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Isaiah 21:1–10 A Prophecy of Judgment against Babylon
Isaiah prophesies of the fall of Babylon, conquered by the nations of Elam and Media circa 538 BC. Isaiah uses the symbol of “whirlwinds” to express the destructive and swift manner in which Elam and Media would conquer Babylon. Isaiah’s vision is so vivid that he hears a military leader command the Elamite and Mede armies to attack Babylon: “Go up, O Elam, lay siege, O Media!” Furthermore, Isaiah’s vision was so “harsh” (21:2, even though he was prophesying the destruction of one of Judah’s great enemies, see also 15:5) that his body reacted physically: his loins were “filled with anguish,” he experienced “pangs” (pains similar to a “woman who is in labor”), his body bowed down, he was “dismayed,” his heart shuddered, and he trembled (21:3–4).
desert of the sea. Babylon was a desert, but sometimes it was flooded with high-water runoff from the Euphrates (like a sea), thus the strange expression “desert of the sea.” from a terrible land. Isaiah calls Elam and Media a “terrible land” because their armies were both fierce and cruel.
Go up, O Elam, lay siege, O Media. Elam and Media were ancient states (in modern-day Iran). Elam was famous for its archers (Jeremiah 25:25; 49:34–39).
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink, arise, O you officers. Babylon reveled and partied, unaware of its imminent destruction (note that fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy is set forth in Daniel 5, where Babylon is merrymaking and then rapidly destroyed by the Persians). The people trusted in their own man-made security and defense (“watchtower” and “shield”) rather than trusting in God. Babylon had many watchtowers along its walls, supposing that the watchmen would protect its inhabitants as they reveled and feasted. Anoint the shield. Warriors oiled their shields so that enemies’ arrows would be diverted.
the Lord said unto me, “Go, post a watchman.” The Lord commanded Isaiah to post a watchman to observe the fulfillment of the prophecy. Here the watchman is Isaiah himself, or perhaps another individual. Note that this watchman is called “seer” in Isaiah 21:8. Elsewhere in scripture, God’s prophets are watchmen (Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; see also Doctrine and Covenants 101:12).
he saw chariots . . . riders. The watchman sees the army of Medes and Elamites—an array of war vehicles (chariots) and animals carrying soldiers—traveling to conquer Babylon.
the seer cried, “My Lord.” DSS Isaiah correctly attests “seer” rather than “lion.” The seer calls out to the Lord that he sees an army approaching Babylon. I stand continually upon the watchtower all day/all night. Isaiah, like all of God’s prophets, was a diligent watchman.
Babylon is fallen, is fallen. After the fall of Babylon, an individual (or perhaps many people) lament that “Babylon is fallen” (“fallen” is repeated for certainty and emphasis). The Medo-Persian Empire, in accordance with Isaiah’s prophecy, conquered Babylon. “Babylon is fallen” also has a fulfilment at Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. Revelation 18:2 reads, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen,” but here “Babylon” refers to the world and worldliness. all the graven images . . . he has shattered. At times, ancient conquerors destroyed or “shattered” the gods and idols belonging to their captives; the destruction of the idols served to humiliate the captives. The destruction of the idols also established that the gods of the conquerors were more powerful than the idols of the captives (at least, in the minds of the conquerors). “He has shattered” refers to the conquering army (in ancient times), and to God Himself, when He destroys Babylon and its peoples’ gods and idols at His Second Coming.
“O my threshed! O child of my threshing floor!” The speaker of these words is unclear; it may be the Lord (or Isaiah?), lamenting over Babylon and its destruction. Although ancient Babylon’s inhabitants conducted themselves wickedly, still they were children of God and He had compassion for them. I have declared that which I have heard from the Lord. Isaiah reports that he has declared the Lord’s word.
Isaiah 21:11–12 A Prophecy of Judgment against Dumah
Isaiah prophesies against Dumah, a territory in Edom (the timing of this prophecy is unknown). This prophecy against Dumah again demonstrates that Isaiah is a prophet to other nations and people, not just to the house of Israel. The prophecy consists of a dialogue between an individual from Seir (a hill country in Edom), which may be paraphrased as follows:
Individual from Seir: “Watchman, how much of the night [sin, darkness, apostasy] remains?”
Isaiah, the Watchman: “The morning [light, truth, the gospel] is coming, but the night [sin, darkness, apostasy] is coming again. If you wish to inquire again, return to your home and then come again to me.”
Dumah. “Dumah” was a son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13–14; 1 Chronicles 1:29–30); Dumah was the name a place in Arabia. One calls to me from Seir. An individual calls out to the prophet, Isaiah. watchman. Isaiah is God’s watchman, as are all of God’s prophets (Isaiah 62:6; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17). As a watchman on a watchtower looks out for enemies, God’s prophet sees future events and announces them to the people.
Isaiah 21:13–17 A Prophecy of Judgment against Arabia
Isaiah utters a prophecy to three groups in Arabia: Dedanite caravans, Tema’s inhabitants, and Kedar’s nomads. The prophecy, as we presently have it, may be incomplete, and the timing is unknown. The “Lord God of Israel” was the source of Isaiah’s prophecy (21:17).
caravans of Dedanim. Dedan, named after one of Cush’s sons (Genesis 10:7), was a city located in northwest Arabia.
inhabitants of the land of Tema. Tema, named after one of Ishmael’s sons (Genesis 25:15), was an oasis in Arabia and a caravan stop. Tema’s inhabitants were instructed to provide water and food to refugees who had fled from an unnamed foe and battle (see verse 15).
Within a year. Isaiah’s prophecy is time-specific, “Kedar will fall within a year.” glory of Kedar will come to an end. Kedar’s prosperity will fail because of the war.
mighty men of Kedar, will be few. Only a few of Kedar’s archers and warriors will survive the war.
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