Isaiah 13-23: Oracles about other nations

The next set of “oracles” are for countries other than Judah, except 22. Chapter twenty two is about Jerusalem.

Chapter thirteen is about Babylon and the horrific “judgement” and destruction that will befall them. There are a few mentions of women, none particularly nice. The first is in verse 8:

8Terror will seize them,

pain and anguish will grip them;

they will writhe like a woman in labor.

They will look aghast at each other,

their faces aflame.

This sounds pretty gruesome. It’s odd because it seems like the perfect spot for some easy to recognize male pain to make a good association. Was there nothing comparable? Or is the intimation that a woman is more likely to writhe in labor pains than a man in a comparable pain? Personally, I think it’s the first one.

Later there is verse 16:

16Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;

their houses will be looted and their wives violated.

This is the punishment to Babylon, remember? Are the wives not a part of Babylon? As usual, the oracle is speaking to the men. As we can see, the women are not to be left out of the horrific things that will happen, nor are the children (later referred to as the “fruit of the womb” in verse 8 to the same end). Perhaps the direction of the language is a reflection of their participation in the decision making process that gets them there. If the women are not involved in changing course but are a part of whatever is essentially wrong with the country, why would they be addressed in something like this?

We don’t see another mention of women or womanly characteristics in chapters fourteen or fifteen, but it comes around again in chapter sixteen. Sixteen continues the oracle for Moab that begins in chapter fifteen and begins with these verses:

1Send the lamb to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, by way of the desert,
to the mount of the daughter of Zion.
2Like fleeing birds,
like a scattered nest,
so are the daughters of Moab
at the fords of the Arnon.

Here the word “daughter” is used to talk about the people of those places. At least, that’s the best I can make of it. The use of “lamb” is also interesting and I saw some notes that this chapter actual means that the prophecy for the messiah had to do with Moab somehow but it didn’t make much sense to me. Several versions of these verses do say “women” instead of daughters, but I don’t see why it would only be the women looking for fleeing the destruction. Why wouldn’t the men be trying to get out too?

There nothing about women again in chapters seventeen or eighteen but we come back for a brief moment in nineteen at verse 16:

16In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the LORD of hosts shakes over them.

There are few things that I hate more than the implication that women are weak or lesser based solely on being women. I get that the times and lack of birth control or education for women made it so that we were much more easily intimidated than modern women seem to be, but it’s still grates on my nerves some. This is one of those places where direct reading without interpretation or context of any kind makes it seem like even God sees us as weaker when he’s commenting on the women in the culture of the time that had some pretty serious oppressions working against them in this regard. Someone bigger, healthier, stronger, and more likely to both better fed and faster believed would make me be more fearful too but which sex organ they have has less to do with it.

Chapter twenty is pretty small and doesn’t mention women, but then there’s another comment about a woman in labor is in verse 3 of chapter twenty one. This time it is the “pangs” and it goes on talk about the actual physical pain instead of the expression of pain. This makes it sound more like even the last mention was that this is the worst pain that could be related to what God is promising back in chapter thirteen. Twenty one actually has several oracles, not just the one about Babylon that it begins with but also Dumah and Arabia.

In the middle of all the oracles about other countries, sits chapter twenty two about Jerusalem, but it doesn’t mention women or compare anything to us. And then there’s chapter twenty three. It’s rather confusing. There’s a switch up of how the oppressed virgin daughter will not be exulted anymore (referred to a city as such) and that she’ll be forgotten but that God will visit her after 70 years and she’ll rise up like a forgotten prostitute. If that doesn’t sound weird enough here are the actually 2 verses that it ends with:

17At the end of seventy years, the LORD will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. 18Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the LORD. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the LORD.

So the forgotten prostitute is back and working for God now, but still being a prostitute? But for God now? I’m not sure how any of that makes sense. I did see a note that it all is supposed to imply redemption, which would make sense, except that wouldn’t God want to make her an honest woman somehow?

But let’s remember that this is actually a country and not a person. So a corrupt government will fall and the country will lay in ruin for 70 years but be glorious when God comes back for it. But even that doesn’t answer the question as to whether or not God expects them to act in a way that didn’t bring about the initial judgement?

What do you think?

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.


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