Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 21

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-10

Isaiah 21:1-10

The burden of the desert of the sea

The desert of the sea

This enigmatical name for Babylon was no doubt suggested by the actual character of the country in which the city stood.

It was an endless breadth or succession of undulations “like the sea,” without any cultivation or even any tree: low, level, and full of great marshes; and which used to be overflowed by the Euphrates, till the whole plain became a sea, before the river was banked in by Semiramis, as Herodotus says. But the prophet may allude also to the social and spiritual desert which Babylon was to the nations over which its authority extended, and especially to the captive Israelite; and perhaps, at the same time, to the multitude of the armies which it poured forth like the waters of the sea. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

The prophecy against Babylon

It is a magnificent specimen of Hebrew poetry in its abrupt energy and passionate intensity. The prophet is, or imagines himself to be, in Babylon. Suddenly he sees a storm of invasion sweeping down through the desert, which fills him with alarm. Out of the rolling whirlwind troops of armed warriors flash into distinctness. A splendid banquet is being held in the great Chaldean city; the tables are set, the carpets are spread; they eat, they drink, the revel is at its height. Suddenly a wild cry is heard, “Arise, ye princes, anoint the shield!”--in other words, the foe is at hand. “Spring up from the banquet, smear with” oil the leathern coverings of your shields that the blows of the enemy may slide off from them in battle. The clang of arms disturbs the Babylonian feast. The prophet sitting, as it were an illuminated spirit, as a watchman upon the tower calls aloud to ask me cause of the terror. What is it that the watchman sees? The watchman, with deep, impatient groan, as of a lion, complains that he sees nothing; that he has been set there, apparently for no purpose, all day and all night long. But even as he speaks there suddenly arises an awful need for his look-out. From the land of storm and desolation, the desert between the Persian Gulf and Babylon, he sees a huge and motley host, some mounted on horses, some on asses, some on camels, plunging forward through the night. It is the host of Cyrus on his march against Babylon. In the advent of that Persian host he sees the downfall of the dynasty of Nebuchadnezzar and the liberation of Judah from her exile. On the instant, as though secure of victory, he cries out, “Babylon is fallen.” And he, that is, Cyrus the Persian king, a monotheist though he be, a worshipper of fire and the sun, has dashed in pieces all the graven images of the city of Nimrod. Then he cries to his fellow exiles in Babylonian captivity, “O my people, crushed and trodden down”--literally, “O my grain, and the son of my threshing floor”--“this is my prophecy for you; it is a prophecy of victory for your champions; it is a prophecy of deliverance for yourselves.” (Dean Farrar, D. D.)

The Persian advance on Babylon

(Isaiah 21:7; Isaiah 21:9):--It is a slight but obvious coincidence of prophecy and history that Xenophon represents the Persians advancing by two and two. (J. A. Alexander.)

The Persian aversion to images

The allusion to idols (Isaiah 21:9) is not intended merely to remind us that the conquest was a triumph of the true God over false ones, but to bring into view the well-known aversion of the Persians to all images. Herodotus says they not only thought it unlawful to use images, but imputed folly to those who did it. Here is another incidental but remarkable coincidence of prophecy even with profane history. (J. A. Alexander.)

“The burden of the desert of the sea”

There is a burden in all vast things; they oppress the soul. The firmament gives it; the mountain gives it; the prairie gives it. But I think nothing gives it like looking on the sea. The sea suggests something which the others do not--a sense of desertness. In the other cases the vastness is broken to the eye. The firmament has its stars; the mountain has its peaks; the prairie has its flowers; but the sea, where it is open sea, has nothing. It seems a strange thing that the prophet, in making the sea a symbol of life’s burden, should have selected its aspect of loneliness. Why not take its storms? Because the heaviest burden of life is not its storms but its solitude. There are no moments so painful as our island moments. One half of our search for pleasure is to avoid self-reflection. The pain of solitary responsibility is too much for us. It drives the middle-aged man into fast living, and the middle-aged woman into gay living. I cannot bear to hear the discord of my own past. It appalls me; it overwhelms me; I fly to the crowd to escape my unaccompanied shadow. (G. Matheson, D. D.)

Verse 5

Isaiah 21:5

Anoint the shield

“Anoint the shield”

The ancient shields being mostly of stout leather stretched over a frame or rim of metal or wood, it was necessary to rub them with oil, lest they should become hard and crack, or lest they should become so rigid that an arrow or spear might easily penetrate them.

Shields of this kind are still much in use, and still require the same treatment, in Western Asia; and we have ourselves frequently seen them on sale in the bazaars, and in use among the Arabs, the Kurds, and the Caucasians. (J. Kitto, D. D.)

Things that did not happen

What is a shield? It is a very peculiar part of God’s armour. It is not a strength in calamity; it is something which prevents calamity from coming. My strength is my power to bear; but my shield is my escape from bearing. My strength lifts me when the blow falls; my shield catches the blow before it falls. My strength supports what is; my shield wards off what might have been. I have often praised God for the strength; but I have seldom anointed the shield. I have recognised a thousand times His songs in the night; but I have not sufficiently thanked Him that the night itch has not been deeper. (G. Matheson, D. D.)

Verse 10

Isaiah 21:10

O My threshing, and the corn of My floor

God’s threshing

Babylon is the instrument employed by the Divine wrath to thresh with.

But love takes part also in the work of threshing, and restrains the action of wrath. A picture likely to give comfort to the grain lying for threshing on the floor, i.e., to the people of Israel which, mowed down as it were and removed from its native son, had been banished to Babylon, and there subjected to a tyrannical rule. (F. Delitzsch.)

Comfort for God’s afflicted people

THE CHURCH IS GOD’S FLOOR, in which the most valuable fruits and products of this earth are, as it were, gathered together and laid up.

TRUE BELIEVERS ARE THE CORN OF GOD’S FLOOR. Hypocrites are but as the chaff and straw, which take up a deal of room, but are of small value, with which the wheat is now mixed, but from which it shall be shortly and forever separated.

THE CORN OF GOD’S FLOOR MUST EXPECT TO BE THRESHED by afflictions and persecutions.

EVEN THEN, GOD OWNS IT FOR HIS THRESHING--it is His still; nay, the threshing of it is by His appointment and under His restraint and direction The threshers could have no power against it but what is given them from above. (M. Henry.)

Verses 11-12

Isaiah 21:11-12

The burden of Dumah

The burden of Dumah

Like Moab, Edom had once formed part of David’s dominions, but in the days of disruption and weakness both had rebelled.

What about Edom now? When Moab was so soon to fall--when the Assyrian was spreading devastation all around--what was to be Edom’s fate? The prophet hears the appeal addressed to him as God’s watchman and with anxious repetition. The words, “Watchman, what of the night? How much of the night has passed?” contain the cry of perplexity and a demand for light and guidance. But the answer is an oracle of silence. Not yet is Edom to be told what is God’s will concerning her future. She is assured that there will be alternations of light and darkness for her as for all in the time of their probation. Meanwhile, patience is to have its perfect work; and after a little while she may inquire again. A later prophecy shows the work of Divine judgment on this land. (Buchanan Blake, B. D.)


It lay to the south of Palestine, thus bordering on the inheritance of Judah. It was a wild mountainous district, inhabited by a race whose character reflected the rugged nature of their surroundings. They were constantly at war with their neighbours, especially the Jews, and spent a large portion of their time making inroads into southern Palestine for the sake of plunder and conquest. On account of these invasions, and also because they joined the Chaldeans against the Jews, the most sweeping denunciations were pronounced against them. In course of time these denunciations were followed by disasters, in consequence of which the Edomites became a vanquished people, and were finally incorporated with the Jewish nation. Then, when at a later period the whole of that region passed into the hands of the Greeks and Romans, it became known by the Greek name of Idumea--Dumah being the old Hebrew name. Hence the “burden of Dumah” means the prophecy concerning the fate of Idumea or Edom. (D. Merson, M. A. , B. D.)

The oracle of Dumah

The land of Edom pleads for some vision to her also. Judah is to be rescued. The prophet has seen the Persian host in its varied array--troops of chariots and horsemen crashing through the brazen gates of idolatrous Babylon, extinguishing its feasts in blood, issuing from it with the cry of victory. It is good news for Judah, but what shall it be for Edom? It is as if the voice of Esau cried out once more, “Hast Thou but one blessing, O my Father. Bless me, even me also, O my Father.” And as the prophet stands in imagination on the peak of the hill, he hears a voice calling to him out of Seir, the stronghold of the Edomites, a sharp, agitated cry, “Watchman, how far in the night? Watchman, what hour of the night? Does the darkness still linger, is the morning near?” Well might Edom be in terror; the sons of Esau had behaved to Judah in her hour of affliction with malignant hatred which had wounded her to the heart. In Obadiah, in Amos, in Ezekiel, in Jeremiah, you may read traces of their crime. When the Jews fled before the advances of Nebuchadnezzar, the Edomites, true to their miserable destiny, their hand against every man and every man’s hand against them, had cruelly massacred and intercepted the helpless fugitives, and had urged Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the Holy City. It is to this that the sad Psalmist of the Exile alludes when he says: “Remember, O Lord, against the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem, how they cried, ‘Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.’” Naturally, therefore, in the approaching hour of Judah’s emancipation, the prophet has not much comfort to bestow on these cruel and treacherous” sons of the desert. All he can say to the Edomites at first is a riddling message of which not much can be made. But then, after this stern and dubious answer, as though somewhat relenting, the watchman cries, “If ye wish to inquire again, inquire ye,” and then, very briefly, “Return, come.” In other words. “The oracle for you, sons of Edom, is no vaticination about a mere earthly future.” It may be summed up in two words--in the warning, “Repent,” and in the invitation, “Come.” (Dean Farrar, D. D.)

Edomites and Jews: a hostile world attacking the Church

It may help us to the true meaning of this question, if we keep in mind the relation in which the Edomites stood the Jews. That relation was one of the closest, if we have respect to origin or birth; but if we have respect to friendship, then the feelings existing between them were of the most hostile kind. Descended from a common stock, they kept alive the family animosities. The Edomites, who were the descendants of Esau, hated the Israelites on account of the deceitful conduct of Jacob their father. The sight of the prosperity of the sons of Jacob perpetuated the old grudge in the breast of the less favoured sons of Esau; and their seasons of adversity were made the occasions of bitter sneers. These two nations have become associated in our minds, the one with the people of God, the other with their enemies. The sons of Jacob were chosen, in preference to the sons of Esau, to be the medium of carrying the Divine blessings to all nations. The Edomites were in consequence filled with envy and hatred towards their brethren, lost no opportunity of attacking them in the most envenomed spirit, and thus they may justly be regarded as a type of the hostile world attacking the Church of God. Here, then, we seem to have a clue to the interpretation of the passage before us. If we regard the Jewish nation as a type of the Church or people of God, and the Edomites as a type of the hostile world, we have here a question addressed to the Church by the world, and we have the Church’s reply. (D. Merson, M. A. , B. D.)

Eastern watchmen

It was the custom in the regions of the East in ancient times, to erect lofty watchtowers, so high as to be above all surrounding buildings, and to place watchmen on them, who should observe all that came within their view and report accordingly. The design of this custom was to prevent the approach of an enemy unforeseen. The watchman in his lofty tower observed in the distance the gathering of armies and the mustering of hosts; he could see in the far-off horizon the glistening of weapons and the waving of the banners of war; and then he gave warning and the people prepared for the event. There is very frequent allusion to this custom in the Scriptures; and it is in reference to it, that the ministers of the Church of God are described as the Lord’s “watchmen.” It is their duty to stand upon the walls and upon the watchtowers of the Church that they may see the approaching danger, and to give warning, that the people perish not (Isaiah 62:6; Ezekiel 33:2, etc.). (M. H. Seymour, M. A.)


A different word from that in Isaiah 21:6, and signifying not one who spies or looks out, but one who guards or keeps (Psalms 130:6). (Prof. Driver, D. D.)

The burden

The burden is in two respects--

1. Of the prophets that bear it. The Word of the Lord is a heavy burden till they are delivered of it; there is no rest to the surcharged conscience. The ministry is a matter of both honour and burden. Are there none that catch at honour, but will not meddle with the burden.

2. Of the people that were to suffer it. The judgments of God are heavy on whomsoever they light. It is true of them what the philosopher said of himself, Perieram nisi periissem,--they are undone that are not undone. Security is the very suburbs of hell. An insensible heart is the devil’s anvil, he fashioneth all sins on it, and the blows are not felt. (T. Adams.)

The burden of Dumah




1. We may tender the prophet’s answer to any who would perplex themselves or others with inquiries respecting the existing state of this world’s affairs.

2. The wicked, walking after their own lusts and counsels, sometimes, in a scoffing manner, inquire of ministers, “What of the night? What think ye of my state and prospects? What of the truth of religion? What of the uses and importance of godliness? My wickedness thrives, and you said that it would be my ruin; my vices are pleasant, and you said that they would be bitter; my mind is at ease, and you said that I should be harassed in conscience. Where is the truth of your words? where the severity of judgment?--what evidence of a day of retribution?” The awful answer again is, “the morning cometh, and also the night.”

3. The prophet’s answer was given to persons in trouble; and thus applied, its import is various. To some who demand of us, in seasons of their distress, “Watchman, what of the night?” the answer is, Time is fast passing, and your sorrows are fast passing with it. To others, “The morning cometh,” but as yet it is profound night to you, many and heavy sorrows still await you. Your spiritual condition is such, that our Heavenly Father will seek to bring you to Himself by many grievous visitations; hateful indeed, to the natural will, but most salutary for the soul’s health. Or else, perhaps, as you have approved yourselves to God in the season of prosperity, it is the Divine pleasure to make experiment of you in the fiery furnace of adversity, to see whether “tribulation can separate you from the love of Christ.” To others again, the answer is, It is the seventh hour, the midnight of your affliction is already past, and if passed by a little only, you have already suffered the extreme of your earthly portion of endurance; all that follows shall be comparatively light, and work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, if in patience ye possess your souls. (A. Williams, M. A.)

The watchman’s report and advice



1. The whole state of the world demands of the servants of God that they should prayerfully and diligently regard the signs and movements of the times.

2. There are personal inquiries which ought to press upon all who are rightly impressed with a sense of their responsibility to God. “How is the period of my probation passing? What is the progress of the night, which is to be succeeded by a morrow which knows no change or ending? How speeds the night in which my soul’s salvation is to be determined?”

THE WATCHMAN’S REPORT IN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION. “The morning cometh, and also the night.” This report is most comprehensive, and may convey the following ideas--

1. That there will be nothing settled or permanent: changes may be expected.

(1) There has always been a mixture of light and darkness in the Church--in its perceptions of truth, and in the events connected with it.

(2) So in the case of the individual Christian, in times of sorrow and distress: darkness has appeared to compass his path; yet he has not been without gleams of comfort and light.

2. But the report without doubt is designed to indicate a period of coming joy to believers, of misery and woe to the wicked--to the one the morning cometh, to the other night.

3. There is one other observation in the watchman’s report worthy of attention, namely, that the morning and the night are said to come together; “the morning cometh, and also the night.” It may seem strange to many that these periods should be said to come simultaneously. But if you look at the characters to whom they thus come, the difficulty is removed. That which will be a time of light and comfort to the righteous, will be one of darkness and dismay to the ungodly. Indeed, it is partly so in the present imperfect state of things. The very blessings of the impenitent are turned into curses; their day of mercy and grace becomes a night of darkness and calamity; whilst, on the other hand, all that appear night and trouble to the people of God, are means of increased light and joy to them. Their sorrow is turned into joy; their tribulation worketh patience and experience and hope.


1. Inquiry is the first duty recommended. We look for nothing, and expect nothing so long as there is indifference. It was the great sin of God’s professing people of old, that “they would not consider.” It is only when we can excite a spirit of serious inquiry that we can hope for lasting good from our efforts.

2. But to diligent inquiry, return to God is recommended. All inquiry in fact is for this purpose, and it would be useless if it did not issue in an actual return to your Father.

3. The prophet closes with one more observation, and it is used by way of encouragement--“Come.” (T. Dealtry, D. D.)

The watchman’s report and advice


1. As it may be supposed to respect the public affairs of our country.

2. The state of virtue and piety among us.

THE WATCHMAN’S ADVICE. The doom of Dumah was not inevitably fixed; she would yet be indulged with a morning of opportunities; and the only sure ground of hope was in a returning to God. We have as a nation something of Dumah’s morning--some farther space for reflection and repentance. It must be of the greatest moment to know what an offended God expects. “Inquire; return; come.” The inquiring, returning, coming, so kindly and seasonably urged on Dumah, in her night, are recommended to us on every ground, whether human or Divine.

1. Nothing can be more fit and proper in itself.

2. It is the subject of a Divine command.

3. In the patience and forbearance of God, and in the wonderful method He has devised for the pardon and salvation of a guilty people, we have a loud call and a most powerful motive to “inquire, return, and come.”

4. And there are important and happy consequences resulting from a sinful people’s inquiring, returning’, and coming to God. (N. Hill.)

“Watchman, what of the night?”


1. Some ask the report of the night with utter carelessness as to the reply.

2. Some ask in contempt.

3. Some ask in horror and anguish of heart.


1. He did not turn away from the question, in whatever spirit it was asked.

2. He uttered with equal assurance a threat and a promise.

3. He pressed the necessity of care in the study and earnest inquiry after the nature of the truth.

4. He summed up all by an anxious, a cordial, and a reiterated invitation to repentance and reconciliation with an offended but pardoning God. Thus, the single verse might be regarded as an abstract of the duties of the ministerial office. (W. Archer Butler, D. D.)

The world’s challenge and the Church’s response

This is THE WORLD’S CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH. From the midst of that darkness which, by reason of the limitation of our knowledge, encompasses us all; and from thy midst of that double darkness which enwraps those who are untouched and unchanged by the love of Christ Jesus, this challenge is continually coming to the Church. This is--

1. The cry of scepticism. The scepticism of our day is, in some instances, evidently the error of noble but misguided spirits, who, having discovered that in some matters of belief concerning which they had thought themselves very sure, they were wholly in the wrong, and having in other cases been baffled in the search for certainty, have too hastily given up all hope of obtaining saris faction and rest with respect to many of the most momentous questions of human life. There is, however, a shallower scepticism. It addresses the Church in tones of equal incredulity, but breathing the spirit of vanity, hostility, and contempt.

2. The cry of the world’s worldliness. Men who are living for this life only, ask the question. There is a terribly close connection between worldliness and scepticism of the scoffing and contemptuous sort. The tendency of a life in which there is no regard for God and eternity, is to produce an unbelief far more blighting than that disbelief which is the result of misguided thinking. And with all the wild recklessness or supercilious scorn or stolid indifference of old times, they ask, “What of the night? You prophets of darkness, who take so gloomy a view of the condition of the world, who warn us of a perpetual darkness for those who live so heedlessly, what of the night? You who profess to believe that your religion can do such great things, where are the signs of its power, and of the accomplishment of its work? What signs of the dissipation of the darkness of which you speak, and of the coming of the day?”

3. The cry of the world’s agony. From the darkness of the sin which is shutting out of the life all joy and purity and hope, from the woe which is crushing them, men make their appeal to the Church of God. They ask for the causes of this darkness and for the means by which it may be removed. But there are many who are conscious that the agony they feel is attributable to their sin; and in the sense of their alienation from God they ask of the Church, pleadingly, What of the night? It is not simply the apprehension of darkness, but the consciousness of it, the darkness of being sinful. “Oh tell us if there be forgiveness, peace, purity, and rest, for guilty, storm-tossed, polluted, and wearied hearts!”

4. The cry of the world’s hope. Many have felt the dawn of a new day in their own hearts, and now they continually pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Although they have light within, they see the darkness around them. But because of what they have themselves experienced, they cannot despair of the case of humanity.

THE RESPONSE WITH WHICH THE CHURCH IS ENTRUSTED, and which she is bound urgently and confidently to deliver. “The morning cometh, and also the night.”

1. The Church’s message to the world is a message of mingled mercy and severity, of joyous and of sad import. We look at what Christianity has done and is doing in the world; and the result of the examination is a deep and growing conviction that the evidences of Christianity never were so strong or convincing as today.

(1) And this is our answer to scepticism. Account for Christianity. See what it has done for nations, what for a single life!

(2) This, too, is our answer to the cry of the worldly. However blind men may be to the fact, however incapable of reading the signs of the times, assuredly the course of human history proclaims “the morning cometh”; the morning of a day which shall reveal the falseness of every mode of life which involves forgetfulness of God; the morning of a day when every heart unconsecrated to God shall declare its dissatisfaction, and when every cherished lust of wrong shall reveal its insatiable appetite, by the cry, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

(3) And this is the message of the Church to the agonised: “The morning cometh” of the day when the wounds of humanity shall be forever healed; when the sorrow of men shall be turned into joy. We see signs of this already, in the present amelioration of man’s condition which Christianity produces.

(4) And in the brightness of that morning, which many signs proclaim cometh for the world, the hopeful shall find all, and more than all, for which their hearts have ever yearned, and more than all of which their imagination ever dreamed.

2. But alas! if it be true that the morning cometh, it is not less necessary that we should add, “and also the night.” The dawning of the day of Christ will leave some in profounder darkness.

3. Therefore, we close with the urgent personal appeal of the prophet: “If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.” Let this be the commencement of an earnest inquiry as to the claims Christianity, and we do not fear for the result. Let the value of the world be estimated, and compared with the value of the favour and the life of God; and there can be but one issue. Let this be the day of earnest seeking for the light, the peace and the pardon of God; and the agony of a troubled heart and the burden of a guilty conscience shall be taken away, and the spirit shall know the life and liberty of Christ Jesus. “Inquire ye,” and in this truth as it is in Jesus ye shall find all you need. (T. Stephenson.)

The burden of Dumah


EXHIBIT THE LESSONS WHICH IT TEACHES; or, apply it to the friends and the foes of God.

1. We have an illustration of the conduct of a taunting world; a world often disposed not to reason, but to make derision of religion; a world always finding occasions, in some peculiar state of the Church, or in some aspect of religion, for the exhibition of irony or scorn.

2. We have in the response of the watchman, “The morning cometh,” an illustration of the times of light and prosperity in the Church destined to succeed those of calamity. We may apply it to the individual Christian in the midst of calamity. Thus, too, it is of the Church universal. In her darkest hours, it was true that brighter days were to dawn. So it is now. The night of sin is to be succeeded by a long bright day. There is one thing only that is certain in the future history of this world--its conversion to God and to the true religion.

3. In like manner we have an illustration of a third important fact--the night of calamity that is coming on a sinful and scoffing world.

4. There remains one other idea. That is, if you--the despiser--will inquire in a humble manner; if you will come with proper reverence, and will turn from your sins, light will stream along your path; and the sun of prosperity will ride up your sky, and pour down his noontide radiance upon you also. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

“Watchman, what of the night?”


1. He occupied vantage ground. He was selected for the office; placed in an appropriate position--where, unhindered, he could carry on his observations.

2. He possessed knowledge of the ground he surveyed a mere enthusiast would not do, nor a novice, nor an enemy; a patriot would be the best, with a clear head and a warm heart.

3. He would expect implicit obedience to his cries. If he said “All well!” people might rest; if, “To arms!” people must be up. Apply these points to the office of the Christian ministry.


1. He was painfully conscious of the darkness. Every awakened sinner feels the darkness of ignorance, and danger, and guilt, and wonders what of the night--how, and when will it end?

2. He was anxiously desirous of the light. The anxious seeker after salvation longs for the Light of the world--the light of the glorious Gospel to shine into his heart.


1. The morning cometh--the morning of day, of newness of life, of glorious opportunity.

2. “Also the night.” The day will not last forever, let us work while it is called day. (F. W. Brown.)

The world’s interrogation and the Church’s response

WHEN NIGHT HANGS HEAVILY ON THE CHURCH, IT HANGS STILL MORE HEAVILY ON THE WORLD. The Assyrian oppression lay like a cloud on Judah, but in lying on Judah it projected a still heavier cloud upon Edom. The world is so bound up with the Church that, consciously or unconsciously, it rises with the Church’s rising, falls with the Church’s falling, rejoices in the Church’s freedom, pines in the Church’s bondage, is lightened by the Church’s sunshine, is shadowed by the Church’s clouds. And this, take the world in what aspect you may, as the world of society, the world of business, the world of pleasure. What is the practical lesson? Do not leave the Church because the Church may be wrapped in adversity; if you do, a deeper adversity is awaiting you in the quarter to which you repair. And the same law holds good in a wider sense. We are compassed with mystery. Some persons, impatient with the obscurities of faith, take refuge in the greater obscurities of unbelief. Restless under the clouds of Judah, they seek relief amidst the heavier clouds of Edom. There never was a greater mistake than to suppose that because Christianity is bound up with problems, the abandonment of belief is the abandonment of mystery.

And the fact is, the world realises this; for note as the next thought we deduce from the passage, THAT IN THE MIDST OF THIS COMMON NIGHT, ENVELOPING BOTH CHURCH AND WORLD, THE WORLD TURNS TO THE CHURCH FOR LIGHT. It is very suggestive that in the general pressure of the general gloom the Edomite is represented as appealing to the Jew, a representative of the Jewish God., Was there none to consult nearer home?

Where were the seers of Idumea? Through all ages the principle is the same. Ever, in the midst of the cloud that surrounds us all, the world puts its questions to the Church. Sometimes, indeed, the question is ironical. Sometimes it is curious. Often, however, the question is earnest.

And thus we come up to the next plain lesson, THAT WHEN THE WORLD QUESTIONS THE CHURCH, THE CHURCH MUST BE READY TO ANSWER. That implies--

1. That the Church has an answer to give. It is conceivable that, in some cases, professing Christian men may have no answer. When the question comes, they are nonplussed; it embarrasses, puzzles them. What is the reason? With one class, want of perception of the difficulty. And for another class, the reason may be that, while feeling the pressure of the difficulty, they have not obtained a solution for themselves. Wherefore, when face to face with the world’s questions, let us see to it that we have material for an answer.

2. And let us give the answer we have. Let the possession of truth be followed by the communication of it, as often as opportunity arises.

And yet, let it always be remembered that WHILE THE CHURCH SHOULD BE READY TO ANSWER THE WORLD’S QUESTIONINGS, THE NATURE OF THE ANSWER MUST BE CONDITIONED BY THE MORAL STATE OF THE QUESTIONER. Look once more at the prophet. So long as the attitude of Edom is an attitude of general inquiry, the prophet has only a general statement. “The morning cometh,” he says, “and also the night.” It is when this attitude of general inquiry passes into the attitude of personal repentance, that he promises a personal and particular revelation corresponding. “Cleanse your hearts,” he says, “reform your ways, turn to the Lord, and then come back again, and I will tell you more.” And here we turn from the duty and responsibility of those that are questioned to the spirit and character of those that question them. You ask if sorrow will pass, doubt dissolve, providence unfold itself, Scripture become plain, heaven be won. Our answer is, “Yes--in the experience of some”; whether in your experience we cannot say, until we know more. If yours is the sensitive conscience, the tender heart, the submissive will, if you sorrow for sin, if you turn to righteousness, if you cleave to God, then we can tell. For you the night is departing, but if the night is not vanishing in your own heart, it is useless, it is trifling, to ask how the night goes elsewhere. How apt are some men to divert attention from the state of matters within by directing it to the state of matters without--the prospects of neighbours, the words of Scripture, the controversies of the Church, the mysteries of Providence! He who will know of the doctrine must do the will. (W. A. Gray.)

The coming dawn

(A Christmas homily) (with Romans 13:12):--“The night is far spent; the day is at hand.” But for the fact which Christmas commemorates, we should have no reply to that question save one: “Though the morning cometh, the night cometh also.” It is only the advent of Christ, and the prophecy latent in that advent, which enable us to add in the full assurance of faith: “The night is far spent, and the day which has no night is at hand.”

1. That you may see that both these answers to the question which the world and the Church have so long been asking are true, and in what sense they are true, let us consider how far St. Paul’s answer to it has been fulfilled; whether the day which he foresaw did not really come, but also whether this day was not followed by a night and the promise of its dawn overcast. When he stood on his watchtower and surveyed the horizon, he had much reason to believe that the night of heathenism was far spent; that the day of the Lord, the day on which Christ would take to Himself His great power and rule in all the earth, was close at hand. But as we look back on the period to which he looked forward with such confident hope, we can see that the end was not yet, although it seemed so near; that, though a morning came, a night came also. The apostolic day, or age, was hardly over before the night came rushing back; and in a few centuries the dogmas and superstitions, the vices and crimes, of heathenism were to be found in the very Church itself, where, alas, too many of them still linger. Yet even in “the dark ages there was a remnant who had light in their dwellings, and did not altogether lose hope. And when the day of the Reformation dawned on Europe, Luther and his compeers had little doubt that the true day of the Lord had come at last, that a light had arisen which would speedily renew the face of the earth. And a day had come, but not the great day of Christ. The end was not even yet. Over its larger spaces, even Europe still lies in darkness, the darkness of superstition, or sensuality, or indifference; while in Africa, Asia with its teeming millions, and South America, we can discern only distant and twinkling points of light which are all but lost in the surrounding darkness. So that when we in our turn ask, “Watchman, what of the night? Is it almost gone? Will it soon pass?” we, too, can often hear none but the old reply, “If a morning is coming, so also is a night.” We try to hope, but the verdict of history is against us. Analogy is against us. How long it took to make the world! how slowly it was built up, inch by inch, before it was ready for the foot of man! And how intolerably slow is man’s growth and development! Reason and experience are against us. Think what the world is like,--how nation makes war on nation, and class on class, how common and unblushing vice is even among those who should be best fortified against it by education and position, how much of our virtue is but a prudent and calculating selfishness! Think how hard we ourselves know it to be to wean even one heart from selfishness and self-indulgence, and to fix it in the love and pursuit of whatsoever is true and fair, good and kind; how slowly we advance in godliness even when we have the grace of God to help us and are working together with Him! And then tell me whether you must not say, “The dawn may be coming, but as surely as the day comes, the night will come also; many days and many nights must still pass, many alternations of light and darkness must sweep across the face of the earth, before the great day of the Lord can arise and shine upon us.”

2. If that be your conclusion I have good tidings for you. The very meaning and message of advent is, that all these mornings and evenings are gradually leading in the day of the Lord; that He is preparing for the coming of His kingdom in the darkness as well as in the light, by every night through which we pass as well as every day, by every disappointment and every postponement of hope as well as by every fulfilment. Many forms of wrong, cruelty, and vice are impossible now which were possible, and even common, before the Son of God and Son of man dwelt among us; nay, even before the Reformation carried through Europe a light by which such deeds of darkness were reproved. The individual man may stand little higher, whether in wisdom or in goodness, than of old; but the number of men capable of high thoughts, noble alms, and lives devoted to the service of truth and righteousness, incomparably larger. The world took long to make, and may take still longer to remake; but its re-creation in the image of God is just as certain as its creation. The darkness of ignorance and superstition may still lie heavily over the larger spaces of the world; but the points of light are rapidly increasing. As we count time, the end is not yet; but as God counts time, the end is not far off. (S. Cox, D. D.)

National responsibility

The prophet has here nothing to predict; his function is only to repeat the oft unheeded warning that all things in this universe of God go on by unchanging law and in regular succession; “the morning,” as in the apparent revolution of the sun round the earth, so also in the revolutions of states and kingdoms and empires, “the morning cometh, and also the night.” Like causes produce like events; the course of providence may be foretold from the action of those with whom it deals.
And what is history, but the exhibition of this great but much neglected truth? e.g., Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome. In each case we may distinctly trace their more or less speedy downfall to the operation of the same eternal law of justice; requiting on each the iniquities of each, and making those iniquities the very causes of their overthrow. What likelihood, then, is there of the same principle not being carried out again; of its not being carried out in the case of nations and kingdoms in which we feel more than an antiquarian interest? To them, too, will come, as the morning, so also the night. It is, of course, most difficult to appraise the fortunes, to calculate the probable destiny of any nation of which we ourselves form component parts. The human mind, like the human eye, must see things somewhat at a distance in order to get them into due perspective and appreciate their exact proportions. But this difficulty does not affect our power of evaluating the principles of conduct on which we see men or nations act. Those principles are broad and clearly marked, and it is easy to perceive how far justice and right dealing, truth and soberness, self-devotion for the common good and real, not mock, philanthropy are practised: or, on the other side, how far oppression and cowardice, luxury and vice, falsehood and selfishness, are the real rulers of the nation. It was the true function of the Hebrew prophets to rouse the conscience of the nation to what they spake. If, then, we wish to acquire some idea of the probable future of the great empire to which we belong, it will be well carefully to review the aspects of life prevailing in it, and to see in what way the eternal obligations of the Divine law are observed, or how far they are despised and violated. (Archbishop Reichel, D. D.)

“Watchman, what of the night?”

GOOD MEN SUFFERING. The pious Jews were now in deepest sorrow. It was their night. The good have often a night. Physical suffering, secular difficulties, social bereavements, spiritual temptations, conscious imperfections, often turn the sky of a good man into night.

WICKED MEN TAUNTING. The voice from Mount Seir was, “What of the night?” The language is sarcastic and contemptuous. The wicked, instead of sympathising with the good in their sufferings, often treat them with heartless ridicule. The spirit is seen now in various questions that are addressed to the Church.

(1) Where is your superior happiness?

(2) Where are the triumphs of your cause?

(3) Where is your spiritual superiority to other men?

THE GREAT GOD SPEAKING TO BOTH. “The morning cometh and also the night.”

1. His voice to the good. “The morning cometh.” There is a morning for the Church on this earth. There is a morning to the good in eternity.

2. The voice to the wicked. “The night cometh.” “Where is Edom now? The night cometh, sinner: the shadows are gathering already,” etc. (Homilist.)

“What of the night?”

“Watchman, what of the night” of SENSE AND SIN? “The morning cometh”--the morning of sinlessness. “Also the night.” Sin now, sin then; sin on sin, sin forever and ever!

“Watchman, what of the night” of SUFFERING AND SORROW? “The morning cometh.” “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” “Also the night”--the night of eternal suffering and sorrow.

“Watchman, what of the night” of MOCKING AND MYSTERY? “The morning cometh,” when the mocking mystery will vanish. “They shall see His face.” “Also the night”--“the outer darkness,” the black profound, where the soul wanders forever Christless, restless, lost.

“Watchman, what of the night” of SOLITUDE AND SEPARATION? In this world we have never met. Men of science tell us that there are in this universe no two atoms in real contact. “The morning cometh,” the morning of meeting for the first time in the never parting of the revelation of God. “Now we see in a mirror darkly,” etc. “Also the night,” the night of a separation eternal. Let another natural law be traced in this spiritual world. If you took away all contrary and opposing forces from a propelled cannonball, and if you secured a perfect vacuum in boundless space, by vis inertiae, the ball would go on forever. If this is the first law of motion in mechanics, it is as really the first law of motion in the wrath of God on an eternally separated lost soul. (J. Bailey, M. A.)

Visions of the day and night

The great beauty and power of the Word of God lies in this, that it is never obsolete and never out of date.

THE QUESTION in our text. Night is the emblem of ignorance, sorrow, sin, crime, danger, and disaster; as in the natural night there are different degrees of light and shade, of gloom and darkness, so it is with the spiritual night.

THE ANSWER. “The morning cometh.”

1. To nations.

2. To individuals. It comes to the awakened and accepted sinner in the form of pardon and deliverance from the power and burden of sin and guilt. It comes to others in the form of deliverance from some secret, instinctive, but crushing sorrow, which has pressed the poor heart down for years; which has made them, some from physical and some from spiritual weakness, walk for a long period in gloom and darkness, crying, “Oh! when will it end?”

3. The morning cometh to others in declining years; to the aged, the afflicted, the dying.

4. “And the night cometh,” when the long-abused love and compassion, and patience of God shall be at length exhausted; when the plea of mercy shall be exchanged for the penalty of justice, and the shield of the Advocate give way to the sword of the Avenger. It cometh to nations; it cometh to individuals. (G. Davenport.)

Alternations of morning and night

The morning cometh in the appearing of Messiah, the Prince; and also the night of the exclusion of the Jews. The morning cometh, in the spread of the Gospel among the Gentile nations; and also the night, in the tenfold persecutions which wasted the Church. The morning cometh, in the reign of Constantine the Great over the Roman empire; and also the night of Arian blasphemy and persecution. The morning cometh, in the reformation of religion from popery; and also the night of a fearful falling sway. The morning cometh, more bright and glorious than all which have preceded, in the glory of the latter days; and also the night of another falling sway before the general judgment. And then shall a morning burst upon the universe, which shall never be overcast. (W. Taylor.)

The burden of Dumah

THE WORLD’S QUESTION. In the first instance it is a question put by the Edomites of Mount Seir to Israel’s watchman. It is worth noting that a people animated with such hostile feelings should thus open up communication with the objects of their hostility. Two expiations might be given. It may be they asked the question tauntingly in a spirit of mockery, or they may have asked it earnestly in a spirit of anxious inquiry. Either of these views will fit the historical conditions.

If we adopt the first, we must suppose the Jews to be in captivity and the Edomites prospering, and we know from history that they did prosper during the Babylonish captivity, At that time they got possession of a portion of Jewish territory in southern Palestine, having been permitted to settle there as a reward for their services to the Babylonians during the struggle that preceded the captivity. While occupying this new settlement, their fortunes rose, and in the exuberance of success they retaliated on their now oppressed brethren, as much as to say, You who boasted of being the special favourites of Heaven, where is now your God? Your night of oppression has continued long enough, is there any sign of deliverance? Surely it is time for your God to show His hand! The picture is something like this: On Mount Seir, the highest eminence in the land, the Edomites are convened, elated by their fleeting prosperity; while in a foreign land are the captive Jews, groaning under the yoke of the oppressor, and their watchman or prophet standing on his watchtower, eager to catch the first ray of deliverance. From the one to the other passes the taunting, call, “Watchman, what of the night?” And the watchman returns the reply, “The morning is coming, and also the night. Do not deceive yourselves, ye taunting Edomites, your momentary prosperity will become a night of gloom and our present calamities will be followed by a glorious day. The morning of deliverance will come to the captive Jews, but the night of desolation to the mocking Edomites.” The question is still thrown out by the unbeliever with a fling of scorn, “Watchman, what of the night?” “Tell us what progress you are making, etc. There are not wanting in these days men who affect to throw discredit on Christian and missionary effort. Look, say they, how little has been accomplished by these means in the past, and how much remains to be done. Instead of the Gospel, let us try civilisation, the spread of commerce, and the wider diffusion of knowledge, and the morning will soon dawn. Now, if this were so, it would indeed be a serious charge. But what are the facts! Let it he conceded that the visible marks of Christian progress are not overwhelming; at the same time no one who will cast his eyes over the earth can fail to see that the nations most advanced in civilisation and what is called modern culture are also the most Christian.

2. Let us think of the question as being asked in a spirit of anxious inquiry. In this case, the once captive Jews must be regarded as a prosperous people, living in their own land, and the once prosperous Edomites as an oppressed People. In their distress they cry to those whom they previously mocked. But their cry has a different meaning now that the tables have been turned. “What of the night” now means an earnest desire to know how long their calamities are likely to last. As if they had said, It has been a night of dire adversity with us, tell us, you who are a watchman in Zion, is that night nearly past? We have suffered much, and are longing for relief. Are our sufferings nearly at an end? If this view is adopted, it is still a question addressed by the world to the Church; no longer, however, in mockery, but in a spirit of anxious inquiry. There do come times in the history of godless nations and individuals, when, in the midst of trouble, they are constrained to pay homage to the Church, and call upon her for advice. There are in the Bible several instances of the wicked consulting God’s ministers in times of calamity. And have we not seen examples of men calling on God in the hour of calamity, who never bowed a knee to Him in the hour of their prosperity! When such a question is asked with a true motive, that of itself is an indication to the watchman that the morning is coming. It is the duty of the spiritual watchman to declare to the people the whole counsel of the King, to discern wisely the signs of the times, so as to be able to impart the needed instruction.

THE CHURCH’S REPLY, whether the question is asked by way of taunt or in an earnest spirit. In either case, the inquirer is assured that the morning of a glorious deliverance will come to the oppressed Church, while a night of awful desolation will fall upon her foes.

1. This prophecy was unmistakably fulfilled in the after history of the Edomites. The morning did come, as the watchman said, and for a short period the Edomites were a flourishing people in the land of Seir; but they refused to inquire, they did not return, they wandered further from the path of righteousness, and the long night of desolation overtook them. The prophecy regarding it, in Isaiah 34:12-13, has been literally fulfilled. And this is the inevitable doom of those who will not improve the day of their merciful visitation--“the night cometh.”

2. But while the watchman’s message to the enemies of the Gospel is one of woe and warning, he has a message of encouragement to the people of God. “The morning cometh.” Night and morning! Unlike air, and yet they go hand in hand. What will be morning to some will be night to others.

3. Yet again, the watchman says, “If ye will inquire, inquire ye.” Addressed originally to the inquiring Edomites, the words still apply to their modern successors whether they put their questions in jest or in earnest. The inquiring spirit here meets with no rebuff, for it is a healthy sign. History records instances of men who studied the Christian evidences in order to refute them, and ended by becoming devoted Christians. Religion, so far from shunning investigation, rather invites it. And if there is a sure solution of his -perplexities awaiting the critical investigator, there is also an answer that will satisfy the inquirer after salvation.

4. There is another class of persons to whom the watchman’s commission extends. To them he says, “return”--a word which may he taken to refer to backsliders.

5. The text contains one other word--a word of encouragement to all. This word is, “come”; a word that Jesus, when on earth, was never weary of uttering, and which He has left behind Him as the Church’s invitation call to Gospel privileges. (D. Merson, M. A. , B. D.)

The night watchmen Mount Seir

The double question and the doubting reply are well suited to the changing aspects of nature in a mountain land. To the inhabitants of such countries, inquiries for the winds and the clouds, the morning and the night, are as familiar as the words of daily salutation. And the variable condition of human society, the advance and decline of nations, the concealments and revelations of Providence, are well illustrated by the darkness and the day, the shadows and the sunshine among mountains. Such was the history of the Hebrew nation under the especial guidance of Divine providence in ancient times. Such has been and still in the history of peoples and opinions in the European world. The good and the glorious days of Samuel, and David, and Solomon, and Hezekiah, were followed by the dark and evil days of Saul, and Jeroboam, and Ahab, and Manasseh- Athanasius and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Cranmer and Knox, Whitefield and Wesley, the great champions of truth and reformation, found their dark shadow and counterpart in Arius and Pelagius, Loyola and the Inquisition, Voltaire and the French Revolution. The bright dawn of a better day has always been overcast with dark and angry clouds. And yet the providence of God is wiser and mightier than the policies of man. The night which comes with the morning is partial and temporary, although it seems for a time to devour the day and cut off the hopes of mankind. In the darkest periods of human history, we need only the clear vision of faith to see the day approaching. It is ever God’s way to bring light out of darkness, joy out of sorrow, rest out of weariness, for the waiting and longing soul. (D. March, D. D.)

Sin the great silencer

The word Dumah means “silence,” “the land of silent desolation.” It is a very suggestive thought. Sin is the great silencer. The end of sin is silence. Assuredly that was true in the case of Edom. It was true of it at the time when the prophet spoke, it was to be true of it still more completely in the ages to follow. Travellers tell us that if we want to know how Providence can turn a fruitful land into barrenness, and make a defenced city a heap, for the iniquity of the inhabitants thereof, we have only to look at Edom, with its hills and plains picked clean of every vestige of vegetation, and its ruined palaces, once the home of busy men, now the haunt of vultures and the lair of scorpions, all human sound gone--the voice of mirth, the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, the voice of the bride! But why go to Edom for an illustration? Look nearer home. Go to any city churchyard. Pass through the iron gates that divide those strangely contrasted crowds, the throng of the living and the congregation of the dead. How still! Everything may be orderly, everything trim--winding walks, flowery borders, spreading shrubs, grassy mounds, careen monuments white and clean, but all so still, no sound nor motion anywhere, save the wind that shudders through the yew trees, and the measured chime of the steeple clock as it tolls its hourly reminder that we too shall be still, still as the throngs beneath. What makes that stillness? Sin. Sin is the great silencer, and death is the climax of the silence that it makes. (W. A. Gray.)

The silence of God

It is really a terrible answer, for there can be nothing so terrible for us on earth as to know that God has nothing to say to us. “O, my God!” cried Martin Luther, “smite me with famine, with want, with pestilence, with all the sore diseases on earth, rather than Thou be silent to me.” Yet God is sometimes thus silent to wicked men and to wicked nations; He is so for their punishment. “Ephraim is turned unto idols. Let him alone.” (Dean Patter, D. D.)

Mount Seir; false confidences

Be not too confident in thy Mount Seir! Every wicked soul has her Mount Seir to trust in; they that have no assurance of rest in heaven, have their refuges and mountains of help on earth. David so returns it upon the wicked (Psalms 11:1). “In the Lord put I my trust: how then say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?” Why should I seek to foreign helps, that have settled myself in the bosom of rest itself? Riches are a Mount Seir to the covetous; they rest on them. Honour is a Mount Seir to the ambitious, against all the besiegings of rivals. Sensuality to the voluptuous, against all the disturbances of a clamorous conscience. Pride, fraud, drunkenness, are a Mount Seir to the lovers of them; but alas, how unsafe! If stronger against, and further removed from the hand of man, yet nearer to God’s hand in heaven; though we acknowledge no place procul a Jove, or procul a fulmine,--far from God, or from His thunder. But we say, it is not the safest sailing on the top of the mast; to live on the mountainous height of a temporal estate is neither wise nor happy. Men standing in the shade of humble valleys, look up and wonder at the height of hills, and think it goodly living there, as Peter thought Tabor; but when with weary limbs they have ascended, and find the beams of the sun melting their spirits, or the cold blasts of wind making their sinews stark, flashes of lightning or cracks of thunder soonest endangering their advanced heads, then they confess, checking their proud conceit, the low valley is safest; for the fruitful dews that fall first on the hills stay least while there, but run down to the valleys. And though on such a promontory a man further sees, and is further seen, yet in the valley, where he sees less, he enjoys more. Take heed, then, lest to raise thy Mount Seir high, thou dejectest thy soul. If we build our houses by unrighteousness, and our chambers without equity, though as strong as Mount Seir, they shall not be able to stand in the earthquake of judgment. God so threatens Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:15).Think not your houses to be fortresses, when your souls are unarmed of Christian weapons--faith and obedience. (T. Adams.)

Edomite scorners

I will single you out four sorts of these Edomites, scorners,--for I justly parallel them--

1. Atheists: such as have voluntarily, violently, extinguished to them selves the sunlight of the Scripture, moonlight of the creature, nay, the sparks and cinders of nature, that the more securely, as unseen and unhidden of their own hearts, they might prodigally act the works of darkness

2. Epicures: that deny not a God and a day of judgment, but put it far off Amos 6:3), with, Give me the present, take thou the hope of future joys.

3. Libertines: that neither affirm no night, nor put it far off, but only the strength of sin prevails over all; and, come sorrow, death, grave, hell, they must have their pleasures.

4. Common profane persons: that will suffer themselves to wear God’s livery, though they serve the devil. (T. Adams.)

Watchman, what of the night?--

The duty of examining the signs of the times

The first thing which, in reference to this inquiry, the words before us suggest, is, that IT IS OF THE LORD HIMSELF THE INQUIRY MUST BE MADE. His eye alone seeth under the whole heaven; and He only knoweth the end from the beginning. Nothing can be more utterly fallacious than any mere calculation of human probabilities in regard to the future progress of Divine truth--in regard to the course it may be destined to run. When Jesus of Nazareth had been put to an ignominious death, His few and obscure disciples dispersed in terror, and when the handful of peasants and fishermen who had been the companions of His ministry were shut up, unnoticed and unknown, in an upper chamber at Jerusalem, who could have foreseen that the blast of the trumpet, blown by this small and feeble band, was to shake down the mighty Jericho of that universal heathenism which then overspread and enslaved the benighted earth? When, fifteen hundred years thereafter, a poor, emaciated Augustinian monk was wearing himself out in his gloomy cell in the terrible conflict of an awakened conscience, which all his self-righteous austerities could not satisfy or soothe, who could have foreseen that in that single man the Lord was training a soldier, who should confront, single-handed, the gigantic power of the man of sin, and liberate the half of Europe from his galling and destructive yoke? But if human sagacity would thus have been baffled on the one hand by unlooked-for triumphs to the cause of truth, would it not have been equally confounded on the other by unexpected defeats? When the day of Gospel light was breaking forth in such glorious splendour upon the world in apostolic times, who would have ventured to anticipate that so bright a day was to be succeeded by the dark ages, the long, dismal, dreary centuries during which the few remaining witnesses prophesied in sackcloth, amid bonds and stripes, and imprisonments, and death? Again, when the Lutheran Reformation, like a strong wind out of the clear north, was sweeping off from the nations the dense cloud of papal superstition, and revealing once more to their wondering eyes the long-hidden Sun of righteousness, who would have thought that the horrid cloud would again return to spread its murky folds over so many of its ancient fields, and that men, choosing darkness rather than the light, would love to have it so? It is to the Lord we must turn if we desire to know what is in the womb of time.

However discouraging the aspect of things may, in many points, appear, “THE MORNING COMETH”--a day of unprecedented brilliancy and joy, when the kingdom and dominion under the whole heaven shall be given to the Son of man, and when, emancipated from the strife and turmoil of incessant wars, and enjoying and exhibiting a foretaste and emblem of the heavenly state, the rest of Zion shall be glorious.

WE MUST REJOICE WITH TREMBLING, FOR WHILE THE MORNING COMETH, THERE COMETH ALSO THE NIGHT. When the year of recompense for the controversy of Zion shall have come, it will be a night to her adversaries and oppressors; but to Zion herself it will be a bright and glorious day. (R. Buchanan, D. D.)

The watchman’s office

A watchman must be DULY AUTHORISED AND APPOINTED TO THE STATION. It is not left to any man to mount the watchtower at pleasure--to take his round through the streets--or to challenge the citizens, except he can show a regular commission for the service. Ezekiel, with all his zeal for his country, and love to his own people, could not occupy the post of a watchman among them till the God of Israel made him one (Ezekiel 3:17). Thus a call, a commission, is indispensably necessary to the exercise of any office in the Church of Christ, especially of the office of the ministry. But when the call is given and the appointment conferred, the watchman ought, without gainsaying, to repair to his box.

A watchman ought to be SAGACIOUS AND QUICK-SIGHTED. A simpleton, or a blind man (Luke 6:39), would be altogether unfit for a watchman. He could neither descry the enemy as he approached the city, nor penetrate his mischievous designs, nor alarm the citizens of the impending danger. The ministers of Christ are accordingly represented in the Revelation as “full of eyes”; and they have need of all the eyes ascribed to them, that they may take heed to themselves, and watch over others.

VIGILANT. An indolent and sleepy watchman is a most dangerous officer in a city, especially in a period of warfare. For, while men sleep, the enemy may occupy the gates, or mount the walls. The ministers of Christ ought to be very vigilant in watching over the people; and other officers are to exert themselves in watching along with them. For, “while men sleep,” the enemy sows his tares of error, of heresy, and division.

SPIRITED. A spirited watchman, ever upon the alert, to detect the disorderly, and to suppress them in their first appearances, is an eminent blessing in his station. By the spirited exertions of an active watchman, much disorder and tumult in the streets of a city may be prevented, especially during the night. So ought the minister of Christ to display a firm and spirited determination to suppress disorder and vice of every kind, although it should cost him much trouble, and the strife of tongues against him, in accomplishing his object. It is also part of the constitutional duty of every good citizen, to assist the watchman, by all the means in his power, to suppress riot, and check the unruly. Let private Church members attend to this.

Watchmen ought to be STEADY. They are to occupy their station, to maintain their post, and in no instance to neglect their duty. The ministers of Christ, in like manner, are to “be steadfast, unmovable,” etc. (1 Corinthians 15:58). They are “to watch, to stand fast in the faith, to quit themselves like men and to be strong.”

Watchmen are to be COURAGEOUS. A coward would, of all others, be a most unfit person for a watchman, especially in the night, and when the enemy was at the gates. Such ought unquestionably to be a prominent qualification of the minister of Christ, and of all who bear rule in the Church along with him. A trimming, truckling, temporising humour, to please men, and a dread of giving offence in the discharge of positive duty, is altogether unsuitable to the condition of those whose chief attention is to please and honour God.

Watchmen are to be FAITHFUL. They are neither to betray their trust, by conniving with the disorderly, nor to expose the city, by keeping silence, while they perceive danger approaching. This part of the watchman’s character may be often perverted, as, indeed, what part of it may not? Men may make a great noise and parade about being faithful and honest, who, in truth, have nothing so much at heart, as to gratify their own vanity, interest, pride, humour, or favourite plans of action. But the faithfulness intended by this particular chiefly respect? plain and honest dealing with the consciences of men. The faithful servant of the Lord is to warn the transgressor of the error of his ways, and of the danger of persisting in error.

Watchmen are to be FRANK IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE, either to inform the citizen of the hour of the night, or to guide him on his way. The watchmen of the Old Testament gave the time of night under that dispensation, and laid themselves out to collect every information (1 Peter 1:11). The watchmen of the New Testament are to continue the inquiry into the mind of the Spirit; that they may tell what of the night--what is the part of prophecy which applies to the present times--and what the signs of the breaking light of the coming glory. Such is a very tender and useful department of the spiritual watchman. He is to guide the bewildered--to encourage and protect such as apprehend themselves in danger--and to tell them, to the best of his information, concerning the Friend of sinners. (W. Taylor.)

Aspects of the times

The Christian man has still before him THE UNBELIEF AND IRRELIGION OF THE NIGHT, and yet there are streaks of sunny dawn.

The Christian man has MUCH IN HIS OWN HISTORY THAT SPEAKS OF THE NIGHT, and yet there is morning there too.


THE CHRISTLESS MAN MAY ASK, “WHAT OF THE NIGHT?” as well as the Christian. (W. M. Statham.)

A momentous inquiry

Let us see how this inquiry will apply to THE WORLD IN GENERAL The world commenced with a bright and sinless morning. But early in the history of our race, the power of the tempter was so successfully wielded, that the bright morning was succeeded by a day of dark clouds and desolating storms. With the growth of the world’s population the overspreading darkness grew until God could bear with the wickedness of the world no more. After the deluge the world started anew from another head. Old crimes, old corruptions, quickly regained their sway. Long centuries came and passed away. The moral heavens grew darker as time rolled by, and as the world’s inhabitants increased in numbers. Here and there only was there a ray of light shining amid the abounding darkness. Outside of Judea there was not much to dispel the darkness. Greece, somewhat enlightened, furnished a Socrates and a Plato. But Greece, because of her crimes and vices, soon went down to ruin. The once magnificent empires, Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome, were alike involved in the moral night of error and sin, and their greatness, once so commanding, and their glory, once so brilliant, have passed away. Indeed, in all succeeding ages, and among all the peoples of the earth, the darkness has prevailed. What prospect is there for this sin-darkened world? We may respond in the words of the prophet: “The morning cometh.” The long night of captivity, of error, of wrong, of violence shall give place to the glorious day, wherein the ransomed of the Lord everywhere shall rejoice in that liberty with which God makes His people free.

How will the inquiry of our text apply to ISAIAH’S TIME? It was indeed for the chosen people a time of darkness. The Jews were captives in Babylon. Isaiah had a grander vision and saw another morning. He saw the breaking day, and told of the advent of the promised Messiah, who was to be the light and the glory of the world. The vision which Isaiah saw we also are permitted to see. We see the complete fulfilment of many of the predictions of the prophet. And there are the signs, which will not fail, that his grandest visions will be realised.

How will this inquiry, “Watchman, what of the night?” apply to our OWN TIMES?

1. Glance for a moment at the progress that has been made in our times in science and in art.

2. Ours has been a time of moral progress.

3. The religious progress of the world is remarkable.

4. All around us are signs of improvement.

How will this inquiry, “Watchman, what of the night?” apply to OURSELVES PERSONALLY?

1. There is the night of scepticism, or partial scepticism, in which some are involved. To the earnest and sincere inquirer the response must be, “The morning cometh,”

2. There is a night of worldliness. For the worldly the morning waiteth. Christ stands at the door and knocks. He is the light and the life of men.

3. There is a night of penitential sorrow. For every awakened, penitent, and believing one the morning cometh.

4. There is the night of suffering. The morning cometh, when the wounds of the sorrowing shall be healed, and when their sorrow shall be turned into joy.

5. The Christian worker may sometimes inquire, “Watchman, what of the night?” Learn to labour faithfully and to wait.

6. While the morning cometh for all who willingly hear and obey the Gospel, the night also cometh for the disobedient and unbelieving. (D. D.Currie.)

Heathen darkness and Gospel light

1. There is something to encourage us in the interest now taken in missions as compared with a century ago. We can fairly point to what is done for missions as a proof of the vitality and the power of Christian principles, evidence at once of the influence which Christianity exerts on its disciples, and earnest of its ultimate triumph.

2. But looking at the dark night of heathendom in answer to the question, What of the night? it is scarcely possible to present its condition in colours that are too dark. We speak of the wickedness of our home population, and bad enough it is; but if you remember how much is done to discourage it; how a healthy public opinion rebukes it; how Christianity grapples with it, and creates an atmosphere which is inimical to its existence, so that those who practise it are made to feel ashamed; and when you consider, on the other hand, how in many parts of heathendom wickedness is actually deified, how the very gods they worship are incarnations of vice, and personifications of every evil passion; how in many instances licentiousness and cruelty are enjoined as part of their religious rites,--when you think of all that, you can understand that the wickedness at home is nothing compared with that which exists in heathen lands. To some minds the most affecting consideration of all is the dishonour done to the Almighty by their religious beliefs and ceremonies.

3. But is the Gospel an appropriate remedy for the evils of which we speak? You want the world to be brought back to God, and nothing but the Gospel of Christ will suffice for that. Let men say what they will, the world is not today what it was when Christianity dawned upon it. Then it was wrapt in total darkness--a darkness that might be felt. Now the light of the Gospel is penetrating the darkest parts of the earth, and many nations of the world are being permeated with and moulded by the influence which it exerts. Moreover, it is advancing.

4. When the Church enters on her work with the zeal and enthusiasm which it ought to excite; when she drains her resources, and strains every nerve to secure success; when she prays, and labours, and toils for it; when she gives the bulk of her property to it; when she sends out her noblest sons, and puts forth her best energies, then, perhaps, she may begin to talk about expecting the conversion of the world! Think of what Christ has done for you, and then bestir yourselves to take an active interest in this stupendous work, and to make some sacrifices for its extension. (W. Landels, D. D.)

Inquire ye: return, come

Inquire; return; come


1. Where? Where should a people inquire, but at their God? (Isaiah 8:19-20).

2. How? With humility, reverence, and desire of knowledge.

3. When? In the morning of thy years. The devil is a false sexton, and sets the clock too slow, that the night comes ere we be aware. Tarry not, then, till your piles of usuries, heaps of deceits, mountains of blasphemies, have caused God to hide Himself, and will not be found. There is a sera nimis hora, time too late, which Esau fell unluckily into, when “he sought the blessing with tears, and could not find it.”

RETURN from your sins by repentance.

COME home to God by obedience. (T. Adams.)

Destiny determined by conduct

For ourselves, what need we of oracles? Our future win be in all essential things exactly as we make it. The sunshine or the shadow of our lives is less in our surroundings than ourselves. The oracle of God to man is not silence; St. Paul gave it long ago, God win render to every man according to his works, etc. Romans 2:6-11). (Dean Farrar, D. D.)

Verses 13-17

Isaiah 21:13-17

The burden upon Arabia


The term “Arabia,” in the Old Testament, is not used in such a wide sense as in modern English, and denotes merely a particular, tribe, having its home in the northern part of what is now known as the Arabian peninsula, and mentioned in Ezekiel 27:20-21, by the side of Dedan and Kedar as engaged in commerce with Tyre.

Isaiah lines a tide of invasion about to overflow the region inhabited by these tribes, and addresses the Dedanite caravans, warning them that they will have to turn aside from their customary routes and seek concealment in the forest. In verse 14, he sees in imagination the natives of Tema bringing food and water, to the fugitive traders. Tema was the name of a tribe settled in the same neighbourhood, about 250 miles S.E. of Edom, on the route between Damascus and Mecca, in a locality in which some interesting inscriptions have recently been discovered. Within a year, the prophet concludes, the glory of the wealthy pastoral (Isaiah 9:7) tribe of Kedar--here used so as to include by implication its less influential neighbours--will be past, and of its warriors only an insignificant remnant will survive. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

The Bedawin

These were the carriers of the world’s commerce in the days before railways were introduced. As country after, country was feeling the consequences of the advance of Nineveh, these merchantmen would be the first to hear the news wire rearm, and in many cases to give timely assistance. But these weakly defended caravans would not stand long before the armies of Sargon. (B. Blake, B. D.)

Verses 16-17

Isaiah 21:16-17

Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, sad all the glory of Kedar shall fail

End of the year: a warning and a lesson


A TERRIBLE THREATENING. We have here a prophecy of the fall of a nation, which had held a proud position by reason of prowess and skill in war. But glory founded on physical strength, upon wealth, or upon power, may speedily fade away. With all the study of economics we seem to know but little even now, and we have found, many times of late, how trifling a matter may lead to the overthrow of existing engagements and conditions. Much less stable is the glory of a nation built upon the strength of its arms. A nation’s glory is safe only when it is founded upon righteousness and obedience to God.

A TIME FIXED. “Within a year.” How different the feeling in looking back over a year and looking forward! The retrospect--bow short a time, how quickly passed, how little done, and yet what changes have taken place! How the number of the mighty have diminished! The prospect--what a long time, what hopes we have, what possibilities are in it! To us as a nation, to us in our families, to us as persons. Are we prepared for them! The fall of the glory of Kedar was announced to come within the year. Forbearance must have its limits. A boundary to life, to sin, to indulgence; but within a given period the time of reckoning must he fixed.

THE ATTITUDE WE SHOULD ADOPT. Standing on the threshold of a new year, let us consider our position. Certain it is that some will fall “within the year.” Men shall be diminished. Let our influence, by example and precept, be exerted to found our national glory, not upon our skill in arms, on our insular position, on our wealth, but upon true obedience to God. The number of those who form the glory of the Church will be diminished this year. Are the younger people preparing themselves to fill the vacant places? There is a warning here, that those who trust in aught but in Jehovah will find their glory naught but folly. There is also encouragement. “The God of Israel hath spoken it.” To him that walketh uprightly and serveth God humbly, shall glory be revealed from day to day, until the full glory of God is revealed to us in the life beyond. (Frank Mabin.)

“According the years of an hireling”

In a year’s time, calculated as exactly as is the custom between employers and employed, Kedar’s freedom, military strength, numbers, and wealth shall have vanished. (F. Delitzsch.)

“The number of archers”

They [the sons of Kedar] are numbered hero, not by heads, but by bows, so specifying the fighting men--a mode of numbering common, e.g., among the Indians of America. (F. Delitzsch.)

“Within a year”

A sensible person said he could never covet the office of chief magistrate of London, because that honour continued only one year. Might not the idea be justly extended to all the honours and enjoyments of this life? None of them are permanent. (Anon.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 21". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.