THE SECOND MAJOR SECTION OF Isaiah, chapters 13-27, focuses on the nations. This word of the Lord through Isaiah is not actually delivered to the nations; it is pronounced against the nations but in the ears of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. In a general sense the message is similar to that in the first part of Isaiah (chaps. 1-12): salvation belongs only to the Lord, so he alone is the One to be trusted. The denunciation of the nations therefore includes comforting asides to Judah (e.g., Isa. 14:1-2) and ends with the deliverance of the people of God (chaps. 26-27).
Isaiah 13 is an oracle against Babylon. Because in Isaiah's time the primary military threat was Assyria and not Babylon, many critics think that this chapter is a later interpolation, written a century and a half later (about 550 B.C.) when Babylon had not only risen to supremacy but was already in decline, threatened by the rising Medo-Persian Empire (see Isa. 13:17). But that view is too skeptical. The introduction to the oracle unambiguously affirms that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw this vision (Isa. 13:1). Moreover, Isaiah 39 shows that even in Isaiah's day, though Babylon was not an immediate threat like Assyria, it was already a rising power. Perhaps more important yet, Babylon's history went back all the way to the Tower of Babel (Gen. 10:9-10; 11:1-9) and thus could serve as a symbol of all nations that defy the God of Israel---a symbolism that persists even in the New Testament (e.g., Rev. 17-18), long after historic Babylon is in eclipse. The ultimate collapse of "Babylon" takes place when "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth," who is "drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus" (Rev. 17:5-6), is obliterated in the triumphant dawning of the reign of the Lord God Almighty (Rev. 19:6), the rule of him who is called "Faithful and True" and whose name is "the Word of God" (Rev. 19:11, 13).
Note three features of this oracle. (a) Once again the "day of the LORD" (Isa. 13:6) is bound up not only with the Lord's coming, but with his coming in judgment. For those opposed to the living God, it is "a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger" (Isa. 13:9). (b) Typical of Hebrew poetry, this day is associated with celestial signs; it is as if all nature has to join in with these events, for their significance is no less than cosmic (Isa. 13:10; cf. Acts 2:20). (c) The heart of the sin that must be overthrown is arrogance (Isa. 13:11, 19).