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).