Back in the day, my generation had a phrase we would use when something intense happened. We'd say "That's heavy, man!" Isaiah 13 begins a section of prophecy that continues through chapter 23, and its a heavy message!
The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. (vs 1)
The Hebrew word, massa, comes from the verb 'to lift up' (nasa), and so it can mean 'to carry' or 'to lift up the voice.' From the first meaning comes the translation 'burden,' or 'load'; and from the second meaning we get the translation 'oracle,' or 'utterance.' In other words, this message that God is giving through Isaiah will be a heavy, burdensome message for the recipient.
The Symbolism of Babylon Babylon is mentioned 287 times in the bible, more than any other city except for Jerusalem. Babylon was a city on the Euphrates river, and it was the site of the first organized enterprise of man immediately following the flood (Genesis 11:1-10).
Babylon gets its name from the Tower of Babel, which means "confusion," and its where God confused the languages of earth. That tower was built by people who said, "Come, let us make a name for ourselves. We will build a tower that reaches unto heaven," Genesis 11:4). Thus, all through the Scriptures, Babylon becomes a symbol of the use of false religion to gain earthly prestige and prominence. To those familiar with the Old Testament, the name Babylon is associated with organized idolatry, blasphemy and the persecution of God's people.
In a spiritual sense, Babylon is very much present with us today in the form of godlessness, idolatry, pursuit of riches and pleasure. In the New Testament, Babylon represents worlds system of the last days, characterized both religiously and commercially (Revelation 17 and 18).
The timing of the Prophecy This chapter is one that bible critics often cite to argue that Isaiah must have been written partially at a later date, by other men. Why? Isaiah finished his prophetic career in 685 B.C., almost 100 years before Judah finally fell before the Babylonian Empire (586 B.C.).
In verse 17 Isaiah declares: "I will stir up the Medes against them…" (vs 17). The Medo Persian Empire (modern day Iran) would not even organize until around 550 B.C., and would not invade Babylon until around 539 B.C. Babylon would not become desolate until the 3rd century B.C.
So Isaiah is speaking about events that will transpire more than 200 years in the future!
The Day of the Lord In this prophecy Isaiah speaks in the 'prophetic tense,' having in mind both a near-term fulfillment, the day of judgment against the Babylonian Empire, and an ultimate fulfillment the final day of judgment against the world in the tribulation period. Incredibly, both tenses fit perfectly in their due season, as the Lord alone is able to declare what will transpire before it happens, declaring His will in the near-term, and in the distant future!
The day of the LORD is an important phrase, and its used some 26 times in the Bible. It speaks of not a single day of judgment, but of the season of judgment when the LORD sets things right, rights all wrongs, and brings final justice. Today may be "man's day," but the LORD promises that "His day" is coming!
The LORD of hosts musters the army for battle (vs 4): In His sovereignty, God summons an army of judgment against the Babylonian Empire, the Medo Persian Empire. This army is described in great detail decades before they were even a superpower.
They will be amazed at one another (vs 8): When Babylon fell suddenly by a clever, surprise attack by Cyrus, the citizens of the city were completely shocked (an account of this can be found in Daniel chapter 5).
The stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened (vs 10): This and other prophetic passages describe the cosmic disturbances that will precede and surround the return of Jesus (Joel 2:10, Revelation 6:12-14, Isaiah 34:4). In fact, Jesus was probably quoting or paraphrasing this passage from Isaiah in Matthew 24:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Matthew 24:29)
It will never be inhabited (vs 20): When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he did not devastate the city; the walls were left standing until 518 B.C. General desolation did not set in until the third century B.C. as Babylon gradually fell into decay, the city abandoned, and the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled.
For centuries the site of Babylon was actually lost; no one could even find where it had been located, great as it had been. Only in the early part of this century did archaeologist discover its location in modern Iraq. For all those long centuries these words were literally fulfilled. Babylon was a total desolation, without life, except by wild animals.
The Future Babylon Scripture tells us that Babylon will rise again, either as as actual city, or in a spiritual movement sense. Scripture uses Babylon as the symbol of the evil that pervades our whole race and finds its judgment at last in the final judgment of God described in the book of Revelation.
In Revelation chapter 17 there is a remarkable description given of a beast with seven heads, upon which is seated a woman.
The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities f her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations." (Revelation 17:4-5 RSV)
The opening two verses of Chapter 18 give the fate of this woman:
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. And he called out with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; (Revelation 18:1-2 RSV)
The animals mentioned, hyenas, jackals, satyrs, ostriches, etc., are not the actual names of animals, they're only guesses on the part of the translators. This seems to indicate that there is something hidden, some prophetic symbolism as yet unfulfilled. Perhaps the reason that Isaiah's translators cannot translate these names of animals (or whatever they are) is that these are not animals at all, but are the names of demonic beings that will be active in the Tribulation period.
Regardless, the message here is clear: God will have the last word! He will judge godless Babylon in history past, He will judge the spirit of Babylon that pervades our world today, and He will judge the spirit of Babylon that will rise up in the Tribulation period.
From this truth we can take Isaiah chapter 13 as a promise from God that He will prevail over the evil of this world. For the children of God (Gal 3:26) there is the promise of God's sovereignty and justice. For the enemies of God, swift justice:
"I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty." (Isaiah 13:11 NLT)