A Study in the Word – Isaiah 21:1-17


In a second oracle against her (13:1-14:23), Babylon is clearly identified in 21:9 as the target of the “wilderness of the sea” (21:1). Picture a sandstorm tsunami. The NLT gets at the idea very well: “Disaster is roaring down on you from the desert, like a whirlwind sweeping in from the Negev” (21:1). Keep in mind that from Isaiah’s perspective Babylon as a world power is a century into the future. In his vision Isaiah recognizes that Babylon is treacherous and destructive, and showing no sign of abatement. To overcome such power will require the greater power of God – “I have made an end” (21:2).

Isaiah’s lament has left an indelible impression upon his soul (21:3). The fearful prospect of what lay ahead for Babylon also held implications for Judah. Isaiah had hoped Judah had learned to trust Yahweh, but such was not the case (21:4). Babylon is ill-prepared for this judgment. Her callous disregard for the Lord and her own “party time” atmosphere meant the alarm is heard too late. There is no time to “oil the shields” for battle (21:5; Daniel 5).

The scene suddenly shifts to Jerusalem (21:6-8). The certainty of Babylon’s destruction is underscored by the report of a sentinel that a troop of riders, presumably the armies of Media and Elam, has announced, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon.” She and the idols of her trust “are shattered” (21:9; Rev. 14:8 and 18:2). The intended audience of this prophecy is Judah. They are undergoing severe oppression from Assyria, but that must not lead them to be shortsighted and make an unwise alliance with Babylon (21:10).

The introduction of the watchman in 21:6-9 provides a link to conditions in Edom. Edom was founded by the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. Edom also is under Assyrian dominance and cries out for the tyranny of darkness to end. The response is “Not yet, but give it time” (21:11-12).

Arabians of Isaiah’s day were largely nomadic traders. Refugees trying to escape from Assyria were counting on Arabians to bring relief. Some were so desperate that they ventured into the desert searching for oases where food might be obtained (21:13-15). The Arabians, however, experienced the same aggression from the Assyrians. Within one year the best and mightiest tribe in Arabia, Kedar, would be reduced to only a fraction of the present. Like Babylon, Arabians would prove unworthy of Judah’s trust (21:16-17).

Dr. David Moore is a Baptist preacher in Pampa and an online instructor in Bible and theology for Taylor University and Nations University. Email: dm5867se@outlook.com