Isaiah 21

A Prophecy Against Babylon

1 A prophecy against the Desert by the Sea: Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror.
2 A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot. Elam, attack! Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused.
3 At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see.
4 My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me.
5 They set the tables, they spread the rugs, they eat, they drink! Get up, you officers, oil the shields!
6 This is what the Lord says to me: “Go, post a lookout and have him report what he sees.
7 When he sees chariots with teams of horses, riders on donkeys or riders on camels, let him be alert, fully alert.”
8 And the lookout[a] shouted, “Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post.
9 Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: ‘Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!’ ”
10 My people who are crushed on the threshing floor, I tell you what I have heard from the LORD Almighty, from the God of Israel.

A Prophecy Against Edom

11 A prophecy against Dumah[b] : Someone calls to me from Seir, “Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?”
12 The watchman replies, “Morning is coming, but also the night. If you would ask, then ask; and come back yet again.”

A Prophecy Against Arabia

13 A prophecy against Arabia: You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
14 bring water for the thirsty; you who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives.
15 They flee from the sword, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow and from the heat of battle.
16 This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end.
17 The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few.” The LORD, the God of Israel, has spoken.

Isaiah 21 Commentary

Chapter 21

The taking of Babylon. (1-10) Of the Edomites. (11,12) Of the Arabs. (13-17)

Verses 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.

Verses 11-12 God's prophets and ministers are as watchmen in the city in a time of peace, to see that all is safe. As watchmen in the camp in time of war, to warn of the motions of the enemy. After a long sleep in sin and security, it is time to rise, to awake out of sleep. We have a great deal of work to do, a long journey to go; it is time to be stirring. After a long dark night is there any hope of the day dawning? What tidings of the night? What happens to-night? We must never be secure. But many make curious inquiries of the watchmen. They would willingly have nice questions solved, or difficult prophecies interpreted; but they do not seek into the state of their own souls, about the way of salvation, and the path of duty. The watchman answers by way of prophecy. There comes first a morning of light, and peace, and opportunity; but afterward comes a night of trouble and calamity. If there be a morning of youth and health, there will come a night of sickness and old age; if a morning of prosperity in the family, in the public, yet we must look for changes. It is our wisdom to improve the present morning, in preparation for the night that is coming after it. Inquire, return, come. We are urged to do it quickly, for there is no time to trifle. Those that return and come to God, will find they have a great deal of work to do, and but little time to do it in.

Verses 13-17 The Arabians lived in tents, and kept cattle. A destroying army shall be brought upon them, and make them an easy prey. We know not what straits we may be brought into before we die. Those may know the want of necessary food who now eat bread to the full. Neither the skill of archers, nor the courage of mighty men, can protect from the judgments of God. That is poor glory, which will thus quickly come to nothing. Thus hath the Lord said to me; and no word of his shall fall to the ground. We may be sure the Strength of Israel will not lie. Happy are those only whose riches and glory are out of the reach of invaders; all other prosperity will speedily pass away.

Cross References 39

  • 1. S Isaiah 13:1
  • 2. Isaiah 13:21; Jeremiah 50:12; Jeremiah 51:43
  • 3. S Job 1:19
  • 4. Daniel 11:40; Zechariah 9:14
  • 5. Psalms 60:3
  • 6. Isaiah 24:16; Isaiah 33:1
  • 7. S Genesis 10:22; Isaiah 22:6; Jeremiah 49:34
  • 8. S Isaiah 13:3; Jeremiah 25:25; Jeremiah 51:28
  • 9. S Job 14:22
  • 10. S Genesis 3:16; Psalms 48:6; Isaiah 26:17; Isaiah 37:3; Jeremiah 30:6; Jeremiah 48:41; Jeremiah 49:22; John 16:21
  • 11. Daniel 7:28; Daniel 8:27; Daniel 10:16
  • 12. Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 35:4
  • 13. S Isaiah 13:8; Daniel 5:9
  • 14. S Psalms 55:5
  • 15. Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 22:2,13; Isaiah 23:7; Isaiah 24:8; Isaiah 32:13; Jeremiah 25:16,27; Jeremiah 51:39,57; Daniel 5:2
  • 16. 2 Samuel 1:21; 1 Kings 10:16-17; Jeremiah 46:3; Jeremiah 51:11
  • 17. S 2 Kings 9:17
  • 18. ver 9
  • 19. S Judges 6:5
  • 20. Micah 7:7; Habakkuk 2:1
  • 21. ver 7
  • 22. S Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 47:1,5; S Revelation 14:8
  • 23. Isaiah 47:11; Jeremiah 51:8; Daniel 5:30; Revelation 18:2
  • 24. S Leviticus 26:30; Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:44
  • 25. S Isaiah 2:18
  • 26. Isaiah 27:12; Isaiah 28:27,28; Isaiah 41:15; Jeremiah 51:33; Micah 4:13; Habakkuk 3:12; Matthew 3:12
  • 27. S Genesis 25:14; S Isaiah 34:11
  • 28. Genesis 32:3
  • 29. Isaiah 13:1
  • 30. S 2 Chronicles 9:14
  • 31. S Genesis 10:7; S Genesis 25:3
  • 32. S Genesis 25:15
  • 33. S Isaiah 13:14
  • 34. Isaiah 31:8
  • 35. S Leviticus 25:50; Isaiah 16:14
  • 36. S Isaiah 17:3
  • 37. S Genesis 25:13; Psalms 120:5; Isaiah 60:7
  • 38. S Deuteronomy 4:27; S Isaiah 10:19
  • 39. S Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 16:14

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Dead Sea Scrolls and Syriac; Masoretic Text "A lion"
  • [b]. "Dumah" , a wordplay on "Edom" , means "silence" or "stillness."

Chapter Summary


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, Isa 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, Isa 21:2 their terror and distress upon it are represented by the pains of a woman in travail, whom the prophet personates, Isa 21:3,4 and by the methods they took to defend themselves, to which they were alarmed, when in the greatest security and jollity, Isa 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, Isa 21:6-9 which would issue in the good and comfort of the church and people of God, Isa 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, Isa 21:11,12 and the chapter concludes with another prophecy against Arabia: the calamities threatened are lodging in a forest, thirst, famine, and fleeing from the sword Isa 21:13-15, 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, Isa 21:16,17.

Isaiah 21 Commentaries

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