Text: Isaiah 21
If I were going to give today’s teaching a title, it would be “A Losing Battle.” All who come against the Lord will lose the battle. In this chapter, Isaiah sees and hears three oracles: one for Babylon, one for Edom, and one for Arabia. We will see His correction and punishment of Judah and Jerusalem next time. Again, He does it so they will repent and obey Him.
Verse 1 —
This is an oracle (both a word and a vision), for Babylon, referred to as “the wilderness of the sea.” All who do not know the Lord are in a wilderness, beloved.
He sees a windstorm in the Negev (desert) that sweeps on. It is unstoppable. It comes from the wilderness, from a terrifying land. What land could terrify Babylon? The land of the Medes and Persians, whose empire was about to completely destroy Babylon!
Verse 2 —
A harsh (cruel, hard) vision has been shown to Isaiah by the LORD! The treacherous one, Babylon, still deals treacherously. And the destroyer, Babylon, still destroys, just as King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah and Jerusalem and carried them off into a harsh and cruel exile, 150 years after this prophecy from Isaiah.
But the LORD is about to judge Babylon, by the hand of Media and Persia. He commands the Medes and Persians — Go up! Lay siege! When the Lord commands it, surely it must be done. He has made an end of all the groaning (mourning, sighing) that Babylon has caused for His people!
Verses 3-4 —
In this vision, Isaiah feels what will happen, as well as seeing and hearing it. The vision of Babylon’s fall is so fearsome and causes such anguish (terror) that it causes Isaiah to physically feel cramping in his loins (stomach). The pain is equivalent to that of childbirth!
In this vision, the LORD has caused Isaiah to feel and describe what Belshazzar, the king of Babylon and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, will feel, when he sees fingers suddenly appear and write on the wall of his palace —
Daniel 5:5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together.
Isaiah feels Belshazzar’s bewilderment (he bows down at the waist) and his terror (inward trembling). The vision is one of severe and speedy judgment. Belshazzar will not be able to see or hear because he is so affected by the impending doom it predicts. Isaiah experiences Belshazzar’s mind (his heart) reeling (panting), as horror (shuddering) overwhelms him.
When Daniel is called to the scene to interpret the handwriting on the wall, he speaks for the LORD, telling Belshazzar why the LORD is judging him —
Daniel 5:22 “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified.”
Beware, beloved. Many in today’s church “play house” with the holy things of God. Irreverence toward Him abounds. They will be judged by Him, unless they repent.
Then, Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall —
Daniel 5:25 “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ 26 “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’ — God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 “‘TEKEL’ — you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 “‘PERES’ — your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”
Again, the repetition of MENE meant that the end of Belshazzar’s kingdom will come swiftly! The LORD will see to it that the world system (a type of Babylon), which defies Him and refuses to repent, will be judged.
Verse 5 —
Belshazzar set the table with the holy things of God. He spread out the cloth, they all ate and drank.
But suddenly, the Medo-Persian army will burst into his dining hall! Belshazzar will cry, “Rise up, captains, oil the shields!” (NOTE: Shields were oiled so they could be turned toward the sun, so as to blind the approaching enemy.)
But it will be too late! The Medo-Persians have entered undetected, using the sluiceways under his palace! They will kill him and his nobles on the spot!
Verses 6-7 —
The Lord says to Isaiah, Go, station the lookout (watchman on the wall), let him report what he sees. Isaiah is the watchman on the wall, and reports that he sees horsemen in pairs, a train of donkeys, a train of camels — the Medo-Persian army! Who is to pay attention, close attention? Belshazzar, who is about to be slain!
Verses 8-9 —
Then Isaiah called. The original Hebrew says he called (roared) like a lion, which roars when it has found and captured prey to devour. Isaiah makes the sound that the Medo-Persian army will make, as they capture Babylon, their prey —
Amos 3:4 Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured?
But there is another lion’s roar, from the Lord GOD, that causes His people and their enemies to fear, and His prophets to prophesy!
Amos 3:8 A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
Isaiah says, “O Lord, I stand continually by day on the watchtower, and I am stationed every night at my guard post.” Indeed, that is a watchman’s job description! He sounds a trumpet when he sees danger coming! But the Babylonian watchmen will not detect the Medo-Persians.
Isaiah sees, and says, Behold! See! Here comes a troop of riders, horsemen in pairs, and one said, Fallen, fallen is Babylon! And all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground!
Again, it is a picture of the Medo-Persian army’s destruction of Babylon. All that Babylon has trusted in — all their false gods — are shattered.
But it is much more, for it will be the same at the end of things, for Babylon, which is a type of the world system that defies the Lord —
Revelation 14:8 And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”
And it will happen quickly and suddenly —
Revelation 18:9 “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.”
Verse 10 —
Now Isaiah addresses Judah and Jerusalem, who will be in Babylonian exile in 150 years. He has seen that His people have been threshed (have been trodden down). They are defeated, in ruins, and are in harsh exile! He says, O, my threshed people and my afflicted (my son, my seed, my people) of the threshing floor!
What I have heard from the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, I make known to you, Isaiah says to his people. He gives them the vision of Babylon’s destruction that he has seen, so his people will know that their Babylonian captors will be justly punished by the LORD.
The LORD will redeem His people, after 70 years of exile —
Jeremiah 25:12 ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed (after the exile) I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.”
Jeremiah 29:10 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.”
But as the LORD has spoken through Isaiah from the beginning, they must repent in order to be redeemed!
Verses 11-12 —
Now Isaiah receives an oracle concerning Edom, just to the south of Israel. Isaiah hears someone continually calling to Him from Seir (Mount Seir that demarcates the southern border between Judah and Edom). The Edomites were pagans who worshiped fertility gods.
The one continually calling says, “Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?” He asks twice, they are desperate, they are beseeching! They need a rapid rescue!
When will our night end? We are in darkness, besieged by Assyria. We and you are descended from the sons of Isaac! Esau (Edom) and Jacob (Israel) were brothers. Answer us, for you are our brothers!
But they receive a riddle from Isaiah for an answer. Morning comes, but also night. If you would inquire, inquire. Come back again.
There will be an end to Assyria’s siege, but their night will return, at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The answer is vague, really no answer at all, for they do not seek the LORD, but only seek relief from the siege.
Verses 13-16 —
Now Isaiah gives the oracle for Arabia. In the thickets of Arabia, caravans of the Dedanites, a tribe from central Saudi Arabia , must spend the night. They are hiding in the thickets, trying to escape from Sargon, king of Assyria, who has overrun their land.
They have fled, carrying all their possessions with them. They have become fugitives.
Bring water for the thirsty, they cry to the inhabitants of Tema, a long oasis in northern Arabia. They are thirsty from fleeing. They seek to be met with drink, and with bread, from their brethren in Tema.
The Arabians have fled from the swords, from the drawn sword and from the bent bow, and from the press of battle. Sargon, king of Assyria, has overwhelmed their armies. They are broken, tired, hungry, and thirsty.
But they will not be rescued, for the Lord said to Isaiah — In a year as a hired man would count it, all the splendor of Kedar (another name for Arabia) will terminate, and the remainder of the number of bowmen, the mighty men of the sons of Kedar, will be few. For the LORD God of Israel has spoken.
When the LORD speaks, it will surely happen. There will be just a small remnant of mighty Arabia!
This is a word for all believers. If you trust in your own ability to escape from your enemy, Satan, you will fail. He is much more powerful than you, and if you have rebelled against the Lord, Satan will overwhelm your feeble attempts to fight him!
When you find yourself a fugitive, your call to the Lord will not be answered, unless you repent and turn to Him.
But, O believer, if you repent from the heart for your rebellion against Him and ask Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit, He will fight for you, and He always wins! He will crucify your sin nature, which Satan used to defeat you. He will purify your heart, and give you His divine nature.
The LORD never loses a battle! And when He has filled you with Himself, you will easily detect Satan’s schemes, and not take his bait! Because of Him in you, the enemy of your soul will lose every battle! Hallelujah!
Lord Jesus, may believers see their great need to cry out to You for the infilling of the Holy Spirit, so they are victorious over sin and so they approach You with the reverence You deserve. May they repent from the heart, for when they do, You will surely hear their cry! Amen!