The general title of this book was, The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, Isa. 1:1. Here we have that which Isaiah saw, which was represented to his mind as clearly and fully as if he had seen it with his bodily eyes; but the particular inscription of this sermon is the burden of Babylon. 1. It is a burden, a lesson they were to learn (so some understand it), but they would be loth to learn it, and it would be a burden to their memories, or a load which should lie heavily upon them and under which they should sink. Those that will not make the word of God their rest (Isa. 28:12; Jer. 6:16) shall find it made a burden to them. 2. It is the burden of Babylon or Babel, which at this time was a dependent upon the Assyrian monarchy (the metropolis of which was Nineveh), but soon after revolted from it and became a monarchy of itself, and a very potent one, in Nebuchadnezzar. This prophet afterwards foretold the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, Isa. 39:6. Here he foretels the reprisals God would make upon Babylon for the wrongs done to his people. In these verses a summons is given to those powerful and warlike nations whom God would make us of as the instruments of his wrath for the destruction of Babylon: he afterwards names them (Isa. 13:17) the Medes, who, in conjunction with the Persians, under the command of Darius and Cyrus, were the ruin of the Babylonian monarchy.
I. The place doomed to destruction is Babylon; it is here called the gates of the nobles (Isa. 13:2), because of the abundance of noblemen’s houses that were in it, stately ones and richly furnished, which would invite the enemy to come, in hopes of a rich booty. The gates of nobles were strong and well guarded, and yet they would be no fence against those who came with commission to execute God’s judgments. Before his power and wrath palaces are no more than cottages. Nor is it only the gates of the nobles, but the whole land, that is doomed to destruction (Isa. 13:5); for, though the nobles were the leaders in persecuting and oppressing God’s people, yet the whole land concurred with them in it.
II. The persons brought together to lay Babylon waste are here called, 1. God’s sanctified ones (Isa. 13:3), designed for this service and set apart to it by the purpose and providence of God, disengaged from other projects, that they might wholly apply themselves to this, such as were qualified for that to which they were called, for what work God employs men in he does in some measure fit them for. It intimates likewise that in God’s intention, though not in theirs, it was a holy war; they designed only the enlargement of their own empire, but God designed the release of his people and a type of the destruction of the New-Testament Babylon. Cyrus, the person principally concerned, was justly called a sanctified one, for he was God’s anointed (Isa. 45:1) and a figure of him that was to come. It is a pity but all soldiers, especially those that fight the Lord’s battles, should be in the strictest sense sanctified ones; and it is a wonder that those dare be profane ones who carry their lives in their hands. 2. They are called God’s mighty ones, because they had their might from God and were now to use it for him. It is said of Cyrus that in this expedition God held his right hand, Isa. 45:1. God’s sanctified ones are his mighty ones. Those whom God calls he qualifies; and those whom he makes holy he makes strong in spirit. 3. They are said to rejoice in his highness, that is, to serve his glory and the purposes of it with great alacrity. Though Cyrus did not know God, nor actually design his honour in what he did, yet God used him as his servant (Isa. 45:4; I have surnamed thee as my servant, though thou hast not known me), and he rejoiced in those successes by which God exalted his own name. 4. They are very numerous, a multitude, a great people, kingdoms of nations (Isa. 13:4), not rude and barbarous, but modelled and regular troops, such as are furnished out by well-ordered kingdoms. The great God has hosts at his command. 5. They are far-fetched: They come from a far country, from the end of heaven. The vast country of Assyria lay between Babylon and Persia. God can make those a scourge and ruin to his enemies that lie most remote from them and therefore are least dreaded.
III. The summons given them is effectual, their obedience ready, and they make a very formidable appearance: A banner is lifted up upon the high mountain, Isa. 13:2. God’s standard is set up, a flag of defiance hung out against Babylon. It is erected on high, where all may see it; whoever will may come and enlist themselves under it, and they shall be taken immediately into God’s pay. Those that beat up for volunteers must exalt the voice in making proclamation, to encourage soldiers to come in; they must shake the hand, to beckon those at a distance and to animate those that have enlisted themselves. And they shall not do this in vain; God has commanded and called those whom he designs to make use of (Isa. 13:3) and power goes along with his calls and commands, which cannot be resisted. He that makes men able to serve him can, when he pleases, make them willing too. It is the Lord of hosts that musters the host of the battle, Isa. 13:4. He raises them, brings them together, puts them in order, reviews them, has an exact account of them in his muster-roll, sees that they be all in their respective posts, and gives them their necessary orders. Note, All the hosts of war are under the command of the Lord of hosts; and that which makes them truly formidable is that, when they come against Babylon, the Lord comes, and brings them with him as the weapons of his indignation, Isa. 13:5. Note, Great princes and armies are but tools in God’s hand, weapons that he is pleased to make use of in doing his work, and it is his wrath that arms them and gives them success.