ch. 21



short and somewhat vague, but highly poetic, “burden of Babylon” It is

probably an earlier prophecy than Isaiah 13. and 14., and perhaps the first

revelation made to Isaiah with respect to the fall of the great Chaldean

capital. It exhibits no consciousness of the fact that Babylon is Judah’s

predestined destroyer, and is expressive rather of sympathy (vs. 3, 4)

than of triumph. Among recent critics, some suppose it to refer to Sargon’s

capture of the city in B.C. 710; but the objection to this view, from the

entire absence of all reference to Assyria as the conquering power, and the

mention of “Elam” and “Media” in her place, is absolutely fatal to it. There

can be no reasonable doubt that the same siege is intended as in Isaiah 13.,

where also Media is mentioned (v. 17); and there are no real grounds for

questioning that the event of which the prophet is made cognizant is that

siege and capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great which destroyed the

Babylonian empire.


vs. 3-4 - The Sadness of a Nation’s Overthrow.

A nation is God’s creation, no less than an individual. And it is a far more

elaborate work. What forethought, what design, what manifold wisdom,

must not have been required for the planning out of each people’s national

character, for the partitioning out to them of their special gifts and

aptitudes, for the apportionment to each of its place in history, for the

conduct of each through the many centuries of its existence! It is a sad

thing to be witness of a nation’s demise. Very deeply does Isaiah feel its

sadness. His “loins are filled with pain;” the pangs that take hold of hint are

as the pangs of a woman that travaileth;” he is “so agonized that he

cannot hear,” “so terrified that he cannot look” (v. 3). “His heart

flutters,” like a frightened bird; terror overwhelms him; he cannot sleep for

thinking of the dread calamity; “the night of his pleasure is turned into

fear.” The sadness of such a calamity is twofold. It consists


·        in the fact;

·        in the circumstances.


I. THE SADNESS OF THE FACT. We mourn an individual gone from us

how much more a nation! What a blank is created! What arts and

industries are not destroyed or checked! What possibilities of future

achievement are not cut off! Again, an individual is only removed; he still

exists, only in another place. But a nation is annihilated. It has but one life.

There is “no healing of its bruise” (Nahum 3:19), no transference of it

to another sphere. From existence it has passed into nonexistence, and

nothing can recall it into being. It is like a sun extinguished in mid-heaven.




comes necessarily by violence, from within or from without — from

without most commonly. A fierce host invades its borders, spreads itself

over its fertile fields, tramples down its crops, exhausts its granaries,

consumes its cattle, burns its towns and villages, carries everywhere ruin

and desolation. Wanton injury is added to the injury which war cannot but

inflict — fruit-trees are cut down (Isaiah 16:8), works of art are

destroyed, good land is purposely “marred with stones” (2 Kings 3:25).

And if inanimate things suffer, much more do animate ones. Beasts of

burden are impressed and worked to death; horses receive fearful wounds

and scream with pain; cattle perish for want of care; beasts of prey increase

as population lessens, and become a terror to the scanty remnant (2 Kings 17:25).

Not only do armed men fall by thousands in fair fight, but (in barbarous times)

the unwarlike mass of the population suffers almost equally. “Every one that

is found is thrust through, and every one that is joined to them is slain by the

sword” (Isaiah 13:15). Even women and children are not spared. Virgins and

matrons are shamefully used (Isaiah 13:16); children are ruthlessly dashed to

the ground (Isaiah 13:16; Psalm 137:9); every human passion being allowed

free course, the most dreadful excesses are perpetrated. No doubt in modern times

civilization and Christianity tend to alleviate in some degree the horrors of

war; but in a war of conquest, when the destruction of a nationality is

aimed at, frightful scenes are almost sure to occur, sufficient to sadden all

but the utterly unfeeling. It should be the earnest determination of every

Christian to endeavor in every possible way to keep his own country free

from the guilt of such wars.


vs. 11-12 - Half-Hearted Turning to God of No Avail.

There are many who, in the hour of distress, turn to God and His ministers

with the question, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the

night?” They are anxious to be assured that the dark time of their trouble is

well-nigh over, and light about to dawn upon their horizon. And they so far

believe in God’s ministers as to think that they can, better than others, give

them an answer to their question. Accordingly, they importune their

clergymen with such inquiries as these: “Will this sickness, or the effect of

this accident, or this time of slack work, last long? Is there likely to be

much more of it? Or may we look to be free from our trouble speedily?”

To such the “watchman” had best answer with some reserve, or even with

some obscurity, so far as he gives any direct answer at all to their

questions. “The trouble will no doubt pass in time — it may be sooner, it

may be later; God only knows the times and the seasons which He has put

in his own power.” But he may take the opportunity of the inquiry to give

a very clear lesson. “If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come;” that is to

say, “Be not half-hearted, beat not about the bush. If ye throw yourselves

upon God for one purpose, do so for every purpose; look to him, not for

an answer to one inquiry only, but for everything. Return to him — come.”

“The Spirit and the Bride” are always saying, “Come” (Revelation 22:17).

Christ Himself has said, most emphatically, Come (Matthew 11:28). If they

return and come, they will be no longer Edom, but Israel; no longer aliens

and strangers, but “fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God”

(Ephesians 2:19). Let the cry, then, be sounded in their ears unceasingly,

“Return, come.”


v. 15 - The Grievousness of War.

The grievousness of war is especially felt in defeat. Kedar was the most

turbulent of the sons of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13). “His hand” like that

of his father, “was against every man, and every man’s hand against him”

(Genesis 16:12). So long as his “mighty men,” armed with their

formidable bows, could ravage and plunder the inhabitants of more

peaceable districts at their pleasure, and carry off plenty of spoil to their

fastnesses in the rocky parts of the desert (Isaiah 42:11), the “grievousness of war”

was not felt. Rather, “the inhabitants of the rock sang, and shouted from the top of

the mountain” (Isaiah 42:11). But at length the tide of battle had turned. Kedar

was itself attacked, invaded, plundered. The “drawn sword” and the “bent bow” of

the men of Asshur were seen in the recesses of Arabia itself, and the assailants,

becoming the assailed, discovered, apparently to their surprise, that war was a

grievous” thing. Does not history “repeat itself?” Have we not heard in our own

day aggressive nations, that have carried the flames of war over half Europe or

half Asia, complain bitterly, when their turn to be attacked came, of the

grievousness” of invasion? The Greeks said, “To suffer that which one has

done, is strictest, straitest right;” but this is not often distinctly perceived

by the sufferers. It is only “God’s ways” that are “equal;” man’s are apt

always to be “unequal” (Ezekiel 18:25).



v. 10 - the separation of the grain from the chaff - the true

            children of the threshing floor - pure wheat to be

            gathered into the garner of God - Matt. 3:12


v. 17 - "for the Lord God of Israel hath spoken it"