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Isaiah 13:20-22

Context

13:20 No one will live there again;

no one will ever reside there again. 1 

No bedouin 2  will camp 3  there,

no shepherds will rest their flocks 4  there.

13:21 Wild animals will rest there,

the ruined 5  houses will be full of hyenas. 6 

Ostriches will live there,

wild goats will skip among the ruins. 7 

13:22 Wild dogs will yip in her ruined fortresses,

jackals will yelp in the once-splendid palaces. 8 

Her time is almost up, 9 

her days will not be prolonged. 10 

1 tn Heb “she will not be inhabited forever, and she will not be dwelt in to generation and generation (i.e., forever).” The Lord declares that Babylon, personified as a woman, will not be inhabited. In other words, her people will be destroyed and the Chaldean empire will come to a permanent end.

2 tn Or “Arab” (NAB, NASB, NIV); cf. CEV, NLT “nomads.”

3 tn יַהֵל (yahel) is probably a corrupted form of יֶאֱהַל (yeehal). See GKC 186 §68.k.

4 tn The words “their flocks” are supplied in the translation for clarification. The Hebrew text does not supply the object here, but see Jer 33:12.

5 tn The word “ruined” is supplied in the translation for clarification.

6 tn The precise referent of this word in uncertain. See HALOT 29 s.v. *אֹחַ. Various English versions translate as “owls” (e.g., NAB, NASB), “wild dogs” (NCV); “jackals” (NIV); “howling creatures” (NRSV, NLT).

7 tn Heb “will skip there.”

8 tc The Hebrew text reads literally, “wild dogs will yip among his widows, and jackals in the palaces of pleasure.” The verb “yip” is supplied in the second line; it does double duty in the parallel structure. “His widows” makes little sense in this context; many emend the form (אַלְמנוֹתָיו, ’almnotayv) to the graphically similar אַרְמְנוֹתֶיהָ (’armÿnoteha, “her fortresses”), a reading that is assumed in the present translation. The use of “widows” may represent an intentional wordplay on “fortresses,” indicating that the fortresses are like dejected widows (J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah [NICOT], 1:308, n. 1).

9 tn Heb “near to come is her time.”

10 sn When was the prophecy of Babylon’s fall fulfilled? Some argue that the prophecy was fulfilled in 689 b.c. when the Assyrians under Sennacherib sacked and desecrated the city (this event is alluded to in 23:13). This may have been an initial phase in the fulfillment of the prophecy, but the reference to the involvement of the Medes (v. 17) and the suggestion that Babylon’s demise will bring about the restoration of Israel (14:1-2) indicate that the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians in 538 b.c. is the primary focus of the prophecy. (After all, the Lord did reveal to Isaiah that the Chaldeans [not the Assyrians] would someday conquer Jerusalem and take the people into exile [see 39:5-7].) However, the vivid picture of destruction in vv. 15-22 raises a problem. The Medes and Persians did not destroy the city; in fact Cyrus’ takeover of Babylon, though preceded by a military campaign, was relatively peaceful and even welcomed by some Babylonian religious officials. How then does one explain the prophecy’s description of the city’s violent fall? As noted above, the events of 689 b.c. and 538 b.c. may have been merged in the prophecy. However, it is more likely that the language is stylized and exaggerated for rhetorical effect. See Isa 34:11-15; Jer 50:39-40 (describing Babylon’s fall in 538 b.c.); 51:36-37 (describing Babylon’s fall in 538 b.c.); Zeph 2:13-15; the extra-biblical Sefire treaty curses; and Ashurbanipal’s description of the destruction of Elam in his royal annals. In other words, the events of 538 b.c. essentially, though not necessarily literally, fulfill the prophecy.



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