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Isaiah 21:1-9

Context
The Lord Will Judge Babylon

21:1 Here is a message about the Desert by the Sea: 1 

Like strong winds blowing in the south, 2 

one invades from the desert,

from a land that is feared.

21:2 I have received a distressing message: 3 

“The deceiver deceives,

the destroyer destroys.

Attack, you Elamites!

Lay siege, you Medes!

I will put an end to all the groaning!” 4 

21:3 For this reason my stomach churns; 5 

cramps overwhelm me

like the contractions of a woman in labor.

I am disturbed 6  by what I hear,

horrified by what I see.

21:4 My heart palpitates, 7 

I shake in fear; 8 

the twilight I desired

has brought me terror.

21:5 Arrange the table,

lay out 9  the carpet,

eat and drink! 10 

Get up, you officers,

smear oil on the shields! 11 

21:6 For this is what the sovereign master 12  has told me:

“Go, post a guard!

He must report what he sees.

21:7 When he sees chariots,

teams of horses, 13 

riders on donkeys,

riders on camels,

he must be alert,

very alert.”

21:8 Then the guard 14  cries out:

“On the watchtower, O sovereign master, 15 

I stand all day long;

at my post

I am stationed every night.

21:9 Look what’s coming!

A charioteer,

a team of horses.” 16 

When questioned, he replies, 17 

“Babylon has fallen, fallen!

All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!”

1 sn The phrase is quite cryptic, at least to the modern reader. Verse 9 seems to indicate that this message pertains to Babylon. Southern Mesopotamia was known as the Sealand in ancient times, because of its proximity to the Persian Gulf. Perhaps the reference to Babylon as a “desert” foreshadows the destruction that would overtake the city, making it like a desolate desert.

2 tn Or “in the Negev” (NASB).

3 tn Heb “a severe revelation has been related to me.”

4 sn This is often interpreted to mean “all the groaning” that Babylon has caused others.

5 tn Heb “my waist is filled with shaking [or “anguish”].”

6 tn Or perhaps, “bent over [in pain]”; cf. NRSV “I am bowed down.”

7 tn Heb “wanders,” perhaps here, “is confused.”

8 tn Heb “shuddering terrifies me.”

9 tn The precise meaning of the verb in this line is debated. Some prefer to derive the form from the homonymic צָפֹה (tsafoh, “keep watch”) and translate “post a guard” (cf. KJV “watch in the watchtower”; ASV “set the watch”).

10 tn The verbal forms in the first three lines are infinitives absolute, which are functioning here as finite verbs. It is uncertain if the forms should have an imperatival or indicative/descriptive force here.

11 sn Smearing the shields with oil would make them more flexible and effective in battle. See J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:394.

12 tn The Hebrew term translated “sovereign master” here and in vv. 8, 16 is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay).

13 tn Or “a pair of horsemen.”

14 tn The Hebrew text has, “the lion,” but this makes little sense here. אַרְיֵה (’aryeh, “lion”) is probably a corruption of an original הָרֹאֶה (haroeh, “the one who sees”), i.e., the guard mentioned previously in v. 6.

15 tn The Hebrew term translated “sovereign master” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay). Some translations take this to refer to the Lord (cf. NAB, NASB, NRSV), while others take it to refer to the guard’s human master (“my lord”; cf. NIV, NLT).

16 tn Or “[with] teams of horses,” or perhaps, “with a pair of horsemen.”

17 tn Heb “and he answered and said” (so KJV, ASV).



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