Isaiah 13

CHAPTER XIII

God mustereth the armies of his wrath against the inhabitants

of Babylon, 1-6.

The dreadful consequences of this visitation, and the terror

and dismay of those who are the objects of it, 7-16.

The horrid cruelties that shall be indicted upon the

Babylonians by the Medes, 17, 18.

Total and irrecoverable desolation of Babylon, 19-22.

This and the following chapter,-striking off the five last

verses of the latter, which belong to a quite different

subject,-contain one entire prophecy, foretelling the destruction

of Babylon by the Medes and Persians; delivered probably in the

reign of Ahaz, (see Vitringa, i. 380,) about two hundred years

before its accomplishment. The captivity itself of the Jews at

Babylon, which the prophet does not expressly foretell, but

supposes, in the spirit of prophecy, as what was actually to be

effected, did not fully take place till about one hundred and

thirty years after the delivery of this prophecy: and the Medes,

who are expressly mentioned Isa 13:17, as the principal agents in

the overthrow of the Babylonian monarchy, by which the Jews were

released from that captivity, were at this time an inconsiderable

people; having been in a state of anarchy ever since the fall of

the great Assyrian empire, of which they had made a part, under

Sardanapalus; and did not become a kingdom under Deioces till

about the seventeenth of Hezekiah.

The former part of this prophecy is one of the most beautiful

examples that can be given of elegance of composition, variety of

imagery, and sublimity of sentiment and diction, in the prophetic

style; and the latter part consists of an ode of supreme and

singular excellence.

The prophecy opens with the command of God to gather together

the forces which he had destined to this service, Isa 13:2, 3.

Upon which the prophet immediately hears the tumultuous noise of

the different nations crowding together to his standard; he sees

them advancing, prepared to execute the Divine wrath,

Isa 13:4, 5. He proceeds to describe the dreadful

consequences of this visitation, the consternation which will

seize those who are the objects of it; and, transferring unawares

the speech from himself to God, Isa 13:11, sets forth, under a

variety of the most striking images, the dreadful destruction of

the inhabitants of Babylon which will follow, Isa 13:11-16, and

the everlasting desolation to which that great city is doomed,

Isa 13:17-22.

The deliverance of Judah from captivity, the immediate

consequence of this great revolution, is then set forth, without

being much enlarged upon, or greatly amplified, Isa 14:1, 2. This

introduces, with the greatest ease and the utmost propriety, the

triumphant song on that subject, Isa 14:4-28. The beauties of

which, the various images, scenes, persons introduced, and the

elegant transitions from one to another, I shall here endeavour to

point out in their order, leaving a few remarks upon particular

passages of these two chapters to be given after these general

observations on the whole.

A chorus of Jews is introduced, expressing their surprise and

astonishment at the sudden downfall of Babylon; and the great

reverse of fortune that had befallen the tyrant, who, like his

predecessors, had oppressed his own, and harassed the neighbouring

kingdoms. These oppressed kingdoms, or their rulers, are

represented under the image of the fir trees and the cedars of

Libanus, frequently used to express any thing in the political or

religious world that is super-eminently great and majestic: the

whole earth shouteth for joy; the cedars of Libanus utter a severe

taunt over the fallen tyrant, and boast their security now he is

no more

The scene is immediately changed, and a new set of persons is

introduced. The regions of the dead are laid open, and Hades is

represented as rousing up the shades of the departed monarchs:

they rise from their thrones to meet the king of Babylon at his

coming; and insult him on his being reduced to the same low estate

of impotence and dissolution with themselves. This is one of the

boldest prosopopoeias that ever was attempted in poetry; and is

executed with astonishing brevity and perspicuity, and with that

peculiar force which in a great subject naturally results from

both. The image of the state of the dead, or the infernum poeticum

of the Hebrews, is taken from their custom of burying, those at

least of the higher rank, in large sepulchral vaults hewn in the

rock. Of this kind of sepulchres there are remains at Jerusalem

now extant; and some that are said to be the sepulchres of the

kings of Judah. See Maundrell, p. 76. You are to form to yourself

an idea of an immense subterranean vault, a vast gloomy cavern,

all round the sides of which there are cells to receive the dead

bodies; here the deceased monarchs lie in a distinguished sort of

state, suitable to their former rank, each on his own couch, with

his arms beside him, his sword at his head, and the bodies of his

chiefs and companions round about him. See Eze 32:27. On which

place Sir John Chardin's MS. note is as follows: "En Mingrelie ils

dorment tous leurs epees sous leurs tetes, et leurs autres armes a

leur cote; et on les enterre de mesme, leurs armes posees de cette

facon." In Mingrelia they always sleep with their swords under

their heads, and their other arms by their sides; and they bury

their dead with their arms placed in the same manner. These

illustrious shades rise at once from their couches, as from their

thrones; and advance to the entrance of the cavern to meet the

king of Babylon, and to receive him with insults on his fall.

The Jews now resume the speech; they address the king of Babylon

as the morning-star fallen from heaven, as the first in splendour

and dignity in the political world, fallen from his high state;

they introduce him as uttering the most extravagant vaunts of his

power and ambitious designs in his former glory. These are

strongly contrasted in the close with his present low and abject

condition.

Immediately follows a different scene, and a most happy image,

to diversify the same subject, to give it a new turn, and an

additional force. Certain persons are introduced who light upon

the corpse of the king of Babylon, cast out and lying naked on the

bare ground, among the common slain, just after the taking of the

city; covered with wounds, and so disfigured, that it is some time

before they know him. They accost him with the severest taunts;

and bitterly reproach him with his destructive ambition, and his

cruel usage of the conquered; which have deservedly brought him

this ignominious treatment, so different from that which those of

his rank usually meet with, and which shall cover his posterity

with disgrace.

To complete the whole, God is introduced, declaring the fate of

Babylon, the utter extirpation of the royal family, and the total

desolation of the city; the deliverance of his people, and the

destruction of their enemies; confirming the irreversible decree

by the awful sanction of his oath.

I believe it may with truth be affirmed, that there is no poem

of its kind extant in any language, in which the subject is so

well laid out, and so happily conducted, with such a richness of

invention, with such variety of images, persons, and distinct

actions, with such rapidity and ease of transition, in so small a

compass, as in this ode of Isaiah. For beauty of disposition,

strength of colouring, greatness of sentiment, brevity,

perspicuity, and force of expression, it stands, among all the

monuments of antiquity, unrivalled.-L.

NOTES ON CHAP. XIII.

Verse 1. The burden of Babylon] The prophecy that foretells its

destruction by the Medes and Persians: see the preceding

observations.

Verse 2. Exalt the voice] The word lahem, "to them," which

is of no use, and rather weakens the sentence, is omitted by an

ancient MS., and the Vulgate.

Verse 3. I have commanded my sanctified ones] mekuddashai,

the persons consecrated to this very purpose. Nothing can be

plainer than that the verb kadash, "to make holy," signifies

also to consecrate or appoint to a particular purpose. Bishop

Lowth translates, "my enrolled warriors." This is the sense.

Verse 4. Of the battle-"For the battle."] The Bodleian MS. has

lemilchamah. Cyrus's army was made up of many different

nations. Jeremiah calls it an "assembly of great nations from the

north country," Jer 50:9. And afterwards mentions the kingdoms of

"Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz, (i.e. Armenia, Corduene, Pontus or

Phrygia, Vitring.,) with the kings of the Medes," Jer 51:27, 28.

See Xenophon. Cyrop.

Verse 5. They come from a far country] The word meerets

is wanting in one MS. and in the Syriac: "They come from afar."

From the end of heaven] Kimchi says, Media, "the end of

heaven," in Scripture phrase, means, the EAST.

Verse 8. And they shall be afraid-"And they shall be terrified"]

I join this verb, venibhalu, to the preceding verse, with

the Syriac and Vulgate.

Pangs and sorrows shall take hold on them-"Pangs shall seize

them"] The Septuagint, Syriac, and Chaldee read

yochezum, instead of yochezun, which does not express

the pronoun them, necessary to the sense.

Verse 10. For the stars of heaven-"Yea, the stars of heaven"]

The Hebrew poets, to express happiness, prosperity, the

instauration and advancement of states, kingdoms, and potentates,

make use of images taken from the most striking parts of nature,

from the heavenly bodies, from the sun, moon, and stars: which

they describe as shining with increased splendour, and never

setting. The moon becomes like the meridian sun, and the sun's

light is augmented sevenfold; (see Isa 30:26;) new heavens and a

new earth are created, and a brighter age commences. On the

contrary, the overflow and destruction of kingdoms is represented

by opposite images. The stars are obscured, the moon withdraws her

light, and the sun shines no more! The earth quakes, and the

heavens tremble; and all things seem tending to their original

chaos, See Joe 2:10; 3:15, 16; Am 8:9; Mt 24:29; and De S.

Poes. Herb. Prael. VI. et IX.

And the moon shall not cause her light to shine] This in its

farther reference may belong to the Jewish polity, both in Church

and state, which should be totally eclipsed, and perhaps shine no

more in its distinct state for ever.

Verse 11. I will punish the world-"I will visit the world"] That

is, the Babylonish empire; as ηοικουμενη, for the Roman empire,

or for Judea, Lu 2:1; Ac 11:28. So the

universus orbis Romanus, for the Roman empire; Salvian. lib. v.

Minos calls Crete his world: "Creten, quae meus est orbis,"

Ovid. Metamorph. viii. 9.

Verse 12. I will make a man more precious than fine gold-wedge

of Ophir.] The Medes and Persians will not be satisfied with the

spoils of the Babylonians. They seek either to destroy or

enslave them; and they will accept no ransom for any man-either

for enosh, the poor man, or for adam, the more

honourable person. All must fall by the sword, or go into

captivity together; for the Medes, (Isa 13:17,)

regard not silver, and delight not in gold.

Verse 14. "And the remnant"] Here is plainly a defect in this

sentence, as it stands in the Hebrew text; the subject of the

proposition is lost. What is it that shall be like a roe chased?

The Septuagint happily supply it, οικαταλελειμμενοι,

shear, the remnant. A MS. here supplies the word yosheb, the

inhabitant; which makes a tolerably good sense; but I much prefer

the reading of the Septuagint.

They shall-turn-"They shall look"] That is, the forces of the

king of Babylon, destitute of their leader, and all his

auxiliaries, collected from Asia Minor, and other distant

countries, shall disperse and flee to their respective homes.

Verse 15. Every one that is found-"Every one that is overtaken"]

That is, none shall escape from the slaughter; neither they who

flee singly, dispersed and in confusion; nor they who endeavour to

make their retreat in a more regular manner, by forming compact

bodies: they shall all be equally cut off by the sword of the

enemy. The Septuagint have understood it in this sense, which they

have well expressed:-

οςγαραναλωηττηθησεται

καιοιτινεςσυνηγμενοιεισιπεσουνταιμαχαιρα

"Whosoever is caught shall be overthrown,

And all that are collected together shall fall by the sword."

Where, for ηττηθησεται, MS. Pachom has εκκενθησεται, et οιγ

Cod. Marchal. in margine, et MS. I. D. II. εκκεντηθησεται, which

seems to be right, being properly expressive of the Hebrew.

Verse 17. Which shall not regard silver-"Who shall hold silver

of no account"] That is, who shall not be induced, by large offers

of gold and silver for ransom, to spare the lives of those whom

they have subdued in battle; their rage and cruelty will get the

better of all such motives. We have many examples in the Iliad and

in the AEneid of addresses of the vanquished to the pity and

avarice of the vanquishers, to induce them to spare their lives.

Est domus alta: jacent penitus defossa talenta

Caelati argenti: sunt auri ponders facti

Infectique mihi: non hic victoria Teucrum

Vertitur; aut anima una dalbit discrimina tanta.

Dixerat: AEneas contra cui talia reddit:

Argenti atque auri memoras quae multa talenta

Gnatis parce tuis.

AEn. x. 526.

"High in my dome are silver talents rolled,

With piles of laboured and unlaboured gold.

These, to procure my ransom, I resign;

The war depends not on a life like mine:

One, one poor life can no such difference yield,

Nor turn the mighty balance of the field.

Thy talents, (cried the prince,) thy treasured store

Keep for thy sons."

Pitt.

It is remarkable that Xenophon makes Cyrus open a speech to his

army, and in particular to the Medes, who made the principal part

of it, with praising them for their disregard of riches. ανδρες

μηδοικαιπαντεςοιπαροντεςεγωυμαςοιδασαφωςοτιουτε

χρηματωνδεομενοισυνεμοιεξελθετε "Ye Medes, and others who now

hear me, I well know that you have not accompanied me in this

expedition with a view of acquiring wealth."-Cyrop. lib. v.

Verse 18. Their bows also shall dash-"Their bows shall dash"]

Both Herodotus, i. 61, and Xenophon, Anab. iii., mention, that the

Persians used large bows τοξαμεγαλα: and the latter says

particularly that their bows were three cubits long, Anab. iv.

They were celebrated for their archers, see Isa 22:6; Jer 49:35.

Probably their neighours and allies, the Medes, dealt much in the

same sort of arms. In Ps 18:34, and Job 20:24, mention is made

of a bow of steel; if the Persian bows were of metal, we may

easily conceive that with a metalline bow of three cubits' length,

and proportionably strong, the soldiers might dash and slay the

young men, the weaker and unresisting of the inhabitants (for they

are joined with the fruit of the womb and the children) in the

general carnage on taking the city. terattashnah, shall be

broken or shivered to pieces. This seems to refer, not to

nearim, young men, but to keshathoth, their bows.

The bows of the young men shall be broken to pieces.

On the fruit, &c.-"And on the fruit," &c.] A MS. of Dr.

Kennicott's reads veal peri and on the fruit. And nine

MSS. (three ancient) and two editions, with the Septuagint,

Vulgate, and Syriac, add likewise the conjunction vau, and,

to al, upon, afterwards.

Verse 19. And Babylon] The great city of Babylon was at this

time rising to its height of glory, while the Prophet Isaiah was

repeatedly denouncing its utter destruction. From the first of

Hezekiah to the first of Nebuchadnezzar, under whom it was brought

to the highest degree of strength and splendour, are about one

hundred and twenty years. I will here very briefly mention some

particulars of the greatness of the place, and note the several

steps by which this remarkable prophecy was at length accomplished

in the total ruin of it.

It was, according to the lowest account given of it by ancient

historians, a regular square, forty-five miles in compass,

inclosed by a wall two hundred feet high and fifty broad; in which

there were a hundred gates of brass. Its principal ornaments were

the temple of Belus, in the middle of which was a tower of eight

stories of building, upon a base of a quarter of a mile square, a

most magnificent palace, and the famous hanging gardens, which

were an artificial mountain, raised upon arches, and planted with

trees of the largest as well as the most beautiful sorts.

Cyrus took the city by diverting the waters of the Euphrates

which ran through the midst of it, and entering the place at night

by the dry channel. The river being never restored afterward to

its proper course, overflowed the whole country, and made it

little better than a great morass; this and the great slaughter of

the inhabitants, with other bad consequences of the taking of the

city, was the first step to the ruin of the place. The Persian

monarchs ever regarded it with a jealous eye; they kept it under,

and took care to prevent its recovering its former greatness.

Darius Hystaspes not long afterward most severely punished it for

a revolt, greatly depopulated the place, lowered the walls, and

demolished the gates. Xerxes destroyed the temples, and with the

rest the great temple of Belus, Herod. iii. 159, Arrian Exp.

Alexandri, lib. vii. The building of Seleucia on the Tigris

exhausted Babylon by its neighbourhood, as well as by the

immediate loss of inhabitants taken away by Seleucus to people his

new city, Strabo, lib. xvi. A king of the Parthians soon after

carried away into slavery a great number of the inhabitants, and

burned and destroyed the most beautiful parts of the city, Valesii

Excerpt. Diodori, p. 377. Strabo (ibid.) says that in his time

great part of it was a mere desert; that the Persians had partly

destroyed it; and that time and the neglect of the Macedonians,

while they were masters of it, had nearly completed its

destruction. Jerome (in loc.) says that in his time it was quite

in ruins, and that the walls served only for the inclosure for a

park or forest for the king's hunting. Modern travellers, who have

endeavoured to find the remains of it, have given but a very

unsatisfactory account of their success. What Benjamin of Tudela

and Pietro della Valle supposed to have been some of its ruins,

Tavernier thinks are the remains of some late Arabian building.

Upon the whole, Babylon is so utterly annihilated, that even the

place where this wonder of the world stood cannot now be

determined with any certainty! See also Clarke's note on "Isa 43:14".

We are astonished at the accounts which ancient historians of

the best credit give of the immense extent, height, and thickness

of the walls of Nineveh and Babylon; nor are we less astonished

when we are assured, by the concurrent testimony of modern

travellers, that no remains, not the least traces, of these

prodigious works are now to be found. Scattered fragments of its

tiles and bricks are yet to be found. Proud Babylon reduced now

to a few brick-bats! Our wonder will, I think, be moderated in

both respects, if we consider the fabric of these celebrated

walls, and the nature of the materials of which they consisted.

Buildings in the east have always been, and are to this day, made

of earth or clay, mixed or beat up with straw to make the parts

cohere, and dried only in the sun. This is their method of making

bricks; see on Isa 9:9. The walls of the city were built of the

earth digged out on the spot, and dried upon the place, by which

means both the ditch and the wall were at once formed, the former

furnishing materials for the latter. That the walls of Babylon

were of this kind is well known; and Berosus expressly says, (apud

Joseph. Antiq. x. 11,) that Nebuchadnezzar added three new walls

both to the old and new city, partly of brick and bitumen, and

partly of brick alone. A wall of this sort must have a great

thickness in proportion to its height, otherwise it cannot stand.

The thickness of the walls of Babylon is said to have been

one-fourth of their height, which seems to have been no more than

was absolutely necessary. Maundrell, speaking of the garden walls

of Damascus, says, "They are of a very singular structure. They

are built of great pieces of earth, made in the fashion of brick,

and hardened in the sun. In their dimensions they are two yards

long each, and somewhat more than one broad, and half a yard

thick." And afterward, speaking of the walls of the houses, he

says, "From this dirty way of building they have this amongst

other inconveniences, that upon any violent rain the whole city

becomes, by the washing of the houses, as it were a quagmire," p.

124. And see note on Isa 30:13. When a wall of this sort comes to

be out of repair, and is neglected, it is easy to conceive the

necessary consequences, namely, that in no long course of ages it

must be totally destroyed by the heavy rains, and at length washed

away, and reduced to its original earth.-L.

Verse 21. Satyrs] A kind of beast like to man, which is called

marmots, a monkey.-Rabbi Parchon.

Verse 22. In their pleasant palaces-"In their palaces"]

bealmenothaiv; a plain mistake, I presume, for

bearmenothaiv. It is so corrected in two MSS., the

Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate.

πουλυποδεςδενεμοιθαλαμαςφωκαιτεμελαιναι

οικαποιησονταιακηδεαχητειλαων

HOM. Hymn. in Apol. 77.

Of which the following passage of Milton may be taken for a

translation, though not so designed:-

"And in their palaces,

Where luxury late reigned, sea monsters whelped,

And stabled." Par. Lost, xi. 750.

This image of desolation is handled with great propriety and

force by some of the Persian poets:-

[Arabic]

[Arabic]

"The spider holds the veil in the palace of Caesar;

The owl stands centinel on the watch-tower of Afrasiab."

On this quotation Sir W. Jones observes, [Arabic] noubet is an

Arabic word, signifying a turn, a change, a watch; hence

[Arabic] noubet zudun in Persian signifies to relieve the guards

by the sounds of drums and trumpets. Their office is given by the

poet to the owl; as that of [Arabic] purdeh dar, or chamberlain,

is elegantly assigned to the spider.

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