6.47 Isaiah -- Oracles Against the Nations
Like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah has a distinct section (Isa 13-23) set aside for prophetic words to various nations. In addition, other similar oracles are scattered throughout the book.
a. Assyria was to be judged for its willful pride and haughtiness (Isa 10:12), although God had raised it up to be the rod of His wrath. Assyria will fall through divine power, "by a sword that is not of man" (Isa 31:8-9). This was accomplished beginning in Isaiah’s own lifetime, starting in 701 (Isa 37:7, Isa 37:29, Isa 37:38).
b. Babylon. Oxford Study Bible (1035) points out that some of Isaiah’s prophecies against Babylon were actually against Assyria, since Babylon was for a time the Assyrian empire’s most important city. On the other hand, Isaiah also spoke of the Medes overthrowing Babylon -- here meaning the Babylon of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian empire (612-539 BC) (Isa 13:17-22, Isa 48:14-15). The king of Babylon will be taunted for trying to "ascend to heaven," which was the primordial sin of Satan (Isa 14:3-20). As Babylon was destroyed by Assyria in 689, so it will be again; its gods will be carried off into captivity and exile (Isa 46:1-2).
c. Egypt was the third great power. Sometimes Isaiah recalled Egypt as Israel’s oppressor of old. He likened Assyria to ancient Egypt (Isa 10:24-26, Isa 52:4). The Lord will bring judgment upon Egypt and its gods (Isa 19). Assyria will take Egyptian captives: Isaiah himself went about naked as a sign of this (Isa 20:3-6). Assyria conquered Egypt in 670. Later, Egypt and other African nations will be subject to Israel (Isa 45:14).
d. Other nations are also mentioned. For some, there was only judgment, with all or most survivors cut off: Philistia, Moab, Damascus/Aram, Edom, against whom total destruction was decreed, Arabia, and Lebanon -- whose cedars symbolized the towering pride that the Lord would bring down. Other countries will suffer judgment but then experience restoration: Cush will go into exile, but then will bring gifts to the Lord in Zion; and the coastal city of Tyre will be destroyed but then return to its lucrative trade. All her earnings will flow to the Lord and His people (Isa 23:17-18).
e. All nations
For with fire and with His sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men (Isa 66:16).
"The Lord is angry with all nations," and they are all marked for "total destruction" (Isa 34:2), like the Canaanites in the days of Joshua. There will be a return to the "chaos" and "desolation" (Isa 34:11) that preceded the Lord’s acts of creation. He plans judgment on the whole world, and no one can thwart Him (Isa 14:26-27; Isa 26:21). When His judgments come, "the people of the world learn righteousness" -- though the wicked will not, but will be consumed, set ablaze with a fire that shall never be quenched (Isa 26:9-11, Isa 66:24). The nations will scatter and be plundered, God will trample them and pour out their blood (Isa 33:3-4, Isa 63:1-6). To the great Lord, "the Creator of the ends of the earth," the nations are like dust, "worthless and less than nothing." He brings their princes down and blows them away (Isa 40:15-24). The kings of the nations are all brought down to the futility of Sheol (Isa 14:9, Isa 14:18).
Yet judgment and destruction are not the last word. Hezekiah, facing the hordes of Assyrians at the gate of Jerusalem, prayed, "You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth." Judah and Jerusalem were to be delivered, in part as a witness to the nations, "so that all kingdoms on earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God" (Isa 37:16, Isa 37:20).
Whether the word is judgment or restoration, the Bible states that the future of the nations is wrapped up in the fate of Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel was the axis on which the world turned. Empires were raised up to punish her, other emperors were set on their thrones in order to rebuild her. Even when Gentiles were accepted by God, it was a conditional approval, dependent on the fact that they joined themselves to His historical work in Israel: circumcision, sabbaths, sacrifice -- the whole tradition. Those who refused to honor His law and His ways, whether Jew or foreigner, were consigned to destruction.