Isaiah 21 (ESV)
Fallen, Fallen Is Babylon
The prophecy against Babylon is a magnificent example of Hebrew poetry in its abrupt energy and passionate intensity. It is a grievous vision that passes before the prophet. As whirlwinds rush from the desert, so a mysterious terror seizes Isaiah. An awful voice is heard, summoning his attention to the metropolis of the world: the vast and populous stronghold of Babylon on the distant Mesopotamian plains. The air grows full of voices and the darkness of mysterious shapes come and go. He can see nothing clearly, nor hear any distinct speaking. At last the darkness opens, the curtains of the night are drawn aside, and he beholds a stately palace blazing with lights and ringing with the sounds of revelry. It is the palace of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. A banquet is being held for a thousand of his lords. The prophet reports what he sees: They cover the table. They set the watch that they may have their celebration undisturbed. They eat. They drink. Their drunken revelry is at its height when a voice quick with alarm is heard through the halls crying the familiar battle-cry, “Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.”
–N. E. Constance
The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
The great plain of Babylon was divided by many marshes and lakes, hence the reference to it as “of the sea.”
As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
it comes from the wilderness,
from a terrible land.
2 A stern vision is told to me;
the traitor betrays,
and the destroyer destroys.
Go up, O Elam;
lay siege, O Media;
all the sighing she has caused
I bring to an end.
An army from Persia (made up of the ancient peoples of Elam and Media) marches on Babylon.
3 Therefore my loins are filled with anguish;
pangs have seized me,
like the pangs of a woman in labor;
I am bowed down so that I cannot hear;
I am dismayed so that I cannot see.
4 My heart staggers; horror has appalled me;
the twilight I longed for
has been turned for me into trembling.
The leaders are not concerned to prepare for war.
5 They prepare the table,
they spread the rugs,
they eat, they drink.
Arise, O princes;
oil the shield!
While the prophet watches to see what happens next, the whole scene disappears, the lights go out, the palace disappears and he is left on his windy watch-tower in terror and suspense. As he gazes into the night, he sees shadows moving swiftly under the cover of night against the city in which the king was banqueting with his lords. It is the Median cavalry, riding in pairs, and the Persians with their long array of camels. The prophet knows now the Medes and Persians of Cyrus have plunged down the mountain to attack the mighty city of the plains.
Again the thick darkness closes over the scene. All is silent. There is no voice or sound. Then the darkness lifts and the air trembles with a shout of victory. The prophet looks and sees the Median army riding out of the city they have captured. He listens and hears their cry, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.”
–N. E. Constance
6 For thus the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman;
let him announce what he sees.
7 When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
riders on donkeys, riders on camels,
let him listen diligently,
8 Then he who saw cried out:
“Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord,
continually by day,
and at my post I am stationed
9 And behold, here come riders,
horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the carved images of her gods
he has shattered to the ground.”
10 O my threshed and winnowed one,
what I have heard from the Lord of hosts,
the God of Israel, I announce to you.
This is our picture from Isaiah. It conveys to us, as no mere history could do, the astonishment, terror, and joy with which the world heard of the fall of that mighty Babylonian empire which had seemed founded forever.
–N. E. Constance
The report comes to the watchman: Babylon is fallen, is fallen! This dramatic scene was fulfilled when the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, but it also has a prophetic application. Revelation 18:2 describes the cry of an angel when God judges the world system, both commercial Babylon and spiritual 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 repetition of the phrase is fallen, is fallen connects the two passages.
11 The oracle concerning Dumah.
The second prophecy concerns Dumah, which is another name for Edom, a nation in the mountainous region of Seir. The Edomites were the descendants of Isaac’s son and Jacob’s brother Esau. They wonder what their future will hold, and the watchman talks about morning and night — hope and judgment. They will have relief from the Assyrian domination, but it will be followed by oppression from Babylon.
One is calling to me from Seir,
“Watchman, what time of the night?
Watchman, what time of the night?”
12 The watchman says:
“Morning comes, and also the night.
If you will inquire, inquire;
come back again.”
How blessed we are to know that the night is over now that Jesus has come! “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night” by Nadia Birkenstock on Celtic harp. Click HERE to listen and enjoy.
Watchman, tell us of the night,
what its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
see that glory-beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes; it brings the day,
promised day of Israel.
Watchman, tell us of the night;
higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
see, it bursts o’er all the earth.
Watchman, tell us of the night,
for the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
lo! the Son of God is come!
–words by John Bowring, 1825
13 The oracle concerning Arabia.
There is trouble ahead for Arabia, too. They will be hungry and thirsty, their glory gone in “a year . . . of a hired worker,” meaning not one day longer than a year.
In the thickets in Arabia you will lodge,
O caravans of Dedanites.
14 To the thirsty bring water;
meet the fugitive with bread,
O inhabitants of the land of Tema.
15 For they have fled from the swords,
from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow,
and from the press of battle.
16 For thus the Lord said to me, “Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. 17 And the remainder of the archers of the mighty men of the sons of Kedar will be few, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.”
The most basic ground zero reason for the prophets to declare what is happening and what is going to happen to the nations around Israel is profoundly simple. These nations existed on land that Yahweh promised to Abraham and his descendants. Babylon (south of the Euphrates), Arabia, Edom, Moab, Ethiopia, Ammon, Damascus, Phoenicia, Philistia, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon are all on land that is ultimately promised to Abraham and Israel. Read Genesis 15:18-21. The Jewish rabbis state this as the proper extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. This is all the land that was promised.