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-
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 -
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.
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-
The LORD had used Babylon to discipline his people but Babylon went too far in this:
It was because of Babylon's arrogant pride and how great the pride of the Queen of kingdoms was!
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!
Thoughtless pleasure seeking – surely everything will continue just fine
Misguided sense of security and well-
Misplaced trust in money, magic and astrology
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:
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!