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).