The Prophet Isaiah Predicts the Destruction of Babylon–again:
Once again the Prophet Isaiah is focusing his attention on the eventual destruction of Babylon–but why?
This is now the third chapter devoted primarily to the future destruction of the city and empire of Babylon.
There is so much focus on Babylon in the prophetic scriptures it leads to the obvious question of why. When the prophet Isaiah wrote, Babylon as an empire didn’t exist. Assyria was the conquering nation of Isaiah’s day and Babylon was under the rule of that notoriously cruel empire. The prophet did often predict judgment against Assyria, but the attention on Babylon is interesting since they weren’t a threat at the time.
Reminder: Bible Study tip–finding the why
When studying the scriptures we should first try to understand the situation occurring at the time in which the writer first penned his words. God spoke to the prophets in context. He spoke to them about the situations, threats, sins etc of the people at the time the prophet lived.
Look around at the situation the prophet lived in, get the historical context of his day.
From there the focus should extend out to potential future predictions as the Lord inspired the prophet. Babylon received an unusual amount of attention from most of the prophets. This preoccupation with Babylon continues all the way to the last book of the Bible.
A Babylon focus
In the Book of Revelation, Babylon gets two entire chapters devoted to its destruction. God’s prophetic word focuses a lot of attention on this city. Babylon, or a similar entity, will rise again in the final chapters of God’s story. Chapters seventeen and eighteen detail the final demise of the city. Those chapters mirror many passages from the Old Testament prophets.
If the Lord’s prophets put so much attention on this city then it should be easy for us to suspect that there is a very important reason for that.
Will Babylon rise again?
This article won’t address the issue of a re-built Babylon in detail but the question of whether the city of Babylon rises again is a hotly debated subject. Many suggest final Babylon is Rome, Jerusalem, New York, Brussels or some other prominent city that faces annihilation in the last days. One very respected author has a new idea about the city. He thinks its Mecca in Saudi Arabia. (Joel Richardson’s thoughts on Mystery Babylon.)
Here’s another link to an old article with some similar findings. Warning: There are lots of shocking pictures and stories on this website. I don’t support or condone much of what is written on this site but the author’s insight into the Muslim faith gives credibility to a lot of what he says. Muslims Rebuild The Tower of Babel (Shocking Research!)
Back to Isaiah 21:
The Lord revealed to the prophet the threat the Babylonian Empire was destined to become. The nation of Israel fell into ruin and captivity at their hands after the Lord protected them from the Assyrian threat. Assyria tried to conquer them but fell short. They didn’t conquer Jerusalem or destroy the temple as Babylon eventually did. That fact could be a key factor in why the Lord puts such a strong emphasis on judging Babylon. They destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, stole the temple treasures, and took many Jews into captivity. Just like the suggestion of a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, the identity of modern Babylon is controversial and hotly contested.
The burden against the Wilderness of the Sea. As whirlwinds in the South pass through, so it comes from the desert, from a terrible land. A distressing vision is declared to me; the treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the plunderer plunders. Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media! All its sighing I have made to cease.
A burden against the Wilderness of the Sea:
Here Isaiah refers to Babylon as the Wilderness of the Sea because across the great plain of Babylon there were numerous lakes and marshes. Looking across the landscape, seeing all that water, gave the observer the appearance of a great shallow sea.
Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media:
The prophet uses the names Elam and Media as a reference to the people of Persia who were located in modern-day Iran. The Persian Empire, the Medes, and Persians eventually conquered the Babylonian Empire. Remember, the Babylonians at the time Isaiah wrote this, were under the rule of Assyria. Isaiah, with Godly inspiration, sees a vision of the future and predicts, once again, the destruction of Babylon.
“God oft maketh use of one tyrant to punish another; as here he stirreth up the Persians to plunder and waste the Babylonians. So the Persians were afterwards in like sort punished by the Macedonians, the Macedonians by the Romans, those Romans by the Huns, Vandals, Lombards, Saracens, Turks; all whom Christ shall destroy at his last coming.” Trapp
Therefore my loins are filled with pain; pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor. I was distressed when I heard it; I was dismayed when I saw it. My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me; the night for which I longed He turned into fear for me. Prepare the table, set a watchman in the tower, eat and drink. Arise, you princes, anoint the shield! For thus has the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.”
And he saw a chariot with a pair of horsemen, a chariot of donkeys, and a chariot of camels, and he listened earnestly with great care. Then he cried, “A lion, my Lord! I stand continually on the watchtower in the daytime; I have sat at my post every night. And look, here comes a chariot of men with a pair of horsemen!” Then he answered and said, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” Oh, my threshing and the grain of my floor! That which I have heard from the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, I have declared to you.
Babylon is fallen
The report comes to Isaiah, the watchman: Babylon is fallen, is fallen! This familiar cry was fulfilled when the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, nearly two hundred years after the prophecy of Isaiah. Similar words are written by John the Apostle in the Book of Revelation. At the end of God’s prophetic story, Babylon is judged for the last time. Revelation 18:2 mentions the words of an angel when God judges another Babylon. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!”
The attention switches to others–Edom and Arabia.
The burden against Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” The watchman said, “The morning comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; return! Come back!”
A judgment against Idumea:
They had taunted the Jews when they were taken into captivity.
Someone from out of Seir asks the prophet, “What of the night?” Is there a hope of deliverance when the sun rises? Isaiah answers back, The morning is approaching but the night will return again. A short time of judgment and reprieve will lead to a return to punishment for the people who mocked the Jews when they were conquered. Compare Psa 137:7. The Jewish slaves could find only a little solace when they heard the Lord would also punish the Edomites who taunted them when the Babylonians sacked their nation and temple and took them away as slaves.
Dumah, another name for the kingdom of Edom, was located in the mountainous region of Seir.
They were descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, living in the Arabian and Syrian deserts. ( Gen 25:14 Ch 1:30 ) As the prophets often did, Isaiah pin-pointed geographical names and places. This provides readers valuable clues in helping to identify the peoples and tribes to which the prophet referred. Dumah was a part of the whole region of Edom. He also refers to the region of Idumea. The original language implies their punishment would lead to their silence and/or destruction.
Mount Seir was the principal mountain in Idumea, south of the Dead Sea, in Arabia-Petraea. “He calleth” could be better translated as, “There is a call from Seir.” The Edomites descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob which is another name for Israel. They settled in the land to the south-east of Israel and were often bitter enemies of their long-lost brothers. Like Ishmael, Esau’s descendants have continued a family feud or blood-war that continues to this day.
That war will get much worse as we come to the close of this chapter of bloodshed.
Watchman: what of the night?
Here the prophet takes on the familiar term “watchman.” ( Isa 62:6 Jer 6:17 ), As a watchman on the lookout tower overlooking a city, Isaiah warns of approaching enemies, judgments, and sometimes good news he might see in a prophetic vision ( Hab 2:1, 2 ).
“Is there good news?”
“How much longer till the dawn?”
These are questions people inside the walls would ask the watchmen up on the defensive walls surrounding a city. This is what is meant by Isaiah’s question; “What of the night?” Those who were fearful and hiding behind walls were understandably more anxious during the night. The sunrise of a new day lifted everyone’s spirit.
Isaiah encouraged the curious to keep asking because there would be more news to come, but not all good. If you will inquire, inquire; return! Come back!”
“What he may be saying is that the long night of Assyrian oppression is almost over, and the night of Babylonian rule would follow a brief ‘morning’ of respite.” Wolf
The burden against Arabia. In the forest in Arabia, you will lodge, O you traveling companies of Dedanites. O inhabitants of the land of Tema, bring water to him who is thirsty; with their bread, they met him who fled. For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the distress of war. For thus the LORD has said to me: “Within a year, according to the year of a hired man, all the glory of Kedar will fail; and the remainder of the number of archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar, will be diminished; for the LORD God of Israel has spoken it.”
Now Arabia receives their warning of judgment
Isaiah receives a vision of war refugees that result from an attack on Arabia. They are thirsty and in need of bread, because they fled from the swords of war. The battle-bow and distresses of war sent them running for a place to hide. They tried to find cover in the forests.
God’s prophecies are rarely general predictions of things that could happen. Often they are very specific. Sometimes a time frame is given. In this case, the people of Arabia are warned of an attack that will come Within a year … the glory of Kedar will fail.
Who Knew? The Lord Knew
The Lord knew what He was talking about, His Word was fulfilled as the prophet foretold. Sometimes it was a year away, other times two hundred years out. Other times a wait of three thousand years or more is necessary till we see God’s Word proven true.
The destruction of Babylon will once again appear in the headlines.
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