behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help, to be delivered from the king of Assyria; signifying that it was vain and foolish, and they had acted a very weak, as well as a wicked part, in having recourse to the Egyptians and Ethiopians to help them against the Assyrians, as it plainly appeared by both nations now being conquered by them:
and how shall we escape? seeing they had not, who were more powerful than they were; and how could they think that they could save them, who could not save themselves? and so the Targum,
"if they have not delivered their souls (themselves), how shall we be delivered?''
INTRODUCTION TO Isaiah 21
This chapter contains prophecies against Babylon, Idumea, and Arabia. The prophecy against Babylon is called "the burden of the desert of the sea"; whose enemies are described by the fierce manner of their coming, and by the land from whence they came, Isaiah 21:1 which vision being declared to the prophet, is called a grievous one; what made it so was treachery among themselves; and the Medes and Persians are invited to besiege them, Isaiah 21:2 their terror and distress upon it are represented by the pains of a woman in travail, whom the prophet personates, Isaiah 21:3 and by the methods they took to defend themselves, to which they were alarmed, when in the greatest security and jollity, Isaiah 21:5 all which is illustrated by the vision of the watchman, who saw the Medes and Persians on the march, signified by a chariot and a couple of horsemen, who declares the fall of Babylon, and the destruction of its gods, Isaiah 21:6 which would issue in the good and comfort of the church and people of God, Isaiah 21:10 then follows the prophecy against Idumea, which consists of a question put to the watchman, and his answer to it; to which an exhortation is added, Isaiah 21:11 and the chapter concludes with another prophecy against Arabia: the calamities threatened are lodging in a forest, thirst, famine, and fleeing from the sword Isaiah 21:13, and the time is fixed when all this should be, by which their glory would fail, and the number of their archers and mighty men be lessened; for the confirmation of which the divine testimony is annexed, Isaiah 21:16.
"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.
the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth; that is, according to Jarchi, one treacherous dealer deals treacherously with another, and one spoiler spoils another; the Medes and Persians deal treacherously with and spoil the Babylonians, who had dealt treacherously with and spoiled other nations: and to this sense some read the words, "the treacherous dealer hath found a treacherous dealer, and the spoiler one that spoileth" (n): some take it to be a compellation of the Medes and Persians, calling upon them, under these characters, to go up and besiege Babylon, as, "O treacherous dealer, O spoiler" (o); though the words may be understood of the perfidy and treachery of the Babylonians, of which they had been frequently guilty, and which is given as a reason of their fall and ruin; or rather they suggest the treacherous means by which they should be ruined, even by some from among themselves; particularly, history (p) informs us, that Gobrias and Gadates, two noblemen of the king of Babylon, being used ill by him, revolted from him, and joined with Cyrus; and when the river Euphrates was drained, went at the head of his army in two parties, and guided them into the city, and took it; or rather Belshazzar king of Babylon himself is meant, who acted, and continued to act, most impiously and wickedly: and therefore,
go up, O Elam; or Elamites, as the Targum and Septuagint; see Acts 2:9 these were Persians, so called from Elam, a province in Persia; who are here called upon by the Lord of armies, through the mouth of the prophet, to go up to war against Babylon; and these are mentioned first, because Cyrus, who commanded the whole army, was a Persian: or if Elam is taken for a province, which was indeed subject to Babylon, of which Shushan was the capital city, Daniel 8:2 the governor of it, Abradates, revolted from the Babylonians, and joined Cyrus, and fought with him (q):
besiege, O Media; or, O ye Medes, join with the Persians in the siege of Babylon; as they did:
all the sighing thereof have I made to cease; either of the army of the Medes and Persians, who, by reason of long and tedious marches, frequent battles, and hard sieges, groaned and sighed; but now it would be over with them, when Babylon was taken; or of the Babylonians themselves, who would have no mercy shown them, nor have any time for sighing, being cut off suddenly, and in a moment; or rather of other people oppressed by them, and particularly the Lord's people the Jews, who had been in captivity for the space of seventy years, during which they had sighed and groaned, because of the hardships they endured; but now sighing would be at an end, and they should have deliverance, as they had, by Cyrus the Persian. The sighing is not that with which they sighed, but which they caused in others.
(n) "praevaricator prevaricatorem et vastator, vastatorem sub. inveniet"; so some in Vatablus; also Gataker. (o) "O perfide, perfidus; O vastator, vastator", De Dieu. (p) Xenophon. Cyropaedia, l. 4. c. 24. l. 5. c. 11. & l. 7. c. 23. (q) Ib. l. 6. sect. 7, 8, 9, 26. & l. 7. sect. 4, 8.
pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth; which come suddenly and at once, are very sharp and strong, and inevitable, which cannot be escaped; so the sudden destruction of the wicked, and particularly of antichrist at the last day, and the terror that shall attend it, are expressed by the same metaphor, 1 Thessalonians 5:2,
I was bowed down at the hearing of it; distorted and convulsed; not the prophet at the hearing of the prophecy, but Belshazzar, whom he personated, at hearing that Cyrus had entered the city, and was at the gates of his palace:
I was dismayed at the seeing of it; the handwriting upon the wall, at which his countenance changed, his thoughts were troubled, his loins loosed, and his knees smote one against another, Daniel 5:6.
fearfulness affrighted me; the terror of Cyrus's army seized him, of its irruption into the city, and of his being destroyed by it; the writing on the wall threw him into a panic, and the news of the Medes and Persians being entered the city increased it:
the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me; in which he promised himself so much pleasure, at a feast he had made for his princes, wives, and concubines; either in honour of his god, as some think (s), being an annual one; or, as Josephus ben Gorion (t) says, on account of the victory he had obtained over the Medes and Persians; and so was quite secure, and never in the least thought of destruction being at hand; but in the midst of all his revelling, mirth, and jollity, the city was surprised and taken, and he slain, Daniel 5:1. So mystical Babylon, in the midst of her prosperity, while she is saying that she sits a queen, and knows no sorrow, her judgment and plagues shall come upon her, Revelation 18:7.
(r) "erravit cor meum", Montanus; "errat animus meus", Junius & Tremellius; "errat cor meum", Piscator. (s) Vid. Herodot. l. 1. c. 191. Xenophon. l. 7. c. 23. (t) L. 1. c. 5. p. 24. Ed. Braithaupt.
watch in the watchtower; this is said to his servants, his soldiers, or sentinels, that were placed on watchtowers to observe the motions of the enemy, who were ordered on duty, and to be on guard, that he and his nobles might feast the more securely; and all this being done, a table furnished, and a guard set, he, his nobles, and all his guests, are encouraged to "eat" and "drink" liberally and cheerfully, without any fear of the Medes and Persians, who were now besieging the city; when, at the same time, by the Lord it would be said,
arise, ye princes; not, ye nobles of Babylon, from your table, quit it, and your feasting and mirth:
and anoint the shield; prepare your arms, see that they are in good order, get them in readiness, and defend your king, yourselves, and your city, as some; but the princes of the Medes and Persians, Cyrus and his generals, are bid to take their arms, and enter the city while indulging themselves at their feast: it was usual to anoint shields, and other pieces of armour, partly that they might be smooth and slippery, as Jarchi, that so the darts of the enemy might easily slide off; and partly for the polishing and brightening of them, being of metal, especially of brass; so the Targum,
"polish and make the arms bright;''
see 2 Samuel 1:21. Aben Ezra understands the words as an exhortation to the princes, to arise and anoint Darius king, in the room of Belshazzar slain; the word "shield" sometimes signifying a king, for which he mentions Psalm 84:9 so Ben Melech; but they are a call of the prophet, or of the Lord, to the princes of the Medes and Persians, to take the opportunity, while the Babylonians were feasting, to fall upon them; and the words may be rendered thus (u),
"in or while preparing the table, watching in the watchtower, eating and drinking, arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield;''
which was done by their servants, though they are called upon.
(u) "disponendo, mensam, speculando speculam, comedendo, bibendo, surgite principes, ungite clypeum", Montanus; and to the same sense Grotius.
go, set a watchman; not Habakkuk, as Jarchi; nor Urias, as the Septuagint; nor Jeremiah, as others; but himself, who, in a way of vision, represented a watchman on the walls of Babylon; and which was no way unsuitable to his character and office as a prophet:
let him declare what he seeth; what he sees coming at a distance, or at hand, let him faithfully and publicly make it known: these are not the words of the king of Babylon to one of his watchmen; but of the Lord of hosts to his prophet.
a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; by the former may be meant the Persians, who very much used mules or asses; and the Medes by the latter, who abounded in camels: the words are in the singular number, and may be rendered, "a rider of an ass, and a rider of a camel" (w); and so may describe the couple of riders along with the chariot, which may signify the whole army of the Medes and Persians, chariots being much used in war; and the rider of the ass or mule may design Cyrus, who was called a mule, because of his mixed descent, being a Persian by his father, and a Mede by his mother's side; so the oracle of Apollo told the Babylonians, that their city should stand, until a mule was king of the Medes; and the rider of the camel may point at Darius:
and he hearkened diligently with much heed; the watchman that was set to watch used the utmost attention to what he saw, and listened diligently to the noise of this chariot and horsemen, as they came nearer.
(w) , , Sept.; "ascensorem asini, et ascensorem cameli", V. L. "unum equitantium in asinis, alterum equitantium in camelis", Piscator.
"the prophet said, the voice of armies, coming with coats of mail, as a lion.''
Aben Ezra interprets it, the watchman cried as a lion, with a great voice; upon sight of the chariots and horsemen, he lifted up his voice, and roared like a lion, to express the terror he was in, and the greatness of the calamity that was coming upon the city.
I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime: so that nothing could escape his notice:
and I am set in my ward whole nights: which expresses his diligence, vigilance, and constancy, in the discharge of his duty; and therefore what he said he saw might be depended on.
with a couple of horsemen; the army of the Medes and Persians, with their two leaders or generals, as before; only now seen nearer the city, just entering into it; for so the word may be rendered, "goeth", or "is gone in a chariot", &c.:
and he answered, and said; either the watchman, upon seeing the chariot and horsemen go into the city; or one of the horsemen that went in; so the Syriac and Arabic versions; or rather the prophet, and the Lord by him:
Babylon is fallen, is fallen: which is repeated to show the certainty of it. The same words are used of the fall of mystical Babylon, Revelation 14:8. The Targum is,
"it is fallen, and also it shall be, that Babylon shall fall;''
that is, a second time, and hereafter: and so Jarchi and Kimchi interpret it of two falls, one by the Medes and Persians, and the other by the hand of heaven, or God himself: literal Babylon fell by the former; mystical Babylon will fall by the latter, even by the breath of Christ's mouth, and the brightness of his coming:
and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground; either Cyrus or Darius, who might do this, not from any detestation of them, but for the sake of the gold, and silver, and riches, that were about them; or rather the Lord by them, and so put an end to idolatry; as will be, when mystical Babylon is destroyed.
(x) "currus viri", Pagninus, Montanus.
that which I have heard of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you; the preceding prophecy was not a dream of his, but a vision from the Lord of hosts; it was not devised by him, but told him by the Lord, and that for the good and comfort of the people of Israel, whose covenant God he was; and the prophet acted a faithful part, in delivering it just as he received it, which might be depended on.
"the burden of Duma, the burden of Edom.''
Jerom says, Duma is not the whole province of Idumea, but a certain country in it, that lay to the south, twenty miles distant from a city of Palestine, in his days called Eleutheropolis; and further observes, that some of the Hebrews read "Roma" for "Duma", and suppose that the Roman empire is designed; and certain it is, that nothing is more common with them than to call the Roman empire, and Rome itself, by the name of Edom, and the Romans, or Christians, Edomites (z):
he calleth to me out of Seir; a mountain inhabited by the Edomites, the posterity of Esau, so called from Seir the Horite, Genesis 36:8. The Targum understands this of God calling from heaven to the prophet to prophesy; and Jarchi of an angel, or a prophet out of Seir, calling to God, who he supposes is meant by the watchman; but it seems best to interpret it of an Edomite, or an inhabitant of Mount Seir, calling to the watchman, and saying, as follows:
watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night? what time of night is it? what o'clock is it? how much of the night is gone, and what remains to come? it is the business of watchmen to give or tell the time of night: or, "what from the night?" (a) what has happened since it was night? hast thou observed nothing? is not the enemy nigh, or danger at hand? or, "what" sayest thou "concerning the night?" the night of darkness, affliction, and distress, in which we are, when will it be over? the question is repeated, as is usual with persons in a panic, and fearing the watchman should not hear them the first time; or it may denote one coming after another in a fright, asking the same question. Some, by the watchman, understand God himself, as Jarchi and Abarbinel, who is Israel's keeper, Psalm 121:4 where the same word is used as here; and well agrees with God, who is the keeper and preserver of all men in a way of providence; and of his own people in a way of grace; and who, as he watches over the evil of sin, to bring the evil of affliction or punishment for it; so he watches over his, to do good unto them; and, as the times and seasons are in his power only, and are known by him, it is most proper to apply unto him. Others think Christ is meant, as Cocceius; and so the Jews say (b), this is Metatron the keeper of Israel, which with them is one of the names of the Messiah; and to whom this character of a watchman agrees, as he is the shepherd of his flock, and the keeper of his people; and who, as the omniscient God, knows all things that are, and shall be, and which will quickly come to pass: though it may be best of all to understand it of a prophet or prophets, who were called watchmen under the Old Testament, Isaiah 21:6 as ministers of the word are under the New, in allusion to shepherds and watchmen of cities; and whose business it is, as to show sinners the danger of their ways, and to arouse sleepy saints, so to give the time of night, that the churches of Christ may know whereabout they are. Now let it be observed, that this prophecy may refer to the times when Dumah, Edom, or Idumea, was possessed by the Jews, according to the prophecy in Numbers 24:18 as it was before the coming of Christ; Herod, an Idumean, was upon the throne of Judea when he came, at which time the Jews and Idumeans were mixed together; and the latter, at least many of them, embraced the Jewish religion (c), and so had knowledge of the Messiah and his coming, after which they may be thought to be inquiring here. The Mosaic dispensation was a night season, there was much obscurity in it, the shadows of darkness were stretched out on it; and though there was the moon of the ceremonial law, and there were the stars the prophets, yet the sun of righteousness was not risen; and it was a time of gross darkness with the Gentile world: now one or more of these proselyted Idumeans, or of the Jews among them, may be supposed to be inquiring of the prophet or prophets of the Lord in their time, how much of this night was gone, when it would be over, or the Messiah would appear, and bring in the morning, and make the bright day of the Gospel dispensation. And again, as Edom and Seir were typical of Rome Papal, or the Romish antichrist, the person calling out to the watchman may design such of the people of God in the midst of them, for which see Revelation 18:4 who, sensible of the night of darkness they are in, are looking for and inquiring after latter day light and glory. The Targum of the whole verse is,
"the burden of the cup of curse, to give Dumah to drink: to me he calls out of heaven, prophet, declare unto them the prophecy; prophet, declare unto them what shall hereafter come to pass.''
(y) Vid. Hiller. Onomasticon Sacr. p. 797. (z) Vid. Buxtorf. Lexic. Talmud. Colossians 30, 31, &c. (a) "quid accidit ex quo nox est?" Vatablus. (b) Zohar in Exod. fol. 54. 2.((c) Joseph. Antiqu. l. 13. c. 9. sect. 1. Ed. Hudson.
"the prophet said, there is a reward for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked;''
and so the Jews elsewhere (d) interpret it of the morning of redemption to the righteous, and of the night of darkness to the wicked; or, as they sometimes express it (e), the morning is for the righteous, and the night for the wicked; the morning for Israel, and the night for the nations of the world. Dumah they sometimes (f) make to be the angel appointed over spirits, who they suppose gather together, and say to him, "watchman", &c.
if ye will inquire, inquire ye; seriously and in good earnest, diligently and constantly, with all humility and reverence, by prayer to God and by searching the Scriptures, and by application to the watchmen, the ministers of the word, who make it their business to study it, and have the mind of Christ:
return, come; return by repentance, and come to God, who receives backsliders, heals their backslidings, and loves them freely; or, "come again", to the watchman, and to the Lord, and renew your inquiries till you get satisfaction.
(d) Gloss. in T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 94. 1. & in Bava Kama fol, 3. 2. (e) T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 64. 1. & Kimchi in loc. (f) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 94. 1.
"the burden of the cup of cursing, to give the Arabians to drink.''
Ben Melech says, these are the Arabians that dwell in the wilderness:
in the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge; not in their tents and huts, which they had used to carry with them, and set up where they pleased; since now in their fright and flight they would leave them behind them, and so be obliged to take up their lodging in woods and forests; perhaps the desert of Arabia Petraea is meant:
O ye travelling companies of Dedanim; or Dedanites; these were Arabians that descended from Jokshan, a son of Abraham by Keturah, Genesis 25:3 who were either shepherds, who went in companies together with their flocks, and moved from place to place for the sake of pasture; or rather were merchants, who went in caravans and troops with their merchandise from one country to another; see Ezekiel 27:15 and who, because of the ravages of the enemy, would be glad of a lodging in the woods for security.
brought water to him that was thirsty; as travellers are wont to be, especially in a desert land, and when fleeing from an enemy; in which circumstances the travelling companies of Dedanim now were:
they prevented with their bread him that fled; gave it to him, being hungry and necessitous, without asking for it. Now all this seems to show what calamities should come upon the inhabitants of some parts of Arabia; that they should lodge in a forest, be hungry and thirsty, and flee before their enemy, as follows.
from the drawn sword; just ready to be sheathed in them:
and from the bent bow; just going to let the arrow fly at them:
and from the grievousness of war: too heavy for them to bear.
within a year, according to the years of an hireling; that is, exactly and precisely, as soon as ever the year is come to an end; for the hireling, when his year is up, instantly demands dismissal from his service, or his wages, or both. The time is to be reckoned from the delivery of this prophecy; and so the calamity predicted was brought upon them by the Assyrians, perhaps under Sennacherib, when he invaded the cities of Judah, and might take Arabia in his way; less time is allowed than was the Moabites, who suffered by the same hand; see Isaiah 16:14,
and all the glory of Kedar shall fail; these were another sort of Arabians, as the Targum calls them: they descended from Kedar, a son of Ishmael, Genesis 25:13 their "glory" were their multitude, their riches and substance, and which chiefly lay in their flocks; for the sake of which they moved from place to place for pasture, and dwelled in tents, which they carried with them, and pitched where it was most convenient for them; hence they were called Scenites; see Psalm 120:5.