by Rev Hilda Warwick
Sometimes known as the Wilderness Oracle, Chapter 21 describes the fall of Babylon, and the suddenness with which it happens. Babylon is called the Wilderness of the Sea because the great plain of Babylon was divided with lakes and marshes, so it was referred to as a “sea.” The title was memorable as indeed was the vision that it described. This Oracle is distinguished for its brevity, energy, and force, for the variety and for the vivid manner in which the events are made to pass before us. It is the language of strong excitement and of alarm; language that expresses a series of fast, moving events.
Regarding himself as among the exiles in the midst of Babylon, Isaiah describes himself as deeply affected in view of this sudden invasion, and of the calamities that were coming upon Babylon. The Babylonians, are represented, first as preparing the table, making ready for feasting and celebration, setting the watch on the watchtower, and oblivious to what is about to happen and secondly, as suddenly alarmed, and summoned to prepare for war.
The watchman sees two chariots – representing two nations coming rapidly onward to execute the orders of God. So rapid is their approach, so terrible their march, that the watchman cries out that Babylon is fallen, and will be inevitably destroyed.
There is a mention of Dumah, which was an oasis near Babylon, which like Babylon was subject to Assyrian invasion, however the word dumah in Hebrew also means silence. Previously in the Old Testament, it refers to the silence of death. The inference is that a voice from one place of deathly silence calls to another place of deathly silence, setting the tone of the oracle, as sombre.
At then end of the prophecy Isaiah comforts the people with the reassurance that this is all part of God’s plan. The whole design of the prophecy, therefore, is to console them, and to repeat the assurance given in Isaiah 13; 14, that Babylon would be destroyed, and that they would be delivered from bondage.
However, how can we consider what this passage might have to say to us, in our time and place? The fall of Babylon is indeed a historical event. Because Babylon had completely occupied world opinion, dominated world politics, this was a revolutionary event that signified a redefinition of the world. In the Israel’s imagination a pivotal example of how God could override the power of evil.
A reminder in our own time and place that God is at work against the forces of evil, bringing salvation. It’s a text we sometimes see used in Advent, where the question concerns the liberation of Jesus, as in the carol. (Watchman, Tell Us of the Night)
In this oracle, whilst there is cause for dismay at the coming destruction of a foreign nation, there is a sense of hopefulness that God is working against the forces of darkness that have long held people in oppression and bringing them to a place of freedom and hope.
Might we ask ourselves the question, where in our lives do, we see God’s redemptive work?
What might we do, in our longing and in our waiting, as we too look out over the horizons of our world, as we wait for news of restoration and renewal?
Father at times its often hard to see the end from the beginning. To understand that You are working out Your purposes in the midst of our daily concerns. May you help us to remain strong in trust and faith as we wait to see justice, come to our world. Show us the things we can do now that will make a difference to others. In Jesus name. Amen.