Isaiah 21 Commentary

Vision of the fall of Babylon (21:1-10)

The next message of judgment concerns ‘the wilderness of the sea’ (RSV), which we soon learn is another name for mighty Babylon. The prophet has a vision of its destruction, which occurred in 539 BC when the combined forces of Persia (Elam) and Media conquered the city (21:1-2). (Daniel 5:1-31 records the story of Babylon’s capture while the king was feasting with his mighty men.)

Although the prophet always longed for the destruction of Judah’s oppressors, now that the time has come he turns away in horror. The sight of the slaughter is terrifying (3-4). Babylon’s leaders, who should be preparing the nation’s defences, are all feasting merrily when the enemy attacks. They are suddenly stirred to action, but it is too late (5).

In his vision the prophet sends a man to Babylon to report what he sees (6-7). The man reports that he sees the invading army approaching, and he knows that this is the end for Babylon (8-9). This is good news for God’s people, as it means that the nation that so long oppressed them has finally been overthrown (10).

Edomites and Arabs (21:11-17)

The prophet has a short message for the people of Edom, who cry out from their stronghold in Mt Seir, asking how much longer they must be oppressed. The answer is not encouraging. They will get a brief relief from their sufferings, but then they will be oppressed again (11-12).

Wandering Arabs also will suffer from the cruel attacks of the invaders. Thirsty and hungry, they will flee from place to place looking for safety and shelter (13-15). But whatever refuge they find will be only temporary, and within a year even the bravest of the Arab tribal peoples will virtually be wiped out (16- 17).

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