Isaiah 21:1-10

Sunday Morning Bible Study

June 13, 1999


We are still in the section of Isaiah known as the "burdens". These are heavy prophecies, they deal with serious things. There are three "burdens" in this chapter.

:1-10 Burden for Babylon

:1 The burden of the desert of the sea.

desert of the sea – apparently this is a kind of reference to the open plain area around the city of Babylon. It had once been flooded with the water of the Euphrates, looking like a sea, but when the city grew, the marshes were drained.

This is a prophecy against the city of Babylon. It will be clearer when we get to verse 9 ("Babylon is fallen, is fallen")

:1 As whirlwinds in the south pass through;

whirlwindscuwphah – storm-wind. The southern storm winds that hit Babylon come from the Arabian Desert. They are strong and fierce.

:1 so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land.

terribleyare' – to fear; to be fearful, be dreadful, be feared

Referring to the Medes and Persians, who would conquer Babylon. They would be a people to be feared, just as the Babylonians feared the southern desert storm winds.

:2 A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth.

grievousqasheh – hard, cruel, severe, obstinate

It could be translated, "the one who dealt treacherously is repaid with treachery …"

They’re going to be getting what they gave out. They were a deceitful people, yet they would be tricked themselves. Cyrus, the Persian king who conquered Babylon was quite an excellent military strategist.


Sometimes it’s hard being a prophet.

They don’t always get nice pictures in their heads or always have nice, sweet things to say. Sometimes the things they see are "grievous".

:2 Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media;

Elam – a province of Persia, one of the places where they originated from (Gen. 10:22). See map. The name "Persian" means "horsemen", and these Elamites were not called Persians until much after Isaiah’s day, when King Cyrus trained his armies to ride horses. That’s why Isaiah doesn’t refer to them as "Persia", but as "Elam".

Media – a major part of the "Medo-Persian" empire. See map.

:2 all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.

All the sighing that Babylon has caused others to go through, will be over. This would include the Jewish captives in Babylon.

:3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain …

(Isa 21:3 NLT) My stomach aches and burns with pain. Sharp pangs of horror are upon me, like the pangs of a woman giving birth. I grow faint when I hear what God is planning; I am blinded with dismay.

It has been suggested that at this point, Isaiah is switching to give us the thoughts of another person, which could well be Belshazzar, the king of Babylon at the time of it’s fall.

:4 My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me …

(Isa 21:4 NKJV) My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me; The night for which I longed He turned into fear for me.

If this is a picture of what was going on in Belshazzar’s mind, it would certainly be correct. He was in the middle of having a huge party when something terrifying happened.

:5 Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.

Isaiah goes on with the vision.

(Isa 21:5 NLT) Look! They are preparing a great feast. They are spreading rugs for people to sit on. Everyone is eating and drinking. Quick! Grab your shields and prepare for battle! You are being attacked!

watch in the watchtower – there is a concern, so make sure the guards are watching.

anoint the shield – shields were often made out of leather. The leather was oiled to keep it from drying out and cracking.

An interesting contrast of things. First there’s feasting, then there’s the sudden call to arms.

Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5)

On the very night that Babylon was conquered, the king, Belshazzar was so confident in his city’s defenses that he was throwing a huge party.

(Dan 5:1-4 KJV) Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. {2} Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. {3} Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. {4} They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

The latter day Babylon will have the same kind of boastful arrogance:

(Rev 18:7-8 NLT) She has lived in luxury and pleasure, so match it now with torments and sorrows. She boasts, 'I am queen on my throne. I am no helpless widow. I will not experience sorrow.' {8} Therefore, the sorrows of death and mourning and famine will overtake her in a single day. She will be utterly consumed by fire, for the Lord God who judges her is mighty."

(Dan 5:5-9 KJV) In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. {6} Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. {7} The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. {8} Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. {9} Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

This fearful reaction by Belshazzar sounds very much like what Isaiah was describing (Is. 21:4)


When you’re not right with God, life is pretty scary.

Especially when you begin to see the "handwriting on the wall".

(Dan 5:18-28 KJV) O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: {19} And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. {20} But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: {21} And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. {22} And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; {23} But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: {24} Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. {25} And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. {26} This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. {27} TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. {28} PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

Belshazzar knew better. He had known about what his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had been through. He knew better than to walk away from God and turn to serve other gods.

He had been weighed in the scales and found wanting.


How do you measure up?

How do you think you’d do if you were put in God’s scales to be measured?

For some of us, there’s no excuse. We know better.

For some, we think that it’s a matter of balancing your good deeds with your bad deeds. But the Bible says,

(Rom 3:23 KJV) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

None of us measure up to God’s standards. Not without Jesus.

Jesus died on a cross to wipe out the weight of our sin. And at the same time, gave us the weight of His own righteousness.

(2 Cor 5:20-21 NLT) We are Christ's ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, "Be reconciled to God!" {21} For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

:6 Go, set a watchman

Now Isaiah switches viewpoints to that of a watchman on guard in one of Babylon’s many watchtowers.

:7 And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen

The watchman is to report when he sees a convoy coming.

Isaiah 21:7 (NAS) "When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, A train of donkeys, a train of camels, Let him pay close attention, very close attention."

:8 A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower

Some of the modern translations don’t have the word "lion".

The watchman seems to be describing himself as a lion. It could be that he’s roaring like a lion. Or it could be because a lion has short eyelids, so even when it is asleep, it looks as if it’s watching you.

:9 Babylon is fallen, is fallen;

It seems to me that the picture is that when the watchman sees the army he’s looking out for, that Babylon has already fallen.

The city of Babylon was built right on top of the river Euphrates, with the river flowing through the middle of the city. It was during the night of Belshazzar’s huge party that Cyrus diverted the Euphrates river, and took his army into the city through the unlocked gates that covered the river.

John will use the same language to describe the fall of another, future Babylon. (Rev. 14:8; 18:2)

:9 all the graven images of her gods he hath broken

The Babylonians were famous for being a "religious" people with lots of idols. According to the historian Herodotus, the Persians didn’t have the idols or temples that the Babylonians did, and they considered the Babylonians crazy, so they smashed all the Babylonian idols and temples.


You don’t have to tolerate evil.

I’m not suggesting that we go around burning peoples’ houses down. But I think that sometimes we (including me!) are a little too tolerant of the wickedness around us. I know I’m kind of opening up a can of worms here, but I think we need to think twice about the things we might be putting before our eyes.


Brownies with a Difference (by Annette Nay)

Many parents are hard put to explain to their youth why some music, movies, books, and magazines are not acceptable material for them to bring into the home, for their youth to see, or hear. One parent came up with an original idea that was hard to refute.

He listened to all the reasons his children gave for wanting to see a particular PG-13 movie. It had their favorite actors. Everyone else was seeing it. Even church members said it was great. It was only rated PG-13 because of the suggestion of sex. They never really showed it. The language was pretty good. They only used the Lord's name in vain three times in the whole movie. The video effects were fabulous and the plot was action packed. Yes, there was the scene where a building and a bunch of people got blown up, but the violence was just the normal stuff. It wasn't very bad. Even with all these explanations for the rating, the father wouldn't give in. He didn't even give them a satisfying explanation for saying, "No." He just said, "No."

It was a little bit later that evening, that this same father asked his teens if they would like some brownies he had prepared. He explained that he had taken the family's favorite recipe and added something new. They asked what it was. He calmly replied that he had added dog poop. He stated that it was only a little bit. All the ingredients were gourmet quality. He had taken great care to bake it at the precise temperature for the exact time. He was sure the brownies would be superb. Even with all the explanations of the perfect attributes of the brownies, the teens would not take one. He father acted surprised. There was only one little element that would have caused them to act so stubbornly. He assured them that they would hardly notice it if at all. They all held firm and would not try the brownies.

He then explained that the movie they wanted to see was just like the brownies. Satan tries to enter our minds and our homes by deceiving us into believing that just a little bit of evil won't matter. With the brownies, just a little bit makes all the difference between a great brownie and a totally unacceptable product. He explained that even though the movie people would have us believe the movies which are coming out are acceptable for adults and youths to see, they are not.

:10 O my threshing, and the corn of my floor

The purpose of threshing was to remove the husk from the kernel of wheat. The harvested wheat was crushed or walked upon to loosen the husk or the chaff from it. Then the wheat was thrown into the air, where the wind would blow the light chaff away, allowing the remaining kernel to fall to the floor.

Isaiah is talking to his people, the Jews, and referring to them as the pure wheat that falls to the floor during threshing.

When the nation of Judah would be taken captive to Babylon, it would be like a harvesting of the nation for judgment. But by the time that Babylon would be conquered, what would be left of the Jews would be the "corn of the floor", nothing but the good wheat. All the chaff of the nation would be blown away.


God’s winnowing.

The crushing needs to take place.

The Wind (the Holy Spirit) needs to blow.

What’s left is precious.