Isaiah 21:13
The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim.
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(13) The burden upon Arabia.—Better, of the evening land. Here, again, the prophet alters the form of the word (Arab into Ereb) so as to convey a mystic meaning. The land of which he is about to speak is a land of shadow and of gloom. Evening is falling on it. It is a question whether the second Arabia is to retain its geographical form or to be translated “evening,” as before. In any case, of course, Arabia is the country spoken of. The “Dedanites” appear in Jeremiah 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13, and seem from Ezekiel 27:15 to have been dwelling in the neighbourhood of the Edomites (Jeremiah 49:8) as a commercial people trading with Tyre in ebony and ivory. The point of the oracle against them is that they shall be compelled by the presence of the Assyrian armies to leave the main lines of their traffic, probably, as before, on their way westward to Tyre, and to take bye-paths, pitching their tents not near towns and villages, but in the low brushwood of the wilderness.

Isaiah 21:13. The burden of Arabia — “While God revealed to his prophet the fate of foreign nations, among others he declares that of those Arabians who inhabited the western part of Arabia Deserta, or Petrea,” and bordered upon the Idumeans last mentioned. They are here termed the companies of Dedanim, being the descendants of Dedan, the son of Jokshan, the son of Abraham by Keturah; and travelling companies, because a great number of them used to travel together the same way, as now companies travelling together in those parts are called caravans. In saying, In the forest shall ye lodge, the prophet foretels that they should be driven into flight by the Assyrians, or that that populous country should be turned into a desolate wilderness.

21:13-17 The Arabians lived in tents, and kept cattle. A destroying army shall be brought upon them, and make them an easy prey. We know not what straits we may be brought into before we die. Those may know the want of necessary food who now eat bread to the full. Neither the skill of archers, nor the courage of mighty men, can protect from the judgments of God. That is poor glory, which will thus quickly come to nothing. Thus hath the Lord said to me; and no word of his shall fall to the ground. We may be sure the Strength of Israel will not lie. Happy are those only whose riches and glory are out of the reach of invaders; all other prosperity will speedily pass away.Analysis of Isaiah 21:13-17. - Vision 18. "Arabia."

The remainder of this chapter is occupied with a single prophecy respecting Arabia. It was "probably" delivered about the time that the former was uttered - during the reign of Hezekiah, and before the invasion of Sennacherib. It had reference, I suppose, to Sennacherib; and was designed to foretell the fact that, either in his march to attack Judea, or on his return from Egypt, he would pass through Arabia, and perhaps oppress and overthrow some of their clans. At all events, it was to be fulfilled within a year after it was uttered Isaiah 21:16, and refers to "some" foreign invasion that was to conic upon their land. Rosenmuller supposes that it relates to the same period as the prophecy in Jeremiah 49:28, following, and refers to the time when Nebuchadnezzar sent Nebuzaradan to overran the lands of the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Philistines, the Arabians, the Idumeans, and others who had revolted from him, and who had formed an alliance with Zedekiah.

The sentiment of the prophecy is simple - that within a year the country of Arabia would be overrun by a foreign enemy. The form and manner of the prophecy is highly poetic and beautiful. The images are drawn from customs and habits which pertain to the Arabians, and which characterize them to this day. In Isaiah 21:13, the prophecy opens with a declaration that the caravans that were accustomed to pass peacefully through Arabia would be arrested by the apprehension of war. They would seek a place of refuge in the forests and fastnesses of the land. Thither also the prophet sees the Arabians flocking, as if to exercise the rites of hospitality, and to minister to the needs of the oppressed and weary travelers. But the reasons why "they" are there, the prophet sees to be that "they" are oppressed and driven out of their land by a foreign invader, and "they" also seek the same places of security and of refuge Isaiah 21:14-15. All this would be accomplished within a year Isaiah 21:16; and the result would be, that the inhabitants of Arabia would be greatly diminished Isaiah 21:17.

Isaiah 21:13

The burden - (see the note at Isaiah 13:1).

Upon Arabia - (בערב ba‛ărâb). This is an unusual form. The title of the prophecies is usually without the ב (b) rendered 'upon.' Lowth supposes this whole title to be of doubtful authority, chiefly because it is missing in most MSS. of the Septuagint. The Septuagint connects it with the preceding prophecy respecting Dumab, and makes this a continuance of that. The preposition ב (b) - 'upon,' means here "respecting, concerning," and is used instead of על ‛al as in Zechariah 9:1. Arabia is a well-known country of western Asia, lying south and southeast of Judea. It was divided into three parts, Arabia Deserta, on the east; Arabia Petrea, lying south of Judea; and Arabia Felix, lying still further south. What part of Arabia is here denoted it may not be easy to determine. It is probable that it was Arabia Petrea, because this lay between Judea and Egypt, and would be exposed to invasion by the Assyrians should they invade Egypt; and because this part of Arabia furnished, more than the others, such retreats and fastnesses as are mentioned in Isaiah 21:13-15.

In the forest - (ביער baya‛ar). The word (יער ya‛ar) 'forest' usually denotes a grove, a collection of trees. But it may mean here, any place of refuge from a pursuing foe; a region of thick underwood; an uncultivated, inaccessible place, where they would be concealed from an invading enemy. The word rendered 'forest' is commonly supposed to mean a forest in the sense in which that word is now used by us, meaning an extensive wood - large tract of land covered with trees. It is doubtful, however, whether the word is so used in the Bible. The Rev. Eli Smith stated to me that he had visited several of the places in Palestine to which the word (יער ya‛ar) 'forest' or 'grove' is given, and that he was satisfied that there never was a forest there in our use of the word. The same word יער ya‛ar - the י (y) not being used to begin a word in Arabic, but the ו (v) being used instead of it - occurs often in Arabic. It means, as used by the Arabs, a rough, stony, impassable place; a place where there are no roads; which is inaccessible; and which is a safe retreat for robbers - and it is not improbable that the word is so used here.

In Arabia - (בערב ba‛ărâb). The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Chaldee, understand this of the "evening" - 'In the evening.' The word ערב ‛ereb, with different points from those which the Masorites have used here, means "evening," but there is no necessity of departing from the translation in our English version. The sense would not be materially affected whichever rendering should be preferred.

Shall ye lodge - Shall you pass the night. This is the usual signification of the word. But here it may be taken in a larger sense, as denoting that they would pitch their tents there, or that they would seek a refuge there. The sense I suppose to be this: 'O ye traveling caravans of Dedan! Ye were accustomed to pass through Arabia, and to find a safe and hospitable entertainment there. But now, the Arabians shall be overrun by a foreign enemy; they shall be unable to show you hospitality, and to insure your safety in their tents, and for fear of the enemy still in the land you will be obliged to seek a lodging in the inaccessible thickets of the forests.' The passage is intended to denote the "change" that had taken place, and to show the "insecurity" for caravans.

O ye traveling companies - Ye "caravans" (ארחות 'orechôt). This word usually signifies "ways, paths, cross roads." But it is used here evidently to denote those who "traveled" in such ways or paths; that is, caravans of merchants. So it is used in Job 6:19 : 'The caravans of Tema.' It is well known that in the East it is usual for large companies to travel together, called "caravans." Arabia Petrea was a great thoroughfare for such companies.

Of Dedanim - Descendants of "Dedan." There are two men of this name mentioned in the Old Testament - the son of Raamah, the son of Cush, mentioned in Genesis 10:7; and the son of Jokshan, the son of Abraham by Keturah Genesis 25:3. The descendants of the latter settled in Arabia Petrea, and the descendants of the former near the Persian Gulf. It is not easy to determine which is here intended, though most probably those who dwelt near the Persian Gulf, because they are often mentioned as merchants. They dealt in ivory, ebony, etc., and traded much with Tyre Ezekiel 27:21, and doubtless also with Egypt. They are here represented as passing through Arabia Petrea on their way to Egypt, and as compelled by the calamities in the country to find a refuge in its fastnesses and inaccessible places.

Isa 21:13-17. Prophecy that Arabia Would Be Overrun by a Foreign Foe within a Year.

Probably in the wars between Assyria and Egypt; Idumea and Arabia lay somewhat on the intermediate line of march.

13. upon—that is, respecting.

forest—not a grove of trees, but a region of thick underwood, rugged and inaccessible; for Arabia has no forest of trees.

travelling companies—caravans: ye shall be driven through fear of the foe to unfrequented routes (Isa 33:8; Jud 5:6; Jer 49:8 is parallel to this passage).

Dedanim—In North Arabia (Ge 25:3; Jer 25:23; Eze 25:13; 27:20; a different "Dedan" occurs Ge 10:7).

In the forest; not as you used to do, in the houses or tents of the Arabians; whereby he implies that that populous country should be turned into a desolate wilderness.

Travelling companies: in those parts travellers then did and still do go together in companies. See Genesis 37:25,28 Job 6:19.

Dedanim; or, Dedamites; of whom see on Genesis 25:3 Jeremiah 25:23 49:8. These were merchants, and used to trade with Tyre, Ezekiel 27:20 38:13, and their way lay through the same parts of Arabia.

The burden upon Arabia,.... Which lay heavy upon it, as a burden upon a beast; or "concerning" it, or "against" it, as Kimchi notes; which Arabia, or what part thereof, is meant, may be gathered from the names after mentioned. The Targum is,

"the burden of the cup of cursing, to give the Arabians to drink.''

Ben Melech says, these are the Arabians that dwell in the wilderness:

in the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge; not in their tents and huts, which they had used to carry with them, and set up where they pleased; since now in their fright and flight they would leave them behind them, and so be obliged to take up their lodging in woods and forests; perhaps the desert of Arabia Petraea is meant:

O ye travelling companies of Dedanim; or Dedanites; these were Arabians that descended from Jokshan, a son of Abraham by Keturah, Genesis 25:3 who were either shepherds, who went in companies together with their flocks, and moved from place to place for the sake of pasture; or rather were merchants, who went in caravans and troops with their merchandise from one country to another; see Ezekiel 27:15 and who, because of the ravages of the enemy, would be glad of a lodging in the woods for security.

The burden upon Arabia. In {r} the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim.

(r) For fear, the Arabians will flee into the woods and he appoints the way they will take.

13. The burden upon Arabia] The Oracle “In Arabia” (or, “In the evening”). The catchword of the heading is taken from the second word of the oracle. LXX. omits the title and in the text renders, with a different pointing, “in the evening,” which gives a good sense (Psalm 30:5). The Massoretic reading may be translated “in Arabia” (Jeremiah 25:24) or “in the desert,” although the word occurs nowhere else in this sense. Forest must here mean either “scrub” or (like the corresponding Arab. wa‘r) “rough, stony ground.”

travelling companies] caravans, as Genesis 37:25.

Dedanim] Dedanites (R.V.). Dedan (Genesis 10:7; Genesis 25:3) was an important trading tribe of Arabia (Ezekiel 27:20; Ezekiel 38:13). Since it is mentioned in connexion with Edom (Jeremiah 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13), its possessions were probably somewhere near the north end of the Gulf of Akaba.

The oracle on Arabia, Isaiah 21:13-17

A vision (Isaiah 21:13-15) and its interpretation (Isaiah 21:16-17). A caravan of the merchant-tribe of Dedan is seen driven by stress of war from the regular route, and lurking in solitary places, destitute of food and water. The travellers are succoured by the hospitality of the neighbouring tribe of Tema (Isaiah 21:13-15). This vision symbolises a great destruction within a short time of the nomadic Arabs, purposed by Jehovah the God of Israel (16 f.). Here again positive indications of date are wanting. If the oracle belongs to the same group as the two which precede, the enemy would be the Persian conquerors of Babylonia, who are represented as attacking the Arabian caravans that traded under its auspices. A similar threat against Dedan forms part of a prophecy of Jeremiah against Edom in the time of Nebuchadnezzar (Isaiah 49:7 f.).

Verses 13-17. - THE BURDEN OF ARABIA. Edom will have companions in misfortune among the Arab tribes upon her borders, Dedan, Tema, and Kedar. War will enter their territory, derange their commerce (ver. 13), cause flight and privation (vers. 14, 15), and within a year greatly diminish the number of their fighting men (vers. 16, 17). The date of the prophecy is uncertain, but can scarcely be earlier than B.C. 715, when Sargon made an expedition into Arabia (O. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 66). Verse 13. - The burden upon Arabia; rather, in Arabia. The phrase is varied from its usual form, probably because it is not Arabia generally, but only certain of the more northern tribes, on whom calamity is about to fall. In the forest... shall ye lodge. The word used is commonly translated "forest;" but Arabia has no forests, and the meaning here must be "brushwood." Thorny bushes and shrubs are common in all parts of Arabia. The general meaning is that the caravans will have to leave the beaten track, and obtain such shelter and concealment as the scanty brushwood of the desert could afford. Ye traveling companies of Dedanim. The Dedanim, or Dedanites, were among the chief traders of the Arabian peninsula. They had commercial dealings with Tyre, which they supplied with ivory, ebony, and "precious clothes for chariots" (Ezekiel 27:15, 20). This trade they carried on by means of large caravans - the "travelling companies" of the present passage. They are thought to have had their chief settlements on the shores of the Persian Gulf, where the island of Dadan may be an echo of their name. Isaiah 21:13The heading בּערב משּׂא (the ע written according to the best codd. with a simple sheva), when pointed as we have it, signifies, according to Zechariah 9:1 (cf., Isaiah 9:7), "oracle against Arabia." But why not massâ ‛Arâb, since massâ is followed by a simple genitive in the other three headings? Or again, is this the only heading in the tetralogy that is not symbolical? We must assume that the Beth by which this is distinguished is introduced for the express purpose of rendering it symbolical, and that the prophet pointed it first of all בּערב, but had at the same time בּערב in his mind. The earlier translators (lxx, Targum, Syr., Vulg., Ar.) read the second בּערב like the first, but without any reason. The oracle commences with an evening scene, even without our altering the second בּערב. And the massa has a symbolical title founded upon this evening scene. Just as 'Edom becomes Dumah, inasmuch as a night without a morning dawn falls upon the mountain land of Seir, so will בּערב soon be בּערב, inasmuch as the sun of Arabia is setting. Evening darkness is settling upon Arabia, and the morning-land is becoming an evening-land. "In the wilderness in Arabia ye must pass the night, caravans of the Dedanians. Bring water to meet thirsty ones! The inhabitants of the land of Tema are coming with its bread before the fugitive. For they are flying before swords, before drawn swords, and before a bent bow, and before oppressive war." There is all the less ground for making any alteration in בּערב בּיער, inasmuch as the second Beth (wilderness in Arabia for of Arabia) is favoured by Isaiah's common usage (Isaiah 28:21; Isaiah 9:2; compare 2 Samuel 1:21; Amos 3:9). ‛Arab, written with pathach, is Arabia (Ezekiel 27:21; ‛arâb in pause, Jeremiah 25:24); and ya‛ar here is the solitary barren desert, as distinguished from the cultivated land with its cities and villages. Wetzstein rejects the meaning nemus, sylva, with ya‛ar has been assumed to have, because it would be rather a promise than a threat to be told that they would have to flee from the steppe into the wood, since a shady tree is the most delicious dream of the Beduins, who not only find shade in the forest, but a constant supply of green pasture, and fuel for their hospitable hearths. He therefore renders it, "Ye will take refuge in the V‛ar of Arabia," i.e., the open steppe will no longer afford you any shelter, so that ye will be obliged to hide yourselves in the V‛ar. Arab. wa‛ur for example, is the name applied to the trachytic rayon of the Syro-Hauranitic volcanoes which is covered with a layer of stones. But as the V‛ar in this sense is also planted with trees, and furnishes firewood, this epithet must rest upon some peculiar distinction in the radical meaning of the word ya‛ar, which really does mean a forest in Hebrew, though not necessarily a forest of lofty trees, but also a wilderness overgrown with brushwood and thorn-bushes. The meaning of the passage before us we therefore take to be this: the trading caravans ('ârchōth, like hailı̄coth in Job 6:19) of the Dedanians, that mixed tribe of Cushites and Abrahamides dwelling in the neighbourhood of the Edomites (Genesis 10:7; Genesis 25:3), when on their way from east to west, possibly to Tyre (Ezekiel 27:20), would be obliged to encamp in the wilderness, being driven out of the caravan road in consequence of the war that was spreading from north to south. The prophet, whose sympathy mingles with the revelation in this instance also, asks for water for the panting fugitives (התיוּ, as in Jeremiah 12:9, an imperative equivalent to האתיוּ equals האתיוּ; compare 2 Kings 2:3 : there is no necessity to read קדמוּ, as the Targum, Dderlein, and Ewald do). They are driven back with fright towards the south-east as far as Tema, on the border of Negd and the Syrian desert. The Tema referred to is not the trans-Hauranian Tm, which is three-quarters of an hour from Dumah, although there is a good deal that seems to favour this,

(Note: See Wetzstein, ut supra, p. 202; compare Job, ii.425.)

but the Tema on the pilgrim road from Damascus to Mecca, between Tebuk and Wadi el-Kora, which is about the same distance (four days' journey) from both these places, and also from Chaibar (it is to be distinguished, however, from Tihama, the coast land of Yemen, the antithesis of which is ne'gd, the mountain district of Yemen).

(Note: See Sprenger, Post und Reise-routen des Orients, Heft i.((1864), pp. 118, 119.))

But even here in the land of Tema they do not feel themselves safe. The inhabitants of Tema are obliged to bring them water and bread ("its bread," lachmo, referring to nōdēd: the bread necessary in order to save them), into the hiding-places in which they have concealed themselves. "How humiliating," as Drechsler well observes, "to be obliged to practise their hospitality, the pride of Arabian customs, in so restricted a manner, and with such unbecoming secrecy!" But it could not possibly be done in any other way, since the weapons of the foe were driving them incessantly before them, and the war itself was rolling incessantly forward like an overwhelming colossus, as the repetition of the word "before" (mippenē) no less than four times clearly implies.

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