Isaiah 47 – Judgment Against Babylon & The World of Jesus’ Time

Finger Pointing UpIt seems like people get worse and worse in time, and Jesus had to deal with all that and then they crucified Him.  The deceit and treachery in politics have not changed, but the amount of murders may have lessened, excluding the Clinton’s span.

1 Whore of Babylon
“Virgin daughter of Babylon”
“…Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev 18:4).

The Whore of Babylon or Babylon the Great is a symbolic female figure and also place of evil mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Her full title is stated in Rev 17:5 as “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.” 

Many say that the Whore of Babylon represents the Catholic Church.

  “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:  

“With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.

  “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  

“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:


“And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration” (Rev 17:1-6).  

All religions, organizations and people that do not worship Jesus are of the Whore of Babylon, not just the Catholic Church, and they will all receive the same reward that God will give her in the end.  

“And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.

  “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

  “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

  “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

  “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

  “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (Rev 18:1-5, 8).

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.

“Sit in the dust…on the ground” – a sign of mourning.

“Virgin daughter of Babylon” – a personification of Babylon and its inhabitants.

2 Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.

“Millstones, and grind” – a menial task performed by women (see Ex 11:5; Jdg 9:53).

“Pass over the rivers” – probably on the way to exile.

3 Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.

“Nakedness shall be uncovered” – see Eze 16:36.  Babylon is no longer a queen; she is reduced to a servant girl or a prostitute.

“I will not…as a man” – Lit. “I will not meet/befriend anyone.”  The Lord will have no mercy on Babylon.

4 As for our redeemer, the LORD of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.

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.

“The lady of kingdoms” – “Lady” – “queen.”  Babylon was a very beautiful city.

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

“Wrote…polluted mine inheritance” – see 10:5-6 where Assyria is God’s tool.

“Upon the ancient” – Israel’s suffering fulfilled Moses’ curse for covenant disobedience (Deut 28:49-50), but the Babylonians are guilty for their cruel treatment of even the “ancient” or the “elderly.”

7 And thou saidst, I shall be a lady forever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it.

“I shall be a lady forever” – the arrogant words of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 4:30.

8 Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to 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:

47:8, 10 – “I am, and none else besides me” – almost a claim of deity (cf. the Lord’s words in 43:11, 45:5-6, 18, 22).

“Dwellest carelessly” – an arrogant and false sense of security.  Similar language is used of the complacent women of Jerusalem in 32:9, 11.

“Widow” – deserted and distressed.

9 But these two things shall come to thee in a moment 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 thine enchantments.

47:9, 12 – “Sorceries…enchantments” – magical practices to avoid danger and to inflict harm on the enemy.

10 For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.

11 Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.

“None be able to put off” – the Medes and Persians would not accept any settlement short of surrender.

12 Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

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.

“Astrologers…monthly prognosticators” – Babylon probably utilized their services more than any other nation (see Dan 2:2, 20).

14 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.

“Stubble” – this will be a rapid, powerful fire.

“Shall not deliver themselves” – in contrast to the mighty Savior of Israel, astrologers and sorcerers are as helpless as idols.

“Not be a coal to warm at” – a subtle reference to firewood, a material from which pagans sometimes made idols.

15 Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast labored, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander everyone to his quarter; none shall save thee.

The World of Jesus’ Time

Jesus was a Palestinian Jew.  He would have grown up with stories of conquest and oppression.  These stories recounted the many waves of foreign invasion that sought to subjugate the Jewish people.

The Roman occupation of Israel (63 B.C.E.) was the last in a long line of invasions beginning with the Babylonians (539 B.C.E.), then the Persians and the Greeks.  Jewish identity also rested on stories of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – as well as the founding story of the Moses-led liberation from the Egyptians at the Exodus.

There were yet other stories that recounted successful self-rule under the Hebrew kings Saul, David and Solomon.  However, history records that the Jewish people were more often the victims than the victors in their fight for national sovereignty.

Hebrew identity was maintained – as it is with most oppressed peoples – through a deep spiritual conviction.  This conviction was expressed in terms of a Covenant theology: the belief that Yahweh had chosen them to play a unique role in the history of the world.

2 Emperor Caesar Augustus Emperor of Rome Octavian
Caesar Augustus
Historians agree that Caesar Augustus was one of the most successful Roman emperors. Born in 63 B.C., he reigned as emperor for 45 years, until his death in A.D. 14.

He was the grand nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar and used the popularity of his great uncle’s name to rally the army behind him.Caesar Augustus, the first emperor in the ancient Roman Empire, issued an order which fulfilled a biblical prophecy made 600 years before he was born.

The prophet Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in the tiny village of Bethlehem:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Caesar Augustus ordered a census taken of the entire Roman world, for tax purposes. Palestine was part of that world, so Joseph, earthly father of Jesus Christ, took his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem to register. Joseph was from the house and line of David who had lived in Bethlehem.

In particular, the Jewish people had come to expect a Messiah who, they believed, would enable them to fulfill this divine mission.

There were differing understandings of the mission and role of the Messiah ranging from the establishment of a Jewish political kingdom here on earth to the eschatological notion of a heavenly kingdom at the end of the world (which many Jewish people considered to be immanent).

It goes without saying that religion and politics were deeply intertwined in Hebrew faith and self-understanding. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans had established a two-tiered system of government consisting of Roman overseers and Jewish leaders who exercised control in the name of Rome.

This was the system of power in which the family of Herod the Great grew to prominence.  Although half-Jews, the Herodian family was detested by the Jewish people for its tyrannical rule and also because of its key role in selling out the Jewish heritage to a foreign power.

One of Herod’s sons, Archelaus, was so brutal in his exercise of power in Jerusalem, that Rome replaced him with one of its own governors, Pontius Pilate, who was to play a significant role in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Another of the sons, Herod Antipas, was responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist.  It was the same Antipas who is accredited with the mocking of Jesus at his pre-crucifixion trial.

Life in Galilee

Jesus was a Nazarene.  He lived most of his life in the town of Nazareth within the province of Galilee.  Although a small village, Nazareth was close to the metropolitan centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris.

Unlike those predominantly Gentile (non-Jewish) cities, Nazareth was a Jewish enclave. It was also relatively poor and overpopulated; there was a scarcity of natural resources such as water and fertile soil.  

In such a situation, there tended to be a fair amount of sickness and disease. Nonetheless, Nazareth could not be called destitute. Jesus came from a family of craftsmen or carpenters which suggests a reasonable socio-economic standard of living.

Education was a priority for Jewish people.  Jesus would have learnt the Bible at the village school (until the age of twelve) and at the local synagogue.  This accounts for Jesus’ knowledge of Hebrew (the language of the Bible) and Aramaic (the language in which religious discussion was held).


Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish world.  Male Jews were supposed to make a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple for the three major Jewish feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.

Nazareth was a three or four day journey from Jerusalem (about a hundred miles), so Jesus may not have made the trip often.  The Gospels tell us that he went with his family at the age of twelve.  He also visited Jerusalem numerous times during his public life.

On one visit Jesus is recorded to defending His Father’s temple violently to those who were using it for commercial purposes (Matt 21:12-13), but He also healed the blind and the lame that were there.  

It is highly probable that these actions related to his trial and eventual execution.  Of further historical interest is the fact that the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Ancient Nazareth

3 Pilate Stone 1
Pilate Stone
The Pilate stone is a damaged block (82 cm x 65 cm) of carved limestone with a partially intact inscription attributed to, and mentioning, Pontius Pilate, a prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from AD 26 to 36.

 It was discovered at the archaeological site of Caesarea Maritima in 1961. The artifact is particularly significant because it is an archaeological find of an authentic 1st-century Roman inscription mentioning the name “Pontius Pilatus”.

  Pontius Pilate was the Roman Prefect over Judea from AD 26-36. All four gospels record his involvement with the trial of Jesus, and his authorization to crucify Jesus.

  The Bible, however, is not the only literary source for information about Pilate. He is also attested to in the works of three men who lived in the first-century AD: Tacitus (Roman senator and historian, AD 56-117), Josephus (Jewish historian, AD 37-100), and Philo (Jewish philosopher and theologian, 20 BC – AD 50).

  Both Josephus Flavius and Philo of Alexandria describe Pilate as a cruel and unpopular ruler. Unlike his predecessors, he was completely insensitive to the religious sentiments of the local population.

Nazareth is famous for one thing, and one thing alone: it is the home town of Jesus.  It was here that Jesus spent his boyhood, living with his mother and father, and here that he faced the sceptical townsfolk of Nazareth.

• Nazareth lay in the hills twelve miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee: fertile land.

• Excavations show just how small it actually was – but every bit of space was used effectively. It was built on porous rock, so as well as the buildings above the surface there were underground cisterns for water, vats for oil, and silos for grain. There was a single, ancient spring for water.

• It was a conservative town, clinging to traditional Jewish culture in a world that had been radically affected by Greek thought and culture.

• It had a population of about 400, so everyone knew everyone else. The people were physically robust, strong-minded, practical, respectful of traditional and loyal to family.

• They spoke Aramaic, a language with a strong poetic tradition. Being able to talk well was a valued skill.

• Young Jewish men were expected to be literate. The Jewish queen Salome Alexandra had made reading and writing compulsory for all Jewish boys – for study of the Torah.

Nazareth was small. We know this because of the discovery of underground tombs. These were chiseled into the soft limestone bedrock, and their position shows the limits of the village’s perimeter to the west, east, and south, since burial was always done outside inhabited areas.

It would have been 2,000 feet at its greatest east-west length and around 650 feet at its greatest north-south width, though the actual area inhabited in the first century was much less, perhaps only around ten acres. Steep ravines and ancient terraces on the northern slope confined the oval-shaped settlement.

The people of Nazareth were essentially farmers, so they needed space between the houses for livestock and their enclosures, as well as land for plants and orchards. 

Nazareth would have had a population of around two to four hundred in antiquity, that is to say, several extended families or clans. The tombs surrounding Nazareth were also very modest. Each of them was typically Jewish. The body was first buried in a body-length shaft cut at right angles into the walls of the tomb chamber, sealed with a large stone rolled into place. When the flesh had decayed, the remaining bones were gathered together and usually placed in an ossuary or bone box.

Ritual bathing pools or mikveh were also found at Nazareth. Used for ritual-purity immersion, they were found at virtually every Jewish site in Galilee, the Golan, and Judea.

The little village of Nazareth, off the main road, over the hill but still within walking distance of the city of Sepphoris, was Jesus’ home. The peasant families who lived there eked out a living, paid their taxes, and tried to live in peace. They were observant Jews, so they circumcised their sons, celebrated Passover, did not work on the Sabbath, travelled as pilgrims to Jerusalem, and valued the traditions of Moses and the prophets.

The only feature in the present-day town of Nazareth that can be linked directly to Jesus is the well. The actual structure is probably later, but we can stand in front of it and know that in that spot Mary once hauled water each day for her family’s needs.

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