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Monday, December 22, 2014

Isaiah 14, Part Three: Fall From Power and Privilege

Isaiah 14, Part Three: Fall From Power and Privilege

Israel's triumph over Babylon brings an opportunity to express superiority in the form of a taunt.

Isaiah 14:3-4 (ESV) When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased!

TAUNT: mashal "maw-SHAWL" (a pithy maxim; a simile, in the sense of superiority); from mashal (to rule) The great emperor of Babylonia would fall in defeat, to be ruled by those he oppressed.

The scornful song imagines a scene in Sheol, the place of the dead, where the leaders of nations that had fallen to Babylon take up the taunt:

Isaiah 14:9-11 (ESV) It rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us! Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.

Lastly, the king of Babylon is described as a rebel against God:

Isaiah 14:12-17 (ESV) How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?

What examples of Babylon's arrogance can be found in the Bible?

The kingdom of Babylonia was probably jointly ruled by two kings during its final days before being destroyed by the Medes. Nabonidus was the principal king, and his son was Belshazzar.

The Medes invaded, Nabonidus surrendered, but Belshazzar shut himself up in his palace with a thousand noble lords and feasted while Babylon burned.

Secular history described Belshazzar as cruel, in one instance killing one of his nobles, merely because, in hunting, the noble struck down the game first before him. In another instance Belshazzar castrated a royal administrator at a banquet, because one of the king's concubines had praised the man as handsome (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Daniel rebuked Belshazzar as proudly arrogant. Naming him as a son (probably meaning a descendant) of a previous king, Nebuchadnezzer, Daniel warned Belshazzar of the end of his kingdom:

Daniel 5:22-23, 26-28 (ESV) And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored...This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Isaiah refers to Babylon as the Day Star and the Son of Dawn:

Two words are used here in the Hebrew to express the notion of "dawn". Why does Isaiah use a word meaning to howl?

Previously Isaiah used the same word:

Isaiah 13:6 (ESV) Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!

Jeremiah used similar language:

Jeremiah 51:8 (ESV) Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; wail for her!

Isaiah seems to be making a strong emotional statement, contrasting the height of power and wealth held by the Babylonians with depth of darkness and despair they later experienced when conquered by the Medes.

What do you think?

Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons, public domain