The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 21

Isa 21:1

The word "oracle" or "burden" (Isa 13:1; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1; 22:1; 23:1) is from the Heb "to lift up", in foreboding or expectation; it implies something that God has planned for another. More often than not, it speaks of a coming punishment; but at times it simply means an important event involving a particular people. The distinction must be determined by the context. Often, the "burden" begins with warnings of judgments to come, and then proceeds with prophecies of something beneficial arising out of the dark times. Zec 12 illustrates this: it begins with a "burden... for Israel... in the siege", but then quickly speaks of a time of blessing succeeding the time of affliction: Jerusalem inhabited again in her own place (Zec 12:6,7). The burdens of Isaiah generally follow this same pattern, with special ref to the LD of Gentile times and the establishment of "Israel in their own land" (Isa 14:1) and Christ as the "ruler of the land... upon the mount of the daughter of Zion" (Isa 16:1). Also the roles of various Gentile powers, esp in relation to Israel and God's plans for the LD, are outlined. What might first appear to be a dry and unrewarding study becomes in reality a promise of God's deliverance for His people (in typical prophecies) and a glorious assurance (in initial fulfillments) that God's purpose stands firm (Isa 14:26,27).

DESERT BY THE SEA: This is the direction from which the invader comes, ie (most prob) the wilderness between Jerusalem and the sea-plain of the Shephelah, or (less prob) the country between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Either way might be the route by which an invader (ie Assyria) might approach Jerusalem. (Also, an implied allusion to the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, through the desert, and through the Red Sea: Exo 13:18).

WHIRLWINDS SWEEPING THROUGH THE SOUTHLAND: Ref the natural phenomenon of hurricanes coming into Judea, following a path northward from the Red Sea, through a "terrible land". But here the "hurricane" is the "whirlwind of the Lord" (Job 38:1; Zec 9:14): cp the language of the destruction of Sennacherib's army, with flame, and fire, and tempest, and hailstones (Isa 30:30,31; Nah 1:3,8,9).

Isa 21:2

ELAM... MEDIA: Mercenaries in the Assyrian army (cp Isa 22:6).

Isa 21:3

A WOMAN IN LABOR: // 1Th 5:3.

Isa 21:4

THE TWILIGHT I LONGED FOR: "The night of my pleasure" (AV) is an allusion to Passover, the only holy observance kept at nighttime, and the time of the overthrow of Sennacherib's army (Isa 31:5; 30:29; 29:1; 26:20; 33:20; 52:12).

Isa 21:5


THEY SPREAD THE RUGS: The KJV has "watch in the watchtower" -- based on v 6. But the NIV translation suits the Passover motif.

OIL THE SHIELDS: Smearing the shields with oil would make them more flexible and effective in battle. Or, as per the Passover motif, "anoint the doorposts" (LXX): the smearing of the blood of the Lamb on the door frames (Exo 12:22).

Isa 21:6

POST A LOOKOUT AND HAVE HIM REPORT WHAT HE SEES: The watchmen of Israel were the prophets (Isa 52:8; 56:10; 62:6; Eze 3:17; Mic 7:4). One prophet (Isaiah?) is bidden to appoint another prophet (Habakkuk?: Hab 2:1,2) to be on the alert.

Isa 21:8

AND THE LOOKOUT SHOUTED: "The Masoretic text has 'the lion', but this makes little sense here. 'Ariy', 'lion' (KJV), is prob a corruption of an orig 'the one who sees' (DSS), ie, the aforementioned guard (v 5).

EVERY NIGHT I STAY AT MY POST: Or "all the night" I watch for deliverance -- Passover: "a night of watching unto the Lord" (Exo 12:42).

Isa 21:9

BABYLON IS FALLEN: The devastation of the Assyrian army outside Jerusalem. Cited in Rev 14:8; 18:2.

ALL THE IMAGES OF ITS GODS LIE SHATTERED ON THE GROUND: The gods of Nineveh in whose power Sennacherib had gloried at the holy city of Yahweh (Isa 36:18-20), idols whose impotence Isaiah was to castigate in later prophecies loaded with sarcasm (Isa 40:19...; Isa 44:9...; Isa 46). Another link with the Passover of Exodus, because all of the 10 plagues were directed against the Egyptian deities.

Isa 21:10

THRESHING FLOOR: Zion was orig a threshing floor (2Sa 24:18,24; cp figure in Mic 4:13), and now the enemies of the LORD would be threshed like grain (ie, also, Dan 2!).

Isa 21:11

Vv 11,12: The "burden" of Dumah, or Edom. Edom was always a bitter enemy of Israel, glad of any opportunity to score over the kings reigning in Jerusalem. In Psa 83 Edom is the leader of an Arab confederacy against Judah, in the days of Hezekiah (cp Psa 137:7). Cp also Isa 34; 63:1-6.

DUMAH: The name Idumea is shortened here to "Dumah", a Heb wd meaning "silence", suggesting the silence of death (Psa 115:17; 94:17), the night that is soon to descend on Edom.

SEIR: Part of the territory of Edom (Gen 36:8).

WHAT IS LEFT OF THE NIGHT?: The night, here, = the time of distress: the Passover night of fear and death, culminating in the morning of deliverance (Isa 37:36).

Isa 21:12

MORNING IS COMING, BUT ALSO THE NIGHT: We determine by our actions whether the coming day of the Lord is one of "morning" or "night" for us! Cp idea, Amo 5:18-20.

AND COME BACK YET AGAIN: "Just as the prophecy of a comparable judgment on Moab had concentrated on an exhortation to put faith in Jehovah and His king in Zion (Isa 16:4,5), so also with these Edomites. But there was little hope that this wisdom would be heeded. Edom's age-long hostility was too deeply ingrained. So the prophet's urging is curt and cool. He knows that he speaks in vain" (WIsa 242).

Isa 21:13

Vv 13-17: The "burden" of Arabia. Poss the same "burden" as vv 11,12 (Edom): the place names in these vv ref to Edom also.

ARABIA: Heb "ereb" = "mixed", with special ref to Arab peoples (see Lesson, Arab/"mixed").

YOU CARAVANS OF DEDANITES: "The words present a picture of travelling caravans having their progress seriously interrupted by invasion of their territory and the consequent flight of the communities which would normally have welcomed them. Instead they have to improvise camping places in the 'forest' ['thickets': NIV], that is, the rough scrub or bush land on the edge of the desert" (WIsa 242).

DEDANITES: A Cushite people of southern Arabia (Gen 10:7).

Isa 21:14

The fugitives are met by their fellows with food and drink -- what a ct with the inhospitable treatment accorded to Israel centuries earlier (Deu 23:4; Num 20:17-19)..

TEMA: Another Ishmaelite tribe of Arabia (Gen 25:15).

Isa 21:16

AS A SERVANT BOUND BY CONTRACT WOULD COUNT IT: That is, a year, and not one day longer!

KEDAR: Nomadic tribes of Ishmael (Gen 25:13; Isa 60:7; Jer 49:29; cp Psa 120).

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