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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 13:17-22

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Still speaking about Babylon, Isaiah now describes her complete and total collapse. Christians can read these verses with thankful hearts: God has promised to rescue his people and he has also promised to punish his enemies. God keeps every one of his promises, and for that we praise him.

17 See, I will stir up against them the Medes,
who do not care for silver
and have no delight in gold.
18 Their bows will strike down the young men;
they will have no mercy on infants
nor will they look with compassion on children.

The Medes lived east of Babylon and Assyria, in what is today Iran. For a short time they would join sides with Babylon when the Babylonians rose up against Assyria under Nabopolassar (Nebuchadnezzar’s father). But then under their own home town boy, Cyrus the Mede, they turned on Babylon and conquered the city in 539 BC.

19 Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
the glory of the Babylonians’ pride,
will be overthrown by God
like Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Bible hauls out Sodom and Gomorrah as reminders of God’s judgment more than a dozen times. Here the reference is to show that when God destroys a city, it is completely wiped out.

This picture was recently taken from a helicopter by US Marine Gunnery Sgt. Daniel O’Connell. It shows the calm Euphrates river in the foreground, Saddam Hussein’s huge but somewhat dingy palace on a hill to the right, and the ruins of Babylon extending back into the west for more than a mile. Some low modern buildings (tan) can be seen in three or four places in the center and left, but Babylon is gone. Even Saddam’s plan to rebuild the magnificent city did not get much farther along than a parking lot next to the ancient road.

Modern Babylon, taken from a helicopter by US Marine Gunnery Sgt. Daniel O'Connell

20 She will never be inhabited
or lived in through all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there,
no shepherd will rest his flocks there.
21 But desert creatures will lie there,
jackals will fill her houses;
there the owls will dwell,
and there the wild goats will leap about.
22 Hyenas will howl in her strongholds,
jackals in her luxurious palaces.
Her time is at hand,
and her days will not be prolonged. (NIV)

The word “Arab” here is really just a reference to nomads—not even a wanderer who needs a place to rest will use the ruins of Babylon once the city is gone. There are no flocks there; not even wild goats. The reference to “wild goats” in the NIV is an attempt to make sense of the Hebrew word se‘irim, “satyrs” (the King James version left ‘satyr’ as the word here and in Isaiah 34:14). These mythical goat-footed demons were part of Egyptian culture as long ago as Moses’ day: Goat-idols are specifically mentioned in Leviticus 17:7. Israel’s first king in the divided kingdom even created more of these abominable things in defiance of the Lord who set him on the throne (2 Chronicles 11:15).

Isaiah isn’t saying that demons look like this, or that haunted places are the favorite vacationing spot for such creatures. He’s saying that Babylon will be so deserted that nobody will want to go back there—not even an exhausted traveler who just needs to lay his head down overnight. There is no shade (the creatures are all desert creatures) apart from the shadow of God’s wrath. It’s the home of wild animals and the fear of the bogeyman.

This is powerful stuff. But the promise we have from God is just as powerful. With the same hand he smashed Babylon with, God lifts us up and cares for us. He has brought us into his own household as heirs with all the rights of naturally born children. If we have nothing to fear from God himself, then we have nothing to fear from the devil or his demons—and perhaps God has a little more to say about this in chapter 14, as well.

We are his children, and his compassion, forgiveness and love are our treasures, today and always.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.