Isaiah 21
Three Miscellaneous Visions

Isaiah 21

 There is a difficulty here in dating the fulfillment of the three prophecies in this chapter. The first from verses 1 -10 is an obvious vision of the fall of Babylon which is yet in the future by more than a century while a time in Isaiah's imminent future is more consistent for the other judgements in this chapter. This mixed chronology is not out of harmony with the judgements on the nations that are in this section since the predictions concerning Tyre in Chapter 23 must also predict events that are more than a century in Isaiah's future. Thus it may be that there is a structuring of the arrangement of these prophecies that is not readily apparent. At least it seems apparent that they are not arranged chronologically unless they are in the order in which they were received or perhaps they are in some geographical arrangement (like the first chapters of Amos.) The time of the last two visions of Dumah and Kedar most likely relate to the Assyrian invasions perhaps by Tiglath Pileser for Dumah and no doubt by Sargon II for Kedar which dates the prophecy. See note below in verse 16. Further reasons for arrangement is discussed in the next note.

Vision 1.

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

Verse 1: The Desert of the Sea: It is seems evident from verse 9 below that the fall of Babylon is the subject of this first vision. In accordance with the scheme already used, the description of the destruction and fall of Jerusalem follows the announcement of the fall of Babylon (in Chapter 13). Thus it should follow that the next chapter should contain the description of the fall of Jerusalem, but that is not the case since the next chapter deals with the siege (not the fall) of Jerusalem by Sennacherib an Assyrian. Those commentators who suppose that Isaiah was edited by later writers who collected his visions and arbitrarily placed them together have only supposition on which to base their conclusions. It is equally possible and probable that Isaiah (who lived into the reign of Manasseh), was responsible for the arrangement of his prophetic material. There is internal evidence that the order followed is a combination of content as well as chronology which is often a type of revelation in itself.. This has been discussed previously to show, that the fall of Babylon had been introduced before the fall of Jerusalem is proclaimed, to give encouragement to those during their future captivity who will see Babylon in her period of ascendancy. This purpose of arrangement is seen in Isaiah 40-48 where the comfort of God is offered, to those who will live during the Babylonian exile, that Babylon will fall to the Median King Cyrus.
However there are those who see the chapter here referring to the well known initial attack on Babylon by the Assyrian king Sargon II when Babylon was first made subject to and was governed by the Assyrians. This event would have been contemporary with Isaiah's receiving the visions of this chapter as can be seen in verse 16 and associated notes below. Later, in 612 BC, the Assyrian Empire with its capitol at Nineveh was overthrown by the Babylonian rebellion with the assistance of the Medians and the Elamites. Those who adopt the view that this chapter refers to the Assyrian assault on Babylon have this supposed scheme of arrangement on their side. But the next verse supports a more future attack.

 2 A grievous vision is declared to me; the treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the spoiler spoils. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all their sighing have I made to cease.

Verse 2: Elam: Nations rise and fall and change their names as well. Iran celebrated, not too many years ago, an anniversary of the establishment of the Shah's "Peacock Throne" over 3500 years previously at the hand of Cyrus, (536 BC) and confirmed by Darius I (521 BC). Thus Iran or Persia has had a long history but the region has an older history as well. It had been previously known as Elam. This was the name of the region when Isaiah wrote this prophecy. When Babylon was overthrown in about 536 BC the same region had been occupied by the Persians who were at that time ruled by the Medes although the Persians would ultimately become the stronger in the Medo-Persian Empire. Thus this verse would tend to place the vision's fulfillment in the 6th century BC rather than the turn of the 8th and 7th century during the Assyrian period. (With Cyrus rather than Sargon II.) Verse 9 below will verify that the Fall of Babylon is in the context.

3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman who travails: I was bowed down at hearing it; I was dismayed at seeing it. 4 My heart panted, fearfulness frightened me: he has turned the night of my pleasure into fear for me. 5 Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, you princes, and anoint the shield. 6 For thus has the Lord said to me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees. 7 And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he listened diligently with much attention: 8 And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand daily upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my watch every night: 9 And, behold, here comes 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 has broken to the ground. 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 to you.

Verses 3 - 10: Announcement of the Future (Verse 9) Fall of Babylon = pain, dismay, fear, lost joy: all these are emotions suffered by Isaiah at the vision of the future destruction of Babylon. It is interesting that compassion on the enemy is deeply embedded in Isaiah's visions. There is no joy expressed here at the fall of Babylon. Any number of reasons might be surmised which we will leave to the reader.

 Vision 2.

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

Verse 11: Dumah - out of Seir: Mount Seir,-- hence the part of Edom dominated by Dumah is the location of this burden. Dumah is in the very northern border of Edom near the southern border of Moab, and is one of the cities assigned to Judah by Joshua. The LXX reads  (Idumea or Edom) for Dumah but that is probably too encompassing since Dumah identifies the north border region of Edom.

Verse 11: What of the night: see next note

 12 The watchman said, The morning comes, and also the night: if you will inquire, inquire: return, come.

Verse 11-12: What of the night: Dumah is warned that in a dark hour there is a respite with another dark hour immediately following. This warning refers to the imminent Assyrian invasion as the last verses of the chapter show.

 Verse 12: Return - Come: Dumah is then told: If you want to seek more information about this brief warning then return and come back. Both these verbs are imperatives. The former is also the word for "repent." As noted Dumah was in the portion allotted to Judah and therefore must have come under the influence of the worship of Jehovah with a Jewish presence in the city and the temple worship well known. There is therefore the admonition to repent and to come back to the God they know.

 Vision 3.

 13. The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall you lodge, O you travelers of Dedanim. 14 The inhabitants of the land of Teman met him, the thirsty with water, they went with their bread before the wanderers arrived. 15 For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. 16 For thus has the Lord said to me, Within a year, according to the years of a hired man, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail:

 Verse 16: Within a year: Kedar is said to have fallen to Sargon II shortly after the fall of Samaria in 722. This then dates this portion of the chapter and perhaps the rest of it.

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 has spoken it.

 Verse 17: Children of Kedar be diminished: Sargon II soon turned to non military pursuits early in his reign thus the fall of Kedar must be shortly after the fall of Samaria to which historians say he deported the inhabitants of Kedar.

 

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