Isaiah 47:1-15 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Isaiah 47:1-15


Pr.16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (ESV)

Pride goes before a fall.

My, didn't Babylon have a lot going for it as the capital city of a huge empire. As Isaiah continues with his denunciation of this great city we find that it possessed in great measure what so many in our own day aspire to.

  • The city had an exalted elevated position – it was looked up to as the capital of the world – it certainly possessed the celebrity status that is much in vogue today.

  • The city was powerful and influential – queen of the kingdoms

  • It was a pleasure-loving and pleasure-enjoying place, luxury was the order of the day

  • It was prosperous – husband and children

  • It was thoughtless and carefree – it could do what it liked with no need to worry about the impact on others, it had no need to worry about the consequences of its actions – freedom to please herself

  • It lived in wickedness but didn't think anyone would find out – freedom without responsibility

  • The city just loved to do things "My way"!

Babylon an example
The physical and political demise of this city along with its empire did not bring about the demise of her values. So when we read our Bibles and find references to Babylon we shouldn't wear blinkers and imagine that all that is in view is a particular kingdom that existed at a particular moment in history that is now long gone. Babylon signifies more than that!

Looking back to Gen.11 we read the archetypal story of human rebellion against God – it was in the building of the Tower of Babel. Looking forward to the NT epoch Babylon stands for pagan Rome with its opposition to all things Christian. Looking further still to the ultimate judgment of God, Babylon stands for all the rebellious pride and power of this world as it opposes its Creator.

As Babylon represents that spirit of proud rebellion with which our world is still awash today, so Babylon's spectacular fall is a warning example to us of what awaits all such proud rebellion against the Almighty.

In considering just what fate came upon rebellious Babylon we learn about two of the vital principles which lie at the heart of the way in which God rules over the world: a) retributive justice b) centrality of God's people.

A Taunt Song
We have here in ch.47 an example of a "taunt song". Now a "taunt" song is one where the victor derides the vanquished in the moment of his defeat. This particular song focuses upon the fall of Babylon from its previously exalted position and its ensuing humiliation.

Babylon's fall involved the loss of status – no more does Babylon have a throne or a reputation – and this fall is status is accompanied by a radical change in circumstances. Instead of a life of ease and plenty hard labour and humiliation become the order of the day. Babylon was to be spared no longer.

Babylon might like to think of herself as mighty important but it was the LORD God of Israel who is the One who rules over all (v.4) and he has the right to intervene – he is the Redeemer of his people, he is all powerful and so able to be successful in his intervention, he is Holy and so whatever he does is upright and just.

This verse interrupts somewhat the flow of Isaiah's thought in this chapter which is almost entirely devoted to the downfall of Babylon. v.4 is the exception and comes as a sudden intake of breath as Isaiah considers the extent and the suddenness of Babylon's fall. It is as though he thinks that "there but for the grace of God" goes his own nation.

At the same time Isaiah prepares us for what will come next. Part of the reason why Babylon is in such trouble is because of the way she treated God's people and God was about to intervene on their behalf.

We have lessons to learn at this juncture. When we observe the collapse of others we should beware of gloating and ourselves be mindful that we don't deserve any different treatment - if we stand firm it is entirely due to the mercy of our God.

In addition to not gloating over the falls of others, neither should we consider them as chance events, Babylon's fall was no accident of history – it was the result of divine retribution or vengeance. God acted deliberately, powerfully, righteously and on behalf of his people.

Why was Babylon's fall necessary? What Babylon was guilty of?
Not only is the fall of Babylon graphically portrayed but it is also explained with several reasons being given:

  • It was what Babylon had done to the LORD's own people that brought him to execute vengeance vv.3-4. Believing she had a right to rule in perpetuity Babylon hadn't bothered to consider that she might have to give an account for what she had done and was doing.

The LORD had used Babylon to discipline his people but Babylon went too far in this:

- It is important to note that the LORD regards the interests of his people even when they are experiencing a painful discipline which could so easily have been mistaken for abandonment.
- No pity or compassion, no mercy, had been shown towards Israel
- Heavy burdens had been imposed upon even the old

  • It was because of Babylon's arrogant pride and how great the pride of the Queen of kingdoms was!

- v.7a "You said 'I will continue to be queen forever.'"
- v.8b "You say to yourself, 'I am like a god. No one is greater than I.'"
- v.10 "Your wisdom and knowledge lead you down the wrong path. You say to yourself, ‘I am like a god. No one is greater than I am.’"

These last two verses use language that Isaiah regularly employs for the One True Living God eg Is.45:21 "And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none besides me."

Proud Babylon had declared great things about herself but forgot the truth of that proverbial saying that we have:

"Man proposes but God disposes"

These words of Thomas à Kempis reflect what is written in the Book of Proverbs:

Pr.16:9 "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps."

But how the arrogant human heart does not like to remember this:

Napoleon once heard that statement that man proposes and God disposes and responded "but I propose and dispose too." He proposed to go and take Russia; he proposed to make all Europe his. And what happened? He came back defeated and alone having lost his mighty army.  

Hitler very often used the language of religious conviction as he spoke in public of his plans for the German nation, but what came of his intention to establish a Reich that would last a Thousand Years? It had gone after just 12!

Jas.4:13-15 "Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" –  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.""

  • Thoughtless pleasure seeking – surely everything will continue just fine

- Paying no heed to likely consequences of her way of life and behaviour v.7b
- Too busy pursuing present pleasure than to think about possible outcomes in the future v.8

  • Misguided sense of security and well-being

- v.8 "You think you are safe and secure… I'll never be a widow. And my children will never be taken away from me."
- v.10 "You have felt secure in your evil ways. You have said, ‘No one sees what I’m doing.’" – it doesn't matter I can get away with it, I'm not responsible to anyone! But having embraced evil v.10 Babylon will reap the same (ie. disaster) v.11

  • Misplaced trust in money, magic and astrology

- v.9 "All of your evil magic and powerful spells will not save you."
- vv.11-13 "So horrible trouble will come on you. You will not know how to use your evil magic to make it go away. Great trouble will fall on you. No amount of money can keep it away. Something terrible will happen to you all at once. You will not see it coming ahead of time.  "So keep on casting your magic spells. Keep on practicing your evil magic. You have been doing those things ever since you were a child. Perhaps they will help you. Maybe they will scare your enemies away.  All of the advice you have received has only worn you out! Let those who study the heavens come forward. They claim to know what is going to happen by watching the stars every month. So let them save you from the trouble that is coming on you."

When the fall came it would be swift, sudden and complete v.9 "in a moment, in one day".

But great troubles were about to come upon Babylon and these would reveal just how misguided and misplaced Babylon's trust really was:

vv.1-3, 5 horrors of humiliation                                    
v.9     horrors of loss and bereavement
v.11     horrors of evil, disaster and ruin

The chapter ends with a summary of the complete ineffectiveness of all these false ways – although the Babylonians had long served these "gods" they were utterly incapable of doing anything for them. Although the Babylonians had long sought their wisdom from their idols and their stargazing when real trouble came these proved unable to save them.

It didn't matter how devoted the Babylonians were to their panoply of gods. There is no need to suggest that they were anything other than full of religious devotion – but their devotion was misdirected and consequently futile. To put this another way, a way with something more of a contemporary ring to it – sincerity is insufficient, it is possible to be oh so sincere while being at the same time sincerely wrong.

What did the gods of the Babylonians and their polytheistic religion do for them?

  • it failed to keep them from disaster

  • it failed to give them any certainty/assurance

  • it provided conflicting advice and wore them out

  • it brought no comfort in time of peril

  • a poor return for so many years of devoted service don't you think?

In the light of all this we are confronted once more by that familiar Bible truth that there is only one way of salvation with only one Saviour. What should we do then? We should turn to this One, the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved!


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