When Cyrus the anointed shepherd comes (Isaiah 44:28-45:1), he will overthrow Babylon, which enslaved Israel. Babylon took Israel to captivity, but Babylon will one day be taken captive.
“Bel bows down, Nebo stoops; their idols were on the beasts and on the cattle. Your carriages were heavily loaded, a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but have themselves gone into captivity. . . .” (Isaiah 46:1-47:15).
Isaiah begins with a prophecy about Bel and Nebo, Babylon’s gods (46:1). He predicts that Babylon’s idols will go into captivity along with their worshipers; the images will be a heavy burden for a people trying to flee before Persia’s advance (46:1-2). While Babylonians have to transport their gods, Yahweh reminds Judah that He is the One who transports them, from the womb even to old age (46:3-4). Yahweh’s care of His people is proof that, unlike deaf and dumb idols, He is a living God (46:5-7). Yahweh had earlier told Judah to forget the former things (43:18), but now He reiterates the Mosaic exhortation to “remember” (46:8-9). By remembering Yahweh’s devotion to His people in former times, Judah will know that He declares the end from the beginning (46:10). They will be assured that He will bring His saving righteousness in the future (46:12-13).
Earlier in his prophecy, Isaiah condemned the pride of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14); here he condemns the arrogance of Queen Babylon. Babylon considered herself an eternal queen (47:7). She believed she was secure and would never be a widow or lose her children (v. 8). She blasphemously claims divine status and uniqueness: “You have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me’” (47:8, 10). Yahweh Himself had given Judah into the hands of Babylon because of His anger (47:6), but Babylon overstepped her bounds. Because of this, Babylon will be cast down from her thrown and will instead sit in the dust (47:1). Her royal robes and her virgin’s veil will be stripped from her, and her nakedness and shame exposed (47:2-3). She will be sent into the outer darkness (47:5). What she thought would never happen will happen: In one day, Yahweh’s day, she will lose children and husband (47:9).
Babylon felt secure because she could rely on sorcery and magic (47:9, 12). According to Ezekiel (21:21), the king of Babylon casts lots, seeks counsel from idols, seeks to know the future by reading the entrails of sacrificed animals. Isaiah mentions the astrologers who “prophesy by the stars” (47:13). Queen Babylon rests secure in her wisdom and knowledge (47:10), which is what makes her believe she is God. None of these tricks will save her from disaster and destruction (47:11). All the astrologers have become stubble, tinder for the fire of God’s judgment (47:14), a fire that they will not be able to escape. By the first century AD, the Jews had turned temple worship into a set of magic tricks by which they hoped to control God and seduce the nations (Revelation 18:23). Like ancient Babylon, Jerusalem the sorceress is overthrown in a day of disaster.
Our world is full of sorcery and sooth-saying, some of it decked in the trappings of science. It is no more effective than Babylon’s sorcery. It leads to catastrophe.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 5:23 am
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