Isaiah 21

The Lord Will Judge Babylon

1Here is a message about the Desert by the Sea:
The phrase is quite cryptic, at least to the modern reader. Verse 9 seems to indicate that this message pertains to Babylon. Southern Mesopotamia was known as the Sealand in ancient times, because of its proximity to the Persian Gulf. Perhaps the reference to Babylon as a “desert” foreshadows the destruction that would overtake the city, making it like a desolate desert.

Like strong winds blowing in the south,
Or “in the Negev” (NASB).

one invades from the desert,
from a land that is feared.
2 I have received a distressing message:
Heb “a severe revelation has been related to me.”

“The deceiver deceives,
the destroyer destroys.
Attack, you Elamites!
Lay siege, you Medes!
I will put an end to all the groaning!”
This is often interpreted to mean “all the groaning” that Babylon has caused others.

3 For this reason my stomach churns;
Heb “my waist is filled with shaking [or “anguish”].”

cramps overwhelm me
like the contractions of a woman in labor.
I am disturbed
Or perhaps, “bent over [in pain]”; cf. NRSV “I am bowed down.”
by what I hear,
horrified by what I see.
4 My heart palpitates,
Heb “wanders,” perhaps here, “is confused.”

I shake in fear;
Heb “shuddering terrifies me.”

the twilight I desired
has brought me terror.
5 Arrange the table,
lay out
The precise meaning of the verb in this line is debated. Some prefer to derive the form from the homonymic צָפֹה (tsafoh, “keep watch”) and translate “post a guard” (cf. KJV “watch in the watchtower”; ASV “set the watch”).
the carpet,
eat and drink!
The verbal forms in the first three lines are infinitives absolute, which are functioning here as finite verbs. It is uncertain if the forms should have an imperatival or indicative/descriptive force here.

Get up, you officers,
smear oil on the shields!
Smearing the shields with oil would make them more flexible and effective in battle. See J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:394.

6 For this is what the sovereign master
The Hebrew term translated “sovereign master” here and in vv. 8, 16 is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay).
has told me:
“Go, post a guard!
He must report what he sees.
7 When he sees chariots,
teams of horses,
Or “a pair of horsemen.”

riders on donkeys,
riders on camels,
he must be alert,
very alert.”
8 Then the guard
The Hebrew text has, “the lion,” but this makes little sense here. אַרְיֵה (’aryeh, “lion”) is probably a corruption of an original הָרֹאֶה (haroeh, “the one who sees”), i.e., the guard mentioned previously in v. 6.
cries out:
“On the watchtower, O sovereign master,
The Hebrew term translated “sovereign master” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay). Some translations take this to refer to the Lord (cf. NAB, NASB, NRSV), while others take it to refer to the guard’s human master (“my lord”; cf. NIV, NLT).

I stand all day long;
at my post
I am stationed every night.
9 Look what’s coming!
A charioteer,
a team of horses.”
Or “[with] teams of horses,” or perhaps, “with a pair of horsemen.”

When questioned, he replies,
Heb “and he answered and said” (so KJV, ASV).

“Babylon has fallen, fallen!
All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!”
10 O my downtrodden people, crushed like stalks on the threshing floor,
Heb “My trampled one, and the son of the threshing floor.”

what I have heard
from the Lord who commands armies,
the God of Israel,
I have reported to you.

Bad News for Seir

11 Here is a message about Dumah:
The noun דּוּמָה (dumah) means “silence,” but here it is a proper name, probably referring to a site in northern Arabia or to the nation of Edom. See BDB 189 s.v. II דּוּמָה. If Dumah was an area in northern Arabia, it would be of interest to the Edomites because of its strategic position on trade routes which they used. See J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:398.

Someone calls to me from Seir,
Seir is another name for Edom. See BDB 973 s.v. שֵׂעִיר.

“Watchman, what is left of the night?
Watchman, what is left of the night?”
The “night” probably here symbolizes distress and difficult times. See BDB 539 s.v. לַיְלָה.

12 The watchman replies,
“Morning is coming, but then night.
Dumah will experience some relief, but it will be short-lived as night returns.

If you want to ask, ask;
come back again.”
The point of the watchman’s final instructions (“if you want to ask, ask; come again”) is unclear. Perhaps they are included to add realism to the dramatic portrayal. The watchman sends the questioner away with the words, “Feel free to come back and ask again.”

The Lord Will Judge Arabia

13 Here is a message about Arabia:
In the thicket of Arabia you spend the night,
you Dedanite caravans.
14 Bring out some water for the thirsty.
You who live in the land of Tema,
bring some food for the fugitives.
15 For they flee from the swords –
from the drawn sword
and from the battle-ready bow
and from the severity of the battle.
16 For this is what the sovereign master
The Hebrew term translated “sovereign master” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay).
has told me: “Within exactly one year
Heb “in still a year, like the years of a hired worker.” See the note at 16:14.
all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end.
17Just a handful of archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be left.”
Heb “and the remnant of the number of the bow, the mighty men of the sons of Kedar, will be few.”
Or “for” (KJV, ASV, NAB, NASB, NRSV).
the Lord God of Israel has spoken.

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