Isaiah 21:1 MEANING

Isaiah 21:1

(1) The burden of the desert of the sea . . .--The title of the prophecy is obviously taken from the catch-word of "the desert" that follows. The "sea" has been explained (1) as the Euphrates, just as in Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 19:5, it appears as used of the Nile (Cheyne). (2) As pointing to the surging flood of the mingled myriads of its population. (3) Xenophon's description of the whole plain of the Euphrates, intersected by marshes and lakes, as looking like a sea affords, perhaps, a better explanation.

As whirlwinds in the south . . .--The "South" (or Negeb) is here, as elsewhere, the special name of the country lying south of Judah. The tempests of the region seem to have been proverbial (Zechariah 9:14; Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 13:24; Hosea 13:15).

So it cometh.--The absence of a subject to the verb gives the opening words a terrible vagueness. Something is coming "from the wilderness, a terrible land," beyond it. The "wilderness" in this case is clearly the Arabian desert, through part of which the Euphrates flows. The context determines the "terrible land" as that of Elam and Media.

Verses 1-10. - THE BURDEN OF THE DESERT OF THE SEA. This is a short and somewhat vague, but highly poetic, "burden of Babylon" It is probably an earlier prophecy than Isaiah 13. and 14, and perhaps the first revelation made to Isaiah with respect to the fall of the great Chaldean capital. It exhibits no consciousness of the fact that Babylon is Judah's predestined destroyer, and is expressive rather of sympathy (vers. 3, 4) than of triumph. Among recent critics, some suppose it to refer to Sargon's capture of the city in B.C. 710; but the objection to this view, from the entire absence of all reference to Assyria as the conquering power, and the mention of "Elam" and "Media" in her place, is absolutely fatal to it. There can be no reasonable doubt that the same siege is intended as in Isaiah 13, where also Media is mentioned (ver. 17); and there are no real grounds for questioning that the event of which the prophet is made cognizant is that siege and capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great which destroyed the Babylonian empire. Verse 1. - The desert of the sea. The Isaianic authorship of this title is doubtful, since "the desert of the sea" is an expression elsewhere wholly unknown to biblical writers. Some regard "the sea" as the Euphrates, in which case "the desert of the sea" may be the waste tract west of the Euphrates, extending thence to the eastern borders of Palestine. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; rather, as whirlwinds in the south country, sweeping along. The "south country" is that immediately to the south of Judaea. Its liability to whirlwinds is noticed in Zechariah 9:14 and in Job 37:9 (compare Major Palmer's 'Sinai,' p. 33). It cometh. What cometh? Dr. Kay says, "God's visitation;" Rosenmüller, "a numerous army." But is it not rather the "grievous vision" of the next verse? From the desert. The great desert bounding Palestine on the east - a truly "terrible land." Across this, as coming from Baby-Ionia to Palestine, seemed to rush the vision which it was given to the prophet to see.

21:1-10 Babylon was a flat country, abundantly watered. The destruction of Babylon, so often prophesied of by Isaiah, was typical of the destruction of the great foe of the New Testament church, foretold in the Revelation. To the poor oppressed captives it would be welcome news; to the proud oppressors it would be grievous. Let this check vain mirth and sensual pleasures, that we know not in what heaviness the mirth may end. Here is the alarm given to Babylon, when forced by Cyrus. An ass and a camel seem to be the symbols of the Medes and Persians. Babylon's idols shall be so far from protecting her, that they shall be broken down. True believers are the corn of God's floor; hypocrites are but as chaff and straw, with which the wheat is now mixed, but from which it shall be separated. The corn of God's floor must expect to be threshed by afflictions and persecutions. God's Israel of old was afflicted. Even then God owns it is his still. In all events concerning the church, past, present, and to come, we must look to God, who has power to do any thing for his church, and grace to do every thing that is for her good.The burden of the desert of the sea,.... That this is a prophecy of the destruction of Babylon is clear from the express mention both of the Medes and Persians, by whom it should be, and of Babylon itself, and its fall, Isaiah 21:2 which, though prophesied of before, is here repeated, partly for the certainty of it, and partly for the comfort of the people of the Jews, who would be captives in it, and so break off and prevent their confidence in a nation that would be ruined; and perhaps this prophecy might be delivered out about the time or on account of Merodach king of Babylon sending letters and a present to Hezekiah, who showed to his messengers all his treasures. Babylon is here called "the desert of the sea", not because it was a desert land, for it was a very fruitful one; or because it would be laid desolate, and become as a wilderness; but either because there was one between that and the countries of Media and Persia, as Kimchi, from whence its destroyers would come; or rather, because it was, as the word may be rendered, a "plain", for so the land of Chaldea was, and the city of Babylon particularly was built in a plain, Genesis 11:2 and because this country abounded with pools and lakes, which with the Hebrews are called seas; and especially since the city of Babylon was situated by the river Euphrates, which ran about it, and through it and which therefore is said to dwell upon many waters, Jeremiah 51:13 hence it has this name of the desert of the sea; besides, Abydenus (l), from Megasthenes, informs us, that all the places about Babylon were from the beginning water, and were called a sea; and it should be observed that mystical Babylon is represented by a woman in a desert, sitting on many waters, which are interpreted of a multitude of people and nations, Revelation 17:1 and some here by "sea" understand the multitude of its riches, power, and people. The Targum is,

"the burden of the armies, which come from the wilderness, as the waters of the sea;''

understanding it not of Babylon, but of its enemies and invaders, as follows:

as whirlwinds in the south pass through; and nothing can hinder them, such is their force and power; they bear all before them, come suddenly, blow strongly, and there is no resisting them; see Zechariah 9:14,

so it cometh from the desert; or "he", that is, Cyrus; or "it", the army under him, would come with like irresistible force and power as the southern whirlwinds do, which come from a desert country; at least that part of it in which their soldiers were trained up, and which in their march to Babylon must come through the desert, that lay, as before observed, between that and their country, and through which Cyrus did pass (m):

from a terrible land; a land of serpents and scorpions, as Jarchi; or a land afar off, as Kimchi and Ben Melech; whose power and usage, or customs, were not known, and so dreaded, as the Medes and Persians were by Nitocris queen of Babylon, who took care to preserve her people, and prevent their falling into their hands. The Targum is,

"from a land in which terrible things are done.''

(l) Apud Euseb. Prepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 41. (m) Xenophon. Cyropaedia, l. 5. c. 5, 6.

Courtesy of Open Bible