Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Do the Prophets Teach That Babylonia Will Be Rebuilt in the Eschaton?

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Do the Prophets Teach That Babylonia Will Be Rebuilt in the Eschaton?

Article excerpt


Dispensationalists have traditionally argued that "Babylon" in Revelation 14 and chaps. 17-18 is a symbol indicating some form of reestablished Rome.' In recent days a renewed interest has been shown in the idea that the ancient empire of Babylonia and city of Babylon will be rebuilt.2 This conclusion comes from a reading of the prophets-Isaiah and Jeremiah in particular-in a manner that requires the rebuilding of the city and empire of Babylonia in the eschaton.

My approach to this question is from three different perspectives: (1) to study the context of the oracles against the nations (OAN) found in Isaiah 13-23 and, in particular, the way the critical thirteenth chapter fits into the Sitz im Leben of the eighth century during which Isaiah was prophesying; (2) to study the language of destruction found in this same unit and relate it to the treaty curses found in the ancient Near East and to the rest of the OT; and (3) to examine Jeremiah's prophecies against Babylon containing much of the same language as that of Isaiah.

I. ISAIAH 13 IN ITS EIGHTH-CENTURY CONTEXT The presence of an oracle against Babylon in the first part of Isaiah must be explained by those who argue that such references originated in a sixthcentury prophecy (chaps. 40-66). G. B. Gray is an example of those who deny the chapter to the eighth-century Isaiah since he believes it is a product of the exile or a little earlier:

Clearly, then, the oracle of Babylon is no earlier than the Exile: it is probably later, for 14:1-4a(22f.) is post-exilic rather than exilic.... We may then attribute the oracle in its present form to a post-exilic editor who wrote 14:1-4a to connect two poems (13:2-22 and 14:4b-21).3 In more recent times some scholars have begun to view the oracles (Isaiah 13-23) as relating to the message of Isaiah during the Assyrian domination of the Levant.4 Seth Erlandsson is surely correct when he argues that the section on the nations is a response to the Israelite leaders who were trying to form an anti-Assyrian coalition.5 The section cannot represent a general group of prophecies against the enemies of Judah, for Judah herself is included in the oracles (chap. 22). Erlandsson points out that the conquests of Tiglath-Pileser III created problems for Elam in the east (by cutting off trade routes) and Egypt in the west (by cutting off Phoenician trade). Consequently it was in the interest of these two nations to foment rebellion against Assyria at every opportunity. The Elamites supported the Chaldean sheiks (from around the Persian Gulf), and the Egyptians stirred up trouble in the Levant. The Assyrian king Sennacherib says, "The officials, the patricians and the [common] people of Ekron-who had thrown Padi, their king, into fetters [because he was] loyal to [his] solemn oath [sworn] by the god Ashur, and had handed him over to Hezekiah, the Jew-[and] he [Hezekiah] held him in prison, unlawfully, as if he [Padi] be an enemy-had become afraid and had called [for help] upon the kings of Egypt . . . land of the king of Ethiopia, an army beyond counting-and they actually had come to their assistance."6

It should be noted that each nation mentioned in the OAN occurs in the Assyrian annals. Damascus and Samaria were defeated by Tiglath-Pileser (732 Bc). Moab, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ashdod, Edom and Tyre are all mentioned in Sennacherib's campaign of 701. The "Valley of Vision" (chap. 22) seems to refer to the preparation for a siege in Hezekiah's time (the Siloam tunnel was probably dug at this time; cf. 2 Chr 32:2-4, 30).

Our focus for an understanding of this unit, therefore, is not on the fall of Babylon to the Persians in 539 Bc but on the Assyrians in the eighth century during the time of Isaiah's prophetic ministry.7 II. THESIS 1: ISAIAH 13-14 REFER TO BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA IN THE EIGHTH AND SEVENTH CENTURIES BC 8 Isaiah's well-known confrontation with Ahaz in 735/4 BC was an effort to challenge him to trust in Yahweh rather than to lean on the Assyrians for deliverance from the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. …

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