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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God brings down all who proudly oppose Him
Text:Isaiah 14:12-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-04-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 9:1,3,4                                                                               

Ps 36:3                                                                                               

Reading – Isaiah 13; Revelation 18:1-8

Ps 94:1,2,10,11

Sermon – Isaiah 14:12-21

Ps 75:1,2,3,4

Hy 44:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved, the world has seen many cruel tyrants and dictators. Sometimes these powerful men live out their days to the fullest, enjoying all the glories of their position right to the end, then dying in comfort. But many end in humiliation and defeat. The great Napoleon spent his last years in exile on a remote island. Adolf Hitler shot himself as his enemies closed in. Saddam Hussein was captured hiding in a ditch, and he was executed a couple years later. So goes the rise and fall of human power.

We all know this, like the people of Judah knew it: mankind is a frail species! The mightiest are but a breath, only a vapour—so we should never fear man. But we forget, like Judah forgot. While Isaiah ministered, Judah was small and threatened by surrounding powers. In the power games and politics of that time, Judah was feeling the pinch. So they were tempted to rely on outside help, to arrange backroom deals with the nations, like King Ahaz had done.

But Isaiah has a message for little Judah. It’s a message that runs from chapter 13, all the way to chapter 24. In this long section the prophet turns attention to the Gentile nations and he tells about their coming defeat. Judah was most worried about Assyria, of course, but there many others too. Some of these were potential allies for Judah, some were potential foes.

God brings messages against all of them in turn: Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Cush, Egypt, Edom, Tyre. This is the whole range of players in the Middle East. It’s like God goes around the table at the United Nations and He gives warning words to each and every one: the United States, Brazil, Russia, Australia, Canada... No matter their power and position, each will meet their Maker. We’ll focus on just one oracle today; God’s word to Babylon and her proud king is a shining example of how God calls the nations to account for their pride and evil.

And when Judah has listened to God’s words in this chapter, and for several more chapters, the take-home message was clear. Why would you trust in the nations? Why do you fear mighty kings? Why would you be impressed by worldly power? They’re all coming to nothing, and salvation is only to be found in the Lord. This is our theme from Isaiah 14,

God promises to bring down all who oppose Him:

  1. the pride of Babylon
  2. the fall of Babylon

 

1) the pride of Babylon: Our text is part of a longer song, one that begins in verse 4 of this chapter. There it says that Judah “will take up this proverb against the king of Babylon” (14:4). It begins with these words, “How the oppressor has ceased!” You see the second stanza of the song starts in verse 12 with similar words, “How you are fallen from heaven!”

Isaiah uses an interesting word for his song in verse 4. The NKJV translates it as ‘proverb,’ but it really has the form of a funeral lament, mentioning all the things that have been lost. Yet it’s not expressing sorrow, but rather satisfaction or even delight in what’s happening to Babylon. So this song has been called a ‘taunt,’ like the nasty things we used to say to each other at school, gloating over another person’s downfall.

These are words against Babylon, yet Babylon would almost certainly never have heard this message. That’s the striking thing about our passage, together with all the coming oracles against the nations. These people were totally oblivious to the judgement God had planned for them—they wouldn’t know until the day it happened! So why prophesy? God meant these messages for Judah’s ears. They could listen and be assured that no matter what the godless nations and wicked kings do, their final end is assured, for God is the Lord of all.

We’re looking at the second stanza of this song, we said. Here God’s judgment reaches its climax against Babylon’s great king. It’s a dramatic scene, because the setting of the song shifts between earth and Sheol and heaven, back into Sheol, and then to earth again. For there is no place in all creation where God’s presence cannot reach. He is there and sovereign.

The song is clearly about one man, one king, and how God is going to bring him down. Some commentators have tried to figure out which king of Babylon is meant, whether it is the great Nebuchadnezzar or someone else. But Isaiah doesn’t give enough detail. It’s more about the principles of what’s happening. Like we’d say, ‘What’s the moral of this story?’ Maybe this: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). It’s a story of human pride and its collapse, of which Babylon is a prime example.

Isaiah has been talking about Babylon for a couple chapters now. We read Isaiah 13, introduced as “the burden [or weighty message] against Babylon.” The prophet sketches all the disturbing things that God will bring against her: wrath, desolation, darkness, plunder and rape.

All this will happen, Isaiah says, in “the day of the LORD” (13:6). From reading the other prophets, we know that ‘the day of the LORD’ is a codeword for Judgement Day. Evil Babylon will not survive that day: “Her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged” (13:22). Such will be the end Judah’s fierce enemy.

‘That’s all good,’ someone says. ‘But why is Isaiah speaking of Babylon? I thought Assyria was the neighbourhood bully at this time, the one everyone was scared of.’ And you’re right. Babylon was one of many cities in the vast Assyrian empire. But she was important, something like the crown jewel of the empire. And Babylon was rising. Within a hundred years, world power will have shifted here. Isaiah foresees that in the long term, it’s not Assyria but Babylon who poses the real threat to Judah.

There is something else going on here too. In the Bible, Babylon isn’t just an old city. Babylon is a symbol: it stands for those who live in pride against God. Let’s think about how Babylon’s history reaches back in time, even to the tower of Babel—notice how the names are similar. That’s where the story of Babylon begins, in the days after the great flood. The people in that place thought they could do impressive things if they joined together, “Let us build a city, and tower whose top is in the heavens [and] let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4).

The Babelites were defying the LORD. They would forge ahead and create a new identity, one that elevated them to the status of God. The LORD, of course, brought his judgment against Babel and stopped their proud schemes. But Babylon didn’t disappear.

In Isaiah’s time, she was rising again. And God had a purpose for her. Babylon would be a tool in his hand, even against his own people. Later, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took Judah into exile. They were the fearsome ministers of God’s justice.

But just because God uses the nations for judgment doesn’t mean they’ll escape justice themselves. Especially not when the nations go up against the LORD—He will surely bring them down. Look at verse 12 (in the NKJV), about the great king of Babylon, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” This is what’ll happen to every person who exalts himself over God. As Scripture says, ‘Pride goes before destruction.’ Such a man will be like a star cast down from heaven: extinguished and humbled.

Hearing about this falling star has led many to take Isaiah 14 as an account of the devil’s fall from glory. In fact, ‘Lucifer’ has become a name for Satan, one that means ‘shining one.’ Reading about this arrogant one ascending into heaven—then being brought very low—certainly sounds a lot like what happened to the devil when he rebelled against the LORD. Scripture even tells us that Satan’s sin was pride (1 Tim 3:6).

It’s also true that the devil’s rebellion has been imitated by many people, over many centuries. In short, people reject the place God has assigned them. We want more and better. We want to do life our own way, on our own terms. It’s a devilish design, and it leads to disaster. But I don’t think we should take our text as telling us about Satan, in the first place. In the context of Isaiah, this passage really is about the king of Babylon (and those like him).

This powerful tyrant considered himself the ‘shining one,’ the ‘son of the morning.’ The ‘son of the morning’ refers to the morning star, the planet Venus. Very early in the morning, Venus shines with a great brilliance. It definitely has a glory, even to rival the sun—yet its glory is quickly fading. For once the sun nears the horizon, the morning star diminishes and disappears.

Isn’t that the whole story of human conceit? The king thought he was something, enjoyed the brilliance of his fame for a moment. But next to the true light, next to the God of heaven, he was nothing. He fell from his high place, and he was “cut down to the ground” (v 12).

God lets us see the thoughts that live in the hearts of the proud. In verses 13-14, the king make four boasts about what he’ll do. Notice the five occurrences of the pronoun ‘I’. The king says: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne… I will sit on the mount…’” and so on. Notice too, how each of his claims emphasizes height: ruling above the stars, sitting on the mountain, ascending into heaven. He’ll be lifted up in glory!

The king says he’d love to go up the mountain: ‘to sit on the mount of the congregation.’ Not because he’s eager to go on a hike, but because mountains were holy places. Many pagan gods had sacred mountains as home to their shrines and temples. This is where the proud king thinks he belongs, among his equals, among the gods.

In verse 14 we hear his ambition stated in the clearest possible way: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” This is what Satan wanted too, and this is what he offered Adam and Eve, ‘to be like God, knowing good and evil.’ It’s what he offered the king of Babylon, to so many kings and rulers—and even to us: to take the freedom and claim the glory that belongs only to the true God.

The pride of our heart means that we’re always ready to make ourselves the most important person in our world. It is our will and desires that rule. We think of ourselves so much, and place ourselves at the centre—or better, at the top—of our own kingdom. And just like the king of Babylon, we love the pronoun ‘I.’ ‘See what I have done. This is what I want. Here is my glory, and I don’t like to share it with anyone, not even God.’

We all need to see this undercurrent of pride in our lives. Pride isn’t only seen in the person who makes big boasts about himself, the one who is shameless in self-promotion. Pride is often far more subtle, like in how we quietly consider ourselves superior because of wealth or talent or looks. Or when we’re obsessed with what other people think about us—that’s pride. Or when we refuse to listen to the wise counsel of others, and we’re never wrong, and our way is always best. Giving into temptation can reveal pride too, because in that moment of surrendering to lust or laziness, we are saying that our will is more important than God’s will. We’d rather be in charge.

There’s an old poem called ‘Paradise Lost,’ by John Milton. In it he retells the story of God’s creation and mankind’s fall into sin. In ‘Paradise Lost,’ the author puts these striking words into Satan’s mouth, as Satan thinks about his rebellion: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” That says so much, not just about Satan’s pride, but about our own. We have such a desire for power, for control, to be king or queen. Even if our life is miserable, and we’re lords of ‘our own little hell,’ sinners will resist submitting to God.

Coming back to the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14, we can see him as a symbol for all human pride and glory, all who raise themselves against God. That, we said, is the big story of Babylon in Scripture. It’s the story of all nations and rulers that oppose the Lord. And so, Babylon is often spoken of as God’s ultimate earthly enemy.

Even in the last book of the Bible, Babylon appears. The physical city of Babylon has long since crumbled; its ruins are near Baghdad, in Iraq. But somehow Babylon lives on. In Revelation, she stands for all world powers who live in opposition to God. Babylon is described as a seductive prostitute, and everyone wants to do business with her.

Today, Babylon isn’t one empire or one nation, just as the ‘king of Babylon’ isn’t one particular president or evil tyrant. But there remains in this world a deep hostility against God and his church. They can live without God and his truth. They can create their own truth. They can solve any problem on their own

And just like Babylon in the time of Isaiah, the ‘Babylon’ of today is remarkable. She has much to offer and she has a seductive power. Maybe we’re impressed by the glamour of the famous, by the power of money, by the strength of armies. Yet this is not true glory. All these things will soon crumble. Babylon will fall, and so will her proud king.

Instead, we have a better and everlasting king. Christ is our King, and what’s so notable about him is his humility. Though He is the Son of God, He did not cling to heavenly glory, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and coming in our likeness. He did not come to be served, but to serve, and give himself as a ransom for many. For Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on the cross. And by this deep humility, Christ conquered all, and He received the name which is above every name.

By this triumph, Christ saves us from sin. And by this triumph, Christ teaches us the better way to live. Do not glory in your pride. Don’t be driven by selfish ambition or conceit. But humble yourselves in the sight of God, and in lowliness consider others better than yourself. Serve them, for that is the way of Christ.

 

2) the fall of Babylon: The king of Babylon had high hopes for himself. But he was going to be brought very low. Verse 15 hits him hard: “You shall be brought down to Sheol.” In the Old Testament, Sheol is the grave, the place where all the dead must go. So much for all his big ambitions: they are stopped short by the end of life.

Death is the great leveller. It touches people of every class and rank: it comes to the wealthiest tycoon, the most powerful president, and also to you and me. Among the dead, there are no kings and no celebrities, because everyone has been brought back to where we started: the dust. The grave shows how frail is our humanity, reminds us that there is no place for pride.

As for this proud king, he will go down “to the lowest depths of the Pit” (v 15). The ‘pit’ is another word for Sheol, but one that puts the accent on how the grave can be threatening. For what if you’re in the pit all alone? Or you’re in the pit and you’re covered in shame?

That’s what will happen to the king when he is toppled from his throne and dies, “Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms?” (v 16). In his death, there is a deep dishonour. For people will see his lifeless corpse and look at it with shock and horror. How is it possible that such a mighty man could end like this? The king expected glory but receives only disgrace. By his armies he had brought such devastation, “made the world as a wilderness” (v 17), and yet here he is, dead.

When a great person dies, a fitting burial is the last respect to be paid to them. We do this for kings, former prime ministers, even for famous sportsmen. Maybe they will erect a monument, build a mausoleum, a fancy house for the dead. As Isaiah describes in verse 18, “All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house.”

But what will happen to this king? He’ll suffer the shame of being left unburied, abandoned on the field of battle. After all his fame, no one will even be concerned enough to put his body to rest: “You are cast out of your grave like an abominable branch” (v 19). Instead of being laid to rest in his royal robes, the king only has the corpses of battle around him, “the [garments] of those who are slain” (v 19). And instead of being buried with his forebears in the family gravesite, he “will not be joined with them” (v 20).

When he dies, even his children will be wiped out. In the ancient world, it often happened that when a king was killed, his family was also killed. This way there could be no other claim on the throne. Here, the Babylonian king’s children are slaughtered, “lest they rise up and possess the land” (v 21). And so the great king’s destruction is complete. He has neither a memorial in stone nor successors in flesh. His memory is blotted out.

This is how God will bring to an end all who are proud. God hates to share his glory with another—for no one else is worthy of glory—so He destroys those who don’t fear his name. It means that Isaiah 14 isn’t a happy message. But there no sinful gloating, but a satisfaction in God’s justice. The LORD vindicates his name, and we thank God for his final victory.

Remember, this wasn’t a message that the king of Babylon was likely to have ever heard. It was a message for Judah! In her fear and struggle, feeling hard-pressed and helpless, she could be encouraged. The proud of the earth will not endure forever. The violent will not prevail. God is on his throne, and He is the great judge.

The LORD offers us the same encouragement. We live in a time dominated by wicked people, people with evil influence, in politics and media and culture. We can expect more of it in the future. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 tells us about the man of sin. Listen to what he will do: “He will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God” (v 4). Sounds a lot like the king of Babylon. This is the old pattern, repeated endlessly. But even the greatest evils of the world cannot endure forever. Paul says that the man of sin will certainly fall, consumed by the breath of God’s mouth.

God gives us too, a glorious glimpse of the future. In Revelation 18, the angel announces the final fall of Babylon. This world has lived in opposition to God, has rejected God, and for a time has “glorified herself and lived luxuriously” (v 18). They’ve enjoyed the wealth and pleasure of living without God, being lords and masters—but it won’t last forever.

For the angel cries, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (v 2). The king of Babylon in Isaiah 14 was brought low from his heights. So Babylon in Revelation 18 will also be humbled. God will judge the wicked for all their sins, and her city will be burned with fire by the Lord God.

Beloved, what shall we take from this passage? This word from God encourages us. It reassures us with a vision of the future. It tells how God is definitely not done yet with his people. The Lord will destroy all his and our enemies and He will take us to himself.

But just like for Judah, the fall of Babylon is also a warning. This is the world we live in: there are powerful people, there are attractive idols, convincing ideas. It’s hard not be seduced while you’re living in Babylon—the seduction is everywhere; it’s in the things we see and listen to and watch every day. It’s in the constant lifting up of human pride, the focus on personal identity, the glorious Self—and this appeals to us.

And God is saying, ‘Remember what happens to everyone who rebels against me, all who won’t bow the knee to Christ. So don’t exalt yourself. Don’t trust in human saviours or manmade strength. Don’t be unthinking and absorb day after day all the intoxicating poisons of this world.’ God warns us to stay well clear of Babylon, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” Don’t join yourself to those who reject God. Don’t stand with those who are coming to nothing. But trust in your great King, Jesus Christ, and gladly serve him. For all the humble He will exalt forever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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