Verses 1–6

In these verses God by the prophet sends a messenger even to Babylon, like that of Jonah to Nineveh: “The time is at hand when Babylon shall be destroyed.” Fair warning is thus given her, that she may by repentance prevent the ruin and there may be a lengthening of her tranquility. We may observe here,

I. God’s controversy with Babylon. We will begin with that, for there all the calamity begins; she has made God her enemy, and then who can befriend her: Let her know that the righteous Judge, to whom vengeance belongs, has said (Isa. 47:3), I will take vengeance. She has provoked God, and shall be reckoned with for it when the measure of her iniquities is full. Woe to those on whom God comes to take vengeance; for who knows the power of his anger and what a fearful thing it is to fall into his hands? Were it a man like ourselves who would be revenged on us, we might hope to be a match for him, either to make our escape from him or to make our part good with him. But he says, “I will not meet thee as a man, not with the compassions of a man, but I will be to the as a lion, and a young lion” (Hos. 5:14); or, rather, not with the strength of a man, which is easily resisted, but with the power of a God, which cannot be resisted. Not with the justice of a man, which may be bribed, or biassed, or mollified by a foolish pity, but with the justice of a God, which is strict and severe, and can never be evaded. As in pardoning the penitent, so in punishing the impenitent, he is God and not man, Hos. 11:9.

II. The particular ground of this controversy. We are sure that there is cause for it, and it is a just cause; it is the vengeance of his temple (Jer. 50:28); it is for violence done to Zion, Jer. 51:35. God will plead his people’s cause against them. It is acknowledged (Isa. 47:6) that God had, in wrath, delivered his people into the hands of the Babylonians, had made use of them for the correction of his children, and had by their means polluted his inheritance, had left his peculiar people exposed to suffer in common with the rest of the nations, had suffered the heathen, who should have been kept at a distance, to come into his sanctuary and defile his temple, Ps. 79:1. Herein God was righteous; but the Babylonians carried the matter too far, and, when they had them in their hands (triumphing to see a people that had been so much in reputation for wisdom, holiness, and honour, brought thus low), with a base and servile spirit they trampled upon them, and showed them no mercy, no, not the common instances of humanity which the miserable are entitled to purely by their misery. They used them barbarously, and with an air of contempt, nay, and of complacency in their calamities. They were brought under the yoke; but, as if that were not enough, they laid the yoke on very heavily, adding affliction to the afflicted. Nay, they laid it on the ancient—the elders in years, who were past their labour, and must sink under a yoke which those in their youthful strength would easily bear—the elders in office, those that had been judges and magistrates, and persons of the first rank. They took a pride in putting these to the meanest hardest drudgery. Jeremiah laments this, that the faces of elders were not honoured, Lam. 5:12. Nothing brings a surer or a sorer ruin upon any people than cruelty, especially to God’s Israel.

III. The terror of this controversy. She has reason to tremble when she is told who it is that has this quarrel with her (Isa. 47:4): “As for our Redeemer, our Goöl, that undertakes to plead our cause as the avenger of our blood, he has two names which speak not only comfort to us, but terror to our adversaries.” 1. “He is the Lord of hosts, that has all the creatures at his command, and therefore has all power both in heaven and in earth.” Woe to those against whom the Lord fights, for the whole creation is at war with them. 2. “He is the Holy One of Israel, a God in covenant with us, who has his residence among us, and will faithfully perform all the promises he has made to us.” God’s power and holiness are engaged against Babylon and for Zion. This may fitly be applied to Christ, our great Redeemer. He is both Lord of hosts and the Holy One of Israel.

IV. The consequences of it to Babylon. She is called a virgin, because so she thought herself, though she was the mother of harlots. She was beautiful as a virgin, and courted by all about her; she had been called tender and delicate (Isa. 47:1), and the lady of kingdoms (Isa. 47:5); but now the case is altered. 1. Her honour is gone, and she must bid farewell to all her dignity. She that had sat at the upper end of the world, sat in state and sat at ease, must now come down and sit in the dust, as very mean and a deep mourner, must sit on the ground, for she shall be so emptied and impoverished that she shall not have a seat left her to sit upon. 2. Her power is gone, and she must bid farewell to all her dominion. She shall rule no more as she has done, nor give law as she has done to her neighbours: There is no throne, none for thee, O daughter of the Chaldeans! Note, Those that abuse their honour or power provoke God to deprive them of it, and to make them come down and sit in the dust. 3. Her ease and pleasure are gone: “She shall no more be called tender and delicate as she has been, for she shall not only be deprived of all those things with which she pampered herself, but shall be put to hard service and made to feel both want and pain, which will be more than doubly grievous to her who formerly would not venture to set so much as the sole of her foot to the ground for tenderness and for delicacy,” Deut. 28:56. It is our wisdom not to use ourselves to be tender and delicate, because we know not how hardly others may use us before we die not what straits we may be reduced to. 4. Her liberty is gone, and she is brought into a state of servitude and as sore a bondage as she in her prosperity had brought others to. Even the great men of Babylon must now receive the same law from the conquerors that they used to give to the conquered: “Take the mill-stones and grind meal (Isa. 47:2), set to work, to hard labour” (like beating hemp in Bridewell), “which will make thee sweat so that thou must throw off all thy head-dresses, and uncover thy locks.” When they were driven from one place to another, at the capricious humours of their masters, they must be forced to wade up to the middle through the waters, to make bare the leg and uncover the thigh, that they might pass over the rivers, which would be a great mortification to those that used to ride in state. But let them not complain, for just thus they had formerly used their captives; and with what measure they then meted it is now measured to them again. Let those that have power use it with temper and moderation, considering that the spoke which is uppermost will be under. 5. All her glory, and all her glorying, are gone. Instead of glory, she has ignominy (Isa. 47:3): Thy nakedness shall be uncovered and thy shame shall be seen, according to the base and barbarous usage they commonly gave their captives, to whom, for covetousness of their clothes, they did not leave rags sufficient to cover their nakedness, so void were they of the modesty as well as of the pity due to the human nature. Instead of glorying she sits silently, and gets into darkness (Isa. 47:5), ashamed to show her face, for she has quite lost her credit and shall no more be called the lady of kingdoms. Note, God can make those sit silently that used to make the greatest noise in the world, and send those into darkness that used to make the greatest figure. Let him that glories, therefore, glory in a God that changes not, and not in any worldly wealth, pleasure, or honour, which are subject to change.