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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 21

 

 

Verses 1-10

Isaiah 21:1-10. The Capture of Babylon.—This prophecy describes a siege and capture of Babylon by Elam and Media. It is almost universally considered to have been written shortly before the capture of Babylon by Cyrus in 538. The attempts made by a few critics to refer it to a capture of Babylon by Assyria in Isaiah's time — 710, 703, or 696—have not been successful. The title "wilderness of the sea" is difficult. Possibly the point is that Babylon is to become a marshy desert (Isaiah 14:23). LXX omits "of the sea."

The army of the invader sweeps into Babylon from the desert, the terrible land which separates Babylon from Elam, like as a whirlwind sweeps over Judah from the Negeb. A distressing vision is revealed to the prophet; since Babylon treats the vanquished so brutally, Elam and Media are bidden besiege it, for Yahweh has decreed that the sighing of her captives shall be made to cease. The prophet is overwhelmed with pain and dismay; far other than he anticipated is the twilight that he desired, the still evening hour when the spirit is exalted to receive visions or other Divine communications. For before the captives can be delivered there are the horrors of war and of the siege to be endured, in which they must suffer severely. He now describes the state of things in Babylon with all the vividness of the immediate impression of his vision. He sees the foe rush on Babylon, he sees the unreadiness of the Babylonians for the conflict. They are feasting when the foe is upon them. Next the seer describes how the vision has come to him. The watchman is the prophet himself in his trance condition. The description casts an interesting light on the psychological character of this state, and on the mode in which revelation was mediated (p. 430). Similar distinctions in self-consciousness are familiar to students of anthropology and psychology. The watchman is bidden listen very attentively, when he sees a troop come in sight. The troop is the army which is to attack Babylon. For a long time nothing happens, and he cries out in his impatience. At last the appointed vision comes, and he divines that Babylon has fallen. The prophecy concludes with words addressed to Judah. The metaphor refers to the severe treatment that Judah has undergone at the hands of the Babylonians.

Isaiah 21:5. set a watch: the rendering is very uncertain. Perhaps we should accept mg.

Isaiah 21:8. as a lion: perhaps a metaphor for impatience, but the text is corrupt. Read either "I see" or "in my ears."


Verse 11

Isaiah 21:11 f. Oracle on Edom.—This is probably not by Isaiah. Date and authorship are uncertain. It is best regarded as by the author of Isaiah 21:1-10. It might be objected to an exilic date that the prophecy, though not specially cordial, reveals none of the bitter hatred against Edom, called forth by the eagerness of the Edomites for the overthrow of Jerusalem. But the preceding prophecy similarly shows none of that hatred of Babylon which is expressed in contemporary writings, so that the absence of a violent attack on Edom need not be surprising from the same author at that date. One from Edom asks how long it will be ere the tedious night of their trouble is over. The watchman's reply is not clear. He invites them to consult him again, thinking apparently that he may learn more in another vision. Meanwhile he tells him that morning is coming and also night; apparently that there will be a respite from trouble, but the night of calamity will settle down again. The words may mean that there will be happiness for some but distress for others, or that he is uncertain which of the competing forces will gain the upper hand.

Isaiah 21:11. Dumah: i.e. silence, clearly a name for Edom, perhaps with a reference to the silence of desolation.—Watchman: not the same word as that in Isaiah 21:6. There it meant one who looks out from his watch-tower, here it means one who keeps watch over things.


Verses 13-17

Isaiah 21:13-17. Oracle on the Dedanites.—Date and authorship are unknown. If by Isaiah it may refer to an expected invasion in 720 or 711. Probably Isaiah 21:16 f, is an appendix, the original oracle, Isaiah 21:13-15. being from the same hand as Isaiah 21:1-10 and Isaiah 21:11 f. The title should probably be rendered "oracle in the wilderness." If RV is correct, Arabia is not used in its modern significance, but as the home of an Arabian tribe.

The prophet addresses the Dedanites, an Arabian tribe engaged in the caravan trade. Their caravans, fleeing from the sword, have to leave the ordinary routes and take refuge in the bush of the desert. They cannot get fresh supplies of food and water, so the people of Tema, a tribe about 250 miles S.E. of Edom, are bidden (mg.) show them hospitality. The appendix (cf. Isaiah 16:13 f.) says that in a year exactly measured Kedar will be decimated. Kedar (Psalms 12:05*) was a pastoral tribe of nomads, but seems to be used here for the North Arabian tribes generally.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Isaiah 21:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/isaiah-21.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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