Isaiah 13:19-20 Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations.
Babylon was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, and for it to be destroyed was almost unthinkable. But in 539 BC, Babylon was overthrown by Cyrus the Great, and eventually ceased to exist as anything like a glorious city.
But if you go to Babylon today, you will find that it is not completely abandoned. There is some restoration taking place, and there are a few tourists to be seen. This has caused some to wonder if this prophecy has been fulfilled, or if we should still be waiting. The answer is found in Isaiah’s use of prophetic hyperbole.
Hyperbole is intentional exaggeration in order to make a point. If we say Joe is older than dirt, or Mary never stops talking, we do not mean to be taken literally. Isaiah was boldly predicting that Babylon would never rise again. That has been the case for thousands of years, and is a stunning fulfillment of prophecy.
Isaiah 20:2 [God said to Isaiah] Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet. And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
This is one of the most bizarre episodes in the Bible. God told Isaiah to walk naked through Jerusalem for a period of three years. Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years . . . so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives . . . with buttocks bared (Isaiah 20:3-4).
The purpose of this prophetic action was to warn the Jews not to look to Egypt for protection, since they would be defeated by the Assyrians. But we also see how embarrassing the prophetic ministry could be. Speaking for God was an honor, of course, but when God wanted to make a point graphically, the prophet was not allowed to decline. We can only imagine his embarrassment, as well as that of his family.
This reminds us of the humiliation of Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross. We know that he was naked, because the soldiers gambled for his clothing, including his undergarment (John 19:23-24). Since crucifixion was meant to degrade, it is unlikely that Jesus was left with even a stitch to cover himself. Imagine hanging fully exposed before friends, family and foes. To God’s wonderful qualities of power, love and justice, we must also add humility.
Isaiah 23:1 A prophecy against Tyre: . . . Tyre is destroyed and left without house or harbor.
Tyre was an important seaport on the Mediterranean, which included an island about a half mile offshore. If the mainland was attacked, residents could flee to the island for protection. This made Tyre feel invincible, and for many years it was.
Nebuchadnezzar took the mainland in 572 BC, but was not able to take the island, even though he tried for another fifteen years. Then the people on the island went back to the mainland. So how could Tyre ever be destroyed as the prophet foretold?
Many years after Nebuchadnezzar failed, Alexander the Great conquered the mainland, and used the ruins to build a road to the island. The prophet Ezekiel caught a glimpse of this and wrote: they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea (Ezekiel 26:12). After taking the island in 332 BC, Alexander crucified two thousand people, and sold thirty thousand others into slavery. Tyre was destroyed and left without house or harbor, just as Isaiah foretold.
Isaiah 29:13 These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
The temple was open, prayers were being offered, and songs of praise were filling the air. But few were drawing near to God with their hearts. They had a form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5), but it was not heartfelt. This is so often the case that Jesus applied this verse to the people of his day (Matthew 15:8). And unless we are careful, it may apply to us as well.
It is easier to worship God outwardly than inwardly. Many churches have excellent attendance, but little devotion. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts (Jeremiah 12:2), wrote Jeremiah. And, You have forsaken the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4), said Jesus.
Unless we worship God privately, throughout the week, our hearts will not be filled with affection when we gather as a church. And when we gather as a church, we must lift our hearts to the Lord as he desires. It takes more energy to get a plane off the ground than to keep it in the air, and we must worship God intentionally until our praise flows naturally.
Isaiah 32:8 But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand.
The culture of Isaiah’s day was so corrupt that many were doing little or nothing for God. Many were growing old without any godly accomplishments. This is never acceptable to people who are noble. Noble people make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand.
Here we see the importance of both planning and doing. Some people do without planning. Others plan without doing. But noble people make noble plans and do them.
For many years I had more deeds than plans. I was living for God, but did not have a clear direction for my life. I was twenty-five years old, and nearly broke, when I was gripped by the fact that life was passing me by.
Then one day, I drew a line on a piece of paper with the my age at one end, and the number seventy at the other. Then I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish with my life, when I wanted to accomplish it, and how to make it happen. Then I began to work my plan. I have had to revise my plan many times, but it has helped me accomplished much. Planning and doing is how we make the most of our lives for God.
Reflection and Review
What is prophetic hyperbole?
How do we know that God is humble?
Why is it important to make noble plans?