Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Isaiah 21: 13-17

13 The oracle about Arabia.
In the thickets of Arabia you must spend the night,
O caravans of Dedanites.
14 Bring water for the thirsty,
O inhabitants of the land of Tema,
Meet the fugitive with bread.
15 For they have fled from the swords,
From the drawn sword, and from the bent bow
And from the press of battle.
16 For thus the Lord said to me, “In a year, as a hired man would count it, 
all the splendor of Kedar will terminate;
17 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.”

Last time, we looked at a prophecy concerning Edom. Today, Isaiah presents us with a short prophecy about Arabia, what we would consider Saudi Arabia today. The question may come to your mind as to why Isaiah, prophesying to Judah, would have a word about Arabia that would be of importance to those people. As we discovered in looking at the prophet's message about Edom, God's Word always fulfills a purpose.

As we did with Edom, we need to explore the place names used in the passage.

The area is sandwiched between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf--its water borders. Edom is to the north, as are Judah, Babylon and Assyria. "The Arabians generally lived in tents, and kept cattle, were a hardy people, inured to labour; probably the Jews depended upon them as a sort of a wall between them and the more warlike eastern nations; and therefore, to alarm them, they shall hear the burden of Arabia, and see it sinking under its own burden." (from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible) Arabia is a lot of desert, but there are forest areas and, as mentioned in verse 13, "thickets."

Dedan ("Dedanite," from verse 13 in the text)
Dedan was an oasis southeast of Dumah, which, we learned last time, is Hebrew for Edom. As Dumah was a grandson of Abraham (borne through Ishmael), so was Dedan a grandson of Abraham. After Abraham's wife, Sarah, died, the patriarch had sons through his concubine Keturah, including Jokshan, who fathered Dedan and his brother, Sheba. (See Genesis 25 for more details.)

[Deep-deep stuff: What's really wild is that Noah's grandson through Ham--Cush (father of Nimrod, founder of Babel amongst other large empires east)--had a son named Raamah, who fathered sons named Dedan and Sheba. And they're not the same people! Given where the boys settled, commentators lean toward Jokshan's boys as being in Arabia. But, in the end, we know all the boys ventured away from Abraham's God. Whew!]

Tema (verse 14)

Another oasis southeast of Dumah. Also, a son of Ishmael.

Kedar (verses 16 and 17)
Desert region in northwestern Arabia. Another son of Ishmael. Kedar was noted by other nations as having very fine archers (a fact that will be important later).

Now, let's start from the top again:

Verse 13 is addressed to the "caravans of Dedanites." Given Matthew Henry's background on the Arabians, we have a picture of tent people moving en masse. They are not living in the safety of their usual dwellings with their cattle grazing. They are told they will spend the night "in the thickets," the bushes, the shrubby areas. They have become nomadic, once again.

Verse 14 calls on the inhabitants of Tema to "bring water" to meet the thirsty, the "fugitive" with bread. "For they have fled from the swords...," says verse 15.

"They will each turn to his own people,
And each one flee to his own land.

Anyone who is found will be thrust through,
And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword."

--Isaiah 13: 14b and 15

If you've seen any kind of war documentary or movie recreation of such, you've seen the images that I see in my mind when I read this. The beaten soldiers returning from the battlefield. They come back in groups, some carrying others on makeshift stretchers, bandaged, slowly moving, thankful to be alive. Meeting them are the folks in the town--the wives, the family members, the doctors, the churches--taking them in, regardless of whether the soldiers called that place 'home' or not. "Get this man some water!" you hear barked in urgency, while the women are dressing recovery areas, bringing clean cloths for new bandages, and filling pitches of water for cold compresses and the like. Disaster had struck, and the call for help was evident. The injured and the now-homeless were seeking shelter, care and safety.

The oases of the desert would serve as way stations for war wounded returning from battle. Battle with whom? The Assyrians, most likely--the dominating empire at this time, renowned for their intricate battle plans and all things war. This is the kind of news that should have made Judah jump. Their prophet is speaking of trouble with their neighbors, and the neighborhood bully doesn't have plans to stop at the Dedanite cattle fence.

Jumping to verse 17 for a moment, we see where Kedar's strengths have turned into weaknesses, as its mighty archers limp home. They "will be few," the passages says. Again, we see the evidence that men are no match against the plans of God, no matter what their reputation in the world.

"...Neither the skill of archers (though they be ever so good marksmen) nor the courage of mighty men can protect a people from the judgments of God, when they come with commission; they rather expose the undertakers. That is poor glory which will thus quickly come to nothing."
--Matthew Henry

Note, in verse 16, Isaiah gives us a number, which I think is always significant in the midst of prophecy. "In a year, as a hired man would count it...." The Amplified Bible lives up to its name, here, with an explanation as to why the hired man's counting:

"Within a year, according to the years of a hireling [who will work no longer than was agreed]...."
--vs. 16 in the Amplified Bible

God decrees that within the span of a year--and no longer--"the splendor of Kedar will terminate." (vs. 16) Knowing how long the region would be under duress is not really that important to us reading today--though it is a marker as to when the prophecy might have come down in the first place. We do know that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would sock Kedar as part of its rise to empire status. (See Jeremiah 49 for details.) But, the words, in their time, for those people--and for those who should have been listening in [Judah]--should have been clearly heard, drawing forth a response.

"...Yet it might be of great use to the Arabians then, to awaken them to repentance, that, like the men of Nineveh, they might prevent the judgment when they were thus told it was just at the door. Or, when it begins to be fulfilled, the business shall be done, be begun and ended in one year’s time."
--Matthew Henry

How difficult and sad the life of the prophet. Not only the bearers of bad news, but the bearers of bad news that nobody seems to believe could happen to them, even if "the Lord God of Israel has spoken." (vs. 17)

Chapter 22 begins: "The Valley of Vision." ...'Til next Wednesday!



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Next week:  Isaiah 22: 1-5
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Isaiah 21: 11 and 12

Oracles about Edom and Arabia

11 The oracle concerning Edom.
One keeps calling to me from Seir,
“Watchman, how far gone is the night?
Watchman, how far gone is the night?”
12 The watchman says,
“Morning comes but also night.
If you would inquire, inquire;
Come back again.”

When I started parceling out verses into segments for the blog's schedule, I thought I'd take these verses by themselves--since they dealt specifically with Edom--and leave the portion on Arabia for the next session. But, I think now, after reading through these two verses and my reference materials, that there was a greater reasoning for doing so. I find myself, not surprisingly, agreeing with Matthew Henry's commentary: "This prophecy concerning Dumah is very short, and withal dark and hard to be understood." Let's break down some things, shall we?

Edom? Dumah? Seir? Where?? Edom was a country located south of Judah and home to the descendants of Esau (Jacob's brother--the one who lost his birthright in the red stew incident). The Hebrew for Edom is Dumah, which means silence (hold that definition in your head for a bit). The Reformation Study Bible (and the map above) indicate Dumah as "an oasis in Edom at the intersection of the roads from the Red Sea to Palmyra and from the Persian Gulf to Petra." Seir is a mountain and mountainous region located west of Dumah, and is the place to which Jacob sent messengers to his brother, hoping to gain his favor after a long absence. (Genesis 32:5)

Add to this information that Dumah is also the name of one of Ishmael's sons. Recall Ishmael was a son of Abraham through Hagar, the Egyptian servant who Abraham's wife Sarah offered to him in a hasty decision to bring forth a son who might be born to continue the bloodline. God blessed Hagar, and God blessed Ishmael with land and sons--though not the inheritance that was promised through Abraham's son Isaac.

"These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives."
--Genesis 25: 17 and 18

Next week, we will also read about Kedar, another son of Ishmael, mentioned in Isaiah's prophecy about Arabia. But, even with this added information, it is unclear as to which people this prophecy is truly about. We can say that both Ishmael and Esau (Edom) settled in the same general region and both out of defiance. As neighbors of Judah (and Isaiah is always writing to Judah, even if not specifically), these nations had influence on Judah--which should have served as a warning for God's people.

The prophecy begins with someone from Edom calling out to the "watchman" (vs. 11)--who, this time, would be Isaiah. Note the fun word play with Dumah meaning silence and someone from the silent nation calling out to Judah to seek the prophet's word as to the status of the country. We looked at the role of the watchman last week as one who carefully observes and notes changes in the environment, specifically any movement by the enemy. There seems cause by someone in Edom to note a restlessness in the country, enough to inquire of the neighboring prophet of Judah, "What's up?"
"How far gone is the night?"
--vs. 11

Literally, the call of verse 11 might read, "What is the time of the night?" or "How long is the night?" The answer to the more literal question is not to be taken completely literally, however. The use of 'night' and 'day' can be considered figuratively--'night' being a time of despair, woe or sadness, and 'day' or 'morning' referring to a time of gladness, hope or renewal. It is not unusual in Scripture to see these presented in pairs.

"In the course of God’s providence it is usual that morning and night are counterchanged and succeed each other."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

"There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning...."
--lyrics from "Your Love Never Fails" (Jesus Culture, based on Psalm 30:5b)

Both my study Bible and the Reformation Study Bible suggest that the question of 'night' refers to the domination of the Assyrian Empire. Although the Assyrians were a threat to many nations, this would more likely suggest Judah as the target of this message. "The prophet promises a short-lived deliverance from Assyrian oppression, but quickly added the threat of Babylonian domination to follow soon." (my study Bible) This would explain verse 12's, "Morning comes but also night." There would be a time of relief from the Assyrian presence, but a Babylonian captivity was on the horizon. 

We also know that the Edomites were helping the Assyrians and were a regular threat to Judah. In His way, God sent His word of warning as a distant cry to the watchman of Judah that there was trouble in the offing. The greater message would then be, "What now?" Would Judah recognize its present circumstance--that being a nation more and more removed from its Father, not unlike Esau or Ishmael? Would it hear the call to change?

"It is our wisdom to improve the present morning in preparation for the night that is coming after it. 'Enquire, return, come. Be inquisitive, be penitent, be willing and obedient.' The manner of expression is very observable, for we are put to our choice what we will do...."
--Matthew Henry
"If you would inquire, inquire; come back again." (vs. 12) It's not unlike the "" of Matthew 7. "Yes, it is still 'night,' but here is what you can do in the meantime, before the 'morning' comes." "Yes, it is 'morning' now, but I have told you that 'night' is coming; here is what you can do." Do we trust that God will not leave us in the "night" without also bringing forth "morning"? There is a reason why the Proverbs 31 woman "does not eat the bread of idleness." (Prov. 31: 27) THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO COME WITH GOD! What are we doing in the meantime?
"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.... Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."
--Romans 13:8, 11-12

The oracle concerning Arabia, which is the conclusion of Chapter 21. ...'Til next Wednesday!

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Next week:  Isaiah 21: 13-17
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).