Major Prophets – Isaiah 21-23

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.
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.
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.
My heart falters,
    fear makes me tremble;
the twilight I longed for
    has become a horror to me.
They set the tables,
    they spread the rugs,
    they eat, they drink!
Get up, you officers,
    oil the shields!
This is what the Lord says to me:
“Go, post a lookout
    and have him report what he sees.
When he sees chariots
    with teams of horses,
riders on donkeys
    or riders on camels,
let him be alert,
    fully alert.”
And the lookout shouted,
“Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower;
    every night I stay at my post.
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!’”
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 Dumah:
Someone calls to me from Seir,
    “Watchman, what is left of the night?
    Watchman, what is left of the night?”
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:
You caravans of Dedanites,
    who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
    bring water for the thirsty;
you who live in Tema,
    bring food for the fugitives.
They flee from the sword,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow
    and from the heat of battle.
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. The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few.” The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.

  • Isaiah 21:1-16

For a link to Isaiah 22:1-25, press HERE.

A prophecy against Tyre:
Wail, you ships of Tarshish!
    For Tyre is destroyed
    and left without house or harbor.
From the land of Cyprus
    word has come to them.
Be silent, you people of the island
    and you merchants of Sidon,
    whom the seafarers have enriched.
On the great waters
    came the grain of the Shihor;
the harvest of the Nile was the revenue of Tyre,
    and she became the marketplace of the nations.
Be ashamed, Sidon, and you fortress of the sea,
    for the sea has spoken:
“I have neither been in labor nor given birth;
    I have neither reared sons nor brought up daughters.”
When word comes to Egypt,
    they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre.
Cross over to Tarshish;
    wail, you people of the island.
Is this your city of revelry,
    the old, old city,
whose feet have taken her
    to settle in far-off lands?
Who planned this against Tyre,
    the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants are princes,
    whose traders are renowned in the earth?
The Lord Almighty planned it,
    to bring down her pride in all her splendor
    and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
Till your land as they do along the Nile,
    Daughter Tarshish,
    for you no longer have a harbor.
The Lord has stretched out his hand over the sea
    and made its kingdoms tremble.
He has given an order concerning Phoenicia
    that her fortresses be destroyed.
He said, “No more of your reveling,
    Virgin Daughter Sidon, now crushed!
“Up, cross over to Cyprus;
    even there you will find no rest.”
Look at the land of the Babylonians,
    this people that is now of no account!
The Assyrians have made it
    a place for desert creatures;
they raised up their siege towers,
    they stripped its fortresses bare
    and turned it into a ruin.
Wail, you ships of Tarshish;
    your fortress is destroyed!
At that time Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the span of a king’s life. But at the end of these seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:
“Take up a harp, walk through the city,
    you forgotten prostitute;
play the harp well, sing many a song,
    so that you will be remembered.”
At the end of seventy years, the Lord will deal with Tyre. She will return to her lucrative prostitution and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. Yet her profit and her earnings will be set apart for the Lord; they will not be stored up or hoarded. Her profits will go to those who live before the Lord, for abundant food and fine clothes.

  • Isaiah 23:1-18

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Isaiah 21:1-10 ‘A prophecy against Babylon’: Few oracles have proved to be so difficult as this for the interpreter. If it is against Babylon as v.9 suggests, why didn’t the prophecy make it clear from the beginning? Also, after chs. 13 and 14, is another oracle against Babylon really necessary? Third, what is the provenance of the oracle? Is it the eighth century, referring to defeats of Babylon in 710, 702, or 689 B.C., and thus a word to Israel not to rely on Babylon for help against Assyria (cf. Oswalt, 389.)? Or does it refer to the defeat of Babylon in 539 b.c. and thus the end of Israel’s exile? If so, then why isn’t there more of a celebrative tone, similar to that of chs. 13 and 14?
It seems better to recognize that we do not have enough data to make a definitive determination. But clearly the prophet has received a vision of awesome destruction, like a fierce sirocco destroying everything in its path.
Elam and Media (v.2b) are the two nations that defeated Babylon in 539 b.c. This is evidence in support of a later date for the oracle.
The vision is so potent that the prophet feels the pain of it himself. A watchman is posted. He comes with the message that Babylon has fallen

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 21:1 ‘Wilderness of the Sea’: “The prophet referred to an area of southern Babylon, near the Persian Gulf, known for its fertility. As whirlwinds in the South. The simile drew from the suddenness with which storm winds come from the Negev and sweep through the land of Israel. So sudden is to be Babylon’s overthrow.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 21:5 ‘eat, drink, … anoint the shield’: “This part of the oracle recalled Belshazzar’s feast in Daniel 5 when, amid the celebration, a call came to fight the attacking enemy invading the city.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 21:9 ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen!’: “The watchman proclaimed the tragic end of mighty Babylon, which initially fell to the Assyrians in 689 B.C. and again to the Persians in 539 B.C. Yet, Isaiah’s prediction looked forward to the ultimate fall of the great enemy of God, as verified by John’s citation of this verse in Revelation 14:8; 18:2 (cf. Jer. 50:2; 51:8, 49).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 21:11-12 ‘judgment of Edom’: “The next prophetic segment focuses on the future of Edom, which today comprises southern Jordan. Isaiah refers to Edom as Duma, which is a word play. The meaning of Edom is ‘red,’ and the meaning of Duma is ‘silence.’ The change of names becomes a symbol of Edom’s future fate. Duma does not merely mean silence here, but rather, it speaks of the silence of death, so Edom is the land of the dead (Psalm 31:17; 94:17; 115:17). It is a silence of death-like stillness, death-like sleep, and death-like darkness. Isaiah the watchman hears an anonymous voice from Mount Seir (the main mountain range in the land of Edom) asking the question, ‘Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?’ In the Hebrew text, the first ‘night’ is the long form lailah, and the second ‘night’ is the short form leil, which conveys a heightened anxiety and sense of urgency and haste. In other words, ‘What part of the night is it? How much of the night has passed? How much more must we endure before the light of the morning comes?’ Isaiah answers in Aramaic and says, ‘The morning comes and also the night’—meaning that morning is coming, but it, too, will be night. That is, there will be no relief or consolation for Edom. While there is a call to repentance, Edom does not respond to the call. This short prophecy predicts the rather total destruction of Edom, which will be explained in greater detail later by Isaiah (34:1-17; 63:1-6).”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy

Isaiah 21:11-12 ‘a prophecy against Dumah’: Some interpreters have taken Dumah to be a wordplay on Edom, as the words are similar in Hebrew. Or it may be the oasis in northern Arabia, Dumet ej Jendel (Oswalt, 398). Again, it is not possible to know for certain. What is certain is that we are talking about the area southeast of Jerusalem. Given the possibility of an attack from that direction, the fate of this area would be very important. But, alas, the response of the watchman is not clear. Morning is coming (good news), but also the night (bad news).

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 21:11 ‘Dumah’: “This oasis in northern Arabia stood at the intersection of two important routes, one east-west from the Persian Gulf to Petra and the other north-south between the Red Sea and Tadmor. It was about three hundred miles south of Jerusalem. Seir. Another name for Edom-located south of the Dead Sea and the home of Esau’s descendants. This is the source of an inquiry directed to Isaiah. what of the night? How long was the Assyrian oppression to last?”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 21:13-17 ‘a prophecy concerning Arabia’: With this the prophet brings the prophecies against Babylon and its neighbors in Arabia to an end. All of these nations experience only a transitory glory. Soon it passes, and they are destroyed.

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 21:13 ‘forest’: “‘Thicket,’ referring to scrub brush, is a better rendering since Arabia has few or no forests. Dedanites. Dedan was on the route to the Red Sea about 290 miles southeast of Dumah, in the northwestern part of the Arabian desert.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:1-25 ‘a prophecy concerning Jerusalem’: The opening line refers to a Valley of Vision. While a specific valley near Jerusalem may have been intended, the reference is probably symbolic, for the focus of the oracle is on the people’s amazing inability to see or perceive the true understanding of the events around them.
While it is difficult to determine the historical background of the first stanza (vv.1-4), it is likely the hollow victory over Sennacherib in 701 B.C., when during a siege of Jerusalem he mysteriously abandoned the attack and left. Isaiah saw it as the clear hand of God. The people see this as cause for celebration and thus take to the rooftop (v.1). But Isaiah realizes (1) that the cost has been great (vv.2-3) and (2) that because they persisted in their disobedience, eventual defeat and destruction were not far off (v.4).
In the second stanza (vv.5-8a) Isaiah describes that day of destruction in more detail. The references to Elam and Kir suggest the Babylonian conquest in 587 B.C., an apt description indeed. And when the crisis came, the people frantically considered everything—except the One who created them (vv.8b-11).
The Lord had intended his day of judgment to lead to a day of repentance; instead, his people mocked him, joining in revelry instead of mourning (vv.12-14). Isaiah then particularizes the judgment on Judah by referring to an individual named Shebna. Judah’s attitude and fate parallel his (vv.15-19). Because of his arrogance and pride, he has become a disgrace to his master and will therefore be cast out.
Someone else will take his place. Eliakim, as God’s servant, is a foreshadowing of the messianic figure as the phrase ‘key to the house of David’ suggests (vv.20-24). The meaning of v.25 is unclear, as it appears to reverse the claims of the previous verses. It may be a reference (later?) to the fact that some of the leaders who seemed particularly trustworthy and capable actually failed (such as Hezekiah).

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 22:1 ‘Valley of Vision’: “This referred to Israel, since God often revealed Himself to Jerusalem in visions. However, the unrepentant inhabitants displayed a marked lack of vision in their oblivion to the destruction that awaited them. What ails you? The prophet reproached the people for celebrating with wild parties when they should have been in deep repentance because of their sins. Apparently, he anticipated a condition that arose in conjunction with Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. But similar incursions by the Assyrians in either 711 or 701 B.C., from which the Lord delivered the city, had prompted the revelry among the people.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:8 ‘House of the Forest’: “Constructed by Solomon out of cedars (1 Kin. 7:2-6), the structure housed weaponry (1 Kin. 10:17) and other valuables (2 Chr. 9:20; Is. 39:2).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:12-13 ‘sackcloth … joy and gladness’: “In the face of a crisis that required genuine repentance, the people responded with hilarity and self-indulgence. This spirit contrasts with the legitimate joy and gladness of God’s people in 35:10; 51:11.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:15 ‘Shebna, who is over the house’: “Possibly of Egyptian extraction, this man was second in authority only to the king. Other OT references to Shebna refer to him as a ‘scribe’ (36:22; 37:2; 2 Kin. 18:37; 19:2), his position after his demotion from steward as prophesied by Isaiah (see v. 19).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:20 ‘My servant Eliakim’: “Eliakim, who replaced Shebna as steward or prime minister, was highly honored in being called My servant (see … 20:3).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:22 ‘key of the house of David’: “This authority to admit or refuse admittance into the king’s presence evidenced the king’s great confidence in Eliakim. Jesus applied this terminology to Himself as one who could determine who would enter His future Davidic kingdom (Rev. 3:7).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 22:23-25 ‘the pride of Shebna, the scribe’: Shebna the scribe, having become proud and vain, was to be removed and his place to be occupied by a better man on whom God promised to establish his favor. When Shebna the scribe was removed, it was like the drawing out of a nail that had apparently been well fastened, and all that had been hanging on it came down with its fall. Thus did Shebna’s family suffer for his sins. It is just so in the world today. It would be well if some men who have gone into evil ways had considered this. It is not they alone who suffer. Such is the order and constitution of the commonwealth of manhood, that when the husband sins, the household must feel much of the pain. Often for wife and children, there has been wrung out a cup of bitterness, of which they have been made to drink, not through their own fault but through the fault of the head of the family. But my primary point is that when Shebna was removed, there was room for Eliakim. This is the key to a great spiritual lesson. It has been generally understood that Eliakim is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ. While this passage literally refers to Eliakim himself, it may, with great insight, be applied to the Lord Jesus. In order to make room for Eliakim, Shebna-who seemed to be like a nail fastened in a sure place—must be pulled out, and there must be a downfall of his glory. In order to make room for Jesus Christ, there must be an overthrow of someone else first, either self or someone else who is worshiped.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Isaiah 23:1-18 ‘a prophecy against Tyre’: With this oracle against Tyre, Isaiah concludes his section on the judgment of the nations, which began with Babylon in the east (vv.13-14) and now concludes with the Phoenician seaports in the west.
As the prophecy indicates, Tyre’s influence was extensive, reaching all around the lip of the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. But this marketplace of the nations is about to fall. Its chief trading partner, Egypt, will be the first to learn of her demise (vv.1-5). The word will go as far west as Tarshish, which is near the coast of Spain (vv.6-7). Lest there be any doubt, Isaiah makes it known that it is God who planned this (vv.8-9). He concludes the first portion of the oracle as he began it (v.14). The phrase ‘ships of Tarshish’ had come to stand for the large Phoenician fleet of mercantile ships. They now have no place to call home. The prose section (vv.15-18) speaks of the restoration of the fortunes of Tyre and of her new-found allegiance to the Lord.

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 23:1 ‘Tyre’: “A Phoenician seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, located about thirty-five miles north of Mt. Carmel and twenty-eight miles west of Mt. Hermon, Tyre supplied lumber for King Solomon’s temple (1 Kin. 5:1, 7-12) and sailors for his navy (1 Kin. 9:26, 27). See … Ezekiel 26:3, 4. ships of Tarshish. Tarshish was most likely in Spain, so ‘ships of Tarshish’ were large, trading vessels capable of making distant voyages on the open sea all the way to the port of Tyre. The OT refers to them frequently (2:16; 60:9; 1 Kin. 10:22; 22:48; Ps. 48:7; Ezek. 27:25; Ion. 1:3). laid waste. Tyre was under siege five times between this prophecy and 332 B.C. Only the last of these attacks (in 332 B.C., by Alexander the Great) completely leveled and subdued the city. Ezekiel prophesied this destruction in Ezekiel 26:3-27:36. no house, no harbor. Weary from their long, difficult journey, sailors would find no customary haven of rest upon arrival at their destination, Tyre. Cyprus. Upon reaching this island in the eastern Mediterranean, the seamen would learn of Tyre’s overthrow.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 23:15 ‘seventy years’: “The devastation of Tyre was not permanent. A little village remains on the site of the ancient city to the present day. The time frame of the seventy years is obscure, possibly c. 700-630 B.C. Alexander the Great (332 B.C.) would destroy Tyre (see … Ezek. 26-28).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)


My Thoughts

Last week we covered the first half of the surrounding nations’ prophecies from Isaiah.  Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Cush, and Damascus were shown to be lacking and they would receive great punishments.  This week, Babylon is again discussed, then Edom and Arabia.  Then a special prophecy against Jerusalem, before covering a prophecy against Tyre (similar to Ezekiel 26-28).

In Isaiah 21:3 the pains of Babylon’s punishment will be like a woman in labor.  Likening pain to a woman in labor is used 16 times in the NIV, nine in Jeremiah alone.   And in the opening verses of Isaiah 21 we see that the Elamites and the Medes are identified as the conquerors.  Babylon has not even come to power and their conquerors are given by name.

I think there may have been a typo in the MacArthur Commentary.  Isaiah was written before Daniel, thus he probably meant that the prophecy was recalled in Daniel.

Isaiah mentions Dumah and Seir, but this is a two-verse prophecy on Edom, the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau.  They will be plunged into darkness, not knowing when their torment would be over.  Since the great fortresses of Edom were carved out of the cliffs, there might be a literal meaning.  Sealed off from any source of light, basically in a cave, if the entrance was closed off, and their oil ran out, it would be complete darkness in their fortress city.

Then there are five verses against all of Arabia.  While many of these prophecies had a near immediate timeframe, they may not be completely fulfilled yet.  The prophecy against Tyre was a total destruction, but that did not happen until the time of Alexander the Great.  The Assyrians cut off Tyre and besieged the city on an island, but they never lowered the city to rubble.

In Isaiah 22, Jerusalem is called the Valley of Vision.  They were told to repent, but they used that time for revelry.  The king had what may have been an Egyptian as a high official, called a scribe, but was essentially second to the king, probably there to oversee the country for Egypt, since they relied on Egypt instead of God.  Thus, there was a curse against Shebna, the scribe, replaced by God’s servant, Eliakim.

Eliakim would drive a peg into the foundation.  That caused me to think of the plantation mansions of 150+ years ago.  We had one near my old hometown.  They did not use nails.  Everything was pegged.  You might see that in fine, hand-made furniture, but not in the building of homes these days.  It would be far too costly, and the skill is beginning to be lost.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“Isaiah 21: 1. What ‘Babylon’ are you betting on to shelter you from the uncertainties of life? Knowing that such temporal security will be swept away, like Babylon, how do you feel? What can you do to fill that God-shaped void of insecurity?
“2. When Isaiah envisions a suffering Babylon, even though it was a direct judgment by God, he is moved with God’s compassion. What model does that give you for how to respond to the sufferings of others? Does your television help you identify with the suffering of others, or does it harden you against it? Why?
“3. Babylon’s leaders feast and party, unaware of their impending doom. ls that typical of people under God‘s judgment, or not? How is the fall of this Babylon typical of the final judgment on human pride (see Rev 18:2ff)? What is the lesson for you regarding in whom or what is to be your trust?
22: 1. What evil regimes in your society seem ripe for judgment today? Would you weep over their callousness as Isaiah did (v.4)? Or would you inwardly cheer that they finally ‘got what was coming to them’? Why? What does that reveal about you?
“2. When have you experienced such stress that your response ‘in that day’ was like that of the people in 8b-11? What would it mean for you to look to God instead? What could help you develop that trust?
“3. Consider the popular music, movies and politicians and how they react to threats like nuclear war, political instability and an uncertain future. Where do you see the revelry (v.13) reflected in those signs of the times?
“4. Consider your own response to such stressful issues. Are you any less cynical? Less apathetic? Are you more prayerful? Or pro-active? Why do you respond as you do?
“5. What leadership positions (in the home, work, church, community) do you have? When, if ever, have you acted like a Shebna in that position? If Isaiah spoke to you, as you were busy glorifying your name, how would you react? How can you be more like an Eliakim?
23: 1. Chapters 13-23 reflect upon the foolishness of Judah depending upon alliances with the other nations rather than upon God to protect her from Assyria. What do you see as one implication of that loyalty principle for your life today? To what or to whom have you looked to fill that God-shaped void of insecurity in your life?
“2. If Babylon represented the height of the world’s culture, and Tyre the apex of its wealth, how would you use Isaiah‘s message to challenge people dedicated to power and money? Does this mean power and wealth in themselves are wrong? Why or why not’? How does this message serve as an on-going warning to the church in every age? To your church in particular?
“3. How does the promise in verse 18 (see also 19:23-25) relate to Jesus‘ promise in Matthew 5:5? How would you picture the hope stirred up by these pictures and promises? What specific action will you take next week to embody that hope for a reconciled world loyal to God?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one set of questions for each chapter.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: