Isaiah 21:12
The watchman said, The morning comes, and also the night: if you will inquire, inquire you: return, come.
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(12) If ye will enquire . . .—The words pre-suppose a craving to know the meaning of the mysterious oracle just given. The prophet declines to answer. If they like to ask, they may, and return and go back after a bootless journey. Some interpreters, however. have seen in the “return” a call to repentance like that conveyed by the same word in Jeremiah 3:22, but hardly on sufficient grounds. We should, in that case, have expected “return to Jehovah.”

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.The watchman said - Or rather "saith;" indicating that this is the answer which the prophet returned to the inquiry from Idumea.

The morning cometh - There are signs of approaching day. The 'morning' here is an emblem of prosperity; as the light of the morning succeeds to the darkness of the night. This refers to the deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, and is to be supposed as having been spoken near the time when that captivity was at an end - or nearly at break of day after the long night of their bondage. This declaration is to be understood as referring to a different people from those referred to in the expression which immediately follows - 'and also the night.' 'The morning cometh' - to the captive Jews; 'and also the night' - to some other people - to wit, the Idumeans. It "might" mean that the morning was to be succeeded by a time of darkness to the same people; but the connection seems to demand that we understand it of others.

And also the night - A time of calamity and affliction. This is emphatic. It refers to the Idumeans. 'The morning cometh to the captive Jews; it shall be closely succeeded by a night - a time of calamity - to the taunting Idumeans.' During the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, the Idumeans invaded and took possession of the southern part of Judea. The prophet here refers to the fact, perhaps, that on the return of the Jews to their native land, they would revenge this by expelling them, and by inflicting punishment on the land of Edom. For a full proof that calamities came upon the land of Idumea, see Keith "On the Prophecies." Art. "Idumea," and the notes at Isaiah 34)

If ye will inquire, inquire ye - If you choose to ask anything further in regard to this, you can. The sense is probably this: 'You Idumeans have asked respecting the night in derision and reproach. An answer has been given somewhat agreeably to that inquiry. But if you seriously wish to know anything further respecting the destiny of your land, you can ask me (Isaiah) or any other prophet, and it will be known. But ask it in seriousness and earnestness, and with a suitable regard for the prophetic character and for God. And especially if you wish a more favorable answer to your inquiries, it is to be obtained only by forsaking sin and turning to God, and then you may come with the hope of a brighter prospect for the future.' The design of this is, therefore:

(1) to "reprove" them for the manner in which they had asked the question;

(2) to assure them that God was willing to direct humble and serious inquirers; and

(3) to show in what way a favorable answer could be obtained - to wit, by repentance. And this is as true of sinners now as it was then. "They" often evince the reproachful and taunting spirit which the Idumeans did. "They" hear only a similar response - that prosperity and happiness await the Christian, though now in darkness and affliction; and that calamity and destruction are before the guilty. They "might" have the same answer - an answer that God would bless them and save them, if they would inquire in a humble, serious, and docile manner.

Return - Turn from your sins; come back to God, and show respect for him and his declarations.

Come - "Then" come and you shall be accepted, and the watch man will also announce "morning" as about to dawn on you. This seems to be the sense of this very dark and difficult prophecy. It is brief, enigmatical, and obscure. Yet it is beautiful; and if the sense above given be correct, it contains most weighty and important truth - alike for the afflicted and persecuted friends, and the persecuting and taunting foes of God. With reference to the interpretation here proposed, which supposes, as will have been seen:

(1) a state of excited feeling on the part of the Jews toward the Idumeans, for the part which they took in the destruction of their city;

(2) the prospect of speedy deliverance to the Jews in Babylon; and

(3) a consequent desolation and vengeance on the Idumeans for the feelings which they had manifested in the destruction of Jerusalem, see the prophecy of Obadiah, Obadiah 1:8-21 :

Shall I not in that day, saith the Lord,

Even destroy the wise men out of Edom,


12. Reply of the prophet, The morning (prosperity) cometh, and (soon after follows) the night (adversity). Though you, Idumeans, may have a gleam of prosperity, it will soon be followed by adversity again. Otherwise, as Barnes, "Prosperity cometh (to the Jews) to be quickly followed by adversity (to you, Idumeans, who exult in the fall of Jerusalem, have seized on the southern part of their land in their absence during the captivity, and now deride them by your question)" (Isa 34:5-7). This view is favored by Ob 10-21.

if ye will inquire, inquire—If ye choose to consult me again, do so (similar phrases occur in Ge 43:14; 2Ki 7:4; Es 4:16).

return, come—"Be converted to God (and then), come" [Gesenius]; you will then receive a more favorable answer.

The morning cometh, and also the night: the night is past without any great mischief to you, and the comfortable light of the morning is approaching, which freeth men’s minds from the terrors of the night; but although the morning be coming, it will be gone, and the night will return, and your fears with it. The night seems to be here taken properly, as the morning is; yet so that he alludes to the metaphorical signification of the word, and intimates that the night of affliction was coming upon them.

If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come. If this watchman be the prophet Isaiah, then the sense of these words is this, If you will be inquiring, inquire sincerely and seriously of God, by me, concerning your danger, and the way to prevent it; return unto the Lord by true repentance, who alone can secure you, and come unto me for direction. But if it be their own watchman, which, with submission, I conceive most probable, the sense is, If you will inquire, inquire: I perceive, by what I have observed this night, that your danger is not passed, and there will be occasion for further inquiries from time to time; and therefore return, come, i.e. either return to them that sent you with this message, and then come to me for further tidings; or come again, as return, lie down, is put for lie down again, 1 Samuel 3:5; come to me the next morning, as you have reason to do, and so from morning to morning, for I see every night is likely to bring some evil tidings to you. The watchman said, the morning cometh, and also the night,.... Not only a morning, but a night; and as sure as the morning comes, so shall the night; there wilt be a constant succession of morning and night; as a morning of prosperity, so a night of adversity: the morning of the Gospel dispensation was coming on, or of Christ's coming in the flesh, which was attended with joy and cheerfulness; like the morning, it dispersed the shadows of the law, introduced light, which gradually and irresistibly spread itself over the Gentile world; but then followed a night of darkness to the Jews, blindness happened to them, which still continues; and to the Arabians, Saracens, and Turks, when the bottomless pit was opened by Mahomet, which let out smoke and locusts in the eastern part of the world; and to the western part, when the Romish antichrist established himself as universal bishop: a morning came on again at the Reformation, and a night will follow, which is now begun; it is already a time of darkness, coldness, sleepiness, and of error and heresy, which will issue in an eventide, in a dark night: if it be asked what time it is with us, or how far we are gone toward the night? the answer is, we are in and toward the close of the Sardian church state; we are in the twilight, or in that part of time which is neither day nor night, Zechariah 14:6 the slaying of the witnesses is yet to come, which, with the general spread of Popery all over Christendom, will make it entire night; after which will come on the morning of the spiritual reign of Christ, when the light of the Gospel will be spread everywhere, and joy and gladness will attend the saints in all places; and it will be a time of great prosperity, both spiritual and temporal; which will be succeeded by another night of coldness, deadness, and carnal security, and will last till the second and personal coming of Christ; which will bring on the morning of a glorious resurrection to the saints, after which there will be no more night to them, though there will be an eternal one to the wicked. The Targum is,

"the prophet said, there is a reward for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked;''

and so the Jews elsewhere (d) interpret it of the morning of redemption to the righteous, and of the night of darkness to the wicked; or, as they sometimes express it (e), the morning is for the righteous, and the night for the wicked; the morning for Israel, and the night for the nations of the world. Dumah they sometimes (f) make to be the angel appointed over spirits, who they suppose gather together, and say to him, "watchman", &c.

if ye will inquire, inquire ye; seriously and in good earnest, diligently and constantly, with all humility and reverence, by prayer to God and by searching the Scriptures, and by application to the watchmen, the ministers of the word, who make it their business to study it, and have the mind of Christ:

return, come; return by repentance, and come to God, who receives backsliders, heals their backslidings, and loves them freely; or, "come again", to the watchman, and to the Lord, and renew your inquiries till you get satisfaction.

(d) Gloss. in T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 94. 1. & in Bava Kama fol, 3. 2. (e) T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 64. 1. & Kimchi in loc. (f) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 94. 1.

The watchman said, The {q} morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.

(q) He describes the unquietness of the people of Dumah, who were night and day in fear of their enemies, and ever ran to and fro to enquire news.

12. The morning cometh, and also the night] The watchman’s answer is designedly obscure. It may mean either that the seer has obtained no clear vision of the destiny in store for Edom; or that he foresees a transient gleam of prosperity to be followed by a new night of distress; or that hope is dawning for some and gloom settling down on others.

if ye will inquire …] The answer is not final; another time the purpose of Jehovah may be more clearly indicated, if Edom earnestly desires to know it. For return, come render with R.V. marg. come again. It is impossible to suppose that “return” is used in the sense of “be converted to the worship of Jehovah.” The words for “cometh,” “inquire” (twice) and “come” are Aramaic.Verse 12. - The morning cometh, and also the night. An oracular reply, but probably meaning

(1) that a brighter time would soon dawn upon the Edomite people; and

(2) that this brighter time would be followed by a return of misery and affliction. We may (conjecturally) understand the "morning" of the earlier part of Sennacherib's reign, when Edom was at peace with Assyria, merely paying a moderate tribute (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 132), and the "night" of the later period in the same king's reign, when (about B.C. 694-690) the country suffered from another Assyrian invasion, in which the king's treasures and his gods were carried off to Nineveh (ibid., p. 137). If ye will inquire, inquire ye; return, come. Some take this very literally, as meaning, "If ye would inquire further into the meaning of this answer, do so; return to me; come again." But this implies that the Edomites had sent an actual messenger to make the inquiry of ver. 5, which is improbable. Others understand a reproach to Edom: "If ye will have recourse to God in the time of trouble, do so; but then do more - return to him altogether; come, and be one with Judah." The prophecy is continued with the conjunction "for" (ci). The tacit link in the train of thought is this: they act thus in Babylon, because the destruction of Babylon is determined. The form in which this thought is embodied is the following: the prophet receives instruction in the vision to set a metzappeh upon the watch-tower, who was to look out and see what more took place. "For thus said the Lord to me, Go, set a spy; what he seeth, let him declare." In other cases it is the prophet himself who stands upon the watch-tower (Isaiah 21:11; Habakkuk 2:1-2); but here in the vision a distinction is made between the prophet and the person whom he stations upon the watch-tower (specula). The prophet divides himself, as it were, into two persons (compare Isaiah 18:4 for the introduction; and for the expression "go," Isaiah 20:2). He now sees through the medium of a spy, just as Zechariah sees by means of the angel speaking in him; with this difference, however, that here the spy is the instrument employed by the prophet, whereas there the prophet is the instrument employed by the angel.
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