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Salvation in Isaiah 13

Most of the congregation will know that I came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ during service in the Royal Air Force and that I continued for some 5 years as a Christian and a serving Airman. Often the question was raised, “Can a man be a Christian and remain a serviceman?” Some helpful articles were written by clergymen and serving soldiers referring to the scriptures, pointing out that the Lord Jesus Christ never condemned a soldier for being a soldier; nor did He condemn war as such but rather warned that for the rest of the Gospel age there would ever be wars and rumours of wars. His commandment to believers was this – see that ye be not troubled.

Matthew 24 v 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

When we consider this we are given some indication of what our attitude to these things should be as believers. Peace protests and marches ignore the sovereignty of God and the words of the Lord Jesus – do not be troubled. This is understandable considering the gross ignorance of the scriptures and of the Lord Himself by the people of the world today. And in a perverse kind of way religion has become associated with pacifism. No regard is given to the origin of war – the heart of men. James points this out to us in James 4 v 1

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

Until all men’s hearts have been revolutionised by the God of Peace, there will never be peace in the world. Any absence of war is more a result of God’s restraint than man’s ability to make peace.

Those in society therefore who do equate religion with pacifism have a real problem with tonight’s chapter in Isaiah – chapter 13. This chapter startlingly brings us face to face with the Almighty God’s mustering of an army! The Sovereign Lord God? Raising an army with which to fight a war? Surely what we read of God in the Bible is that He is the God of love, peace, grace, compassion, mercy and loving kindness – how is it then that he is summoning warriors to carry out His wrath? Why is he determined to use the Medes and the Persians, whom He gathers together, to destroy Babylon?

As we seek to understand these things it is important that we accept this aspect of the character of God, the God whom we love and serve – the God who has revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ His only begotten Son – the God who saves His people from their sins by dying on a cross for them. God is holy, sovereign and all wise. His words and His actions are perfect. This is the starting point for our understanding of Isaiah 13 and similar passages that speaks of God as a God of anger, wrath, justice and judgment – and a God who takes action in history according to His will.

Men and women like to have their own view of God – as a cuddly grandfather figure who is benevolent and kind, and who grieves over things going wrong in His world. They say that He grieves in an impotent kind of way – that He can do nothing about the wickedness of man’s inhumanity to man.

Nothing is farther from the truth! This chapter in Isaiah demonstrates 3 things about God.

1. HE IS ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGN. He has created all things and He has made all peoples whether they acknowledge Him or not. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah use the illustration of the potter with a lump of clay, who has the right to make some vessels fit for destruction, as well as making others fit for the Master’s use.

Isaiah 29 v 16 Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter‘s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?

Isaiah 64 v 8 But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

Jeremiah 18 is a classic passage and Jeremiah’s application is like this –

Jeremiah 18 v 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter‘s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

The point is that not one of God’s creatures can decide what God has the right to do and what He does not have the right to do. Here in Isaiah 13 God is mustering an army.

2. HE IS HOLY. In His holiness sin is an offence to God. He cannot abide it – He cannot stand it! Several times in scripture we read that light and darkness are opposites and cannot live together. God hates sin so much that He was willing to send His son to the cross so that His beloved people might be set free from sin’s penalty and power. He hated our sin so much that He turned His face away when His Son was bearing His people’s sins on the cross. Therefore we must notice this tonight – that people who are living in sin, sin of any kind, are right now incurring the righteous wrath of God. And we need to be warned that God is mustering an army!

3. GOD HAS A CHOSEN ELECT PEOPLE WITH WHOM HE IDENTIFIES HIMSELF. Because we have the whole Bible, and we know what happened in history – that the Babylonians invaded the Jews and enslaved them for 70 years – then we can see that Babylon, an enemy of God’s chosen people, was used by God for a time to humble this people – to teach them lessons – to refine them as gold is refined in a crucible. But after this we know that the Lord raised up another mighty nation, the Medes and the Persians who would destroy Babylon because of the harm that she had done to His people. If only the nations of the world would realise – that any nation, any people who are a threat to God’s People – either physically, morally or spiritually – may expect the wrath of Almighty God. Do we have warrant to say this?

From the beginning of the Bible and in a recurring theme we have this thought – Genesis 12 v 3 God’s words to Abraham, to his descendants the Jews, and to us who believe, the spiritual Israel, the Church –

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

The plain fact of the Bible is this – the Sovereign Lord God is in complete and sovereign control of the world and He is able to bring His will to pass in history.

For example, and leaving the Old Testament for a moment – consider the sovereignty of God in the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ. Judas was an instrument of the Lord to bring salvation to God’s people when he sold the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver. BUT Judas experienced the wrath of God after this. We must dismiss from our minds any sense of HUMAN unfairness that we like to impose on such facts – and we must accept and marvel at DIVINE sovereignty instead. God is always right in His dealings with men. He can choose an unregenerate man like Judas to do His will and yet still make him accountable for his rebellion and treachery – that is God’s right. And still God is mustering an army!

Now let us notice a remarkable thing about Isaiah’s prophecy. He sees the overthrow of Babylon 110 years before Babylon even came to power! Isaiah ministered between 745 and 695 BC. Babylon did not rise to power until 606 BC and fell to the Medes and Persians in 536BC

But Isaiah 13 v 1 says

The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.

He SAW the fall of Babylon 160 years before it happened. Our God is able to do that – to put into the mind of one of His chosen prophets information that seems at the time of speaking an improbability or even an impossibility. Peter confirms this when he says in 2 Peter 1 v 21

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

God the Holy Spirit enabled the prophets to SEE into the future. Now that the canon of scripture is complete and we have all that we need to know about God and His ways, there is no need for such fore sight.

Notice too what Isaiah calls the Babylonian Kingdom –

v 19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency

In chapter 14 v 4

That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!

Yesterday on the news it was reported that there are people in Iraq looting the museums of ancient antiquity. Priceless treasures have been stolen or damaged – the report called them “artefacts from the cradle of civilisation.” I am not sure what they mean by that because there was civilisation long before the Babylonians! Nevertheless in its day Babylon was a fabulously wealthy and therefore glorious Kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar went to great lengths to make it glorious, and judging by Saddam’s palaces that we have now seen, he was trying to outdo even Nebuchadnezzar!

In the next 8 chapters we will meet with, what have been called, the BURDEN PASSAGES.

1 The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.

The word burden here is the Hebrew MASSA which can also mean oracle. It can mean a ‘prophecy against’ or a weighty matter. This last meaning points to the use of the English word BURDEN – the prophet is carrying an important load or weighty matter on his heart.

In chapter 13 there is a message of doom to Babylon – Isaiah is burdened with it.

But he also has other burdens – we will hear of the burden of Moab in chapters 15 & 16; the burden of Damascus (Syria) in chapter 17; Cush in chapter 18; Egypt in chapter 19; Jerusalem and >Judah in chapter 22 and finally Tyre in chapter 23.

THE BURDEN OF BABYLON refers to the sovereign Lord God mustering an army to overthrow that great Kingdom. God uses 3 military terms in verse 2 – set up an ensign or flag to rally the army; cry out loud so that the soldiers may hear and come from afar; to wave or shake the hand which denotes an urgent beckoning!

Verse 3 is remarkable – this army has been called by Jehovah and is described as sanctified (in the sense of separated for a purpose) ones; mighty ones and proudly exulting ones. These will execute God’s anger against Babylon. He does not identify them – but we know them to be the Medes.

In Verse 4 Isaiah sees excitement rising. A noise of a great throng in the mountains being mustered by the Lord. And verse 5 identifies where they come from – a far country from the uttermost part of heaven. Babylon appears to have risen to world domination – all the then known world that is. Judah was carried into captivity – but the Lord mustered an army to deliver His people.

From verse 6 comes the description of what Isaiah calls THE DAY OF THE LORD. This day would come when Babylon reached its highest – a day in which Nebuchadnezzar their king could say (Daniel 4 v 30)

The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?

V 7 – 8 indicate the utter helplessness of the Babylonians under attack.

Verse 9 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.

There is more to come in this description – but let us pause and consider this. Isaiah mentions sinners in this ninth verse. And we tonight need to realise what sin brings, the results of rebellion against the living God. A land is desolated when God’s day of punishment comes and sinners are destroyed. Sin brings terrible and awesome consequences upon man and all things that are touched by him and his sin. This actually happened to great and mighty Babylon.

However Isaiah’s prophecy reaches far beyond the 6th Century BC. It reaches to the final and ultimate judgement of the world by the One whom God has appointed – the Lord Jesus Christ who picked up some of the terms of the prophecy in His words in Matthew 24 – in that day; and

Matthew 24 v 29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

Is this not similar to Isaiah’s words in verse 10?

For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

Certainly Isaiah saw Babylon’s day of judgement – but he also saw the final judgement. We may learn much from the prophecy here, its fulfilment in history, and take it as a warning – that just as God mustered an army. Called the Medes to destroy wicked proud Babylon, He will one day muster an army to deal with the sinful world of men and rescue His chosen people – the church – believers in Him who remain faithful to Him even though they have to endure tremendous hardship in the world of men.

Let us quickly hurry to verse 19

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. 20 It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

Iraq is a focus in the world just now. There is no Babylon today – yes there is a town called Babylon in Iraq – but it is not the original site – the once flourishing city has never been rebuilt. God accomplished exactly what he said He would do.

And the message for us tonight is this – that God’s victory over sin is symbolised in the fate of Babylon!

Judah signifies the church today. Babylon is the personification of the forces of Satan and he is the enemy of the church and of her bridegroom.

But God is greater than Babylon – and the Lord Jesus Christ overcame the power of Satan when he died on the cross. What a victory that was. How marvellous was the work of Calvary! How great and glorious. How tragic it seemed – the opposition, the arrest, the trial, the scourging, the crucifixion, the grave. Yet for sin, the sin of His people, He yielded His life as an atonement.

Do you know Him my friend? Or are you still in Babylon, in the world, in sin and a servant of Satan. Make no mistake, the enemy is doomed – there is a day of the Lord coming – it is not far away. And the Bible gives us these prophecies for our warning. Will you be warned tonight my friend?

Repent – and believe. Turn to Christ. Trust Him with all of your heart. Call out to Him and plead for mercy. See the writing on the wall before it is too late as it was for Belshazzar. MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN – the kingdom of Satan is weighed in the balances and found wanting – there is no hope in the kingdom of Satan – leave it my friend and turn to the saviour the Lord Jesus Christ – He is ready to save those who come to Him repenting of their sins.

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