Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 8

By Harold Shank

Isaiah 13-23

The God of Nations and Victims


  1. The student can tell the world-wide influence and power of God.
  2. The student can explain that God hears the voices of those who are victims.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. Provide a map on which to locate the 12 nations.


The oracles against the nations describe a God who is more powerful than the most powerful nations of the ancient world and yet who hears the voices of their victims.

Setting the stage

  1. Review.
    1. At its core the book of Isaiah is about God.
      1. Relationship: He is a God who seeks righteous relationship with his people and among his people and one who will go to any length to accomplish his mission.
      2. Oppression: He is a God who knows about the oppression in Jerusalem and exposes it to public scrutiny. Isa 13-23 reveals that he knows about world oppression.
      3. Judgment: He is a God who disciplines his people in order to set things right. God uses other nations to discipline, and when they exceed his instructions, he disciplines them. God's power over those powerful nations becomes a central topic in Isa 13-23.
      4. Hope: Even in the midst of destruction, God leaves survivors (Isa 1:9; 6:13). The hopeful passages of Isa 1-12 (see 2:1-4; 4:2-6; 9:6-9; 11:1-9) are echoed in the oracles against the nations which were words of hope to those suffering under their oppressive power.
    2. God's indictment against Jerusalem, North Israel, and Assyria in Isa 1-12 raises the question of whether this God is powerful enough to accomplish his plans.
      1. Close up: Isa 1-12 is intimate look at a minor situation in the ancient world.
      2. Wide angle: Isa 13-23 is an aerial view showing that God's power goes well beyond the fickle faith of a minor ruler like Ahab to control over the haughty rulers whether they are in Babylon (Isa 13-14) or Tyre (Isa 23).
  2. Preview.
    1. Isaiah 13-27, the focus of this lesson and the next one, moves in some new directions.
    2. Lesson 8: Isa 13-23 takes up 12 nations in the ancient world.
      1. Geographically the view expands from Israel to all the known world.
      2. Temporally the focus moves from the late 8th century to distant events.
    3. Lesson 9: Isa 24-27 takes up cosmic issues.
      1. Geographically the view moves from the world to the universe.
      2. Temporally the focus moves from antiquity to the end of time.

Learning Experiences

  1. Map work.
    1. Isa 13-23 points to all the known world.
    2. Isa 12 anticipates this section by twice (3, 5) pointing to all the nations.
    3. Note the contrast between the opening of Isaiah and the current material:
      1. Isa 1-12 centered on events of an area about the size of New Jersey (ancient Palestine).
      2. Isa 13-23 takes the reader on a tour of the known nations of the ancient world, from the Medes and Babylonians in the extreme east to the Ethiopians far to the south of Egypt.
    4. Using the table at the end of the lesson and a map of the ancient world, identify the 12 nations of Isa 13-23.
      1. 1-Babylon
      2. 2-Assyria
      3. 3-Philistia
      4. 4-Moab
      5. 5-Damascus (Aram)
      6. 6-Ephraim (Israel)
      7. 7-Ethiopia
      8. 8-Egypt
      9. 1-Babylon
      10. 9-Edom
      11. 10-Arabia (Dumah)
      12. 11-Judah
      13. 12-Tyre
    5. The learning experiences should focus on four macro issues.
      1. Striking images of God.
      2. The nature of God's power over the powerful.
      3. The voices of the victims.
      4. Archaeological discoveries related to Isaiah.
  2. Striking images of God. Look over the list of these images of God. Share several with the class. What is Isaiah intending to say about God with these images? Which of these images take on additional life in the NT (For example, God as pruner returns in John 15)? Are there other images of God in this section?
    1. God as general-13:2-5.
    2. God as hunter-13:14.
    3. God as cook-13:17.
    4. God as fighter-14:5-6, 25.
    5. God as cleaning lady-14:23.
    6. God crying-16:9.
    7. God the pruner-18:5.
    8. God riding on a cloud-19:1.
    9. God as heat-19:2.
    10. God as soldier-22:5.
  3. God as more powerful than the most powerful.
    1. Isaiah included this long section of oracles against the nations for two basic reasons:
      1. Isaiah preached these oracles because these nations stood in way of messianic kingdom.
        1. In order to usher in the wonderful world of 2:1-4; 4:2-4; 9:6f; 11:6-9; 65:25f God had to remove those forces which stood in opposition to his new world.
        2. To build something new, the old has to be destroyed.
      2. Isaiah preached these oracles because these nations claimed sovereignty that rightly belonged to God.
        1. It was generally thought that the best gods/idols of the ancient world were those who belonged to the nations that won the most wars.
        2. Since God claimed to be sovereign God he would do what a sovereign God claimed.
        3. In the book of Isaiah God claims victory in 2 ways.
          1. He announces events before they occur.
          2. He brings down the nations.
    2. Isaiah 13-23 explores the nature of God's power. Consider these passages and what they say about God's immense authority.
      1. God's plans will prevail-14:24.
        1. God is not restrained by normal human restrictions-19:1-4.
        2. God used violence to oppose human arrogance and violence-14:4-6; 13-15.
        3. God upsets normal world power structures-14:22-23.
      2. God controls the nations.
        1. God has power over Babylon and sends the Medes and Persians to defeat Babylon-13:3, 5, 9-10, 17, 19.
        2. Nations will recognize the authority, sovereignty and existence of God-17:7.
      3. God controls the physical universe
        1. God controls the planets-13:10.
        2. God exerts power over nature-19:5-10.
        3. God controls the weather-19:5-10.
        4. God controls the sea and those who master the sea—23:9-18.
      4. God knows the world.
        1. God is wiser than the wisest of the world's wisest nation—19:12-14
        2. God knows about international events-16:1f; 18:1ff; 20:1f; 23:1f
      5. God changes the world.
        1. God brings about change in places where change is unwelcomed and unexpected.
        2. See how superpowers Egypt, Assyria and Babylon are changed.
  4. God hears the voice of the victims.
    1. Many people lived under oppressive rulers in the ancient world. This section of Isaiah gives voice to their pain. Consider the following texts and the pain expressed by these ancient voices.
    2. The Victims Speak Out Against Their Oppressors.
      1. God hears the voices of those who have been oppressed unjustly rejoicing at those who oppressed them.
      2. Isaiah 14:4-23 is a taunt song that the victims in Jerusalem sing against their wicked oppressors.
        1. 3-7-mock grief for the fall of Babylon.
        2. 8-cedars of Lebanon join the joy.
        3. 9-20-Sheol prepares to welcome Babylonian royalty, those from high places go to lowest place.
        4. 22-23-Babylonian palace overrun by hedgehogs.
      3. The Victims Cry Out About Their Oppression.
        1. Isaiah 15:1-9 is a song of grief sung by victims in Moab.
        2. Descriptions of their oppression.
          1. 1-laid waste in a night.
          2. 1-undone.
          3. 5-fugitives.
          4. 6-waters cut off.
          5. 6-7-agriculture/economy ruined.
          6. 9-evidence of violence.
        3. Descriptions of their pain.
          1. 2-weep, wails, baldness, shorn.
          2. 3-sackcloth, wails, tears.
          3. 4-cry out, cry loudly, cry aloud.
          4. 5-hearts cry out, flee, weeping, cry.
          5. 8-cry, wailing.
        4. The Victims Seek Help During Their Oppression.
          1. In Isaiah 16:1-5, Moab sends ambassadors to Judah seeking help and are repulsed.
          2. 1-4a-approach of ambassadors and request for help with refugees.
          3. 4b-5-Wait, we can't help now.
        5. The Prideful/Oppressors Become Yahweh's Victims.
          1. Isaiah includes the voice of those who are suffering who deserved punishment. There are two examples:
          2. Moab-16:6-14.
            1. Yahweh's view of Moab:
              1. 6-pride, proud, arrogance, insolence, boasts.
            2. Results of Moab's pride.
              1. 7-wail, mourn, stricken.
              2. 8-languish, struck down, strayed.
              3. 9-weep, drenched with tears.
              4. 10-no Joy/songs/shouts/harvest.
              5. 11-soul moans.
              6. 12-wearied in worship.
              7. 14-contempt, few and feeble survive.
          3. Damascus and Samaria-17:1-14.
            1. 1-3-crushed.
            2. 4-6-few survivors.
            3. 7-futility of idols.
            4. 9-14-horrors of invasion.


  1. How do most people picture God today? What images come to mind? How is God pictured in the movies? How do our images of God differ from Isaiah's?
  2. Oracles against the nation must have been a significant point of theology in ancient Israel since the OT contains so many of them. What are contemporary responses to these sections of Scripture? What theology of God and the nations do they contain? Do contemporary Christians share that theology? Does God rule the world now?
  3. Identify contemporary voices of people who are suffering. Name some movies or novels that seek to give voice to suffering (The Color Purple, Hotel Rwanda, Schindler’s List). There were several categories of the voices of victims in Isa 13-23. Are there parallels to these voices today? How does Proverbs 31:8 (see NIV) apply today?

For Additional Study

(for classes that spend more than one week on Isa 13-23)

    1. Biblical context
      1. Many of the prophets have oracles against the nations.
      2. Compare Isa 13-23 with Amos 1-2; Jer 47-51; and Ezek 25-32.
        1. Historical background.
          1. The historical issues of Isa 13-23 are often complex and ambiguous.
          2. John Watts (Isaiah 1-33. WBC. Dallas: Word, 1985) in his commentary identifies an historical background for each oracle, but his opinions are not always shared by other scholars.
          3. The material is often repetitious and difficult to understand.
        2. Addressees.
          1. Isaiah preached this material in Jerusalem not in other world capitals. For example, the oracles against Babylon (Isa 13-14, 21) were not preached in Babylon, but in Judah. Those who read the material today must realize that the first audience stood on the streets of Jerusalem.
          2. How does that make a difference in interpreting the oracles? How would Judeans who were occasionally oppressed by these peoples have responded to these messages?
        3. Egyptian oracle
          1. God maintains control over the Egyptians and upsets the world power equation and works outside normal epistemological settings-19:16-22
          2. Watts (p. 258) argues that Isaiah predicts the salvation of Egypt, but it did not occur. because Hezekiah in 716-14 BC made decisions which invalidated God's plan. Isaiah reflects that turn of events in Isa 20-22. God's vision is set aside due to lack of faith.
          3. Watts writes (p. 261): "This [Isa 19:16-22] is the one of the most universal statements of Yahweh's intentions to be found in Scripture."
          4. God's salvation is open to all people.
          5. Former enemies are invited to become part of the elect.
          6. Israel is not given exclusive claim.
          7. All this recalls Gen 12:1-3; Ex 19:6 and anticipates Isa 42:6 and 49:6.
        4. Archaeological discoveries reflecting Isaiah 13-23.
          1. Isa 15-16
            1. The Moabites were near neighbors and distant relatives of the Israelites.
            2. The Moabite Stone found in 1868 dates to 830 BC, about a century before Isaiah. It contains an inscription about events in Moab.
            3. For an English translation of the stone see http://www.biblehistory. com/resource/ff_mesha.htm .
          2. Isa 20
            1. Sargon is not mentioned by name in any literature outside of the Bible and in the 19th century was considered a myth by some scholars. In 1843 the French archaeologist Paul Emil-Botta uncovered the ruins of Sargon’s palace in Khorsabad revealing him as one of the most powerful monarchs of all time.
            2. Sargon becomes king of Assyria during the fall of Samaria (2 Kings 16). Many believe that the Babylonians rebelled against the new Assyrian king, prompting a coalition to form between Ethiopia, Egypt, Judah and Philistia.
              1. Isaiah protested Judah's involvement in the coalition and preached as naked as a prisoner of war to illustrate what would happen to Judah.
              2. Apparently Judah pulled out of the coalition before Sargon put it down at Ashdod in 712.
              3. Isa 22:15 refers to a "Shebna, who is over the household."
                1. A royal steward’s tomb discovered in Silwan (a village across the Kidron Valley from the city of David in the southeast part of ancient Jerusalem) is widely believed to be his tomb.
                2. An inscription found over the tomb (now removed) has a name but only the last two letters of the name remain legible.
                3. Many scholars believe, however, that this stone lintel is from the tomb of that Shebna for the following reasons:
                  1. The style of script dates from the time of Hezekiah.
                  2. The inscription mentions one who is "over the house" of the king, which conforms to the title of Hezekiah's Shebna (cf. Isa. 22:15).
                  3. A complete form of the name in Nehemiah 9:4 is "Shebaniah." If Shebna is the same as Shebaniah, then the last syllable of his name matches the inscription from the tomb.


Additional Resources

      1. Use these maps to identify the 12 nations mentions in the oracles.
        1. com/mapbabyloniancaptivity/mapcaptivityofjudahbabylonshg.jpg&i mgrefurl=http://www.biblehistory. com/mapbabyloniancaptivity/&usg=HC9NfRhL0nNfAWzEsV9x0iOJ2s =&h=440&w=715&sz=70&hl=en&start=1&sig2=AfBKfUCkFEmcQXmJKl6SA& um=1&tbnid=Yo2R50fcndMoZM:&tbnh=86&tbnw=140&prev=/images%3Fq %3Dmap%2Bof%2Bjudah%2Band%2Bbabylon%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26um%3D 1&ei=uv1iS6m9G5mcMsD6gdwG
      2. These resources reflect archaeological information pertaining to this section.
        1. Picture of the ruins of Babylon to illustrate 13:19-22; 14:22-23.
        2. Picture of the Moabite Stone illustrating Isa 15-16. of-mesha.jpg
        3. Picture of Sargon's image from ancient Assyria to illustrate Isa 20.
        4. The words to Days of Elijah by Donnie Mcclurkin may be inspired by Isa 19:1.

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