Isaiah 21


Prediction of the taking of Babylon by the Medes and Persians

at the time of a great festival, 1-9.

Short application of the prophecy to the Jews, partly in the

person of God, and partly in his own, 10.

Obscure prophecy respecting Dumah, 11, 12.

Prophecy concerning the Arabians to be fulfilled in a very

short time after its delivery, 13-17.

The first ten verses of this chapter contain a prediction of the

taking of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. It is a passage

singular in its kind for its brevity and force, for the variety

and rapidity of the movements, and for the strength and energy of

colouring with which the action and event are painted. It opens

with the prophet's seeing at a distance the dreadful storm that is

gathering and ready to burst upon Babylon. The event is intimated

in general terms, and God's orders are issued to the Persians and

Medes to set forth upon the expedition which he has given them in

charge. Upon this the prophet enters into the midst of the action;

and in the person of Babylon expresses, in the strongest terms,

the astonishment and horror that seizes her on the sudden surprise

of the city at the very season dedicated to pleasure and

festivity, Isa 21:3, 4. Then, in his own person, describes the

situation of things there, the security of the Babylonians, and in

the midst of their feasting the sudden alarm of war, Isa 21:5.

The event is then declared in a very singular manner. God orders

the prophet to set a watchman to look out, and to report what he

sees; he sees two companies marching onward, representing by their

appearance the two nations that were to execute God's orders, who

declare that Babylon is fallen, Isa 21:6-9.

But what is this to the prophet, and to the Jews, the object of

his ministry? The application, the end, and design of the prophecy

are admirably given in a short, expressive address to the Jews,

partly in the person of God, partly in that of the prophet: "O my

threshing-" "O my people, whom for your punishment I shall make

subject to the Babylonians, to try and to prove you, and to

separate the chaff from the corn, the bad from the good, among

you; hear this for your consolation: your punishment, your

slavery, and oppression will have an end in the destruction of

your oppressors."-L.


Verse 1. The desert of the sea] This plainly means Babylon,

which is the subject of the prophecy. The country about Babylon,

and especially below it towards the sea, was a great flat morass,

overflowed by the Euphrates and Tigris. It became habitable by

being drained by the many canals that were made in it.

Herodotus, lib. i. 184, says that "Semiramis confined the

Euphrates within its channel by raising great dams against it; for

before it overflowed the whole country like a sea." And Abydenus,

(quoting Megasthenes, apud Euseb. Praep. Evang. IX. 41,) speaking

of the building of Babylon by Nebuchadonosor, says, "it is

reported that all this part was covered with water, and was called

the sea; and that Belus drew off the waters, conveying them into

proper receptacles, and surrounded Babylon with a wall." When the

Euphrates was turned out of its channel by Cyrus, it was suffered

still to drown the neighbouring country; and, the Persian

government, which did not favour the place, taking no care to

remedy this inconvenience, it became in time a great barren

morassy desert, which event the title of the prophecy may perhaps

intimate. Such it was originally; such it became after the taking

of the city by Cyrus; and such it continues to this day.

As whirlwinds in the south-"Like the southern tempests"] The

most vehement storms to which Judea was subject came from the

desert country to the south of it. "Out of the south cometh the

whirlwind," Job 37:9. "And there came a great wind from the

wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house," Job 1:19.

For the situation of Idumea, the country (as I suppose) of Job,

see La 4:21 compared with Job 1:1, was the same in this respect

with that of Judea:-

"And JEHOVAH shall appear over them,

And his arrow shall go forth as the lightning;

And the Lord JEHOVAH shall sound the trumpet;

And shall march in the whirlwinds of the south."

Zec 9:14.

Verse 2. The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the

spoiler spoileth-"The plunderer is plundered, and the destroyer is

destroyed."] habboged boged vehashshoded

shoded. The MSS. vary in expressing or omitting the vau, in

these four words. Ten MSS. of Kennicott are without the vau

in the second word, and eight MSS. are without the vau in

the fourth word; which justifies Symmachus, who has rendered them

passively: οαθετωναθετειταικαιοταλαιπωριζωνταλαιπωρει. He

read bagud shadud. Cocceius (Lexicon in voce)

observes that the Chaldee very often renders the verb bagad,

by bazaz, he spoiled; and in this place, and in Isa 33:1,

by the equivalent word anas, to press, give trouble; and in

Isa 24:16 both by

anas and bazaz; and the Syriac in this place renders it

by talam, he oppressed.

All the sighing thereof have I made to cease-"I have put an end

to all her vexations"] Heb. "Her sighing; that is, the sighing

caused by her." So Kimchi on the place: "It means those who

groaned through fear of him: for the suffixes of the nouns refer

both to the agent and the patient. All those who groaned before

the face of the king of Babylon he caused to rest;" Chald. And so

likewise Ephrem Syr. in loc., edit. Assemani: "His groans, viz.,

the grief and tears which the Chaldeans occasioned through the

rest of the nations."

Verse 5. Prepare the table-"The table is prepared"] In Hebrew

the verbs are in the infinitive mood absolute, as in Eze 1:14:

"And the animals ran and returned, ratso veshob, like

the appearance of the lightning;" just as the Latins say, currere

et reverti, for currebant et revertebantur. See Isa 32:11, and

the note there.

Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.] Kimchi observes that

several of the rabbins understood this of Belshazzar's impious

feast and death. The king of a people is termed the shield,

because he is their defense. The command, Anoint the shield, is

the same with Anoint a new king. Belshazzar being now suddenly

slain, while they were all eating and drinking, he advises the

princes, whose business it was, to make speed and anoint another

in his stead.

Verse 7. And he saw a chariot, &c.-"And he saw a chariot with

two riders; a rider on an ass, a rider on a camel"] This passage

is extremely obscure from the ambiguity of the term recheb,

which is used three times, and which signifies a chariot, or any

other vehicle, or the rider in it; or a rider on a horse, or any

other animal; or a company of chariots, or riders. The prophet may

possibly mean a cavalry in two parts, with two sorts of riders;

riders on asses or mules, and riders on camels; or led on by two

riders, one on an ass, and one on a camel. However, so far it is

pretty clear, that Darius and Cyrus, the Medes and the Persians,

are intended to be distinguished by the two riders on the two

sorts of cattle. It appears from Herodotus, i. 80, that the

baggage of Cyrus' army was carried on camels. In his engagement

with Croesus, he took off the baggage from the camels, and mounted

his horsemen upon them; the enemy's horses, offended with the

smell of the camels, turned back and fled.-L.

Verse 8. And he cried, A lion-"He that looked out on the watch"]

The present reading, aryeh, a lion, is so unintelligible, and

the mistake so obvious, that I make no doubt that the true reading

is haroeh, the seer; as the Syriac translator manifestly

found it in his copy, who renders it by duka, a watchman.

Verse 9. Here cometh a chariot of men, &c.-"A man, one of the

two riders"] So the Syriac understands it, and Ephrem Syr.

Verse 10. O my threshing] "O thou, the object upon which I shall

exercise the severity of my discipline; that shalt lie under my

afflicting hand, like corn spread upon the floor to be threshed

out and winnowed, to separate the chaff from the wheat!" The image

of threshing is frequently used by the Hebrew poets, with great

elegance and force, to express the punishment of the wicked and

the trial of the good, or the utter dispersion and destruction of

God's enemies. Of the different ways of threshing in use among the

Hebrews, and the manner of performing them, see the note on

Isa 28:27.

Our translators have taken the liberty of using the word

threshing in a passive sense, to express the object or matter

that is threshed; in which I have followed them, not being able to

express it more properly, without departing too much from the form

and letter of the original. "Son of my floor," Heb. It is an idiom

of the Hebrew language to call the effect, the object, the

adjunct, any thing that belongs in almost any way to another, the

son of it. "O my threshing." The prophet abruptly breaks off the

speech of God; and instead of continuing it in the form in which

he had begun, and in the person of God, "This I declare unto you

by my prophet," he changes the form of address, and adds, in his

own person, "This I declare unto you from God."

Verse 11. The burden of Dumah-"The oracle concerning Dumah."]

Pro Dumah, Codex R. Meiri habet Edom; and so the

Septuagint, Vid. Kimchi ad h. l. Biblia Michaelis, Halae, 1720,

not. ad l. See also De Rossi. Bishop Lowth translates the prophecy



A voice crieth to me from Seir:

Watchman, what from the night?

Watchman, what from the night?

12. The watchman replieth:-

The morning cometh, and also the night.

If ye will inquire, inquire ye: come again.

This differs very little from our common Version. One of

Kennicott's MSS., and one of my own, omit the repetition,

"Watchman, what from the night?"

This prophecy, from the uncertainty of the occasion on which it

was uttered, and from the brevity of the expression, is extremely

obscure. The Edomites as well as the Jews were subdued by the

Babylonians. They inquire of the prophet how long their subjection

is to last: he intimates that the Jews should be delivered from

their captivity; not so the Edomites. Thus far the interpretation

seems to carry with it some degree of probability. What the

meaning of the last line may be, I cannot pretend to divine. In

this difficulty the Hebrew MSS. give no assistance. The MSS. of

the Septuagint, and the fragments of the other Greek Versions,

give some variations, but no light. This being the case, I thought

it best to give an exact literal translation of the whole two

verses, which may serve to enable the English reader to judge in

some measure of the foundation of the various interpretations that

have been given of them.

The burden of Dumah.-R. D. Kimchi says, "His father understood

this of the destruction of Dumah (one of the cities of the

Ishmaelites) by the inhabitants of Seir; and that they inquired of

the prophet to know the particular time in which God had given

them a commission against it. The prophet answered: The

morning-the time of success to you, cometh, is just at hand;

and the night-the time of utter destruction to the inhabitants of

Dumah, is also ready."

I have heard the words applied in the way of general

exhortation. 1. Every minister of God is a watchman. He is

continually watching for the safety and interests of his people,

and looking for the counsel of God that he may be properly

qualified to warn and to comfort. 2. Such are often called to

denounce heavy judgments; they have the burden of the word of the

Lord to denounce against the impenitent, the backslider, the

lukewarm, and the careless. 3. When the watchman threatens

judgments, some are awakened, and some mock: Watchman, what of the

night? "What are the judgments thou threatenest, and when are they

to take place?" 4. To this question, whether seriously or

tauntingly proposed, the watchman answers: 1. The morning

cometh-there is a time of repentance granted; a morning of God's

long-suffering kindness now appears: and also the night-the time

in which God will no longer wait to be gracious, but will cut you

off as cumberers of the ground. 2. But if you will inquire

seriously how you are to escape God's judgments, inquire ye. 3.

There is still a door of hope; continue to pray for mercy. 4.

Return from your iniquities. 5. Come to God, through Christ,

that ye may obtain salvation.

Verse 13. The burden upon Arabia-"The oracle concerning Arabia"]

This title is of doubtful authority. In the first place, because

it is not in many of the MSS. of the Septuagint; it is in MSS.

Pachom. and I. D. II. only, as far as I can find with certainty.

Secondly, from the singularity of the phraseology; for massa

is generally prefixed to its object without a preposition, as

massa babel; and never but in this place with the

preposition beth. Besides, as the word baarab occurs

at the very beginning of the prophecy itself, the first word but

one, it is much to be suspected that some one, taking it for a

proper name and the object of the prophecy, might note it as such

by the words massa baarab written in the margin, which he

might easily transfer to the text. The Septuagint did not take it

for a proper name, but render it εντωδρυμωεσπερας, "in the

forest, in the evening," and so the Chaldee, which I follow; for

otherwise, the forest in Arabia is so indeterminate and vague a

description, that in effect it means nothing at all. This

observation might have been of good use in clearing up the

foregoing very obscure prophecy, if any light had arisen from

joining the two together by removing the separating title; but I

see no connexion between them. The Arabic Version has, "The

prophecy concerning the Arabians, and the children of Chedar."

This prophecy was to have been fulfilled within a year of the

time of its delivery, see Isa 21:16; and it was probably

delivered about the same time with the rest in this part of the

book, that is, soon before or after the 14th of Hezekiah, the year

of Sennacherib's invasion. In his first march into Judea, or in

his return from the Egyptian expedition, he might perhaps overrun

these several clans of Arabians; their distress on some such

occasion is the subject of this prophecy.-L.

Verse 14. The land of Tema-"The southern country"] θαιμαν,

Sept.; Austri, Vulg. They read teiman, which seems to

be right; for probably the inhabitants of Tema might be involved

in the same calamity with their brethren and neighbours of Kedar,

and not in a condition to give them assistance, and to relieve

them, in their flight before the enemy, with bread and water. To

bring forth bread and water is an instance of common humanity in

such cases of distress; especially in those desert countries in

which the common necessaries of life, more particularly water, are

not easily to be met with or procured. Moses forbids the Ammonite

and Moabite to be admitted into the congregation of the Lord to

the tenth generation. One reason which he gives for this

reprobation is their omission of the common offices of humanity

towards the Israelites; "because they met them not with bread and

water in the way, when they came forth out of Egypt," De 23:4.

Verse 17. The archers, the mighty men of the children of

Kedar-"The mighty bowmen of the sons of Kedar"] Sagittariorum

fortium, Vulg.; transposing the two words, and reading

gibborey kesheth; which seems to be right. The strong men of the

bow, the most excellent archers.

For the Lord-hath spoken it-"For JEHOVAH hath spoken it."] The

prophetic Carmina of Marcius, foretelling the battle of Cannae,

lib. xxv. 12, conclude with the same kind of solemn form: Nam mihi

ita Jupiter fatus est; "Thus hath Jupiter spoken to me." Observe

that the word naam, to pronounce, to declare, is the solemn

word appropriated to the delivering of prophecies: "Behold, I am

against the prophets, saith ( naam, pronounceth) JEHOVAH, who

use their tongues, vaiyinamu neum, and solemnly

pronounce, He hath pronounced it;" Jer 23:31. What God says shall

most assuredly come to pass; he cannot be deceived.

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