Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 13’

Readers of these reflections will have observed this author’s perception that the book of Isaiah is essentially hopeful regarding the fate of nations. Although one takes pains to observe the hard edge of chastisement that generally precedes the promise of inclusion of other peoples in YHWH’s redemptive plan for Israel, hope is there to be had. Sometimes subdued, at times mixed with subjection even if it be glad or much awaited subjection, at times bursting outlandishly from denunciation into blessing, nearly always there is a note of hopeful anticipation for erstwhile adversaries of Jacob.

But not so for Babylon, at least in the book’s fourteenth chapter.

The oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw.  

On a bare hill raise a signal, cry aloud to them; wave the hand for them to enter the gates of the nobles.

I myself have commanded my consecrated ones, have summoned my warriors, my proudly exulting ones, to execute my anger.  

Listen, a tumult on the mountains as of a great multitude! Listen, an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The LORD of hosts is mustering an army for battle.

They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the LORD and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole earth.  

Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! 

Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame.

See, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

I will make mortals more rare than fine gold, and humans than the gold of Ophir.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.

Like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands.

Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.

Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished.

See, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold.

Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children.

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; Arabs will not pitch their tents there, shepherds will not make their flocks lie down there.

But wild animals will lie down there, and its houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will live, and there goat-demons will dance.

Hyenas will cry in its towers, and jackals in the pleasant palaces; its time is close at hand, and its days will not be prolonged.

Isaiah 13:1-22 (NRSV)

Although the oracle oscillates between Babylon and the whole inhabited world—or humanity, generally—it never strays far from the hooks that penetrate into the flesh of historical Babylon, Judah’s oppressor.

Perhaps the point is that there exists a final and determined opposition to YHWH’s counsel that is in the end respected and allowed to be what it is. It is not difficult to understand how this dark denunciation will be taken up in Christian apocalyptic to signal not the end of an historical empire at the point of Median (Persian) swords, but rather a final destruction of all human resistance to Redemption’s purpose.

The observation does not murder hope. But it kills frothy optimism.

There is, even in this oracle of misery, a purpose beyond battle, one that assumes the low profile of expectant imperatives—Listen! … See!. Someone, it seems, will benefit after the river of blood subsides.

But, oh, the humanity!

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