Isaiah 13:21
But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.
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(21) Wild beasts of the desert . . .—The Hebrew term, which in Psalm 72:9, and perhaps in Isaiah 23:13, is used of men, has been rendered by “wild cats,” but is probably generic, the ferœ naturœ that haunt such desolate regions. The “doleful creatures” (literally groaners) are probably “horned owls;” while the word rendered “owls (literally, daughters of screaming) may be taken as ostriches (Job 39:13-18). In the “satyrs” (literally, hairy or shaggy ones) we may find either “goats (as in Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 16:9), or, as the English version suggests, a mythical form of grotesque animal life (the “demons” or “devils” of Leviticus 17:7; 2Chronicles 11:15, a goat-shaped form, like that of the Greek Pan), or more probably (with Tristram), the species of baboon (Macacus Arabicus) still found in Babylonia.

Isaiah 13:21-22. The wild beasts of the desert shall lie there — Which was literally fulfilled, as we have just seen, in Jerome’s time, when it was a forest for breeding wild beasts, or a royal chase for hunting. And their houses shall be full of doleful creatures — This likewise has been exactly accomplished. Benjamin of Tudela, a Jew, in his Itinerary, written above seven hundred years ago, asserts, “Babylon is now laid waste, excepting the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, which men are afraid to enter, on account of the serpents and scorpions that have taken possession of it.”

This account is confirmed by Rauwolf, who informs us, “that the supposed ruins of the tower of Babylon are so full of venomous creatures, that no one dares approach nearer to them than half a league.” It must be observed, however, that interpreters are not agreed as to the precise meaning of the word אחים, here rendered, doleful creatures. Some connect this clause with the preceding, and read it, And shall fill (namely, the wild beasts shall fill) their houses with their howlings. It is more probable, however, that some living creatures are intended, but whether reptiles, quadrupeds, or fowls, is uncertain. It is also doubtful what creatures are meant by several of the other Hebrew words here used, particularly by the word שׂעירים, seirim, translated satyrs. The term indeed signifies goats. And many have supposed that evil spirits often appeared, of old time, in the shape of goats. “Upon which account,” says Lowth, “the word is sometimes taken for devils, and is so translated, Leviticus 17:7,” (where see the note,) “and in 2 Chronicles 11:15. But here, and Isaiah 34:14, it is rendered satyrs. The expression may be taken from a vulgar opinion, that desolate and forlorn places are inhabited by evil spirits. See Bar 4:35; Revelation 18:2. Accordingly our Saviour, in his parable of an unclean spirit, says, that he walks through dry, or uninhabited places, Matthew 12:43.” And dragons in their pleasant places — The word תנים, rendered dragons, signifies any large creature of the creeping kind, whether upon land or in the sea. Here it seems to be taken for a great serpent, such as are usually found in deserts and desolate places. But instead of wasting time in a fruitless attempt to ascertain what kind of creatures are meant by the different Hebrew words here used, which would only perplex and not edify the reader, we shall present him with Bishop Lowth’s translation of these two verses.

“But there shall the wild beasts of the deserts lodge;

And howling monsters shall fill their houses:

And there shall the daughters of the ostrich dwell;

And there shall the satyrs hold their revels.

And wolves shall howl to one another in their palaces;

And dragons in their voluptuous pavilions.”

What makes the present desolate condition of Babylon the more wonderful is, that Alexander the Great intended to have made it the seat of his empire, and actually set men to work to rebuild the temple of Belus, to repair the banks of the river, and to reduce the waters again to their own channel; but he met with too many difficulties to proceed with the work. And now, how justly may we reflect with Bishop Newton, (Dissert. xth.,) “How is Babylon become a desolation! How wonderful are such predictions, compared with the events! And what a convincing argument of the truth and divinity of the Holy Scriptures! Well might God allege this as a memorable instance of his prescience, and challenge all the false gods, and their votaries, to produce the like, Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 46:10. And indeed where can be found a similar instance, but in Scripture, from the beginning of the world to this day?”

13:19-22 Babylon was a noble city; yet it should be wholly destroyed. None shall dwell there. It shall be a haunt for wild beasts. All this is fulfilled. The fate of this proud city is a proof of the truth of the Bible, and an emblem of the approaching ruin of the New Testament Babylon; a warning to sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and it encourages believers to expect victory over every enemy of their souls, and of the church of God. The whole world changes and is liable to decay. Wherefore let us give diligence to obtain a kingdom which cannot be moved; and in this hope let us hold fast that grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there - Hebrew, (ציים tsı̂yı̂ym). This word denotes properly those animals that dwell in dry and desolate places, from צי tsı̂y "a waste, a desert." The ancient versions have differed considerably in the interpretation. The Septuagint in different places renders it, Θηριά Thēria - 'Wild animals;' or δαιμόνια daimonia - 'Demons.' The Syriac, 'Wild animals, spirits, sirens.' Vulgate, 'Beasts, demons, dragons.' Abarbanel renders it, 'Apes.' This word is applied to people, in Psalm 72:9; Psalm 74:14; to animals, Isaiah 23:13; Isaiah 34:14; Jeremiah 50:39. Bochart supposes that wild cats or catamounts are here intended. He has proved that they abound in eastern countries. They feed upon dead carcasses, and live in the woods, or in desert places, and are remarkable for their howl. Their yell resembles that of infants. ("See" Bochart's "Hieroz." i. 3. 14. pp. 860-862.)

And their houses shall be full of doleful creatures - Margin, 'Ochim,' or 'Ostriches.' אחים 'ochı̂ym. The Septuagint renders this 'Clamours,' or 'Howlings,' without supposing that it refers to any particular animals. The Hebrew word is found nowhere else. Bochart supposes that the yell or howl of wild animals is intended, and not animals themselves ("Hieroz." i. 3. 15).

And owls shall dwell there - Hebrew, 'Daughters of the owl or ostrich.' The owl is a well-known bird that dwells only in obscure and dark retreats, giving a doleful screech, and seeking its food only at night. It is not certain, however, that the owl is intended here. The Septuagint renders it, Σειρῆνες Seirēnes - 'Sirens.' The Chaldee, 'The daughter of the ostrich.' Bochart has gone into an extended argument to prove that the ostrich is intended here ("Hieroz." xi. 2. 14). The Hebrew does not particularly denote the kind of bird intended, but means those that are distinguished for their sound - 'the daughters of sound or clamor.' 'The ostrich is a sly and timorous creature, delighting in solitary barren deserts. In the night they frequently make a very doleful and hideous noise; sometimes groaning as if they were in the greatest agonies.' (Shaw's "Travels," vol. ii. p. 348, 8vo; Taylor's "Heb. Con.;" see Job 30:29; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 50:39; Micah 1:8; Leviticus 11:16; Deuteronomy 14:15; Lamentations 4:3.) The word does not elsewhere occur.

And satyrs shall dance there - (שׂערים s'e‛ı̂rı̂ym). A "satyr," in mythology, was a sylvan deity or demigod, represented as a monster, half man and half goat, having horns on his head, a hairy body, with the feet and tail of a goat (Webster). The word used here properly denotes that which is "hairy," or "rough," and is applied to "goats" in Genesis 25:25; Psalm 68:21; Leviticus 13:10, Leviticus 13:25-26, Leviticus 13:30, Leviticus 13:32. It is often rendered "hair." ("see" Taylor). In Isaiah 34:14, it is rendered 'satyr;' in Deuteronomy 32:2, it is rendered 'the small ram;' in Leviticus 17:7, and 2 Chronicles 11:15, it is rendered 'the devils,' meaning objects of worship, or idols. Bochart supposes that it refers to the idols that were worshipped among the Egyptians, who placed "goats" among their gods. Doderlin supposes that it means either "fawns," or a species of the monkey tribe, resembling in their rough and shaggy appearance the wild goat.

They are here represented as 'dancing;' and in Isaiah 34:14, as 'crying to each other.' It is evident that the prophet intends animals of a rough and shaggy appearance; such as are quick and nimble in their motions; such as dwell in deserts, in forests, or in old ruins; and such as answer to each other, or chatter. The description would certainly seem more applicable to some of the "simia" or monkey tribe than to any other animals. It is "possible," indeed, that he means merely to make use of language that was well known, as describing animals that the ancients "supposed" had an existence, but which really had not, as the imaginary beings called satyrs. But it is possible, also, that he means simply wild goats (compare Bochart's "Hieroz." xi. 6. 7). The Septuagint renders it Δαιμόνια Daimonia - 'Demons, or devils.' The Vulgate, Pilosi - 'Shaggy, or hairy animals.' The Chaldee, 'Demons.' The essential idea is, that such wild animals as are supposed to dwell in wastes and ruins, would hold their revels in the forsaken and desolate palaces of Babylon. The following remarks of Joseph Wolff may throw light on this passage: 'I then went to the mountain of Sanjaar, which was full of Yezeedes. One hundred and fifty years ago, they believed in the glorious doctrine of the Trinity, and worshipped the true God; but being severely persecuted by the neighboring Yezeedes, they have now joined them, and are worshippers of the devil.

These people frequent the ruins of Babylon, and dance around them. On a certain night, which they call the Night of Life, they hold their dances around the desolate ruins, in honor of the devil. The passage which declares that "satyrs shall dance there," evidently has respect to this very practice. The original word translated "satyr," literally means, according to the testimony of the most eminent Jewish rabbis, "devil worshippers."' 'It is a curious circumstance,' says Mr. Rich, in his "Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon," p. 30, in describing the Mujelibe, 'that here I first heard the oriental account of satyrs. I had always imagined the belief of their existence was confined to the mythology of the west; but a Choadar who was with me when I examined this ruin, mentioned by accident, that in this desert an animal is found resembling a man from the head to the waist, but having the thighs and legs of a sheep or a goat; he said also that the Arabs hunt it with dogs, and eat the lower parts, abstaining from the upper on account of their resemblance to the human species.' 'The Arabians call them Sied-as-sad, and say that they abound in some woody places near Semava on the Euphrates.'

21. wild beasts—Hebrew, tsiyim, animals dwelling in arid wastes. Wild cats, remarkable for their howl [Bochart].

doleful creatures—"howling beasts," literally, "howlings" [Maurer].

owls—rather, "ostriches"; a timorous creature, delighting in solitary deserts and making a hideous noise [Bochart].

satyrs—sylvan demi-gods—half man, half goat—believed by the Arabs to haunt these ruins; probably animals of the goat-ape species [Vitringa]. Devil-worshippers, who dance amid the ruins on a certain night [J. Wolff].

Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; the land being forsaken by men, shall be possessed by wild beasts, which love solitary places. What the Hebrew words used here, and in the next verse, signify, the learned may see in my Latin Synopsis; and for others, it may suffice to know that in which all the learned agree, that these are frightful and solitary creatures; of which if I should particularly discourse, I should rather perplex than edify the vulgar reader.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there,.... What sort of creatures are meant is not certain. The Targum renders it by a word which signifies monstrous, astonishing creatures; the Latin interpreter of it calls them apes. Jarchi and Kimchi say such are intended as are called martens or sables, a creature of the weasel kind. The Hebrew word does not much differ from the Arabic one used for "wild cats":

and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; whose voices are very mournful and unpleasant. Aben Ezra says such creatures are meant, that those that see them are amazed at them. Jarchi declares they are a kind of creatures he was ignorant of; and Kimchi thinks they are the same with "furon", or "ferrets": and the Latin interpreter of the Targum renders the word that uses by "weasels":

and owls shall dwell there; or "the daughters of the owl", or "of the ostriches", as the Targum and Syriac version; with which agrees the Vulgate Latin, rendering the word "ostriches", as it is in Lamentations 4:3; the Septuagint version translates it "sirens", or "mermaids":

and satyrs shall dance there; a sort of monstrous creatures with the ancients, painted half men and half goats; the upper part of them like men, except the horns on their heads, and the lower parts like goats, and all over hairy; and the word here used signifies hairy; and is used for goats, and sometimes for devils, either because they have appeared in this form, as Kimchi says, to them that believe them; or because they, by their appearance, inject such horror in men, as cause their hair to stand upright: hence the Targum, Jarchi, and Kimchi, interpret it of devils here; and so the Septuagint version, and those that follow it, the Syriac and Arabic, render it, "and demons shall dance there": with this agrees the account of mystical Babylon, Revelation 18:2.

But {p} wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

(p) Who were either wild beasts or fools, or wicked spirits, by which Satan deluded man, as by the fairies, goblins, and such like fantasies.

21. wild beasts of the desert] The word used means strictly “dwellers in the desert” and is applied to men in Psalm 72:9. In ch. Isaiah 34:14 it seems to denote a particular kind of desert creature.

doleful creatures] Probably “howlers,” but what kind of howlers are meant is altogether uncertain. Some render “owls,” others “jackals,” &c. The word does not occur elsewhere. Owls should undoubtedly be ostriches. The Heb. name (běnôth ya‘ǎnah), as explained by Wetzstein (see Delitzsch, Comm. on Job , 2 nd Ed., Eng. Tr., vol. II., p. 340) means “daughters of the desert.” The Arabs have a similar designation for the bird,—abu eṣ-ṣaḥârâ, “father of the desert.”

satyrs shall dance there] The noun also means “goats,” as in Genesis 37:31; but the old translations have mostly perceived that goatshaped demons are here intended (so also in ch. Isaiah 34:14), the same beings to which Jewish superstition offered sacrifices (Leviticus 17:7; 2 Chronicles 11:15—A.V. “devils”). The transition from the natural to the supernatural seems strange to our minds, but in the East the belief in weird creatures (jinn) inhabiting waste places and dangerous spots is a commonplace.

21, 22. It shall be haunted by wild beasts and creatures of demon kind, like the jinn of the Arabs. See ch. Isaiah 34:11-15; Zephaniah 2:14 f.; Jeremiah 50:39; Jeremiah 51:37.

Verse 21. - Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there. It is not quite clear what particular wild beasts are intended. Those actually noted on the site of Babylon are lions, jackals, and porcupines. These sometimes make their lairs in the ruins (Rich, 'First Memoir,' p. 69; Ker Porter, 'Travels,' vol. 2. p. 342). Doleful creatures; in the original, okhim. What animal is meant we cannot say, as the word occurs only in this passage. Mr. Cheyne translates it by "hyenas." Owls shall dwell there; literally, daughters of the owl (as in Leviticus 11:16; Deuteronomy 14:15; Job 30:29; Jeremiah 50:39; Micah 1:8; and infra, Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20). Mr. Rich says, "In most of the cavities of the Babil Mound there are numbers of owls and bats." Sir A. Layard," A large grey owl is found in great numbers, frequently in flocks of nearly a hundred, in the low shrubs among the ruins of Babylon" ('Nin. and Bab.,' p. 484, note). Satyrs shall dance there. The word translated "satyr" is, etymologically, "hairy one," and ordinarily means "a goat." Some have supposed "wild goats" to be here intended, but they are not found in Babylonia. The translation "satyr" is defended by many, who think Isaiah might draw upon current beliefs for some features of his description. Dr. Kay gives "baboons," since the Moko - a kind of baboon - is known in Babylonia. Isaiah 13:21Babel, like the cities of the Pentapolis, had now become a perpetual desert. "She remains uninhabited for ever, and unoccupied into generation of generations; and not an Arab pitches his tent there, and shepherds do not make their folds there. And there lie beasts of the desert, and horn-owls fill their houses; and ostriches dwell there, and field-devils hop about there. And jackals howl in her castles, and wild dogs in palaces of pleasure; and her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged." The conclusion is similar to that of the prophecy against Edom, in Isaiah 34:16-17. There the certainty of the prediction, even in its most minute particulars, is firmly declared; here the nearness of the time of fulfilment. But the fulfilment did not take place so soon as the words of the prophecy might make it appear. According to Herodotus, Cyrus, the leader of the Medo-Persian army, left the city still standing, with its double ring of walls. Darius Hystaspis, who had to conquer Babylon a second time in 518 b.c., had the walls entirely destroyed, with the exception of fifty cubits. Xerxes gave the last thrust to the glory of the temple of Belus. Having been conquered by Seleucus Nicator (312), it declined just in proportion as Seleucia rose. Babylon, says Pliny, ad solitudinem rediit exhausta vicinitate Seleuciae. At the time of Strabo (born 60 b.c.) Babylon was a perfect desert; and he applies to it (16:15) the words of the poet, ἐρημία μεγάλη ̓στὶν ἡ μεγάλη πόλις. Consequently, in the passage before us the prophecy falls under the law of perspective foreshortening. But all that it foretells has been literally fulfilled. The curse that Babylon would never come to be settled in and inhabited again (a poetical expression, like Jeremiah 17:25; Jeremiah 33:16), proved itself an effectual one, when Alexander once thought of making Babylon the metropolis of his empire. He was carried off by an early death. Ten thousand workmen were at that time employed for two months in simply clearing away the rubbish of the foundations of the temple of Belus (the Nimrod-tower). "Not an Arab pitches his tent there" (‛Arâbi, from ‛Arâbâh, a steppe, is used here for the first time in the Old Testament, and then again in Jeremiah 3:2; yăhēl, different from yâhēl in Isaiah 13:10 and Job 31:26, is a syncopated form of יאהל, tentorium figet, according to Ges. 68, Anm. 2, used instead of the customary יאהל): this was simply the natural consequence of the great field of ruins, upon which there was nothing but the most scanty vegetation. But all kinds of beasts of the desert and waste places make their homes there instead. The list commences with ziyyim (from zi, dryness, or from ziyi, an adj. relat. of the noun zi), i.e., dwellers in the desert; the reference here is not to men, but, as in most other instances, to animals, though it is impossible to determine what are the animals particularly referred to. That ochim are horned owls (Uhus) is a conjecture of Aurivillius, which decidedly commends itself. On benoth ya‛ănâh, see at Job 39:13-18. Wetzstein connects ya‛ănâh with an Arabic word for desert; it is probably more correct, however, to connect it with the Syriac יענא, greedy. The feminine plural embraces ostriches of both sexes, just as the 'iyyim (sing. אי equals אוי, from 'âvâh, to howl: see Bernstein's Lex. on Kirsch's Chrestom. Syr. p. 7), i.e., jackals, are called benât āwa in Arabic, without distinction of sex (awa in this appellation is a direct reproduction of the natural voice of the animal, which is called wawi in vulgar Arabic). Tan has also been regarded since the time of Pococke and Schnurrer as the name of the jackal; and this is supported by the Syriac and Targum rendering yaruro (see Bernstein, p. 220), even more than by the Arabic name of the wolf, tinân, which only occurs here and there. אי, ibnu āwa, is the common jackal found in Hither Asia (Canis aureus vulgaris), the true type of the whole species, which is divided into at least ten varieties, and belongs to the same genus as dogs and wolves (not foxes). Tan may refer to one of these varieties, which derived its name from its distinctive peculiarity as a long-stretched animal, whether the extension was in the trunk, the snout, or the tail.

The animals mentioned, both quadrupeds (râbatz) and birds (shâcan), are really found there, on the soil of ancient Babylon. When Kerporter was drawing near to the Nimrod-tower, he saw lions sunning themselves quietly upon its walls, which came down very leisurely when alarmed by the cries of the Arabs. And as Rich heard in Bagdad, the ruins are still regarded as a rendezvous for ghosts: sâ‛ir, when contrasted with ‛attūd, signifies the full-grown shaggy buck-goat; but here se‛irim is applied to demons in the shape of goats (as in Isaiah 34:14). According to the Scriptures, the desert is the abode of unclean spirits, and such unclean spirits as the popular belief or mythology pictured to itself were se‛irim. Virgil, like Isaiah, calls them saltantes Satyros. It is remarkable also that Joseph Wolf, the missionary and traveller to Bochâra, saw pilgrims of the sect of Yezidis (or devil-worshippers) upon the ruins of Babylon, who performed strange and horrid rites by moonlight, and danced extraordinary dances with singular gestures and sounds. On seeing these ghost-like, howling, moonlight pilgrims, he very naturally recalled to mind the dancing se‛irim of prophecy (see Moritz Wagner's Reise nach Persien und dem Lande der Kurden, Bd. ii. p. 251). And the nightly howling and yelling of jackals (‛ânâh after rikkēd, as in 1 Samuel 18:6-7) produces its natural effect upon every traveller there, just as in all the other ruins of the East. These are now the inhabitants of the royal 'armenoth, which the prophet calls 'almenoth with a sarcastic turn, on account of their widowhood and desolation; these are the inhabitants of the palaces of pleasure, the luxurious villas and country-seats, with their hanging gardens. The Apocalypse, in Revelation 18:2, takes up this prophecy of Isaiah, and applies it to a still existing Babylon, which might have seen itself in the mirror of the Babylon of old.

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