Isaiah 13:1-22

13:1. Masoretic Text: A pronouncement [massá’] [against] Babylon, which Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw.

Septuagint: A vision that Isaiah, son of Amos, saw against Babylon.


The Hebrew word massá’ is commonly understood to mean a “pronouncement,” “oracle,” “utterance,” or “burden.” The Vulgate renders the term as onus, meaning “load” or “burden.” In the Septuagint, what Isaiah “saw” is identified as a vision.

Either in a dream or while in a trance, Isaiah received a revelation about the divine judgment against Babylon, which at the time was not the major power in the region. During the period of his prophetic activity, however, a delegation from Babylon did arrive in Jerusalem to see King Hezekiah. (39:1-3)

13:2. Masoretic Text: On a bare mountain, lift up a signal. Raise a shout to them. Wave a hand, and they enter the gates of nobles.

Septuagint: On a level mountain, lift up a signal. Raise the voice to them. Do not fear. Summon with the hand. Open, [you] rulers.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), the phrase about entering the gates is third person singular (“for him to enter”). Another Dead Sea Scroll, however, has the third person plural (“for them to enter”).


These words depict the assembling of military forces to engage in an attack on Babylon. For warriors to be able to come to a fixed location, it needed to be prominently identified. A raised signal, probably meaning a banner on a pole, could readily be seen on an elevated site where nothing obstructed the view. The shout directed to the warriors would be urging them to come, as would the waving or gesturing with the hand. Entering the “gates of nobles” would refer to marching into the gates of Babylon, the residence of the royalty. According to the Septuagint rendering, the rulers of Babylon appear to be directed to open the gates of the city. The reading of Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts could be understood to mean that the waving of the hand is a signal for entering the gates.

13:3. Masoretic Text: I myself have commanded my sanctified ones; also I have called my mighty men to [express] my anger, [yes], my proudly exulting ones.

Septuagint: I command and I lead them. Sanctified ones they are, and I lead them. Giants are coming to fulfill my wrath. At the same time, they are rejoicing and acting arrogantly.


YHWH is represented as giving the command for the “sanctified ones” to function as his instruments for expressing his anger against Babylon. As warriors who had been set apart for this purpose, they are called his “sanctified ones.” They are also identified as “mighty men” or “heroes,” and the Septuagint refers to them as “giants,” imposing men having great strength. In their own role as fighting men, they would take pride in or boast about their might as warriors and would exult in their successes in battle.

13:4. Masoretic Text: A sound of tumult on the mountains, as of a great [crowd]; a sound of an uproar of kingdoms of nations assembling; YHWH of hosts mustering an army for battle.

Septuagint: A sound of many nations on the mountains, like [that of] many nations; a sound of kings and of nations assembled. The Lord Sabaoth has commanded a nation [that is] prepared for battle

“Sabaoth” is the transliterated form of the Hebrew word meaning “armies” or hosts.”


Apparently the large force assembling around the raised signal on the mountain is responsible for the sound reverberating from the heights. It is an impressive sound, like that coming from a large crowd and from assembled kingdoms in a state of uproar. YHWH of hosts, the God with armies of angels at his command, is represented as having appointed the multitude of warriors for battle against Babylon.

13:5. Masoretic Text: They come from a distant [part of the] earth, from the end of the heavens, YHWH and the vessels of his indignation, to ruin the whole earth.

Septuagint: to come from a distant [part of the] earth, from the extremity of the foundation of the heaven, the Lord and his armed ones, to destroy the whole world.


The Hebrew and Greek words for “earth” here designate the distant land from which the warriors would be coming to attack Babylon. The expression “from the end of the heavens” signifies “from the far distant horizon.” Possibly the Septuagint reference to the “extremity of the foundation of the heaven” signifies the most distant point on the horizon, which appears as if it were the foundation for the celestial dome.

YHWH is portrayed as coming from the distant location. With him are the “vessels of his indignation” or the fighting men he purposed to use to bring about the downfall of Babylon.

According to the Septuagint rendering, they are the “armed ones” or men prepared for battle. The “earth” or “world” (LXX) is the area of land that would then be under the control of Babylon. The invaders would devastate that land.

13:6. Masoretic Text: Howl, for the day of YHWH [is] near; like ruin from the Almighty it will come.

Septuagint: Howl, for the day of the Lord [is] near, and ruin from God will come.

In the Hebrew text, there is a wordplay (shod [ruin] and Shaddai [Almighty]).


On account of what was about to befall them, the Babylonians would howl in distress and terror. The “day of YHWH,” or the time for him to express his judgment against Babylon, was not a long way off, as if it would never occur. It was certain to come and so it was “near.” That day or time of judgment would bring ruin or devastation to Babylon, and this development is attributed to God, the Almighty.

13:7. Masoretic Text: Therefore, all hands will drop, and every heart of man will melt.

Septuagint: Therefore, every hand will become slack, and every soul of man will be afraid.


Faced with the armies YHWH had assembled against them, the Babylonians would be rendered helpless. The “hands” (which designation includes the arms) would drop to the sides of the defending warriors. Their slack arms and hands would be too weak to offer any significant resistance. The “heart” of each one would melt, indicating that they would lose all courage. According to the Septuagint, “every soul of man,” or every one of the men, would succumb to fear.

13:8. Masoretic Text: And they will be horrified. Pangs and pains will seize them. Like a woman in labor, they will writhe [in pain]. A man at his companion [will look] — they will be dumbfounded; faces of flames, their faces.

Septuagint: And the elders will be disturbed, and they will have pains like a woman giving birth. And they will wail one to the other and be beside themselves, and they will change their face like a flame.

After the word translated “dumbfounded,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) has the conjunction “and.” Another Dead Sea Scroll, like the Masoretic Text, does not include the conjunction.


On account of the attacking military force, the Babylonians would be horrified, seized with intense fright. The Septuagint reading “elders” could refer to the leaders of the nation or to the ambassadors who would be unable to sue for peace. In their anguish, the experience of the Babylonians, particularly that of the defenders who could not repel the attacking warriors, would be like that of a woman in labor. As the men looked at one another, they would see their formerly proud faces aflame, possibly meaning faces turned reddish on account of shame and embarrassment.

The Hebrew text has been variously rendered. “They will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame.” (NASB) “They will look at each other in fear, with their faces red like fire.” (NCV) “They will look at each other, their faces flushed with fear.” (HCSB) “They look helplessly at one another as the flames of the burning city reflect on their faces.” (NLT) “They will stare at each other with horror on their faces.” (CEV) “They will look aghast at each other, their faces livid with fear.” (REB)

13:9. Masoretic Text: Look! The day of YHWH is coming, cruel and [with] rage and burning anger, to make the earth into a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.

Septuagint: For look! The inevitable [literally, “incurable”] day of the Lord is coming, [a day] of wrath and anger, to make the whole world a desolation and to destroy the sinners from it.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah does not have the definite article before the word rendered “earth.”


In the context, the “earth” is the land under the control of Babylon, and the “day of YHWH” is the time for him to execute his judgment on the Babylonians. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, there would be no way for them to escape the serious consequences of that “day.” For the Babylonians, the “day” would be “cruel,” for it would result in misery for them, desolation of their land, and death for many during the course of the military campaign. By means of the instrument of his choosing (warriors from Media, which included the Persians), YHWH would express his intense anger against the Babylonians because of the wrongs they had committed. They were “sinners,” for they acted contrary to the dictates of conscience during their ruthless campaigns of conquest and in their treatment of the people of defeated nations.

13:10. Masoretic Text: For the stars of the heavens and their constellations [kesíl] will not flash forth their light. The sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

Septuagint: For the stars of heaven and the constellation [literally, “Orion”] and all the adornment of heaven will not give light. And it will be dark [at the] rising of the sun, and the moon will not give its light.

Instead of the word here translated “flash forth,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah has a different Hebrew word that means “shine.”


The Hebrew word kesíl means “stupid” or “insolent.” It is understood to refer to the constellation known as “Orion” (the insolent hunter), and “Orion” is the rendering found in the Septuagint. The plural of kesíl, which is found in this verse, is commonly understood to mean “Orion and its constellations.”

In the poetic portrayal of Isaiah, the land and the celestial dome appear to be represented as a unit. The gloom that the destructive time of judgment would bring for the Babylonians is depicted as a darkening of the moon and the stars at night and the darkening of the sun from the time of its rising. Absolutely nothing would dispel the gloom. The situation would prove to be hopeless, with darkness prevailing throughout the day and the night.

13:11. Masoretic Text: And I will attend to the mainland for its evil and the wicked for their guilt. And the arrogance of the insolent I will cause to cease, and the haughtiness of the terrifying [ones] I will abase.

Septuagint: And I will command evils for the whole world, and for the impious their sins. And I will destroy the arrogance of the lawless and abase the arrogance of the haughty.


The “mainland” is the world that was under the control of the Babylonians. YHWH purposed to attend to, or visit his adverse judgment on, that world because of the evil it had done, particularly against his people when warring against them and thereafter taking them into exile.

The wicked, the Babylonians who had made themselves guilty of ruthless treatment, would have the results of their iniquity visited upon them. YHWH would bring to an end the arrogance of the Babylonians, which they had manifested when dealing abusively with conquered peoples and haughtily boasting about their victories. Their military campaigns filled peoples in the line of attack with fear. So the Babylonians were indeed “terrifying” warriors.

13:12. Masoretic Text: I will make a mortal [enósh] rarer [literally, “precious”] than refined gold and an earthling [’adhám] than gold of Ophir.

Septuagint: And the remaining ones will be more precious than natural gold, and the man will be more precious than the stone from Souphir.

The Targum of Isaiah contains a literal interpretation of the word meaning “precious.” It represents YHWH as the one who considers those who fear him as being more precious than the gold with which the “sons of men adorn themselves,” and those who observe his law as being more precious than the gold of Ophir.


The Hebrew words for “mortal” (enósh) and “earthling” (’adhám) are singular in a collective sense and appear in parallel expressions. In this context, enósh perhaps denotes a man of prominence, whereas ’adhám designates a common man, a mere earthling. It may be, however, that the two Hebrew words just mean “man.”

The reference in this verse appears to relate to the result of YHWH’s judgment against the Babylonians. The military might of the Medes and others whom he purposed to use would greatly reduce the number of the Babylonian defenders. The “remaining ones” (according to the rendering of the Septuagint) would be few, making them “precious” to the point of becoming more precious or rarer than gold. The reference to a “stone from Souphir” apparently is to a precious gem. A “man,” that is, a survivor of the military campaign against Babylon, would prove to be more precious or rarer than such a “stone.” The Hebrew text makes the same point when drawing the comparison with the “gold of Ophir.” Just where Ophir was located is not known today. One possibility is a region in southwestern Arabia that was anciently known as the source of significant amounts of high-quality gold.

13:13. Masoretic Text: Therefore, I will agitate the heavens, and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of YHWH of hosts and in the day of his burning anger.

Septuagint: For the heaven will be agitated and the earth will be shaken from its foundations because of the wrath of the anger of the Lord Sabaoth in the day whenever his wrath should come.

“Sabaoth” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meanings “hosts” or “armies.”


The world of the Babylonians appears to be here represented as the land area they controlled and the celestial dome above that land. Whereas the Babylonians would have regarded the sky above them as the abode of their deities, the upheaval that YHWH would cause may not necessarily refer to showing up their gods and goddesses as unable to provide any aid. The agitation or the raging in the heavens may simply refer to the gloom that would descend upon the Babylonians as a consequence of their defeat. It would appear to them that the sky had been transformed into a state of violent upheaval, eclipsing all light or any ray of hope for relief from the distressing situation.

The earth of the Babylonians would cease to be a secure place for them. On account of defeat, their earth or land would shake right out from under them as by a powerful earthquake. The complete breakdown of the world of the Babylonians would take place on account of YHWH’s fierce anger directed against them, primarily for what they had done against his people. This would be in his “day” or the time for expressing his anger or executing his judgment.

13:14. Masoretic Text: And it will occur [that] like a gazelle being chased and like a sheep and none doing gathering, [every] man to his people will turn and [every] man to his land will flee.

Septuagint: And the remaining ones will be like a fleeing gazelle and like a straying sheep, and [there] will be no one to gather so that a man to his people [again] will turn and a man to his country will hurry.


The plight of those in Babylon would be like that of a gazelle trying to escape from a pursuing predator and like a sheep that had strayed but for which no one searched so as to bring it back to its secure place in the flock. Individuals from other nations would not aid in the defense of Babylon. They would quickly make their way back to their own people, fleeing from Babylon to their own country.

13:15. Masoretic Text: Everyone being found will be pierced through, and everyone being caught will fall by the sword.

Septuagint: For whoever [it is] someone should seize will be overcome; and those who are gathered together will fall by the sword.

The Septuagint rendering appears to indicate that those seized as captives would be “overcome,” likely meaning would be “killed.” Those gathered together could either be those who came together as defenders or were gathered together as captives. They would perish by the sword.


Anyone whom the attacking warriors would find during the course of the campaign would be “pierced through” with the available weapon, and anyone seized at that time would be killed with the sword.

13:16. Masoretic Text: And their children will be shattered before their eyes. Their houses will be plundered, and their women raped.

Septuagint: And their children will be thrown down before them, and they will plunder their houses, and take their women.


Warriors would have no pity for children but would slaughter them in gruesome ways. They would kill small children by smashing them against rocks. (Compare Psalm 137:9.) This would take place in the presence of mothers and any surviving fathers. The conquerors would seize anything of value they might find in the houses and rape the women.

13:17. Masoretic Text: Look! I am rousing up against them the Medes who do not esteem silver and do not delight in gold.

Septuagint: Look! I am rousing up the Medes against you, who do not account silver nor have any need of gold.


In view of the close association of the Medes and Persians, the reference to Medes could be understood to include the Persians. Their not valuing silver or delighting in gold may mean that they would not consider accepting a large tribute of silver and gold in exchange for ending hostilities.

13:18. Masoretic Text: And their bows will shatter young men. And the fruit of the womb they will not pity. On sons, their eye will have no compassion.

Septuagint: They will shatter young men’s arrows. And they will by no means pity your children, nor will their eyes by any means spare the children.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the expression about the “fruit of the womb” is preceded by “and on.” This would require that the phrase be rendered, “And on the fruit of the womb they will not have pity.” This scroll also precedes the words “on sons” with the conjunction “and.”

The double negatives of the Septuagint are here rendered “by no means” and “by any means” in order to preserve the emphatic sense.


Medes and Persians were skilled archers. With well-aimed arrows from their bows, they would “shatter” or kill young men, probably Babylonian defenders in possession of the strength of youth. According to the reading of the Septuagint, they would break the “arrows” of the young men, which would indicate that the young warriors would be unable to mount a successful defense.

The “fruit of the womb” could include unborn children. The warriors would have no regard for any children, and so they may not have spared pregnant women. (Compare 2 Kings 15:16.) Without any feelings of compassion aroused when looking at the young sons, they would callously kill them.

13:19. Masoretic Text: And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the ornament, the pride of the Chaldeans, will be like the overthrow [by] God of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Septuagint: And Babylon, which is called glorious by the king of Chaldea, will be in the manner as [when] God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Septuagint rendering represents the monarch as calling Babylon glorious, suggestive of a similar expression found in Daniel 4:29, “Is not this the great Babylon that I have built?” Possibly the passage in Daniel influenced the translator of the words in the book of Isaiah.


In view of its impressiveness as the capital of the powerful Chaldean empire, Babylon is called the “beauty of kingdoms.” With its magnificent temples, extensive palace complex, the beautiful hanging gardens, and other outstanding architectural features, Babylon was like an ornament. The Babylonians took great pride in their capital city.

Babylon, however, would fall before the invading forces and, in time, come to be reduced to a total desolation as were the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the time of Abraham and his nephew Lot. (Genesis 19:24-29)

13:20. Masoretic Text: She will not be inhabited in perpetuity and not be dwelt in from generation to generation. An Arab will not tent there, and those shepherding will not lie down there.

Septuagint: It will not be inhabited for eternal time, nor will they enter into it for many generations. Nor will Arabs pass through it nor will shepherds by any means rest in it.

The double negatives in the Septuagint make the expressions about Babylon emphatic.


After being reduced to a desolate state, Babylon would remain uninhabited for generations to come. To this day, only ruins remain at the site of ancient Babylon in modern Iraq. History confirms that desolated Babylon has not been a place where nomadic tent dwellers pastured their flocks. Instead of an application to the resting of shepherds at the site as found in the Septuagint, a number of translations have added words when rendering the Hebrew text so as to make it explicitly refer to flocks. “Shepherds will not make their flocks lie down there.” (NRSV) “No shepherds fold their flocks.” (REB) “Shepherds won’t let their sheep rest there.” (CEV)

13:21. Masoretic Text: And wild beasts [“yelpers” or “desert animals”] will lie down there, and their houses will be full of hooters [possibly “owls”]. Ostriches will dwell there, and hairy creatures will leap about there.

Septuagint: And wild beasts will rest there, and the houses will be filled with howling, and sirens will rest there, and demons will dance there.


Uncertainty exists about the creatures that would make desolated Babylon their haunt. The “hooters” or “howlers” could be “owls,” but the Septuagint translation contains the word échos, meaning “sound” or “noise,” and could refer to any creature that might howl or hoot. Ostriches can survive for considerable time without water, and so may well have taken up residence in the ruins of Babylon. Other modern translations have rendered the Hebrew word as “porcupines” (REB) and “owls” (NIV). The Septuagint translator provided no clue as to a probable meaning, using “sirens,” which term designates mythical creatures. The “hairy creatures,” referred to as “demons” in the Septuagint, could refer to mythical creatures that superstitious passersby would have imagined as having made their haunt there. If this is the case, the prophetic words reflect the perceptions that people would have about the desolate site. They would regard it as a haunted place.

13:22. Masoretic Text: Howlers will howl in its towers, and jackals in palaces of delightfulness. And near to come [is] her time, and her days will not be extended.

Septuagint: And donkey centaurs will dwell there, and hedgehogs will make a lair in their houses. It is coming quickly and will not delay.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, “near” is not preceded by the conjunction “and.” After the Hebrew word translated “extended,” this scroll adds ‘od, which term may be rendered “still,” “still more,” or “longer.”


As in verse 21, here also there is uncertainty about the creatures to which reference is being made. The Septuagint again includes mythical creatures — donkey centaurs or satyrs. Modern translations commonly identify the “howlers” as “jackals” (REB, Tanakh) or “hyenas” (NRSV).

The rendering “towers,” “castles” (NAB), “strongholds” (NIV), “fortresses” (CEV), and “mansions” (REB) find their support in the Vulgate, which contains the words in aedibus, meaning “in their houses.” According to the Hebrew text (including the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah), the actual word is ’almenóth, meaning “widows.” In this context, however, “widows” does not make sense.

“Palaces of delightfulness” would be magnificent edifices with beautifully decorated interiors. These impressive dwellings would become a habitation for jackals or, according to the Septuagint, “hedgehogs.”

The time for the judgment to befall Babylon was certain and so is referred to as being “near” or at hand. Babylon’s days as the capital of a powerful empire were numbered, and there would be no lengthening of those days or making the time of the city’s continued existence longer.