Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 21

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-17

Isaiah 21:1 . The desert of the sea. The army which invaded Babylon came not directly against it; but Cyrus made a circuitous route, and collected part of his army from the deserts and mountains towards the Caspian sea. Others call Babylon a sea, because at Easter, the time of the first fruits, Sir 24:25 , the rivers Pison or Tigris, &c. overflowed their banks, by the melting snows on the mountains of Armenia.

Bishop Lowth has much relieved this prophecy of the fall of Babylon by the following translation Like the southern tempest, rushing violently along, from the desert he cometh, from the terrible country. A dreadful vision! It is revealed unto me: the plunderer is plundered, the destroyer is destroyed. Go up, oh Elam; form the siege, oh Media. I have put an end to all her vexations. Therefore are my loins filled with pain: anguish hath seized me, as the anguish of a woman in travail. I am convulsed so that I cannot hear. I am astonished so that I cannot see. My heart is bewildered: terrors have seized me: the evening for which I longed, hath he turned into horror. The table is spread, the watch is set: they eat, they drink. Rise up, oh ye princes, and anoint the shield; for thus hath the Lord said unto me. Go, set a watchman on his station; whatsoever he shall see, let him report it unto thee. And he saw a chariot with two riders; a rider on an ass, and a rider on a camel; and he observed diligently with extreme diligence. And he that looked out on the watch cried aloud, Oh my lord, I keep my station all the day long; and on my ward have I continued every night. And behold there cometh a man, one of the two riders; and he answered and said Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven idols of her gods are broken down to the ground.

Isaiah 21:2 . The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously. Babylon assumed splendid titles: the Lord here gives her the true one. In her grasp at universal empire, the very existence of neighbouring nations was a crime. She robbed and murdered the earth. Now the Medes were divinely commissioned to spoil the spoiler.

Isaiah 21:7 . A couple of horsemen. This is a catachresis, a figure which improperly puts one thing for another; for these horsemen turn out to be an ass and a camel Darius and Cyrus.

Isaiah 21:8 . A lion, my lord. This animal was anciently used to denote a king, and a conqueror. Perhaps the prophet did not deem it prudent to speak more plainly.

Isaiah 21:11 . Dumah. The LXX write it Idumea. Being now under the Babylonian yoke, they enquire with great and redoubled eagerness concerning Babylon. Watchman, what of the night; watchman, what of the night. Shall we have peace or war, prosperity or renewed calamities, life or death?

Isaiah 21:12 . The morning cometh, of joy and repose; but also the night cometh, of darkness and affliction. These words are brief, and by consequence obscure. The Chaldaic gives a paraphrase, which becomes a watchman to utter in calamitous times. “The prophet replied, God shall reward the righteous, and the wicked shall be the victims of his wrath; therefore if you will be converted, be converted while you may.”


What a striking view have we again of Babylon’s fall! The Medes and Persians we see had a high commission to execute the sentence passed in the court of heaven. Hence providence succeeded them in all their measures. The captive Jews, as all other nations, willingly joined the invading army; and all their sighing was made to cease. On the other hand, pangs, horror, and travail fell on the guilty city.

The night of pleasure, the sumptuous table, the eating and drinking, on the very night the city was taken are distinctly marked; and the consequent confusion of the proud infidel and drunken court, when the guards alarmed them with a cry Rise up ye princes, and anoint the shield: for shields were anointed with oil, that the blow might be parried off with greater ease. The prophet having thus seen in vision the fall of Babylon one hundred and sixty years or more before it occurred, cast next a yearning look on his own country, as foreseeing their captivity, and exclaimed, oh my threshingfloor.

We have another prophecy against mount Seir and Dumah, inhabited by the Edomites and the Arabs to the south. Hear one trembling for his sinful country ask the prophet as a watchman, what he thinks of their situation. He answers, the morning of prosperity cometh, in which men are wanton in sin, and forgetful of God; then cometh the night of visitation. Therefore, if they wished to avoid the punishment, it was high time to awake out of sleep, and enquire and return to the Lord. The sense given by Grotius appears very wide of the mark. He supposes an Idumean soldier escaped from Babylon to be the watchman; and travelling by night, his countrymen asked him what news. He says, Babylon is fallen, and bids them return and escape the danger. But Idumea was too distant from Babylon to admit this whimsical notion. Besides, the fall of the oppressor placed all the nation under Cyrus, famed for his humanity.

The next prophecy is against the descendants of Dedan, a son of Abraham by Keturah. God warns before he strikes, but here the warning was short; for benoth shanah signifies before the present year is ended. This prophecy was no doubt fulfilled by the swarms of Sennacherib’s army.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.