William Kelly Major Works Commentary
The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land.Isaiah Chapter 21
Is this chapter, though not a long one, are three sentences of judgement - on Babylon (vv. 1-10), on Dumah (vv. 11, 12), and on Arabia (vv. 13-17).
"The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through, it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, Elam; besiege, Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease" (vv. 1, 2). There can be no doubt to any fair mind that the great Chaldean capital is referred to. The command to the Medes and Persians to go up and besiege is one indication; and so yet more is the graphic description of the sudden destruction in verses 3-5, which turned the night of revelry into the pangs of terror and death for the dissolute king and his court (Dan. 5). "Therefore are my loins filled with pain; pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman in travail; I am bowed down so as not to hear; I am dismayed so as not to see. My heart panteth, horror affrighteth me; the night of my pleasure hath he turned into trembling unto me" (vv. 3, 4). Is this vindictive feeling or language? It is a holy man of God deeply moved by the prophetic vision of the fall of Babylon, so awful and unexpected. Yet was Babylon Judah's captor.
"Prepare the table, appoint the watch; eat, drink; arise, ye princes, anoint the shield" (v. 5).
"For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman; let him declare what he seeth. And he saw chariots, horsemen by pairs, a chariot with asses, a chariot with camels, and he hearkened diligently with much heed. And he cried [as] a lion, Lord, I stand continually upon the watch-tower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward every night; and, behold, chariots of men come, horsemen by pairs. And he answered and said Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. O my threshing, and the corn of my floor! what I have heard of Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you" (vv. 6-10).
The latter part of the ninth verse crowns the proof, and expressly names Babylon's fall as the object intended. The prophet personifies the city or its people in verse 10.
Nevertheless there is somewhat to be noted in the phrase used of the doomed mistress of the world, especially as there seems to be an evident link between this enigmatic title, "the burden of the desert of the sea," and that applied to Jerusalem, "the burden of the valley of vision," in the beginning of Isa. 22. As the rise and glory of the first Gentile empire was only permitted sovereignly of God in consequence of hopeless idolatry in Judah and Jerusalem, so the judgement of Babylon was the epoch of deliverance for the Jewish remnant, the type of the final dealings of God with the last holder of the power which began with the golden head of the great image. There is thus a correlation between these two cities Jerusalem and Babylon - whether historical or symbolic; and as the latter is designated "the desert of the sea," the former is "the valley of vision." Jeremiah in his vision (Jeremiah 51:42) beholds the sea come up upon Babylon, so as to cover her with the multitude of the waves. In fact too we know to what a waste this seat of human pride sunk; and so; notoriously it remains until this day.
In verses 6-10 is set forth the twofold leadership of the coming invasion, or at least the twofold nationality of the armies that conquered. The watchman in the vision attests his vigilance, and reports what he saw. This is followed by the solemn tidings of Babylon's fall, and the prophet's seal on the truth of the announcement. The ruin also we saw in Isa. 13 - 14 irremediable, in the face of the fullest hope and stoutest purpose to make it the metropolis of the earth. So too predicted Jer. 50-51, that Babylon should sink and not rise again.
Next comes "the burden of Dumah," which some consider to border on, if not to be identified with, Idumea. "The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire; return, come" (vv. 11, 12). The Edomite cry is one of proud scorn and self-security. The brief answer is pregnant with serious expostulation. Let them not trust to hopes of the bright morn; for the dark and dangerous night would assuredly come. Nevertheless a door was still open for repentance. Let them "return, come." How great is the long-suffering of God, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance! But whatever man does or fails to do, His purpose stands, and the day of Jehovah will come as a thief; not more welcome, as little expected. Insult as the world may during the night, the morning will surely come. But there is no morning for the earth till He comes, Who was and is the true Light, and Whose it will be to judge the habitable earth. This is neither the gospel or church time, nor is it eternity when the new heavens and earth are wherein dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). It will be an age of government when He reigns Whose right it is, alone competent to put all evil down, and to maintain both the glory of God and the blessing of man, as He will surely do in that day.
As for "the burden upon Arabia," little remark is needed. "The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O travelling companies of Dedanites. Unto him that was thirsty they brought water; the inhabitants of the land of Tema did meet the fugitives with their bread. For they fled away from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of a hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail; and the residue of the number of the archers, the mighty men of the sons of Kedar, shall be diminished for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath spoken" (vv. 13-17). The thickets of Arabia* would be no more an effectual hiding place from the storm than the rocks and mountain fastnesses of Edom. It is not only the travelling companies or caravans of Dedan which are cast on the pity and care of the men of Tema; but utter wasting within a year is pronounced on the mighty men of the sons of Kedar. Man fails, great or small; Jehovah abides and will reign over this earth and all the races of mankind. What a gap there is in the outlook of all who do not believe in the world-kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ!
*Dr. Driver (Lit. of the O.T. 206) remarks that Arab denotes not Arabia In our sense of the word but a particular nomad tribe inhabiting the north of the Peninsula and mentioned (Ezekiel 27:21) with Dedan and Cedar as engaged in commerce with Tyre. Kedar was a wealthy pastoral tribe (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 49:29). Tema lay some 250 miles south-east of Edom. Sargon s troops were engaged in war with the Philistines in B.C. 720 and in 711; and it may be conjectured he adds that these two prophecies were delivered In view of an expected campaign of the Assyrians in the neighbouring regions in one of these years. How sad to leave God out of prophecy.
A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.
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.
My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed:
And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:
And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.
O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.
The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?
The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.
The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim.
The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, they prevented with their bread him that fled.
For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war.
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail:
And the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished: for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken it.