Cities are often a showcase for human achievement. Here, in the hive of human endeavour, thrive the arts and all the newest cultural trends, the most recent technology and the development of powerful seats of human government.
Though there is nothing inherently wrong with progress, this capacity for human creativity and social organisation in depraved human hearts tends to develop into humanism — or life without God — and in many instances, oppression and tyranny.
Many years ago, the American poet Wendell Berry wrote the following, in protest against the Vietnam War, that exposes the humanist attitudes of powerful nations:
“In the name of ourselves we ride
at the wheels of our engines,
in the name of Plenty devouring all,
the exhaust of our progress falling
deadly on villages and fields
we do not see. We are prepared
for millions of little deaths.”
In chapter 13 of Isaiah, the prophet is given a vision — or as the KJV translates it, a burden — regarding Babylon. In this prophecy, we catch a shadow of the future judgment of the world system referred to as ‘the day of the Lord’ and described in the book of Revelation.
The capacity for human creativity and social organisation in depraved human hearts often develops into humanism — life without God
Babylon had been used by God as an instrument of judgment on His people because of their rebellion and idolatry. The Babylonian Empire had grown into a mighty world power and the city was the jewel displayed to the world of the power, riches and creativity of man, containing what would become one of the Seven Wonders of the World — the hanging gardens of Babylon.
There are those who believe the gardens never existed. Whether they did or not, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, summarises the arrogance of humanism perfectly in Daniel 4:29-30. As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace, reflecting on what was before him, he said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” The essence of secular humanism is expressed in this great king’s statement: “which I myself have built”.
We must examine, judge and guard our hearts continually from this incessant plague of the human condition that not only affects kings, but is found in the poorest and most uninfluential persons too — including in children, who often boast in how much better they can do something over their friends.
As mentioned, the city of Babylon is used metaphorically for the entire world system that man has been involved in building over many centuries of time. It represents the sum total of man’s endeavour to live his life without God and in rejection of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God has been silent for a very long time, but His wrath has been building in righteous fury against man’s rejection of His grace. This is a strange concept, especially to modern ears, that God would be angry with those who reject His love.
This is a strange concept, especially to modern ears, that God would be angry with those who reject His love
God created man to reflect His glory and fulfil His created purpose of glorifying Him and enjoying His presence. But by following the temptations of an already fallen and rebellious creature, the devil, man became like the one who lured him into disobedience and has been at war with God since the Fall.
God, in grace and through great sacrifice through His Son, has provided what man needs to be reconciled, but man continues in stubborn rejection of that offer, and in that rejection declares himself to be an enemy of God. Thus, God is justified for any wrath exercised against a creature who shakes his fist in His almighty face.
In vv. 2-6, we find the preparation of the vessels God would use to destroy the Babylonians. In world history, these proved to be the Persian Empire. Though they were also a pagan nation, they were to be the scourging instrument in the providence of God. The statement ‘God is in control’ is true, regardless of how contradictory things may seem. The providence of God is a source of strength and encouragement to His people, as we sojourn through this fallen and barren land called Earth.
In v. 4, we are told that the Lord of hosts musters the army for the battle. Notice that this formation of an army has much noise and tumult associated with it. How vicious are the armies of men in their desire for destruction! War becomes a horrible cacophony of death. Cacophony comes from a joining of the Greek prefix kak-, meaning ‘bad’, with phōnē, so it essentially means ‘bad sound’. How far removed this is from the peace that characterises the followers of the Lamb.
[An interesting study I encourage the reader to pursue is spiritual warfare, including subtopics such as the equipment of the soldier, the strategy and tactics of spiritual warfare, identifying the enemies of the war, etc. A most interesting and soul-equipping study!]
The statement ‘God is in control’ is true, regardless of how contradictory things may seem
The horrors of invasion are further described in our study in vv. 7-16. The Persians would suddenly come upon the inhabitants of Babylon and cause immediate terror and anguish. Hands would hang limp, hearts would fail, causing nothing short of startling and paralysing terror.
The cruelties of the human heart will be violently demonstrated when “anyone who is found will be thrust through, and anyone who is captured will fall by the sword, their little ones also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished” (vv. 15-16). We see the result of this invasion in vv. 17-22, where Babylon will be reduced to a habitation of wild animals and will be removed from the annals of world history, never to be inhabited or lived in again.
When one considers the nature of God and His omni-attributes, what chance does a mere creature of the moment have to stand, once His anger begins to flow like a great volcanic tsunami? Isaiah’s prophecy gives us a small picture of the coming day of the Lord.
It serves as a warning that judgment, though delayed, will inevitably arrive. There are only two humanities in the world, those who are rebels against God and those who, through redemption, have passed from death to life and are now followers of God. To which do you belong?
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