Isaiah 21 – “The Fall of Babylon; Two Pronouncements for the Inhabitants of Arabia”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Isaiah predicts the fall of Babylon and provides an eyewitness account of the event. He also delivers a message to the peoples of northwest Arabia.

II. Photo
A message for the desert-dwellers: “Meet the thirsty with water, You who dwell in the land of Tema; Greet the fugitive with bread!” (v. 15)

III. Important Verses
2: A harsh prophecy Has been announced to me: “The betrayer is betraying, The ravager ravaging. Advance, Elam! Lay siege, Media! I have put an end To all her sighing.”
3-4: Therefore my loins Are seized with trembling; I am gripped by pangs Like a woman in travail, Too anguished to hear, Too frightened to see. My mind is confused, I shudder in panic. My night of pleasure He has turned to terror.
9: And there they come, mounted men — Horsemen in pairs!” Then he spoke up and said, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon, And all the images of her gods Have crashed to the ground!”
16-17: For thus my Lord has said to me: “In another year, fixed like the years of a hired laborer, all the multitude of Kedar shall vanish; the remaining bows of Kedar’s warriors shall be few in number; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has spoken.

IV. Outline

1-10. The fall of Babylon pronouncement
    1a. Introduction: The “Wilderness of the Sea” pronouncement
    1b-2a. A harsh prophecy coming from the desert
    2b. Oracle: Elam and Media will attack Babylon
    3-5. The terror of the prophecy
    6-9. A witness’ account of Babylon’s fall
    10. The truth of the prophecy
11-12. The Dumah pronouncement
    11a. Introduction: The “Dumah” pronouncement
    11b. A question from Seir to the watchman
    12. The watchman’s reply
13-17. The Arabia pronouncement
    13a. Introduction: The Arabia pronouncement
    13b-15. The Arabians should meet the thirsty with water
    16-17. The warriors of Kedar will fall

V. Comment
Chapter 21 contains three pronouncements, and each begins with an enigmatic introduction: verse 1 mentions “The ‘Desert of the Sea’ Pronouncement,” verse 11 mentions “The ‘Dumah’ Pronouncement,” and verse 13 mentions  “The “Arabia” Pronouncement.” Who are the subjects of these pronouncements? Sweeney writes about the first pronouncement: “In its present form as part of the 5th-century edition of the books of Isaiah, 21:1-10 constitutes one of the oracles against the nations in chs. 13-23. Although there is some confusion as to the meaning of the superscription, ‘Pronouncement concerning the Wilderness of the Sea,’ the passage is generally taken as an oracle concerning the fall of Babylon, based on the reference to its fall in v. [9].” (279)

Although they do not concern Mesopotamia proper, the next two pronouncements – which describe desert nomads and a group called the Kedarites – are also tied up with Babylonian affairs. Sweeney writes: “Sennacherib’s campaigns against the nomads of the deserts west of Babylonia in 691-689 B.C.E. included the capture of Dumat al-Jandal and the defeat of various Arab tribes including the Kedarites. The Dedanites and the Temanites who aid the gufitive Kedarites in this passage inhabited the cities of Dedan and Tema and the surrounding region. Their location in the northwestern Saudi Arabian peninsula is just south of Edom or Seir, mentioned in 21:11-12. This locale indicates flight away from Babylon, which Sennacherib also destroyed at this time. Isa 21:13-17 apparently presupposes this defeat.” (287)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. “Isaiah 1-39” The Anchor Bible vol. 19 (New York: Doubleday, 2000).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Sweeney, Marvin A. “Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature” The Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 16 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1996).
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