Having spoken of the downfall of Babylon (both temporal and eschatological), the prophet procedes, briefly but tellingly, to give the other side of the coin. God’s ‘ultimate purpose in defeating and destroying the forces of evil is the settlement and security of his people, who in keeping with the eschatological context are now revealed as a universal community.’ (Jackman)
14:1 The LORD will certainly have compassion on Jacob; he will again choose Israel as his special people and restore them to their land. Resident foreigners will join them and unite with the family of Jacob.
Compassion – this divine compassion is in stark contrast to the heartlessness of, say Isa 13:18.
‘Isaiah warned that the kingdom of Judah would be taken into captivity by Babylon (Isa 5:13; 6:11–12; 11:11, where “Shinar” is Babylon; 39:6), and this happened in 586 B.C. Jeremiah prophesied that the Captivity would last for seventy years. Then Babylon would be judged and the Jews permitted to go home (Jer. 25:1–14). So, the capture of Babylon by Darius would be good news to the Jews; for it would mean the end of their exile and bondage.’ (Wiersbe)
Jacob – ‘The repeated name “Jacob” is a reminder that it is the God of the patriarchs who is setting his love on the people (cf. Ex 3:6–9). The patriarchs had been given the land by divine promise; therefore, it was already “their own land.”‘ (EBC)
God’s faithfulness is further underlined by the mention of ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ here. These terms ‘hark back to the ancient ideal of a single nation, descended from a common ancestor, and constituted as the people of God by the covenant forged at Sinai.’ (Webb) God has not rejected his people, nor annulled his promise to them. ‘It is this theology of election which undergirds the short but comprehensive promise of salvation in these verses.’ (Webb)
Once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land – ‘These verses (1-4a) are saturated with allusions to the Exodus from Egypt and the entry into Canaan. The New Exodus theme, which is so important later in the book, is the controlling motif here. The clue to this is given in the words “once again he will choose Israel.” The expulsion of Israel from Canaan at the Exile would certainly make it look as if the covenant, so often flagrantly broken by the people, had finally been set aside by God. In fact, however, such was the depth and persistence of his steadfast love that his covenant purpose was never eclipsed by their unfaithfulness. His new choice was a reaffirmation of the old in the return from Babylonia.’ (EBC)
As Webb remarks, the idea of return from exile would have made good sense in Isaiah’s day, since the northern kingdom of Israel and much of the southern kingdom of Judah, had been ravaged and depopulated by Assyria. A partial fulfilment took place when Cyrus and others allowed Judean exiles to return. But complete fulfilment awaits the day when ‘the meek will inherit the earth’ and share in Jesus’ rule over the nations.’ (Webb)
Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob – ‘When Israel left Egypt, many other people left with them. There were also many aliens within their gates (Ex 20:10; 22:21; et al.). Jethro, Rahab, and other believing Gentiles found a place within the covenant of God with Israel. So it would be again (cf. 56:3–8). Furthermore, the nations in the land would become servants to them (60:9–14; 61:5), just as the Gibeonites had (Jos 9). We can find parallels to much of this in the actual events of the return from exile, for it was a decree of the Gentile Cyrus that was its immediate human cause (Ezr 1–4; cf. 6:1–12). There are, however, elements of the prophecy that were not fulfilled at this time, especially in the picture of God’s people governing their oppressors. No doubt these are properly eschatological, so that the fulfillment at the return from Babylon itself foreshadows God’s ultimate purpose for the people.’ (EBC)
‘Although it may be tempting to interpret these promises as a description of the Israelites’ return from Babylonian captivity with the aid of the Persian king Cyrus, a reading of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, and Nehemiah demonstrates that this prophecy in Isaiah is talking about something far more wonderful than what happened in the post-exilic era. This prophecy should be connected to God’s grand eschatological transformation of the hearts of mankind (2:1–5; 11:10–16; 19:18–25), not a minor post-exilic fulfillment that failed to demonstrate the characteristics of welcoming foreigners into the community of Israel (Ezra 9–10; Neh 9:1–2; 10:28–30; 13:23–27). God wants his people to include foreigners in his kingdom, even those who had previously been their enemies. Later prophecies will expand on these eschatological hopes (45:14–17; 49:22–23; 60:1–8; 61:5–7; 66:20).’ (NAC)
14:2 Nations will take them and bring them back to their own place. Then the family of Jacob will make foreigners their servants as they settle in the LORD’s land. They will make their captors captives and rule over the ones who oppressed them.
‘These promises about foreigners being servants should not be misunderstood as a sign of revenge or a form of oppressive Jewish nationalism. The text describes a reversal of roles for Israel, not an evil oppressive enslavement of innocent foreign people.’ (NAC)
‘He means that the foreign nations will be willing to become their companions. An instance of this is given in Ezra 1:6, when the people were brought back from Babylon. But that was only a slight foretaste of those things that were accomplished by Christ, to whom all these statements must be referred.’ (Calvin)
14:3 When the LORD gives you relief from your suffering and anxiety, and from the hard labor which you were made to perform, 14:4 you will taunt the king of Babylon with these words:
“Look how the oppressor has met his end!
Hostility has ceased!
14:5 The LORD has broken the club of the wicked,
the scepter of rulers.
14:6 It furiously struck down nations
with unceasing blows.
It angrily ruled over nations,
oppressing them without restraint.
Here begins (finishing at v21) a great dirge for the king of Babylon. It is not to be sung at a funeral, for the king will be denied a proper burial. Moroever, it lacks the pomp that a king would expect at his death. It is, then, a taunt more than a lament (EBC).
According to Isa 39:108 the king of Babylon appraached Hezekiah with a view to forming an alliance so that together they could resist the Assyrian king Sennacherib. The Lord disapproved of this proposal, because it would mean that Hezekiah was not trusting in him, the Lord. The present passage shows that an alliance with the king of Babylon would have given false hope, for he himself was to be brought low.
Scholars are not agreed as to whether the king described here was a Babylonion king or an Assyrian who had declared himself king over Babylon. The omission of the king’s name is consistent with Isa 14:20-22, which states that the Lord would cut off his name so that it would never be mentioned again.
Oswalt says that scholars have long been aware, in view of the sweeping language, that something much more than an individual human monarch is in view here. In this respect, it is similar to Eze 28, with its reference to ‘the king of Tyre’.
The king of Babylon here, like Babylon itself in chapter 13, is a representative figure, the embodiment of that worldly arrogance that defies God and tramples on others in its lust for power…That is why the tone of this song should not cause us any embarrassment. This is no cheap gloating over the downfall of an enemy, but the satisfaction and delight which God’s people rightly feel at the very end of the Bible where, again, Babylon is a cipher for all that opposes God and his purposes.’ (Webb)
There will come a day when the song, sung secretly in ‘daring hope’ (Oswalt) can be sung openly.
You will take up this taunt – Contrary to the present thinking of Judah’s leaders, who wanted to trust the king of Babylon for his help against Assyria.
v5 This is the only place in the dirge where the Lord is mentioned (but see the indirect references in v13f. Yet, just as in the book of Esther, the Lord’s action is everywhere implied (here, in the many passive verbs). (EBC)
v6 The Mesopotamian army devastated Israel and Judah countless times between 855 and 555 BC (Oswalt). Good news indeed to know that the ‘rod’ has been ‘broken’.
14:7 The whole earth rests and is quiet;
they break into song.
14:8 The evergreens also rejoice over your demise,
as do the cedars of Lebanon, singing,
‘Since you fell asleep,
no woodsman comes up to chop us down!’
14:9 Sheol below is stirred up about you,
ready to meet you when you arrive.
It rouses the spirits of the dead for you,
all the former leaders of the earth;
it makes all the former kings of the nations
rise from their thrones.
14:10 All of them respond to you, saying:
‘You too have become weak like us!
You have become just like us!
14:11 Your splendor has been brought down to Sheol,
as well as the sound of your stringed instruments.
You lie on a bed of maggots,
with a blanket of worms over you.
v7 What joy and peace there are when a terrible oppressor is no more!
Pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon – This reference to trees may be literal or figurative (or both). The woodcutters of Assyria and Babylon would have stripped large tracts of land, and now the threat of further devastation has been removed. But trees can also stand for human rulers (cf. Isa 2:13; Jer 22:7; Eze 17:3; 31:3; Mk 13:24–25), who are now safe. (EBC)
v9 In contrast to the peace that the earth now enjoys, the underworld is in turmoil. The picture is one of departed kings rising to view this spectacle. The king who sent them to their graves now joins them in the place of the departed! He is as weak as they are. He can no more cheat death than they can.
The grave – Heb ‘sheol’. Here is another of the OT’s hints that the dead still continue to have an existence.
‘The picture in Isaiah 14:1–23 is that of a mighty monarch whose pride brought him to destruction. This is what happened to Belshazzar when Darius the Mede captured Babylon in 539 B.C. (Dan. 5). Isaiah described the king’s arrival in sheol, the world of the dead, where the king’s wealth, glory, and power vanished. The dead kings already in sheol stood in tribute to him (Isa. 14:9), but it was all a mockery. Death is the great leveler; there are no kings in the world of the dead.’ (Wiersbe)
The spirits of the departed – ‘The poetic description here and in Isa 26:14 and Ps. 88:10 suggests a virtual suspension of existence; but the OT can look beyond this, on occasion to the resurrection of the body (see Dan 12:2).’ (NBC)
Leaders – lit. ‘he-goats’. ‘The picture of the petty kings rising from their thrones to accord a mocking welcome to their oppressor powerfully appeals to the imagination and clearly contains some elements that were intended to be taken seriously but not literally.’ (EBC)
It makes them rise from their thrones – in mock homage.
v11 Osawalt calls this verse ‘a masterpiece of sarcasm and irony.’ We see a appears to be a gorgeous bier whose procession is accompanied by soft music. Then we look more closely, and see that it is infested with maggots and worms. As Oswalt remarks, human pretension is no match for the solemn realities of death. Those kings who in this life had been forced to give homage to the king of Babylon now mock him, for he has become as one of them. ‘They had heard the sound of the Babylonian harpers making music for the king as they were brought trembling into his court. All his pomp and circumstance have disappeared. His soft couches and lush carpets have been replaced by maggots and decomposition.’
14:12 Look how you have fallen from the sky,
O shining one, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the ground,
O conqueror of the nations!
The picture here (vv12-14) is of one who exalted himself to heaven, to the place of God, but has been brought crashing down. It is the opposite of One who, in his humility, did not think equality with God a thing to be clung to, but humbled himself, then to be exalted by God to the very highest place (Phil 2).
“Morning star, son of the dawn” – The Latin term became ‘Lucifer’.
The title of ‘morning star’ ‘suggests that this king’s glory did not last very long. Venus, the ‘morning star’ shines but is soon swallowed up by the light of the sun.’ (Wiersbe)
14:13 You said to yourself,
“I will climb up to the sky.
Above the stars of El
I will set up my throne.
I will rule on the mountain of assembly
on the remote slopes of Zaphon.
14:14 I will climb up to the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High!”
The mount of assembly…the sacred mountain – Mount Zaphon, supposedly the meeting place of the Canaanite gods. ‘Isaiah boldly uses imagery from this pagan background to point to the essence of human pride: self-deification.’ (Webb)
This takes us back firstly to the Tower of Babel, Gen 11:1-9, and then to the desire to be like God in Gen 3. ‘Here Satan first sought to reproduce in human life his own proud aspirations for equal status with God. The possession of power can, of course, prove disastrous in creating a desire for utter supremacy. One who is fitted for high authority must be aware that he faces grave spiritual danger.’
Note the repeated “I” in v13f. ‘Only God himself has a right to speak in this fashion (Isa 13:11–12; 14:24–25; 41:9–10, 17–19; et al.)…It is a strange paradox that nothing makes a being less like God than the urge to be his equal, for in Christ, he who was equal with God stepped down from his glorious throne to display to the wondering eyes of humankind the humility of God (Php 2:5–8).’ (EBC)
As Oswalt remarks, human pride reverses the attitude of Jesus (Mk 14:36), and says, “Not your will, but mine, be done.”
14:15 But you were brought down to Sheol,
to the remote slopes of the pit.
14:16 Those who see you stare at you,
they look at you carefully, thinking:
“Is this the man who shook the earth,
the one who made kingdoms tremble?
14:17 Is this the one who made the world like a desert,
who ruined its cities,
and refused to free his prisoners so they could return home?” ’
Verses 16-20 describe an ignominious death, such as that suffered by the despotic Sargon II of Assyria.
v17 Death is a great leveller, and the death of anyone who has been great in the world’s eyes gives pause for thought.
14:18 As for all the kings of the nations,
all of them lie down in splendor,
each in his own tomb.
14:19 But you have been thrown out of your grave
like a shoot that is thrown away.
You lie among the slain,
among those who have been slashed by the sword,
among those headed for the stones of the pit,
as if you were a mangled corpse.
14:20 You will not be buried with them,
because you destroyed your land
and killed your people.
The offspring of the wicked
will never be mentioned again.
v19 ‘We know from the Egyptian pyramids and other royal tombs how much stress was put on proper burial in the Fertile Crescent in OT times. How horrifying to a great king of Babylon and to his contemporaries would be the prospect of his lying out in the open, unburied, his royal body indistinguishable from those of his soldiers, to be thrown into a common burial pit! What is the cause of such a fate? The great king—like Napoleon, Hitler, and many others—led many of his people into death on the battlefield to gratify his lust for power. God therefore makes the punishment fit the crime.’ (EBC)
14:21 Prepare to execute his sons
for the sins their ancestors have committed.
They must not rise up and take possession of the earth,
or fill the surface of the world with cities.”
14:22 “I will rise up against them,”
says the LORD who commands armies.
“I will blot out all remembrance of Babylon and destroy all her people,
including the offspring she produces,”
says the LORD.
14:23 “I will turn her into a place that is overrun with wild animals
and covered with pools of stagnant water.
I will get rid of her, just as one sweeps away dirt with a broom,”
says the LORD who commands armies.
v21 ‘The principle of group solidarity in punishment is seen throughout the OT (cf. Ex 20:5–6; Num 16:31–35; Jos 7:24–26). The reference to the conqueror covering the earth with cities (v.21) is perhaps a reminder of Gen 10:8–11, possibly implying that this Babylonian dynasty was following the ways of its great predecessor, Nimrod. Many rulers have sought to perpetuate their names through great city-building enterprises (cf. also Gen 11:4). No throne, no tomb, no progeny, no cities—in all these ways the Lord abases those who seek self-exaltation.’ (EBC)
‘This is the end of the pride that says it will sit on the throne of God: absolute and complete destruction.’ (Oswalt)
“I will turn her into a place for owls and into swampland” – ‘The king of Babylon’s sin would bring destruction, not only to his people, but also to his land. He wanted to possess the earth, but in fact the very reverse would take place; for his own land would be possessed—not even by human beings, but by owls—and it would be covered with pools of stagnant water.’ (EBC)
“I will sweep her with the broom of destruction” – ‘The analogy the passage closes with has an eloquence all its own. The reader can almost hear the woman of the house breathing a sigh of relief as she sweeps the rubbish out her door, knowing that her house is at last clean and fit for human habitation. Rubbish fit only for the broom of judgment—this was God’s verdict on mighty Babylon!’
14:24 The LORD who commands armies makes this solemn vow:
“Be sure of this:
Just as I have intended, so it will be;
just as I have planned, it will happen.
14:25 I will break Assyria in my land,
I will trample them underfoot on my hills.
Their yoke will be removed from my people,
the burden will be lifted from their shoulders.
14:26 This is the plan I have devised for the whole earth;
my hand is ready to strike all the nations.”
14:27 Indeed, the LORD who commands armies has a plan,
and who can possibly frustrate it?
His hand is ready to strike,
and who can possibly stop it?
The Lord Will Judge the Philistines, 28-32
14:28 In the year King Ahaz died, this message was revealed:
14:29 Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines,
just because the club that beat you has been broken!
For a viper will grow out of the serpent’s root,
and its fruit will be a darting adder.
14:30 The poor will graze in my pastures;
the needy will rest securely.
But I will kill your root by famine;
it will put to death all your survivors.
14:31 Wail, O city gate!
Cry out, O city!
Melt with fear, all you Philistines!
For out of the north comes a cloud of smoke,
and there are no stragglers in its ranks.
14:32 How will they respond to the messengers of this nation?
Indeed, the LORD has made Zion secure;
the oppressed among his people will find safety in her.
v32 ‘Ahaz the pro-Assyrian is dead; Assyria is in difficulties (29a); now a Philistine mission (32a) arrives in Zion to propose a rebellion—an idea always after Hezekiah’s heart…It was as sharp a test of obedience for Hezekiah as was that of ch. 7 for Ahaz; and the Philistines were formidable people to offend (cf. 2 Ch. 28:18–19) at this time. God’s reply is threefold. First, there is worse yet to come from Assyria (29); secondly, Philistia is a doomed people (30b–31); thirdly, true welfare is only in the Lord (30a, 32). It is the constant message of Isaiah: trust, not intrigue.’ (NBC)
In recent times, suggests Oswalt, ‘The king of Babylon’ could not be better represented than in the two greatest murderers of all time – Stalin and Hitler. Each in his pride hoped to build a world-wide empire, and each was prepared to destroy anyone who got in the way of his perverse vision. The world’s oppressed rightly breathed a sigh of relief when each of these monsters died. The ignominious death of Hitler, in particular, has startling parallels with Isa 14:16-20. Each of these tyrants was influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche, who despised Christianity because it robbed males of their native aggression.