Isaiah 13:11, 19 (ESV)
I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
The world will be punished. Babylon will be destroyed. Babylon was the primary threat to Judah. God would use them to judge his people for breaking the covenant with God that they had entered into under Moses. But that did not mean that Babylon would get away untouched despite its own wickedness. God would take care of it. In fact, God says that Babylon “will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations” (Is 13:20). The Persians eventually destroyed the city. The Greeks further decimated it. The great ziggurat at the center of the city was torn down by Alexander. The city was eventually lost to the dust of the desert. Its ruins have since been rediscovered. It was partially rebuilt under Saddam Hussein, but no one lives there. It is an empty city. Hussein built a palace nearby, but Babylon is uninhabited just as God indicated.
Babylon was not just a city that threatened Judah. Throughout the Bible it is viewed as the center of evil in the world. Babylon is where the Tower of Babel was built. It is very likely that the Tower was the very ziggurat that Alexander tore down. Babylon represents the rebellion and pride of the world as it stands against the authority of God. That is why God not only says that he will judge Babylon, but that he will judge the world.
Christians decry the wickedness of the world, and that is appropriate. But, too often we are not actually grieving the sin that grieves God. We are just grieving the loss, or potential loss of our own freedom and comfort. We live in fear that life might become hard. We have Christian brothers and sisters all over the world that live with the daily reality that they might be called on to give their lives for their faith. We cry because someone might say something mean about our beliefs. Jesus warned us that the world would not approve of us. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). In America, we have not even come close to this experience. Whatever suffering we have perceived has likely not been because of our faith, but because of our arrogance and stupidity.
Yes, real suffering might come. Our brothers and sisters in Christ already experience it around the world. One source indicates that 70 million Christians have been martyred since the time of Christ. The numbers vary widely as to how many Christians have actually been martyred for their faith. It is interesting that the numbers cited for the first 300 years of the Church’s history are the same as the numbers cited for the year 2012. Far more Christians have been killed for their faith in my lifetime than in the first three hundred years of the Church’s history. Yet we complain is someone doesn’t like one of our blog posts, or that we might lose our tax exempt status if we talk about politics.
What does this have to do with Isaiah? The world system will come to an end. Christians will be martyred. The Church will be opposed. The gospel will be rejected. Yet Jesus words will be fulfilled, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). God’s prophecy will be accomplished, “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless” (Is 13:11). God’s purpose will be accomplished.
We need to stop worrying about our own personal peace and affluence, and embrace the larger purpose of God. We have Good News for a broken world, and they have only a limited time to hear it. Let us pray for open hearts.The early church survived, not because they were safe and secure, but because they were willing to die for their faith. I fear that we too often are not even willing to be uncomfortable for ours. May God forgive us, and transform our hearts. People saw hope and love in early believers. A broken world facing the wrath of God was drawn to their life. May that be true of us as well. They are headed toward destruction. We have the message of life.