Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Oracle Concerning the Desert of the Sea (Babylon) - Isa 21:1-10
Ewald pronounces this and other headings to be the glosses of ancient readers (proph. i. 56, 57). Even Vitringa at first attributed it to the collectors, but he afterwards saw that this was inadmissible. In fact, it is hardly possible to understand how the expression "desert of the sea" (midbar-yâm) could have been taken from the prophecy itself; for yâm cannot signify the south (as though synonymous with negeb), but is invariably applied to the west, whilst there is nothing about a sea in the prophecy. The heading, therefore, is a peculiar one; and this Knobel admits, though he nevertheless adheres to the opinion that it sprang from a later hand. But why? According to modern critics, the hand by which the whole massa was written was certainly quite late enough. From Koppe to Knobel they are almost unanimous in asserting that it emanated from a prophet who lived at the end of the Babylonian captivity. And Meier asserts with dictatorial brevity, that no further proof is needed that Isaiah was not the author. But assuming, what indeed seems impossible to modern critics - namely, that a prophet's insight into futurity might stretch over hundreds of years - the massa contains within itself and round about itself the strongest proofs of its genuineness. Within itself: for both the thoughts themselves, and the manner in which they are expressed, are so thoroughly Isaiah's, even in the most minute points, that it is impossible to conceive of any prophecy in a form more truly his own. And round about itself: inasmuch as the four massa's (Isa 21:1-10, Isa 21:11-12, Isa 21:13-17; 22), are so intertwined the one with the other as to form a tetralogy, not only through their emblematical titles (compare Isa 30:6) and their visionary bearing, but also in many ways through the contexts themselves. Thus the designation of the prophet as a "watchman" is common to the first and second massa's; and in the fourth, Jerusalem is called the valley of vision, because the watch-tower was there, from which the prophet surveyed the future fate of Babylon, Edom, and Arabia. And just as in the first, Elam and Madai march against Babylon; so in the fourth (Isa 22:6) Kir and Elam march against Jerusalem. The form of expression is also strikingly similar in both instances (compare Isa 22:6-7, with Isa 21:7). Is it then possible that the first portion of the tetralogy should be spurious, and the other three genuine? We come to the same conclusion in this instance as we did at Isa 13:1.; and that, most truly, neither from a needless apologetical interest, nor from forced traditional prejudice. Just as the massâ Bâbel rests upon a prophecy against Asshur, which forms, as it were, a pedestal to it, and cannot be supposed to have been placed there by any one but Isaiah himself; so that massa midbar-yâm rests, as it were, upon the pillars of its genuineness, and announces itself velut de tripode as Isaiah's. This also applies to the heading. We have already noticed, in connection with Isa 15:1, how closely the headings fit in to the prophecies themselves. Isaiah is fond of symbolical names (Isa 29:1; Isa 30:7). And midbar-yâm (desert of the sea) is a name of this kind applied to Babylon and the neighbourhood. The continent on which Babylon stood was a midbâr, a great plain running to the south into Arabia deserta; and so intersected by the Euphrates as well as by marshes and lakes, that it floated, as it were, in the sea. The low-lying land on the Lower Euphrates had been wrested, as it were, from the sea; for before Semiramis constructed the dams, the Euphrates used to overflow the whole just like a sea (πελαγίζειν, Herod. i. 184). Abydenus even says, that at first the whole of it was covered with water, and was called thalassa (Euseb. praep. ix. 41). We may learn from Isa 14:23, why it was that the prophet made use of this symbolical name. The origin and natural features of Babylon are made into ominous prognostics of its ultimate fate. The true interpretation is found in Jeremiah (Jer 51:13; Jer 50:38), who was acquainted with this oracle.
The power which first brings destruction upon the city of the world, is a hostile army composed of several nations. "As storms in the south approach, it comes from the desert, from a terrible land. Hard vision is made known to me: the spoiler spoils, and the devastator devastates. Go up, Elam! Surround, Maday! I put an end to all their sighing." "Storms in the south" (compare Isa 28:21; Amo 3:9) are storms which have their starting-point in the south, and therefore come to Babylon from Arabia deserta; and like all winds that come from boundless steppes, they are always violent (Job 1:19; Job 37:9; see Hos 13:15). It would be natural, therefore, to connect mimmidbâr with lachalōph (as Knobel and Umbreit do), but the arrangement of the words is opposed to this; lachalōōph ("pressing forwards") is sued instead of yachalōph (see Ges. 132, Anm. 1, and still more fully on Hab 1:17). The conjunctio periphrastica stands with great force at the close of the comparison, in order that it may express at the same time the violent pressure with which the progress of the storm is connected. It is true that, according to Herod. i. 189, Cyrus came across the Gyndes, so that he descended into the lowlands to Babylonia through Chalonitis and Apolloniatis, by the road described by Isidor V. Charax in his Itinerarium,
(Note: See C. Masson's "Illustration of the route from Seleucia to Apobatana, as given by Isid. of Charax," in the Asiatic Journal, xii. 97ff.)
over the Zagros pass through the Zagros-gate (Ptolem. vi. 2) to the upper course of the Gyndes (the present Diyala), and then along this river, which he crossed before its junction with the Tigris. But if the Medo-Persian army came in this direction, it could not be regarded as coming "from the desert." If, however, the Median portion of the army followed the course of the Choaspes (Kerkha) so as to descend into the lowland of Chuzistan (the route taken by Major Rawlinson with a Guran regiment),
(Note: See Rawlinson's route as described in Ritter's Erdkunde, ix. 3 (West-asien), p. 397ff.)
and thus approached Babylon from the south-east, it might be regarded in many respects as coming mimmidbâr (from the desert), and primarily because the lowland of Chuzistan is a broad open plain - that is to say, a midbâr. According to the simile employed of storms in the south, the assumption of the prophecy is really this, that the hostile army is advancing from Chuzistan, or (as geographical exactitude is not to be supposed) from the direction of the desert of ed-Dahna, that portion of Arabia deserta which bounded the lowland of Chaldean on the south-west. The Medo-Persian land itself is called "a terrible land," because it was situated outside the circle of civilised nations by which the land of Israel was surrounded. After the thematic commencement in Isa 21:1, which is quite in harmony with Isaiah's usual custom, the prophet begins again in Isa 21:2. Châzuth (a vision) has the same meaning here as in Isa 29:11 (though not Isa 28:18); and châzuth kâshâh is the object of the passive which follows (Ges. 143, 1, b). The prophet calls the look into the future, which is given to him by divine inspiration, hard or heavy (though in the sense of difficilis, not gravis, câbēd), on account of its repulsive, unendurable, and, so to speak, indigestible nature. The prospect is wide-spread plunder and devastation (the expression is the same as in Isa 33:1, compare Isa 16:4; Isa 24:16, bâgad denoting faithless or treacherous conduct, then heartless robbery), and the summoning of the nations on the east and north of Babylonia to the conquest of Babylon; for Jehovah is about to put an end (hishbatti, as in Isa 16:10) to all their sighing (anchâthâh, with He raf. and the tone upon the last syllable), i.e., to all the lamentations forced out of them far and wide by the oppressor.
Here again, as in the case of the prophecy concerning Moab, what the prophet has given to him to see does not pass without exciting his feelings of humanity, but works upon him like a horrible dream. "Therefore are my loins full of cramp: pangs have taken hold of me, as the pangs of a travailing woman: I twist myself, so that I do not hear; I am brought down with fear, so that I do not see. My heart beats wildly; horror hath troubled me: the darkness of night that I love, he hath turned for me into quaking." The prophet does not describe in detail what he saw; but the violent agitation produced by the impression leads us to conclude how horrible it must have been. Chalchâlâh is the contortion produced by cramp, as in Nah 2:11; tzirim is the word properly applied to the pains of childbirth; na‛avâh means to bend, or bow one's self, and is also used to denote a convulsive utterance of pain; tâ‛âh, which is used in a different sense from Psa 95:10 (compare, however, Psa 38:11), denotes a feverish and irregular beating of the pulse. The darkness of evening and night, which the prophet loved so much (chēshek, a desire arising from inclination, Kg1 9:1, Kg1 9:19), and always longed for, either that he might give himself up to contemplation, or that he might rest from outward and inward labour, had bee changed into quaking by the horrible vision. It is quite impossible to imagine, as Umbreit suggests, that nesheph chishki (the darkness of my pleasure) refers to the nocturnal feast during which Babylon was stormed (Herod. i. 191, and Xenophon, Cyrop. vii. 23).
On the other hand, what Xenophon so elaborately relates, and what is also in all probability described in Dan 5:30 (compare Jer 51:39, Jer 51:57), is referred to in Isa 21:5 : "They cover the table, watch the watch, eat, drink. Rise up, ye princes! Anoint the shield!" This is not a scene from the hostile camp, where they are strengthening themselves for an attack upon Babylon: for the express allusion to the covering of the table is intended to create the impression of confident and careless good living; and the exclamation "anoint the shield" (cf., Jer 51:11) presupposes that they have first of all to prepare themselves for battle, and therefore that they have been taken by surprise. What the prophet sees, therefore, is a banquet in Babylon. The only thing that does not seem quite to square with this is one of the infinitives with which the picture is so vividly described (Ges. 131, 4, b), namely tzâpōh hatztzâphith. Hitzig's explanation, "they spread carpets" (from tzâphâh, expandere, obducere, compare the Talmudic tziphâh, tziphtâh, a mat, storea), commends itself thoroughly; but it is without any support in biblical usage, so that we prefer to follow the Targum, Peshito, and Vulgate (the Sept. does not give any translation of the words at all), and understand the hap. leg. tzâphith as referring to the watch: "they set the watch." They content themselves with this one precautionary measure, and give themselves up with all the greater recklessness to their night's debauch (cf., Isa 22:13). The prophet mentions this, because (as Meier acknowledges) it is by the watch that the cry, "Rise up, ye princes," etc., is addressed to the feasters. The shield-leather was generally oiled, to make it shine and protect it from wet, and, more than all, to cause the strokes it might receive to glide off (compare the laeves clypeos in Virg. Aen. vii. 626). The infatuated self-confidence of the chief men of Babylon was proved by the fact that they had to be aroused. They fancied that they were hidden behind the walls and waters of the city, and therefore they had not even got their weapons ready for use.
The prophecy is continued with the conjunction "for" (ci). The tacit link in the train of thought is this: they act thus in Babylon, because the destruction of Babylon is determined. The form in which this thought is embodied is the following: the prophet receives instruction in the vision to set a metzappeh upon the watch-tower, who was to look out and see what more took place. "For thus said the Lord to me, Go, set a spy; what he seeth, let him declare." In other cases it is the prophet himself who stands upon the watch-tower (Isa 21:11; Hab 2:1-2); but here in the vision a distinction is made between the prophet and the person whom he stations upon the watch-tower (specula). The prophet divides himself, as it were, into two persons (compare Isa 18:4 for the introduction; and for the expression "go," Isa 20:2). He now sees through the medium of a spy, just as Zechariah sees by means of the angel speaking in him; with this difference, however, that here the spy is the instrument employed by the prophet, whereas there the prophet is the instrument employed by the angel.
What the man upon the watch-tower sees first of all, is a long, long procession, viz., the hostile army advancing quietly, like a caravan, in serried ranks, and with the most perfect self-reliance. "And he saw a procession of cavalry, pairs of horsemen, a procession of asses, a procession of camels; and listened sharply, as sharply as he could listen." Receb, both here and in Isa 21:9, signifies neither riding-animals nor war-chariots, but a troop seated upon animals - a procession of riders. In front there was a procession of riders arranged two and two, for Persians and Medes fought either on foot or on horseback (the latter, at any rate, from the time of Cyrus; vid., Cyrop. iv 3); and pârâsh signifies a rider on horseback (in Arabic it is used in distinction from râkib, the rider on camels). Then came lines of asses and camels, a large number of which were always taken with the Persian army for different purposes. They not only carried baggage and provisions, but were taken into battle to throw the enemy into confusion. Thus Cyrus gained the victory over the Lydians by means of the great number of his camels (Herod. i. 80), and Darius Hystaspis the victory over the Scythians by means of the number of asses that he employed (Herod. iv 129). Some of the subject tribes rode upon asses and camels instead of horses: the Arabs rode upon camels in the army of Xerxes, and the Caramanians rode upon asses. What the spy saw was therefore, no doubt, the Persian army. But he only saw and listened. It was indeed "listening, greatness of listening," i.e., he stretched his ear to the utmost (rab is a substantive, as in Isa 63:7; Psa 145:7; and hikshib, according to its radical notion, signifies to stiffen, viz., the ear);
(Note: Bttcher has very correctly compared kâshab (kasuba) with kâshâh (kasa), and Fleischer with sarra (tzâr), which is applied in the kal and hiphil (asarra) to any animal (horse, ass, etc.) when it holds its ears straight and erect to listen to any noise (sarra udhneı̄h, or udhnahu bi-udhneı̄h, or bi-udhnı̄h iv., asarra bi-udhnı̄h, and also absolutely asarra, exactly like hikshib).)
but he heard nothing, because the long procession was moving with the stillness of death.
At length the procession has vanished; he sees nothing and hears nothing, and is seized with impatience. "Then he cried with lion's voice, Upon the watch-tower, O Lord, I stand continually by day, and upon my watch I keep my stand all the nights." He loses all his patience, and growls as if he were a lion (compare Rev 10:3), with the same dull, angry sound, the same long, deep breath out of full lungs, complaining to God that he has to stand so long at his post without seeing anything, except that inexplicable procession that has now vanished away.
But when he is about to speak, his complaint is stifled in his mouth. "And, behold, there came a cavalcade of men, pairs of horsemen, and lifted up its voice, and said, Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of its gods He hath dashed to the ground!" It is now clear enough where the long procession went to when it disappeared. It entered Babylon, made itself master of the city, and established itself there. And now, after a long interval, there appears a smaller cavalcade, which has to carry the tidings of victory somewhere; and the spy hears them cry out in triumph, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon!" In Rev 18:1-2, the same words form the shout of triumph raised by the angel, the antitype being more majestic than the type, whilst upon the higher ground of the New Testament everything moves on in spiritual relations, all that is merely national having lost its power. Still even here the spiritual inwardness of the affair is so far expressed, that it is Jehovah who dashes to the ground; and even the heathen conquerors are obliged to confess that the fall of Babylon and its pesilim (compare Jer 51:47, Jer 51:52) is the work of Jehovah Himself. What is here only hinted at from afar - namely, that Cyrus would act as the anointed of Jehovah - is expanded in the second part (Isaiah 40-66) for the consolation of the captives.
The night vision related and recorded by the prophet, a prelude to the revelations contained in Chapters 40-60, was also intended for the consolation of Israel, which had already much to suffer, when Babylon was still Assyrian, but would have to suffer far more from it when it should become Chaldean. "O thou my threshing, and child of my threshing-floor! What I have heard from Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, I have declared to you." Threshing (dūsh) is a figure used to represent crushing oppression in Isa 41:15 and Mic 4:12-13; and judicial visitation in Jer 51:33 (a parallel by which we must not allow ourselves to be misled, as Jeremiah has there given a different turn to Isaiah's figure, as he very frequently does); and again, as in the present instance, chastising plagues, in which wrath and good intention are mingled together. Israel, placed as it was under the tyrannical supremacy of the imperial power, is called the medŭsshâh (for medūshah, i.e., the threshing) of Jehovah - in other words, the corn threshed by Him; also His "child of the threshing-floor," inasmuch as it was laid in the floor, in the bosom as it were of the threshing-place, to come out threshed (and then to become a thresher itself, Mic 4:12-13). This floor, in which Jehovah makes a judicial separation of grains and husks in Israel, was their captivity. Babylon is the instrument of the threshing wrath of God. But love also takes part in the threshing, and restrains the wrath. This is what the prophet has learned in the vision ("I have heard," as in Isa 28:22) - a consolatory figure for the threshing-corn in the floor, i.e., for Israel, which was now subject to the power of the world, and had been mowed off its own field and carried captive into Babylonia.
This oracle consists of a question, addressed to the prophet from Seir, and of the prophet's reply. Seir is the mountainous country to the south of Palestine, of which Edom took possession after the expulsion of the Horites. Consequently the Dumah of the heading cannot be either the Dūma of Eastern Hauran (by the side of which we find also a Tema and a Buzan); or the Duma in the high land of Arabia, on the great Nabataean line of traffic between the northern harbours of the Red Sea and Irak, which bore the cognomen of the rocky (el-gendel) or Syrian Duma (Gen 25:14); or the Duma mentioned in the Onom., which was seventeen miles from Eleutheropolis (or according to Jerome on this passage, twenty) "in Daroma hoc est ad australem plagam," and was probably the same place as the Duma in the mountains of Judah - that is to say, judging from the ruins of Daume, to the south-east of Eleutheropolis (see the Com. on Jos 15:52), a place out of which Jerome has made "a certain region of Idumaea, near which are the mountains of Seir." The name as it stands here is symbolical, and without any demonstrable topographical application. Dūmâh is deep, utter silence, and therefore the land of the dead (Psa 94:17; Psa 115:17). The name אדום is turned into an emblem of the future fate of Edom, by the removal of the a sound from the beginning of the word to the end. It becomes a land of deathlike stillness, deathlike sleep, deathlike darkness. "A cry comes to me out of Seir: Watchman, how far is it in the night? Watchman, how far in the night?" Luther translates the participle correctly, "they cry" (man ruft; compare the similar use of the participle in Isa 30:24; Isa 33:4). For the rest, however, we have deviated from Luther's excellent translation, for the purpose of giving to some extent the significant change from מלּילה and מלּיל. The more winged form of the second question is expressive of heightened, anxious urgency and haste. The wish is to hear that it is very late in the night, and that it will soon be past; min is partitive (Saad.), "What part of the night are we at now?" Just as a sick man longs for a sleepless night to come to an end, and is constantly asking what time it is, so do they inquire of the prophet out of Edom, whether the night of tribulation will not be soon over. We are not to understand, however, that messengers were really sent out of Edom to Isaiah; the process was purely a pneumatical one. The prophet stands there in Jerusalem, in the midst of the benighted world of nations, like a sentry upon the watch tower; he understands the anxious inquiries of the nations afar off, and answers them according to the word of Jehovah, which is the plan and chronological measure of the history of the nations, and the key to its interpretation. What, then, is the prophet's reply? He lets the inquirer "see through a glass darkly."
"Watchman says, Morning cometh, and also night. Will ye inquire, inquire! Turn, come!!" The answer is intentionally and pathetically expressed in an Aramaean form of Hebrew. אתא (written even with א at the end, cf., Deu 33:2) is the Aramaean word for בּוא; and בּעה בּעא) the Aramaean word for שׁאל, from the primary form of which (בּעי) the future tib‛âyūn is taken here (as in Isa 33:7), and the imperative be'ây (Ges. 75, Anm. 4). אתיוּ, which is here pointed in the Syriac style, אתיוּ, as in Isa 56:9, Isa 56:12, would be similarly traceable to אתי (cf., Ges. 75, Anm. 4, with 23, Anm. 2). But what is the meaning? Luther seems to me to have hit upon it: "When the morning comes, it will still be night." But v'gam (and also) is not equivalent to "and yet," as Schrring explains it, with a reference to Ewald, 354, a. With the simple connection in the clauses, the meaning cannot possibly be, that a morning is coming, and that it will nevertheless continue night, but that a morning is coming, and at the same time a night, i.e., that even if the morning dawns, it will be swallowed up again directly by night. And the history was quite in accordance with such an answer. The Assyrian period of judgment was followed by the Chaldean, and the Chaldean by the Persian, and the Persian by the Grecian, and the Grecian by the Roman. Again and again there was a glimmer of morning dawn for Edom (and what a glimmer in the Herodian age!), but it was swallowed up directly by another night, until Edom became an utter Dūmâh, and disappeared from the history of the nations. The prophet does not see to the utmost end of these Edomitish nights, but he has also no consolation for Edom. It is altogether different with Edom from what it is with Israel, the nocturnal portion of whose history has a morning dawn, according to promise, as its irrevocable close. The prophet therefore sends the inquirers home. Would they ask any further questions, they might do so, might turn and come. In shūbū (turn back) there lies a significant though ambiguous hint. It is only in the case of their turning, coming, i.e., coming back converted, that the prophet has any consolatory answer for them. So long as they are not so, there is suspended over their future an interminable night, to the prophet as much as to themselves. The way to salvation for every other people is just the same as for Israel - namely, the way of repentance.
The heading בּערב משּׂא (the ע written according to the best codd. with a simple sheva), when pointed as we have it, signifies, according to Zac 9:1 (cf., Isa 9:7), "oracle against Arabia." But why not massâ ‛Arâb, since massâ is followed by a simple genitive in the other three headings? Or again, is this the only heading in the tetralogy that is not symbolical? We must assume that the Beth by which this is distinguished is introduced for the express purpose of rendering it symbolical, and that the prophet pointed it first of all בּערב, but had at the same time בּערב in his mind. The earlier translators (lxx, Targum, Syr., Vulg., Ar.) read the second בּערב like the first, but without any reason. The oracle commences with an evening scene, even without our altering the second בּערב. And the massa has a symbolical title founded upon this evening scene. Just as 'Edom becomes Dumah, inasmuch as a night without a morning dawn falls upon the mountain land of Seir, so will בּערב soon be בּערב, inasmuch as the sun of Arabia is setting. Evening darkness is settling upon Arabia, and the morning-land is becoming an evening-land. "In the wilderness in Arabia ye must pass the night, caravans of the Dedanians. Bring water to meet thirsty ones! The inhabitants of the land of Tema are coming with its bread before the fugitive. For they are flying before swords, before drawn swords, and before a bent bow, and before oppressive war." There is all the less ground for making any alteration in בּערב בּיער, inasmuch as the second Beth (wilderness in Arabia for of Arabia) is favoured by Isaiah's common usage (Isa 28:21; Isa 9:2; compare Sa2 1:21; Amo 3:9). ‛Arab, written with pathach, is Arabia (Eze 27:21; ‛arâb in pause, Jer 25:24); and ya‛ar here is the solitary barren desert, as distinguished from the cultivated land with its cities and villages. Wetzstein rejects the meaning nemus, sylva, with ya‛ar has been assumed to have, because it would be rather a promise than a threat to be told that they would have to flee from the steppe into the wood, since a shady tree is the most delicious dream of the Beduins, who not only find shade in the forest, but a constant supply of green pasture, and fuel for their hospitable hearths. He therefore renders it, "Ye will take refuge in the V‛ar of Arabia," i.e., the open steppe will no longer afford you any shelter, so that ye will be obliged to hide yourselves in the V‛ar. Arab. wa‛ur for example, is the name applied to the trachytic rayon of the Syro-Hauranitic volcanoes which is covered with a layer of stones. But as the V‛ar in this sense is also planted with trees, and furnishes firewood, this epithet must rest upon some peculiar distinction in the radical meaning of the word ya‛ar, which really does mean a forest in Hebrew, though not necessarily a forest of lofty trees, but also a wilderness overgrown with brushwood and thorn-bushes. The meaning of the passage before us we therefore take to be this: the trading caravans ('ârchōth, like hailı̄coth in Job 6:19) of the Dedanians, that mixed tribe of Cushites and Abrahamides dwelling in the neighbourhood of the Edomites (Gen 10:7; Gen 25:3), when on their way from east to west, possibly to Tyre (Eze 27:20), would be obliged to encamp in the wilderness, being driven out of the caravan road in consequence of the war that was spreading from north to south. The prophet, whose sympathy mingles with the revelation in this instance also, asks for water for the panting fugitives (התיוּ, as in Jer 12:9, an imperative equivalent to האתיוּ = האתיוּ; compare Kg2 2:3 : there is no necessity to read קדמוּ, as the Targum, Dderlein, and Ewald do). They are driven back with fright towards the south-east as far as Tema, on the border of Negd and the Syrian desert. The Tema referred to is not the trans-Hauranian Tm, which is three-quarters of an hour from Dumah, although there is a good deal that seems to favour this,
(Note: See Wetzstein, ut supra, p. 202; compare Job, ii. 425.)
but the Tema on the pilgrim road from Damascus to Mecca, between Tebuk and Wadi el-Kora, which is about the same distance (four days' journey) from both these places, and also from Chaibar (it is to be distinguished, however, from Tihama, the coast land of Yemen, the antithesis of which is ne'gd, the mountain district of Yemen).
(Note: See Sprenger, Post und Reise-routen des Orients, Heft i. (1864), pp. 118, 119.))
But even here in the land of Tema they do not feel themselves safe. The inhabitants of Tema are obliged to bring them water and bread ("its bread," lachmo, referring to nōdēd: the bread necessary in order to save them), into the hiding-places in which they have concealed themselves. "How humiliating," as Drechsler well observes, "to be obliged to practise their hospitality, the pride of Arabian customs, in so restricted a manner, and with such unbecoming secrecy!" But it could not possibly be done in any other way, since the weapons of the foe were driving them incessantly before them, and the war itself was rolling incessantly forward like an overwhelming colossus, as the repetition of the word "before" (mippenē) no less than four times clearly implies.
Thus does the approaching fate of Arabia present itself in picture before the prophet's eye, whilst it is more distinctly revealed in Isa 21:16, Isa 21:17 : "For thus hath the Lord spoken to me, Within a year, as the years of a hired labourer, it is over with all the glory of Kedar. And the remnant of the number of bows of heroes of the Kedarenes will be small: for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath spoken." The name Kedar is here the collective name of the Arabic tribes generally. In the stricter sense, Kedar, like Nebaioth, which is associated with it, as a nomadic tribe of Ishmaelites, which wandered as far as the Elanitic Gulf. Within the space of a year, measured as exactly as is generally the case where employers and labourers are concerned, Kedar's freedom, military strength, numbers, and wealth (all these together constituting its glory), would all have disappeared. Nothing but a small remnant would be left of the heroic sons of Kedar and their bows. They are numbered here by their bows (in distinction from the numbering by heads), showing that the righting men are referred to - a mode of numbering which is customary among the Indian tribes of America, for example.
(Note: See the work of V. Martius on the Indians of Brazil, i. 395, 411, etc.)
The noun she'âr (remnant) is followed by five genitives here (just as peri is by four in Isa 10:12); and the predicate ימעטוּ is in the plural because of the copiousness of the subject. The period of the fulfilment of the prophecy keeps us still within the Assyrian era. In Herodotus (2, 141), Sennacherib is actually called "king of Arabians and Assyrians" (compare Josephus, Ant. x. 1, 4); and both Sargon and Sennacherib, in their annalistic inscriptions, take credit to themselves for the subjugation of Arabian tribes. But in the Chaldean era Jeremiah predicted the same things against Kedar (chapter 49) as against Edom; and Jer 49:30-31 was evidently written with a retrospective allusion to this oracle of Isaiah. When the period fixed by Isaiah for the fulfilment arrived, a second period grew out of it, and one still more remote, inasmuch as a second empire, viz., the Chaldean, grew out of the Assyrian, and inaugurated a second period of judgment for the nations. After a short glimmer of morning, the night set in a second time upon Edom, and a second time upon Arabia.