Imagine the United States has just been taken over by an invading nation. The enemy came out of nowhere. Of our current 321 million residents, only 12 million are left alive. Those that survived are now slaves of the invaders. The currency has changed. The language has changed. The Statue of Liberty and other national monuments were destroyed and replaced by statues celebrating the new conquerors. We've lost our nation and have been integrated into a brand new world. Our jobs are gone. Our homes are gone. Our children are gone. Our cities were flattened. There is little left to show the United States was ever the great nation that reigned in this land for over 200 years.
Okay. Wipe your tears. We're still okay. Praise the Lord this hasn't been our fate. This was actually the fate of the mighty kingdom of Babylon in 539BC. They were the same mighty nation that had invaded and destroyed Jerusalem a few years earlier and had deported many of them to Babylon (that's why we find Daniel and Esther outside of Israel). God had used Babylon as the agents of His wrath against disobedient Israel. Now, it was Babylon's turn to endure the wrath of God. This time, God would use the Media/Persian Empire as His agents of wrath.
That's history. It's a wrap. But before it all happened, God inspired Isaiah to write about what would happen. You can read the entirety of Isaiah's prophecy in Chapter 13, but let me share a few highlights.
The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,
To lay the land desolate;
And He will destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not give their light;
The sun will be darkened in its going forth,
And the moon will not cause its light to shine.
11 “I will punish the world for its evil,
And the wicked for their iniquity;
13 Therefore I will shake the heavens,
And the earth will move out of her place,
In the wrath of the Lord of hosts
And in the day of His fierce anger.
17 “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them,
Who will not regard silver;
And as for gold, they will not delight in it.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
The beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride,
Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
20 It will never be inhabited,
Nor will it be settled from generation to generation;
Her time is near to come,
And her days will not be prolonged.”
Many respected Bible teachers believe that this is still future for fairly obvious reasons. The stars have never stopped twinkling, though Isaiah said they would. The Earth has never moved out of its orbit. Babylon was immediately inhabited by the Medes/Persians that conquered them even though this passage said "it will never be inhabited". So, even though Babylon was conquered by the Medes in 539BC, many people see this passage as unfulfilled. Yes, that means the Medes must rise up again to conquer Babylon. Two non-existing nations must reappear and re-enact ancient history. This time, under a much darker sky.
Let me introduce some major players in the interpretation of prophecy. Hyperbole and time statements. MAJOR players. In fact, there's no bigger player in history than hyperbole. It can out-hit Babe Ruth, out-dunk Michael Jordan, and out-talk Rush Limbaugh. It's huge. Monstrous. There's absolutely nothing as amazing as hyperbole.
Okay, see my point? Hyperbole is often used in the Scriptures to emphasize a point. Hyperbole is something Jesus was comfortable using.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Does Jesus really want His followers to hate their family members? I'd say not. But, He used hyperbole to make His point that followers must be willing to put Him first. That part is for sure. Jesus wants our loyalty. Hating family members? Try teaching your 12 year-old that wants to get baptized that they'd better first make sure they hate you and their siblings. Awkward!
A boxer tells his opponent that he's "about to knock him into next week". Anyone want to claim that to be a literal statement? Of course, not. We recognize hyperbole in everyday speech. We also need to recognize it when we read it in Scripture.
Hyperbole helps to make a point. In this case, the Babylonians would be so wiped out by the Medes that it would be as though the universe completely fell apart. The Medes would "knock them into next week", if you will. The decimation would be so intense it would be as though no one would or even could live in that stretch of land again. This is prophetic language and the sooner we recognize its place in Scripture, the better understanding we can have of prophecies and the fewer sandwich boards reading "the end of the world is here!" will be worn on street corners.
Okay. Let's say you think I'm wrong about the use of hyperbole. God said the earth would be moved out of place when the Babylonians were destroyed by the Medes and He meant that. He must be taken literally. Alright. Let's go with that. So, since those things didn't happen literally, the passage must not be fulfilled. Alrighty then. If we want to keep things "literal", let's be sure to be consistent and be literal about the end of the passage also which reads:
"Her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged.”
I doubt anyone would want to say that waiting over 2500 years is a literal understanding of "her days will not be prolonged". Let's say your bank made an error in your favor (yeah, just like in Monopoly) and they now owe you $100. You get a letter from them noting their error which finishes by stating "your repayment will not be prolonged". A year passes. A decade passes. You pass. 2500 years pass. Are they anywhere close to keeping their word that your payment would not be prolonged? I'd say more than a month would be prolonged in this case.
Time statements are one of the keys to prophecy. For instance, the Book of Revelation is full of mysterious beasts and whores (I smell a new HBO series!). Even with all its mysteries, we are from the beginning of the letter, given time statements which are the key to sorting out at least when the beasts and whores should show up, whoever they are.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place. (Revelation 1:1)
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)
Let's say you've sorted out the mysteries of Revelation. You may have deciphered the number of the beast and narrowed down the option to one of two current presidential candidates. You may have determined that the "Whore of Babylon" refers to Great Britain and their unfaithfulness to the European Union. The Great Whore of Brexit! Okay. But you've done all that work outside the given time limits of the prophecy. Time statement s are huge and we don't want to miss them. Prophecies are usually given some notion of time so that the reader has an idea of when to anticipate the coming disaster.
Saying that the United States will be invaded isn't really prophetic. Anyone could say that. Saying the United States will be invaded soon by Luxembourg starts to sound like a prophetic statement. Or perhaps that it's time to up your meds.
In the case of Isaiah 13, we are told of Babylon that "Her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged.” That rules out something happening 2500 years down the road. To say "near to come" and "not be prolonged" could really mean over 2500 years, the words become pointless. It would not only be pointless, but deceptive, to give such a description of something that wouldn't occur for over 2500 years. So, regardless of the hyperbolic descriptions that never literally occurred in the heavens, something had to have happened in the near future of the ink drying on Isaiah's parchment paper.
So, I now encourage you to take these tools and apply them to Matthew 24. Search for any time statements. If there are any, what do they reveal? Search for anything sounding hyperbolic. Clue: I think you'll find similar language to what we just read in Isaiah 13. Very similar. You do your homework and I'll do the same and we'll meet up for Part 4 of this series. Have fun!
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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