Salvation in Isaiah 21
It seems to me that one of the most, if not THE most, difficult tasks ever given to a man by the Lord God must be that of a PROPHET. By prophet I mean one of those men whom God set apart to speak His word through their lips and their pens. I am glad that I do not have to do that. I am glad that all that God has said and intends to say has been said and is recorded in the Bible. I and many other preachers have a prophetic responsibility to announce what is recorded in the scriptures and to preach them as “Thus saith the Lord.”
But we do not have to receive new material as men like Isaiah did.
In Isaiah 21 the prophet is in pain. He describes his pain in verse 3 – 4.
3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it. 4 My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.
What a graphic description of Isaiah’s distress. His abdomen hurts – mothers who have born children are the best people to describe the pain and anguish that the prophet says that he feels. Women who have gone through labour have described that they are so focussed in the matter in hand – producing a child – that mentally they do not hear some things that are being said to them nor even see what is going on around them – maybe pain keeps their eyes closed.
I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it.
The horror of the vision was so frightful that he had cardiac symptoms too – his heart fluttered – and the sunset at the close of day, which should normally be a peaceful time of relaxation and rest, became a fearful scene causing him to tremble.
Now what had caused this overwhelming trauma that came upon poor Isaiah?
1. The Burden of Babylon.
It was the next burden, or prophecy, that he had to receive and deliver – the burden of the desert of the sea. This term was a symbolic name for Babylon. Sometimes Isaiah has used symbolic names to describe certain countries. He called Ethiopia in Chapter 18 v 1 “the land of rustling wings.” In the next section of this chapter he calls Edom “Dumah” which is Hebrew for silence – the silence of death.
Jeremiah refers to Babylon as
“thou that dwellest on many waters – thine end is come.” Jeremiah 51 v 13.
And in Revelation 17, when John speaks of Babylon the harlot, he says in v 15
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
A desert or a wilderness can either be a place that is dry and desolate – or it can be a place of discipline – such as the wilderness of Sinai.
For Babylon, the beautiful Babylon, fertile Babylon with waters of irrigation and plenty, will become a desert and wasted place. Anyone looking at Babylon at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy would have found it hard to believe that such a thing could happen. We look out upon the green and lush countryside around us and cannot imagine it being anything else – but God could change it all – Devon could be a desert if the Lord so willed it!
In 539 BC the Medes and the Persians descended on Babylon. Cyrus took the city. Although he did not destroy the city he brought the Babylonian Empire to an end.
And Isaiah realises how grievous this fulfilment of Jehovah’s prophecy would be – so that he felt it physically.
But who does Isaiah feel sympathy for? Does he sympathise with the Babylonians themselves? Does he feel compassion for the plight of suffering fellow human beings? Certainly God’s word affects him and he tells of the whirlwind coming in verse 1 – the treacherous man that deals treacherously reminds us of Habakkuk 1 –
5 Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. 6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs. 7 They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. 8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. 9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. 10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it. 11 Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
Yet the judgement against Babylon will be in Judah’s favour – their 70 year long sighing will cease. Judgement against Babylon will bring deliverance for God’s people.
Yet Isaiah is moved and he cannot but help describe it.
I am sure that Isaiah was not given the details of Cyrus’s attack as we have it in Daniel chapter 5 – the account of Belshazzar’s feast.
Verse 5 tells us what the Babylonians were doing when the attack came.
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.
What a verse of false security – they ate and drank and partied when the enemy was at the door.
Are we not reminded of the terrible state of people today who care nothing for God and his word – but care everything for banquets, parties, night clubs and selfish sinful pleasures? Why is this? Why do they not prepare for the world to come?
For the same reason that Babylonians did not prepare – they thought they were safe. They did not believe that an attack would come. They believed themselves to be rock solid and well protected. But they were wrong.
And people today believe these things too. There is no fear of God; no apprehension of His judgement and the punishment of their sins. They live for today and have no hope for next week. My friend if you come into this category – then you had better watch out! God says that
Acts 17 v 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
Whereas the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow with ten thousand blessings from the hand of a kind and righteous God. The believer will not face the judgement because a man has faced it for him or her! That man is Jesus – the wonderful son of God! And when he saves us the appetite for those things that we used to do departs – and we are given new desires including the desire to do God’s will and to please our God!
Verses 6 – 9 are interesting because Isaiah is told to set a watchman to observe what is happening in Babylon – from a distance. The watchman is to watch from Judah several hundred miles away across the Arabian Desert. Remember this is a vision. The watchman is to report to the prophet what he sees – he is to look for a troop of horsemen in pairs riding two abreast – with asses and camels. But all that he saw was what is in verse 9 – 1 chariot and 2 horsemen coming with a message – an awesome message – Babylon is fallen – Babylon is fallen. Twice for emphasis! And the detail that her graven images are cast down to the ground. Jehovah’s power has triumphed and the great heathen kingdom of Babylon has been brought to nothing.
We need not spend long with this because Isaiah comes back to it at length in chapters 40 – 66. More details will be there of the downfall of the idols, the triumph of Jehovah’s cause and especially the deliverance of God’s people who had spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon. Cyrus was to be God’s instrument of deliverance!
A final thought from verse 10 –
O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.
The illustration of threshing wheat is applied here to Judah. A time of harvest comes. The wheat is gathered and then threshed with the wheat being separated from the chaff. The wheat grain is gathered into storage and the chaff burned up. The threshing floors at time of harvest were only temporary affairs. They needed to be hard so that the threshing could happen. But what did you do with a threshing floor for the rest of the year?
So the picture of Judah is applied. 70 years earlier the harvest of judgement came upon the people of Judah. They were gathered to Babylon in captivity. There they learned lessons at God’s hand. They were threshed. Threshing is not a pleasant experience for wheat – neither was it pleasant for the Jews. Yet when the process was over – the 70 years – what was left was the good grain. Two generations had passed – generations that were idolaters – a new generation had sprung up, and were ready, under Cyrus the Mede’s watchful eye, to be sent back to Judah.
Now notice this – the threshing floor, once it had been used was destroyed – Babylon was the threshing floor – and Jehovah destroys it!
We will come back to the destruction of Babylon because the prophet has more to say. But those who know their Bibles will also know that Babylon represents the whole of the wicked world economic and religious system from the beginning of the Gospel age until its end. Revelation 17 speaks also of Babylon’s destruction also as do the other prophets. Babylon is so important – but Babylon should never be allowed to creep its way into our lives. We are to separate ourselves from her – love not the world neither the things that are in the world!
2. The Burden of Dumah.
Verse 11 – 12. Dumah is Edom. Sometimes these people are called Mount Seir, a land south of the Dead Sea and the mountains west of the Arabah. Mount Seir is associated with Esau and was to the Edomites what Zion was to Israel.
A voice comes next to Isaiah the watchman prophet – “Watchman, what of the night?” Anyone who has suffered sickness knows of the restlessness of the night where sleep escapes you and you are continually looking at the clock and asking what time it is or how long is it before the dawn.
But here the answer is pitifully vague – the morning cometh and also the night – or when the morning comes it will still be night. A few rays of dawn will shine but only for a moment – night comes quickly again and the suffering is prolonged.
Edom is a people destined to the silence and night of death. Edom will be cut off for ever – Obadiah 10 confirms this. Night after night came upon Edom – Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Rome – until finally, around about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 they were lost sight of completely. The silence of death is complete.
How watchful are we my friends? Are we waiting for the dawning of that bright and blessed day?
I am waiting for the dawning Of the bright and blessed day, When the darksome night of sorrow Shall have vanished far away: When, for ever with the Saviour, Far beyond this vale of tears, I shall swell the song of worship Through the everlasting years. I am looking at the brightness— See, it shineth from afar— Of the clear and joyous beaming Of the bright and morning Star. Through the dark grey mist of morning Do I see its glorious light; Then away with every shadow Of this sad and weary night! I am waiting for the coming Of the Lord who died for me; O, His words have thrilled my spirit, ‘I will come again for thee.’ I can almost hear His footfall On the threshold of the door, And my heart, my heart is longing To be with Him evermore. Samuel Trevor Francis, 1834-1925
Only a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ can do this! Only a man or woman who has placed their whole trust in the work of Christ on the cross can have this sure and certain hope of a wonderful future with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Is this your hope tonight?
Is there joy in heaven awaiting you? Or the silence of the night of death?
3. The Burden of Arabia.
Verses 13 – 17 are the next announcement from Jehovah about another group of people – the Arabians. Arabia is the largest peninsular in the world covering one million square miles. The children of the east, as they were known, were a very wise and noble group of people. They were skilful traders and travelled thousands of miles in caravans or camel trains – these were called Dedanites. In Isaiah’s day the successive invasions by the Assyrians forced the caravneers to leave their usual travel routes. Some became refugees and the people of Tema – an oasis – helped the drivers by bringing bread and water to them. It seems that they were overwhelmed by their enemies v 14 – 15. But this aid to the fugitives would soon be cut off – within a year – and even though Kedar, the name of the people in Northern Arabia who were at one time a force to be reckoned with – their glory would be gone. Assyria and Babylon had taken their toll and they were greatly weakened.
Verse 17 says that some will be left – a small remnant of archers and other military men. But the fate of Arabia was guaranteed because the rest of verse 17 –
for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken it.
The silence of death would come upon Arabia as it had upon Edom – God had said so!
What are we to learn from Isaiah’s prophecy on Arabia?
Surely it is the last thought of the chapter –
for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken it.
I am reminded of Jesus words in Matthew 24 v 35
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
It is possible to view these prophecies as history – history prophesied and predicted – and history completed – done and dusted. But in the light of Matthew 24 v 35 we are taught that God’s word always comes to pass – whatever that word is. Everything that the Lord God has said is significant. His commandments must be obeyed – and He gives His spirit in order to obey them.
His love never fails – and we have no right to accuse Him ever of not caring.
His will shall always be done on earth so in heaven. Will this challenge us not to question the Lord in His dealings with us – especially when something does not go our way?
Though dark be my way, Since He is my guide, ’Tis mine to obey ’Tis His to provide; Though cisterns be broken and creatures all fail, The word He has spoken SHALL SURELY PREVAIL.
My word shall not pass away! The Sovereign Lord Jesus said that. The Lamb of God said that. The Lord of glory said that! Do we believe His word? I will come again and receive you to myself? Where I am you may be also. Do we believe it?
I will subdue your sins and give you a robe of righteousness. Sin shall not have dominion over you!
I am the way the truth and the life!
These are the words of the Saviour who is God. And His word will never pass away. Praise Him for it child of God!