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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 21

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-10


Isaiah 21, 22

These two chapters contain prophecies against Babylon, Edom, the Arabians, Jerusalem. The last of them has an appendix relating to an individual, namely, Shebna, the steward of the palace. The reason of the juxtaposition of these prophecies is seen in their peculiar inscriptions, which are all of an emblematic character. The countries spoken of are not designated by their real names, but Babylon is called the desert of the sea; Edom, Dumah, i.e. silence; Jerusalem, valley of vision. Arabia retains its own name, but that name is seen to be used in a double signification. For the context shows that עֲרַב is intended to stand not only for Arabia, but also for evening. We have, moreover, to remark, that in three of these prophecies (Isaiah 21:1; Isaiah 21:13; Isaiah 22:1) the inscription is an expression taken from the prophecy over which it is placed. In arranging these prophecies so much weight was attached to the analogous character of their inscriptions, that from a regard to it even chapter 22 although directed against Jerusalem, has been taken into the series of prophecies against heathen nations (13–23) The four prophecies here placed together have yet other points of contact. The first and second exhibit the prophet very prominently in his character as a watcher on his high tower: the fourth presents the antithesis between false and true seeing. In the first Elam and Madai appear as enemies of Babylon; in the fourth, Elam and Kir as enemies of Jerusalem. Moreover, the mode of attack is twice described in the same manner. (Comp. Isaiah 21:7 with Isaiah 22:6). Worthy of observation too, are the frequent points of agreement with the book of Job which both these chapters contain. Comp. Isaiah 21:3 b, and Isaiah 21:4 a with Job 21:6; Job 18:11, etc.; Isaiah 22:2 with Job 36:29; Job 39:7; Isaiah 22:4 with Job 7:19; Job 14:6; Isaiah 22:22 with Job 12:14; Isaiah 22:24 (צאצאים) with Job 5:25, etc. (See the exposition).

The genuineness of Isaiah 21:1-10 is contested by the rationalistic interpreters. The chief reason is that they hold such a prophecy to be an impossibility. But as the form and contents of the piece are so decidedly after Isaiah’s manner that, as Delitzsch says, “a prophecy constructed more exactly in the style of Isaiah than this, is inconceivable,” it would follow that we have primarily and properly only to consider the question as a problem which is presented to us: How is it possible that Isaiah could foreknow the fall of Babylon by nations that he calls Elam and Madai? A thing is here held to be impossible, whose impossibility is by no means scientifically established. For it is not demonstrated that there is not a personal God.

It is very difficult to make any definite statement respecting the time of the composition of this prophecy against Babylon. The only thing on which we can base an opinion seems to be the identity of expressions in Isaiah 21:3; Isaiah 13:8. This suggests the inference that the prophecy Isaiah 21:1-10 and the related chapters 13 and 14 were composed at the same time. On the question respecting the time of the composition of the three other prophecies, consult the introductions to them and the exposition that follow.


A.—Against Babylon

Isaiah 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 1grievous 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     2My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me;

3The night of my pleasure hath he 4 turned into fear unto me.

5     Prepare the table,

Watch in the watch-tower,
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 a5 chariot with a couple of horsemen,

A chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels;

And he hearkened diligently with much heed:

8     And 6he cried, A lion;

My lord, I stand continually upon the watch-tower in the day time,
And I am set in my ward 7whole nights.

9     And, behold, here cometh 8a 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 9corn of my floor:

That which I have heard of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,
Have I declared unto you.


Isaiah 21:1. לחלף supply הָיוּ, conjugatio periphrastica, comp. Gesen., § 132, Anm. 1; Ewald, § 237, c. The design of this periphrastic construction seems to be to denote what is habitual: ut transire solent—a usage which marks chiefly the later books (2 Chronicles 26:5; Ezra 3:12) The construction is in every case a peculiar one.

Isaiah 21:2. חזות קשׁה is the accusative depending on the transitive notion latent in the passive הֻגַּר. The ה in אנחתה (אֲנָחָה, in Isaiah besides only Isaiah 35:10, 11) is marked by the Masorets as רָכָּה, although “the majority of the most correct codd. and editt.” (see Gesen. and De Rossi on our place) have the Mappiq in the הּ The sense is the same; for even the form with the quiescent ה denotes “gemitus ejus” for there is no absolute form אַנְחָתָה. Respecting the feminine suffix without Mappiq, comp. Ewald, § 247, d.

Isaiah 21:6. The article before מְצַפֶה (Micah 7:4) is the generic.

Isaiah 21:7. The primary signification of רֶכֶב is vectura. This can mean 1) id quo vehitur, and that is a) and indeed predominantly the chariot, but also b) the horse. Here however we have to remark that רכב is not the riding horse, but the chariot horse, and that it has this signification not immediately from the root רָכַב, but per metonymiam from the derivative רֶכֶב chariot, which also signifies the chariot with horses, and then (pars pro toto) the horses alone (comp. 2 Samuel 8:4; 2 Samuel 10:18); 2) vectura signifies also id quod vehitur, i.e., men riding or driving, whether singly (Ezekiel 39:20 סוּס וָרֶכֶב equus et vector), or in numbers, as a band, a train (comp. in Arabic rakb a band of camel riders). In this latter signification the word is to be understood here and Isaiah 21:9; Isaiah 22:6. קשׁב marks everywhere only the activity of the ear and not attentive observation in general. קֶשֶׁב is the simple accusative of the object “et attendit attentionem magnam” (compare Deuteronomy 13:2 חָלַם חְַלוֹם, also Zechariah 1:15, and Psalms 14:5).


The first verse contains the theme: the Prophet beholds a violent tempest, which as a Simoon in the South, sweeps from a terrible land against Babylon. In Isaiah 21:2 the vision is more exactly defined, both as to the subjective and objective side. In the former relation it is characterized as a hard one, i.e. one which makes a deep and perturbing impression on him who sees it. Objectively the vision is seen to relate to a martial expedition against the perfidious and devastating Babylon. This expedition, in which Elam and Madai are the actors, will at the same time make an end to the sighing, i.e. to the bondage of Israel. In Isaiah 21:3-4 the feelings of the Prophet at the “hard” vision are more nearly described. Pain seizes him as a travailing woman; he writhes and is terrified at what he hears and sees. His heart beats wildly from the horror which has taken hold of him; the twilight, hitherto so pleasant, as a time of rest, has become a time of dread. In Isaiah 21:5 there is a brief description of the way in which Babylon, the object of the announced invasion, behaves in view of it. They furnish the table for a banquet without thinking of any other defence than the appointment of watchmen; they eat and drink till suddenly, in the midst of the feast, the cry is heard: Arise, ye princes, anoint the shield! The following verses depict the issue. In order to observe it, the Prophet had been ordered by the Lord to set a sentry on the watch-tower (Isaiah 21:6). The sentry beholds a mighty train of horses, asses and camels, and attends sharply to what it will do (Isaiah 21:7). Many days and nights the sentry keeps watch without marking anything (Isaiah 21:8). At last he calls with a loud voice; there comes a troop; it is but small, but it announces that Babylon is fallen, that its idols are overthrown (Isaiah 21:9). The Prophet in the words of the last verse (Isaiah 21:10) declares that he proclaims this as certain truth from the Lord to comfort his people threshed (crushed) in the captivity.

The burden——of the sea.

Isaiah 21:1 a. The four prophecies which are placed together in chaps. 21 and 22, have inscriptions of an emblematical character. It is disputed whether מדבר ים is a title derived from the text of this passage, or is an independent figurative designation of the country of Babylon. It is well-known that writings were denominated after their initial word, or, indeed, any word contained in them. Compare the Hebrew names of the Pentateuch, and of Proverbs and Lamentations; also קֶשֶׁת2Sa 1:18. [In the last passage the E. V. has “the use of the bow;” but the ellipsis is best supplied in the rendering “the song of the bow.” D. M.]. On such titles the Commentary of Gesenius may be consulted. The משֹׂא בערב Isaiah 21:13 (comp. בערב as the second word of the text) and the משׂא ניא חזיון22:1 (comp. the same expression, Isaiah 22:5) seem to have been designated on the same principle. But although מדבר occurs in Isaiah 21:1, ים is not found in the whole prophecy. Vitringa in a juvenile production (Observv Sacr. L. I., diss. 2, op. 4) expressed the unwarranted opinion which he retracted in his commentary, that יָם is substituted for נֶגֶב. But why should not מדבר נֶנֶב be written? And although the sea lay to the south of Babylonia, that is no reason for calling the country “the desert of the sea.” There is just as little ground for taking ים in the signification “West,” and giving this explanation of the whole expression, that Babylon is called מדבר ים because it lay west of Media and Persia, and a desert intervened (Kimchi). I see no reason why we should not explain the expression מדבר ים after the analogy of the expressions בערב and גיא חזיון. The title מדבר is therefore taken from Isaiah 21:1. But מדבר by itself would be too obscure. Another word had therefore to be supplied for nearer specification. Now Babylon was situated on the Euphrates. The Euphrates, with its canals, ponds and swamps, might as well be called a sea as the Nile, Isaiah 19:5, In Jeremiah 51:13 Babylon is thus addressed “O thou that dwellest on great waters.” See also Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 51:32; Jeremiah 51:36. Interpreters refer to Herod. I. 184 where speaking of the Euphrates he says: “πρότερον δὲ (namely, previous to the erection of the dikes by Semiramis) ἐώθεε ὁ ποταμὸς�.” A passage from Abydenus is also cited (in Euseb.Praep. Evang. IX. 41), where in reference to Mesopotamia which is watered by the Euphrates it is said: λέγετααι δὲ πάντα μὲν ἐξἀρχῆς ῦδωρ είναι, θάλασσαν καλεομένην.” Finally, it is of great weight that Babylonia is on the Assyrian monuments often designated simply as “sea, sea-country,” (tihamtu = תְּהוֹם, in Assyrian the common word for “sea,” Schrader, p. 1 sq.). Tiglath-Pileser says in the pompous inscription proceeding from the last year of his reign (Schrader, p. 129 sq.), that he subdued Merodach-Baladan, son of Jakin, king of the sea (Sar tihamtiv). The same Merodach-Baladan is elsewhere called Sar Kardunias, i.e., king of Southern Chaldaea (Schrader, p. 214 note). Further, Asarhaddon states on a cylinder-inscription (Schrader, p. 227) that he made over “the Sea-country,” (mat tihamtiv) in its whole extent, to Nahid-Merodach, son of Merodach-Baladan. It is clear, therefore, that “sea, sea-country” was just an Assyro-Babylonian designation at least of Southern Chaldaea. If now we take into consideration that Babylon with its many and great waters was formerly a sea-country, and till the times of Asarhaddon was called “sea” (tihamtu) at least in its southern part, and that it still “swims as in the sea;” if, on the other hand, we bear in mind that the prophets depict the future desolation of Babylon with all possible colors, comparing it with Sodom and Gomorrah, places now covered with water, and speaking of its being turned into a lake of water, we might say that the expression “the desert of the sea” comprehends the past, present and future of the country in one conception. But we perceive from the book of the Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:15 that our passage was understood in yet another sense [?] There Babylon, the great whore, sits on many waters (Isaiah 21:1) and at the same time in the desert (Isaiah 21:3). The waters, however, are (Isaiah 21:15) interpreted “peoples, and multitudes and nations and tongues” (comp. Isaiah 8:7; Jeremiah 47:2). The apostle appears, therefore, to have in his mind a wilderness of peoples, and the expression מִדְבַּר עַמִּים (Ezekiel 20:35; comp. Hosea 2:16) might also have been present to his view. We see, then, that the expression “the desert of the sea” is capable of a manifold interpretation. Did the Prophet himself use it? I, for my part, find the choice of an expression capable of various explanations, as the inscription of a prophecy, to be quite in accordance with Isaiah’s manner (comp. Isaiah 21:11; Isaiah 21:13, Isaiah 22:1; Isaiah 30:6). [The Seer in the Apocalypse does not put the alleged arbitrary and erroneous construction on the inscription before us. The prototype of the figurative language in Revelation 17:0 is rather to be sought in Jeremiah 51:0. This chapter of Jeremiah was undoubtedly before the mind of John in depicting the mystic Babylon, and in it we have Babylon represented as dwelling on many waters (Jeremiah 51:13), and as destined to be a desert (Jeremiah 51:43). The sitting of the whore in the wilderness refers to her impending desolation, and does not exclude her sitting before that time on many waters. John does not employ the expression “a wilderness of peoples.” In the whore sitting on many waters we have her condition at the time John wrote. Her appearance in the wilderness denotes her future solitude. It is plain, then, that the Apocalyptic Seer does not misinterpret the enigmatical title of this chapter of Isaiah, “the desert of the sea.”—D. M.].

3. As whirlwinds——land.

Isaiah 21:1 b. According to the Masoretic punctuation this part of the verse consists of three members, of which the middle one is formed by the words ממדבר בא. But against this division the objections lie, 1) that we cannot say the south in general, or for every land its south is the region of storms; 2) that the Prophet does not indicate by a single word that he means the countries situated south of Babylonia; 3) that it is not said “from the south.” The expression בנגכ taken strictly does not involve the idea of a storm observed in the south by the Babylonians, but only the idea of a storm sweeping south of them: 4) that הַנֶּגֶב has for the native of Palestine a quite definite signification; it is the south of Judah (Genesis 13:1; Numbers 21:1; Deuteronomy 34:3; Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:16 et saepe) which is connected with the desert of Sinai called likewise κατ’ ἐξοχὴνהַמִּדְבָּר (comp. Herz.R. Encycl. XIVII. p. 304). The Prophet says therefore: as in the נֶגֶב of Palestine storms coming from Arabia Petraea (Hosea 13:15; Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 13:24; Job 1:19; Zechariah 9:14) sweep along (חלף properly “change,” thence transire, Isaiah 8:8) so it comes upon Babylonia from a terrible land.—בָּא is neuter and impersonal, a form of expression which we have already found frequently in Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 10:4; Isaiah 14:32; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 18:5. A terrible land the country is called, because it is inhabited by a terrible people (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 18:7). What country is meant by the Prophet we learn from Isaiah 21:2 b.

4. A grievous vision——fear unto me.

Isaiah 21:2-4. The vision (חזות in this meaning in Isaiah only here, and Isaiah 29:11; in another sense Isaiah 28:18; it is found besides only in Daniel 8:5-8) is first defined as to its subjective side, and in general as hard, i.e., hard to bear, causing perturbation (comp. similar inward experience of the Prophets at the incalculable greatness and importance of what they beheld, Daniel 7:15; Daniel 7:28; Daniel 10:16 sqq.; Hebrews 12:21). To this general description of the subjective impression is added a more particular account of the objective nature of the vision. Here the first question is, whether the words הבִוגד to שׁודד refer to the Chaldeans or to the Persians. In the former case we should be told how the oppressive rule of the Babylonians, while in full swing, was rudely checked. In the latter case, the work of the enemy before approaching the city itself, would be described. Both explanations are grammatically possible. A worldly power in so far as it is opposed to the kingdom of God, can be reproached with acting perfidiously (comp. Isaiah 24:16 and especially Isaiah 33:1, where also the two expressions בגד and שׁדד occur together. Comp. Isaiah 48:8), but why stress should be laid on this point as a prominent characteristic of the nation serving God as His instrument is inconceivable. בִֹּזִז or שֹׁסֶה (Isaiah 17:14) would be less strange. I hold therefore with Drechsler that the words הבוגד to שׁודד denote the worldly power absolutely hostile to God, not that one which serves as His instrument. This view requires that we do not attach to בנד the sense of robbing. This signification has been assumed, as if supported by the places Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16; Isaiah 33:1. And indeed no other sense than that of robbing suits the passage before us, if it be applied to the Persians. But this application is untenable, and in the other passages the context requires no other signification than that of acting perfidiously. While we refer these words to the Babylonians, we find in them a reason for their punishment. With dramatic liveliness the discourse is directed to those commissioned to execute the judgment. Elam (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 22:6), and Media (Isaiah 13:17) are to go up (on עלה comp. on Isaiah 7:1) and besiege the city of Babylon (צוּר in this sense only here in Isaiah; besides only Isaiah 29:3 where the signification is similar, but not the same). That the Prophet makes mention not of the Persians, but of the Elamites, a nation adjacent to the Persians on the west, is assuredly not favorable to the view that this part of Isaiah was composed during the exile (comp. on Isaiah 13:17). An author living in the exile would certainly have named the Persians. That the Prophet under Elam includes Persia also, is in a certain sense possible. Not that Elymais formed a part of Persis. It was at a later period that Elam was incorporated in the Persian empire, though Susa, one of the three residences of the Persian kings, was (Daniel 8:2) in Elam. Elam was a land known to the Hebrews in the times of Isaiah (Genesis 14:1; Genesis 14:9), while the Persians were then still quite unknown. We might say that to the view of the Prophet Elam concealed Persia, and so, more or less consciously to him, involved it. And thus this discourse has that character of dimness and obscurity, of oscillating between light and darkness, which befits the prophetic vision, and belongs to the marks of a genuine prophecy. The concluding words of Isaiah 21:2 are for those who were oppressed by Babylon, for those who were the victims of the בוגד and שׁודד. The genitive in אנחתה, “her sighing,” is to be taken as the objective, the sighing over her. [We prefer to understand it of the sighing which she, Babylon, caused by her oppression.—D. M.]. In Isaiah 21:3-4 the Prophet justifies the expression קָשָׁה (Isaiah 21:2). From the variety and violence of the painful feelings which the Prophet experienced at the vision, we can infer the fearful nature of the things which he saw. They give us, moreover, to know that the Prophet not only heard the command “Go up, Elam,” etc., but also beheld in spirit its execution. What he then saw is what was terrible; and therefore his loins are full of חלחלה (in Isaiah only here; besides Nahum 2:11; Ezekiel 30:4; Ezekiel 30:9),i.e., trepidatio, spasm in the loins. צירים (with חְַבָלִים the most common word for the pains of parturition Isaiah 13:8; it occurs in another signification, Isaiah 45:16; Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 57:9) have seized him as a travailing woman; he writhes from hearing (נעוה the bowing downwards; in Isaiah besides only in Piel Isaiah 24:1) and trembles (Isaiah 13:8). Many interpreters take מראות ,משׁמוע as marking a negative result: so that I do not hear, or see. But why should the hearing be hindered through bending, or seeing through terror? On the contrary, as we see from חזות קשׁה, horror which seizes the inmost soul, proceeds from a seeing and hearing only too accurate. It is certainly not a matter of chance that almost all the expressions here employed occur in Isaiah 13:8, which passage also treats of Babylon, and that some of the words as צירים and נבהל are found only in these two places in Isaiah. There is indeed this difference, that the Prophet here applies to himself what he there says of the Babylonians; but still a relation of the one place to the other indicating a contemporaneous origin is indisputable. תָּעָה is more frequently used of spiritual going astray, of aberration of heart, (Psalms 95:10, comp. Isaiah 29:24, et saepe), but stands here in the physical sense of the abnormal beating of the heart (palpitation). Also כּלצות (in Isaiah only here; besides Job 21:6; Psalms 55:6; Ezekiel 7:18) involves the notion of tottering, concussio (Job 9:6). בעת Piel, a word of special frequency in Job, is used by Isaiah only here. This passage, then, by the words כּלצות ,בעת and נבהל (comp. especially Job 21:6) reminds one strongly of the phraseology of the book of Job. בִּעֵת signifies in every place (even 1 Samuel 16:14) “to terrify, affright, disturb.” The twilight (Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 59:10) at other times a welcome bringer of rest to the Prophet after his exciting work during the day (חֵשֶׁקdesiderium, deliciae, in Isaiah only here, comp. 1 Kings 9:1; 1 Kings 9:19), is to him now a source of new disquietude (חרדה substantive in Isaiah only here). We see from this that the Prophet had the vision in the night, either when awake or dreaming.

Prepare the table——the shield. Isaiah 21:5. The Prophet here paints the judgment falling on Babylon in few, quickly thrown off, but powerful strokes. He indicates by hints couched in brief, mysterious words, wherein that terrible thing consists, which according to Isaiah 21:2-4 he must see, and in what way Elam and Media fulfil their mission. These words, too, bear that character of prophetic indefiniteness which we have already noticed in Isaiah 21:2. The Prophet speaks as in a dream; he draws nebulous forms. Only when we compare the fulfilment, do the images assume a distinct shape, and we are astonished at their accuracy. This is neither mantic prediction, nor vaticinium post eventum. The prophet does not understand his own words (comp. 1 Peter 1:11); he is the unconscious organ of a higher being who speaks through him. Comp. my remarks on Jeremiah 50:24; Jeremiah 51:31; Jeremiah 51:39. It is well known that Cyrus captured Babylon in a night when the Babylonians were celebrating a festival with merry carousals (Dan. v.; Herod. I. 191; Xenoph.Cyrop. VII. 5, 15 sqq.). Isaiah certainly did not know this. He is, therefore, ignorant as to what the ערך השׁלחן refers, why and how it was done. The infinitives absolute leave the action without indication of time or subject. This indefiniteness admirably suits the prophetic style. The expression ערך השׁלחן is found also in Isaiah 65:11; Psalms 23:5; Psalms 78:19; Proverbs 9:2; Ezekiel 23:41. That it is the Babylonians who prepare the table, is clear from the context. It is they who are surprised during the carousal. If we take the words צכּה הצכּית in their obvious meaning (watching, to look out) they seem inappropriate. Other meanings have therefore been sought out from all quarters; they kindle the lamps—they clarify the wine—they set the ranks in order—they prepare carpets, etc. But צָפָּה means in Hebrew nothing else than speculari; and צפית (which occurs only here, but with which צִפִּיָה, Lamentations 4:17, and מִצְפֶּה, Isaiah 21:8, may be compared) must accordingly denote specula, “watchtower, watch, looking out.” It seems to me that the Prophet does not wish us to suppose that in a city surrounded by the enemy, a merry carousal took place without the precaution of appointing guards. He means to say only that they were so reckless as to enjoy a banquet even though watches had been set. How dangerous even that could be, is soon apparent when the cry reaches the revellers in the midst of their carousal: the foe is come, anoint the shield! So foolhardy are they that they do not abandon their revelry (which was proverbial and is mentioned in Scripture Isaiah 14:11; Isaiah 47:1; Jeremiah 51:7; Daniel 5:1, and elsewhere, e.g., in Curtius V. 6); but in the presence of the beleaguering foe indulge in banqueting, though they took the precaution of setting a watch. According to Xenophon as quoted above, § 25, there was really a guard in the castle, but they were (§ 27) intoxicated. The princes who are said only now to arise and anoint the shield, are the surprised Babylonians. The anointing of the leather shield (2 Samuel 1:21) was in order to make it more compact, firm, smooth and shining (comp. HerzogR.- Enc., and WinerReal-Lex. Art. Schild). [In 2 Samuel 1:21 the Hebrew text must be consulted. The anointing which in the E. V. is made, by supplying an imaginary ellipsis, to refer to Saul, refers not to him, but to his shield.—D. M.]. It is a sign of great negligence that the Babylonians have not anointed their shields, notwithstanding the enemy is before the gates. Now they must either fight with unanointed shields, or yield without a struggle.

6. For thus hath—broken unto the ground. Isaiah 21:6-9. כִּי in the beginning of Isaiah 21:6 seems to be explicative. In fact the Isaiah 21:6-9 are related to the preceding 2–5 as an explanation and more particular description. If we could already from verses 2–5 know in general that the ruin of Babylon through Elam and Media was decreed, and that it would be effected by an assault, we see (Isaiah 21:7) the army of the Elamites and Medians in march before our eyes, and (Isaiah 21:9) the complete success of the attack is announced. The train of thought is the following: Babylon is to be besieged by Elam and Media, and to be captured by a surprise. For the Prophet sees a mighty army moving against Babylon, and soon after, another band coming from Babylon, which proclaims the downfall of the city and of its idols. The connecting of the two parts by the formula: “For thus said Jehovah,” reminds one of Isaiah 8:11. What the Prophet now beholds in vision is represented in what follows, as if a watchman appointed by the command of God had seen it, and communicated it to him. This style of costume is very effective (comp. 2 Samuel 18:24 sqq.; 2 Kings 9:17 sqq.). Elsewhere the Prophet himself is represented as a watchman on the pinnacle (Habakkuk 2:1; Zechariah 1:8 sqq.). And, indeed, here too Isaiah himself is the watchman, though another is made to take his place. This is only a rhetorical artifice to heighten the effect. The very words “what he sees he will declare,” contain a praise of the watchman. For it is not said יַגֵּד. That would indicate only the duty of the watchman. But יַגִיד gives us to understand that he will really fulfil this duty. The perfects וְהִקְשִׁיב וְרָאָה Isaiah 21:7, cannot mean, “and he shall see, hearken.” For the watchman is not to be dictated to in regard to what he shall see. Neither is it allowable with Drechsler to take the words as a conditional sentence, “and if he sees. … he shall hearken. ....” That the Prophet actually appointed the watchman, would properly be told immediately after issuing the command. But this point, as self-evident, is here passed over, as in other cases where a command given by the Lord to the Prophet is related (Isaiah 7:3 sqq.; Isaiah 8:1 sq., 3 sqq.). The watchman saw first a train of horsemen (צֶמֶד is a collective, besides in Isaiah only, Isaiah 5:10, in the signification jugum;פָּרָשׁ is eques, then sometimes equus, Isaiah 21:6-7; Isaiah 28:28; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:9) followed by a train of asses and camels. Interpreters have called attention to the fact that the Medes were renowned for their cavalry (Cyrop. I. 6, 10), which Cyrus was the first to introduce among the Persians (Cyrop. 4:3-4 sqq.; 6:1, 26 sqq.). We learn from this last place that Cyrus furnished his army with numerous and improved chariots of war. To what a formidable arm Cyrus raised the Persian cavalry in a brief period, appears from his being able to march against Babylon with 40,000 horsemen (Cyrop. VII. 4, 16). The employment of asses and camels, not only for transport, but also in battle, is an established fact. In regard to asses, Strabo relates of the Caramanians, a nation dwelling next the Persians to the east, and subdued by them, that they “χρῶνται ὄνοις οἱ πολλοὶ καὶ πρὸς πόλεμον σπάνει τῶν ἴππων.” And Herodotus relates that the Scythians in fighting against the Persians under Darius Hystaspis, found no worse enemies than the asses, at whose strange appearance and braying the horses took fright ( 4:129). That Cyrus himself employed camels in battle is expressly related by Xenophon:Cyrop. 6:1, 30 : 7:1, 22, 27. The watchman sees then an army in march. The Prophet does not mention that he saw infantry. Prominence is evidently given only to what is peculiar and characteristic. And, in fact, hardly another army could have been then found which presented such a diversity of animals used in war as the Persian host with its wonderful variety of races. The watchman not only saw, he also heard, or rather tried to hear; for he really heard nothing at first. The strange, long, martial train disappeared. The watchman then sees and hears nothing for a long time. This surprises him. He becomes impatient. He is not aware that meanwhile a great work is accomplishing which requires time: the capture of Babylon. In his impatience, which does not, however, lessen his zeal, he calls now with a lion’s voice (properly as a lion, comp. Psalms 22:14; Isaiah 46:3, etc.;Revelation 10:3): I stand in vain night and day on the watch-tower. We see from this that that army in march, Isaiah 21:7, was a passing appearance, and that after it had vanished, there had been a pause, which the watchman could not explain. He addresses his call to אְַדֹנָי, that is to Jehovah. At the same time the Prophet gives up the assumed character, and lets us see plainly that he himself is the watchman. Hitzig and Meier would read אְַרֹנִי “my lord.” This would suit the connection better, but must the more readily be rejected as a correction, as the Prophet could quite easily drop the character which he personates. The watchman had hardly uttered these complaining words when that for which he had waited so long took place. He sees again something which gives information: a little band of men who ride in pairs, comes from Babylon. The והנה־זה is to be regarded as spoken with emphasis. For it stands in a certain contrast to what precedes; hitherto I have perceived nothing, but now, etc. We must, therefore, translate, “but, lo, there comes,” etc. Who is the subject of וַיַּעַן in Isaiah 21:9? Obviously the watchman. We might think of the troop of horsemen coming from Babylon. This would be possible. But this alteration of the subject would need to be indicated in some way. The want of any indication of this kind is in favor of our assuming the same subject that had governed the whole preceding series of sentences. The watchman learned by inquiry or knew it from infallible signs: Babylon is fallen! A grand utterance! Hence the repetition of In נפלה. Jeremiah 51:8 this place is quoted. Also in Revelation 18:2. Jeremiah likewise emphatically sets forth the downfall of Babylon as a defeat of its gods (Jeremiah 1:2, 38; Jeremiah 51:44; Jeremiah 51:47; Jeremiah 51:52). The subject of שִׁבַּר can be Jehovah. It can also be he who was Jehovah’s instrument for this work, the conqueror of Babylon: Cyrus. This “he” who afterwards comes clearly and distinctly under his proper name into the Prophet’s field of vision, appears here still veiled as it were: שׁבר לארץ is a pregnant construction, comp. Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 14:9-10; Isaiah 20:2. Drechsler makes the not inappropriate remark that Isaiah has perhaps in his eye here “the well-known iconoclastic zeal of the Persians.”

7. O my threshing—unto you.

Isaiah 21:10. These words intimate the proper immediate object of the prophecy. Judah is to be comforted by the prediction of the fall of the Babylonian fortress. The words seem aimless, if what precedes them is regarded as vaticinium post eventum. We have in Isaiah 21:10 a summary of chaps. 40–66מְדֻשָֹּׁה (for which other editions read מְדוּשָה) is ἅπ. λεγ. It means what is crushed by threshing. Israel is so called as the object of the divine judgment which was executed on him by means of the exile. דּוּשׁ is frequently employed in the sense of cleansing and sifting by divine judgments, Isaiah 25:10; Isaiah 28:27 sq.; Isaiah 41:15; Micah 4:13; Habakkuk 3:12. The expression בֶּן־גֹרז reminds one of such expressions as בֶּן־הַכּוֹת ,כֶּן־יִצְהָר. A son of the threshing-floor is one who lies on it, and is threshed, and that not merely briefly and accidentally, but for a long time, as it were habitually. For he belongs to the floor as a child to its mother. Accordingly בז־גרז is stronger than מדשׁה. Israel is so named because in the exile the threshing floor had become his home, his mother-country. It is the Prophet who speaks, but in the name, and as it were, out of the soul of God. Otherwise the second half of this verse would contain an intolerable transition. This threshed people, to whom the threshing-floor had become a home, is still the Prophet’s own beloved people. With sorrow he announces to them that they must be threshed in Babylon; with joy he declares that they will be delivered from the threshing-floor. Both events are certain. And Israel may and ought to believe this. It is indeed inconceivable that the Prophet can make such an announcement. He himself does not understand even the connection. He therefore declares emphatically: I have not excogitated this; but I have heard it from Jehovah, and therefore declare I it to you as certain truth.


[1]Heb. hard.

[2]Or, My mind wandered.

[3]the twilight, my joy.

[4]Heb. put.

[5]a troop of horsemen in pairs, a troop of asses, a troop of camels.

[6]Or, cried as a lion.

[7]Or, every night.

[8]a troop of men, horsemen in pairs.

[9]Heb. son.

Verses 11-12


Isaiah 21:11-12

That under Dumah we are to understand Edom is conceded by almost all modern interpreters. In favor of this view there are the following reasons: 1) All other localities, which actually bear the name of Dumah, are either too near or too remote, and do not furnish any hold for the assumption that Isaiah made them the objects of a Massa (oracle). What would such a Massa mean as directed against the isolated city of Dumah, situated in the mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:52), or against that Ishmaelitish Dumah, of which mention is made in Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30, or against the three still more distant and insignificant places called Dumah, which are not once mentioned in the Old Testament, and which according to the Arabian geographers are situated in Irak, Mesopotamia and Syria (comp. Gesenius, Delitzsch, and Knobel on our place)? We could most readily think of the Ishmaelitish Dumah (Genesis 25:14). But how far-fetched is the assumption that the Simeonites, who, according to 1 Chronicles 4:42 sq., emigrated to Edom, settled just in Dumah! And does not our Massa stand among prophecies directed against heathen nations? 2) The Prophet declares expressly that the cry came to him from Seir. But would he have uttered the taunting expression of Isaiah 21:12 against Israelites dwelling on mount Seir? 3) All the four prophecies in chaps. 21 and 23 have, as was already remarked, emblematic inscriptions. It accords, therefore, entirely with the manner of forming inscriptions observed in these chapters, if we assume that דוּמָה is intentionally formed from אֱדוֹם. Consul Wetzstein indeed affirms in his Excursus on Isa. xxi. in Delitzsch’s Commentary, p. 692, that the putting of Dumah for Edom by a play upon the name, would necessarily be misunderstood. But this is by no means the case. For the character of the other inscriptions gives every reader an obvious hint how this one too is to be taken. And then we have the words “out of Seir” immediately following.

That Isaiah is the author of this prophecy is disputed by some rationalistic interpreters (Paulus, Baur, Eichhorn, Rosenmueller), but is maintained by even Gesenius, Hitzig, Hendewerk, Ewald and Knobel. It most clearly bears the stamp of Isaiah’s style, which only the most obstinate prejudice can fail to see. It is difficult to say anything respecting the time of composition. If we should insist with Knobel that the question put by the Idumeans to the Prophet supposes a close relation between them and the Jews, and that such a relation existed only during the rule of Uzziah and Jotham over Judah, which lasted till 743, we should arrive at the conclusion that the prophecy was composed before 743. But the night here spoken of, if we have respect to the then existing state of affairs and to the analogy of all Isaiah’s prophecies, cannot possibly mean anything else than the misery threatened by the Assyrian power. If now the Edomites are represented as inquiring if this calamity will soon end, they must in that case have had some experience of it. During the reign of Uzziah and Jotham, however, they had not yet suffered from the Assyrian dominion. The time when the Assyrians threatened the freedom of all nations as far as Egypt (Ewald, Gesch. des V. Isr. III. p. 670; comp. Hitzig, Gesch. des V. Isr. p. 221) was rather the period after the capture of Samaria, when the Assyrian king was engaged in war against Egypt, and was obliged to take care to secure his left flank, and his line of retreat against the warlike nations that occupied the country between Palestine and Egypt. This was the time of Hezekiah (comp. remarks on Isaiah 20:1), or more exactly, the time between the capture of Samaria and the baffled attempt on Jerusalem by the army of Sennacherib (36 and 37). At that time the Assyrians frequently penetrated into the South of Palestine. Then, if ever, was the time when an inquiry, like that contained in this prophecy, could come from Edom to the Prophet of Jehovah in Jerusalem.


Isaiah 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.


Isaiah 21:11. The participle without specification of subject is often used for the finite verb (Exodus 5:16; Genesis 24:30; Genesis 32:7; Isaiah 11:6, etc.,). Here קֹרֵא stands for קָרָא and implies the impersonal or indefinite subject (Isaiah 9:5; Jeremiah 23:6; Jeremiah 33:16, et saepe). The form לֵיל in the second question may have been chosen for the sake of variety, as לַיְלָה had been employed in the first question. Moreover, it is not improbable that לֵיל is the Idumean form of the word, as we have already in Isaiah 15:1 found it to be the form used by the Moabites.

Isaiah 21:12. אתא is the Aramaean word for בּוֹא, but occurs not unfrequently in Hebrew authors. Isaiah, in particular, uses the word often, Isaiah 21:14; Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 41:23; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 44:7; Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 56:9; Isaiah 56:12 (in the two last the imperative form אֵתָיוּ also). But the אתא (with א as the last radical letter) is found only here and Deuteronomy 33:21.—בּעה occurs in the Hebrew parts of the Old Testament only in three other places, viz., Isaiah 30:13; Isaiah 64:1 in the sense of tumescere, ebullire, and Obadiah 1:6 in the sense of searching, seeking out, studiose quaerere. In this latter signification the word is common in the Aramaean (Daniel 2:13; Daniel 2:16; Daniel 2:23; Daniel 6:5; Daniel 6:8, etc.).


1. The Prophet hears a cry sounding forth from Seir putting to him as watchman the question: How much of the night is past? Thereupon the watchman answers: Morning comes, and also night i.e., first a ray of morning light, then immediately dark night again. And when it will have become night again, you can, if you please, again inquire. Quaerere licet. Whether you will receive a favorable answer is another question.

2. The burden—return, come.

Isaiah 21:11-12. The appellative noun דּוּמָה occurs only in two places of the Old Testament: Psalms 94:17; Psalms 115:17. In these places the word denotes that world of death where everlasting silence reigns. In the passage before us the word has manifestly a similar meaning. Dumah has, it is true, no etymological connection with Edom. For the latter is derived from the root אדםrubrum, rufum esse in Genesis 25:30. But as the Prophet represents Babylon under the name of the “desert of the sea,” Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:1), under the name of “the valley of vision,” and further in Isaiah 21:13 takes ערב in a double sense, alluding to its radical meaning as an appellative, so here by a slight modification of the name he calls Edom Dumah; and hereby he intimates that Edom is destined to become Dumah, i.e., silence, to sink into the silence of nonentity.—Seir is themountainous region which extends from the south of the Dead Sea to the Elanitic gulf, and which became the abode of Esau,(Genesis 32:3; Genesis 33:14; Genesis 33:16; Genesis 36:8) and of his descendants, who are thence called the children of Seir (2 Chronicles 25:11; 2 Chronicles 25:14). The word is found only here in Isaiah. Elsewhere the Prophet always uses Edom. It is natural for him to employ the name Seir here. For if the call is to sound forth from Edom to Jerusalem, it must proceed from the mountain-height, and not from the valley. The Prophet is addressed as שֹׁמֵר, because he is regarded as standing on his watch. The word is of like import with מְצַפֶּה Isaiah 21:6, and this affinity of signification is one reason for placing together the prophecies against Babylon (Isaiah 21:1-10) and Edom (Isaiah 21:11-12). מִו before לילה is partitive. How much of the night (the night of tribulation, comp. Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 8:20 sqq. Isaiah 47:5; Jeremiah 15:9; Micah 3:6, etc.), is past? As a sick man who cannot sleep or compose himself, so Edom in distress inquires if the night will not soon come to an end. The repetition of the question indicates the intensity of the wish that the night may speedily be gone. The answer to the question is obscure, and seems to be designedly oracular, and at the same time ironical. The first part of the answer runs (Isaiah 21:12) morning is come, and also night. What does this mean? How can morning and night come together? Or, how can it be yet night if the morning is come? If we compare the historical events to which the Prophet’s answer refers, we can understand these words which must have been unintelligible to the first hearers or readers of the oracle. For, in fact, a ray of morning light was then very soon to shine. The overthrow of Sennacherib before Jerusalem was at hand. That was morning twilight, the dawn. But the glory did not last long. For after the Assyrian power, the Babylonian quickly arises, and completes what the former began (Jeremiah 25:21; Jeremiah 27:3; Jeremiah 49:7 sqq.). This change is frequently repeated: the Chaldaean time of judgment is followed by the Persian, the Persian by the Grecian, the Grecian by the Roman; ever for a brief interval a gleam of morning for Edom (think particularly of the time of the Herods), which was quickly lost in the returning night, till Edom was turned entirely into דּוּמָה silence, and disappeared from history (Delitzsch). The second part of the answer is, if possible, still more enigmatical than the first. The Prophet in dismissing those who question him, by telling them that they may come again, manifestly intends to mock them. For of what advantage is it to be allowed to come again? They knew they might do so. But what will they hear if they come again? What has the Prophet to announce to them as the final doom of their nation? The answer for him who can understand the hint is given by the word Dumah. The words for “come” and “inquire” belong rather to the Aramaean than to the Hebrew dialect, the word for “inquire” occurs farther in this sense, only in Daniel, and in the prophecy of Obadiah, of which Edom is the subject. Further, the singular verbal ending, which Isaiah here multiplies, making a sort of rhyme out of it, was probably current in the Idumean idiom. He mocks the inquirers, therefore, with Idumean sounds. “Return, come,” is a pleonasm employed for the sake of the rhyme in the Hebrew. If, then, in Isaiah 21:12 there is irony both in the style and sense, it is more than probable that an actual inquiry came to the Prophet from Edom, than that he invented such a question as suitable to the circumstances. For why should he have taunted the Edomites for their questioning, if they had not really inquired of him? That would have been a mockery altogether unjust and uncalled for. But it is quite probable that such a question was really put to the Prophet.

The Edomites saw in Jehovah the national God of the Israelites, and conceded to Him the same real existence which they ascribed to their own false gods. From their point of view Jehovah could have prophets by whom He revealed His will and futurity; as their gods had their oracles and their organs in the goëtae. Such recognition on the part of the heathen of a divine power in the prophets of Israel is oftentimes met with. The king of Assyria, for example, sent Naaman to Samaria that Elisha might heal him (2 Kings 5:1 sqq.). The Syrian king believed that the same Elisha betrayed all his plans to the king of Israel (2 Kings 6:12 sqq.). The Syrian Benhadad sent Hazael to Elisha to inquire if he would recover from his sickness (2 Kings 8:7 sqq.). The fame too of Isaiah, as a great Prophet of Jehovah, could have extended to Edom, and, though Edom was no longer in a state of dependence on Judah, the common distress could have occasioned the inquiry. But this question, as it did not proceed from the right believing state of heart, but from an essentially heathen way of thinking, drew from the Prophet an ironical rebuff. [May not those closing words, “if ye will inquire, inquire ye,” be intended to intimate that further disclosures would be afterwards made in regard to the future of Edom? The Prophet in the 34th chapter actually returns to this subject, and gives in plain terms the information which he here withholds. Other prophets, as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah and Malachi foretell the judgment that would come upon Edom, and the solitude and desolation to which it should be reduced. All travellers who have visited the country, testify to the fulfilment of these predictions, and report that Edom has become a veritable Dumah, a land of silence.—D. M.]

Verses 13-17


Isaiah 21:13-17

13          The burden upon arabia.

In the forest10 in Arabia shall ye lodge,

O ye11 travelling companies of Dedanim.

14     The inhabitants of the land of Tema

12 Brought water to him that was thirsty,

They prevented with their bread him that fled.

15     For they fled13 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 of14 archers,

The mighty men of the children of Kedar,
Shall be diminished:
For the Lord God of Israel hath spoken it.


Isaiah 21:13. בערב is ambiguous. Arabia is called עְַרַב; the pausal form is עְַרָב, which, except in pause, occurs only 2 Chronicles 9:14. The second בערב is clearly the source of the first. In the same way “the desert of the sea,” Isaiah 21:1, and “the valley of vision,” Isaiah 22:2 (comp. Isaiah 21:5) have arisen. How else could we explain the prefix בְּ which in no other case stands after מַשָּׂא? It is doubtful how the second בערב was originally vocalized. The significations “in Arabia” and “in the evening,” are both suitable. The old versions give the latter. But the evening is never denoted by עְַרַב. Still it could be. The form would then come from עַָרב, “to be dark,” after the analogy of גְּבַר (once for גֶּבֶר Psalms 18:26) etc.. The Prophet can have designedly employed the uncommon form instead of the usual עֶרֶב, in order to give the double sense of Arabia and evening, and perhaps to intimate that Arabia should be a land not of the rising, but of the setting sun.

Isaiah 21:14. הֵתָיוּ can be either perfect or imperative. But it must be taken here as perfect, as the next verb קִרְּמוּ is certainly perfect.

Isaiah 21:16. Mark the triple alliteration in this verse. First, we have three words beginning with א, then three beginning with שׁ, then three (or four) whose first letter is a k sound.

Isaiah 21:17. Mark the accumulation of substantives dependent on a noun in the construct state. No less than five words in the construct state occur together.


1. Even the free pastoral and martial tribes of the Arabian desert must succumb to a power that crushes all before it. The Prophet vividly describes the fate of those tribes in his own peculiar way by setting before our eyes one effect of the pressure of the great worldly power. The caravans proceeding to the various chief emporiums of trade in ancient times, such as Tyre, Sidon, Babylon, were wont to cross the desert without molestation from mighty foes. But now a force assails them, against which they are unable to defend themselves, as they could against the attacks of the separate plundering tribes of Bedouins (comp. Movers,Phœn. II., p. 409). They are forced to give way, and are scattered. The fugitives seek shelter where they can find it. They are fortunate if, far from the regular route, in one of the oäses, or on a mountain slope, they can reach a wood which will conceal them from the eyes of their pursuers, and in which they can find pasture and shade for their cattle. Out of this wood they dare not venture. In order, therefore, that they may obtain subsistence, the inhabitants of the neighboring places must bring them bread and water (Isaiah 21:13-14). From this single circumstance it is easy to infer that the glory of the Arabians who bordered on Syria and Babylon, as whose representatives the Kedarenes are mentioned, is hastening to an end. Within the space of a year, says the Prophet, their power will be reduced to a minimum (Isaiah 21:16-17).

2. In the forest——of war.

Isaiah 21:13-15. I do not think that we should, as Wetzstein supposes, take יער in the sense of the Arabic war, i.e. a place covered with fragments of volcanic rock. For the Hebrew word never means anything else than forest. We are simply informed here that the caravans driven from their course sought shelter in some wood; and woods there actually are there, partly in the oäses, partly on the slopes of the western mountains. The forest conceals the fugitives, and at the same time furnishes shelter and pasture for the cattle. If they lodge (pass the night) in such a forest, it is a matter of course that evening has arrived. But the remark that the forest was situated in Arabia would likewise be superfluous. For if the occurrence happened in the neighborhood of Tema, that sufficiently indicates that the locality is in Arabia. But the expression בערב, as having the double meaning “in Arabia” and “in the evening,” is not superfluous. Dedan is according to Genesis 10:7 (1 Chronicles 1:9) a descendant of Cush; according to Genesis 25:3 (1 Chronicles 1:32) a grandson of Keturah also bears this name. In Jeremiah 25:23 Dedan is named along with Tema. In Jeremiah 49:8 they appear as belonging to Edom. And so in Ezekiel 25:13. They are marked as a commercial people in Ezekiel 27:15; Ezekiel 27:20; Ezekiel 38:13. Wetzstein (in his excursus in Delitzsch’s Commentary) finds their abode on the Red Sea, “east of the Nile, including the desert to the brook of Egypt or the borders of Edom.” He calls them Cushite tribes. However this may be, they are clearly enough denoted in the Old Testament as merchants, a people carrying on the caravan trade, especially with Tyre. If such a caravan has found in a forest shelter and pasture for the cattle, only bread and water for the men would be needed. At the dictate of hospitality the inhabitants of Tema bring these requisites to the fugitives in the forest. Wetzstein (as above) describes the situation of Tema (Jeremiah 25:23; Job 6:19) after careful personal investigations. It lies, according to him, two days’ journey by dromedary from Dumah north-east of Tebûk, a station on the route for pilgrims from Damascus to Mecca. Dumah is marked by him as lying in the oäsis el-Gof, four days’ journey by dromedary to the southwest of Babylon. He maintains against Ritter that there are not two places called Tema. Isaiah 21:15 explains why the Dedanians must flee. War in every form, and with all its terrors, has assailed them.

3. For thus hath——spoken it.

Isaiah 21:16-17. What could be learned inferentially (Isaiah 21:13-15) from a single fact is now stated directly in general terms. Kedar’s might and glory must be destroyed. Kedar is, first of all, according to Genesis 25:13, a son of Ishmael. But the name stands here, as very frequently in the later rabbinical usage, for the Arabs, i.e., for the inhabitants of Western Arabia, who alone were known to the Jews. In one year, exactly computed (comp. on Isaiah 16:14), the glory of Kedar shall have an end. As Isaiah beyond a doubt uttered this prediction, its fulfilment must have taken place while the might of Assyria flourished. We know generally that the Assyrians subdued the Arabians, for Sennacherib is called by Herodotus (II., 141) “King both of the Arabians and Assyrians,” and that while mention is made of his expedition against Egypt. This is not without significance. For when Herodotus states that Sennacherib as “King of the Arabians and Assyrians” attacked Egypt, he thereby gives us to understand that he marched against Egypt with an army composed of Arabians and Assyrians. And this fact tallies well with our remark on Isaiah 21:11-12, that the Assyrian in invading Egypt must have cared for the covering of his left flank and line of retreat. This object could be secured only by placing himself free from danger from the inhabitants of Arabia Petraea and Deserta. Our prophecy was therefore delivered before Sennacherib’s invasion of Egypt, which according to the Assyrian monuments, must have occurred in the year 700 B. C. (comp. Schrader,The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, p. 196). In accordance with what we have before observed touching the way in which prophecy advances to its complete fulfilment, it is not at all needful that the predicted catastrophe should have come upon the Arabians as a single stroke, which was not afterwards repeated. It would be sufficient to justify our regarding the prophecy as fulfilled, if in the specified time an event occurred, which was a proper beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy, and therefore guaranteed its complete realization. We must confess that we cannot furnish direct evidence of such a particular event having taken place. The Kedarenes are here characterized as a warlike nation distinguished for the use of the bow. In this latter respect they walk in the footsteps of their ancestor, who is celebrated as an archer (Genesis 21:20).


1. On Isaiah 21:2 “God punishes one villain by means of another, and a man is punished by the very sin which he himself commits (Wis 11:17). Thus God punished the Babylonians by the Persians, the Persians by the Greeks, the Greeks by the Romans, the Romans by the Goths, Longobardi, and Saracens.”—Cramer. [The Persians shall pay the Babylonians in their own coin; they that by fraud and violence, cheating and plundering, unrighteous wars and deceitful treaties, have made a prey of their neighbors, shall meet with their match, and by the same methods shall themselves be made a prey of. Henry. D. M.].

2. On Isaiah 21:3. “The Prophets do not rejoice at the loss suffered by their enemies; but have sympathy for them as for men made in the image of God. We ought not to cast off every humane feeling towards our foes (Matthew 5:34).”—Cramer.

3. On Isaiah 21:5. “Invadunt urbem vino somnoque sepultam.” Virgil. “We see here how people commonly feel the more secure, the more they indulge their fleshly lusts, although they are drawing nearer their punishment. So was it with the antediluvian world, so is it now also in these last times when the coming of Christ is expected, as He says, Matthew 24:38.”—Renner. The Prophet Isaiah expounded, etc.—Stuttgart, 1865, p. 73.

4. On Isaiah 21:6 sqq. “It is a grand, infallible evidence of the prophetic Scriptures, and of their divine inspiration, that they do not speak in general uncertain terms, but describe future things so accurately, and exactly, as if we saw them before our eyes. This serves to establish the authority of the Holy Scriptures.”—Cramer.

5. On Isaiah 21:10. Only what the Lord said to him, and all that the Lord said to him, the Prophet declares. Therefore he is sure and certain, even when he has incredible things to announce. Therefore is he firm and courageous, though what he has to proclaim does not please the world. He conceals and keeps back nothing; neither does he add anything. He is a faithful declarer of the mind of God, and does not spare even himself. The proof, fulfilment and accomplishment he leaves to Him who spake through him.

6. On Isaiah 21:11. “He who sets the watch without God, watches in vain (Psalms 127:1). And when God Himself is approaching, then no care of the watchmen is of any use, whether it be day or night. For when the day of the Lord begins to burn, even the stars of heaven and his Orion, do not shine brightly. For God covers the heavens, and makes the stars thereof dark, and covers the sun with a cloud (Ezekiel 32:7). For when God the Creator of all things frowns on us, then all creatures also frown on us, and are terrible and offensive to us.”—Cramer. From this place Christian Friedr. Richter, has composed his fine morning hymn:—

Hüter, wird die Nacht der Sünden
Nicht verschwinden?

[Comp. in English Bowring’s well-known hymn:—

Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.—D. M.]

7. On Isaiah 21:14. “We ought not to forget to be hospitable towards the needy (Hebrews 13:1).”—Cramer.

8. On Isaiah 21:16. “I regard as a true Prophet him who does not declare a matter upon mere imagination and conjecture, but measures the time so exactly that he fixes precisely when a thing shall happen.”—Cramer.

9. On Isaiah 22:2 sqq. To see the enemy at the gates, and at the same time to regard him merely with curiosity, and to indulge in mirth and jollity, as if all were well, and this too at a time when God’s servants warn men with tears, as Isaiah did Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:4), this is blind presumption which God will punish. But when the calamity has burst upon them, and all expedients by which they try to avert it are of no avail, for men to despise then the only one who can help them, and to spend the brief remaining time in sensual pleasure, this is open-eyed defiance, and will lead to judicial blindness, and that sin which will not be forgiven (Matthew 12:32).

10. On Isaiah 22:13. This is the language of swine of the herd of Epicurus, comp. Isaiah 56:12; Wis 2:6 sqq.; 1 Corinthians 15:32.

11. On Isaiah 22:14. It is true, as Augustine says, that “no one should despair of the remission of his sin, seeing that even they who put Christ to death obtained forgiveness,” and “the blood of Jesus Christ was so shed for the forgiveness of all sins that it could wash away the sins of those by whom it was shed”—but that obstinacy, which refuses to see the needed help, excludes itself from grace and forgiveness.

12. On Isaiah 22:15 sqq. The mission which Isaiah here receives, reminds us strongly of that which Jeremiah had to discharge towards Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:1 sqq., esp. Isaiah 22:19), and also of what he was obliged to say to Pashur (Isaiah 20:6). A Prophet of the Lord must show no respect of persons. Isaiah indeed seems to have produced the desired effect; for we find 36 and 37. Shebna as Scribe and Eliakim as steward of the house. But Jeremiah received as recompense for the fulfilment of his mission bitter hatred and cruel persecution.

13. On Isaiah 22:17. The Vulgate translates here: Ecce Dominus asportari te faciet, sicut asportatur gallus gallinaceus. And Jerome in his exposition says: “Hebraeus, qui nos in lectione veteris Testamenti erudivit, gallum gallinaceum transtulit. Sicut inquit gallus gallinaceus humero portatoris de allo loco transfertur ad alium, sic te Dominus de loco tuo leviter asportabit.” The cock which is never mentioned in the Old Testament, and for which we have no genuine Hebrew word, is in fact called גֶּבֶר by the Talmudists. “Conscience, wanting the word of God, is as a ball rolling on the ground, and cannot rest.”—Luther.

14. On Isaiah 22:19. “Service at court is not in itself to be condemned, and a good ruler and a worthy prime minister are the gift of God (Sir 4:8; Sir 4:11; Ch. 10). Let him therefore who is called to such an office abide, as the Lord has called him (1 Corinthians 7:17), and beware of excessive pomp. For God can quickly depose the proud.”—Cramer.

15. On Isaiah 22:21 sqq. The comparison of a magistrate in high position with a father is very appropriate. The whole extent, and the proper measure of a ruler’s power are involved in this similitude. The authority of a father and that of a ruler have a common root in love. Eliakim in having the keys of the house of David laid on his shoulder that he might open and no one shut, and shut and no one open is (Revelation 3:7) viewed as a type of Christ, who is the administrator appointed by God over the house of David in the highest sense, i. e., over the kingdom of God. Christ has this power of the keys in unrestricted measure. The ministers of the Lord exercise the same only in virtue of the commission which they have from Him; and their exercise of it is only then sanctioned by the Lord, when it is in the Spirit which the Lord breathed into the disciples before He committed to them the power of the keys (John 20:22 sq.). [“The application of the same terms to Peter (Matthew 16:19) and to Christ Himself (Revelation 3:7) does not prove that they here refer to either, or that Eliakim was a type of Christ, but merely that the same words admit of different applications.” Alexander. “It is God that clothes rulers with their robes, and, therefore, we must submit ourselves to them for the Lord’s sake and with an eye to Him (1 Peter 2:13). And since it is He that commits the government into their hand,—they must administer it according to His will, for His glory. And they may depend on Him to furnish them for what He calls them to; according to the promise here. I will clothe him: and then there follows, I will strengthen him.” After Henry—D. M.]

16. On Isaiah 22:25. “No one is so exalted or raised to such high dignity as to abide therein. But man’s prosperity, office and honor, and whatever else is esteemed great in the world are, like human life, on account of sin inconstant, vain and liable to pass away. This serves as an admonition against pride and security.” Cramer.


1. On Isaiah 21:1-4. God’s judgments are terrible, 1) for him on whom they fall; 2) for him who has to announce them.

2. On Isaiah 21:6-10. The faithful watchman. 1) He stands upon his watch day and night. 2) He announces only what he has seen and what he has heard from the Lord (Isaiah 22:9-10). 3) But he announces this as a lion, i. e. aloud and without fear.

3. On Isaiah 22:11-12. The spiritual night on earth. 1) It is a. a night of tribulation, b. a night of sin. 2) It awakens a longing for its end. 3) It does not entirely cease till the Lord “vouchsafes to us a happy end, and graciously takes us from this valley of weeping to Himself in heaven.”

4. On Isaiah 21:14 sq. We may fitly employ this text for a charity sermon on any occasion when an appeal is made to the benevolence of the congregation (especially for exiles, as those banished from the Salzburg territory for their Evangelical faith). What we ought to consider when our contributions are asked. 1) Our own situation (we dwell in the land of Tema, a quite fertile oasis). 2) The situation of those who come to us in their distress. 3) What we have to give them.

5. On Isaiah 22:1-7. Warning against thoughtlessness. Pride precedes a fall. Blind presumption is often changed into its opposite.

6. On Isaiah 22:8-14. Blind presumption is bad, but open-eyed obstinacy is still worse. The latter is when one clearly perceives the existing distress, and the insufficiency of our own powers and of the means at our command, and yet refuses to look to Him who alone can help, or to consider the fate which awaits those who die without God, and seeks before the impending catastrophe happens to snatch as much as possible of the enjoyments of this world.

7. On Isaiah 22:15-19. He who will fly high is in danger of falling low. God can easily cast him down. The waxen wings of lcarus. Shebna illustrates, 1 Peter 5:5.

8. On Isaiah 22:20-25. A mirror for those in office. Every one who has an office, ought 1) to be conscious that he has come into the office legally, and according to the will of God; 2) He ought to be a father to those over whom he is set; 3) He ought so to do everything which he does in his office, that its justice is apparent, and that no one can impugn it. 4) He ought not to be like a nail on which all the relations of his family strive to fasten their hope of success; for that is bad for himself and for those who would so abuse his influence.


[10]in the evening.


[12]Or, Bring ye.

[13]Heb. from the face of.

[14]Heb. bows.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/isaiah-21.html. 1857-84.
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