Notes on Isaiah 21-22

Isaiah 21-22
In the first of these chapters, and not a long one, are three sentences of judgment—on Babylon (ver. 1-10), on Dumah (ver. 11, 12), and on Arabia (ver. 13-17).
“The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.” There can be no doubt, it appears to me, that the great Chaldean capital is referred to; the command to the Medes and Persians to go up and besiege is one indication; and so is yet more the graphic description of the sudden destruction, in verses 3-5, which turned the night of revelry into the pangs of terror and death for the dissolute king and his court. “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. My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me. Prepare the table, watch in the watch-tower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.” The ninth verse crowns the proof and expressly names Babylon's fall as the object intended. The prophet personifies the city or its people.
Nevertheless there is somewhat to be noted in the phrase used of the doomed mistress of the world; especially as there seems to be an evident link between this enigmatic title, “the burden of the desert of the sea,” and that applied to Jerusalem, “the burden of the valley of vision,” in the beginning of chapter 22. As the rise and glory of the first Gentile empire were only permitted sovereignly of God in consequence of hopeless idolatry in Judah and Jerusalem, so the judgment of Babylon was the epoch of deliverance for the Jewish remnant, the type of the final dealings of God with the last holder of the power which began with the golden head of the great image. There is thus a correlation between these two cities—Jerusalem and Babylon, whether historical or symbolic; and the latter is designated “the desert of the sea,” the former “the valley of vision.” Jeremiah in his vision (chap. 51:42) beholds the sea come up upon Babylon, so as to cover her with the multitude of the waves. In fact, too, we know to what a waste this seat of human pride sunk, and so notoriously it remains until this day.
There is, in verses 6-10, set forth the twofold leadership of the coming invasion, and the twofold nationality of the armies that followed. The watchman in the vision attests his vigilance, and reports what he saw; which is followed by the solemn tidings of Babylon's fall, and the prophet's seal of the truth of the announcement.
Next comes “the burden of Dumah” (ver. 11, 12), which, from the connection, bordered on, if it did not belong to, Idumea. “He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.” The Edomite cry is one of proud scorn and self-security. The brief answer is pregnant with serious expostulation. Let them not trust to hopes of the bright morn; for the dark and dangerous night would be there also. Nevertheless, a door was still open for repentance. Let them “come again.”
As for “the burden upon Arabia,” little remark is needed. The forests of Arabia would be no more an effectual hiding place from the storm than the rocks and mountain fastnesses of Edam. It is not only the traveling companies or caravans of Dedan which are cast on the pity and care of the men of Tema; but utter wasting within a year is pronounced on the mighty men of the children of Kedar.
Chapter 22 consists of a prophecy wholly directed against Jerusalem. There may have been some anticipation in the prophet's day, but it was partial. So much so was this the case that Vitringa can only eke out an appearance of an historical answer by piecing together the invasion of the city by the Assyrians under Sennacherib, and that by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar; and even this by the strong inversion which places the Chaldean movement in verses 1-5 (comp. 2 Kings 25:4, 54And the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between two walls, which is by the king's garden: (now the Chaldees were against the city round about:) and the king went the way toward the plain. 5And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were scattered from him. (2 Kings 25:4‑5)) and the Assyrian in the part that follows (with which 2 Chron. 32:2-52And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, 3He took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him. 4So there was gathered much people together, who stopped all the fountains, and the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water? 5Also he strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without, and repaired Millo in the city of David, and made darts and shields in abundance. (2 Chronicles 32:2‑5) corresponds). Granting this as a primary application, it affords a strong presumption that this chapter, like the last and all we have seen, points to the great day when the reckoning of nations will come in the morning, and of every individual throughout its course, even to the judgment of the secrets of the heart. It seems strange that believers should rest satisfied with so small an installment from One who pays to the uttermost farthing. The spirit that treats as an illusion the expectation of a punctual fulfillment of these prophecies as a whole, in every feature save those expressly limited to a definite time in certain particulars, is either ignorance or skepticism, or, what is common enough, a mixture of both.
The city is shown us in the early verses, changed from its stir and tumultuous joy to the deepest uneasiness and deadly fear, the slain not fallen in battle but ignominious slaughter, all the rulers fled but taken and bound, so that the prophet can but turn and weep alone in bitterness; for the trouble and perplexity sprang not from the dust but were by the Lord God of hosts.
The central verses expose the utter vanity and unpardonable sin of recourse to human measures by the people of God when He is dealing with them in judgment. Their only right place at such a time is to bow to His hand and accept the chastening He is pleased to inflict, always confident that mercy rejoices against judgment and that the end of the Lord is that He is exceeding pitiful and of tender mercy. Here there was no humiliation in them, no recognition of Him or His ways. “And he discovered the covering of Judah, and thou didst look in that day to the armor of the house of the forest. Ye have seen also the breaches of the city of David, that they are many: and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool. And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall. Ye made also a ditch between the two walls for the water of the old pool: but ye have not looked unto the maker thereof, neither had respect unto him that fashioned it long ago. And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth and behold joy and gladness, slaving oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord God of hosts.” The one effort was to escape by policy—a fatal path for the people of God, which speedily falls into open licentious Sadduceeism.
The close of the chapter sets before us the setting aside of the unworthy Shebna who had crept into the place of chief minister, next to the throne, who lived only for self, and even after death still sought nothing but his own name and glory (ver. 15-19); whereon Jehovah's servant Eliakim is called to take the reins of government in his stead, a father to Jerusalem and Judah, with the key of David's house laid by the Lord on his shoulder, with full authority and adequate power. We cannot here fail to recognize the type of Christ displacing the Antichrist; and the very fact of the past historical circumstances being put together without regard to mere date, as we have seen, and with personages introduced who officially were not the highest, yet described in terms which open out to a dominion and power beyond the highest, prepares one for the magnificent events of the latter day in the Holy Land, as the only complete fulfillment of the scripture before us.