Isaiah 47


Isaiah 47:1-6 O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground... for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate
Just as Isaiah used the phrase, "daughter of Jerusalem," and "daughter of Zion" to refer to the inhabitants of those cities (Isa. 37:22), Isaiah likens the inhabitants of Babylon to a young virgin. Is she virtuous and pure? Has she prepared herself for the bridegroom? Have the inhabitants been righteous?
The Lord will choose Babylon to punish the kingdom of Judah. While we may think the Lord must be desperate if he must use Gentile nations to do his bidding, "it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished" (Mormon 4:5). We might wonder how it is that the Lord called Nebuchadnezzar to capture Jerusalem then was upset with the Babylonians for their cruel treatment (v. 6). Well, obviously the Babylonians took license the Lord did not allow. They were as incapable of obedience as were the Israelites.
What problem is posed by the Babylonian cruelty? They had no mercy for the Jews. Like Pharaoh in Egypt, they would never let them go. The problem is that the prophets had promised that in 70 years, the Jews would return and rebuild the temple. For this to come true, the Lord had to call another to conquer Babylon-one who was not so prejudice against the Jews and their religion. This would be the mission of Cyrus of Persia
"If... there ever was a city that could defy predictions of destruction, it was Babylon. For a long time it was the most famous city of the world. With its temples and palaces, its walls and hanging gardens, its dams for the control of the flood waters, its gigantic gates of copper, its artificial lake, it was the wonder of the world. The soil of the surrounding country was so rich that agriculture, according to Herodotus and others, yielded 200-fold, sometimes 300-fold. It was the center of a venerable civilization, of military power, of commerce, of arts and literature and of worldly glory. But while the city was yet on the summit of power, prophets of the Lord predicted its downfall." (George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, edited and arranged by Philip C. Reynolds, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955-1961], 1: 293.)
Isaiah 47:2-3 Thy nakedness shall be uncovered
In most cultures (except ours), public immodesty or nudity was strictly forbidden. Nothing could be more embarrassing than to be exposed in public. Even a woman of ill repute would wear fine linens, jewelry, etc., rather than a show of skin to reveal her profession. The greatest possible disgrace for a virtuous woman would be to have her nakedness exposed.
This is a fairly common theme of Isaiah but it is one few feel comfortable discussing (Isa. 3:17). The point is that the Babylonians are likened to a once virtuous woman who is completely brought to shame. Her nakedness must be uncovered just as her sins must be revealed. The point is that the Lord will make sure that her "shame shall be seen."
Isaiah 47:10-14 desolation shall come upon thee suddenly... they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them
The destruction of Babylon (first by Cyrus of Persia and later by other conquerors) is likened again to the destruction of the wicked at the end of the world. One of Isaiah's great themes is the destruction of the wicked at that day. They will trust in their own wickedness. "Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire... for in one hour is thy judgment come" (Rev. 18:8-10). All the themes of Babylonian wickedness, soothsaying, and destruction found in Isaiah 47 are repeated in John's vision of the destruction of Babylon prior to the Second Coming (see Revelation 18).
Isaiah 47:13 Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators... save thee
"This prophecy of the destruction of Babylon drips with irony. Babylon was a center of worldly wealth, pride, prestige, arrogance, and corruption. That she should become a humble slave, forced to do menial tasks for her master (47:2), destitute with no hope of husband or progeny (47:7-9) must have sounded unbelievable to Isaiah's contemporaries-yet ancient Babylon was reduced to rubble many centuries ago and its proud and wealthy inhabitants conquered. Dispersed and forgotten.
"Babylon was also a center of science and sorcery. The people prided themselves on their ability to foresee the future and ward off evil. Through their astrologers, prognosticators, and heptascopers (those who try to see into the future by examining the entrails of slaughtered animals), they felt confident they would not be caught unawares. Yet Babylon fell quickly and unexpectedly on October 11, 538 B.C., when Cyrus, king of the Persians, diverted the Euphrates River that coursed under the city walls and sent his soldiers into the heart of the city along the empty riverbed, surprising the Babylonians as they reveled at a festival." (Terry Ball and Nathan Winn, Making Sense of Isaiah, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 132-133)