Isaiah 21:6
For thus has the LORD said to me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.
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(6) Go, set a watchman . . .—The prophet is, as it were, placed in vision on a lofty watch-tower, and reports what meets his gaze, or that of the watchman with whom he identifies himself (Ezekiel 33:7). (Comp. the striking parallel of Habakkuk 2:1-2.)

Isaiah 21:6. For thus hath the Lord said unto me — I speak only what God hath caused me to see and hear in a vision, the particulars whereof are related in the following verses. “The Holy Spirit, to make Isaiah, and, by him, the church, most certain of this memorable event, confirms the preceding revelation by an elegant emblem, offered to the prophet in vision. This emblem exhibits to us the prophet commanded by God to set a watchman, in this verse; and, in what follows, the consequence of the execution of the command, namely, that the watchman attended accurately to the least motion of the nations against Babylon, and, after long expectation, had discovered” what is afterward related. See Vitringa. The reader will observe, that as the command to set a watchman was given to the prophet in a vision, so it was executed by him only in a vision. It signified, however, what should really be done afterward, namely, when the Medes and Persians should march to besiege and attack Babylon.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.Go, set a watchman - This was said to Isaiah in the vision. He represents himself as in Babylon, and as hearing God command him to set a watchman on the watch-tower who would announce what was to come to pass. All this is designed merely to bring the manner of the destruction of the city more vividly before the eye. 6. Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth—God's direction to Isaiah to set a watchman to "declare" what he sees. But as in Isa 21:10, Isaiah himself is represented as the one who "declared." Horsley makes him the "watchman," and translates, "Come, let him who standeth on the watchtower report what he seeth." Thus hath the Lord said unto me; I speak not my own fancies, but what God hath made me to see and hear in a vision; the particulars whereof are related in the following verses.

A watchman; either,

1. A prophet; such being oft so called, as Ezekiel 3:17 33:2. Or rather,

2. A military watchman. For this was now done only in a vision, which yet did foresignify what should be done really afterwards.

Let him declare, to thee in vision, to them really. For thus hath the Lord said unto me,.... This is a confirmation of the above prophecy from the Lord himself, he showing to the prophet, in a visionary way, the ruin of Babylon, and the means and instruments of it:

go, set a watchman; not Habakkuk, as Jarchi; nor Urias, as the Septuagint; nor Jeremiah, as others; but himself, who, in a way of vision, represented a watchman on the walls of Babylon; and which was no way unsuitable to his character and office as a prophet:

let him declare what he seeth; what he sees coming at a distance, or at hand, let him faithfully and publicly make it known: these are not the words of the king of Babylon to one of his watchmen; but of the Lord of hosts to his prophet.

For thus hath the {i} Lord said to me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

(i) That is, in a vision by the spirit of prophecy.

6. Go, set, &c.] Render, Go set the watchman, what he seeth he shall declare.

6–9. Hitherto the prophet has spoken of his vision as a thing “announced” to him; now he proceeds to describe, in a very interesting passage, the method of its communication. The delineation is figurative, but seems in some sense to imply a dual consciousness of the writer. The watchman is the prophet himself in the ecstatic condition; he then sees and hears things beyond human ken. Meanwhile his ordinary waking consciousness is not suspended, but is ready to receive and transmit to the world the “watchman’s” report. The same figure is somewhat differently applied in Habakkuk 2:1. For the expression, cf. Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:7.Verse 6. - Go, set a watchman. The event is not to be immediate, it is to be watched for; and Isaiah is not to watch himself, but to set the watchman. Moreover, the watchman waits long before he sees anything (ver. 8). These unusual features of the narrative seem to mark a remote, not a near, accomplishment of the prophecy. But if Egypt and Ethiopia are thus shamefully humbled, what kind of impression will this make upon those who rely upon the great power that is supposed to be both unapproachable and invincible? "And they cry together, and behold themselves deceived by Ethiopia, to which they looked, and by Egypt, in which they gloried. And the inhabitant of this coast-land saith in that day, Behold, thus it happens to those to whom we looked, whither we fled for help to deliver us from the king of Asshur: and how should we, we escape?" אי, which signifies both an island and a coast-land, is used as the name of Philistia and Zephaniah 2:5, and as the name of Phoenicia in Isaiah 23:2, Isaiah 23:6; and for this reason Knobel and others understand it here as denoting the former with the inclusion of the latter. But as the Assyrians had already attacked both Phoenicians and Philistines at the time when they marched against Egypt, there can be no doubt that Isaiah had chiefly the Judaeans in his mind. This was the interpretation given by Jerome ("Judah trusted in the Egyptians, and Egypt will be destroyed"), and it has been adopted by Ewald, Drechsler, Luzzatto, and Meier. The expressions are the same as those in which a little further on we find Isaiah reproving the Egyptian tendencies of Judah's policy. At the same time, by "the inhabitant of this coast-land" we are not to understand Judah exclusively, but the inhabitants of Palestine generally, with whom Judah was mixed up to its shame, because it had denied its character as the nation of Jehovah in a manner so thoroughly opposed to its theocratic standing.

Unfortunately, we know very little concerning the Assyrian campaigns in Egypt. But we may infer from Nahum 3:8-10, according to which the Egyptian Thebes had fallen (for it is held up before Nineveh as the mirror of its own fate), that after the conquest of Ashdod Egypt was also overcome by Sargon's army. In the grand inscription found in the halls of the palace at Khorsabad, Sargon boasts of a successful battle which he had fought with Pharaoh Sebech at Raphia, and in consequence of which the latter became tributary to him. Still further on he relates that he had dethroned the rebellious king of Ashdod, and appointed another in his place, but that the people removed him, and chose another king; after which he marched with his army against Ashdod, and when the king fled from him into Egypt, he besieged Ashdod, and took it. Then follows a difficult and mutilated passage, in which Rawlinson agrees with Oppert in finding an account of the complete subjection of Sebech (Sabako?).

(Note: Five Great Monarchies, vol. ii. pp. 416-7; compare Oppert, Sargonides, pp. 22, 26-7. With regard to one passage of the annals, which contains an account of a successful battle fought at Ra-bek (Heliopolis), see Journal Asiat. xii. 462ff.; Brandis, p. 51.)

Nothing can be built upon this, however; and it must also remain uncertain whether, even if the rest is correctly interpreted, Isaiah 20:1 relates to that conquest of Ashdod which was followed by the dethroning of the rebellious king and the appointment of another, or to the final conquest by which it became a colonial city of Assyria.

(Note: Among the pictures from Khorsabad which have been published by Botta, there is a burning fortress that has been taken by storm. Isidor Lwenstern (in his Essai, Paris 1845) pronounced it to be Ashdod; but Rdiger regarded the evidence as inconclusive. Nevertheless, Lwenstern was able to claim priority over Rawlinson in several points of deciphering (Galignani's Messenger, Revelation 28, 1850). He read in the inscription the king's name, Sarak.)

This conquest Sargon ascribes to himself in person, so that apparently we must think of that conquest which was carried out by Tartan; and in that case the words, "he fought against it," etc., need not be taken as anticipatory. It is quite sufficient, that the monuments seem to intimate that the conquest of Samaria and Ashdod was followed by the subjugation of the Egypto-Ethiopian kingdom. But inasmuch as Judah, trusting in the reed of Egypt, fell away from Assyria under Hezekiah, and Sennacherib had to make war upon Egypt again, to all appearance the Assyrians never had much cause to congratulate themselves upon their possession of Egypt, and that for reasons which are not difficult to discover. At the time appointed by the prophecy, Egypt came under the Assyrian yoke, from which it was first delivered by Psammetichus; but, as the constant wars between Assyria and Egypt clearly show, it never patiently submitted to that yoke for any length of time. The confidence which Judah placed in Egypt turned out most disastrously for Judah itself, just as Isaiah predicted here. But the catastrophe that occurred in front of Jerusalem did not put an end to Assyria, nor did the campaigns of Sargon and Sennacherib bring Egypt to an end. And, on the other hand, the triumphs of Jehovah and of the prophecy concerning Assyria were not the means of Egypt's conversion. In all these respects the fulfilment showed that there was an element of human hope in the prophecy, which made the distant appear to be close at hand. And this element it eliminated. For the fulfilment of a prophecy is divine, but the prophecy itself is both divine and human.

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