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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Isaiah 21

 

 

Verse 1

The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land.

He does not narrate the event, but graphically supposes himself a watchman in Babylon, beholding the events as they pass.

The burden of the desert of the sea - The champaign between Babylon and Persia. It was once a desert, and it was to become so again.

Of the sea. The plain was covered with the water of the Euphrates, like a "sea" (Jeremiah 51:13; Jeremiah 51:36 : so Isaiah 19:5, "the (Egyptian) sea" - the Nile), until Semiramis raised great dams against it. Cyrus removed these dykes, and so converted the whole country again into a vast desert-marsh.

As whirlwinds in the south - (Job 37:9; Zechariah 9:14.) The south wind comes upon Babylon from the deserts of Arabia, and its violence is the greater from its course being unbroken along the plain (Job 1:19, "a great wind from the wilderness").

(So) it cometh from the desert - the plain between Babylon and Persia. From a terrible land - Media, to guard against which was the object of Nitocris' great works (Herodotus, 1:

185). Compare as to "terrible" applied to a wilderness, as being full of unknown dangers, Deuteronomy 1:19.


Verse 2

A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.

The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously - referring to the military stratagem employed by Cyrus in taking Babylon. Vatablus translates '(There is, or will be) a treacherous dealer (the Medo-Persian invader), to the treacherous dealer' (Babylon). Babylon is repaid in her own coin. Isaiah 33:1; Habakkuk 2:8 favour this, The Hebrew is habogeed bogeed, vehashodeed shodeed: 'the treacherous dealer treacherous dealer, the spoiler spoiler!'

Go up. Isaiah abruptly recites the order which he hears God giving to the Persians, the instruments of His vengeance (Isaiah 13:3; Isaiah 13:17).

Elam - a province of Persia, the original place of their settlement (Genesis 10:22), east of the Euphrates. The name Persia was not in use until the captivity: it means a horseman. Cyrus first trained the Persians in horsemanship. It is a mark of authenticity that the name is not found before Daniel and Ezekiel (Bochart). Persia strictly was the tract on the Persian Gulf, now Fars or Farsistan, bounded on the west by Susiana or Elam, on the north by Media, on the east by Carmania, and on the south by the Persian Gulf. But the Persian empire ultimately was extended so as to comprise no less than 30 countries besides Persia proper.

All the sighing thereof have I made to cease - the "sighing" caused by Babylon (Isaiah 14:7-8).


Verse 3

Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it.

Therefore are my loins filled with pain. Isaiah imagines himself among the exiles in Babylon, and cannot help feeling moved by the calamities which come on it. So for Moab (Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:11).

Pain - (cf. Isaiah 13:8; Ezekiel 30:4.)

I was bowed down at the hearing (of it); I was dismayed at the seeing (of it). The Hebrew may mean, 'I was so bowed down that I could not hear; I was so dismayed that I could not see' (Genesis 16:2; Psalms 69:23) (Maurer) - literally, 'FROM hearing ... FROM seeing;' mishmoa` (Hebrew #8085) ... meer


Verse 4

My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.

My heart panted , [ taa`aah (Hebrew #8582)] - literally, erred: so palpitated (Psalms 38:10).

The night of my pleasure-hath he (the Persian foe, directed by God) turned into fear unto me. The prophet supposes himself one of the banqueters at Belshazzar's feast, on the night that Babylon was about to be taken by surprise; hence, his expression, "my pleasure," (Isaiah 14:11; Jeremiah 51:39; Daniel 5:1.)


Verse 5

Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.

Prepare the table - namely, the feast in Babylon during which Cyrus opened the dykes made by Semiramis to confine the Euphrates to one channel, and suffered them to overflow the country, so that he could enter Babylon by the channel of the river.

Watch in the watch-tower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield. Isaiah first represents the king ordering the feast to be gotten ready after the watch has been set. The suddenness of the irruption of the foe is graphically expressed by the rapid turn in the language to an alarm addressed to the Babylonian princes, "arise," etc. (cf. Isaiah 22:13.) Maurer translates, 'they prepare the table, they watch, etc., they eat, they drink,' on the ground that what follows does not so well cohere with the verbs taken as imperatives, the imperative mood beginning first with, "arise, ye princes," etc. But see Isaiah 8:9.

Watch in the watch-tower - rather, set the watch; literally, watch the watching; tsaapoh (Hebrew #6823) hatsaapiyt (Hebrew #6823). This done, they thought they might feast in entire security. Babylon had many watch-towers on its walls.

Anoint the shield - this was done to prevent the leather of the shield becoming hard and liable to crack. 'Make ready for defense:' the mention of the "shield" alone (not also offensive arms) implies that it is the Babylonian revellers who are called on to prepare for instant self-defense.


Verse 6

For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

God's direction to Isaiah to set a watchman to "declare" what he sees. Horsley makes Isaiah the "watchman," and translates, 'Come, let him who standeth on the watch-tower report what he seeth.'


Verse 7

And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed:

He saw a chariot (with) a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, (and) a chariot of camels. Or else, a cavalcade (a body of riders, namely), some riding in pairs on horses (literally, a pair of horsemen, i:e., two abreast), others riding on donkeys, others on camels (cf. Isaiah 21:9, "a chariot of men ... a couple of horsemen" - i:e., a cavalcade of men on horseback, riding two abreast, Isaiah 22:6). "Chariot" (Hebrew, recheb) is not appropriate to be joined, as the English version translates, with "donkeys:" the Hebrew means plainly in Isaiah 21:7, as in Isaiah 21:9, 'a body of men riding.' The Persians used donkeys and camels for war (Strabo, 15: 2, sec. 14; Herodotus, 4: 129) (Maurer). Horsley translates, 'one drawn in a car, with a pair of riders, drawn by a donkey, drawn by a camel:' Cyrus is the man; the car drawn by a camel and donkey yoked together, and driven by two postillions, one on each, is the joint army of Medes and Persians under their respective leaders. He thinks the more ancient military cars were driven by men riding on the beasts that drew them: Isaiah 21:9 favours this.


Verse 8

And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:

And he cried, A lion - rather, '(the watchman) cried, I am as a lion:' so as is understood, Isaiah 62:5; Psalms 11:1. The point of comparison to "A lion" is in Revelation 10:3, the loudness of the cry. But here it is rather his vigilance. The lion's eyelids are short, so that, even when asleep, he seems to be on the watch, awake: hence, he was painted on doors of temples as the symbol of watchfulness, guarding the place (Horsley).


Verse 9

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

Chariot of men - chariots with men in them; or rather, the same cavalcade or body of riders, horsemen two abreast, as in Isaiah 21:7 (Maurer). But Horsley, 'the man drawn in a car with a pair of riders.' The first half of this verse describes what the watchman sees; the second half, what the watchman says, in consequence of what he sees. In the interval between Isaiah 21:7; Isaiah 21:9, the overthrow of Babylon by the horsemen, or man in the car, is accomplished. The overthrow needed to be announced to the prophet by the watchman, owing to the great extent of the city. Herodotus (1: 131) says, that one part of the city was captured a considerable time before the other received the tidings of it.

And he answered - not to something said previously, but in reference to the subject in the mind of the writer, to be collected from the preceding discourse: proclaimeth (Job 3:2; margin, Daniel 2:26; Acts 5:8).

Babylon is fallen ... fallen. The repetition expresses emphasis and certainty (Psalms 92:9; Psalms 93:3 : cf. Jeremiah 51:8; Revelation 18:2).

All the graven images of her gods he hath broken (and dashed) unto the ground - Bel, Merodach, etc. (Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:44; Jeremiah 51:52). The Persians had no images, temples, or altars, and charged the makers of such with madness (Herodotus, 1: 131): therefore they dashed the Babylonian 'images broken unto the ground.'


Verse 10

O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.

My threshing - i:e., my people (the Jews), trodden down by Babylon.

And the grain of my floor - Hebrew, the son of my floor; all that is on the floor; i:e., my people, treated as grain laid on the floor for threshing: implying, too, that by affliction, a remnant (grain) would be separated from the ungodly (chaff). Even when on the floor of corrective threshing, God's people are still regarded, by Him as 'sons,' 'Tribulation' is derived from 'tribulum,' a threshing instrument, happily implying that it is designed to remove the chaff, and to retain the pure wheat of the character. See Isaiah 28:27-28. Some, from Jeremiah 51:33, make Babylon the object of the threshing; but Isaiah is plainly addressing his countrymen, as the next words show, not the Babylonians. The Babylonians I will not thresh, but utterly crush, whereas you, my people, I will thresh, so as to fan out the chaff, and stow the grain safe in my granary.

One out of Seir asks, What of the night! Is there a hope of the dawn of deliverance? Isaiah replies, The morning is beginning to dawn; but night is also coming (to you). Compare Psalms 137:7. The Hebrew captives would is delivered, and taunting Edom punished.


Verse 11

The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?

Dumah - a tribe and region of Ishmael in Arabia (Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30), now called Dumah the Stony, situated on the confines of Arabia and the Syrian desert-a part put for the whole of Edom. Vitringa thinks "Dumah" (Hebrew, 'silence') is here used for Idumea, to imply it was soon to be reduced to silence, or destruction.

Seir - the principal mountain in Idumea, south of the Dead Sea, in Arabia Petres. "He calleth" ought to be rather, 'There is a call from Seir.'

To me - Isaiah. Even the wicked consult the Lord's ministers in times of calamity (2 Kings 3:12-13). So the pagan Balak and the ungodly Israelite king Ahaziah received such oracles from a true prophet, (cf. 2 Kings

1.)

Watchman - the prophet (Isaiah 62:6; Jeremiah 6:17): so called because, like a watchman on the look out from a tower, he announces future events which he sees in prophetic vision (Habakkuk 2:1-2).

What of the night? - what tidings have you to give as to the state of the night? Rather, 'what remains of the night?' How much of it is past (Maurer.) The Hebrew preposition, min (Hebrew #4480), is often partitive: ( milay


Verse 12

The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.

The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night. Reply of the prophet, Then morning (prosperity) cometh, and (soon after follows) the night (adversity). Though you Idumeans may have a gleam of prosperity, it will soon be followed by adversity again (cf. Malachi 1:4). Inasmuch as ye exult in the fall of Jerusalem, and have seized on the southern part of the Jews land in their absence during the captivity. This view is favoured by Obadiah 1:10-21.

If ye will inquire, inquire ye - if you choose to consult me again, then you must do so; but ye will always be sent away with the same answer. Similar phrases occur, Genesis 43:14; 2 Kings 7:4; Esther 4:16. The Hebrew [ baa`aah (Hebrew #1158)] for "inquire" expresses fervent inquiry; the heart boiling, with eagerness (cf. Isaiah 64:2).

Return, come - `come again,' and you will get no better response, however often and eagerly you come. This seems to me preferable to the view of conversion being understood as the only way of obtaining prosperity. 'Be converted to God (and then), come' (Gesenius). You will then receive a more favourable answer. But there is no hint of Edom's conversion in any word of the whole "burden of Dumah;" nor is there in the case of the other two nations in the chapter-Babylon and Arabia.

Probably in the wars between Assyria and Egypt. Idumea and Arabia lay somewhat on the intermediate line of march.


Verse 13

The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim.

The burden upon Arabia - i:e., respecting.

In the forest in Arabia - not a grove of trees, but a region of thick underwood, rugged and inaccessible: for Arabia has no forests of trees.

O ye traveling companies - caravans. Ye shall be driven, through fear of the foe, to unfrequented routes (Isaiah 33:8; Judges 5:6; Jeremiah 49:8 is parallel to this passage).

Of Dedanim - in north Arabia (Genesis 25:3; Jeremiah 25:23; Ezekiel 25:13; Ezekiel 27:20 : a different "Dedan" occurs, Genesis 10:7).


Verse 14

The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, they prevented with their bread him that fled.

Tema - a kindred tribe: an oasis in that region (Jeremiah 25:23).

Brought water to him that was thirsty. The Temeans give water to the faint and thirsting Dedanites: the greatest act of hospitality in the burning lands of the East, where water is so scarce.

They prevented with their bread him that fled - i:e., they anticipated the wants of the fugitive Dedanites by supplying bread (Genesis 14:18).

Their bread - rather, 'his (the fugitive's) bread:' the bread due to him, necessary for his support: so "thy grave" (Isaiah 14:19) (Maurer).


Verse 15

For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war.

For they fled - the fugitive Dedanites and other Arabs.


Verse 16

For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail:

Years of an hireling - (note, Isaiah 16:14.)

And all the glory of Kedar shall fail - a wandering tribe (Psalms 120:5), north of Arabia Petrea, and south of Arabia Deserts; put for Arabia in general.


Verse 17

And the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished: for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken it.

The residue ... diminished - the remnant of Arab warriors, famous in the bow, left after the invasion be small.

Remark: Treacherous dealing is sure to be repaid with treacherous dealing, and "the spoiler," soon or late, shall be 'spoiled' himself. God has his ear open to "the sighing" of the oppressed, and will in due time avenge their cause upon the oppressor. The minister of God is pained at the terrible doom of the ungodly which he has to announce, whereas the ungodly themselves remain unconcerned. The 'night of their pleasure' shall soon be turned into fear, and then their carnal security shall come to a perpetual end. The sudden capture of Babylon, on the night of a feast, when nothing could be further from the thoughts of her citizens than the possibility of so well-fortified a city being taken, vividly represents the utter unpreparedness in which most men shall be found by the Lord when He shall come. "When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape." It is the duty of the spiritual watchman to look prayerfully into the Word of God, and to discern wisely the signs of the times, so as to 'declare' to the people the approach of danger. He who would be a faithful minister must 'stand continually upon the watch-tower in the day time, and in his ward every night' (Isaiah 21:8).

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 21:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/isaiah-21.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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