The central theme of Chapter 13 is the destruction of Babylon. Typical of Isaiah’s style involving multiple layers of meaning, the destruction described is a type for, or is typical of, the destruction of the wicked that will occur at the Second Coming. Why should we, in the latter days, be concerned with the destruction of Babylon that occurred millennia ago? Because Isaiah foresaw and described destructions preceding the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, which he intertwines with descriptions of the ancient destruction of Babylon. Isaiah gives numerous clues throughout the chapter that lead to the interpretation of layered meanings—specifically, passages that relate solely to the destruction of Babylon in Mesopotamia and other passages that can relate only to destructions preceding the Second Coming.
Following its destruction ancient Babylon would never again be inhabited; similarly, at the Second Coming the wickedness of the world would fall forever. Isaiah describes the destruction at the Second Coming as a day of wrath and anger.
Nephi quotes this chapter in its entirety with some minor changes; compare 2 Nephi 23.
This chapter can be divided into three parts. The first part, verses 1 through 5, describes the gathering of armies preceding the foretold destructions. These armies would act as an instrument in the hands of the Lord to bring about His purposes. The second part, verses 6 through 18, describes the destruction of Babylon, and as a type, that of the world at the time of the Second Coming; and the third part, verses 19 through 22, describes the fate of fallen Babylon.
In verses 1 through 5, the Lord calls armies together preceding the destruction of Babylon to fulfill His purposes. Verse 1 states: “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.” Isaiah was a prophet and seer; he “did see” this revelation, which came as a vision. “Burden” means “a message of doom lifted up against a people.”1
Verses 2 and 3 describe the calling together of armies. Verse 2 begins: “Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles.” “Upon the high mountain” means “chief nation” and “temple” both at once; thus, the implied meaning is “chief nation that possesses the temple.”2The “gates of the nobles” are localities reserved for the Lord’s chosen and sanctified from which the wicked, or the unsanctified, are excluded—this also means the holy temples. “Shake the hand” represents ceremonial signs by which those sanctified are permitted access to the temple. “Exalt the voice” means to raise the voice, or call out.
Verse 3 continues: “I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness.” The Book of Mormon renders “…for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness.”3 Who will go? “Sanctified ones” and “saints” are synonymously translated in the Old Testament from either of two Hebrew words.4 The New Testament equivalent is “saints.” Those thus called and sanctified form a mighty latter-day army of “sanctified ones,” or saints, whose purpose is to gather the scattered of Israel—the modern missionary force. The Lord’s “mighty ones,” in contrast, are ravaging armies acting to fulfill His purpose of cleansing upon both ancient and modern Babylon.
Verses 2 and 3 contain a chiasm:
A: (2) Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain,
B: exalt the voice unto them,
C: shake the hand, that they may go into
C: the gates of the nobles.
B: (3) I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones,
A: for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness.
“High mountain” complements “my highness;” “exalt the voice” reflects “I have commanded” and “I have also called.” “Unto them” on the ascending side is explained on the descending side: the Lord’s voice is unto “my sanctified ones” and “my mighty ones.” “Shake the hand” is complementary to “gates of the nobles;” “shake the hand” describes ceremonies that allow passage into the “gates of the nobles.”
Verse 4 declares: “The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.” The Book of Mormon renders hosts.5 Because the phrases are parallel, “mountains” is equivalent to “kingdoms of nations.” This rhetorical connection may be applied throughout the entire book of Isaiah.6
The rhetorical connection of “mountains” and “nations” is also evident in Doctrine and Covenants. In calling Sidney Rigdon to repentance, the Lord said:
And if he will offer unto me an acceptable offering, and acknowledgments, and remain with my people, behold, I, the Lord your God, will heal him that he shall be healed; and he shall lift up his voice again on the mountains, and be a spokesman before my face” (emphasis added).7
Verse 5 states: “They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.” Forces of good will destroy the evil throughout the whole world. “They come from a far country” were the same words spoken by King Hezekiah to Isaiah when he asked where certain emissaries had come from, to whom Hezekiah had shown all his wealth and treasures—“even from Babylon.”8 Earthly armies, amassed as described in verses 2, 3 and 4, will join with hosts sent forth from heaven—again, meaning at least partly the valiant army of missionaries described in verse 3, whose entry into mortality was reserved until this time of greatest need—to serve as instruments or emissaries in the hands of the Lord.
This righteous army is mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants, which speaks of the “choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times” to do the work of “building of the temples and the performing of ordinances therein” and to “labor in [the Lord’s] vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.” It is further explained that “they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the church of God.”9
Verses 6 through 18 describe the destruction of ancient Babylon, and as a type, that of the world preceding the Second Coming. Verse 6 proclaims: “Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty,” asserting that the destruction of Babylon and of the world are both the work of God. “The day of the Lord” means the day of judgment; or, in this case, a day of destruction. We are assured that, in the economy of God, these destructions are just and fair—to cleanse the wicked world so that righteousness can prevail.
Verse 7 declares: “Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt.” “Faint” and “melt” are synonymous, both translated from the same Hebrew word meaning “grow fearful.”10
Verse 8 declares: “And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.” This description of flames suggests the destruction by fire preceding the Second Coming, rather than that of ancient Babylon.11 The phrase “they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth” is not included in the Book of Mormon, nor does it play a role in the chiasm comprising verses 7 and 8.12 “Afraid” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “dismayed” or “terrified.”13
Verses 7 and 8 contain a chiasm:
A: (7) Therefore shall all hands be faint,
B: and every man’s heart shall melt:
C: (8) And they shall be afraid:
C: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; (they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth:)
B: they shall be amazed one at another;
A: their faces shall be as flames.
“Therefore shall all hands be faint” complements “their faces shall be as flames,” describing the dismay to be experienced by the wicked when they realize that their destruction is imminent. “Every man’s heart shall melt” complements “they shall be amazed one at another;” and “they shall all be afraid” compares with “pangs and sorrows.” Fear and regret characterize those ensnared in sin.
In verse 9 Isaiah describes the purpose for both destructions: “Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.” Ancient destruction of the city and modern destruction of worldly wickedness are for the same purpose.
Verse 10 describes manifestations in the skies that are consequential to the latter-day destruction, rather than to that of ancient Babylon: “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”14 For ancient Babylon, these events foretell debasement of the proud and noble as destruction comes.
During His mortal ministry, the Lord paraphrased verse 10 in describing to His disciples the destructions that will precede His Second Coming: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”15
Verse 11 declares: “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” The destruction will equitably and fairly “punish the world for their evil” and will humble the haughty and arrogant.16 The Book of Mormon omits “their,” rendering “and I will punish the world for evil.” Also, the Book of Mormon renders “and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible.”17
In verse 12, because of the destructions men will be few in number: “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” “Fine gold” means gold that has been refined in the fire, burning out all impurities.
Other Old Testament prophets used this same metaphor to describe latter-day destruction and purification of the righteous. Malachi foretold: “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.”18 Zechariah declared: “And I will bring the third part [those not slain in the latter-day destructions] through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.”19
These statements reflect the trials and tribulations that must be overcome by those who would survive. Ophir was a place, the precise location of which is unknown in modern times, that was noted for its gold of high quality.20 Solomon obtained 3,000 talents of gold there to overlay the interior walls of the temple.21 Ophir was probably in southern Arabia, accessible by ship through the Gulf of Aqaba from the port of Ezion-geber.22
Verse 13 continues the description of cosmic disturbances with extreme effects, both on the earth and in the skies, that are consequential to the destruction at the Second Coming: “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.” These events are also described in the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants.23
Verses 9 through 13 contain a chiasm:
A: (9) Behold, the day
B: of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger,
C: to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
D: (10) For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light:
E: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth,
F: and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
G: (11) And I will punish the world for their evil,
G: and the wicked for their iniquity;
F: and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to to cease,
E: and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. (12) I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.
D: (13) Therefore I will shake the heavens,
C: and the earth shall remove out of her place,
B: in the wrath of the LORD of hosts,
A: and in the day of his fierce anger.
“The day” is equal to “the day of his fierce anger,” and “the Lord cometh” complements “the wrath of the Lord of hosts,” describing the meaning of the day of the Lord. “To lay the land desolate” is complementary to “the earth shall remove out of her place,” stating the purpose for the foretold cataclysmic earthquakes. “The stars of heaven” matches “shake the heavens.” “The sun shall be darkened” is compared with “the haughtiness of the terrible” and “the moon shall not cause her light to shine” is compared with “the arrogancy of the proud,” indicating that these wonders in heaven symbolize the debasement of the proud and arrogant. “The world for their evil” matches “the wicked for their iniquity,” which describe the evil state that would torment the world before the time of the Second Coming, meriting the Lord’s destructive wrath.
Verse 14 states: “And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man taketh up: they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.” “No man taketh up” is translated from a Hebrew word meaning “none gathers in.”24 The wicked, during the foretold time of judgment, are compared both to deer and sheep: Deer are endangered when hunters are present, whereas sheep are endangered when the shepherd is absent.25 The wicked have rejected Christ, the Good Shepherd, as a guide and protector in their lives. When faced with natural disasters and advancing armies, people flee to avoid being caught up in them. The phrase from the King James translation “and it shall be as a chased roe” does not refer to the earth—described in the previous verse as being “moved out of her place”—but refers instead to prevailing human conditions.
Verse 14 contains a chiasm:
A: (14) And it shall be as the chased roe,
B: and as a sheep that no man taketh up:
B: they shall every man turn to his own people,
A: and flee every one into his own land.
“As the chased roe” matches “flee every one into his own land,” which establishes that “as the chased roe” describes the human condition rather than behavior of the earth itself. “As a sheep that no man taketh up” complements “they shall every man turn to his own people,” again verifying that the verse describes the human condition. These conditions pertain in particular to the destructions in the last days, not just to the destruction of ancient Babylon.
Verse 15 declares: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword.” The Book of Mormon renders “Every one that is proud shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked shall fall by the sword.”26 The invading armies will take no prisoners among the proud—meaning the wicked—who flee.
Verse 16 describes cruel atrocities to be committed by the invaders: “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled [or, plundered], and their wives ravished.”27 These events occurred when Babylon was destroyed and will occur again before the Second Coming.
Verses 17 and 18 describe atrocities committed by the invading Medes. Verse 17 states: “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.” The Book of Mormon renders “which shall not regard silver and gold, nor shall they delight in it.”28 The meaning here is that the Medes would be motivated by killing for sport or blind rage, rather than obtaining the spoils of battle. Similar conditions are foreseen for the latter days.
Verse 18 continues: “Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children.” The Book of Mormon renders “Their bows shall also dash the young men to pieces;”29 also, eyes in place of “eye.”30 The Hebrew word translated as “young men” means “children;”31 thus the meaning is “their bows [weapons] shall dash the children to pieces.”
Verses 16 through 18 contain a chiasm:
A: (16) Their children also shall be dashed to pieces
B: before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled,
C: and their wives ravished.
D: (17) Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them,
E: which shall not regard silver and gold,
E: nor shall they delight in it.
D: (18) Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces;
C: and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb;
B: their eyes shall not spare
“Their children also shall be dashed to pieces” matches “children.” “Before their eyes” is the same as “their eye shall not spare;” note that the Book of Mormon renders eyes in verse 18, providing a more precise match. “Their wives” complements “the womb;” “Medes” is compared to “their bows,” indicating whose weapons they are; and “shall not regard silver and gold” is matched by “nor shall they delight in it.” Note that the Book of Mormon phrasing,32 shown in italics, provides an important key to understanding: The invaders would kill and destroy for sport or blind rage, rather than to obtain the spoils of battle.
Verses 19 and 20 describe the fate of fallen Babylon. Verse 19 begins: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” Comparison with Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed for their perversion and wickedness, indicates that similar sins were rampant in ancient Babylon and would be pervasive in our own society as well. Perversion and wickedness like that manifest in Sodom and Gomorrah are a major reason for the foretold destructions.
Verse 20 continues: “It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.” Regarding Babylon, this prophecy has indeed been fulfilled. The site of once-magnificent Babylon is today a vast ruin. Regarding the destruction of the wicked at the time of the Second Coming, it means that wickedness will never again dominate as it does in our day.
Animals described in verses 21 and 22 that would occupy the ruins of Babylon serve to illustrate the desolation. Verse 21 states: “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.”33
Satyrs are ancient Greek woodland deities, represented as part human and part horse or goat, and noted for their lasciviousness.34 The Hebrew meaning is “he-goats,” “demons” or “demon-possessed goats.”35
Verse 22 concludes: “And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.” The Book of Mormon adds three more phrases to verse 22, speaking particularly of the latter-day destruction: “For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.”36
1. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 4853, p. 672.
2. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
3. 2 Nephi 23:3.
4. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6942, p. 872; see also Isaiah 13:3, footnote 3a.
5. 2 Nephi 23:4.
6. Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon: Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1988, 250 p.; See p. 43. See Isaiah 2:2, 14 and 2 Nephi 12:2, 14; Isaiah 11:9; 13:4; 30:25 and pertinent commentary.
7. Doctrine and Covenants 124:104.
8. See 2 Kings 20:14.
9. See Doctrine and Covenants 138:53-56.
10. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 4549, p. 587.
11. See Isaiah 1:7, 28; 5:24; 9:5, 18-19 and pertinent commentary.
12. 2 Nephi 23:8.
13. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 926, p. 96.
14. Verse 10 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Darkened/sun/moon/not cause her light to shine. In Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah, 2001, p. 259.
15. Matthew 24:29; see also Mark 13:24-25 and Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:33.
16. See also Isaiah 2:9, 11.
17. 2 Nephi 23:11.
18. Malachi 3:2.
19. Zechariah 13:9.
20. Bible Dictionary—Ophir.
21. See 1 Chronicles 29:4.
22. See 1 Kings 22:48.
23. See Matthew 24:7; Doctrine and Covenants 49:23; 88:87; 133:49.
24. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 6908, p. 867.
25. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 136-137.
26. 2 Nephi 23:15.
27. Verse 16 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Spoiled/houses/wives/ravished. In Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah, 2001, p. 259.
28. 2 Nephi 23:17.
29. 2 Nephi 23:18.
30. 2 Nephi 23:18.
31. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1121, p. 119-122.
32. 2 Nephi 23:17.
33. Verse 21 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Dwell there/owls/satyrs/dance there. In Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah, 2001, p. 259.
34. “Satyr,” Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language: Portland House, a division of Dilithium Press, Ltd., distributed by Outlet Book Company, Inc, a Random House Company, 225 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003, 1989, p. 1271.
35. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 8163, p. 972.
36. 2 Nephi 23:22.