Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 14

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-23

Fall of the King of Babylon (14:1-23)

One of the most remarkably vivid and ironic dirges in the Old Testament appears in 14:1-23. Its theme is the fall of the king of Babylon, and its date therefore may well have been in the sixth century, like that of the poem in chapter 13. It concerns both the joy of those set free from their oppression, and at the same time their surprise that one who considered himself to be as powerful as any god could so quickly be brought low. Verses l-4a form a prose introduction to the poem and speak of the Lord’s release of captive Israel from the hands of others and of restoration to their own land. The pain and hard service allotted the people have come to an end. Verses 22-23 are a prose conclusion to the poem inserted by an editor or by a prophet so that the poem would be seen in the context of God’s decree of the destruction of Babylon.

The first section of the poem (vss. 4b-8) is the statement that God has broken the power of the oppressor who ruled the nations with terror, so that now the whole earth is at rest and in song. Even the cedars of Lebanon rejoice because no conqueror is cutting the precious cedar wood for use in his palaces. In the second section of the poem (vss. 9-11) the scene changes to Sheol, the abode of the dead beneath the earth. There people who once were in life now exist as “shades” of their former selves. The former leaders of the earth rise from their thrones and exclaim in surprise: “You too have become as weak as we!” Thus their pomp is “brought down to Sheol.”

In the third section (vss. 12-15) the poet uses some vocabulary from Canaanite mythology. Babylon is like Helal, the “Day Star,” son of Shahar (“Dawn”). This minor star in the pantheon of the gods has tried to ascend to the height, to put his throne over all of the other gods in the “mount of assembly.” The latter is the cosmic mountain in the far north which was thought in Canaanite religion to be the abode of the gods. Babylon is one who would establish himself as the suzerain of the whole earth, but he has fallen out of heaven to the earth and has been brought down into Sheol like any other man. The reference to “Pit” in verse 15 is here used as a synonym for the underworld. The remainder of the poem continues the same theme as something to be pondered: “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms . . . ?” (vs. 16). Such is the fate of all the lofty and the proud; they are brought low. Death is the great leveler of all the artificial distinctions which man creates upon the earth. At the death of this conqueror there is no glory. He has destroyed too many lands and slain too many people. As he killed in violence, so he will die in violence.

Verses 24-27

Destruction of the Assyrian Army in Palestine (14:24-27)

The brief passage in verses 24-27 is an authentic word of First Isaiah which deals with the destruction of Assyria, the world power of that day. Isaiah announces in God’s name that it is the divine purpose that the Assyrian power will be broken “in my land.” The passage is to be read with the other verses from the end of Isaiah’s life which express God’s decision to save Jerusalem (for example, 37:21-36). The two groups of passages in Isaiah, one group which proclaims God’s decision to destroy Jerusalem and Judah, and the other smaller group which announces God’s plan to save the city by the destruction of the Assyrian army in Palestine, are difficult to harmonize with one another, unless the second group refers to a second campaign of the emperor Sennacherib about 690 b.c. (see Introduction).

Verses 28-32

“Rejoice Not, O Philistia” (14:28-32)

The final verses of chapter 14 are exactly dated in the year of the death of King Ahaz; that is, about 715 b.c. At that time the people of the cities of Philistia located along the southern coastal plain of Palestine, where the Philistines had settled in the twelfth century b.c., are addressed by the prophet and told not to rejoice, for the time of their destruction is near and God has determined it. It would be better, therefore, if they were to wail in mourning.

The precise occasion for this prophecy cannot be known with certainty. Furthermore, textual problems in verse 32 make translation and interpretation of the concluding passage very difficult. The simplest hypothesis, however, is to read this passage together with chapters 18 and 20 as concerned with the Philistine revolt against Sargon II. This rebellion was led by the city of Ashdod, and presumably envoys had come to Jerusalem to seek aid in the forming of a coalition to rebel. Judah did not join the rebellion, and Ashdod was crushed by Sargon II in 711 b.c. If this interpretation is adopted, then “the rod which smote you” (vs. 29) may refer to Assyria and not to Ahaz. The latter was a weak king who indeed had been in battle with the Philistines, but they had been strong enough to wrest Judean territory away from him (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 14". "Layman's Bible Commentary".