Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 21

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



The prophet’s fear and trouble at his vision of Babylon’s ruin by the Medes and Persians, Isaiah 21:1-4.

He mocketh Babel, Isaiah 21:5-9.

Edom, scorning the prophet, is called to repentance, Isaiah 21:11,Isaiah 21:12. The time of Arabia’s calamity set.

Verse 1

The desert of the sea; Babylon, as is evident both from her destroyers, the Medians, Isaiah 21:2, and especially from Isaiah 21:9, where she is named. She seems to be called

desert prophetically, to intimate, that although she was now a most populous city and kingdom, yet shortly she should be turned into a desolate wilderness, as was threatened, Isaiah 13:19, &c. But the word here rendered desert sometimes signifies a plain, as a very learned interpreter hath observed, and thus it most properly agrees to Babylon, and the land about it, which geographers note to be a very plain country, without any considerable mountains in it. It is called the desert of the sea, because it is situate by the sea, as the isles of the sea, Esther 10:1, are those countries which were beside the sea. 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 great channel of Euphrates, and the several several lesser channels cut out, and the vast lakes of water; in which respects it is said to sit upon many waters, Jeremiah 51:13, the name of sea being given by the Hebrews to every great collection of waters.

In the south; in those parts which lay southward from Judea where there were many and grreat deserts, in which the winds have greater force. See Job 1:19; Jeremiah 4:11. Pass through; as meeting with no stop or opposition. It; the burden or judgment. Or, he, the Median, as it is in the next verse.

Cometh from the desert; from Media and Persia; thus expressed, either because those countries were full of deserts, or because a great desert lay between them and Chaldea, as geographers and historians report.

From a terrible land; from the Medes, a warlike and formidable people, as appears both from sacred and profane writers.

Verse 2

A grievous vision; a vision or prophecy, containing dreadful calamities which were to fall upon Babylon.

The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth: this is spoken either,

1. Of the Chaldeans, as their sin, for which God sends the following judgment. So the sense is, The Chaldeans still persist in the practice of treachery and rapine, to which they have been so long accustomed. Or,

2. Of the Medes and Persians, who are here noted to pay the Babylonians in their own coin, and to use the same treachery and violence towards them which they had done to others. To which purpose the words are and may well be rendered otherwise; either thus, the treacherous dealer hath found a treacherous dealer, and the spoiler hath found a spoiler; or thus, O thou that dealest treacherously with the treacherous dealer, and that spoilest the spoiler, go up, O Elam, &c., as it followeth. These words will be much illustrated by compared them with Isaiah 33:1. There is no doubt to be made but the Medes and Persians used treachery as well as force against Babylon. And besides brias, and following their counsel and conduct in taking the city, which made them partakers of their treason.

Go up, to fight against her. These are God’s words, either giving them command and commission to do so, or rather foretelling what they would do; which is oft done in this form of speech.

Elam; Persia, called Elam synecdochically, because Elam was an eminent province of Persia, bordering upon the Medes.

Besiege, to wit, Babylon, Isaiah 21:9. All the sighing thereof; either,

1. Babylon’s sighing, which shall cease, because they shall have no time to sigh, or lament their miseries, being suddenly surprised, and cut off in a moment, as they were. As God is said to seek out the wickedness of wicked men till he find none, Psalms 10:15, when he utterly destroyeth them in or with their sins. Or,

2. The sighing and groanings of God’s people and other nations under the heavy oppressions of that potent and cruel empire; the pronoun her, or thereof, being taken here not passively, as commonly it is; but actively, or efficiently, as sometimes it is, as Deuteronomy 11:25, your fear, i.e. the fear of you; and Job 33:7, my terror, i.e. the terror or dread of me upon thee.

Verse 3

My loins; which he mentions with respect to the following similitude of child-bearing, in which the loins are sorely pained. And this the prophet speaks, either,

1. In the name and person of the Babylonian. Or rather,

2. In his own name; which is most natural, and agrees best with the last clause of the verse, which plainly speaks of the torment which he had in the mere hearing of the word, and seeing the vision, and not of that which they had in the feeling of it; although the latter is implied in the former; and the prophet expresseth his horror in hearing and seeing, to intimate the dreadful horror which should seize upon them when it came upon them.

As the pangs of a woman that travaileth; sharp and grievous pains.

Verse 4

The night of my pleasure; the night, in which I used to have a sweet repose and sleep. He seems to have had this vision in a night. But withal this horror of the prophet by night was typical, and did signify that grievous horror and destruction which should befall the Babylonians in a night of great feasting and jollity, as it did, Daniel 5:1,Daniel 5:30.

Hath he, God, who showed him that vision,

turned into fear unto me; into a time and matter of fear.

Verse 5

Prepare the table; furnish it with meats and drinks, as it follows. The prophet foretells what the Babylonians would be doing when their’ enemies were at their doors, that they would give up themselves to feasting and security.

Watch in the watch-tower, to give us notice of any approaching danger, that in the mean time we may more securely indulge ourselves in mirth and pleasures.

Arise, ye princes; either,

1. Ye Medes and Persians; whilst your enemies the Babylonians are feasting securely, prepare to make your assault. Or,

2. Ye princes of Babylon; arise from the table and run to your arms. Which sudden alarm and change of their posture proceeded from tidings out of the watch-tower, as may be gathered from the former clause,

and is more fully expressed in the following verses.

Annoint the shield; prepare yourselves and your arms for the battle approaching: The shield is put for all their weapons of offence and defence. They used to anoint their shields with oil, partly to preserve ahd polish them, and partly to make them slippery, that their enemies’ darts might not fasten in them, but slide off from them.

Verse 6

Thus hath the Lord said unto me; I speak not my own fancies, but what God hath made me to see and hear in a vision; the particulars whereof are related in the following verses.

A watchman; either,

1. A prophet; such being oft so called, as Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:2. Or rather,

2. A military watchman. For this was now done only in a vision, which yet did foresignify what should be done really afterwards.

Let him declare, to thee in vision, to them really.

Verse 7

And he saw; a short speech for he told me that he saw.

A chariot, not for burden, but for war, in which chariots were then much used. With a couple of horsemen; attended with two horsemen. So there were both chariots and troops of horsemen. Or,

with a couple of horses, as this word is sometimes used, as 1 Samuel 8:11; 2 Samuel 1:6. The chariot was drawn with two horses.

A chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; two chariots, one drawn by asses, (under which title some understand mules, as being engendered of asses,) and the other by camels; whereby he signifies the variety and abundance of warlike provisions which the Medes and Persians should have for this expedition, and particularly of chariots, whereof some were for the carriage of necessary things, and others for the battle.

He hearkened diligently; he carefully observed what he saw, and what he could further discover.

Verse 8

And he cried, A lion: the sense of the words thus rendered is this, The watchman cried out, I see also a lion, to wit, marching before the horsemen and chariots already mentioned; which they suppose to represent Cyrus or Darius marching in the head of their armies. Or, as it is rendered in the margin, and by divers others, he cried as (which particle is oft understood, as hath been formerly and frequently noted)

a lion, with a terrible cry, as being affrighted with the vision, and withal signifying the dreadfulness of that judgment which was here represented as coming upon Babylon.

My lord; the watchman speaks these words either to God, or to the prophet, who by command from God had set him in this place and station; to whom therefore he gives the following account of his discharge of the work wherewith he was intrusted.

I stand continually upon the watch-tower in the day time, and I am set in my ward whole nights; according to thy command I have stood, and do yet stand, continually, both day and night, upon my watch-tower.

Verse 9

Behold; the sum of what I have discovered is this.

A chariot of men; not filled with goods, as chariots of burden used to be; but provided with men, to fight from or with them.

With a couple of horsemen; understand, and a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; which is easily understood from Isaiah 21:7, where they are expressed.

He; the prophet Isaiah, who set the watchman or the Lord, by whose command he was set, Isaiah 21:6, who here gives an explication of the vision.

All the graven images of her gods; which is mentioned as an evidence that she was fully conquered, because otherwise they would not have suffered their idols to have been thrown to the ground.

He hath broken; God, by the hands of Cyrus, his instrument. Or it is an indefinite speech, he hath broken, &c., for they are broken, &c.

Verse 10

Threshing is here put for the corn threshed, as it is explained in the following words; the act being frequently put for the object, as captivity for the captives, fear for the thing feared, &c., as hath been noted before. And the corn threshed is here metaphorically put for people sorely afflicted and punished, which is oft expressed by threshing, as Isaiah 25:10; Isaiah 41:15; Micah 4:13, &c. This is spoken either,

1. Of the Jews, to whom he now turneth his speech, whom God did grievously thresh and afflict by the Babylonians, and whom he here comforts with these tidings, as if he had said, Though thou wilt be threshed first, yet Babylon shall be threshed last, and most dreadfully, and their threshing shall be thy deliverance. This interpretation is thought necessary, because of the latter clause of the verse, wherewith this is to be joined. Or,

2. Of Babylon.

O my threshing; or, thou art my threshing, whom I have undertaken to thresh and punish. And so this is fitly mentioned here, to assure them that this prophecy of Babylon’s fall must necessarily be accomplished, because the Almighty was engaged in the work. And this interpretation seems not to be inconsistent with the rest of the verse, as we shall see.

The corn of my floor; the corn which I will cause to be threshed upon the floor, Heb. the son of my floor. For the title of son is oft given to lifeless things, as arrows are called the sons of the bow, or of the quiver, Job 5:7; Job 41:28, &c.

That which I have heard of the Lord of hosts have I declared; what I have foretold is not my own invention, but the word of God, and therefore shall infallibly come to pass.

Unto you; either,

1. Unto you my people, or hearers; for all the prophecies, even concerning other nations, were published to them, and for their use and comfort: or,

2. Unto (or concerning, as this Hebrew particle is sometimes used, as the learned know) you Babylonians, to whom this was in some sort declared, because it was published amongst the Jews, and by their means might easily come to the knowledge of other people, and consequently of the Babylonians. Nor is it unusual for the prophets, in their prophecies delivered to God’s people concerning Babylon, by an apostrophe to turn their speech to the Babylonians themselves; of which we have instances, Jeremiah 50:24,Jeremiah 50:31; Jeremiah 51:13,Jeremiah 51:14,Jeremiah 51:25,Jeremiah 51:26.

Verse 11

Of Dumah; either,

1. Of a part of Arabia, so called from Dumah, one of Ishmael’s race, Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30. Or rather,

2. Of Edom or Idumea, as seems most probable from the mention of Mount Seir, which was a part of Edom; which may here be called Dumah, either by an abbreviation, or cutting off the first letter from Idumea, as Ram is put for Aram, 1 Chronicles 2:9; Job 32:2, or rather prophetically and sarcastically; for Dumah signifies silent; whereby he intimates that Edom, which was much given to vain boasting and railing against God, and against his people, as we read elsewhere, should be brought to silence and utter ruin. And such new, and enigmatical, and significant names are elsewhere given by the prophets to divers known places, as Babylon is called Sheshach, Jeremiah 25:26, and Egypt Mazor, &c. He, to wit, Dumah, or the people of Dumah, of whom he speaks, or one of them in the name and by the appointment of the rest.

Calleth to me; to the watchman, as appears by the following words; for the prophet delivers his prophecy in the form of a dialogue between the people and the watchman.

Out of Seir; out of Edom, which is frequently called Seir as Genesis 32:3; Genesis 36:8; 2 Chronicles 20:10; 2 Chronicles 25:11, &c.

Watchman; whereby he means either,

1. The prophet Isaiah, whom they call watchman, either seriously, or in scorn, because the prophets were so called by God, and by the people of the Jews; or,

2. The watchman of Edom, whom they had set, as people use to do in times of great danger.

What of the night? the night is taken either,

1. Metaphorically, for a time of tribulation. So they ask the prophet what he hath to say concerning that night of calamity which he had so long and oft threatened to them, whereof as yet they saw no appearance. Or,

2. properly, the night being the proper and chief time in which the watchman’s care is most necessary, because then their enemies had opportunity to do them most harm. So the people are supposed to come to him very early in the morning, to inquire what had happened in the night; which shows a state of great perplexity and fear, which might well be called a burden, both because fear in itself is a great torment, and because this fear was a sign or presage of their approaching miseries.

What of the night? the repetition of the same words shows the greatness of their solicitude and fear.

Verse 12

The morning cometh, and also the night: the night is past without any great mischief to you, and the comfortable light of the morning is approaching, which freeth men’s minds from the terrors of the night; but although the morning be coming, it will be gone, and the night will return, and your fears with it. The night seems to be here taken properly, as the morning is; yet so that he alludes to the metaphorical signification of the word, and intimates that the night of affliction was coming upon them.

If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come. If this watchman be the prophet Isaiah, then the sense of these words is this, If you will be inquiring, inquire sincerely and seriously of God, by me, concerning your danger, and the way to prevent it; return unto the Lord by true repentance, who alone can secure you, and come unto me for direction. But if it be their own watchman, which, with submission, I conceive most probable, the sense is, If you will inquire, inquire: I perceive, by what I have observed this night, that your danger is not passed, and there will be occasion for further inquiries from time to time; and therefore return, come, i.e. either return to them that sent you with this message, and then come to me for further tidings; or come again, as return, lie down, is put for lie down again, 1 Samuel 3:5; come to me the next morning, as you have reason to do, and so from morning to morning, for I see every night is likely to bring some evil tidings to you.

Verse 13

In the forest; not as you used to do, in the houses or tents of the Arabians; whereby he implies that that populous country should be turned into a desolate wilderness.

Travelling companies: in those parts travellers then did and still do go together in companies. See Genesis 37:25,Genesis 37:28; Job 6:19.

Dedanim; or, Dedamites; of whom see on Genesis 25:3; Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:8. These were merchants, and used to trade with Tyre, Ezekiel 27:20; Ezekiel 38:13, and their way lay through the same parts of Arabia.

Verse 14

Tema; a part of Arabia; of which see Job 6:19; Jeremiah 25:23.

They prevented with their bread him that fled; whereby he implies that those other Arabians, against whom this prophecy is principally directed, should be reduced to great scarcity of all necessary provisions, and forced to flee for their lives from a bloody enemy, as is more fully expressed in the next verse.

Verse 16

Within a year, from the time of this prophecy.

According to the years of an hireling, to wit, an exact year; for hirelings diligently observe and wait for the end of the year, when they are to receive their wages.

All the glory; their power, and riches, and all things wherein they used to glory. This was executed by the Assyrians.

Kedar; of whom see on Psalms 120:5; Jeremiah 49:28.

Verse 17

Archers; bows and arrows were their: chief weapons, and they were expert in the use of them, both against beasts and men, as occasion required.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Isaiah 21". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/isaiah-21.html. 1685.
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