Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 21

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Verses 1-2


Destruction: So far, Isaiah 14-20, we have seen the indirect judgments of the LORD through His instrument the Assyrians. These judgments are called a “destruction” that is “determined” (Isaiah 10:22). The Assyrians, or king of the North, attack Israel and then go on to the south, to Egypt.

Harvest: In the chapters that follow now, Isaiah 21-24, we will read about the direct judgments of Christ after His appearance. We then get judgments that distinguish between believers who are spared and the wicked who are not spared, but taken away by the judgment. This is the opposite of what happens when the believers are raptured, because then the believers are taken away and the unbelievers are left behind.

It is as it were the bringing in of the harvest (Matthew 13:36-John :; Revelation 14:14-Nehemiah :). Then the chaff is separated from the wheat. By the way, even with the ten plagues of Egypt, we first find the judgments in which Israel also suffers, and later the judgments in which Israel is spared. The harvest begins with the judgment, through Christ, of Babylon, the army of the beast (Revelation 19:11-Ecclesiastes :), and ends with the judgment on the living (Matthew 25:31-1 Corinthians :), whereby also as it were the chaff is separated from the wheat.

There are three burdens in this chapter: of Babylon (Isaiah 21:1-2 Samuel :), of Edom (Isaiah 21:11-2 Kings :) and of Arabia (Isaiah 21:13-Esther :). We will see that in the future Babylon will be equal to the restored Roman Empire or the united states of Europe, perhaps with other Western allies. Babylon (Rome, Europe) will make an alliance with the antichrist, the coming false king of Israel. Babylon, Europe, will come to the aid of the then defeated land of Israel and will come to Israel with his army. The king of the North will then return to Israel. The battle can begin. But then the Lord Jesus appears!

Burden of the Wilderness of the Sea (Babylon)

“The wilderness of the sea” (Isaiah 21:1) we should be looking for in the south of Iraq. It is Babylon that lies in the Gulf area (cf. Jeremiah 51:13; Jeremiah 51:42). We read that John stands on the sand of the sea (Revelation 12:17). Here we can see that Babylon is connected with Revelation 13 and especially the beast of the sea, which is the restored Roman Empire in the future. Babylon lies by the sea, but it will soon be conquered and destroyed by the Medes and become a wilderness. Also spiritually, the beautiful, rich Babylon is a barren wilderness (Revelation 17:3) and the nations are depicted as the great waters, the restless sea (Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:15).

It is clearly a prophecy, because at that moment Assyria is still the mighty world empire. There is not much of Babylon to be seen yet. It is precisely the essence of the prophecy that God describes future events in it, none of which can yet be discovered in the present.

The same goes for the conquest of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Elam, that is the southwest of Persia, together with Media (Isaiah 21:2), marches violently and quickly against Babylon (Daniel 5:28-Amos :). Thus the LORD will enlighten His people from the yoke of Babylon and make “an end of all the groaning”.

It also has a meaning for the end time. While the king of the North is engaged in battle in Egypt (Daniel 11:40-Acts :), finally the mighty army of the restored Roman Empire comes to the north of Israel. The army of the king of the North then returns to Israel. Then the time has come for Christ to appear and personally judge this empire, which is typologically portrayed by Babylon (Daniel 11:45). That which King Cyrus, the king of the Medo-Persian empire, – called “His anointed” by the LORD (Isaiah 45:1) – has done with Babylon in the past, will happen through Christ (= Anointed) in the future. In Isaiah 40-45, Cyrus is a type of Christ.

Verses 3-4

The Pains of Isaiah

In history, these verses are fulfilled as a pre-fulfillment when an ally of King Cyrus the Persian, King Darius the Mede, and his army capture the city of Babylon by surprise. They describe the feelings of the people of the city during the sudden invasion of the Medes and the Persians. However, they also describe the feelings of Isaiah who sees this as a seer. They also describe the expression of the feelings of the army of Europe in the future when the Lord judges them by His appearance.

The terrible violence Isaiah sees in the vision does not leave him unmoved. When he sees all the suffering and misery that come over Babylon, even though they have earned it, it seizes him again (Isaiah 21:3). The pains he experiences are great. Pain shoots go through his body and robs him of the strength to walk. It is an unavoidable pain, just as there is no escape for a woman in labor. He cannot get rid of it. It robs him of the pleasures of the rest of the night (Isaiah 21:4).

What impression does it make on us when we hear of disasters about peoples and countries that persecute Christians? Or what are our feelings when we think of the suffering Israel and the world will be plunged into just before the return of the Lord Jesus, which means soon (Matthew 24:33)?

Verses 5-9

Carelessness and Fall of Babylon

What is described in these verses was fulfilled at the fall of Babylon on October 12, 539 BC and has been described in detail by historians. The Babylonians don’t think at all of the impending doom. They live a carefree life and feast at richly provided tables on which they lie on lovely resting beds (Isaiah 21:5). While they are feasting, the enemy is attacking them unexpectedly. He has changed the course of a canal that flows through the city of Babylon and has crept into Babylon through the drained riverbed.

This scene of carelessness and the invasion of the enemy is described in Daniel 5. See also Isaiah 13-14. Isaiah describes it as if he is present, while it will take another hundred and seventy-five years before it happens. He calls them to leave their laziness and to get ready for battle. Oil the shield is smearing it with oil to let the enemy’s blows slip away.

Isaiah must station a lookout (Isaiah 21:6). It seems that he himself is that lookout, as further on, in Isaiah 21:11, he himself is a watchman (cf. Habakkuk 2:1-Exodus :). A lookout is someone who is in the council of God, who knows what is going to happen and who looks forward to that event.

It is the same for us. Whoever has learned from Scripture what God has foretold by comparing Scripture with Scripture, who knows His purpose and accepts what has become clear to him, is able to warn others. A lookout looks out and is in fellowship with God.

God says what to look out for (Isaiah 21:7). He has to “pay close attention, very close attention”. He confirms that he will do so on the watchtower at night (Isaiah 21:8). He is very watchful. Sleeping is not for those who take God’s warnings and directions seriously. Then he sees how exactly what God has promised happens (Isaiah 21:9). God’s instruments do their work and bring down Babylon.

Isaiah 21:8 can also be translated with: “And he cried: A lion!” With his exclamation “a lion!” Isaiah refers to the army of the Medes and the Persians. That army is dangerous as a lion. The Dead Sea Scrolls mention ‘seer’ instead of ‘lion’ (these words are almost the same in Hebrew). The text must therefore be translated as “the seer exclaims: …”.

Babylon will fall through “a troop of riders” and “horsemen” of the Medes and Persians (Isaiah 21:9). The fact that the horsemen come “in pairs” may indicate dual nationality, that of the Medes and Persians. The fall of Babylon is shown in the book of Revelation with the same words (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 18:2). This shows the close connection between the prophecy of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. Only in the end time, at the appearance of Christ – the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5) – will this prophecy about the fall of Babylon be fully fulfilled.

The sequence of events described by Isaiah makes it clear that the judgment on Babylon (Isaiah 21) will only take place after the destruction of Israel by the king of the North (Isaiah 17-18) and after this king has been advanced to also destroy Egypt, the king of the south, and his allies (Isaiah 19-20).

Verse 10

The Comfort of God’s people

Here the threshing by God becomes clear. Threshing is God’s means of discipling His people. He uses the nations as an instrument to thresh and strike His people (cf. Isaiah 10:5). That is to get rid of the chaff and keep the wheat.

With this message Isaiah wants to encourage and warn his people. He does not bring the people a message invented by himself, as modern theologians would have us believe, but passes on what he has heard from the LORD the God of His people. From the Lord Jesus we read that He speaks what He saw with His father (John 8:38). We too may pass on what we have learned from the Lord and not our own ideas and interpretations.

Verses 11-12

Burden of Edom

In the first line of Isaiah 21:11 it says in Hebrew Dumah instead of Edom. Dumah descends from Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-2 Chronicles :). That this prophecy is about Edom and by Dumah Edom is meant can be seen from the second line, where “Seir” is mentioned. Seir lies in Edom (Genesis 36:8). Dumah means “silence,” that is, the silence of death. It speaks of the agony that comes over Edom. They have heard what the great prophet Isaiah has said. They have heard his warnings or heard others talk about it. They have also heard about his announcements of judgment and of salvation and redemption.

Here Isaiah is a type of the faithful remnant of Israel who will then proclaim the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14), in this case to the Edomites. This gospel should be clearly distinguished from the gospel preached in this time of grace, the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

Now they have become curious if he has something to tell them. That is why they ask Isaiah, the watchman, a question from Seir, the area where the Edomites live (Joshua 24:4). The repetition gives the question extra emphasis. The meaning of the question is symbolic: How far has the night already passed? Enclosed in it is the question of how long it is before daybreak, which is the period of Israel’s glory spoken of by the prophets.

How the question is asked to Isaiah is not told. Possibly Isaiah saw someone in a vision asking him that question. Something similar we also see when Paul sees in a vision a Macedonian man calling him (Acts 16:9).

The Edomites also suffer from Assyrians. Could the prophet from Judah also say how long that will take for them? They ask that question twice. Do they really want to know when the morning comes, i.e. the time of peace, the time of Israel’s glory, or are they mockingly assuming that Isaiah just calls out anything (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-Numbers :)?

Isaiah gives them the assurance that morning will surely come. The kingdom of peace is coming, for the “Sun of righteousness” is rising (Malachi 4:2). But also night will come. The night here is God’s judgment on Edom. The day of Israel’s glory will be the night of the judgment on Edom.

Isaiah knows the answer because he is in God’s counsel (Isaiah 21:12). He also gives the answer. He points to the dawn of a coming day and sees it as already having come. That is what the believer who trusts God on His Word says and believes that He will introduce Israel once into the full blessing. But Isaiah also says that a night will come.

Then the Edomite is called to come back again. This is another call to repent, also for the mockers. Even in a message of judgment, God in His indulgence continues to call man to repent. Even on the last page of the Bible, it still sounds: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17).

The watchman’s answer has meaning for every ‘Edomite’. For the sincerely inquiring ‘Edomite’ who accepts the watchman’s message as spoken in the name of God, the day will come after night (Romans 13:12). But for a mocking ‘Edomite’ it is night and remains night. Those who really want to know what the future looks like, what is going to happen, are invited to inquire. The sincerity of the question will also be evident in responding to the call to return to God and His invitation to come to Him (Matthew 11:28).

We may ask each time how long it will take before it becomes day. This is proof that we do not live for here and now, but in the light of the future. It is an encouragement for the believer. Each time we may question the prophetic word and be encouraged by it that God is not out of control and that He will finally fulfill all His promises. It is also implied that, in order to see it become day, it is necessary for the questioner to come back again, that is to turn to God.

For Israel and the world, “a morning without clouds” (2 Samuel 23:4) will come when the Lord Jesus establishes His realm of peace. This must first be preceded by His coming to judge. Israel and the world must first pass through the night of the great tribulation. That night will pass into the eternal night for all who do not repent. For all who repent, who come back again, it will be eternal light.

In this section about Dumah we find a prophetic warning to Edom. If Edom does not listen to this warning, the anger of God will come upon him through the Assyrians, the king of the North (Isaiah 10:5). Isaiah does not mention this explicitly, but we do find it in Obadiah (Obadiah 1:1-1 Samuel :).

After the appearance of the LORD and the restoration of Israel, including the returned ten tribes, He will roar from Zion (Joel 3:16) and tread His wine press in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12-1 Chronicles :). Then the nations in the land of Edom will be judged (Isaiah 34:1-Ezra :; Isaiah 63:1-Joshua :). Edom then also will be destroyed again.

Finally, the faithful remnant of Israel will take possession of their inheritance by completely exterminating the remaining Edomites (Isaiah 11:14; Isaiah 34:6-Esther :; Ezekiel 25:14). That is why Edom is called Dumah here, which means ‘the silence of death’.

Verses 13-17

Burden of Arabia

The word “Arabia” (Isaiah 21:13) is related to the word “night”. The words “spend the night” refer to the fact that the Arabs will flee from the enemy. That they must spend the night on the normal caravan routes, but in the thickets, the (wild) forest, where there are no oases, underlines this thought.

The Dedanites are a trading Arab tribe from southern Arabia. Trading means that they are travelers with caravans that transport their merchandise to distant places. They are descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-Leviticus :). Tema is located in northwestern Arabia. Isaiah calls on the Temanites to help the fugitive with water and bread (Isaiah 21:14). The Dedanites are fleeing from the sword of the king of Assyria (Isaiah 21:15). Now they must spend the night with the Temanites, an Ishmaelite tribe, descendants of Abraham and Hagar (Genesis 25:12; Genesis 25:15).

The Arabs may have escaped an immediate danger by fleeing, but soon after they will be hit by a major disaster. The time is again precisely determined (Isaiah 21:16; cf. Isaiah 16:14). Kedar is located in northern Arabia. It is known for its beautiful black tents (Song of Solomon 1:5; cf. Jeremiah 49:28-Joel :). Of that beauty, just like of these Arab tribes, not much will remain (Isaiah 21:17).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-21.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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