the guests are told to prepare themselves (p. 809).

Another option is to see this poem as expressing "Holy War" terminology and if so, then these could refer to angels (cf. Josh. 5:13-15).

13:4 This describes the sounds of battle and victory!

13:5 YHWH is bringing large mercenary armies from the Fertile Crescent to punish His people in Canaan (cf. 5:26; 7:18).

NASB"farthest horizons"
NKJV, Peshitta"the end of heaven"
NRSV"the end of the heavens"
TEV"the ends of the earth"
NJB"from the far horizons"
LXX"from the utmost foundation of heaven"

The NRSV is the most literal. It denotes the place where the sun rises, therefore, to the east, the very direction of the homelands of the Mesopotamian powers.

13:6 "Wail" This term (BDB 410, KB 413, Hiphil imperative) refers to howling, wailing. Orientals are much more expressive of emotions in grieving than westerners. This term is used often in Isaiah (cf. 13:6; 14:31; 15:2, 3; 16:7 [twice]; 23:1, 6,14; 52:5; 65:14) and also in Jeremiah (cf. 4:8; 25:34; 47:2; 48:20, 31, 39; 49:3; 51:8).

▣ "for the day of the Lord is near" The creator God is a moral, ethical God. He approaches His creation and creatures in light of His character. Sometimes He approaches from affirmation and blessing, but other times (as here) He approaches from judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 27-29). All moral creatures must give an account both temporally and eschatologically (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15) to the One who gave them life!

"the Almighty" This is the Hebrew title Shaddai. This was the patriarchal name for YHWH (cf. Exod. 6:3). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:1. There is a sound play (BDB 994) between "destruction" (דשכ, BDB 994) and "the Almighty" (ידשמ, BDB 994). Note the connection with Joel 1:15.

13:7-8 The approach of YHWH will cause certain fearful responses.

1. "wail," v. 6

2. "all hands will fall limp," v. 7, cf. Ezek. 7:17; 21:7

3. "every man's heart will melt," v. 7, cf. 19:1; Nah. 2:10

4. "they will be terrified," v. 8

5. "pain and anguish will take hold of them," v. 8

6. "writhe like a woman in labor," v. 8, cf. 21:3; 26:17; 66:7

7. "look at one another in astonishment," v. 8

8. "their faces aflame," v. 8


13:9 This verse describes the day of the Lord as it relates to sinners (cf. v. 10).

A wasted and unpopulated land is exactly opposite to God's will for His creation (cf. Genesis 1-2).

13:10 The approach of YHWH to His physical creation causes reactions in nature. These reactions are often referred to as apocalyptic, but in reality they are metaphorical in the OT prophets and only turn to apocalyptic in the inter-biblical period and NT.

1. stars and constellations cease to shine (the ancients thought these were life-controlling deities), v. 10

2. sun and moon grow dark, v. 10

3. the heavens tremble, v. 13

4. the earth will be shaken from its place, v. 13

The heavens, the abode of God, become dark and fearful (cf. Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12-13). But there is a new light coming (cf. 2:5; 9:2; 60:1-3, 19-20).

13:11 "the world" This (BDB 385) is a poetic synonym for ץרא (i.e., "land," "earth,"cf. 14:21; 24:4; 34:1). It is obviously a hyperbole (or maybe not, cf. 24:4; 34:1), but it does express the theological concept of YHWH the creator and controller of this planet!

Notice how humans are characterized.

1. evil

2. wicked for their iniquity

3. arrogance of the proud

4. haughtiness of the ruthless

These same attributes describe the covenant people in 2:9, 11, 17; 5:15! The deadly tentacles (i.e., self, sin) of the Fall are everywhere (also note Gen. 6:5, 11; 8:21)!

13:12 "Ophir" This refers geographically to southern Arabia. The allusion here is that living human beings will be very scarce on the day of judgment.

13:14-16 This is a vivid description of the horrors of invasion.

1. hunted like gazelles

2. sheep with no shepherd

3. flee to family and homeland

4. inhabitants thrust through

5. inhabitants fall by the sword

6. little ones dashed to pieces in sight of their parents, cf. v. 18; II Kgs. 8:12; 15:16; Hos. 13:16; Nah. 3:10

7. houses plundered

8. wives ravished (NASB), cf. Deut. 28:30

Judgment by invasion was a terrible experience. These warlike nations gave this treatment and received this treatment (cf. Ps. 137:8-9)! The worst of these violent armies was Assyria.

13:16 This footnote of the MT suggests that the verb "ravish" (BDB 993, KB 1415, Niphal imperfect, cf. Deut. 28:30; Jer. 3:2; Zech. 14:2) be read (Qere) as "be lain with" (BDB 1011, KB 1486, Niphal imperfect, cf. LXX; Leviticus 15,20; Deuteronomy 22,27; Mic. 7:5).

17Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them,
Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold.
18And their bows will mow down the young men,
They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb,
Nor will their eye pity children.
19And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans' pride,
Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
20It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation;
Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there,
Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there.
21But desert creatures will lie down there,
And their houses will be full of owls;
Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there.
22Hyenas will howl in their fortified towers
And jackals in their luxurious palaces.
Her fateful time also will soon come
And her days will not be prolonged.

13:17 "the Medes" This is another major power of the Fertile Crescent north and east of Assyria. At first they were allied with "old" Babylon, but later they were incorporated with Persia under Cyrus II (cf. 44:28; 45:1; Jer. 51:11).

▣ "Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold" This army will be so bent on revenge there will be no possibility of buying them off!

13:18 "the fruit of the womb" This refers to unborn children and their mothers or young childen.

▣ "eye" It is used here to represent the attitudes/actions of a person (cf. Deut. 7:16; 13:8; 19:13; Ezek. 7:4; 16:5; 20:17). Here to denote that the invaders will have no pity even on children. This line of poetry is parallel with the line above!

The Median warriors had no compassion or pity (cf. Jer. 6:23; 21:7; 50:42).

13:19 Babylon's cultural beauty and sophistication were renowned (i.e., Daniel 4 of Neo-Babylon), but it will all be lost and destroyed! However, if this refers to Babylon during the Assyrian period, it was totally destroyed in 689 b.c. by Sennacherib.

▣ "Chaldeans" This was the name of the tribe of southern Babylon and is often used as a synonym for later nations of Neo-Babylon (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar). For other connotations of the term see Dan. 1:24.

▣ "Sodom and Gomorrah" These were cities of great wickedness, which God destroyed by fire and brimstone (cf. Gen. 19:24-28; Deut. 29:23).

13:20-22 This is hyperbolic language (cf. Sumerian laments over Ur and visions of Nefertiti over the old Egyptian Kingdom). The city fell in Merodach-baladan's day to Assyria with total destruction. The city fell to the Medo-Persian army in 539 b.c. without widespread destruction.

The book that has really helped me, as a modern western person, to understand eastern prophetic and apocalyptic literature is D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic.

13:20 The destruction was so complete that

1. it was uninhabited for generations

2. Arabs do not camp there

3. no flocks grazed there

4. building remains used only by wild animals (possibly demons, cf. vv. 21-22; 34:13-15; Rev. 18:2)

5. no longer a national entity

This fits "old" Babylon better than "new" Babylon. The Medes abandoned their alliance with Merodach-baladan and joined the Assyrians in destroying the capital city of Babylon in 689 b.c.


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