Isaiah 21:3
Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it.
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(3) Therefore are my loins filled with pain . . .—Comp. Nahum 2:10; Ezekiel 21:6; and for the image of the “woman in travail,” Isaiah 13:8; Jeremiah 30:6. The vision of destruction is so terrible that it over-powers all feeling of exultation, and oppresses the prophet like a horrible nightmare.

Isaiah 21:3-4. Therefore my loins, &c. — “We have here a symbolical description of the greatness of the Babylonish calamity; the prophet exhibiting in himself, as in a figure, an emblem of the extreme distress, consternation, and horror, which should ensue on this occasion.” See Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:8-9; Luke 21:26. He speaks of his loins being filled with pain, with a reference to the following similitude of child- bearing. Pangs have taken hold on me — Sharp and grievous pains, or extreme anguish, as the word ציריםproperly means, torments like those of a woman in labour. I was, or, rather, I am, bowed down — Oppressed with an intolerable load of sorrow and distress, at the hearing of it — Hebrew, משׁמע, that I cannot (that is, cannot endure to) hear it. So Dr. Waterland, who reads the three next clauses thus: I am dismayed that l cannot see it: my heart panteth: horror confounds me. Such was the distress and anguish, the confusion and dismay, undoubtedly, of myriads of the inhabitants of Babylon, on the night when the city was unexpectedly taken; and particularly of Belshazzar, when he saw the hand that wrote, and the writing on the wall, and especially when he heard Daniel’s interpretation of it. Then, indeed, was the night of his pleasure turned into fear unto him, in which remarkable words the prophet alludes to the circumstance of Babylon’s being taken in the night of an annual festival, “while the inhabitants were dancing, drinking, and revelling, which is more fully set forth in the next verse.” According to Herodotus, the extreme parts of the city were in the hands of the enemy, before they, who dwelt in the middle of it, knew any thing of their danger.

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.Therefore - In this verse, and the following, the prophet represents himself as "in" Babylon, and as a witness of the calamities which would come upon the city. He describes the sympathy which he feels in her sorrows, and represents himself as deeply affected by her calamities. A similar description occurred in the pain which the prophet represents himself as enduring on account of the calamities of Moab (see Isaiah 15:5, note; Isaiah 16:11, note).

My loins - (see the note at Isaiah 16:11).

With pain - The word used here (חלחלה chalchâlâh) denotes properly the pains of parturition, and the whole figure is taken from that. The sense is, that the prophet was filled with the most acute sorrow and anguish, in view of the calamities which were coming on Babylon. That is, the sufferings of Babylon would be indescribably great and dreadful (see Nahum 2:11; Ezekiel 30:4, Ezekiel 30:9).

I was bowed down - Under the grief and sorrow produced by these calamities.

At the hearing it - The Hebrew may have this sense, and mean that these things were made to pass before the eye of the prophet, and that the sight oppressed him, and bowed him down. But more probably the Hebrew letter מ (m) in the word משׁמע mishemoa' is to be taken "privatively," and means, 'I was so bowed down or oppressed that I could not see; I was so dismayed that I could not hear;' that is, all his senses were taken away by the greatness of the calamity, and by his sympathetic sufferings. A similar construction occurs in Psalm 69:23 : 'Let their eyes be darkened that they see not' (מראות mēre'ôth) that is, "from" seeing.

3. Isaiah imagines himself among the exiles in Babylon and cannot help feeling moved by the calamities which come on it. So for Moab (Isa 15:5; 16:11).

pain—(Compare Isa 13:8; Eze 30:4, 19; Na 2:10).

at the hearing—The Hebrew may mean, "I was so bowed down that I could not hear; I was so dismayed that I could not see" (Ge 16:2; Ps 69:23) [Maurer].

My loins; which he mentions with respect to the following similitude of child-bearing, in which the loins are sorely pained. And this the prophet speaks, either,

1. In the name and person of the Babylonian. Or rather,

2. In his own name; which is most natural, and agrees best with the last clause of the verse, which plainly speaks of the torment which he had in the mere hearing of the word, and seeing the vision, and not of that which they had in the feeling of it; although the latter is implied in the former; and the prophet expresseth his horror in hearing and seeing, to intimate the dreadful horror which should seize upon them when it came upon them.

As the pangs of a woman that travaileth; sharp and grievous pains.

Therefore are my loins filled with pain,.... As a woman at the time of childbirth, as the following words show: these words are spoken by the prophet, not with respect to himself, as if he was pained at heart at the prophecy and vision he had of the ruin of Babylon, since that was a mortal enemy of his people; and besides, their sighing being made to cease could never be a reason of distress in him, but of joy: these words are spoken by him in the person of the Babylonians, and particularly of Belshazzar their king:

pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth; which come suddenly and at once, are very sharp and strong, and inevitable, which cannot be escaped; so the sudden destruction of the wicked, and particularly of antichrist at the last day, and the terror that shall attend it, are expressed by the same metaphor, 1 Thessalonians 5:2,

I was bowed down at the hearing of it; distorted and convulsed; not the prophet at the hearing of the prophecy, but Belshazzar, whom he personated, at hearing that Cyrus had entered the city, and was at the gates of his palace:

I was dismayed at the seeing of it; the handwriting upon the wall, at which his countenance changed, his thoughts were troubled, his loins loosed, and his knees smote one against another, Daniel 5:6.

Therefore are my {f} loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it.

(f) This the prophet speaks in the person of the Babylonians.

3. are my loins filled with pain] Nahum 2:10.

I was bowed down at the hearing …] or, as R.V. I am pained so that I cannot hear, &c. Similar metaphorical descriptions of mental anguish are frequent.

3, 4. The agitation and terror of the prophet.

Verse 3. - Therefore are my loins filled with pain, etc. (comp. above, Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:9-11). The prophet is horrorstruck at the vision shown him - at the devastation, the ruin, the carnage (Isaiah 13:18). He does not stop to consider how well deserved the punishment is; he does not, perhaps, as yet know how that, in smiting Babylon, God will be specially avenging the sufferings of his own nation (see the introductory paragraph). I was bowed down at the hearing, etc.; rather, I am so agonized that I cannot hear; I am so terrified that I cannot see. Isaiah 21:3Here again, as in the case of the prophecy concerning Moab, what the prophet has given to him to see does not pass without exciting his feelings of humanity, but works upon him like a horrible dream. "Therefore are my loins full of cramp: pangs have taken hold of me, as the pangs of a travailing woman: I twist myself, so that I do not hear; I am brought down with fear, so that I do not see. My heart beats wildly; horror hath troubled me: the darkness of night that I love, he hath turned for me into quaking." The prophet does not describe in detail what he saw; but the violent agitation produced by the impression leads us to conclude how horrible it must have been. Chalchâlâh is the contortion produced by cramp, as in Nahum 2:11; tzirim is the word properly applied to the pains of childbirth; na‛avâh means to bend, or bow one's self, and is also used to denote a convulsive utterance of pain; tâ‛âh, which is used in a different sense from Psalm 95:10 (compare, however, Psalm 38:11), denotes a feverish and irregular beating of the pulse. The darkness of evening and night, which the prophet loved so much (chēshek, a desire arising from inclination, 1 Kings 9:1, 1 Kings 9:19), and always longed for, either that he might give himself up to contemplation, or that he might rest from outward and inward labour, had bee changed into quaking by the horrible vision. It is quite impossible to imagine, as Umbreit suggests, that nesheph chishki (the darkness of my pleasure) refers to the nocturnal feast during which Babylon was stormed (Herod. i. 191, and Xenophon, Cyrop. vii. 23).
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