Isaiah 21 - Outline of Isaiah (Book Notes menu page)
I.C.6. The Burden of the Desert of the Sea (Babylon), 21:1-10
1. The burden of the desert of the sea.
As whirlwinds in the south pass through;
[so] it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land.
2 A grievous vision is declared unto me;
the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth.
Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media;
all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.
3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain:
pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth:
I was bowed down at the hearing [of it]; I was dismayed at the seeing [of it].
4 My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me:
the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.
5 Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink:
arise, ye princes, [and] anoint the shield.
6 For thus hath the Lord said unto me,
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
7 And he saw a chariot [with] a couple of horsemen,
a chariot of asses, [and] a chariot of camels;
and he hearkened diligently with much heed:
8 And he cried, A lion: My lord,
I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime,
and I am set in my ward whole nights:
9 And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, [with] a couple of horsemen.
And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen;
and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.
10 O my threshing, and the corn of my floor:
that which I have heard of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.
the desert of the sea...- The term sounds self-contradictory.
Yet, it is descriptive of Babylon (identified in v.9).
"Babylon, with its glitter and glamour and as a fountainhead of idolatry and false religion, was a mirage in the desert." [JVMcGee]
     The city of Babylon was located on the Euphrates River which flows through a desert. The word 'sea' {lit., roaring} refers here to this river, just as it referred to the Nile in the Burden of Egypt (Isa 19:5). Other passages also juxtapose desert and sea in reference to Babylon: Jer 50:38; 51:13,36,55; Rev 17:1,3. In the latter passage, 'the sea' refers to the mass of the world's population which is deceived by the confused and blasphemous philosophies of Babylon, and 'wilderness' represents the spiritual barrenness in which she dwells.
     The burdens of judgment upon the nations began with the Burden of Babylon (Isaiah ch. 13-14), but her evil is so pervasive, and her collapse so complete, that this second burden is directed toward her also.
a grievous vision...- Isaiah was grieved by the message.
It was difficult both to receive and to deliver.
it cometh... from a terrible land...-
In the near view, the judgment of Babylon would come from the Medes, who were ferrocious warriors. Their approach is compared to a desert wind storm.
the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously...-
Alternate translation: "The treacherous dealer is dealt with treacherously, and the spoiler is spoiled." [GWms]
ie., Babylon is to experience the same cruelties that she imposed upon others. cp. Isa 13:16; 33:1; Hab 2:9,10
Go up, O Elam {ie., Persia}: besiege, O Media...-
The historic fall of Babylon was at the hands of the Medo-Persian empire.
therefore are my loins filled with pain... I was dismayed at the seeing of it...-
The vision of Babylon's destruction is a cause of sorrow and distress to the prophet, whose words reflect the Lord's sorrow in paying out the wages of sin. Judgment is His 'strange work' (Isa 28:21,22; 2Pet 3:9,10).
my heart panted... the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me...-
In v.4-5, the prophet speaks from the perspective of Belshazzar at his final banquet. Dan 5:1-6
prepare the table, watch in the watchtower {alternate trans., 'spread the carpet'}, eat, drink...-
(The HB text allows either reading. Both fit the context, and together provide poetic tension.)
This brief prophetic picture includes sufficient detail to vividly describe the night of Babylon's fall. The careless revelry is suddenly interrupted by a call to arms:
arise ye princes, and anoint the shield.- But defense would be futile (Dan 5:30).
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees...-
In v.6-9, the Lord tells His people (through Isaiah) to be expecting the judgment of Babylon (Jer 51:12,13). The prophets were such watchmen (Eze 3:17; Hab 2:1,2). Though the watchmen grow weary from long uneventful watching, the things foretold will come suddenly and violently. Seemingly innocuous commercial and military movements (seen as caravans of asses and camels) will suddenly be transformed into "a lion," bringing the overthrow of Babylon (cp. Jer 50:40-46). The watchman reports...
behold... a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen...-
- 'chariot' is HB=rekeb, a team, a chariot, a rider, a chariot unit (consisting of chariots, drivers, and foot soldiers);
- 'a couple of' is HB=tsemed, a couple, pair, team, yoke.
As noted in the definition, above, the word for 'chariot' may have several different connotations (making translation difficult).
  • Compare v.7 ('a chariot...') with these alternate readings...
    • "And he hath seen a chariot--a couple of horsemen, The rider of an ass, the rider of a camel, And he hath given attention--He hath increased attention!" [YLT]
    • "When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, A train of donkeys, a train of camels, Let him pay close attention, very close attention." [NASB]
  • Compare v.9 ('a chariot of men...") with these alternate readings...
    • "And lo, this, the chariot of a man is coming, A couple of horsemen. And he answereth and saith: 'Fallen, fallen hath Babylon, And all the graven images of her gods He hath broken to the earth." [YLT]
    • Now behold, here comes a troop of riders, horsemen in pairs. And one said, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon; And all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground.' [NASB]
In v.7,8, the watchman suddenly recognizes that the approaching caravan is not engaged in commerce, but comes like a 'lion' bent on destruction. In the near view, these paired horsemen may represent the Medes and Persians with their armies and supply trains.
     Yet, the watchman seems even more alarmed by what he sees in v.9, where he sounds the alarm ("Behold...") concerning a 'team of men' and 'linked horsemen.' This may be a foreview of the horsemen and the two men ('the beasts') that John beheld in Revelation ch.6 and Rev 13:1,11.
Babylon is fallen, is fallen.-
The absolute certainty, of the prophecy, is indicated by repetition of the verb, and by use of the present tense.
The suddenness and severity, of the historic fall, illustrates the future sudden fall of the corrupt world system (Rev 14:8; 18:2,8-10).
O my threshing, and the corn of my floor...- (v.10)
In the time of harvest, the chaff is separated from the grain.
Threshing is a picture of judgment (Jer 51:31-33; cp. Mat 3:11,12).
The grain pictures the restoration of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom (Isa 62:6-9).
that which I have heard, of the LORD... I have declared unto you.
The prophet faithfully declared God's Word, complete with both the grief of judgment and the joy of salvation.
I.C.7. The Burden of Dumah (21:11-12)
11. The burden of Dumah.
He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night?
Watchman, what of the night?
12 The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night:
if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.
...Dumah... Seir...- Dumah is a HB word for 'silence.' This is a play on words with 'Idumea.'
Seir, or mount Seir, was another name for the land of Idumea {ie., Edom}, the mountainous region south of the Dead Sea, occupied by the descendants of Esau (Deu 2:4,5).
     Although the people of Edom were related to Israel (Esau was Jacob's brother), Edom had repeatedly betrayed Israel to her enemies. Therefore, the Lord promised to reward them for their hatred toward their 'brothers' (Joel 3:19,20; Amos 1:11,12).
     Scripture presents Esau as typical of the man of flesh who disregards God and His promises (Gen 25:29-34; Heb 12:16,17).
he calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? -
Here, the ruler of Edom asks the prophet to tell what he sees concerning the future of his country. His hope is that the judgments upon Assyria and Babylon will end the dark night of their oppression of his land.
The morning cometh, and also the night...- The answer is not favorable to Edom.
A new day will indeed dawn with peace and glory, for Israel and for all who know and trust the God of Israel. Isa 9:2,6,7; 60:1-3; Mal 4:1-3; 2Pet 1:19
     But Edom will be annihilated, and all who, like Esau, despise the Lord and His Word, will descend into the eternal night of silence. Jer 49:7-22; Obad 1:1-21; Mal 1:1-4
if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.-
Although the future is dark for Edom, and for all fleshly men (Rom 8:7,8), grace is extended to any individual (even an Edomite) who will seek the light of God, turn back from sin's darkness, and come to the Lord who is Salvation (Isa 55:7; Rev 22:17; 5:9)
I.C.8. The Burden of Arabia (21:13-17)
13. The burden upon Arabia.
In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim.
14 The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty,
they prevented
{ie., preceded, received, met} with their bread him that fled.
15 For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword,
and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war.
16 For thus hath the Lord said unto me,
Within a year, according to the years of an hireling,
and all the glory of Kedar shall fail:
17 And the residue of the number of archers,
the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished:
for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken [it].
...Arabia...- Arabia is a region to the east and southeast of Israel,
which was occupied by the descendants of Ishmael, among whose sons were Tema and Kedar (v.14,16; Gen 25:13-16). The Dedanim were descendants of Dedan, who was a grandson of Abraham through Keturah (Gen 25:1-3).
     As with the name Dumah (in v.11, where it does not refer to Ishmael's son), there is a play on words with the name 'Arabia,' which is identical to a HB word meaning 'evening' or 'sunset.' "For the sons of Ishmael, there is an evening of sorrow, but not a night of eternal silence." [GWms] The judgments upon Arabia would diminish, but not extinguish these people.
within a year... and all the glory of Kedar shall fail...-
The name, Kedar, was applied to a large region of northern Arabia, to the east of Israel, and was associated with wealth (the 'glory of Kedar'), brought by caravan traders (the 'travelling companies of Dedan').
     In these few verses, the struggles of these related tribes are described in their mutual defense against an enemy (Assyria) that would overwhelm them within a year of Isaiah's message. (The time was set, as if by contract, 'according to the years of an hireling.')
     But that would not be the end of their sorrows, for a hundred years later, the region would suffer similarly under the Babylonians (Jer 49:28-29).
     Looking still farther into the future, Ezekiel associates these peoples with the glory of the king of Tyrus, who foreshadows the Antichrist both in the depth of his corruption and in the totality of his destruction (Eze 27:1,2,15,20,21; Eze 28:12-19). In the time of the end, those who remain from these tribes, as Edom before them, will experience the Lord's vengeance for their mistreatment of Israel (cp. Isa 11:14; Eze 25:13,14).
     Yet, in the time of Israel's restoration, people from Arabia will be associated with her in the worship of the Holy One of Israel (Isa 60:7-9).

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