Isaiah 13:11: Evil and Iniquity (publ. 2024-02-03)

Thus I will punish the world for its evil
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud
And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.

— Isaiah 13:11 (NASB 1995)


We discussed this chapter in a previous post:

Isaiah 13:10: The Heavens are Dark

This chapter prophesies the destruction of Babylon, evidentally referring to a now past event. TBKC identifies this to be the Assyrians' sack of Babylon in December 689 B.C. (See their commentary on verses 14-18.) But verses in the middle of the chapter rise above that, referring either directly or by parallel to a coming world-wide judgement of all evil. In verse 11, we look at the cause and target of this judgment.

Hebrew insights

the world

The Hebrew word translated "world" is תֵּבֵל (tēḇēl). A complicated and unsettled discussion in HALOT suggests that the literal meaning of the word is "mainland", and that it is used here and in other places as a way to refer to the part of the world that is "inhabited and cultivated". In other words, the populated world. It appears to be the opposite of מִדְבׇּר ("wilderness", cf. Is 14.17).

evil and iniquity

The words רָעָה (rā˓ă, "evil") and עֲוֹנָם (˓ᵒônom, "iniquity") have a similar meaning in this verse, but each has a different emphasis, as explained by TWOT. Both words refer to evil behavior. However, the feminine noun רָעָה functions much like the masculine adjective, which indicates "moral deficiencies, moral qualities that injure onself or others, or a condition that is below par." When this word is used in non-moral contexts, it has the idea of being of inferior quality or bringing about negative effects. So the word, as used here, emphasis the quality of the behavior, or rather the lack thereof. We do evil because there is moral corruption and rot within us, and we fail to be the shining moral examples that God designed us to be.

The word עֲוֹנָם, on the other hand, emphasizes the deed itself — the "act or deed that is against what is right" (TWOT). It is the unjust decision in court, or the dishonest trade dealing. It is the robbery, the murder, the oppression. It is the vicious words that were spoken, when kindness was called for.


NASB 1995 translates the word גְּאוֹן (gǝʾôn) as "arrogance". According to TWOT, the primary meaning of this root is "to rise", and it gives a gloss of "exaltation" for this specific form. The Hebrew word basically means "pride", but it can be used in either a positive or negative sense depending on whether the ultimate object and source is God or oneself.

HALOT gives the literal meaning of the word as "height", and classifies this specific passage under the sense "presumption", a subordinate meaning of the general idea of "exaltation". The word presumption has a rather specific meaning in English, and I'm not sure if HALOT meant that all of that meaning is actually contained in the Hebrew word. In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed) presumption refers to "presumptuous attitude or conduct" and presumptuous means "overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy) : taking liberties".

the ruthless

Who are the עָרִיצִים (ʿāîrṣîm)? TWOT defines this form as "mighty, oppressor, in great power, strong, terrible, violent" while the verb form is said to denote "fear or terror" or "to be terrified". Once in Scripture it refers to ʏʜᴡʜ (Jer 20:11) but more often relates to ruthless enemies of an individual or a nation (e.g. Ps 54:3(5); 86:14; Isaiah 25:3-5; 29:5; Jer 15:21). HALOT puts this instance under "potentate, tyrant" but the primary sense is "violent, powerful" or "acting violently". It does not seem obvious to me, from the example passages given by HALOT, that the עָרִיצִים need necessarily be political leaders, but both TWOT and HALOT both including the idea of power and violence. The עָרִיצִים are those in positions of power and strength who apply it violently to the detriment of others, for their own gain.


Perhaps the biggest problem in theology is understanding why God allows evil to exist and to continue operating in the world. The Bible gives some concepts and information to help deal with that question, but much is still shrouded in mystery. Whatever your thoughts may be on that, what is clear from the Scripture is that God will make an end of evil, in a coming day of judgment and wrath. This verses promises that God will punish the world for its evil and put a stop to it.

The Hebrew words translated "evil and iniquity" both deal with evil behavior, but the first word emphasizes our moral corruption and failure, while the other word emphasizes the evilness of the actions themselves. We like to think highly of our motives and character, at least of our own personal motives, if not that of others. We try to justify ourselves and our choices, even when those choices have destroyed our relationships, hurt the people around us, or are harmful to society. But the truth is that there is a rottenness within each of us, a disease of our inner person that sooner or later oozes out into corrupt and harmful words and our behavior. We may think well of ourselves, but God, in his holiness and perfect perception, sees only too clearly what we really are.

Those of us who are not humbled or at least embarrased by our own deficiences, tend to run in the opposite direction, toward arrogance. As we become more disconnected from the reality of who we are, and abandon moral constraints, we become proud of our made-up beliefs and our deviant life-styles. Things which were once shameful to even think about, are now proclaimed boldly as right and true, ironically by those who have abandoned the notions of ulimate truth and an objective standard of morality. For example, the word "pride", once an awkward word and heavily laden with negative connotations, is now the banner for a movement that seeks to eradicate the God-given norms of sexuality and gender.

The arrogant ones who manage to attain to positions of power and influence become the "ruthless". These are those who are willing to use that power and influence violently for their own benefit. The violence may be literal, like a Stalin or a Hitler killing off his political enemies. Or it might be something like using the legal system to crush and oppress people who are trying to do what is right. At the top of many supposedly great causes today are people of great wealth and power, lusting for more of it. Also, in our country (the USA) there are many people and mobs who are supposedly "protesting" evil and injustice, but that wouldn't think twice about using threats, intimidation, and violence if given a convenient opportunity to do so without repercussions to themselves.

But in time, at the right time, God will put an end to this. Pride will be humbled, and evil will be laid bare and destroyed. The Christ will return, this time in great power and wrath to cleanse the world of evil and set up God's enduring kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. For now, the evil continues, but Jesus offers forgiveness, redemption, and spiritual transformation to those who will accept it. If you do not have this hope yourself, then admit your own failings, swallow your pride, and turn to Christ today to save you from yourself and from the judgment to come.

This work © 2024 by Christopher Howard is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

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Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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