Isaiah 21:2
A grievous vision is declared to me; the treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the spoiler spoils. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) A grievous vision . . .—The verse contains, as it were, the three tableaux that came in succession before the prophet’s gaze: (1) The treacherous dealer, the Assyro-Chaldæan power, spoiling and oppressing, breaking treaties, and, as its kings boasted (Habakkuk 2:5; Records of the Past, vii. 42, 44), “removing landmarks.” (2) The summons to Elam and Media to put an end to this tyranny. (3) The oppressed peoples ceasing to sigh, and rejoicing in their liberation.

Elam appears here as combined with Media, which is named in Isaiah 13:17 as the only destroyer of Babylon, and this has been urged as evidence of a later date. As a matter of fact, however, Sargon at this very time was carrying on a fierce war against Elam (Records of the Past, cvii. 41-49) as well as against Media (ibid, p. 37). In Ezekiel 32:24, Elam is numbered among the extinct nations, but the name, at all events, re-appears as applied to the Persians, though they were of a distinct race. It was, even as a mere forecast, perfectly natural that the two should be associated together as the future destroyers of the Nineveh and Babel empires, which to the prophet’s eye were identical in character and policy. The advance described as “from the wilderness” implies a march of part at least of the Medo-Persian army down the Choaspes and into the lowland of Chuzistan, bordering on the great Arabian desert.

Isaiah 21:2. A grievous vision is declared unto me — A vision or prophecy, predicting dreadful calamities about to fall upon Babylon. The treacherous dealer, &c. — In these words the prophet either describes the sin of the Chaldeans, for which God would send the following judgment upon them, namely, they persisted in the practice of treachery and rapine, to which they had been so long accustomed; or he speaks of the Medes and Persians, and represents them as paying the Babylonians in their own coin, and using the same treachery and violence toward them which they had used toward others. The words may be properly rendered, Thou, O Elam, that dealest treacherously with the treacherous dealer, or, that oppressest the oppressor, and spoilest the spoiler, go up, besiege, &c. Babylon had long oppressed and ravaged other countries: and it was now her turn to be oppressed and ravaged. Elam was an eminent province of Persia, bordering upon Media, and is here put for Persia in general. God here gives the Medes and Persians their commission to go up and take Babylon, and thereby to put an end to the sighs and groans of the captive Jews, and of other nations held in bondage, and oppressed by that tyrannical and cruel empire.21:1-10 Babylon was a flat country, abundantly watered. The destruction of Babylon, so often prophesied of by Isaiah, was typical of the destruction of the great foe of the New Testament church, foretold in the Revelation. To the poor oppressed captives it would be welcome news; to the proud oppressors it would be grievous. Let this check vain mirth and sensual pleasures, that we know not in what heaviness the mirth may end. Here is the alarm given to Babylon, when forced by Cyrus. An ass and a camel seem to be the symbols of the Medes and Persians. Babylon's idols shall be so far from protecting her, that they shall be broken down. True believers are the corn of God's floor; hypocrites are but as chaff and straw, with which the wheat is now mixed, but from which it shall be separated. The corn of God's floor must expect to be threshed by afflictions and persecutions. God's Israel of old was afflicted. Even then God owns it is his still. In all events concerning the church, past, present, and to come, we must look to God, who has power to do any thing for his church, and grace to do every thing that is for her good.A grievous vision - Margin, as in Hebrew 'Hard.' On the word 'vision,' see the note at Isaiah 1:1. The sense here is, that the vision which the prophet saw was one that indicated great calamity Isaiah 21:3-4.

Is declared unto me - That is, is caused to pass before me, and its meaning is made known to me.

The treacherous dealer - (חבוגד chabôgēd). The perfidious, unfaithful people. This is the usual signification of the word; but the connection here does not seem to require the signification of treachery or perfidy, but of "violence." The word has this meaning in Habakkuk 2:5, and in Proverbs 11:3, Proverbs 11:6. It refers here to the Medes; and to the fact that oppression and violence were now to be exercised toward Babylon. Lowth renders this:

'The plunderer is plundered, and the destroyer is destroyed;'

But the authority for so rendering it is doubtful. He seems to suppose that it refers to Babylon. The Hebrew evidently means, that there is to be plundering and devastation, and that this is to be accomplished by a nation accustomed to it, and which is immediately specified; that is, the united kingdom of Media and Persia. The Chaldee renders it, 'They who bring violence, suffer violence; and the plunderers are plundered.' Jarchi says, that the sense of the Hebrew text according to the Chaldee is, 'Ah! thou who art violent! there comes another who will use thee with violence; and thou plunderer, another comes who will plunder thee, even the Medes and Persians, who will destroy and lay waste Babylon.' But the Hebrew text will not bear this interpretation. The sense is, that desolation was about to be produced by a nation "accustomed" to it, and who would act toward Babylon in their true character.

Go up - This is an address of God to Media and Persia (see the note at Isaiah 13:17).

O Elam - This was the name of the country originally possessed by the Persians, and was so called from Elam a son of Shem Genesis 10:22. It was east of the Euphrates, and comprehended properly the mountainous countries of Khusistan and Louristan, called by the Greek writers "Elymais." In this country was Susa or Shushan, mentioned in Daniel 8:2. It is here put for Persia in general, and the call on Elam and Media to go up, was a call on the united kingdom of the Medes and Persians.

Besiege - That is, besiege Babylon.

O Media - (see the note at Isaiah 13:17).

All the sighing thereof have I made to cease - This has been very differently interpreted by expositors. Some understand it (as Rosenmuller, Jerome, and Lowth,) as designed to be taken in an "active" sense; that is, all the groaning "caused" by Babylon in her oppressions of others, and particularly of God's people, would cease. Others refer it to the army of the Medes and Persians, as if "their" sighing should be over; that is, their fatigues and labors in the conquest of Babylon. Calvin supposes that it means that the Lord would be deaf to the sighs of Babylon; that is, he would disregard them and would bring upon them the threatened certain destruction. The probable meaning is that suggested by Jerome, that God would bring to an end all the sighs and groans which Babylon had caused in a world suffering under her oppressions (compare Isaiah 14:7-8).

2. dealeth treacherously—referring to the military stratagem employed by Cyrus in taking Babylon. It may be translated, "is repaid with treachery"; then the subject of the verb is Babylon. She is repaid in her own coin; Isa 33:1; Hab 2:8, favor this.

Go up—Isaiah abruptly recites the order which he hears God giving to the Persians, the instruments of His vengeance (Isa 13:3, 17).

Elam—a province of Persia, the original place of their settlement (Ge 10:22), east of the Euphrates. The name "Persia" was not in use until the captivity; it means a "horseman"; Cyrus first trained the Persians in horsemanship. It is a mark of authenticity that the name is not found before Daniel and Ezekiel [Bochart].

thereof—the "sighing" caused by Babylon (Isa 14:7, 8).

A grievous vision; a vision or prophecy, containing dreadful calamities which were to fall upon Babylon.

The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth: this is spoken either,

1. Of the Chaldeans, as their sin, for which God sends the following judgment. So the sense is, The Chaldeans still persist in the practice of treachery and rapine, to which they have been so long accustomed. Or,

2. Of the Medes and Persians, who are here noted to pay the Babylonians in their own coin, and to use the same treachery and violence towards them which they had done to others. To which purpose the words are and may well be rendered otherwise; either thus, the treacherous dealer hath found a treacherous dealer, and the spoiler hath found a spoiler; or thus, O thou that dealest treacherously with the treacherous dealer, and that spoilest the spoiler, go up, O Elam, &c., as it followeth. These words will be much illustrated by compared them with Isaiah 33:1. There is no doubt to be made but the Medes and Persians used treachery as well as force against Babylon. And besides brias, and following their counsel and conduct in taking the city, which made them partakers of their treason.

Go up, to fight against her. These are God’s words, either giving them command and commission to do so, or rather foretelling what they would do; which is oft done in this form of speech.

Elam; Persia, called Elam synecdochically, because Elam was an eminent province of Persia, bordering upon the Medes.

Besiege, to wit, Babylon, Isaiah 21:9. All the sighing thereof; either,

1. Babylon’s sighing, which shall cease, because they shall have no time to sigh, or lament their miseries, being suddenly surprised, and cut off in a moment, as they were. As God is said to seek out the wickedness of wicked men till he find none, Psalm 10:15, when he utterly destroyeth them in or with their sins. Or,

2. The sighing and groanings of God’s people and other nations under the heavy oppressions of that potent and cruel empire; the pronoun her, or thereof, being taken here not passively, as commonly it is; but actively, or efficiently, as sometimes it is, as Deu 11:25, your fear, i.e. the fear of you; and Job 33:7, my terror, i.e. the terror or dread of me upon thee. A grievous vision is declared unto me,.... The prophet; meaning the vision of Babylon's destruction, which was "hard", as the word signifies, and might seem harsh and cruel; not to him, nor to the Jews, but to the Chaldeans:

the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth; that is, according to Jarchi, one treacherous dealer deals treacherously with another, and one spoiler spoils another; the Medes and Persians deal treacherously with and spoil the Babylonians, who had dealt treacherously with and spoiled other nations: and to this sense some read the words, "the treacherous dealer hath found a treacherous dealer, and the spoiler one that spoileth" (n): some take it to be a compellation of the Medes and Persians, calling upon them, under these characters, to go up and besiege Babylon, as, "O treacherous dealer, O spoiler" (o); though the words may be understood of the perfidy and treachery of the Babylonians, of which they had been frequently guilty, and which is given as a reason of their fall and ruin; or rather they suggest the treacherous means by which they should be ruined, even by some from among themselves; particularly, history (p) informs us, that Gobrias and Gadates, two noblemen of the king of Babylon, being used ill by him, revolted from him, and joined with Cyrus; and when the river Euphrates was drained, went at the head of his army in two parties, and guided them into the city, and took it; or rather Belshazzar king of Babylon himself is meant, who acted, and continued to act, most impiously and wickedly: and therefore,

go up, O Elam; or Elamites, as the Targum and Septuagint; see Acts 2:9 these were Persians, so called from Elam, a province in Persia; who are here called upon by the Lord of armies, through the mouth of the prophet, to go up to war against Babylon; and these are mentioned first, because Cyrus, who commanded the whole army, was a Persian: or if Elam is taken for a province, which was indeed subject to Babylon, of which Shushan was the capital city, Daniel 8:2 the governor of it, Abradates, revolted from the Babylonians, and joined Cyrus, and fought with him (q):

besiege, O Media; or, O ye Medes, join with the Persians in the siege of Babylon; as they did:

all the sighing thereof have I made to cease; either of the army of the Medes and Persians, who, by reason of long and tedious marches, frequent battles, and hard sieges, groaned and sighed; but now it would be over with them, when Babylon was taken; or of the Babylonians themselves, who would have no mercy shown them, nor have any time for sighing, being cut off suddenly, and in a moment; or rather of other people oppressed by them, and particularly the Lord's people the Jews, who had been in captivity for the space of seventy years, during which they had sighed and groaned, because of the hardships they endured; but now sighing would be at an end, and they should have deliverance, as they had, by Cyrus the Persian. The sighing is not that with which they sighed, but which they caused in others.

(n) "praevaricator prevaricatorem et vastator, vastatorem sub. inveniet"; so some in Vatablus; also Gataker. (o) "O perfide, perfidus; O vastator, vastator", De Dieu. (p) Xenophon. Cyropaedia, l. 4. c. 24. l. 5. c. 11. & l. 7. c. 23. (q) Ib. l. 6. sect. 7, 8, 9, 26. & l. 7. sect. 4, 8.

A grievous vision is declared to me; the {c} treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O {d} Elam: besiege, O Media; all her sighing have I made {e} to cease.

(c) The Assyrians and Chaldeans who had destroyed other nations will be overcome by the Medes and Persians: and this he prophesied a hundred years before it came to pass.

(d) By Elam he means the Persians.

(e) Because they will find no comfort, they will mourn no more, or I have caused them to cease mourning, whom Babylon had afflicted.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. A grievous (lit. “hard”) vision is declared unto me]—by the “watchman,” Isaiah 21:6. “Hard” may mean either “calamitous” (1 Kings 14:6) or “difficult,” “hard of interpretation” (John 6:60).

the treacherous dealer … spoileth] Cf. ch. Isaiah 24:16. It is difficult to decide whether this is a description of the besieging foe or of the conduct of the Babylonians towards their captives. The former view might be defended by Isaiah 33:1 (assuming that the Assyrians are there alluded to) but it requires us to substitute for “treacherous dealer,” “robber,” which is not the exact sense of the word. The other alternative is supported by the last clause of this verse (see below).

Elam … Media] The dominions of Cyrus. The former lay east of the Tigris and north of the Persian Gulf; Media was the mountainous district adjoining it on the north. Cyrus, according to the Babylonian records, was originally king of Anzan, in the north of Elam; in 549 he conquered Media, uniting the two in one kingdom. The name “Persia” never occurs in pre-exilic books.

all the sighing thereof] The misery produced by her (Babylon’s) ruthless oppressions. The verb shews that Jehovah is the speaker.Verse 2. - A grievous vision; literally, a hard vision; not, however, "hard of interpretation" (Kay), but rather "hard to be borne," "grievous," "calamitous." The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously; rather, perhaps, the robber robs (Knobel); or, the violent man uses violence (Rosenmüller). The idea of faithlessness passes out of the Hebrew boged occasionally, and is unsuitable here, more especially if it is the army of Cyrus that is intended. Go up, O Elam. The discovery that Cyrus, at the time of his conquest of Babylon, Bore the title of "King of Ansan," not "King of Persia," coupled with the probability that "Ansan" was a part of Elam, lends a peculiar interest to these words. Isaiah could not describe Cyrus as "King of Persia," and at the same time be intelligible to his contemporaries, since Persia was a country utterly unknown to them. In using the term "Elam" instead, he uses that of a country known to the Hebrews (Genesis 14:1), adjoining Persia, and, at the time of his expedition against Babylon, subject to Cyrus. Besiege, O Media. Having given "Elam" the first place, the prophet assigns to Media the second. Eleven years before he attacked Babylon, Cyrus had made war upon Astyages (Istuvegu), King of the Medes, had captured him, and become king of the nation, with scarcely any opposition (see the 'Cylinder of Nabonidus'). Hence the Medes would naturally form an important portion of the force which he led against Babylon. All the sighing thereof have I made to cease. The "sighing" caused by Babylon to the nations, to the captives, and to the kings whose prison-doors were kept closed (Isaiah 14:17), God has in his counsels determined to bring to an end. This section, commencing in the form of historic prose, introduces itself thus: "In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, Sargon the king of Asshur having sent him (and he made war against Ashdod, and captured it): at that time Jehovah spake through Yeshayahu the son of Amoz as follows," i.e., He communicated the following revelation through the medium of Isaiah (b'yad, as in Isaiah 37:24; Jeremiah 37:2, and many other passages). The revelation itself was attached to a symbolical act. B'yad (lit. "by the hand of") refers to what was about to be made known through the prophet by means of the command that was given him; in other words, to Isaiah 20:3, and indirectly to Isaiah 20:2. Tartan (probably the same man) is met with in 2 Kings 18:17 as the chief captain of Sennacherib. No Assyrian king of the name of Sargon is mentioned anywhere else in the Old Testament; but it may now be accepted as an established result of the researches which have been made, that Sargon was the successor of Shalmanassar, and that Shalmaneser (Shalman, Hosea 10:14), Sargon, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon, are the names of the four Assyrian kings who were mixed up with the closing history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It was Longperrier who was the first to establish the identity of the monarch who built the palaces at Khorsabad, which form the north-eastern corner of ancient Nineveh, with the Sargon of the Bible. We are now acquainted with a considerable number of brick, harem, votive-table, and other inscriptions which bear the name of this king, and contain all kinds of testimony concerning himself.

(Note: See Oppert, Expdition, i.-328-350, and the picture of Sargon in his war-chariot in Rawlinson's Five Great Monarchies, i. 368; compare also p. 304 (prisoners taken by Sargon), p. 352 (the plan of his palace), p. 483 (a glass vessel with his name), and many other engravings in vol. ii.)

It was he, not Shalmanassar, who took Samaria after a three years' siege; and in the annalistic inscription he boasts of having conquered the city, and removed the house of Omri to Assyria. Oppert is right in calling attention to the fact, that in 2 Kings 18:10 the conquest is not attributed to Shalmanassar himself, but to the army. Shalmanassar died in front of Samaria; and Sargon not only put himself at the head of the army, but seized upon the throne, in which he succeeded in establishing himself, after a contest of several years' duration with the legitimate heirs and their party. He was therefore a usurper.

(Note: See Oppert, Les Inscriptions Assyriennes des Sargonides et les Fastes de Ninive (Versailles, 1862), and Rawlinson (vol. ii. 406ff.), who here agrees with Oppert in all essential points. Consequently there can no longer be any thought of identifying Sargon with Shalmanassar (see Brandis, Ueber den historischen Gewinn aus der Entzifferung der assyr. Inschriften, 1856, p. 48ff.). Rawlinson himself at first thought they were the same person (vid., Journal of the Asiatic Society, xii. 2, 419), until gradually the evidence increased that Sargon and Shalmanassar were the names of two different kings, although no independent inscription of the latter, the actual besieger of Samaria, has yet been found.)

Whether his name as it appears on the inscriptions is Sar-kin or not, and whether it signifies the king de facto as distinguished from the king de jure, we will not attempt to determine now.

(Note: Hitzig ventures a derivation of the name from the Zend; and Grotefend compares it with the Chaldee Sârēk, Daniel 6:3 (in his Abhandlung ber Anlage und Zerstrung der Gebude von Nimrud, 1851).)

This Sargon, the founder of a new Assyrian dynasty, who reigned from 721-702 (according to Oppert), and for whom there is at all events plenty of room between 721-20 and the commencement of Sennacherib's reign, first of all blockaded Tyre for five years after the fall of Samaria, or rather brought to an end the siege of Tyre which had been begun by Shalmanassar (Jos. Ant. ix. 14, 2), though whether it was to a successful end or not is quite uncertain. He then pursued with all the greater energy his plan for following up the conquest of Samaria with the subjugation of Egypt, which was constantly threatening the possessions of Assyria in western Asia, either by instigation or support. The attack upon Ashdod was simply a means to this end. As the Philistines were led to join Egypt, not only by their situation, but probably by kinship of tribe as well, the conquest of Ashdod - a fortress so strong, that, according to Herodotus (ii. 157), Psammetichus besieged it for twenty-nine years - was an indispensable preliminary to the expedition against Egypt. When Alexander the Great marched against Egypt, he had to do the same with Gaza. How long Tartan required is not to be gathered from Isaiah 20:1. But if he conquered it as quickly as Alexander conquered Gaza - viz. in five months - it is impossible to understand why the following prophecy should defer for three years the subjugation of Ethiopia and Egypt. The words, "and fought against Ashdod, and took it," must therefore be taken as anticipatory and parenthetical.

It was not after the conquest of Ashdod, but in the year in which the siege commenced, that Isaiah received the following admonition: "Go and loosen the smock-frock from off thy loins, and take off thy shoes from thy feet. And he did so, went stripped and barefooted." We see from this that Isaiah was clothed in the same manner as Elijah, who wore a fur coat (2 Kings 1:8, cf., Zechariah 13:4; Hebrews 11:37), and John the Baptist, who had a garment of camel hair and a leather girdle round it (Matthew 3:4); for sak is a coarse linen or hairy overcoat of a dark colour (Revelation 6:12, cf., Isaiah 50:3), such as was worn by mourners, either next to the skin (‛al-habbâsâr, 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Kings 6:30; Job 16:15) or over the tunic, in either case being fastened by a girdle on account of its want of shape, for which reason the verb châgar is the word commonly used to signify the putting on of such a garment, instead of lâbash. The use of the word ârōm does not prove that the former was the case in this instance (see, on the contrary, 2 Samuel 6:20, compared with 2 Samuel 6:14 and John 21:7). With the great importance attached to the clothing in the East, where the feelings upon this point are peculiarly sensitive and modest, a person was looked upon as stripped and naked if he had only taken off his upper garment. What Isaiah was directed to do, therefore, was simply opposed to common custom, and not to moral decency. He was to lay aside the dress of a mourner and preacher of repentance, and to have nothing on but his tunic (cetoneth); and in this, as well as barefooted, he was to show himself in public. This was the costume of a man who had been robbed and disgraced, or else of a beggar or prisoner of war. The word cēn (so) is followed by the inf. abs., which develops the meaning, as in Isaiah 5:5; Isaiah 58:6-7.

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