The Burden Chapters
Isaiah writes several chapters which can be referred to as the burden chapters. They describe the judgments of the Lord on different peoples and constitute Isaiah 13-23. All of these chapters can be viewed as a type for the destructions promised for the wicked of the latter-days. In other words, the prophecies refer to the destruction of those kingdoms in ancient times and symbolize the destruction of the wicked in the last days.
The best example of all is the burden of Babylon. Babylon, or Babel is the chief city of Babylonia. It was founded after the flood by the wicked Nimrod and is the city in which the tower of Babel was built. It represented the center of Mesopotamian influence for centuries. Scripturally speaking, it represents the wickedness of the world, the kingdom of Satan, and the great and abominable whore. In this chapter, we learn a lot about how the Lord will destroy the wicked when he comes again. The unenlightened, however, see in this prophecy only Isaiah’s description of the fall of ancient Babylon.
Isaiah 13:1 The burden of Babylon
Chronologically speaking, this is the first mention of Babylon since the days of King David, (Ps. 87:4; 137:1, 8). Isaiah prophesies of Babylon before it became a great and powerful kingdom. In Isaiah’s day, Babylon was under Assyrian control. While an ancient city, she had not been a regional powerhouse until Nebuchadnezzar’s father came along, which was some 75-100 years after Isaiah’s day. Isaiah speaks of “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency” (v. 19) before Babylon had become great. The metaphor of Babylon as a worldly evil had not yet been inculcated into the Jewish consciousness. Doesn’t this make Isaiah’s prophecy even more powerful? How could he have known to use Babylon as the symbol of evil if not by the spirit of prophecy?
Isaiah 13:2 exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand
This shaking of hands is not a friendly gesture. It refers to giving the enemy a signal prior to attacking them. It signifies that in the last days the Lord will give the wicked a signal, or sign, before his armies attack. But we should note the great mercies of the Lord. He would first raise an ensign to the nations, the restored church, to teach them the new and everlasting covenant; he would lift a banner upon the high mountain by building temples all over the earth; and he would exalt the warning voice through his prophets and servants. Having rejected all these overtures, the wicked would be given a sign—the last of many—the Lord would shake the hand before the enemy. It means their destruction is imminent. The wicked may run to the houses of the nobles seeking protection, but they will receive none, for it is the Lord’s nobles and sanctified ones who will triumph.
Isaiah 13:3 I have commanded my sanctified ones
“Jehovah’s sanctified ones (Josh. 3:5) are those who are temple worthy, who actually attend the temple, and who are made holy by Christ’s power. In ancient Israel the soldiers prepared for the holy war by participating in holy rituals connected with the temple (Deut. 23:10-15). In this dispensation, Jesus Christ’s soldiers (members of the Church) prepare for the battle against Babylon by participating in temple rituals.” (Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry, and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah, 131)
Isaiah 13:4-5 the Lord of Hosts mustereth the hosts of the battle
One interpretation of the Lord’s army is that they are heavenly hosts. They have come literally ‘from the end of heaven’, and they represent ‘the weapons of his indignation’ (v. 5). This interpretation is not inconsistent with other scriptures of the armies of the Lord. The heavenly host was sent to protect the prophet Elisha from the king of Syria. As Elisha reassured his servant, ‘he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha’ (2 Kings 6:16-17). In the destruction of the last days, angels will be commissioned to bring destruction upon the wicked. The Lord explained that the angels are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to go forth in the earth, ‘the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields’ (DC 86:5). The book of Revelation makes it clear that the Lord’s army—the angels—will be given specific power to destroy men in certain predetermined ways. Another reason these hosts are likely not mortal is that the Lord has promised to fight the battles of his saints in the last days (D&C 105:14)—a reassuring thought. This is the same battle Zechariah mentions:
For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle (Zech. 14:2-3)
The more immediate, literal interpretation of this verse envisions the multitudes gathered against Nebuchadnezzar’s empire as the armies of the Medes and Persians. The “Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great dammed the Euphrates River and marched through the riverbed and under the walls of Babylon to capture the city and overthrow the empire. The significance of the incident is more clearly indicated by considering the imagery of the term Babylon in a spiritual sense. The call is for the ‘sanctified ones’ (Isa 13:2), the Saints of the latter days, to gather together and join with God in overthrowing wickedness (Babylon) from the world.” (1981 Old Testament Institute Manual, p. 153)
Isaiah 13:6 the day of the Lord is at hand
“To the Babylonians the invasion of the Medes and Persians, the destruction of their homes and cities, was ‘the day of the Lord.’ It was the day of his vengeance and judgment upon them. The prophetic imagery, which here refers to the destruction of Babylon, is applicable to all such catastrophes of historic import. It is, therefore, also descriptive of the last judgment before the Millennium, which is, the fullest meaning of the word, ‘the day of the Lord.’” (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 363)
Isaiah 13:6 it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty
“Do you think there is calamity abroad now among the people? Not much. All we have yet heard and all we have experienced is scarcely a preface to the sermon that is going to be preached. When the testimony of the Elders ceases to be given, and the Lord says to them, ‘Come home; I will now preach my own sermons to the nations of the earth,’ all you now know can scarcely be called a preface to the sermon that will be preached with fire and sword, tempests, earthquakes, hail, rain, thunders and lightnings, and fearful destruction…You will hear of magnificent cities, now idolized by the people, sinking in the earth, entombing the inhabitants. The sea will heave itself beyond its bounds, engulphing mighty cities. Famine will spread over the nations, and nation will rise up against nation, kingdom against kingdom, and states against states, in our own country and in foreign lands; and they will destroy each other, caring not for the blood and lives of their neighbours, of their families, or for their own lives. They will be like the Jaredites who preceded the Nephites upon this continent, and will destroy each other to the last man, through the anger that the Devil will place in their hearts, because they have rejected the words of life and are given over to Satan to do whatever he listeth to do with them. You may think that the little you hear of now is grievous; yet the faithful of God's people will see days that will cause them to close their eyes because of the sorrow that will come upon the wicked nations. The hearts of the faithful will be filled with pain and anguish for them.” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 8: 123 - 124)
Isaiah 13:7-8 every man’s heart shall melt; And they shall be afraid
The destructions of the last days will be so severe that they will strike fear into the hearts of the wicked. From the Book of Revelation, ‘the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men…said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’ (Rev 6:16). ‘I have sworn in my wrath, and decreed wars upon the face of the earth, and the wicked shall slay the wicked, and fear shall come upon every man; And the saints also shall hardly escape; nevertheless, I, the Lord, am with them, and will come down in heaven from the presence of my Father and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire’ (DC 63:33-4).
In spite of the phrase suggesting that the saints shall narrowly escape these destructions, the Lord has been more reassuring in other scriptures. He has said that the righteous need not fear, ‘if ye are prepared ye shall not fear’ (DC 38:30) and ‘great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve’ (Moses 7:61). The saints are given a fire insurance policy if they are living the law of sacrifice, ‘verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming’ (see DC 64:23, but note that at the time DC 64 was given, the term “tithing” referred to all church offerings not just the tenth of one’s income). By way of conclusion, if one is prepared—having repented, come unto the Lord, and kept the law of sacrifice, there is no reason to fear. Those righteous individuals will escape the burning planned for the wicked. Hence the advice, ‘stand ye in holy places and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord, Amen’ (DC 87:8).
Isaiah 13:9 the day of the Lord cometh… and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it
The Old Testament speaks of the day of the Lord, when the sun will be darkened, when the moon and the stars will refuse to shine, Isa. 13:6-10; Joel 2:10-11; Joel 3:14-21 when the Lord will punish the wicked for their wickedness, Prov. 21:12; Isa. 13:11 when sinners will be swept from the face of the earth, Ps. 104:35 and when there will be none but the righteous left. It is believed that a day will come, when the wicked among the inhabitants of this globe will be burned as stubble, and when there will be neither root nor branch left of the proud and of them that do wickedly. Mal. 4:1 So that believers in both the Old and New Testaments, or in either of them, are expecting that such a great and terrible event will come. But very few, however, of the inhabitants of our globe have taken into consideration the great preparatory work for this grand change; they have not searched the Scriptures in regard to how this work is to be accomplished, and who the persons will be who will be ready and prepared to abide that day; how that great change will come, and what the signs of it will be they know not, and yet the Bible is very plain and full in relation to these matters. (Journal of Discourses, 7:307-308)
Isaiah 13:10 the sun shall be darkened in his going forth
This passage is a variation of the commonly given sign of the Second Coming—the stars fall from the heavens, the moon turns to blood, and the sun refuses to give light. If anyone ever asks you, “What will be the sign of the Second Coming?” This is the answer. Many have mistakenly spoken of meteor showers and an occasional orange-red moon as fulfillment of this prophecy. This sign in the heavens will be much more dramatic than that! Imagine how powerful the signs of Christ’s death were, when the sun was darkened for three hours in Jerusalem and for three days in the Americas. Such a dramatic sign should be expected again, ‘there shall appear a great sign in heaven, and all people shall see it together’ (DC 88:93). This concept is contained in the scriptures in more than 10 places. All of the most important passages describing the signs of the coming of the Son of God contain this concept (see DC 29:14; 45:42; 88:87; 133:49; Matt 24:29, JS-M 1:33; Rev 6:12).
Isaiah 13:12 I will make a man more precious than fine gold
If men actually become precious in the eyes of women, this will be one of the Lord’s greatest miracles (please excuse the sarcasm!). The concept being portrayed by Isaiah is that so many men will die in the wars attending the Second Coming that there will be a great mismatch between the numbers of living men and women. Men will only be “precious” in the sense that there will be relatively few of them left. Hence the unpopular but accurate passage, ‘seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach’ (Isa 4:1).
“The golden wedge of Ophir” seems to reference the purity of the gold obtained from the port city of Ophir. This was the source of much of the gold placed in Solomon’s temple (1 Chron. 29:3-4); “the gold of Ophir” was a phrase germane to Isaiah’s audience indicating high quality.
Isaiah 13:13 I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place
If the earth were literally moved from its current location and orbit, that would certainly cause the prophesied events of the heavens shaking, the earth reeling to and fro as a drunken man, the stars falling from the heavens, and the sun being darkened. This is all part of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth prophesied by John, ‘And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away’ (Rev 21:1).
This verse suggests we should not get too sentimental about the appearance of Venus and Mars in our telescopes. Someday, the view might change.
When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven…When man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system…This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father. (Journal of Discourses, 17:143)
Isaiah 13:14 they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land
Chaos will prevail on the earth prior to the Second Coming. Governments will collapse, people will begin to live in large familial clans as they did in the Book of Mormon, “they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends… and every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.” (3 Ne. 7:2-3) Among the wicked, those not associated with their clan will have no protection in the lawlessness that prevails. Hence, “every one that is found shall be thrust through.” The righteous who stand in holy places have nothing to fear, but the wicked must run for cover and seek for protection.
Atrocities against women and unborn children are among the most hideous in the sight of the Lord. Things will get so bad that the women will suffer that fate which is so common after a marauding army takes a city. Zechariah says this will happen to Jerusalem just before the Messiah comes to save Israel, ‘I will gather all nations against Jersualem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city’ (Zech 14:2).
Isaiah 13:17 I will stir up the Medes against them
We finally return to the history of Babylon. In order to understand this reference to “the Medes”, we need to review some of the history. In Isaiah’s day, the Babylonians were ruled by the powerful Assyrian empire. This continued until about 607 BC when Nebuchadnezzar and his father regained control of Babylon. The kingdom of Babylon continued the splendor and greatness of the preceding empire for several decades. Josephus records, “[Nebuchadnezzar] built walls about the inner city…and adorned its gates gloriously, he built another palace…to describe the vast height and immense riches of which, it would perhaps be too much for me to attempt. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, Chap. XI, v. 1)
“Babylon was one of the great cities of the ancient world, perhaps the greatest. Its walls were, for height and width, one of the wonders of the world. The temple of Bel, the terraced ("hanging") gardens, the immense copper gates, and the artificial lake were, up to that time, the greatest achievements of human skill and ingenuity. The fields and farms and flocks yielded almost incredible returns, and the wealth, luxury and power of the ruling classes were correspondingly great. If any city, or country, could be regarded as invincible, Babylonia and Babylon might be so considered. But centuries before their fall Isaiah predicted, with supernatural knowledge of the details, the destruction of the city and the overthrow of the government.” (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 364)
The glory of Babylon would not last. Its decline began with the pride of Belshazzar. He was a king of Babylon in about 539 BC when the Jews were still captive in Babylon. One evening, Belshazzar had taken the holy vessels, which had previously been pillaged from the temple of Solomon, and used them for one of his feasts. The anger of the Lord was manifest when he saw a hand writing a message of doom on the wall of his palace. Daniel interpreted the message. Part of the message was interpreted as follows, ‘Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians…In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old’ (Dan 5:28-31).
“Babylon…became so wicked that her power over surrounding nations lasted only until 539 B.C. That was the year the Medes and Persians came sweeping down from the mountains and high plateaus to the east and conquered Babylon in a single night. They were led by Cyrus, whom Isaiah identified by name around 175 years before Cyrus was born (see isa. 44:28; 45:1). After Babylon was overthrown, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C.” (W. Cleon Skousen, Isaiah Speaks To Modern Times, 260)
Isaiah 13:19 Babylon…shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
Just as Lot and his family were required to flee from Sodom and Gomorrah or else they would be destroyed. The righteous, today, must flee Babylon, or the wickedness of the world, to avoid destruction. On their way out of Babylon, they must not look back as Lot’s wife was famous for doing. John the Revelator saw the destruction of spiritual Babylon, ‘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 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’ (Rev 18:24).
Isaiah 13:20 It shall never be inhabited
This promise has been fulfilled. After Babylon was taken by the Parthians in about 144 BC, the city had become completely powerless. “By the time of Christ, only a few astronomers and mathematicians continued to live in the ancient, sparsely populated city. After they left, Babylon remained a deserted tell (mound), which sand and brush gradually covered until it became a hill used only by wild animals, and as grazing land for nomadic flocks” (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, by Victor L. Ludlow, p. 185). Even today, the ancient city of Babylon is barren, completely uninhabited, and only of interest for its archeological value. The site of the city is in modern day Iraq, not far from Baghdad. Interestingly, Sadam Hussein was planning a resurgence for the city of Babylon as a tourist destination. His plans were ruined by the US military and coalition forces in 2001-2003. He was apparently unaware of Isaiah’s prophecy that the city would remain desolate and uninhabited.
The prophet, Jeremiah, also prophesied that Babylon would eventually be completely desolate, never to be inhabited again. This is what the Lord had done to Sodom and Gomorrah:
‘Because of the wrath of the Lord it shall not be inhabited, but it shall be wholly desolate: every one that goeth by Babylon shall be astonished, and hiss at all her plagues.
Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.
As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the Lord; so shall no man abide there, neither shall any son of man dwell therein.’ (Jer 50:13,39-40)
“[Babylon] was the greatest city in all the world….Yet Isaiah announced that that city would be destroyed; he said that it would never be rebuilt, that it would never be inhabited from generation to generation, that it would become the abode of reptiles and wild animals and that the Arabs would no more pitch their tents there. That was a declaration that the greatest city in the world would not only be destroyed, but it would also never be rebuilt.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1954, p. 54)
When Brother [Howard W.] Hunter and Brother [Spencer W.] Kimball came back from the Holy Land after Christmas 1961, I asked Brother Hunter if he saw Babylon. He said he saw what there was left of it. Just think of anyone but a prophet of God being able to say that one of the great cities of the world today would be destroyed and never be rebuilt. (Conference Report, Oct. 1966, p. 42)