“When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: ‘How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased!'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
At first blush here, it feels a little odd that God would call Israel to taunt Babylon when they are brought low in judgment from the Lord. Isn’t that just cruel? Why kick someone when they are down? This Old Testament god here must be the vengeful, gleeful-in-wrath god we’ve always heard about from our critics.
Not so fast. Have you ever watched a toddler who thought he was big stuff try and pick on someone much bigger and stronger? My boys were playing at church the other day with some older boys, and my three-year-old started chasing around a 12-year-old shouting, “I’m going to get you!” It was funny. It was funny because it was cute. It was also funny because it was so out of sync with reality. He didn’t have any chance against the older boy. Much to his credit, the older friend was gentle with him and let him think he could do it for a while. That just added to the humor.
Indeed, things which are out of sync with reality are funny. There is sadness to be sure, but if a guy runs into a store and shouts something like, “Behold! I am Aladdin, the Prince of Thieves!” with a blanket tied around his neck, while it is sad to see someone who has a genuine psychological disorder, our first reaction is to laugh. When we tell the story of this encounter to other people they’ll laugh too.
Babylon thought it was a big, powerful nation, who had conquered the gods of the nations around them. But when it came to the one true God who happened to also be the God of Israel, they were a toddler picking a fight with a strong man. They were hilariously delusional. Their fall would be a tragicomedy. It would leave people who could see through the right lens of Babylon’s fantasy shaking their heads with disbelief and chuckling at the spectacle of it all.
There’s something else here too. Isaiah was writing this before it happened. In this, he was giving a message of hope and comfort to a people who were ripe for judgment themselves. They were going to be dominated by the Babylonians and life was going to get really hard for them. They were going to be sorely tempted to despair. Telling them that they were one day going to be standing over their captors, laughing at their fall from apparent glory would have given them a reason to have hope.
The point is, this passage is not some invitation to cruelty, it is a reminder of what is real and a word of hope to a people who severely needed it. The later declaration that salvation will be extended to all peoples including those who would find themselves in the same place of pride and arrogance as the Babylonians reveals that at the end of the day, this is really a call to repentance and the life that is truly life. Those who finally persist in this path, who stick with this delusion, will be like the sad case of Aladdin, but that is not an end that anyone has to face. Salvation is for all who are wiling to embrace reality and receive it.