Isaiah 47

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2007 James Melough

47:1.  “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate.”


It was thus that God announced Babylon’s fall at the hand of Cyrus king of Persia over 150 years before it occurred in 539 B.C., an end which foreshadows the coming destruction of the great religious harlot, the Roman Catholic church that has wielded Satanic power over countless millions for almost two thousand years, see Revelation 14:8, and chapters 17-18, chapter 17:9 making it clear beyond all doubt that the ultimate application is to Rome, for it alone is universally known as the “city of the seven hills.”


The word “virgin” in the present context refers not to purity, but to the fact that Babylon had never been conquered, having lorded it over the world of that day until being vanquished by Cyrus.


Sitting on the ground, and having no throne is the metaphorical description of Babylon’s having been overcome and rendered powerless.  No longer would she be accorded adulation similar to that given a beautiful and refined woman.


The JFB commentary defines delicate as “the effeminate debauchery and prostitution of all classes at banquets and religious rites.”


47:2.  “Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.”


The once proud city would be reduced to the equivalent of the lowest female slave whose work was to grind corn, her degradation being the greater by reason of having to go about with her head uncovered, and her skirt tied up around her waist thus exposing her legs and thighs, a very great shame for a woman of that time.


Her having to “pass over the rivers” is generally understood to refer to the Babylonians being carried out of their own land by their conquerors.


47:3.  “Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.”


The first part of the verse continues to declare the humiliation awaiting the Babylonians in captivity, the vengeance being the revenge the conquerors would exact for what they had suffered as victims of a Babylon that had ruled mercilessly when supreme, the conquerors being God’s instruments to punish her.


“I will not meet thee as a man” is also translated “I will let no man intercede; no man can stop me; I will ignore all entreaty; I will not relent.”  There was no hope for Babylon.  God would not change His mind relative to her punishment.


47:4.  “As for our redeemer, the Lord of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.”


The first clause presents Jehovah as Israel’s redeemer; the second declares His omnipotence; and the third, His holiness and His special relationship with Israel: they alone were His people.


47:5. “Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms.”


The context indicates that the command to sit silent signified the end of Babylon’s national existence; her going into darkness pointing to the eternal darkness each citizen would enter in common with all who die in unbelief.  She who had once been called “The lady of kingdoms,” i.e., queen or mistress of the nations, would be remembered only by the historians as just another of the many that have passed from a brief day of earthly glory into not just historical obscurity, but into the eternal torment of the lake of fire. 


The number of earth’s great ones who have entered that same dreadful realm will be revealed only at the Great White Throne, see Revelation 20:11-15.


47:6.  “I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.”


In the present context “pollute” is to profane, i.e., give over to an unholy use.  Because they had refused to serve Him, and thus be blessed, God had delivered Israel into the hand of the Babylonians who treated them mercilessly, compelling the old to do the same heavy work as the young.  And no wonder: the Babylonian’s master was Satan.  How different is it with God’s servants!  His gracious invitation to all is,  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Mt 11:29-30.  I have yet to find a true servant of God who has found His service onerous.


47:7.  “And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it.”


Babylon fatuously believed that her dominion would last for ever and that she would never be called to account, as does also the evil system she represents: Papal Rome.  And the average unbeliever duplicates her folly; but God’s warning is, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment,” Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end,” Proverbs 19:20, for “... it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment,” Hebrews 9:27. 


47:8.  “Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children:”


Embodied in the word “pleasures” is the idea of voluptuousness; and as was Babylon so is today’s western society: hedonism is its governing principle, to the disgust and anger of many less sophisticated but more moral nations who watch helplessly the corruption of their young people by western lifestyles exported through the media.


In her unjustified arrogance Babylon never imagined that her day of dominion and glory would ever end, nor does today’s world even dream that in the now immanent future it will lie in ruins following the judgments of the Great Tribulation.


47:9.  “But these two thing shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments.” 


The speed of the coming destruction is indicated in the phrase “in one day”; and in “the loss of children, and widowhood” God is announcing the destruction of the population.  The widow’s destitute state is a metaphor for what Babylon would become through the slaughter of the city’s inhabitants.


“... in their perfection” means “in full measure,” and “sorceries and enchantments” embraces all their activities in connection with the evil spirit world.


47:10.  “For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou has said, None seeth me.  Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.”


History attests Babylon’s advancement in knowledge and learning, but the phrase “none seeth me” certifies also the degree to which she had wilfully misused that power to abuse rather than edify others, foolishly imagining that she would never be called to account.


“...perverted” means to “lead astray morally,” and that is exactly what Babylon’s wisdom and knowledge had done by deluding her into thinking that she had no need of God.  Nor is she alone in this spirit of independence: today’s modern, educated, sophisticated world is similarly deceived, note e.g., today’s covert elimination of God by attributing to “Mother Nature” what were once acknowledged as “acts of God.”


The last phrase of the verse declares the spirit of superiority which governed Babylon’s attitude and conduct toward all others: they were inferior; and that same disposition marks western society towards the rest of the world.  But national characteristics simply reflect those of the people, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the realm of religion.  Note for example the holier-than-thou spirit of the Pharisees which the Lord so angrily rebuked, and which can develop insidiously in even a genuine believer.  The Lord sets a high value on humility, see e.g., 1 Peter 3:4, “... the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”


47:11.  “Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.”


“... evil” is also translated disaster, and it would come upon Babylon suddenly, unexpectedly, and beyond her power to avert or overcome.  Job 36:18 sounds a similar warning to all the unconverted, “Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee,” and again, “... behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” 2 Corinthians 6:2.


Mischief is also translated disaster, doom, ruin; and “desolation” is rendered sudden destruction, unforseen ruin.


Desolation means virtually the same as mischief, and is used here for emphasis; and “which thou shalt not know” may be rendered “of which you have no expectation.”  Babylon’s destruction would reveal, too late for remedy, that her diviners and soothsayers were lying charlatans.


47:12.  “Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.”


“... enchantments” are incantations, i.e., words imagined to be capable of producing magical results; and “sorceries” are virtually the same, except that they may also involve the use of tangible things such as burning aromatic powders, entrails, hair, etc.  All of this so-called magic had been part and parcel of Babylonian life.


The last two clauses of this verse express sarcastic skepticism as to the efficacy of any of the above-mentioned means to accomplish a desired objective.


47:13.  “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels.  Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.”


Astrology is defined as “the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs”; and stargazers are those who study the stars in the imagined belief that their movements somehow disclose the future; and monthly prognosticators are those who undertake to tell month by month what those future events will be.  God’s evaluation of all such foretelling is expressed in His sarcastic command to have the fortune-tellers reveal how the people might save themselves from the destruction that He was about to send as punishment for their wickedness.


47:14.  “Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.”


The fire here is a figure of God’s wrath which would devour the Babylonians as fire consumes straw, and from which it was too late to save themselves.  The heat of His fierce wrath would be very different from the genial heat of the fires at which they were accustomed to sit for warmth and pleasant conversation.  It would be destructive.  And surely spiritual intelligence will have no difficulty seeing in this a glimpse of what awaits unbelievers eternally in the awful lake of fire, the place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:44-46.  See also Matthew 25:41, “Then shall He say also unto them on His left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”


47:15.  “Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast labored, even thy merchants from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee.”


Other translations are, “So much for your magicians with whom you have trafficked all your life ... they have stumbled off, each his own way, and there is none to save you,” NEB.  “This is what your wizards will do for you, those men for whom you have worn yourself out since your youth.  They will go off, each his own way, powerless to save you” JERUS.  The reference may also be to the merchants who had traded in her markets.


It requires very little spiritual intelligence to see in this a symbolic picture of apostate Christendom.  Countless multitudes who have been congregants of so-called “churches,” and who have imbibed the teaching of unconverted “ministers” whose only qualification is a theological degree (of which Scripture knows nothing), will compose that vast multitude, congregants and ministers alike, who will “wander every one to his quarter,” i.e., plunge first into hell, and then eternally into the unquenchable flame of the awful lake of fire.

[Isaiah 48]

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
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