Daily Family Worship

Isaiah 21: Against Babylon, Edom, and Arabia

by | May 20, 2023

Isaiah 21

Part 1

isaiah 21

We had one prophecy against Babylon before, in chapter 13; and here we have another prediction of its fall. God saw fit to thus assure His people of the certainty of this event, because Babylon sometimes pretended to be a friend to them (such as in chapter 39:1), and He did not want them to trust in that friendship. At other times, Babylon played the part of an enemy to His people, and He also did not want them to be afraid of that enmity. Babylon was marked for ruin; and all who believed the Lord’s prophets could see her tottering and tumbling with the eye of faith, even when they saw her flourishing and sitting like a queen with the physical eye.

Babylon is here referred to as “the desert of the sea” – for it was a flat country and full of lakes, like little seas; and it was abundantly watered with the many streams of the Euphrates River. But even before it arrived at that pitch of eminency which it stood at in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, God (through Isaiah) plainly foretold its fall – over and over again. This was so that His people might not be terrified at Babylon’s rise, nor despair of relief in the proper time when they became its prisoners (Job 5:3; Ps. 37:35-36). And the destruction of Babylon was so often predicted by Isaiah, the evangelical prophet, because the fall of Babylon was a picture of the destruction of the great enemy of Christ’s Church.

Verse 5 represents the posture in which Babylon would be found when the enemy would surprise it – all in festive mirth. They had prepared their table with all manner of dainties. They had posted their guards to watch in the watchtower while they ate and drank securely and made merry. And if any alarm was given, the princes would arise and prepare their shields, and be ready to give the enemy a warm reception. Thus secure they were in the midst of their feasting and frivolity, as if they were invincible. But alas! A description is given of the alarm which would be given to Babylon, upon its being attacked by Cyrus and Darius! The Lord, in vision, showed Isaiah the watchman standing on guard in his watchtower; and according to the duty of a watchman, he was to declare what he saw (verse 6). This watchman observed a chariot with a couple of horsemen in it. In this chariot, we may suppose that the commander-in-chief of the enemy army would ride. The man then saw another chariot drawn by donkeys, which were commonly used among the Persians; as well as a chariot drawn by camels, which were likewise greatly in use among the Medes. So these two chariots signified those two nations combined against Babylon. Alas for the king of Babylon! His city is being taken at one end, while he is reveling at the other end and knows nothing of the perilous situation! The watchman, seeing these chariots at some distance, cried out, “A lion!” – of course, in order to attract everyone’s attention to the great danger that was approaching. He professes his constancy (verse 8) to the post assigned to him: “I stand, my lord, continually upon the watchtower; and have never seen anything dangerous until just now! All seemed safe and quiet.” And then he gives notice of the terrifying discoveries of the enemy which he had just made (verse 9).

In the vision, the man in the chariot heard the watchman speak; and he answered him thus: “Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods hath he broken unto the ground!” (verse 9) Babylon was the mother of idolatry, which was one of the grounds of God’s quarrel with her; but her idols would now be so far from protecting her, that some of them would be broken down to the ground – and the rest of them, the metal of which was worth carrying away, would go into captivity and be a burden to the beasts that carried them (chapter 46:1-2).

Notice is given to the people of God, who would then be captives in Babylon, that this prophecy of the downfall of Babylon was particularly intended for their comfort and encouragement (verse 10). And they might depend upon it that it would certainly be accomplished in due season. Observe the title which the prophet gives them in God’s name: “O my threshing, and the corn of my floor!” The Church is God’s threshing-floor, in which the most valuable fruits and products of this earth are gathered together and laid up, so to speak. And true believers are the corn of the Lord’s threshing-floor; while the hypocrites are only like the chaff and straw, which take up a great deal of room, but are of small value. The wheat is now mixed with the chaff, but they shall ultimately be separated from one another – shortly and forever. The corn of God’s threshing-floor must expect to be threshed by afflictions and persecutions, such as they were under during the Babylonian exile; but even then, God acknowledges them as His own. In fact, the threshing is by His appointment, and under His restraint and direction. The threshers could have no power against His people, unless it was given them from above.

Isaiah assures God’s people of the truth of the words of the prophecy concerning the doom of Babylon, so that they might build their hopes thereupon (verse 10). In all events concerning the Church – past, present, and future – we must remember that the Lord has power enough to do anything for her, and grace enough to do everything that is for her good.

Part 2

isaiah 21

Verses 11 and 12 contain a very short prophecy concerning Dumah, and it somewhat difficult to be understood. Dumah is another name for Idumea, or Edom (also known as Mount Seir) – the country of the Edomites, who were one of Israel’s neighbors. (The Edomites were the descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau.) Their distress is foretold in this chapter – not only for a warning to them to be prepared for it; but also for a warning to God’s people, so that they would not be tempted to depend upon them (or any of the other nations around them) for relief in a time of danger, but upon Jehovah alone. Although the explanation of this prophecy may be difficult, the application is easy.

A question is put by an Edomite to the watchman (verse 11). Just as the man of Macedonia, in a vision, desired Paul to come over and help them (Acts 16:9); so also, this man of Mount Seir, in a vision, desired the prophet (here represented as the watchman) to inform and instruct them. The question is serious: “What of the night?” And it is addressed to a proper person – the watchman, whose office it is to answer such enquiries. The man repeats the question, as one who is earnest and desirous to have an answer. God’s faithful ministers are appointed to be spiritual watchmen, and it is our duty to enquire of them – especially to ask again and again, “‘What of the night?’ After this long, dark night of sin – is there any hope of the day dawning?” After a long sleep in sin and false security, is it not high time to arise and awake out of sleep? (Rom. 13:11) We have a great deal of work to do, and a long journey to take; is it not time to be up and active?

The watchman’s answer to this question is in verse 12. He was neither asleep nor silent; he was ready to give an answer: “The morning comes!” To this man of Edom who is in the midnight of sin, the prophet gives an answer of the Gospel! He promises him that a morning of spiritual light, peace, and opportunity is coming. But the prophet also warns him that “the morning cometh, and also the night.” God gives the morning of Gospel-opportunity before He sends the night of death; and so all who die in darkness, without believing that Gospel, will be left inexcusable. “If ye will enquire,” continues the prophet, “enquire ye: return, come!” He has set before the Edomite the matchless Gospel-light of grace and salvation; now he invites him to inquire further if he did not completely understand, and he urges him to “come” – just as Jesus Himself does! (John 7:37; Rev. 22:17)

Arabia was a large country that lay eastward and southward of the land of Canaan. Some of Arabia’s inhabitants were the Dedanim, the Temanites, and the Kedarites, who were all descendants of other sons of Abraham besides Isaac. The Arabians generally lived in tents, and kept cattle; they were a hardy people who were used to labor. The Jews probably depended upon them as a sort of a wall between themselves and the more warlike eastern nations; and therefore, in order to alarm them, they were to hear the burden of Arabia and see it sinking under its own burden (verse 13-17).

A destroying army would be brought upon the Arabians with a drawn sword, a bent bow, and all the grievousness of war (verse 15). It is probable that the king of Assyria went through Arabia in some of the marches of his formidable and victorious army; and since he met with little resistance, he made an easy prey of them. The consideration of the grievousness of war should make us thankful for the blessings of peace when we have them.

The poor country people would hereby be forced to flee for shelter wherever they could find a place. And the travelers of Dedanim who used to keep to the high roads with their caravans would be obliged to leave them and lodge in the forest (verse 13). They would stand in need of refreshment, after their flight from the invading army (verse 14). The Temanites had compassion on those who were obliged to flee from the sword, and they gave them bread and water which they greatly needed – even though Tema was a place where water was sometimes a scarce commodity. It would be good for us to learn hereby to look with kindness upon those who are in distress, and to relieve them with all cheerfulness.

All the glory of the Kedarites is spoken of (verses 16-17) as vanishing away and failing. They gloried in their numerous herds and flocks, but they would all be driven away by the enemy. It seems that they were famous for their use of the bow in battle; but their archers, instead of foiling the enemy, would fall themselves. And the remnant of their number would be diminished. The skill of archers (although they may be very good marksmen) and the courage of mighty men cannot protect a nation from the judgments of God. It is poor glory indeed which will thus quickly come to nothing.

All of this would be done in a little time: “Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail” (verse 16). This warning was given to the Arabians so that they might be awakened to repentance, and so that – like the men of Nineveh – they might prevent the judgment when it was just at the door. And the prophet assured his hearers that all of this was ratified by the truth of God: “Thus hath the Lord said to me!” And we may be sure that no word of His shall fall to the ground!

Thank You, Lord, for shining Your Gospel-light upon us and calling us to rise up out of our spiritual sleep of sin and darkness! Amen.

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photo of part of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, built circa 575 BC during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar; photo by Corbin Mathias  |  Unsplash.com
sunrise photo by Dawid Zawiła  |  Unsplash.com