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Isaiah 47

Chapter Forty-seven:

v. 1:  At first, I thought the term “virgin” was a strange one to apply to Babylon, especially given that John speaks of “the whore of Babylon” in the book of Revelation.  The Hebrew word here is bethula, which specifically designates someone who has not had sex (Barnes 158) not alma,[1] which should be translated more generally as “young woman.”  Obviously, however, Babylon is not called a virgin to indicate her innocence or lack of worldly experience.  Therefore, I guess the image is meant only to represent Babylon’s vulnerability.

v. 8:  The saying “I am, and there is no one besides me”[2] is very interesting.  It is comparable to descriptions that God gives of himself; for instance, 45:5 says, “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”  45:18 says the same thing as 45:5, and 46:9 says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me….” I think the fact that Babylon describes itself in similar terms indicates that city’s attempt to usurp the place of God.  Wanting to be God (as a usurper, not as a child who wants to be like his or her parents) is humanity’s most ancient sin. [3]

v. 10:  The wisdom and knowledge of Babylon were proverbial.  At times, however, Isaiah mocks that reputation with characteristic sarcasm, as in vs. 12-13, but this mockery does not mean that the Babylonians did not have an impressive store of real wisdom, nor that Isaiah did not recognize that fact; it only means that their wisdom, in spite of its many real qualities, led them astray because of their wicked hearts.

As for the sorcery of Babylon (v.12), I agree with Sir James Frazer that it should be classified as false science.  “The fatal flaw of magic lies not in its general assumption of a sequence of events determined by law, but in its total misconception of the nature of the particular laws which govern that sequence” (57).  I disagree with Frazer, however, in the belief that magic is necessarily impotent because it is ignorant.

I believe that actual supernatural beings (God, his angels, and devils) can appear in our lives and give us access to things that we would not have access to by nature (things such as the ability to heal miraculously, to prophecy, to raise and consult the dead, and so on).  However, I do not believe that we have the ability to manipulate any of these supernatural beings.  God has given us power to manipulate the natural world, so we can tame a lion (even though it is physically stronger than we are) or split an atom, but I do not believe this applies to supernatural beings.  Obviously, God cannot be manipulated, and the innate power of angels is so much greater than our own that we clearly cannot manipulate them either.  Just their appearance is enough to overwhelm us (note Daniel’s reaction).  I also believe the same is true of demons.  Without the supernatural aid of God, I think we would have a better chance of pushing the earth out of orbit with our bare hands than we would of manipulating a demon.  However, I believe that demons have manipulated some humans into believing that certain occult “sciences” can control supernatural beings such as angels and demons, and even God.  I think they have done this by pretending themselves to be bound by the talismans and spells that make up what we call magic.  Their motive in doing this, I assume, is simply to draw us away from the love of God and into the misery of hell.  I do think that there are and have been sorcerers and necromancers (like the witch of Endor) who did supernatural things by means of demons, just as those faithful to God can do supernatural things by means of God and his angels.  Neither the Satanist nor the Christian, however, can manipulate these supernatural beings.  Any “science,” therefore, that involves calling on or manipulating demons (or “gods”) is not the result of genuine power that comes from true knowledge; it must simply be a trick of Satan.  See particularly my notes on 1st Corinthians 10:20 and 1st Samuel 28:12.

As a side note, however, I would not include astrology, as such, in this category of fake science so long as it does not involve calling on the assistance of demonic spirits.  I do not say that the horoscope in the newspaper is science, but I do think there was once a valid natural science that was able to predict things based on the stars.[4]  Any Christian believing otherwise will have to explain how the wise men (magi) out of the east knew of the birth of Christ by means of a star.  When Isaiah mocks the star-gazers in v. 13, he does not necessarily condemn the science of astrology; he only condemns the belief that that science can save the Babylonians from a fate assigned to them by God.  A modern prophet could use similar sarcasm to mock our current faith in science.  If such a prophet were to do so, his mockery would not imply that our knowledge is false, only that cannot deliver us from the wrath of God.

Albrecht Dürer The Astronomer

[1] This is the term given to the mother of Immanuel.  See chapter 7 notes.

[2] The saying is repeated in v. 10.

[3] See notes on Genesis 3:4-5.

[4] Apparently I am in good company in believing this; according to Barnes, both Kepler and Sir Francis Bacon thought the science had merit (182).


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