David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
ISAIAH 21 - BURDENS AGAINST BABYLON, EDOM AND ARABIA
A. The burden against Babylon.
1. (Isaiah 21:1-2) An army from Persia marches on Babylon.
The burden against the Wilderness of the Sea. As whirlwinds in the South pass through, so it comes from the desert, from a terrible land. A distressing vision is declared to me; the treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the plunderer plunders. Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media! All its sighing I have made to cease.
a. A burden against the Wilderness of the Sea: Babylon is called the Wilderness of the Sea because the great plain of Babylon was divided with lakes and marshes, so it was referred to as a “sea.”
i. “And the title of the sea might well be given to the waters of Babylon, because of the great plenty and multitude of them . . . the name of sea being given by the Hebrews to ever great collection of waters.” (Poole)
b. Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media: Elam and Media are the ancient names for the peoples of Persia, modern day Iran. The Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire, and Isaiah her prophetically sees their armies marching on Babylon.
i. “God oft maketh use of one tyrant to punish another; as here he stirreth up the Persians to plunder and waste the Babylonians. So the Persians were afterwards in like sort punished by the Macedonians, the Macedonians by the Romans, those Romans by the Huns, Vandals, Lombards, Saracens, Turks; all whom Christ shall destroy at his last coming.” (Trapp)
2. (Isaiah 21:3-10) The fall of Babylon.
Therefore my loins are filled with pain; pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor. I was distressed when I heard it; I was dismayed when I saw it. My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me; the night for which I longed He turned into fear for me. Prepare the table, set a watchman in the tower, eat and drink. Arise, you princes, anoint the shield! For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” And he saw a chariot with a pair of horsemen, a chariot of donkeys, and a chariot of camels, and he listened earnestly with great care. Then he cried, “A lion, my Lord! I stand continually on the watchtower in the daytime; I have sat at my post every night. And look, here comes a chariot of men with a pair of horsemen!” Then he answered and said, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” Oh, my threshing and the grain of my floor! That which I have heard from the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, I have declared to you.
a. As the people collapse from fear and pain (Pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor), the nation prepares for war (Arise, you princes, anoint the shield!).
i. “Nothing is more hopeless and crestfallen than a wicked man in distress: for why? his life and hopes end together.” (Trapp)
b. The report comes to the watchman: Babylon is fallen, is fallen! This dramatic scene was fulfilled when the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, but it also has a prophetic application. Revelation 18:2 describes the cry of an angel when God judges the world system, both commercial Babylon and spiritual Babylon: And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” The repetition of the phrase is fallen, is fallen connects the two passages.
i. The same panic and terror the people of Babylon felt when that great city was conquered by the Medes and Persians will be seen again. When the LORD strikes the world system, both spiritual Babylon and commercial Babylon, the world will be terrified and mourn the same way (Revelation 18:9-19). But God’s people rejoice over the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:20).
B. Burdens against Edom and Arabia.
1. (Isaiah 21:11-12) The burden against Edom (Dumah).
The burden against Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” The watchman said, “The morning comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; return! Come back!”
a. Dumah was another ancient name for the kingdom of Edom, in the mountainous region of Seir. The Edomites descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob (Israel). They settled in the land to the south-east of Israel, and were the sometimes enemies of Israel.
b. This is a vague, mysterious burden against Dumah. It may speak to the confusion and darkness striking Edom at the time of their judgment. Bultema wrote of these verses, “This brief burden has always been a great burden to expositors!”
c. Watchman, what of the night? Using a powerful dramatic scene of a cry to a watchman in the night, Isaiah paints the picture of the judgment and terror that will come upon Edom.
i. On the burden against Edom: “What he may be saying is that the long night of Assyrian oppression is almost over, and the night of Babylonian rule would follow a brief ‘morning’ of respite.” (Wolf)
2. (Isaiah 21:13-17) The burden against Arabia.
The burden against Arabia. In the forest in Arabia you will lodge, O you traveling companies of Dedanites. O inhabitants of the land of Tema, bring water to him who is thirsty; with their bread they met him who fled. For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the distress of war. For thus the LORD has said to me: “Within a year, according to the year of a hired man, all the glory of Kedar will fail; and the remainder of the number of archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar, will be diminished; for the LORD God of Israel has spoken it.”
a. Isaiah pictures the refugees from an attack on Arabia. They are traveling companies of Dedanites; they are thirsty, and they need bread, because they fled from the swords and from the bent bow, and from the distress of war.
b. This attack will come soon: Within a year . . . the glory of Kedar will fail. Poole on according to the year of a hired man: “An exact year; for hirelings diligently observe and wait for the end of the year, when they are to receive their wages.”
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