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Isaiah 21

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ch. 21:1-10   ch. 21:11-12  ch. 21:13-16

A Prophecy Against Babylon (ch. 21:1 - 10)


The word "oracle" is better translated as "burden" here as it is throughout Isaiah.  I say this because it's a burden to Isaiah who is speaking this prophecy and a burden for those to whom this judgment is spoken.


To help understand this chapter I think it's important to know that Isaiah lived somewhere around 740/745 to 680/685 B. C..  Jeremiah lived from 627 B. C. to 580 B. C. and Daniel from 603/4/5 to 536 B. C.  Ezekiel lived from 592/3 B.C. to 570 B. C..  


We need a bit of history before we go any farther.  Assyria was a dominant world Empire.  In 606 B.C. Babylon conquered Assyria and replaced her as the new world empire.  In 539 B. C. Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians.


There are two other passages that go along with this one.  One is in Daniel 5 which speaks of the fall of Babylon and the other is in Isaiah 44 and 45 which speaks of the rise of King Cyrus to Persian power long before he was born. 


As the chapter title in the NIV states, the judgment spoken here by Isaiah is against Babylon, but he doesn't make that real clear in verse 1.  He does make it clear in a round about way in verse 2.  There we see Elam.  Elam is the old tribal name for Persia.  The name Persia had not yet been in use as yet.  This is why Isaiah uses the name Elam.  We also see the Medes in verse 2.  As I've just said above, we know that the Medes and Persians invaded and conquered Babylon, so in verse 2 we know who this prophecy is spoken against.


It's important to note that Isaiah's prophecy of the fall of Babylon is foretold long before Babylon actually became an empire.  In Isaiah's day it was just a city.  This speaks to the authenticity of Biblical prophecy.     


Verse 2 uses the word "dire".  The prophecy against Babylon is a dire prophetic word.  In verse 1 the invader from the desert, the land of terror, will invade Babylon.  Persians were a fierce people.    


Note the words " Elam attack" in verse 2.  The KJV says "go Elam ".  What Isaiah is saying here is that God is commanding Elam , or Persia , to attack Babylon.  Of course, Persia does hear the voice of the Lord.  Persia doesn't attack because God wants her to attack.  Persia attacks because she wants to attack.  This shows us that God works behind the scenes.  He causes nations to do certain things and the nations don't even know it is God behind what they do. 


When God tells Persia to attack, in one sense of the word, He might well be telling the demonic forces behind that nation to manipulate the nation to do God's will.   


Verses 3 and 4 shows us how Isaiah reacted to the Word of the Lord given to him.  She was fearful, bewildered, and racked with pain, as a woman giving birth to a child.  We should understand that the roll of a real prophet of God is not an easy thing to fulfill.  You will note that all the prophets in the Old Testament carried a huge burden.  They did not live an easy life.  Besides being criticized, even killed, for their prophecies, the weight of the burden God gave them was next to unbearable.


Verses 5 and 6 are very interesting.  It speaks to what we see in Daniel 5.  This is the historical record.  The troops of the Medes and Persians surrounded the city of Babylon.  King Belshazzar was arrogantly confident in his army and the wall around Babylon, that even though he knew the Persian troops were outside the walls, he had a big party.  This is what verses 5 and 6 predict.  This is how specific Isaiah's prophecy is.


Verses 7 through 9 speak of the watchman on the wall of Babylon.  He sees the Persians, but still Belshazzar isn't moved, but one day that changes.  Again, we need to understand the king of the Persians is Cyrus.


Concerning the wall surrounding Babylon, this is one huge and wide wall.  It is said that six chariots could race on the wall side by side.  Those in Babylon felt very secure behind this wall along with a mote. Surrounding the city.       


Verse 9 is key to this chapter for a few  reasons.  One is that now we know exactly, without a doubt, which this judgment is against.  The text clearly states that it is Babylon. 


Verse 9 begins with "here he comes".  The watchman sees a man, a messenger, coming towards him.  The messenger yells out to the soldier on the wall, "Babylon has fallen; Babylon has fallen".  This is when the Persians literally moves into Babylon , captures King Belshazzar and takes over the capital city of the empire.  Cyrus does so without a fight because Belshazzar is asleep at the wheel.  He is partying with his people and not paying attention. 


Note that verse 9 also says that "all the images of the gods lie shattered on the ground".  This is a key sentence, both to the context and to prophecy in general.  It's noteworthy that when Cyrus attacked any nation, he did not destroy the gods.  He left the gods intact as a memorial to his conquest.  So, when Cyrus overthrew Babylon , it is commonly understood that the idols were not abolished.  So, you might ask, "What's going on here"? 


We need to understand that Babylon did not fall in the sense that it was destroyed.  Both the city and the empire simply changed hands and was given over to Persia . That being said, we should also know that the words " Babylon has fallen" are also seen in Revelation 18:2.  There we see that Babylon is not simply fallen, or, given to another, it is destroyed.  In Isaiah 21 we see the fall of Babylon .  In Revelation 18 we see the destruction of Babylon.  Now, I understand there are numerous ways to think about Revelation 18. Some feel the word Babylon is symbolic of the world system.  Some say it's a literal city.  I won't debate that issue here. 


An important point to understand here in verse 9 is that Babylon falls even before Babylon became a world empire.  Again, this speaks to the authenticity of Biblical prophecy.


Concerning Cyrus, King of Persia, more should be said about him.  Isaiah 45 speaks about Cyrus long before he was ever born.  Isaiah, in chapter 45, says that God will raise Cyrus up and make him strong.  In verses 13 and 14 Isaiah states that God will do this for a specific reason.  The text reads, "He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free".  "My city" refers to Jerusalem .  "My exiles" refer to Israelis.


Jewish history states that Daniel, about a 150 years after Isaiah wrote Isaiah 45, he brought this Isaiah 45 text to King Cyrus and when Cyrus saw the prediction about him rebuilding Jerusalem and letting Israelis free, he did just that. We should remember that when Isaiah prophesied about the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed.  This is yet another point to consider when thinking of the authenticity of Biblical prophecy.         



A Prophecy Against Edom (ch. 21:11 - 12)


Verse 11 speaks of Dumah.  Dumah was an Arab tribe from the lineage of Ishmael.


I'm not really sure what is going on in verse 12 so I won't really comment.  Much has been speculated about verse 12.



A Prophecy Against Arabia (ch. 21:13 - 16)


This section concerns the judgment of three Arab communities. Arabs are descendents of Ishmael.


One phrase that might be a bit confusing to you, found in verse 16 is, "within one year, as a servant is bound by contract "   This is an idiom of of the day that means this judgment will come within one exact year' not one day early or one day late. 


It is interesting that Kedar mentioned in verse 16 is the Arab tribe that Mohammed's lineage is from.




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