“In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill” (Isa 30:25 NIV).
In the exhortation in this issue, we are advised to put our trust in the Lord, despite the perils that befall us, and the events of 9/11 are used as an example of these dangers. As I read it, my thoughts went back to that day — and also the use made at that time of the passage from Isaiah above. Many, including some in our community, were convinced that the events of that day were prophesied in this passage, and were a sign of the nearness of the coming of Christ. Indeed, as we consider the context in Isaiah, we read: “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:” (Isa 30:8). And then Isaiah continues with words about the sun and moon that find their echo later: “Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (Isa 60:20). So the context of the passage “when the towers fall” has been combined with the well-known prophecies in Zechariah. For example, John Thomas wrote:
“‘There was a great earthquake,’ says John, ‘and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon came into remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.’ Whether the falling of the cities is a political or literal overthrow, we stay not to examine. We believe it is both — politically, because Daniel saw the thrones cast down (Dan. 7:9); and literally, because an earthquake that will shake Rome into the abyss, and cleave the Mount of Olives to its foundations (Zech. 14:4, 5), prostrate the towers (Isaiah 30:25), and cause every wall to fall to the ground (Ezek. 38:20), must of necessity cause vast destruction among ‘the cities of the nations.’ “1
In addition, if you look at its use in the writings of our community, not only has this passage in Isaiah been associated with end time events, it has been used as an example of the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, not neglecting its future application. Among the several examples, I cite one written by CA Ladson, the son-in-law of Robert Roberts and the assistant editor of The Christadelphian at the time:
“Readers of the Prophets of Israel who spoke on behalf of the God of Israel who declared His purpose to ‘stain the pride of all glory,’ cannot but tremble for the future of this undertaking launched under such happy circumstances, humanly speaking. The choice of site upon the Mount of Olives has been hailed as happy and of good omen by thousands, but who can forget who reads the Prophets that that mount is to ‘cleave in two’ at a certain not distant day? Isaiah, looking on to the day of Israel’s salvation, saw first a day of destruction at Jerusalem ‘when the towers fall’ (30:25). This was true in the day of Titus, and will be true again before the Lord is king over all the earth and Israel’s eyes are enlightened.”2
So we have two interpretations of this prophecy, which was written presumably around 710 BC, after the fall of Samaria and amidst the terrible threat and destruction afflicted by Sennacherib and his Assyrian Army. We all must know of the siege of Jerusalem, led by the Rabshekah, which is most probably a term for field commander. So was the prophecy intended to talk about the fall of Jerusalem nearly eight centuries later, or the destruction associated with the return of their savior in the last days? Or was there a more immediate application, associated with the period in which Isaiah was writing?
A contemporary application is in fact common throughout Isaiah. As I am writing this, the strains of Handel’s Messiah are playing softly in the background, and I expect to hear the words “A virgin shall conceive” (Isa 7:14) before long, applied so beautifully by Matthew to the virgin birth of our Lord. That this most probably in Isaiah refers more immediately to the birth of Hezekiah is an understanding I have3, although the use of the term for “virgin” in the Greek translation of this OT passage reinforces the use of it by Matthew. (The Hebrew uses a more ambiguous word, which primarily means an unmarried woman.) So we have, in perhaps the most well-known direct prophecy of Isaiah, an immediate application as well as an undoubted future meaning.
So what might be the contemporary meaning in this verse (Isa 30:25)? What towers fell? It was certainly not those of Jerusalem, as was the case in AD 70 and is likely to be the case in the future. No, I believe it is referring to the siege towers of the Assyrian army, which undoubtedly fell during the night of the angel of the Lord.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (2Kgs 19:32-35).
We know from contemporary illustrations and descriptions that the Assyrians used siege towers quite commonly at the time, as can be seen alongside4. This type of warfare was common against such well-fortified cities as Jerusalem for we read “Into his right hand comes the lot for Jerusalem, to open the mouth with a cry, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build siege towers” (Ezek 21:22, RSV).
As an engineer, I have always been interested in the occasional references to technology in the Bible, and this is one I identified some years ago, as referring to the siege of Jerusalem. So it was with more than passing interest I heard the passage in Isaiah 30 cited when the Twin Towers fell in New York in 2011. This event, 9/11, has become seared into the memories of the inhabitants of the USA: I wonder myself whether the event will be remembered, as the siege of Jerusalem in 701BC has been remembered — or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
So we have three applications of this verse, Isa 30:25, over time: contemporary, associated with the time of Christ, and still future. This is a common pattern with Old Testament prophecies: we think of the words of Jesus “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:” (Mark 13:14). This passage had an application in the time of the Maccabees, when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple in around 167 BC: and in AD 70, when The Romans did the same. It can also be argued that they were also fulfilled when the Patriarch of Jerusalem uttered these words in AD 638, as the Calif Omar went up to the temple mount. And we can also expect a fulfillment when Christ returns, although the form it will take is not clear. Indeed some thought we saw some sort of fulfillment when the Pope visited Jerusalem in AD 2000.
Of this we can be sure: to say any Old Testament prophecy refers only to its fulfillment at the time, or its fulfillment by Christ, or refers solely to the end times, is a very risky statement. Many prophecies were fulfilled in quite an unexpected way when Christ came two millennia ago. As we see the turbulent times around us, we can also expect events to fulfill Bible prophecies in quite unexpected ways. And it also helps us to be aware of the events of the times of the prophets, for most of their prophecies had immediate relevance.
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
- The Herald of the Kingdom, 1852 p123.
- CA Ladson in The Christadelphian,1925 p 225.
- I know the chronology is difficult, as most would say Hezekiah was 9 years old at this time. But I consider the whole context points so directly to Hezekiah as to leave this among the many problems of OT chronology.
- From Layard’s drawings of the engravings found in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud: to be found in Yadin,The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands.