In this chapter God foretells His vengeance upon the greatest city of antiquity, Babylon. The city is described as  a virgin, “tender and delicate” and oblivious of her sins against the people of God. Her arrogance and boasts,  her confidence in her sorceries, only serve to magnify the complete and utter destruction that shall suddenly  come upon her. The words have an added significance for Babylon of old is typical of “Babylon the Great,”  that system of falsehood which also has persecuted the saints of God (cp verses 7 and 8, Rev 18:7).

47:1–5 The Virgin Daughter of Babylon to be Put to Shame

Verse 1 “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate.”

Babylon is called upon to descend from the seat of magnificence and power. She is told to “sit in the  dust” and “on the ground”, which expresses her coming humiliation and mourning (Josh 7:6; Lam  3:29; Job 2:12; 10:9; Psa 22:15).

O virgin daughter of Babylon In Scripture a city is often described as a virgin, a daughter, or a beautiful woman (1:8; 37:22; Lam 1:15; Jer 31:21; 46:11). Babylon was distinguished as a beautiful and splendid city (cp Dan 4:30). So in this taunting song, the daughter of Babylon would no longer live in luxury and ease but be caused to descend into the dust of shame and poverty. When these words were penned, Babylon had not risen to the zenith of her glory. Babylon was overthrown by Sennacherib, the Assyrian who came against Hezekiah, but later rose to greater power when Nineveh was sacked by the Medes and the Babylonians (612–614bc), who were led by Nabopolassar the father of Nebuchadnezzar. Under his rule Babylon became the preeminent city, but its glory and power was short lived and Cyrus breached her walls and took her in 539bc.

Verses 2–3 “Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks [rsv ‘put off thy veil’], make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over [niv ‘wade through’] the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.”

Here she is compelled to perform menial and laborious tasks and bear the shame and ignominy associated with them.

“Take the millstones, and grind meal” One writer says, “they are the female slaves that are generally employed in the East at those hand-mills. It is extremely laborious, and esteemed the lowest employment in the house.” The sense is also evident from Job’s words, “… let my wife grind unto another” (Job 31:10).

“uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness… uncovered…” Here the virgin daughter of Babylon is portrayed as a violated girl (‘nakedness uncovered’), her veil removed, legs and thigh bared and caused to ford the rivers as a captive (there were many rivers and streams around Babylon). No longer is she a cosseted woman but a captive being compelled to cross the rivers en route to strange lands (cp 43:2). Captives were often naked or almost so (20:2–4).

“I will take vengeance” This word expresses equivalence between offence and punishment: what Yahweh will do will be appropriate to the situation: “Take vengeance upon her [Babylon]; as she hath done, do unto her” (Jer 50:15).

Babylon would destroy the house of God, the temple Solomon built, “His Temple”. Thus this vengeance is called, “the vengeance of his temple” (Jer 50:28; 51:11).

“and I will not meet thee as a man” In these words Yahweh declares He will give Babylon ‘no quarter’; she will be committed to utter destruction at His hand. In the event, it was Cyrus who took Babylon effortlessly and by the morning every citizen was no longer a Babylonian but a Persian (cp JA Motyer). Yahweh was not constrained by any human limitations. The old order vanished under the just hand of God.

Verse 4 “As for our redeemer, Yahweh of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.”

This verse is like an interjection, pointing out that Babylon’s fall was for Israel’s sake! The titles used are significant.

“As for our redeemer” Isaiah speaks on Israel’s behalf. Yahweh has the right to act for Israel as He is their Redeemer (Heb goel), their next-of-kin (cp Lev 25:48, 49). Isaiah 63:4 links the ideas of “vengeance” and redemption (see also 35:4, 9, 10 etc).

“Yahweh of hosts is his name” The name of Yahweh is the guarantee of Israel’s survival and preservation (Ex 6:6–8; Mal 3:6).When “of hosts” is attached to it we are assured that the power of the Almighty stands behind it.

“the Holy One of Israel” Yahweh’s authority to act in vengeance arises from His character as the Holy One, and to do so on Israel’s behalf from the fact that He is the Holy One of Israel. Unlike human vengeance which is often excessive and indiscriminate, Yahweh’s vengeance is measured and just. It will bring mercy and redemption for His people (27:7–9; Hab 3:2).

Verse 5 “Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms.”

“Sit thou silent” Emblematic of sorrow and affliction and no longer with authority and dictating the rules (cp Lam 2:10; Isa 3:26; Job 2:13; Ezra 9:4)!

“and get thee into darkness” Darkness speaks of imprisonment and mourning (Lam 3:2; Mic 7:8).

“The lady of kingdoms” Her place and position will change dramatically; no longer will there be the magnificence, splendour beauty and power. This is an appellation like the one so often used of Rome, “the mistress of the world”. The same fate awaits her.

47:6–9 For Her Cruelty and Arrogance Babylon will Suffer Widowhood and Loss of Her Children

Verse 6 “I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.”

This verse explains why God would deal severely with Babylon. Yahweh had a purpose in bringing Babylon against His people; so what was done accorded with His will and justice. The sin lay in the assumption behind the Babylonian action and the ruthless and indiscriminate manner of its accomplishment: it was void of compassion and took no account of the aged. The heartless invasion of Judah is set before Habakkuk (1:6–10). In his appeal to Yahweh he says, “In wrath remember mercy” (3:2).

Verse 7 “And thou saidst, I shall be a lady [rsv ‘mistress’] forever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the [rsv ‘their’, that is, Israel’s] latter end of it.”

Babylon assumed a right of tenure to authority and an immunity to any consequences of her actions. How often those on the crest of power fail to contemplate the consequences of what they are doing! So inflated are they by their hold on power and influence that thoughts about the judgment that might come on them do not enter their heads: they do not think about outcomes, or take a morally responsible view of their conduct. The fact is that “crimes against humanity” never go unrecognized in heaven—or unpunished (cp Amos 1:3–2:3). The Nuremberg trials overtook the Nazi rulers and those who were not killed in action or committed suicide were brought to justice. The lessons of history are never learned.

This verse appears to have special reference to the ultimate Divine purpose with Israel, against whom Babylon acted as if they were merely another nation. In fact they were (and are) Yahweh’s chosen people, the “apple of his eye” (Zech 2): He has “not cast off his people” and will yet redeem them (Rom 11:2, 25-27).

The rsv in this verse speaks of “their latter end”. This phrase is often found and it relates to the ultimate purpose God has with Israel, despite their present waywardness (Num 23:10; Deut 32:29; Lam 1:9; Jer 29:11 mrg). Had the Babylonians given due thought to God’s purpose with His own people, they might have treated them differently.

Verses 8–9 “Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to [rsv ‘lover of’] pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children.

But these two things shall come to thee in a moment [rsv ‘suddenly’] in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thy enchantments.”

In verse 8 we are again given an insight into the thinking of Babylon. Yahweh is very interested in the hearts of men and searches them, for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Babylon lived and acted as though there was no ultimate authority and power: she was answerable to no-one and could do what she liked! This arrogance, this overweening spirit, this sense of absolute power gave rise to attitudes—“I am and none else beside me”, “I shall not sit as a widow…” It was a delusion, from which she would suddenly be awakened!

“loss of children and widowhood” Children belong to the future—they are the fruit of being married to an husband. This sudden destruction would deprive Babylon of the future and the present. She would lose both husband and children.

“for the multitude of thy sorceries” niv “In spite of your many sorceries” (cp v12–13).

“in a moment” Babylon would not decay slowly by natural causes, but would meet her doom suddenly and unexpectedly. How strikingly this was fulfilled. In a single night Babylon was taken by Cyrus and her complete and utter demise commenced. The same fate awaits Great Babylon and these words are taken up by the Lord in the Apocalypse (18:7–8), so that we might not be deceived by Rome’s claims and arrogance, nor be shocked by her sudden and total destruction as so many will be (18:9–19).

Verses 10–11 Self-deceived and Arrogant, Babylon shall be Taken Unawares

Verse 10 “For thou hast trusted in [rsv ‘you felt secure in’] thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee [rsv ‘led thee astray’], and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.”

Again we are told about Babylon’s attitudes. In verse 8 she is confident despite self indulgence and careless living, but here she has confidence in her “wickedness” (a general word of bad behaviour), which is defined in the words which follow, “None seeth me”. She imagines she is a free agent and there is no omniscient God to whom she is answerable.

“Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee” She thinks she knows all that there is to know (like the modern Babylon), and with consummate arrogance takes to herself that which essentially belongs to Yahweh when she says, “I am, and none else beside me” (cont 45:5, 6). She is selfdeceived.

Verse 11 “Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth [roth ‘thou shalt not know how to charm it away’]: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off [roth ‘appease it’]: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know [niv ‘cannot foresee’].”

The “therefore” connects with all that has been said before. The sudden, inexplicable evil, the mischief and unexpected desolation—which cannot be appeased or “charmed” away—shall overtake her because of her pride, self-assurance, corruption and her cruel oppression of God’s people.

Verses 12–15 Babylon’s Sorceries and Wise Men Prove Worthless in the Hour of Her Need

Verse 12 “Stand now with thine enchantments [nasv ‘spells’], and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit [rsv ‘succeed’], if so be thou mayest prevail [rsv ‘may inspire terror’].”

This concluding section deals with Babylon’s religion and priests. The system is challenged. Does it perform by providing strength in a crisis (v12), and giving clear forewarnings (v15)?

“Stand now with thine enchantments…” Those who practise the arts of magic etc are summoned to stand forth and demonstrate if they could save the city! Babylon was renowned for these arts (cp Dan 2) from her “youth”, from the commencement of her national history. Now was the time for their worth to be put to the test. In the hour of Babylon’s fall there was no warning, and in order to decipher “the writing on the wall”, Belshazzar, the king, had no one else to turn to except Daniel, the great prophet of Yahweh (Dan 6)!

Verse 13 “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.”

Attaching religious significance to the movement of heavenly bodies had been practised in Babylon from ancient times.

“the multitude of thy counsels” There was much accumulated “knowledge” but how could it be interpreted? It was a wearisome task, and may well have been complicated by conflicting ideologies! Discipline and effort belong to true religion, but when allied to the worthless they are only a weariness!

“astrologers” The Babylonians divided the heavens into segments in order to study the movements of the heavenly bodies across the sky and from these to predict earthly events.

“Let now the astrologers… stand up and save thee from these things…” Again Yahweh challenges the purveyors of religion to come forward, to stand up and provide warnings and information about future events, so the fate of Babylon might be averted!

Verses 14–15 “Behold they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.

Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants from thy youth [rsv ‘who have trafficked with you from your youth’]: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee.”

Reference is being made here to Babylon’s religious practitioners, her clergy—those who have “trafficked” with her. In Yahweh’s forthcoming judgements upon this eminent metropolis, the utter futility of the religious system would be demonstrated. The whole system would be destroyed in the coming conflagration leaving no comfort, not even a coal to warm oneself, or fire to sit before!

In the confusion and unforeseen chaos, Babylon’s clergy will slink away and hide in shame. The hapless worshippers who trusted in the system will be left to fend for themselves, “none shall save” them. And so these words of Yahweh’s prophet came to pass many years later when Cyrus sacked the city in one night!