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Lowell Brueckner

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Fall of Babylon, Dumah and Arabia


20. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 21

The Arabian desert within yellow lines.
Babylon is above it in the north-central part
We will simply try to follow Isaiah, as he takes us from place to place. On his part, he is following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it is always our goal in Bible study to hear the Word of the Lord. We only want to get out, what He has put in. From time to time, we will look at parallel passages or other references, which will help us to see the plan of God more clearly. We may make applications, in some cases, in order to see the relevancy of the Bible to our times.

Fallen, fallen is Babylon

We will trust the order of revelation as it comes to Isaiah. He received another oracle, a burden, for Babylon. Babylon plays an important part in the Bible account and is a major prophetical study. It is also important in world history and especially in the history of the Jews.

Some of the descriptions in Isaiah’s writings are not easy to discern at all. There is much discussion about the meaning of “the wilderness of the sea” as it relates to Babylon.  Could this statement take us back to the origins of the city? Is it depicting the wilderness, in which it was built, to show us its roots? Roots have everything to do with how anything develops and also show us the end to which it will come.

Babylon can look for a ‘storm’ “from a terrifying land” (v.1). Jeremiah describes, “O you who dwell by many waters, rich in treasures, your end has come; the thread of your life is cut.” (Jer.51:13). The waters or the sea speak of the Euphrates River on the Babylonian plain, because of the extension of its waters and marshlands. A whirlwind from the south will blow unobstructed into the plain.

We get a feel for the difficulty of the ministry of Isaiah, who has been given the responsibility of revealing raw truth. Is there someone who wants a prophetic calling? No one in the service of the Lord will have an easy path to walk, notwithstanding the unequaled honor and satisfaction of being involved in the most important work that exists. “A harsh vision” has been shown to him, and he faithfully conveys that harsh vision to the reader. Read the adjectives: The vision is harsh, the land is terrifying, the dealing is with a treacherous one and that one’s tactics are destructive.  

Elam is the central province, from which Persia formed. It is not called Persia until the time of Ezekiel and Daniel. God is calling it to join with the Medes to besiege Babylon (v.2). The prophecy enters the prophet. In every case, the one who takes part in declaring the word of the Lord must live His word. It is not just a declaration coming through his mouth; it embodies him. Hear it! “Pains have seized me like the pains of a woman in labor. I am so bewildered I cannot hear, so terrified I cannot see. My mind reels, horror overwhelms me; the twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling” (v.3-4). If you read the biography of any true man or woman of God, you will find their pathway was not strewn with roses. The one who gives a totally positive report of constant victory is probably a false prophet. That certainly describes the false prophet in the Bible.

In verse 5, a meal is being prepared. Is it for Belshazzar? Is this where they serve wine in the golden vessels from Solomon’s temple? How inappropriate it is to feast, when calamity is on the horizon! How dangerous it is not to know the times in which we live! Suddenly the danger is upon them and the cry comes to the nobles to prepare their arms for battle.

Catch the drama! This is the moment that has gripped the prophet in the Holy Spirit and the Lord orders him to oversee the great event of that historic night. It is as if Isaiah is present in the Spirit and is awaiting the news from outside Babylon, although this will take place a good many years in the future. Infallible inspiration brings it into the present tense. In the oracle, Isaiah is ordered to station the watchman and get the report, in order that it might be surely and accurately reported in Scripture (v.6). He is to be at the pinnacle of attention, expecting “riders, horsemen in pairs, a train of donkeys, a train of camels” (v.7).

The lookout responds in defense of his faithful duty: He has not failed by day or by night to give the most diligent heed. However, he is on the highest level of service, not to men, but he is on duty for the Lord (v.8) and the time is near for fulfillment. And then he sees the vanguard, the riders and the horsemen in pairs. He listens and hears one, as he declares, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground” (v.9. See a parallel passage in Jer.50-51. The ultimate fulfillment is in Rev.18:2). The repetition is the “amen”, the confirmation of the certainty of the statement… fallen, fallen.

This is a momentous and powerful spiritual upheaval. Babylon was the cradle of false religions, from which the entire world borrowed at that time and continues to borrow right up to the present day. She is literally the “mother of harlots” (Rev.17:5)… that is, the womb of religious harlotry.  The commentator Barnes suggests: Babylon was celebrated for its idolatry, and perhaps was the place where the worship of idols commenced.  

What took place on that awful night in history, was only a prelude for a blacker night yet at the end of this age. This fall dealt with the head of gold, seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, but the Babylon of the apocalyptic age will be the ultimate fulfillment. It will embody all that Babylon was and represents, politically, financially and religiously. It will be the habitation of demons in concentrated form, as no other place on earth.

This was a great prophecy for Israel in its day, because it gave the Jews hope, as they lived through the Babylonian persecution. Those who trusted their God were comforted by the fact that this powerful and wicked oppressor would fall. If there were God-fearing Babylonians, they had time to repent before calamity overtook them.

Isaiah’s word speaks to the church, as well, and we had better have our Bible open to its pages. Can you see the Lord’s care in prompting the prophet to a full report of this event? There is much more of the same in this book, leading all the way to the end of time. We ignore it at our own peril and will reap the consequences of willful ignorance. Isaiah’s book is of extreme importance for us in our times and only the devil will tell you otherwise.

Hear it directly from Isaiah’s mouth, as he speaks to his people: “O my threshed people, and my afflicted of the threshing floor! What I have heard from the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, I make known to you” (v.10). “Those who feared the Lord spoke to one another” (Mal.3:16) and these are times, when we must be communicating to one another over prophetical world events.

If we are not willing to face the pain in this time, as the Spirit tells us of events to come (Jn.16:13)… “Full of anguish… pains of a woman in labor. I am so bewildered I cannot hear, so terrified I cannot see. My mind reels, horror overwhelms me; the twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling” … we will not be motivated to take the necessary preparatory steps and the events will overtake us without warning, while we are happily enjoying our ignorance.

Watchmen today must “pay close attention, very close attention.”  We are involved in God’s business, eternal issues and heavenly matters. It is a time for fasting and we are feasting; a time for praying and we are playing, when judgment is at the door, beginning at the house of God. We think we can carry on with what we knew yesterday and experiences from our past. We arrogantly think we are well-informed, when all the evidence points to our lack.

Vengeance upon Mt. Seir

There is another oracle, another burden to be borne, and this time it concerns Edom or Duma, a form of Idumea. Isaiah is continually disturbed by a call from the mountain range of Seir, where they tauntingly inquire concerning the Jews. God confirms His word by parallel passages, which we must read to get better understanding. In the New Testament, we have four harmonizing Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Edom is confirmed and broadened years later in Ezekiel 35. In this way, the Holy Spirit gives a more complete picture of the attitude of the people and what they have done.  

They rejoiced in the downfall of the Jews. Their great sin was that they took lightly the fact that they were speaking of Emmanuel’s land (Ez.35:10). God is recompensing their anger, hatred, envy, and pride. Isaiah’s message always comes from the Holy One of Israel. Ezekiel’s motive is to show that He is the Lord. The nations will know that He is holy and He will not be slighted. The question from Seir reflects their attitude:  “Watchman, how far gone is the night?” (v.11). Before the day dawns, the watchman is probed and the question is repeated. Dumah anxiously awaits the doom of Israel and questions its progress. Where exactly do things stand… what is the situation?  The answer returns, “Morning comes but also night…” The Jew’s judgment is being carried out and relief is coming. However, another night follows and this time it will cover Edom. They may return and inquire again, if they will, but given the answer they have already received, they ought to return humbled and repentant:  “Come back again” (v.12).

God speaks through Isaiah to the world powers of Assyria and Babylon, Elam and Media (future Persia). He sends His word to nearby countries and peoples… Syria, Moab and Edom on the east, Philistia on the west, Ethiopia and Egypt in northern Africa. Now Isaiah’s heavy, prophetic word falls south of Edom and into the Arabian Desert to Dedan.


Caravan in Arabian desert
From Ethiopia, we learned of their means of commuting by the sea and from Dedan, north of the Red Sea, there are caravans passing through the desert (v.13). The Assyrian world conquest that reached into northern Africa to defeat the Ethiopians and Egyptians crosses through the Arabian Peninsula and attacks the tribes that live there, some of which are nomadic traders and others are in fixed cities. In Genesis 10:7, there is a descendant of Ham called Dedan and there is another Dedan, who is a descendant of Abraham, by one of his concubines after Sarah’s death.

Caravans of refugee Dedanites are finding hiding places in the desert, where there are few. The people of Tema, an oasis inhabited by another tribe, are to be hospitable to them, bringing water in the desert and bread to them, who fled “from the sword, from the bent bow, and from the press of battle” (v.14-15). Kedar was a nomadic tribe that lived in tents. Everything that this tribe stood for, including its warriors, in one year’s time after the delivery of this prophecy, would suffer an inglorious defeat (v.16).  

The Lord puts his signature on His word and that is the one validating proof of its authority (v.17). What can Israel and its prophet say, so that all the territories of the Middle East, eastern Asia and northern Africa, should pay the utmost attention? It is the God that Israel worships, Who is the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth and Lord of everyone who moves upon the earth. His seal is stamped on every chapter and verse from Genesis to Malachi, the canon established by the Jews, approved and confirmed by Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. From Matthew to Revelation, the New Testament canon was recognized as the doctrine of the apostles of Christ, and all else was rejected.

So today, the Word stands as the maximum authority to settle every dispute and to assure every promise. No extra-biblical revelation, prophecy, dream or vision compares or competes. We need not tremble before anything less than the written, authenticated Scripture, “for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken”.  


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