Isaiah 21 A Watchman Watches The Fall Of Babylon, Edom, And Arabia.
Isaiah receives another ‘burden’ against Babylon (v. 1 Cf. 13:1). This is a heavy message “against the Wilderness of the Sea,” coming like the “whirlwinds in the south pass through, so it comes from the desert, from a terrible land” (Cf. Zech. 9:14). It is ironic that the sea would prove to be a barren wilderness. “This is probably a sarcastic parody. Babylon’s southern region on the Persian Gulf, known as “Land of the sea,” will become a wilderness or as good as a wilderness to anyone looking for salvation from there” (NGSB p. 1056). It was certainly a “distressing vision” for the prophet (v. 2a). Everyone would act according to their nature. “The treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the plunderer plunders” (v. 2b). Then also their judgment would be that which they sought to inflict on others. “Woe to you who plunder, though you have not been plundered; and you who deal treacherously, though they have not dealt treacherously with you! When you cease plundering, your will be plundered; when you make an end of dealing treacherously, they will deal treacherously with you” (33:1).
God used Elam and Media to accomplish his purposes in the space and time of history. “Elam was a major region of Persia. It was allied with Media in 700 B.C. Perhaps as a part of Assyria’s army Elam helped to conquer Babylon in 689 B.C., as they certainly did in 539 B.C. (11:11; 13:17; 22:6; Jer. 49:34)” Ibid. p. 1056. What Isaiah heard distressed him like a woman in labour, and what he saw caused him to be dismayed (v. 3 Cf. 13:8). Like the creation of all things, when God speaks things happen. Isaiah witnessed God’s word fulfilled in history. What he had longed to see had caused his heart, that is, his “inner being” (16:11), to waver with fear (v. 4 Cf. Dt. 28:67). “The expressions in these verses (3-4) convey great psychological suffering on the prophet’s part (16:9-11; 22:4; cf. Dan. 8:27; 10:16-17). The report of Babylon’s fall may have distressed Isaiah because now no one could rescue Judah from Assyria” (Ibid. p. 1057). The prophet knew it was time to prepare for a battle. While they ate and drank to get energy for the fight ahead, they would need a watchman to man the tower, as they rose with shields at the ready (v. 5).
The Lord told Isaiah to go and “set a watchman,” to “declare what he sees” (v. 6), and what he saw was “a chariot with a pair of horsemen, a chariot of donkeys, and a chariot of camels, and he listened with great care” (v. 7). Elam and Media are here described as the donkeys and camels led by horsemen. Isaiah saw the cavalry coming. As a watchman (tsaphah) peers into the distance from his watchtower (tsaphiyth), even so the watchman saw the future. However, at verse 8 Isaiah calls the latter a mitspeh, which Strong’s describes as “an observatory, espec. for military purposes,” whereas the former is a “sentry,” a gate or point of entry. A watchtower, on the other hand “is usually a freestanding structure. Its main purpose is to provide a high, safe place from which a sentinel or guard may observe the surrounding area” (Wikipedia). The watchman cried out that a lion was coming, and the horsemen led a charge against Babylon, with the destruction of her gods (vv. 8-9 Cf. 46:1; Jer. 50:2; 51:44). This was declared as the work of the LORD of hosts (v. 10). This was the fall of Babylon, for her idolatry (Cf. 13:19; 47:5, 9; 48:14; Jer. 51:8, 33; Dan. 5:28, 31; Rev. 14:8; 18:2).
Edom and Arabia would fair no better. Dumah was “an oasis in Edom at the intersection of the roads from the Red Sea to Palmyra and from the Persian Gulf to Petra” (Ibid. p. 1057 v. 11). From the domination of Assyria, to the oppression of Babylon, the oasis of Edom would continue to be coveted by Elam and Media. Day and then night speaks to the passage of time and history, and night as the darkness of judgment. Nevertheless, they were issued an invitation to inquire of the Lord and repent (v. 12). Dedan in Arabia was also another oasis, “200 miles south of Dumah (Ezek. 27:20; 38:13)” (Ibid. p. 1057 v. 13). Of course Edom was the descendant of Esau, and Dumah was a descendant of Ishmael (Cf. Gen. 10:7; 25:14; 32:3; I Chron. 1:9, 30-32; Josh. 15:52; Jer. 25:24; 49:7-8, 28; Ezek. 27:15; 35:2; Obad. 1). Tema “also was an oasis, located 90 miles north of Dedan (Jer. 25:23). The desert peoples provide food and water for the fugitives from the battle” (Ibid. p. 1058 vv. 14-15). The year of the hired man, is a year of hard inescapable labour (Cf. 16:14; Job 7:1; 14:6). Kedar, Arabia will also fall, “for the LORD God of Israel has spoken it” (Ibid. p. 1058 vv. 16-17 Cf. 42:11; 60:7; Ezek. 27:21; Ps. 120:5; S of S. 1:5).