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 13:1-22. 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 (verses 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 13:1-22; where also Media is mentioned (Isaiah 13:17); 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.
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. 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.
A grievous vision; literally, a hard vision; not, however, "hard of interpretation" (Kay), but rather "hard to be borne," "grievous," "calamitous." The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously; rather, perhaps, the robber robs (Knobel); or, the violent man uses violence (Rosenmüller). The idea of faithlessness passes out of the Hebrew boged occasionally, and is unsuitable here, more especially if it is the army of Cyrus that is intended. Go up, O Elam. The discovery that Cyrus, at the time of his conquest of Babylon, Bore the title of "King of Ansan," not "King of Persia," coupled with the probability that "Ansan" was a part of Elam, lends a peculiar interest to these words. Isaiah could not describe Cyrus as "King of Persia," and at the same time be intelligible to his contemporaries, since Persia was a country utterly unknown to them. In using the term "Elam" instead, he uses that of a country known to the Hebrews (Genesis 14:1), adjoining Persia, and, at the time of his expedition against Babylon, subject to Cyrus. Besiege, O Media. Having given "Elam" the first place, the prophet assigns to Media the second. Eleven years before he attacked Babylon, Cyrus had made war upon Astyages (Istuvegu), King of the Medes, had captured him, and become king of the nation, with scarcely any opposition (see the 'Cylinder of Nabonidus'). Hence the Medes would naturally form an important portion of the force which he led against Babylon. All the sighing thereof have I made to cease. The "sighing" caused by Babylon to the nations, to the captives, and to the kings whose prison-doors were kept closed (Isaiah 14:17), God has in his counsels determined to bring to an end.
Therefore are my loins filled with pain, etc. (comp. above, Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:9-11). The prophet is horrorstruck at the vision shown him—at the devastation, the ruin, the carnage (Isaiah 13:18). He does not stop to consider how well deserved the punishment is; he does not, perhaps, as yet know how that, in smiting Babylon, God will be specially avenging the sufferings of his own nation (see the introductory paragraph). I was bowed down at the hearing, etc.; rather, I am so agonized that I cannot hear; I am so terrified that I cannot see.
My heart panted; rather, my heart trembleth, or fluttereth. The night of my pleasure; i.e. "the night, wherein, I am wont to enjoy peaceful and pleasant slumbers."
Prepare the table, etc. With lyrical abruptness, the prophet turns from his own feelings to draw a picture of Babylon at the time when she is attacked. tie uses historical infinitives, the most lively form of narrative. Translate, They deck the table, set the watch, eat, drink; i.e. having decked the table, they commit the task of watching to a few, and then give themselves up to feasting and reveling, as if there were no danger. It is impossible not to think of Belshazzar's feast, and the descriptions of the Greek historians (Herod; 1.191; Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 7.23), which mark at any rate the strength of the tradition that, when Babylon was taken, its inhabitants were engaged in revelry. Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield. In the midst of the feast there enters to the revellers one from the outside, with these words, "Rise, quit the banquet; get your shields; anoint them; arm yourselves." That shields were greased with fat or oil before being used in battle appears from Virg; 'AEneid,' 7.625, and other places. It was thought that the enemy's weapons would more readily glance off an oiled surface.
Go, set a watchman. The event is not to be immediate, it is to be watched for; and Isaiah is not to watch himself, but to set the watchman. Moreover, the watchman waits long before he sees anything (verse 8). These unusual features of the narrative seem to mark a remote, not a near, accomplishment of the prophecy.
And he saw … he hearkened; rather, he shall see … he shall hearken (Kay). He is to wait and watch until he sees a certain sight; then he is to listen attentively, and he will hear the crash of the falling city. A chariot with a couple of horsemen; rather, a troop of horsemen riding two and two. This is exactly how a cavalry force was ordinarily represented by the Assyrians. Chariots are not intended either here or in Isaiah 21:9. They were not employed by the Persians until a late period of their history. A chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; rather, men mounted on asses and on camels. It is well known that both animals were employed by the Persians in their expeditions to carry the baggage (Herod; 1.80; 4.129; Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 7.1, etc.). But neither animal was ever attached to a chariot.
And he cried, A lion; rather, he cried as a lion; i.e. with a loud deep voice (comp. Revelation 10:3). The watchman, after long waiting, becomes impatient, and can contain himself no longer. He makes complaint of his long vain watch. My lord; rather, O Lord. The watchman addresses his complaint to Jehovah.
And, behold, here cometh, etc. Our translators make the words those of the watchman. But they are better taken as the prophet's statement of a fact, "And behold, just then there cometh a troop of men, riding two and two"—the sign for which he was to watch (Isaiah 21:7), or rather the first part of it. We must suppose the rest of the sign to follow, and the watchman then to listen awhile attentively. Suddenly he hears the sound of a sacked town, and he exclaims, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, etc. All the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. Recent documents, belonging to the time of Cyrus, and treating of his capture of Babylon, show that this expression is not to be understood literally. Cyrus was not an iconoclast; he did not break into pieces, or in any way destroy or insult the Babylonian idols. On the contrary, he maintained them in their several shrines, or restored them where they had been displaced; he professed himself a worshipper of the chief Babylonian gods—Bel, Nebo, and Merodach—he repaired the temple of Merodach; he prayed to Bel and Nebo to lengthen his days; he caused his son, Cambyses, to take part in the great religious ceremony wherewith the Babylonians opened the new year. Thus his conquest of Babylon did not bring upon its gods a physical, but only a moral, destruction. The Persian victory discredited and degraded them. It proclaimed to Western Asia that the idolatrous system so long prevalent in the region between Mount Zagros and the Mediterranean was no longer in the ascendant, but lay at the mercy of another quite different religion, which condescended to accord it toleration. Such was the permanent result. No doubt there was also, in the sack of the city, much damage done to many of the idols by a greedy soldiery, who may have carried off many images of gold or silver, and broken up others that were not portable, and stripped off the plates of precious metal from the idols of "brass, and iron, and wood, and stone" (Daniel 5:6).
O my threshing, and the corn of my floor. These are the words of the prophet to Israel. Her chastisements have long been "threshing" Israel, separating the grain from the chaff, and will do so still more as time goes on. The prophet's message is for the comfort of those who shall have gone through the process and become the true "children of the threshing-floor"—pure wheat, fit to be gathered into the garner of God (Matthew 3:12).
Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12
THE BURDEN OF DUMAH. This short "burden" is probably to be understood as uttered with reference to Edom, which the prophet prefers to call "Dumah," i.e. "silence," in reference to the desolation which he sees to be coming upon the country. Such a play upon words is very usual in the East. Isaiah has already given an instance of it in the name under which he has designated Heliopolis (Isaiah 19:18).
Dumah. There were at least two towns of this name; but neither of them is in the district of Seir. It is best, therefore, to regard "Dumah" here as representing Edom, or Iaumaea (so the LXX; Jarchi, Rosenmüller, Kay, Cheyne, and others). He calleth to me; rather, one calleth to me; i.e. I seem to hear a call from Mount Seir, as of one making inquiry of me. There is no need to suppose that the inquiry was actually made. Mount Self, or the district south-south-east of the Dead Sea, was the heart of the Idumaean country, which thence extended vaguely eastward and westward. What of the night? i.e. what hour, or, rather, perhaps, what watch of the night is it? May we consider that "the night is far spent, and the day at hand? Edom had offended Sargon by joining with Ashdod, and was probably at tiffs time oppressed by Sargon in consequence.
The morning cometh, and also the night. An oracular reply, but probably meaning
THE BURDEN OF ARABIA. Edom will have companions in misfortune among the Arab tribes upon her borders, Dedan, Tema, and Kedar. War will enter their territory, derange their commerce (Isaiah 21:13), cause flight and privation (Isaiah 21:14, Isaiah 21:15), and within a year greatly diminish the number of their fighting men (Isaiah 21:16, Isaiah 21:17). The date of the prophecy is uncertain, but can scarcely be earlier than B.C. 715, when Sargon made an expedition into Arabia.
The burden upon Arabia; rather, in Arabia. The phrase is varied from its usual form, probably because it is not Arabia generally, but only certain of the more northern tribes, on whom calamity is about to fall. In the forest … shall ye lodge. The word used is commonly translated "forest;" but Arabia has no forests, and the meaning hero must be "brushwood." Thorny bushes and shrubs are common in all parts of Arabia. The general meaning is that the caravans will have to leave the beaten track, and obtain such shelter and concealment as the scanty brushwood of the desert could afford. Ye traveling companies of Dedanim. The Dedanim, or Dedanites, were among the chief traders of the Arabian peninsula. They had commercial dealings with Tyre, which they supplied with ivory, ebony, and "precious clothes for chariots" (Ezekiel 27:15, Ezekiel 27:20). This trade they carried on by means of large caravans—the "travelling companies" of the present passage. They are thought to have had their chief settlements on the shores of the Persian Gulf, where the island of Dadan may be an echo of their name.
The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water; rather, bring? water, O inhabitants. Tema is reasonably identified with the modern Taima, a village of the Hauran, on the caravan route between Palmyra and Peira. Its inhabitants are exhorted to bring water to the thirsty Dedanites, as they pass along this route with their "travelling companies." (For other mentions of Tome, which must not be confounded with Teman, see Job 6:19 and Jeremiah 25:23.) They prevented with their bread him that fled. Several commentators take this clause as imperative, like the last, and render, "With his bread meet the fugitive;" but the existing Hebrew text seems to require the rendering of the Authorized Version. Dr. Kay understands the prophet to mean that the men of Tema did not need exhortation; already of their own accord had they given of their bread to the fugitive Dedanites.
For they fled; rather, they have fled. The Dedanites have been attacked with sword and bow, and have fled from their assailants. Probably the enemy was Assyria, but no trace of the war has been found on the Assyrian monuments.
Within a year, according to the years of an hireling (see the comment on Isaiah 16:14). All the glory of Kedar shall fail. "Kedar" is a name of greater note than either Dedan or Tome. It seems to be used here as inclusive of Dedan, perhaps as a designation of the northern Arabians generally. The people of Kedar, like those of Dedan, carried on trade with Tyro (Ezekiel 27:21). They dwelt partly in tents (Psalms 120:5; Jeremiah 49:29), partly in villages (Isaiah 42:11), and were rich in flocks and herds and in camels. Though not mentioned in the inscriptions of Sargon, Sennacherib, or Esarhaddon, the contemporaries of Isaiah, they hold a prominent place in those of Esarhaddon's son and successor, Asshurbanipal, with whom they carried on a war of some considerable duration in conjunction with the Nabathaeans.
Isaiah 21:3, Isaiah 21:4
The sadness of a nation's overthrow.
A nation is God's creation, no less than an individual. And it is a far more elaborate work. What forethought, what design, what manifold wisdom, must not have been required for the planning out of each people's national character, for the partitioning out to them of their special gifts and aptitudes, for the apportionment to each of its place in history, for the conduct of each through the many centuries of its existence! It is a sad thing to be witness of a nation's demise. Very deeply does Isaiah feel its sadness. His "loins are filled with pain;" the pangs that take hold of hint are "as the pangs of a woman that travaileth;" he is "so agonized that he cannot hear," "so terrified that he cannot look" (verse 3). "His heart flutters," like a frightened bird; terror overwhelms him; he cannot sleep for thinking of the dread calamity; "the night of his pleasure is turned into fear." The sadness of such a calamity is twofold. It consists
I. THE SADNESS OF THE FACT. We mourn an individual gone from us—how much more a nation! What a blank is created! What arts and industries are not destroyed or checked! What possibilities of future achievement are not cut off! Again, an individual is only removed; he still exists, only in another place. But a nation is annihilated. It has but one life. There is "no healing of its bruise" (Nahum 3:19), no transference of it to another sphere. From existence it has passed into nonexistence, and nothing can recall it into being. It is like a sun extinguished in mid-heaven.
II. THE SADNESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES. The end of a nation comes necessarily by violence, from within or from without—from without most commonly. A fierce host invades its borders, spreads itself over its fertile fields, tramples down its crops, exhausts its granaries, consumes its cattle, burns its towns and villages, carries everywhere ruin and desolation. Wanton injury is added to the injury which war cannot but inflict—fruit-trees are cut down (Isaiah 16:8), works of art are destroyed, good land is purposely "marred with stones" (2 Kings 3:10). And if inanimate things suffer, much more do animate ones. Beasts of burden are impressed and worked to death; horses receive fearful wounds and scream with pain; cattle perish for want of care; beasts of prey increase as population lessens, and become a terror to the scanty remnant (2 Kings 17:25). Not only do armed men fall by thousands in fair fight, but (in barbarous times) the unwarlike mass of the population suffers almost equally. "Every one that is found is thrust through, and every one that is joined to them is slain by the sword" (Isaiah 13:15). Even women and children are not spared. Virgins and matrons are shamefully used (Isaiah 13:16); children are ruthlessly dashed to the ground (Isaiah 13:16; Psalms 137:9); every human passion being allowed free course, the most dreadful excesses are perpetrated. No doubt in modern times civilization and Christianity tend to alleviate in some degree the horrors of war; but in a war of conquest, when the destruction of a nationality is aimed at, frightful scenes are almost sure to occur, sufficient to sadden all but the utterly unfeeling. It should be the earnest determination of every Christian to endeavor in every possible way to keep his own country free from the guilt of such wars.
Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12
Half-hearted turning to God of no avail.
There are many who, in the hour of distress, turn to God and his ministers with the question, "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" They are anxious to be assured that the dark time of their trouble is well-nigh over, and light about to dawn upon their horizon. And they so far believe in God's ministers as to think that they can, better than others, give them an answer to their question. Accordingly, they importune their clergymen with such inquiries as these: "Will this sickness, or the effect of this accident, or this time of slack work, last long? Is there likely to be much more of it? Or may we look to be free from our trouble speedily?" To such the "watchman" had best answer with some reserve, or even with some obscurity, so far as he gives any direct answer at all to their questions. "The trouble will no doubt pass in time—it may be sooner, it may be later; God only knows the times and the seasons which he has put in his own power." But he may take the opportunity of the inquiry to give a very clear lesson. "If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come;" that is to say, "Be not half-hearted, beat not about the bush. If ye throw yourselves upon God for one purpose, do so for every purpose; look to him, not for an answer to one inquiry only, but for everything. Return to him—come." "The Spirit and the Bride" are always saying, "Come" (Revelation 22:17). Christ himself has said, most emphatically, Come (Matthew 11:28). If they return and come, they will be no longer Edom, but Israel; no longer aliens and strangers, but "fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19). Let the cry, then, be sounded in their ears unceasingly, "Return, come."
The grievousness of war.
The grievousness of war is especially felt in defeat. Kedar was the most turbulent of the sons of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13). "His hand" like that of his father, "was against every man, and every man's hand against him" (Genesis 16:12). So long as his "mighty men," armed with their formidable bows, could ravage and plunder the inhabitants of more peaceable districts at their pleasure, and carry off plenty of spoil to their fastnesses in the rocky parts of the desert (Isaiah 42:11), the "grievousness of war" was not felt. Rather, "the inhabitants of the rock sang, and shouted from the top of the mountain" (Isaiah 42:11). But at length the tide of battle had turned. Kedar was itself attacked, invaded, plundered. The "drawn sword" and the "bent bow" of the men of Asshur were seen in the recesses of Arabia itself, and the assailants, becoming the assailed, discovered, apparently to their surprise, that war was a "grievous" thing. Does not history "repeat itself?" Have we not heard in our own day aggressive nations, that have carried the flames of war over half Europe or half Asia, complain bitterly, when their turn to be attacked came, of the "grievousness" of invasion? The Greeks said, "To suffer that which one has done, is strictest, straitest right;" but this is not often distinctly perceived by the sufferers. It is only "God's ways" that are "equal;" man's are apt always to be "unequal" (Ezekiel 18:25).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Fall of Babylon.
It is thought, by some recent commentators, that the description refers to the siege of Babylon in B.C. 710 by Sargon the Assyrian. The King of Babylon at that time was Merodach-Baladan, who sent letters and a present to Hezekiah when he was sick (Isaiah 39:1; 2 Kings 20:12). The prophet may well grieve over the fall of Babylon, as likely to drag down with it weaker kingdoms.
I. THE SOUND OF THE TEMPEST. What sublime poesy have the prophets found in the tempest! We are perhaps impressed more through the perception of the ear than that of the eye, by the sense of vague, vast, overwhelming power working through all the changes of the world. The sweeping up of a tempest from the southern dry country of Judah is like the gathering of a moles belli, and this, again betokens that Jehovah of hosts is stirring up his might in the world unseen. Hence his arrows go forth like lightning, his trumpet blows (Zechariah 9:14). This movement comes from the terrible land, the desert, the haunt of serpents and other horrible creatures.
II. THE VISION OF CALAMITY. The march of the barbarous conqueror is marked by cruelty and devastation. The prophet's heart is overpowered within him. He writhes with anguish as in the visions of the even-tide the picture of Babylon's fall passes before his mind. He beholds a scene of rivalry. There is feasting and mirth. We are reminded of that description which De Quincey adduced as an example of the sublime: "Belshazzar the king made a great feast unto a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand" (Daniel 5:1); and of Byron's description of the eve of the battle of Waterloo at Brussels. Suddenly an alarm is given; the walls have been stormed, the palace is threatened; the banqueters must start from the couch and exchange the garb of luxury for the shield and the armor. The impression of the picture is heightened by the descriptions in Herodotus and Xenophon ('Cyrop.,' 7.5), whether they refer to the same event or no. It is the picture of careless ease and luxury surprised by sudden terror. "Let us go against them," says Cyrus in Xenophon. "Many of them are asleep, many intoxicated, and all of them unfit for battle." The scene, then, may be used parabolically to enforce those lessons of temperance, of watchfulness, of sobriety, and prayerfulness which our religion inculcates.
III. THE WATCHMAN. The word of Jehovah directs that a watchman shall be posted, the prophet "dividing himself into two persons"—his own proper person and that of the speculator or scout upon the height of the watch-tower. So Habakkuk "stands upon his watch, and sets him upon the tower" (Habakkuk 2:1). And what does the prophet see? Cavalry riding two abreast, some on horses, others on asses, others (with the baggage) on camels. This he sees; but he hears no authentic tidings of distant things, though straining his ear in utmost tension. Then he groans with the deep tones of the impatient lion. How long is he to remain at his post? We cannot but think of the fine opening of the 'Agamemnon' of AEschylus, where the weary warder soliloquizes—
"The gods I ask deliverance from these labors,
Watch of a year's length, whereby, slumbering thro' it
On the Atreidai's roof on elbow, dog-like,
I know of mighty star-groups the assemblage,
And those that bring to men winter and summer."
(R. Browning's translation.)
As he waits for "the torch's token and the glow of fire," so does Isaiah wait for certain news about Babylon. And, no sooner is the plaint uttered, than the wish is realized. The watchman sees a squadron of cavalry, riding two abreast, and the truth flashes on him—Babylon is fallen! The images, symbols of the might of the city, protected by the gods they represented, are dashed to the ground and broken. What was felt under such circumstances may be gathered by the student of Greek history from the awful impression made, on the eve of the expedition to Sicily, by the discovery of the mutilation of the statues of the Hermai. It is all over with Babylon.
IV. THE ANGUISH OF THE PATRIOT. "O my threshed and winnowed one!" Poor Israel, who has already suffered so much from the Assyrian, how gladly would the prophet have announced better tidings! The threshing-floor is an image of suffering, and not confined to the Hebrews. It may be found in old Greek lore, and in modern Greek folk-poesy. No image, indeed, can be more expressive (comp. Isaiah 41:15; Micah 4:12, Micah 4:13; Jeremiah 51:33). "But love also takes part in the threshing, and restrains the wrath."
V. GENERAL LESSONS. The Christian minister is, too, a watcher. He must listen and he must look. There are oracles to be heard by the attentive ear, breaking out of the heart of things—hints in the distance to be caught by the wakeful and searching eye. "They whom God has appointed to watch are neither drowsy nor dim-sighted. The prophet also, by this example, exhorts and stimulates believers to the same kind of attention, that by the help of the lamp of the Word they may obtain a distant view of the power of God."—J.
Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12
I. THE CALL FROM SEIR. The Edomites are asking, "Will the light soon dawn? What hour is it?" Like the sick man tossing on his bed, they long for the first tidings that the night of tribulation is past.
II. THE ENIGMATIC ANSWER. "Morning cometh, and also night." There were "wise men" in Edom, and probably the answer is couched in the style they loved. What does it mean? We can but conjecture. It may mean that the coming light of prosperity and joy is soon to be quenched in the night of calamity again. Or, the dawn of joy to some will be the night of despair to others. "When the morning comes, it will still be night" (Luther). Even if morning dawns, it will be swallowed up again immediately by night. And in what follows, also obscure, seems to be a hint that only in case of Edom's conversion can there be an answer of consolation and of hope. The design may be—
1. Historical. "History was quite in accord with such an answer. The Assyrian period of judgment was followed by the Chaldean, the Chaldean by the Persian, the Persian by the Grecian, and the Grecian by the Roman. Again and again there was a glimmer of morning dawn for Edom (and what a glimmer in the Herodian age!); but it was swallowed up directly by another night, until Edom became an utter Dumah, and disappeared from the history of nations." Herod the Great, "King of the Jews," was son of Autipater of Edom, who became procurator of Judaea. Under the Mussulman rule in the seventh century A.D the cities of Edom fell into ruin, and the laud became a desolation (comp. Ezekiel 35:3, Ezekiel 35:4, Ezekiel 35:7, Ezekiel 35:9, Ezekiel 35:14). The famed rock-built city of Petra was brought to light in our own time by Burckhardt, 1812.
2. General. The prophetic outlook upon the world at any epoch is of the same general character. Night struggles with morning in the conflicts and changes of nations, in the controversies of truth with error. In the closing chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel we do not find a prospect of unmingled brightness, very far from it. Christianity will call into existence vast organized hypocrisies; the shadow attends closely upon the light. At the conversion of the empire under Constantine, at the Reformation, etc; "the morning came, and also night." History pursues a spiral line; old errors return, decayed superstitions revive; then again the day breaks. And so with the individual; the light we gain at happy epochs must yield to fresh doubts or fears, again to be dispelled by redawning faith. Such is the condition of our life; we dwell in the chiaroscuro, the twilight of intuition; we "see as in a glass, enigmatically." But hope and endeavor remain to us; and the looking forward to the everlasting light of Jehovah, the glory of God, the rising of the sun that shall no more go down; the end of mourning; the "one day" that shall be neither day nor night; the evening time when it shall be light (Isaiah 60:19, Isaiah 60:20; Zechariah 14:7).—J.
The tribes of Arabia.
I. THE FATE OF THE DEDANITES. Their caravans must hide in the thorn-bushes away from the beaten track. These Dedanites belong to Edom (Jeremiah 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13). They were merchants, and among others traded with wealthy Tyre (Ezekiel 27:15). And probably the meaning is that when on their way from Tyre they would be compelled to camp in the desert, because of the wide spreading war from north to south.
II. THE SYMPATHY OF THE PROPHET. He calls the people of Tema to supply the thirsty and hungry fugitives with water and with bread. Tema lay on the route between Palmyra and Petra. The tribe was among the descendants of Ishmael. In these sad scenes the light of human kindness in the heart of the prophet, reflected in the picture of Temanite hospitality, shines forth.
"These are the precious balsam-drops
That woeful wars distil."
Hospitality is still found in generous flow among the Arabs of these regions, and reminds the wayfarer how near God is to man in the most desolate places. Wherever there is a loving human heart, there indeed is a fount and an oasis in life's desert. And this scene reminds us how good comes out of evil, even the bitterest; the sight of the flying warriors, showing the bent bow and the wave of war, touches the spring of sympathy and mercy in yonder wild hearts.
III. THE PROPHECY OF DOOM. In a year, "as the years of a hireling," i.e. swiftly, certainly, without delay, and without time of grace, Kedar's glory shall be at an end, the powerful tribes of nomad archers will be reduced to a remnant. Those tents, "black but comely," of which the bard of the Canticles sang (Song of Solomon 1:5), those splendid flocks, and the famed "rams of Nebaioth," shall disappear, or melt down to a fraction of the former numbers. So again the night sets on Edom, after a brief dawn.
IV. THE WORD OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL.
1. These events were to happen by Divine appointment.
2. The God of Israel is the true God.
Let us take the saying to heart, amidst all that is most saddening in the fates of nations and institutions, "God hath done it, God hath said it." The true God who revealed himself to the fathers, and manifested himself to men in Christ, is the Being whose will is made known in the course of history. And amidst his heaviest punishments we have this consolation, that he chastises gently, and does not "give men over to death" (Psalms 118:18). ― J
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
A momentous question.
"Watchman, what of the night?" This is the question which ever occupies earnest minds. That the darkness of sin is here wise men note, without wasting metaphysical thought upon the how or why. Here is sin. On that all are agreed. Is there salvation too?
I. PROPHETIC VISION. Isaiah sees. Far away on the world's horizon he beholds a rising light; and, in anticipation of that, he himself is permitted to reveal truths which shall brighten the darkness of Israel. All deliverance is a prophecy of the great Deliverer; all returnings of Israel are foreshadowings of that day when to Christ shall the gathering of the people be.
II. PROPHETIC DECLARATION. "The morning cometh." Always a musical note that. To the sufferer in the chamber of affliction, longing for the first beams of day; to the dismantled ship out far away on the melancholy sea; to the oppressed people waiting for deliverance; to the idolatrous Israel in returning to the true and living God. "The morning cometh." A thought to be meditated on in all long and weary nights of disappointment, disaffection, doubt, and trial. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Patience, poor heart! The morning cometh to the penitent Peter and the doubtful Thomas. "The morning cometh." Not for Israel only, bat for the world. The nations that sat in darkness have seen a great light. Isaiah was right.
III. PROPHETIC COUNSEL. "If ye will inquire, inquire ye." But do more than that. "Return, come." This is the condition on which the morning glory rests. "Return." Give up your love of darkness, and "come." God waits to forgive and bless. "Come." The curiosity of inquiry may belong to mere intellectual states of being. The return of the soul means a great moral change. We must feel the truth of these words, "The morning cometh, and also the night." For the morning will be no morning unless the veil of night is taken away from our hearts.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The effect of God's judgments on the good and on the guilty.
We gather, preliminarily:
1. That God uses not only elemental forces but human agents for the accomplishment of his righteous purposes. The winds and the waves are his ministers; but sometimes, as here, the whirlwinds he invokes are not the airs of heaven but the passions and agitations of human minds.
2. That the greatest human power is nothing in his mighty hand. Babylon was a "great power" indeed in human estimation at that time, but it needed only the whirlwind of God's holy indignation to sweep it away. Concerning the judgments of the Lord, we mark—
I. THEIR EFFECT ON THE GUILTY.
1. The suddenness and surprise of their overthrow. "Prepare the table … eat, drink," say they in the palace. But even while they are feasting comes the cry from the watchman on the walls, "Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield" (Isaiah 21:5). How often, when the ungodly are in the midst of their unjust exactions or their unlawful pleasures, comes the blow which strikes the weapon from their hand, the cup from their lips (see Daniel 5:30; Acts 12:22, Acts 12:23; Luke 12:20)!
2. The completeness of their downfall. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen" (Isaiah 21:9)—fallen utterly, never more to rise; her tyranny broken to pieces, her fires of persecution put out. When God arises to judgment his enemies are not merely defeated, they are scattered.
3. The abasement of their pride. "Babylon is fallen." The word is suggestive of an inglorious descent from a high seat of assumption and is certainly descriptive of the destruction of the Babylonian power. We know that God wills to humble the haughty, and that nothing is more certain to ensure humiliation than the spirit of pride (Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 17:17; Isaiah 10:33; Luke 14:11).
4. The rebuke of their impiety. "The graven images he hath broken," etc. As idolatry was visited with the signs of God's wrath, so impiety, covetousness, absorbing worldliness—which are idolatry in modern form—must expect to receive the proofs of his displeasure.
II. THEIR EFFECT ON THE GOOD.
1. Merciful relief from oppression. "All the sighing thereof have I made to cease." The downfall of the tyrant is the deliverance of the oppressed; hence the close connection between Divine judgments and human praise. As God, in his providence, brings cruelty, injustice, inconsiderateness, to its doom, he makes sighing and sorrow to flee away. There is much tyranny still to be struck down before all burdens will have been taken from the heavy-laden, and before all sighs shall cease from the heavy-hearted.
2. Conversion frown resentment to compassion. The vision which the prophet saw, albeit it was one of triumph over his enemies, excited his compassion; it was "a grievous vision" (Isaiah 21:2). He was even "bowed down at the hearing of it," "dismayed at the seeing of it" (Isaiah 21:3). The night which he loved (the night of his pleasure), instead of bringing him the sacred joy of communion with God and prophetic inspiration, brought to him sympathetic pain and distress. Thus was burning patriotic indignation turned into humane compassion. It may be taken, indeed, as an anticipation of that Christian magnanimity which "loves its enemies, and prays for them that despitefully use and persecute" it. When God's judgments on our enemies thus soften our spirits and call forth the kindlier and more generous sentiments, then do they serve an even higher end than when they make our sighs to cease and our songs to sound.—C.
There is no little tenderness in this Divine address or invocation; it reminds us that God's love may be set upon us when there seems least reason to think so if we judge of his feeling by our outward circumstances. We think naturally of—
I. TRIBULATION. The instrument by which corn was threshed (tribula) has given us the word with which we are so familiar. To some it speaks of long-continued sickness, or weakness, or pain; to others of depressing disappointment; to others of bereavement and consequent desolation; to others of loss and the inevitable struggle with poverty; to others of human frailty or even treachery and of the wounded spirit which suffers from that piercing stroke. The heart knows its own bitterness, and every human soul has its own peculiar story to tell, its own especial troubles to endure. But this human suffering is only appropriately called tribulation when it is recognized that the evil which has come is sent (or allowed) of God as Divine chastening, when it is understood that the Divine Father takes a parental interest in the well-being of his children, that he is seeking their highest good, and that he is passing his threshing-instrument over "his floor" in the exercise of a benign and holy discipline.
II. SEPARATION. When the "tribula" passed over the reaped corn it separated the valuable grain from the worthless chaff; one was then easily distinguishable from the other. Sorrow, persecution, trial, tribulation, is a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Before it comes, the genuine and the pretentious may be mingled indistinguishably; after it has come, it is apparent who are the loyal and true disciples, and who are they that have nothing but "the name to live." We cannot be sure of "the spirit of our mind" or the real character of others until we, or they, have been upon the threshing-floor, and the Divine instrument of threshing has done its decisive and discriminating work. It comes, like Christ himself, "for judgment;" and then many who were supposed not to see are found to have a true vision of God and of his truth, while many who have imagined that they saw have been found to be blind indeed (see John 9:39).
III. SYMPATHY. Israel in Egypt may have thought itself unpitied and even forgotten of God; but it would have been wrong in so thinking (Exodus 3:7). The Jews in Babylon may have imagined themselves disregarded of Jehovah; but they were mistaken if they so thought. "O my threshing," etc; exclaims the sympathetic voice of the Lord. When we are tempted to bewail our unpitied and forgotten condition, we must check ourselves as the psalmist had to do (Psalms 73:1-28.), or we shall be unjust and even ungrateful; "for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." The mark of tribulation is the sign of parental love and care.
IV. PREPARATION. The process of threshing prepared the corn for the granary, and so for the table, and thus for the fulfillment of its true function. When God stretches us on his floor and makes us undergo the process of tribulation, it is that we may be refined and purified; that we may be made "meet for his use" both on earth and in heaven; that we may be prepared for such higher work and such nobler spheres as we should have remained unfitted for, had he not subjected us to the treatment which is "not joyous but grievous" at the time.—C.
Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12
Taunt, retort, and overture.
1. We take this to be a bitter taunt on the part of the Idumaean. "Watchman," he says, "what of this long night of national calamity through which you are passing? Where is the God of David, of Josiah, and of Hezekiah? What about those promises of Divine deliverance which have been your trust," etc.?
2. Then we have the calm retort of the prophet. He says, "'The morning cometh.' You may see nothing but darkness; but to me, on my watch-tower, there are apparent the grey streaks of dawn. I see afar off, but approaching, a glorious deliverance and return—a repopulated city, rebuilt walls, a reopened temple, a rehonored sabbath, a regenerate and a rejoicing people. 'The morning cometh, and also the night: 'to us the morning, to you the night. The sun that shines on you is a setting sun; it is sloping to the west. The dark pall of defeat, captivity, destruction, will soon veil your skies; you have little reason to triumph. We are down, but we are moving up; you are up, but you are moving down."
3. And then comes the prophet's overture. "I do not want," he says, "to gain a barren victory of words. If you will approach me in the spirit, not of mockery, but of inquiry, really wishing to know the mind of God, I will reply to your question. 'If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.'" As the scoffing Idumaean thus assailed the Jewish Church, so the skeptical European assails the Christian Church, and we have—
I. THE TRIUMPHANT TAUNT OF THE SCOFFER. "What," says the scoffer, "of this long night through which the Church is passing? Eighteen centuries have gone since Jesus Christ declared that his cross would attract all men unto him; but barbarism is still found on island and continent, idolatry still prevails among the millions of Asia, corrupt Christianity still deludes the peoples of Europe, and infidelity, immorality, crime, and ungodliness still hang, like angry clouds, over 'Christian England.' What about this long night of Christendom?" Similarly the hostile critic speaks concerning the individual Christian life. "What of this long night of protracted sickness, of unsuccessful contest with financial difficulties, of undeserved dishonor, of repeated losses in the family circle by death, etc.?"
II. THE CALM RETORT OF THE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE. He says, "'The morning cometh.' Barbarism is steadily disappearing before Christian civilization; superstition is being honeycombed by doubt; unbelief is finding itself unsatisfied with its hollow husks; earnest, practical religion is making its attack, by a hundred agencies, on immorality and irreligion; the Churches of Christ are putting on strength, and there is a sound of victory in the air, there are streaks of morning light in the sky. On the other hand, there are signs that overthrow and utter discomfiture will overtake and overwhelm the unholy doubts of the scoffer. To the oppressed Christian man, even though weeping should endure for the whole night of this mortal life, 'joy cometh in the morning' of the everlasting day."
III. THE OVERTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE. He does not content himself with an effective retort. His mission is not to silence, but to convince and to help. He knows that beneath the sneer is doubt or disbelief, and this is too serious and too sad a thing to be left unanswered. So he says, "If you will 'inquire,' do inquire. Come into the court of inquiry with a candid, honest spirit; do not delude yourself by holding up one or two modern objections before your eyes and declaring that there is nothing to be seen. Take into account all the evidence—of prophecy; of miracle; of the life, character, truth, works, of Jesus Christ; of the effects of his gospel on the world, on human hearts, homes, lives; on man, on woman, on the slave, the poor, the prisoner, etc. Set against this what has to he considered on the other side, and then decide whether this redemption in Jesus Christ is not from heaven. Or, again, if you have any serious doubts as to the efficacy of true piety and its actual worth to a man as he goes through life, inquire; but take heed of whom you inquire. Ask of one who has had large and varied experience of life; ask of one who has seen much of men, in whom men have trusted and who knows the thoughts of their hearts; take the testimony of men to whom religion has been not a mere name, or a mere ceremony, but a solid conviction and a living power; and you will find, on such fair inquiry, that it is not only a stay and succor, but is the mainstay and the strength of the human soul in the labors and conflicts of life."—C.
Our ills and their remedies.
In this "burden" upon Arabia we may detect a picture or, at least, find a suggestion of—
I. THE ILLS TO WHICH FLESH IS HEIR.
1. Being turned out of our course. The caravans of Dedan are obliged to forsake their track and find refuge in the forests or stony retreats of the desert (Isaiah 21:13). Continually are we compelled to change our route as travelers along the road of life. We mark out our course and set out on our way, but the irresistible obstacle is confronted and we are obliged to deviate into some other track, or wait in hope until the hindrance be removed.
2. Being straitened for the necessiti