Isaiah 21–23. God and the Nations. Pt.iv. The End of a Cycle.
Key Notes:The downfall of Babylon, Edom, Arabia, and Tyre. The downfall of all glory. A shake up in the palace of Hezekiah. Nepotism.
The decay of nations is illustrated during the late 700's BC by Egypt's confusion, and Israel's idolatry, social injustice and political unrest. The loss of nerve made them vulnerable. A series of superpowers came on them in waves: Assyria, Babylon and Medo-Persia in rapid succession, followed by Greece and Rome, with the Arabs much later. This last section gives a glimpse of the gloom and desperation of that time. The prophecies are called burdens.
21:1–10 The burden of Babylon.
21:1 The wilderness of the sea probably refers to the lands of the Persian Gulf--Iraq / Iran-- which will be swept by a sandstorm of invading Medes and Elamites.
21:3 Why the prophet is in anguish now when he was previously in exaltation over the fall of Babylon (Isa.14) is not easily explained. Actually, Babylon was sacked repeatedly by the Assyrians long before the Medes. Sennacharib broke her idols and flooded the city with water. The prophet may be weeping because "If judgment begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (IPet.4:17)
21:5 Preparation for a party is reminiscent of Belshazzar's feast. (Dan.5). In the middle of the party the princes are called to arms.
21:6–9 A watchman was set, and when he saw riders in pairs, he knew the city had fallen.
21:10 “Israel comforted” is God's "threshed and winnowed one": the wheat purified from the stalks and chaff, the Remnant of those who are true to God.
21:11–12 The burden of Edom.
This brief message conveys a murky feeling of fear and uncertainty, an atmosphere of darkness. There is no information given, although the inquirer is invited to ask the watchman again. Perhaps this reflects Edom's rejection by God (Mal.1:1–5) while God still leaves the way open for the sincere Edomite seeker.
21:13–17 The burden of Arabia.
Arabia was not spared the Assyrian invasion either. Her caravans will hide in the thickets. There would be refugees to feed. There was only one year of grace remaining.
22:1–14 The burden of Jerusalem.
22:1–4 The people are on the housetops, exultant, having a party (22:12–14) although the leaders have fled and been captured. This could be a prophecy of Zedekiah's attempted escape (IIK.25:3–7) from the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
22:5–8 The battle will be rejoined. There were several occasions for celebration in Jerusalem under Hezekiah. He constructed a special tunnel to protect the water supply. He gave tribute to Sennacharib (IIK.18:16) and there is speculation that Jerusalem would have a reprieve before the Assyrians came back to attack to the city. IIK.18:17
22:8b-11 They were doing the right engineering things for a siege: counting weapons, repairing the wall, and collecting water. But they did not look to God who was behind it all.
22:12–14 Instead of weeping in contrition, they were feasting desperately with the famous words: "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." The prophet said, sadly, that indeed they would and wept for his people. 22:4
22:15–25 This narrative is an emotional relief. The head of Hezekiah's household, Shebna, was a strong man, with fine chariots (22:18), and a handsome tomb. (22:16). He was rejected by the Lord for his pride and self-sufficiency in favor of Eliakim, a secondary official. Eliakim would become a father to Judah, hold the key of David and become a throne of honor. (22:21–23). Shebna will become an exile (22:19), discarded by God. The first stage in Shebna's downfall is indicated in the soon change of roles: Eliakim was over the household and Shebna was the secretary when Hezekiah had to face the Assyrians. 36:22
22:25 The reason why Eliakim's firm peg would fall down is attributed to "the whole weight of his father's house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel...." It appears that Eliakim would eventually fail because of nepotism, allowing all his relatives to occupy positions in the palace for which they were not suited. [Nepotism corrupts administration.] One message is that Judah should not put its faith in men: both Shebna and Eliakim will fail in their turn. Nevertheless, Eliakim stands as a type of Christ who has the key of David (Rev.3:7) and is the true Master of the House.
23:1–12 The burden of Tyre.
Tyre was a port city in Phoenicia (Lebanon), unique because it had an irregular island half a mile from the mainland, creating an excellent harbor and ship-docking. Hiram of Tyre was a good friend of David and Solomon and provided materials for the first temple. (IK.5). Later, however, Solomon imported Ashtoreth, goddess of the Sidonians, to Jerusalem. Sidon was a sister-city of Tyre. (IK11:1–5)
From Tyre, ships went to Sidon (23:2) her twin port to the North, Cyprus (23:1), Egypt ("Sihor" 23 :3) and Tarshish ?Spain. ( 23 :6). Her merchants were princes, honored all over the civilized world. 23:8
23:13–14 Not Assyria, but Babylon will ravage Tyre. She was forgotten for 70 years (701–630 BC) after Sennacharib's attack, but recovered. (23:15). Tyre survived in spite of five assaults and sieges because the island was difficult to blockade by sea. Finally, in 332BC Alexander built a land bridge across the half-mile from the mainland and destroyed Tyre's harbor permanently.
23:15–18 A recovery is promised for Tyre in which her merchandise will be dedicated to the Lord. We see modern Lebanon, (ancient Phoenicia) the only non-moslem Arab state, as a possible fulfillment of the prophecy. Christians are about 35% of the population (down from 60% in’70) in spite of civil war and invasion by Syria. Beirut was once the "Paris of the Middle East" but the social fabric is torn and the economy in shambles. Lebanon calls for our prayer and support.
So we see Egypt, Ethiopia, and Lebanon with significant Christian minorities as prophesied. Scripture predicts that salvation will come to Iraq / Iran and Israel. Let us pray expectantly.
How would the prophet speak to our situation?
"You did not look to Him who did it, or have regard for Him who planned it long ago." (22:11). We must always honor God in national crises as well as looking to our hardware and our economy.
"The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pride of all glory, to dishonor all the honored of the earth." (23:9). We must be grateful, not proud, if our nation is successful.