Go Down, Sit in the Dust, Virgin Daughter of Babylon, Sit On the Ground Without a Throne

47: 1-15

   DIG: What does the picture of a queen reduced to slavery tell you about Babylon’s past and future? Since Babylon was not destroyed, though literally conquered by Cyrus in a single day, what is the meaning of this image? What is the reason for this judgment (also see 10:12)? What does this say about God? What do you learn about the spiritual beliefs and practices of Babylon? What do you imagine they were doing as Cyrus came closer and closer? What will they inherit for all their activity? How does this highlight the truth proclaimed in Chapter 40, that there is no other God but the LORD? Of what value would this truth be for the exiles?

   REFLECT: The Babylonians ignored God, mercy, and justice by hiding behind self-deification, pride, wealth, and magic. How do people today do these same things? What helped you see that these things could not be trusted? Might some of these still be tempting you today? How so? Have you ever been drawn to astrology or any other occult practice? Why? During the 1950’s and 1960’s, many people predicted that the rise of science would lead to a decline in people’s interest in the supernatural, yet the sales and use of occult books and devices has risen dramatically since then. What does that show you about people?

   Seventy long years had passed since the first exiles were deported from Jerusalem. Life in the near historical Babylon was far from oppressive (Jeremiah 29:4-7), but there were those who could not satisfy their longing for Zion (Psalm 137). For them, the day of deliverance (48:20-21) could not come soon enough. But finally it did come with the lightening speed for which Cyrus was famous for. Isaiah meditated on the fall of Babylon (47:1-15), and the call for the captives to go home to the Land from which they were taken (48:1-22).179

    In October 539 BC, Cyrus advanced into lower Mesopotamia and, leaving Babylon until last, he conquered and occupied the surrounding territory. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, King Nabonidus of Babylon deserted the city, leaving his eldest son Belshazzar to rule as coregent. In anticipation of a long siege by Cyrus, Nabonidus had stored supplies that would last for twenty years.

    The Euphrates River ran through the city from north to south, so the residents had plenty of water. But Belshazzar had a false sense of security because Cyrus' army was outside Babylon’s mighty city walls. They had constructed an exterior wall and an interior wall to fortify it. They were among the seven wonders of the ancient world. The exterior walls were 56 miles long, 300 feet high, and 25 feet thick, with a deep moat that encircled the city. The interior walls were 75 feet high, with 250 towers that were 450 feet high. The walls were so thick that two chariots could ride on top them side by side.

    Not only was the Persian army outside the city walls, but it was divided. Half was stationed where the Euphrates River entered Babylon to the north and the other half was positioned where the river exited the city to the south. But the army dug a canal from the river and diverted the water north of the city into a lake nearby. Thus, the level of the river receded, the soldiers were able to enter by going under a sluice gate. Since those areas of the wall were apparently unguarded, once inside, the Persians were able to easily conquer it. Thus, the overthrow of Babylon took place in a single day, October 12, 539 BC.

    Chapter 46 described the fall of Babylonian idolatry about two hundred years before it actually took place. The Babylonians, Judah’s captors, would become captives themselves. With this God brings an end to His long war with the idols of Babylon. In Chapter 47 He then turns to the fall of the city of Babylon. After Chapters 46 and 47 Babylon will not be mentioned again for the remainder of the book.

    First, we see the declaration of the fall of Babylon in 47:1-5. The language of this poem is harsh, almost brutal. Babylon had lorded her power and wealth over the world as though it were somehow her right, but now she would come face-to-face with reality. The opening imperatives set the tone – they are tense and abrupt. Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter of Babylon (47:1a). Babylon is called a virgin probably meaning that her city walls had never been penetrated. The city and the empire are depicted as a Virgin Daughter, someone who is young and used to luxuries, who has never had to face the harsh realities of life. Now, all that was gone forever. Although Babylon thought herself destined for a throne, her rightful place was in the dust, an act depicting great mourning (Jonah 3:6). Go down, sit in the dust.180 She went from the throne to the dust, from pampering to poverty.

    God then commanded her to sit on the ground without a throne, Daughter of the Babylonians. No more will you be called tender or delicate like a virgin (47:1b). When the word daughter is used in the singular, it refers to an entire population. If the plural word daughters is used, it refers to the women of a particular nation. The population of the Chaldeans in the nation of Babylon that ruled the ancient world for seventy years will now be leveled to dust.

    No more will you be called tender or delicate, shielded from the realities of danger (47:1c). The Virgin Daughter will work like a slave girl. Take millstones and grind flour; take off your veil. Work at the millstones was considered the lowest form of slavery (Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10; Matthew 24:41). The ordinary hand-mill consisted of two circular stones from eighteen to two feet in diameter and about six inches deep. The lower stone, was usually heavier and a harder stone than the upper. The upper stone was a slightly concave surface, had a peg fixed in the middle. The upper stone, with a concave surface, covered the lid of the lower that was convex. There was a pivot that rose from the center of the lower stone, on which the upper stone revolved. Near the edge of the upper stone was a perpendicular stick or handle by which it is turned, and at the center is a hole for the pivot, and also for the grain to fall through upon the stone below. As servants they would have to grind the flour.

    Lift up your skirts, bare your legs, and wade through the streams (47:2). As a slave, the women could no longer wear the veil and long gown characteristic of upper-class women. After Babylon’s fall, the thought that her beauty was too valued to be seen was ridiculous. There was no longer anything special about her. She would gather up her skirts and bare her legs as she worked, probably in the irrigation ditches.

    Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered. I will take vengeance. The Hebrew word for vengeance, naqam, implies Babylon’s downfall was her just reward. ADONAI declared: I will spare no one (47:3). Many of them would be raped and abused. The city itself will be violated. This depicted the indescribable humiliation that Babylon was finally subjected to. She may have thought she was better than all the other nations, but she wasn’t. She was just one more human nation, subject to the same discipline as any other.

    Isaiah records Isra'el’s sense of relief as a result of Babylon’s defeat. She had mistreated the Israelites, but the day came when she was brought low. Seeing God’s vengeance on her captors, the Jews would praise the LORD for they realized that relief from their bondage would come from God, not themselves. So the Israelites would call ADONAI her Redeemer (see my commentary on Exodus Bz - Redemption), the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB), and the Holy One of Isra'el because He had judged that evil city and empire (47:4). The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7).

    Sit in silence, go into darkness, Daughter of the Babylonians; no more will you be called queen of kingdoms (47:5). And the Virgin Daughter not only sits in the dust, she now sits in silence and goes into darkness. The LORD had used Babylon to judge Judah, but like Assyria she had abused her authority (Habakkuk 1:6-11). So God had pronounced His sentence upon the daughter of the Babylonians. No more would she be called the eternal queen, ruling over hundreds of lesser kingdoms subjugated by the Babylonian military. That would come to an end when she herself was subjugated.181 Her ill-treatment of God’s people is the cause of her humiliation.

    Next, the reasons for the judgment are given in 47:6-10. The LORD addresses Babylon. There are two reasons why He was bringing about their judgment. First, ADONAI judged Babylon because of her treatment of Israel. I was angry with My people and desecrated My inheritance; I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy. Even on the aged you laid a very heavy yoke (47:6). God made it very clear that the reason Babylon was able to take His people into captivity was because He allowed it and not because Babylon was so great. God had delivered them into the hands of the Babylonians because they had sinned against Him. He was judging His own people.

    You said, “I will continue forever – the eternal queen!” But you did not consider these things or reflect on what might happen (47:7). Babylon’s claim to lordship over the earth gave her the idea that she could do as she pleased. But she went beyond the punishment that God had intended for Israel to endure. The prophet Zechariah spoke for the LORD when He said: I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity (Zechariah 1:15). Zechariah was a prophet after the Babylonian captivity and after the prophecies of Isaiah had already been fulfilled. Here God states that, yes, I was angry with My people and turned them over to the Gentile nations, but they added to the calamity because they went beyond the boundaries that I set for them. This was especially true for Babylon. It is true that ADONAI had commissioned Babylon to take the Jews into captivity, but she showed no mercy in doing so (Second Chronicles 35 and 36). So once again we have an example of Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. That is the first reason why Babylon was judged.

    Then secondly, the LORD judged Babylon because of her self-deification. It was pride the brought Babylon down. Notice how she used the language of God Himself. Now then, listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, “I am, and there is none besides me” (47:8a). Isaiah here paints a picture of thoughtless indulgence. Babylon assumed that wealth and position were hers by birthright. The actual name of the God of Israel is I Am (see my commentary on Exodus At – I Am Has Sent Me To You). Furthermore, throughout these sections of Isaiah, in Chapters 40 through 46, ADONAI says over and over: I Am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God (45:5). This is the very thing that Babylon says of herself: I am, and there is none besides me. What God claimed for Himself (43:11, 44:6, 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21-22, 46:9), Babylon claimed for herself. Thus, because of Babylon’s self-deification, judgment came to her.

    Babylon was filled with self-assurance. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children (47:8b). It is interesting that the far eschatological Babylon will say the same thing: I sit as queen; I am not a widow and I will never morn (Revelation 18:7b). The wicked heart is always the same no matter what the age. Speaking figuratively of her desolation from defeat, the near historical Babylon stated she would never be widowed or childless. She made no other provisions because she could not imagine it. She thought that whatever happened to other empires could never happen to her. She was different, she was special. But then God told Isaiah, that she would end up being both a widow and childless because her population would be slaughtered. Both of these will overtake you in a moment, in a single day; loss of children and widowhood (47:9a).

    Several nations fell in a single day.  They Assyrians fell in a single day (see Gw – Then the Angel of the LORD Put To Death a Hundred Eighty Five Thousand Men in the Assyrian Camp). Here, the near historical Babylon would fall in a single day, and the far eschatological Babylon will also fall in a single day (see my commentary on Revelation Eo - In One Day Her Plagues Will Overtake Her).

    They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells (47:9b). The magical arts were highly cultivated in Babylon, but they were incapable of averting disaster. Sorceries translates kesapim, a word used in the Old Covenant only here and Second Kings 9:22, Micah 5:12 and Nahum 3:4. It suggests seeking information about the future by using demons. The occult, and the demonic activity in such affairs had its beginnings in Babylon (see my commentary on Genesis Dl – The Tower of Babel). But now ADONAI tells us Babylon will cease to exist. During the millennial Kingdom, as we know from other chapters of Isaiah, while everything is perfect and beautiful, Babylon is nothing but a wasteland (see my commentary on Revelation Er – Babylon Will Never Be Found Again). And who is living there for one thousand years? Demons!

    Once again we turn to Babylon’s false security. You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, “No one sees me.” Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, “I am, and there is none besides me” (47:10). Those who say there is no God and no life to come, opt for a world without moral consequences. Their own delusional brand of wisdom and knowledge arose out of a sense of self-sufficiency and unaccountability.

    The King of Tyre, because of his position of authority in Ezekiel’s day, declared himself to be god (see Eq - The Timeline for Tyre). So he was impersonating the same thing that Babylon mimicked when he said: I am a god (Ezekiel 28:2). Later in Ezekiel 28:11-19, Satan also said that he was god; in reference to the world, he said to Jesus: All this I will give to you if you bow down and worship me (Matthew 4:9). So this desire to be god was found in the King of Tyre, Satan, and in Babylon as well. Because of the occult, today there are untold millions that think they are gods.

    Then we see the actual fall of Babylon (47:11-15). Although this prophecy by Isaiah was about 200 years in the future, it would point to the end of the punishment of Israel for her spiritual adultery and war against the LORD. When Cyrus defeated Babylon and her gods, the way would be cleared for Israel to return to the Land, rebuild the Temple and their way of life. At that time, Israel could joyfully say that her warfare had been completed (40:12 to 48:22).

    The disaster would come swiftly upon Babylon. She will be caught totally by surprise when the fall comes. Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away (47:11a). There will be no warnings from her gods; neither sorcery nor the occult will help Babylon in her moment of trial. She prided herself in her sorcerers who supposedly could tell the future and cast spells to influence others. So mockingly, Isaiah challenged the Babylonians to look to their sorcerers after the fall had already come. Could they conjure it away? Obviously they could not.

    The Babylon that felt secure in her wickedness (ra’a) would find evil (ra’a) turning on her. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you (47:11b). When Babylon fell, all her ritual and magical arts would prove worthless. She had made her ethical choices and was going to pay for them. All her ritual was less than worthless. The LORD could not be charmed out of His righteous anger.

    ADONAI sarcastically urged Babylon to turn to the witchcraft that she trusted and that got her into trouble in the first place. Keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries, which you have labored since childhood, that is, since the nation was founded. Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will cause terror (47:12). It was though the LORD was saying, “If you don’t believe Me, go ahead and put your faith into your foolish magic. Who knows, maybe it will help you.” Maybe her sorcerers could perform some magic spell that would terrorize the hearts of their enemies and cause them to run away. How ridiculous! If they wanted terror they only needed to wait for God’s judgment. Then they would know terror.

    Ironically ADONAI suggests that the astrologer and stargazers save them. Astrology was common in Babylon and she was tireless in her pursuit, more than any other nation in the ancient world. Her priests would read the intestines of sacrificial animals, her astrologers would chart the movements of the constellations. But it was all for naught. Isaiah cautioned: All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming to you (47:13).

    Isaiah finally reveals the result of Babylon’s dependence on the magic arts – utter disaster. The fire will burn them up, they cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. But their work was worthless, like mere straw, they were like dried stalks of grain that burned quickly. Those sorcerers could not even save themselves, let alone Babylon. Yet, they persisted in their error. Here are no coals to warm anyone; here is no fire to sit by (47:14). The idols will be burned, and they will be burned in such a way that they will not even provide warmth from the cold. There will be no comfort from them. Then comes the conclusion; the fall of Babylon will be total.

    That is all they can do for you – these you have labored with and trafficked with since childhood. Each of them wanders off on in their error, there is not one that can save you (47:15). The end result was that there was no savior to whom Babylon could turn. Her pride? Her glory? They were only dust and ashes. Her gods? She had to carry them. Her ancient wisdom? Gone with the wind. But by contrast, there was Israel. Whereas Babylon had nowhere to turn but herself, Israel could turn to the Holy One of Israel, the Savior.

    Like Babylon, all mankind will also be judged. The Bible teaches that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:10a), and that all judgment has been entrusted to the Son (John 5:22). Unbelievers will face the LORD before His throne (see my commentary on Revelation Fo – The Great White Throne Judgment). Believers will also stand before Jesus Christ but our judgment has nothing to do with salvation (James 2:18-26), only rewards for our work for the Kingdom of God. While in this life we are building on the foundation of Yeshua Messiah who is the chief cornerstone of our faith. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy Temple in the LORD (Ephesians 2:20-21).

    If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day of Judgment will bring it to light (First Corinthians 3:12). The building materials mentioned here are in two categories, each listed in descending order of value. The first category – gold, silver, costly stones – clearly represents high-quality materials. The second – wood, hay or straw – just as clearly represents inferior materials. Gold represents the greatest faithfulness, the most skillful and careful work done for ADONAI. However, straw represents the least, the spiritual leftovers. The LORD wants us to build with only the best materials because only the best materials are worthy of Him, are the most effective and will last.

    Ultimately the flame of God’s judgment will test what we have done. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. The wood, hay and straw are not sinful things, but spiritually inferior things. But when tested by fire, they are all incinerated. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. Only the most faithful, skillful and careful works of gold, silver and costly stones will survive the flame of judgment. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward of crowns (see my commentary on Revelation Cc – The Judgment Seat of Christ). If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved - even though only as one escaping through the flames (First Corinthians 3:13-15). We build for the Lord in three basic ways.

    First, we build by our motives. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time, each will receive their praise from God (First Corinthians 4:5).

    Secondly, we build by our conduct. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or phaulos, best translated worthless (Second Corinthians 5:10).

    Thirdly, we build by our service. The way we use the spiritual gifts God has given us (Romans 12:6-8; First Cor. 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-13; First Peter 4:10-11), the way we minister in His name, is of greatest importance in our building. God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (Second Timothy 2:19-21).

 

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