Isaiah 21:11
The burden of Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) The burden of Dumah.—Several places of the name are mentioned in the Old Testament (Genesis 25:14; Joshua 15:52), but these are not in the direction of Seir. Probably here, as in Isaiah 21:1 and Isaiah 22:1, we have a mystical prophetic name, Edom being altered to Dumah, i.e., “silence,” as in Psalm 94:17; Psalm 115:17, the silence of the grave. In this case, as in the preceding, there is first the oppressive silence of expectancy, and then of desolation.

He calleth . . . out of Seir . . .—The subject is indefinite: one calleth. The watchman hears the silence of the night broken by a voice from Seir. It is probable that the prophet had actually been consulted by the Edomites, and that this is his answer to their enquiries. The cry is, “Watchman, what part of the night?” In the weary night of calamity the sufferer desires to know what hour it is, how much of the darkness still remains to be lived through. The answer is mysterious and ill-boding. There is a “morning” coming, a time of light and hope, but the day which is so opened closes too quickly in the blackness of night (Amos 5:18). The words sum up the whole future of Edom, subject as it was to one conqueror after another, rising now and then, as under Herod and the Romans, and then sinking to its present desolation.

Isaiah 21:11-12. The burden of Dumah — Or Idumea, as appears by the mention of mount Seir, which follows. This prophecy, “from the uncertainty of the occasion on which it was uttered, and from the brevity of the expression,” is acknowledged to be extremely obscure. The general opinion of interpreters seems to be, that it refers to the time of some common calamity, which the prophet foresaw would oppress Judea and the neighbouring countries, as suppose the invasion of the Assyrians, or the tyrannical domination of the Babylonians. During this calamity the prophet introduces the Idumeans, inquiring of him concerning the quality and duration of it. He informs them in answer, that “the calamity should soon pass from Judea, and that the light of the morning should arise to the Jews, while the Idumeans should be oppressed with a new and unexpected affliction; so that what should be a time of light to the Jews, should be to them a time of darkness. The prophet, foreseeing that they would scarcely believe his words, admonishes them that the matter was fixed, as they would find the more accurately they inquired into it.” According to this general view of the passage, the particular expressions may be interpreted as follows: Watchman — So they term the prophet, either seriously or in scorn, because the prophets were so called by God and by the people of the Jews; what of the night — What have you certain to tell us of the state of the night? How far is it advanced? Do you observe no signs of the approach of the morning? That is, what do you observe of our present distress and calamity? Is there any appearance of its departure, and of the approach of the morning of deliverance? The prophet answers enigmatically, The morning cometh — Deliverance to the Jews; and also the night — To the Idumeans: to them I will give light; you I will leave in darkness. So St. Jerome and the Chaldee Paraphrase. See Dodd. Or the meaning of the prophet’s answer may be, “that the deliverance of the Jews would come in its appointed time; but that the day of their prosperity would be succeeded by a dark night of adversity: or, that after a short continuance of approaching prosperity to the Edomites, a dreadful ruin would come upon them, of which the prophet saw no end.” — Scott. The last clause, If ye will inquire, &c, is taken by some to be an exhortation to the Edomites, to consider their ways, to repent and turn to God. Lowth paraphrases it thus: “If you will inquire indeed, and ask questions in earnest, inquire of God first, ask his mercy, and afterward come again, and ye shall have a more favourable answer.”21:11,12 God's prophets and ministers are as watchmen in the city in a time of peace, to see that all is safe. As watchmen in the camp in time of war, to warn of the motions of the enemy. After a long sleep in sin and security, it is time to rise, to awake out of sleep. We have a great deal of work to do, a long journey to go; it is time to be stirring. After a long dark night is there any hope of the day dawning? What tidings of the night? What happens to-night? We must never be secure. But many make curious inquiries of the watchmen. They would willingly have nice questions solved, or difficult prophecies interpreted; but they do not seek into the state of their own souls, about the way of salvation, and the path of duty. The watchman answers by way of prophecy. There comes first a morning of light, and peace, and opportunity; but afterward comes a night of trouble and calamity. If there be a morning of youth and health, there will come a night of sickness and old age; if a morning of prosperity in the family, in the public, yet we must look for changes. It is our wisdom to improve the present morning, in preparation for the night that is coming after it. Inquire, return, come. We are urged to do it quickly, for there is no time to trifle. Those that return and come to God, will find they have a great deal of work to do, and but little time to do it in.Analysis of Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12. - VISION 17. Dumah, or Idumea.

This prophecy is very obscure. It comprises but two verses. When it was delivered, or on what occasion, or what was its design, it is not easy to determine. Its brevity has contributed much to its obscurity; nor, amidst the variety of interpretations which have been proposed, is it possible to ascertain with entire certainty the true explanation. Perhaps no portion of the Scriptures, of equal length, has been subjected to a greater variety of exposition. It is not the design of these Notes to go at length into a detail of opinions which have been proposed, but to state as accurately as possible the sense of the prophet. Those who wish to see at length the opinions which have been entertained on this prophecy, will find them detailed in Vitringa and others.

The prophecy relates evidently to Idumea. It stands in connection with that immediately preceding respecting Babylon, and it is probable that it was delivered at that time. It has the appearance of being a reply by the prophet to language of "insult or taunting" from the Idumeans, and to have been spoken when calamities were coming rapidly on the Jews. But it is not certain that that was the time or the occasion. It is certain only that it is a prediction of calamity succeeding to prosperity - perhaps prosperity coming to the afflicted Hebrews in Babylon, and of calamity to the taunting Idumeans, who had exulted over their downfall and captivity, and who are represented as sneeringly inquiring of the prophet what was the prospect in regard to the Jews. This is substantially the view given by Vitringa, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius.

According to this interpretation, the scene is laid in the time of the Babylonlsh captivity. The prophet is represented as having been placed on a watch-tower long and anxiously looking for the issue. It is night; that is, it is a time of calamity, darkness, and distress. In this state of darkness and obscurity, someone is represented as calling to the prophet from Idumea, and tauntingly inquiring, what of the night, or what the prospect was. He asks, whether there was any prospect of deliverance; or whether these calamities were to continue, and perhaps whether Idumea was also to be involved in them with the suffering Jews. To this the prophet answers, that the morning began to dawn - that there was a prospect of deliverance. But he adds that calamity was also coming; calamity probably to the nation that made the inquiry - to the land of Idumea - "perhaps" calamity that should follow the deliverance of the Hebrew captives, who would thus be enabled to inflict vengeance on Edom, and to overwhelm it in punishment. The morning dawns, says the watchman; but there is darkness still beyond. Light is coming - but there is night also: light for us - darkness for you. This interpretation is strengthened by a remarkable coincidence in an independent source, and which I have not seen noticed, in the 137th Psalm. The irritated and excited feelings of the captive Jews against Edom; their indignation at the course which Edom pursued when Jerusalem was destroyed; and their desire of vengeance, are all there strongly depicted, and accord with this interpretation, which supposes the prophet to say that the glad morning of the deliverance of the "Jews" would be succeeded by a dark night to the taunting Idumean. The feelings of the captured and exiled Jews were expressed in the following language in Babylon Psalm 137:7 :

Remember, O Jehovah, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem;

Who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation.

That is, we desire vengeance on Idumea, who joined with our enemies when Jerusalem was destroyed; and when Jerusalem shall be again rebuilt, we pray that they may be remembered, and that punishment may be inflicted on them for exulting over our calamities. The watchman adds, that if the Idumean was disposed to inquire further, he could. The result could be easily ascertained. It was clear, and the watchman would be disposed to give the information. But he adds, 'return, come;' perhaps meaning, 'repent; then come and receive an answer;' denoting that if the Idumeans "wished" a favorable answer, they should repent of their treatment of the Jews in their calamities, and that "then" a condition of safety and prosperity would be promised them.

As there is considerable variety in the ancient versions of this prophecy, and as it is brief, they may be presented to advantage at a single view. The Vulgate does not differ materially from the Hebrew. The following are some of the other versions:

Septuagint: "The vision of Idumea." Unto me he called out of Seir, Guard the fortresses - Φυλάσσετε ἐπάλξεις phulassete epalcheis). I guard morning and night. If you inquire, inquire, and dwell with me. In the grove (δρυμῷ drumō) thou shalt lie down, and in the way of Dedan (Δαιδάn Daidan).

Chaldee: "The burden of the cup of malediction which is coming upon Duma." - He cries to me from heaven, O prophet, prophesy; O prophet, prophesy to them of what is to come. The prophet said, There is a reward to the just, and revenge to the unjust. If you will be converted, be converted while you can be converted.

Syriac: "The burden of Duma." The nightly watchman calls to me out of Seir. And the watchman said, The morning cometh and also the night. If ye will inquire, inquire, and then at length come.

Arabic: "A prophecy respecting Edom and Seir, the sons of Esau." Call me from Seir. Keep the towers. Guard thyself morning and evening. If you inquire, inquire.

It is evident, from this variety of translation, that the ancient interpreters felt that the prophecy was enigmatical and difficult. It is not easy, in a prophecy so brief, and where there is scarcely any clue to lead us to the historical facts, to give an interpretation that shall be entirely satisfactory and unobjectionable. Perhaps the view given above may be as little liable to objection as any one of the numerous interpretations which have been proposed.

Verse 11

continued...

Isa 21:11, 12. A Prophecy to the Idumeans Who Taunted the Afflicted Jews in the Babylonish Captivity.

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 (to us); but night is also coming (to you). Compare Ps 137:7. The Hebrew captives would be delivered, and taunting Edom punished. If the Idumean wish to ask again, he may do so; if he wishes an answer of peace for his country, then let him "return (repent), come" [Barnes].

11. Dumah—a tribe and region of Ishmael in Arabia (Ge 25:14; 1Ch 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 that it was soon to be reduced to silence or destruction.

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

to me—Isaiah. So the heathen Balak and Ahaziah received oracles from a Hebrew prophet.

Watchman—the prophet (Isa 62:6; Jer 6:17), so called, because, like a watchman on the lookout from a tower, he announces future events which he sees in prophetic vision (Hab 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]. "Night" means calamity (Job 35:10; Mic 3:6), which, then, in the wars between Egypt and Assyria, pressed sore on Edom; or on Judah (if, as Barnes thinks, the question is asked in mockery of the suffering Jews in Babylon). The repetition of the question marks, in the former view, the anxiety of the Idumeans.

Of Dumah; either,

1. Of a part of Arabia, so called from Dumah, one of Ishmael’s race, Genesis 25:14 1 Chronicles 1:30. Or rather,

2. Of Edom or Idumea, as seems most probable from the mention of Mount Seir, which was a part of Edom; which may here be called Dumah, either by an abbreviation, or cutting off the first letter from Idumea, as Ram is put for Aram, 1 Chronicles 2:9 Job 32:2, or rather prophetically and sarcastically; for Dumah signifies silent; whereby he intimates that Edom, which was much given to vain boasting and railing against God, and against his people, as we read elsewhere, should be brought to silence and utter ruin. And such new, and enigmatical, and significant names are elsewhere given by the prophets to divers known places, as Babylon is called Sheshach, Jeremiah 25:26, and Egypt Mazor, &c. He, to wit, Dumah, or the people of Dumah, of whom he speaks, or one of them in the name and by the appointment of the rest.

Calleth to me; to the watchman, as appears by the following words; for the prophet delivers his prophecy in the form of a dialogue between the people and the watchman.

Out of Seir; out of Edom, which is frequently called Seir as Genesis 32:3 36:8 2 Chronicles 20:10 25:11, &c.

Watchman; whereby he means either,

1. The prophet Isaiah, whom they call watchman, either seriously, or in scorn, because the prophets were so called by God, and by the people of the Jews; or,

2. The watchman of Edom, whom they had set, as people use to do in times of great danger.

What of the night? the night is taken either,

1. Metaphorically, for a time of tribulation. So they ask the prophet what he hath to say concerning that night of calamity which he had so long and oft threatened to them, whereof as yet they saw no appearance. Or,

2. properly, the night being the proper and chief time in which the watchman’s care is most necessary, because then their enemies had opportunity to do them most harm. So the people are supposed to come to him very early in the morning, to inquire what had happened in the night; which shows a state of great perplexity and fear, which might well be called a burden, both because fear in itself is a great torment, and because this fear was a sign or presage of their approaching miseries.

What of the night? the repetition of the same words shows the greatness of their solicitude and fear. The burden of Dumah,.... Whether this prophecy concerns the Edomites or Idumeans, or whether the Arabians, particularly the Dumean Arabians, is a question, since Dumah was a son of Ishmael, Genesis 25:14 and there was a place in Arabia called Dumatha (y); and Aben Ezra and Kimchi interpret it here of Dumah the son of Ishmael; but inasmuch as mention is made of Seir, a mountain, which belonged to the Edomites, Genesis 36:8 and a distinct prophecy afterwards follows concerning Arabia, it is more generally thought that Dumah signifies Edom or Idumea; the Septuagint version renders it, the vision of Idumea; and the Arabic version calls it, a prophecy concerning Edom and Seir; and Jarchi, by Dumah, understands Edom; and Kimchi himself observes, that in a book of R. Meir's, it was found written,

"the burden of Duma, the burden of Edom.''

Jerom says, Duma is not the whole province of Idumea, but a certain country in it, that lay to the south, twenty miles distant from a city of Palestine, in his days called Eleutheropolis; and further observes, that some of the Hebrews read "Roma" for "Duma", and suppose that the Roman empire is designed; and certain it is, that nothing is more common with them than to call the Roman empire, and Rome itself, by the name of Edom, and the Romans, or Christians, Edomites (z):

he calleth to me out of Seir; a mountain inhabited by the Edomites, the posterity of Esau, so called from Seir the Horite, Genesis 36:8. The Targum understands this of God calling from heaven to the prophet to prophesy; and Jarchi of an angel, or a prophet out of Seir, calling to God, who he supposes is meant by the watchman; but it seems best to interpret it of an Edomite, or an inhabitant of Mount Seir, calling to the watchman, and saying, as follows:

watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night? what time of night is it? what o'clock is it? how much of the night is gone, and what remains to come? it is the business of watchmen to give or tell the time of night: or, "what from the night?" (a) what has happened since it was night? hast thou observed nothing? is not the enemy nigh, or danger at hand? or, "what" sayest thou "concerning the night?" the night of darkness, affliction, and distress, in which we are, when will it be over? the question is repeated, as is usual with persons in a panic, and fearing the watchman should not hear them the first time; or it may denote one coming after another in a fright, asking the same question. Some, by the watchman, understand God himself, as Jarchi and Abarbinel, who is Israel's keeper, Psalm 121:4 where the same word is used as here; and well agrees with God, who is the keeper and preserver of all men in a way of providence; and of his own people in a way of grace; and who, as he watches over the evil of sin, to bring the evil of affliction or punishment for it; so he watches over his, to do good unto them; and, as the times and seasons are in his power only, and are known by him, it is most proper to apply unto him. Others think Christ is meant, as Cocceius; and so the Jews say (b), this is Metatron the keeper of Israel, which with them is one of the names of the Messiah; and to whom this character of a watchman agrees, as he is the shepherd of his flock, and the keeper of his people; and who, as the omniscient God, knows all things that are, and shall be, and which will quickly come to pass: though it may be best of all to understand it of a prophet or prophets, who were called watchmen under the Old Testament, Isaiah 21:6 as ministers of the word are under the New, in allusion to shepherds and watchmen of cities; and whose business it is, as to show sinners the danger of their ways, and to arouse sleepy saints, so to give the time of night, that the churches of Christ may know whereabout they are. Now let it be observed, that this prophecy may refer to the times when Dumah, Edom, or Idumea, was possessed by the Jews, according to the prophecy in Numbers 24:18 as it was before the coming of Christ; Herod, an Idumean, was upon the throne of Judea when he came, at which time the Jews and Idumeans were mixed together; and the latter, at least many of them, embraced the Jewish religion (c), and so had knowledge of the Messiah and his coming, after which they may be thought to be inquiring here. The Mosaic dispensation was a night season, there was much obscurity in it, the shadows of darkness were stretched out on it; and though there was the moon of the ceremonial law, and there were the stars the prophets, yet the sun of righteousness was not risen; and it was a time of gross darkness with the Gentile world: now one or more of these proselyted Idumeans, or of the Jews among them, may be supposed to be inquiring of the prophet or prophets of the Lord in their time, how much of this night was gone, when it would be over, or the Messiah would appear, and bring in the morning, and make the bright day of the Gospel dispensation. And again, as Edom and Seir were typical of Rome Papal, or the Romish antichrist, the person calling out to the watchman may design such of the people of God in the midst of them, for which see Revelation 18:4 who, sensible of the night of darkness they are in, are looking for and inquiring after latter day light and glory. The Targum of the whole verse is,

"the burden of the cup of curse, to give Dumah to drink: to me he calls out of heaven, prophet, declare unto them the prophecy; prophet, declare unto them what shall hereafter come to pass.''

(y) Vid. Hiller. Onomasticon Sacr. p. 797. (z) Vid. Buxtorf. Lexic. Talmud. Colossians 30, 31, &c. (a) "quid accidit ex quo nox est?" Vatablus. (b) Zohar in Exod. fol. 54. 2.((c) Joseph. Antiqu. l. 13. c. 9. sect. 1. Ed. Hudson.

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

(o) Which was a city of the Ishmaelites and was so named by Dumah, Ge 25:14.

(p) A mountain of the Idumeans.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. The burden of Dumah] The best known place of this name is the Dûmat el-Jendel (“rocky Dumah”) of the Arabian geographers (mentioned in Genesis 25:14). It lay to the north of Tema (Isaiah 21:14) and south-east of Seir. Jerome is the sole authority for the statement that there was a Dumah in the land of Seir. The word here, however, is probably a play on the name Edom (which is found in the LXX., and in the margin of some Hebr. MSS.), and at the same time an allusion to the mysterious character of the oracle (=“oracle of silence”).

He calleth] Render as R.V. One calleth.

Watchman, what of the night?] “How far is the night spent: how long till the morning?” It has been suggested that the phrase may have been used in inquiring the time of night of the city watchmen. The word “watchman” here means “guardian” and differs from that employed in Isaiah 21:6 (one who is on the look out).

The oracle on Edom. Isaiah 21:11-12

The prophet hears (whether in reality or in imagination it is impossible to say) an urgent cry from Seir, inquiring whether the night of distress is nearly over (Isaiah 21:11). His reply (Isaiah 21:12) is equivocal and confessedly incomplete; at a later time he may be able to read the signs of the times with a surer vision. The passage is too short and vague to permit any confident conclusion as to its date; but it contains nothing inconsistent with the supposition that it belongs generally to the same period as Isaiah 21:1-10. Towards the end of the Exile the Edomites seem to have been on friendly terms with the Babylonians, from whom they had received a considerable extension of territory (Ezekiel 35:10 ff; Ezekiel 36:5 ff.). But the supremacy of Babylon is now threatened by the victorious Cyrus, and Edom is naturally represented as anxious to learn how the unknown issue of the conflict will affect her national and commercial interests.Verses 11, 12. - THE BURDEN OF DUMAH. This short "burden" is probably to be understood as uttered with reference to Edom, which the prophet prefers to call "Dumah," i.e. "silence," in reference to the desolation which he sees to be coming upon the country. Such a play upon words is very usual in the East. Isaiah has already given an instance of it in the name under which he has designated Heliopolis (Isaiah 19:18). Verse 11. - Dumah. There were at least two towns of this name ('Dict. of the Bible,' vol. 1. pp. 459, 460); but neither of them is in the district of Seir. It is best, therefore, to regard "Dumah" here as representing Edom, or Iaumaea (so the LXX., Jarchi, Rosenmüller, Kay, Cheyne, and others). He calleth to me; rather, one calleth to me; i.e. I seem to hear a call from Mount Seir, as of one making inquiry of me. There is no need to suppose that the inquiry was actually made. Mount Self, or the district south-south-east of the Dead Sea, was the heart of the Idumaean country, which thence extended vaguely eastward and westward. What of the night? i.e. what hour, or, rather, perhaps, what watch of the night is it? May we consider that "the night is far spent, and the day at hand? Edom had offended Sargon by joining with Ashdod (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 130), and was probably at tiffs time oppressed by Sargon in consequence. On the other hand, what Xenophon so elaborately relates, and what is also in all probability described in Daniel 5:30 (compare Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57), is referred to in Isaiah 21:5 : "They cover the table, watch the watch, eat, drink. Rise up, ye princes! Anoint the shield!" This is not a scene from the hostile camp, where they are strengthening themselves for an attack upon Babylon: for the express allusion to the covering of the table is intended to create the impression of confident and careless good living; and the exclamation "anoint the shield" (cf., Jeremiah 51:11) presupposes that they have first of all to prepare themselves for battle, and therefore that they have been taken by surprise. What the prophet sees, therefore, is a banquet in Babylon. The only thing that does not seem quite to square with this is one of the infinitives with which the picture is so vividly described (Ges. 131, 4, b), namely tzâpōh hatztzâphith. Hitzig's explanation, "they spread carpets" (from tzâphâh, expandere, obducere, compare the Talmudic tziphâh, tziphtâh, a mat, storea), commends itself thoroughly; but it is without any support in biblical usage, so that we prefer to follow the Targum, Peshito, and Vulgate (the Sept. does not give any translation of the words at all), and understand the hap. leg. tzâphith as referring to the watch: "they set the watch." They content themselves with this one precautionary measure, and give themselves up with all the greater recklessness to their night's debauch (cf., Isaiah 22:13). The prophet mentions this, because (as Meier acknowledges) it is by the watch that the cry, "Rise up, ye princes," etc., is addressed to the feasters. The shield-leather was generally oiled, to make it shine and protect it from wet, and, more than all, to cause the strokes it might receive to glide off (compare the laeves clypeos in Virg. Aen. vii. 626). The infatuated self-confidence of the chief men of Babylon was proved by the fact that they had to be aroused. They fancied that they were hidden behind the walls and waters of the city, and therefore they had not even got their weapons ready for use.
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