THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Lesson 8: Chapters 17-21
Part One: Prophecies of Condemnation
Proclamations Concerning the Nations Continued

Most Holy Trinity,
Beloved guardian of our souls, reveal to us the secret of sanctity so that we might consecrate our lives to Your service like Your prophet Isaiah. We know that if we submit our lives to You that even in the midst of trials, Your grace will be proportioned to the trial we face, giving us the strength to carry it so that we might arrive at the gates of Heaven laden with merit. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in today's lesson on the mission of Isaiah to call not just the covenant people but the other nations near them to repentance and justice, a reminder to us that Your sovereignty extends over all men and women of all nations. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification for all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 64

 

Timeline (dates may vary according to source):

Historical background 735-729 BC: In 735 BC the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus and the Northern Kingdom of Israel formed an alliance to destroy the Southern Kingdom of Judah and plan to put a puppet king on the throne of Judah, ending the rule of the Davidic Kings (2 Kng 16:5; Is 7:4-7). The combined armies marched on Judah, conquering Judean cities on their way to Jerusalem and besieging Jerusalem in 734 BC. In Isaiah chapter 7, God promised Davidic king Ahaz of Judah that he had nothing to fear from the Aramaeans and Israel; God would protect him and protect the eternal covenant He made with David (2 Sam 7:16). Ahaz, however, refused to put his trust in Yahweh. In c. 734 BC, Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III received an appeal from Ahaz king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to save his kingdom from the armies of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Aramaean Kingdom of Damascus. Ahaz also sent a substantial gift to cement an alliance between Judah and the Assyrians (2 Kng 16:5-8).

The Kingdom of Tiglath Pileser III was on its way to becoming one of the greatest empires in world history. Tiglath Pileser III was the first ruler to establish a standing professional army that he used to conquer Upper Mesopotamia and to threaten the old Babylonian Empire. After receiving King Ahaz's offer to become an Assyrian vassal, Tiglath Pileser III turned his attention westward to address the Syro-Ephraimite alliance between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus. In 734 BC, Tiglath Pileser III marshaled his armies and began a conquest of the cities along the Mediterranean coast, taking the coastal cities from Phoenicia all the way through Philistia and on to Egypt. Next, he returned to the Northern Kingdom of Israel where he destroyed their army and claimed the northern territories of the Galilean tribes of Zebulun, Naphtali, and the tribes on the east side of the Jordan River of Reuben, Gath and Manasseh. The Assyrians deported the entire population of Israel into Assyrian lands to the east (2 Kng 15:29-31), and then brought in five different groups of Gentile peoples to settle what was now the Assyrian province of Samaria (2 Kng 17:24-41).

King Pekah of Israel was murdered by Hoshea who became king (ruled 732-724 BC), and submitting to the Assyrians was recognized by them as the king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrian army also attacked Damascus where Tiglath Pileser III captured the city, killed King Razon/Rezin, and deported its population into Assyrian lands to the east in 732 BC (2 Kng 16:9). In 729 BC Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III conquered Babylon and all the territories formerly under Babylonian control, becoming the greatest empire the region had ever seen.

Chapters 17-20: Oracles against Damascus, Israel, Cush, Egypt

The following oracle in chapter 17 is a continuation of the oracles that began in 14:28 and are dated to the year King Ahaz died in c. 715 BC (or 727 depending on the historical chronology used). The oracle in chapter 17 is a combined judgment against both Damascus and the Northern Kingdom of Israel in response to the Syro-Ephraimite war in 735-34 BC, in which their political link also links their fates. And the oracles that follow against Cush and Egypt point to the political upheaval in the year 734 BC when the Assyrian armies began a conquest along the Mediterranean coast, taking the coastal cities from Phoenicia all the way through Philistia and on to Egypt that was dominated by a foreign Cushite/Nubian pharaoh.

The Assyrian advance caused the Israelites and Aramaeans of Damascus to break off their siege of Jerusalem. The Assyrian army returned to the north to destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel and then moved northeastward to Damascus. Israel in the oracle is referred to by the name of its largest tribe, the tribe of Ephraim. Therefore, if this is the year 715 BC, both Damascus and the Northern Kingdom of Israel have been destroyed by the Assyrians. But if the date is 727 BC, Damascus has been conquered (732 BC) and there are less than 5 years before the Northern Kingdom will cease to exist and its population will be sent into exile (722/21 BC).

Isaiah warns that it will be an impending day of reckoning for both nations who threw their lot together to go against Judah, and they will not only share an alliance but the same fate in judgment.
Question: Instead of trusting God to protect his kingdom and to deliver Judah from her enemies as Isaiah urged him to do in chapter 7, what did King Ahaz of Judah do when threatened by Israel and Damascus? See 2 Kng 16:5, 7-8.
Answer: King Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria and a vast quantity of gold and silver, acknowledging himself a vassal of the Assyrian king.

Isaiah 17:1-14 ~ Oracle against Damascus and Israel

 

Isaiah 17:2-3 ~ Oracle against Damascus
1 Proclamation about Damascus: Damascus will soon cease to be a city, it will become a heap of ruins. 2 Its towns, abandoned forever, will be pastures for flocks; there they will rest with no one to disturb them. 3 Ephraim will be stripped of its defenses and Damascus of its sovereignty; and the remnant of Aram will be treated like the glory of the Israelites "declares Yahweh Sabaoth.

Question: What does Isaiah foresee as the fate of Damascus and Israel (Ephraim) in verses 1-3? The word "glory" is used sarcastically.
Answer: The great city of Damascus will lose its sovereignty and will become a heap of ruins. Israel will lose its defenses becoming a vassal of Assyria as will those people who survive the destruction of Damascus.

Tiglath Pileser III response to King Ahaz's gift and petition for an alliance was swift.
Question: What happened to Damascus? See 2 Kng 16:9.
Answer: Damascus was conquered by the Assyrians, the king was executed, and the people were exiled into Assyrian lands to the east.

Isaiah 17:4-14 ~ Oracle against Israel
4 When that day comes, Jacob's glory will diminish, from being fat he will grow lean; 5 as when a reaper gathers in the standing corn harvesting the ears of corn [grain] with his arm, or when they glean the ears in the Valley of Rephaim, nothing will remain but pickings, 6 as when as olive tree is beaten; two or three berries left on the topmost bough, four or five berries on the branches of the tree "declares Yahweh, God of Israel. 7 That day, a man will look to his Creator and his eyes will turn to the Holy One of Israel. 8 He will no longer look to altars, his own handiwork, or to what his own fingers have made: the sacred poles and incense-altars. 9 That day, its cities of refuge will be abandoned as were the woods and heaths at the Israelites' advance: there will be desolation. 10 Since you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and failed to seek the Rock, your refuge, in mind; you plant pleasure-gardens, you sow exotic seeds; 11 the day you plant them, you get them to sprout, and, next morning, your seedlings are in flower; but the harvest will vanish on the day of disease and incurable pain. 12 Disaster! The thunder of vast hordes, a thunder like the thunder of the seas, the roar of nations roaring like the roar of mighty floods, 13 of nations roaring like the roar of ocean! He rebukes them and far away they flee, driven like chaff on the mountains before the wind, like an eddy of dust before the storm. 14 At evening all is terror, by morning all have disappeared. Such will be the lot of those who plunder us, such, the fate of our despoilers.

Isaiah prophesies the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by a vast foreign army (verses 12-14).
Question: What kind of imagery does Isaiah use to describe Israel's devastation in verses 4-6?
Answer: He uses agriculture imagery. Just as little remained in the Valley of Rephaim after the harvest, in the same way little would remain to glean in Israel after the harvest of God's judgment.

Question: What does the sparse grain, fruit and berries in verses 5-6 represent?
Answer: The few people who will survive the devastation.

Question: What do verses 7-8 describe as taking place in a devastated Israel?
Answer: He describes a turning of a remnant of Israel back to Yahweh by forsaking its false gods to follow Him, but unfortunately it is too late.

9 That day, its cities of refuge will be abandoned as were the woods and heaths at the Israelites' advance: there will be desolation. 10 Since you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and failed to seek the Rock, your refuge, in mind; you plant pleasure-gardens, you sow exotic seeds; 11 the day you plant them, you get them to sprout, and, next morning, your seedlings are in flower; but the harvest will vanish on the day of disease and incurable pain.
Verses 9-11 describe the coming devastation when cities are deserted and harvests will yield nothing. The cities of refuge were Levitical cities established to offer sanctuary for those accused of crimes before a trial could take place (Ex 21:13; Num 35:9-34; Dt 19:1-13; Josh 20:6). The absence of the cities of refuge, indicate an absence of law and order. The Israelites of the Northern Kingdom made gardens as sacred sites to honor their pagan gods and took pleasure in them, but in a short time all the pleasure they took in these false gods will vanish in the coming judgment. The plenty they once enjoyed will be replaced by disease and "incurable pain."

Question: Who is the "Rock" in verse 10? See Dt 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31; Ps 18:2.
Answer: The "Rock" is Yahweh.

Question: How does St. Paul refer to Jesus Christ in light of the water miracle in Ex 17:6 and Num 20:7-12? What title does Jesus give to Simon in Jn 1:42 and Mt 16:16? Why?
Answer: He says that Jesus is "the Rock" that gave life-giving water and followed the children of Israel in their Exodus journey. Jesus gives this same title to Simon who is then called "Peter", which means "Rock" (Kepha/Cephas in Aramaic and Petros in Greek) because he is going to be Christ's representative to the people of His kingdom of the Church, and Simon will therefore bear His title "Rock".

Question: What 3 poetic images does Isaiah use to describe the advancing armies of the Assyrians in verses 12-13?
Answer: He uses imagery like the roar of the sea, a great flood or roar of the ocean, and a mighty storm.

14 At evening all is terror, by morning all have disappeared. Such will be the lot of those who plunder us, such, the fate of our despoilers.
The disaster will come quickly, as in the 12 hours between evening and dawn.

Isaiah 18:1-7 ~ Oracle against Cush (Nubia)
1 Disaster! Land of the whirring locust beyond the rivers of Cush, 2 who send ambassadors by sea, in little reed-boats across the waters! Go, swift messengers to a nation tall and bronzed, to a people feared far and near, a mighty and masterful nation whose country is crisscrossed with rivers. 3 All you who inhabit the world, you who people the earth, when the signal is hoisted on the mountains you will see, when the ram's horn is sounded, you will hear. 4 For this is what Yahweh has told me, "I shall sit here quietly looking down, like the burning heat in the daytime, like a dewy mist in the heat of harvest." 5 For, before the harvest, once the flowering is over and blossom turns into ripened grape, the branches will be cut off with pruning knives, and the shoots taken off, cut away. 6 All has been abandoned to the mountain birds of prey and the wild animals: the birds of prey all summer on them, and all the wild animals winter on them. 7 Then, an offering will be brought to Yahweh Sabaoth on behalf of a people tall and bronzed, on behalf of a people feared far and near, on behalf of a mighty and masterful nation whose country is crisscrossed with rivers: to the place where the name of Yahweh Sabaoth resides, Mount Zion.

Isaiah's oracles in previous chapters have been directed toward powers to the north, east, and west. Now he turns his attention to nations to the south. In 18:1-20:6 Isaiah has inter-mingled his prophecy concerning Cush and Egypt because of the historical events at the time of his prophecy. The late 8th century BC was a period of decline for Egypt when Cushite leaders were able to assume control of Egypt. Cush is often translated as "Ethiopia", but this is misleading. Modern Ethiopia is farther to the southeast. The term "Cush" properly identifies the Egyptian name for Nubia, a region upstream (south) of Egypt beyond the Nile's first cataract and covering much of present day Sudan. In 710-715 BC, Nubian leaders seized control of Egypt and established the 25th Dynasty. They reigned from 715 to 663 BC, when the Assyrians invaded Egypt and defeated them. Soon after they conquered Egypt, the new Nubian Pharaoh, Shabaka, sent ambassadors to Jerusalem proposing an alliance against Assyria (verses 2, 7). According to Isaiah the delegation came from Egypt by sea in reed boats, an accurate description of Egyptian boats, and in verse 2 he invites them to go back.

Isaiah records that the members of the embassy sent to Jerusalem were impressive; they were "tall and bronze". The reference to a land crisscrossed with rivers in verse 2 refers to the extensive irrigation system in Egypt where many canals were dug to bring water from the Nile into the fields to water the crops.

2 Kings 19:8-9 records that in 701 BC when the Assyrian army was attacking the Judahite city of Libnah, The cupbearer turned about and rejoined the king of Assyria, who was then attacking Libnah, as the cupbearer had learnt that the king had already left Lachish on hearing that Tirhakah king of Cush was on his way to attack him.
Prince Tirhakah/Taharqa (nephew of the first Nubian pharaoh who will become the next pharaoh) tried to give assistance to King Hezekiah of Judah during the days of King Sennacherib of Assyria's invasion of Judah (2 Kng 19:9; Is 37:9). Isaiah is probably referring to this offer and this probably accounts for the mention of ambassadors in verse 1-2a. Land of whirring locust probably refers to the swarms of insects that were common in Nubia while "men tall and bronze" to the physical features of the dark-skinned Nubians. However, King Hezekiah sent messengers back to the Nubian Egyptians declining their help because Yahweh God of Israel had promised deliverance.(1)

Yahweh predicts through Isaiah that Egypt is to be ravaged by an Assyrian invasion. In 732 the Assyrians raided into Egypt but left. This predicted event was fulfilled historically when the Assyrians invaded Egypt, pillaged and subjugated the nation in two invasions by Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal in the first half of the 7th century AD.

3 All you who inhabit the world, you who people the earth, when the signal is hoisted on the mountains you will see, when the ram's horn is sounded, you will hear. The ram's horn was blown as a signal to arm for war or to begin the attack (verse 3).

Question: When does Yahweh say these events will take place? See verse 5.
Answer: The invasion will come when the grain has ripened but before the harvest.

Question: What is the prediction/invitation in verse 7?
Answer: Isaiah predicts that, devastated by the events of war, the Cushite leaders will appeal to Yahweh and will send offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 19:1-15 ~ Oracle against Egypt
1 Proclamation about Egypt: Look! Yahweh, riding a swift cloud, is coming to Egypt. The false gods of Egypt totter before him and Egypt's heart quails within her. 2 I shall stir up Egypt against Egypt, they will fight one another, brother against brother, friend against friend, city against city, kingdom against kingdom. 3 Egypt's spirit will fail within her and I shall confound her deliberations. They will consult false gods and wizards, ghosts and sorcerers. 4 And I shall hand Egypt over to the clutches of a cruel master, a ruthless king will rule them "declares Yahweh Sabaoth. 5 The waters will ebb from the sea, the river will dry up and run low, 6 the streams will become foul, the rivers of Egypt stink and dry up. Rush and reed will turn black, 7 the Nile plants on the bank of the Nile; all the vegetation of the Nile will wither, blow away and be no more. 8 The fishermen will groan, it will be mourning for all who cast hook in the Nile; those who spread nets on the waters will lose heart. 9 The workers of carded flax and the weavers of white cloth will be confounded, 10 the weavers dismayed, all the workmen dejected. 11 Yes, the princes of Zoan are fools, Pharaoh's wisest councilors make up a stupid council. How dare you say to Pharaoh, "I am descended from sages, I am descended from bygone kings'? 12 Where are these sages of yours? Let them tell you, so that all may know, the plans Yahweh Sabaoth has made against Egypt! 13 The princes of Zoan are fools, the princes of Noph, self-deceivers, the top men of her provinces have led Egypt astray. 14 Yahweh has infused them with a giddy spirit; they have led Egypt astray in all she undertakes like a drunkard straying about as he vomits. 15 Nowadays no one does for Egypt what top and tail, palm and reed used to do.

The oracle against the Nubian pharaohs of Egypt now leads to an oracle against Egypt as a nation in which Isaiah makes many geographic, cultural and religious references. He predicts a civil war in which brother fights against brother and is probably referring to the conflict in 715-710 that ended with the Nubians in control, and he predicts a total collapse of the Egyptian economy. Zoan, in verses 11 and 14, was also known as Avaris (capital of Egypt during the time of the foreign Hyksos) and later called Tanis when it was the capital of Egypt at the time of the Israelites' captivit in the Nile Delta. He also mentions the city of Memphis (Noph) in verse 13, and "the City of the Sun", Heliopolis, and the Egyptian system of canal irrigation. The Egyptians are devoid of wisdom (verses 11-13) and can receive no protection from their false gods.

1 Proclamation about Egypt: Look! Yahweh, riding a swift cloud, is coming to Egypt. The false gods of Egypt totter before him and Egypt's heart quails within her.
The "swift cloud" is the Glory Cloud which is a manifestation of the Almighty, as in the Pillar of Cloud that led the children of Israel and protected them on the exodus journey and God's chariot of cloud and fire (Ex 13:21-22; 2 Kng 2:11; Ez 1:4-28; Ps 68:4; 104:3).

Question: What were Isaiah's feelings concerning Judah making an alliance with Egypt or seeking refuge in Egypt? See Is 30:2-3 and 31:1.
Answer: Isaiah was opposed to any alliance with Egypt.

15 Nowadays no one does for Egypt what top and tail, palm and reed used to do.
Question: How are "top and tail, palm and reed" defined in Isaiah 9:14-15?
Answer: The "top" is the elder and the man of rank; the "tail" is the prophet teaching lies; palm refers to the rulers and reed to those ruled.

This oracle is followed by six short oracles with a different focus. Each of the six prophecies are separated by the words "that day" (19:16-17, 18, 19-20, 21-22, 23, and 24-25) and speak of the universal reach of the salvation Yahweh offers involving the reconciliation of Egypt, Assyria, and Israel with God who wants to extend His blessings on all three groups of peoples.

Isaiah 19:16-25 ~ The Conversion of Egypt, Assyria and Israel
Oracle #1: 16 That day Egypt will be like women, trembling and terrified at the threatening hand of Yahweh Sabaoth, when he raises it against her. 17 The land of Judah will become Egypt's shame; whenever she is reminded of it, she will be terrified, because of the hand which Yahweh Sabaoth has laid against her.

Oracle #2: 18 That day in Egypt there will be five towns speaking the language of Canaan and pledging themselves to Yahweh Sabaoth; one of them will be called City of the Sun.

Oracle #3: 19 That day there will be an altar dedicated to Yahweh in the center of Egypt and, close to the frontier, a pillar dedicated to Yahweh, 20 and this will be a sign and a witness to Yahweh Sabaoth in Egypt. When they cry to Yahweh for help because of oppressors, he will send them a Savior and leader to deliver them.

Oracle #4: 21 Yahweh will reveal himself to Egypt, and the Egyptians will acknowledge Yahweh that day and will offer sacrifices and cereal offerings, and will make vows to Yahweh and perform them. 22 And if Yahweh strikes Egypt, having struck he will heal, and they will turn to Yahweh who will hear their prayers and heal them.

Oracle #5: 23 That day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. Assyria will have access to Egypt and Egypt have access to Assyria. Egypt will serve with Assyria.

Oracle #6: 24 That day Israel will make a third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing at the center of the world, 25 and Yahweh Sabaoth will bless them in the words, "Blessed by my people Egypt, Assyria my creation, and Israel my heritage."

God is the Lord of all nations and He uses the events in human history to effect His purposes to bring peace and salvation to bless all peoples and "Israel my heritage". In the first century AD there was a large Jewish population living in Alexandria, Egypt. It was the largest Jewish population outside of Jerusalem. After the Resurrection and Ascension of the Christ, the Apostles and disciples spread the Gospel of salvation to each of these nations. St. Mark founded the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, become the first Bishop of Alexandria of the Jewish-Christian community there; these Egyptian Christians are known as the Coptic Christians.

The Marionite and Chaldaean Rites of the Universal Church were founded in what had been ancient Syria/Assyria and Babylonia. St. Philip the deacon was the first to carry the Gospel into Samaria, and the Christians of Jerusalem became the "mother" church of the New Covenant. When the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and Christianity was protected by the power of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century AD, Christian populations expanded in each of the territories of these former nations. This remained the case until the Moslem invasion in the 7th century AD when Christians were martyred and conversion to Islam was forced upon many in these regions. See the list of the Rites of the Universal Church.

The Oracle against the city of Ashdod

Isaiah 20:1-6 ~ The Assyrians Capture Ashdod and a Sign for Cush and Egypt
1 The year the general-in-chief, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and stormed and captured it; 2 at that time Yahweh spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz and said, "Go, undo the sackcloth round your waist and take the sandals off your feet." And he did so, and walked about, naked and barefoot. 3 Yahweh then said, "As my servant Isaiah has been walking about naked and barefoot for the last three years as a sign and portent for Egypt and Cush, 4 so the king of Assyria will lead the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot, their buttocks bared, to the shame of Egypt. 5 Then they will be afraid and ashamed of Cush their hope and Egypt their pride, 6 and the inhabitants of this coast will say on that day, Look what has happened to our hope, to those to whom we fled for help, to escape from the king of Assyria. How are we going to escape?'"
Tiglath-Pileser III was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC) who was in turn succeeded by his brother Sargon II (722-705 BC). The Assyrians completed the defeat of the Kingdom of Israel, capturing its capital city of Samaria after a siege of three years and exiling all the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Israel in 722/21 BC (2 Kng 17:5-12). This deportation became the basis of the lament for the "Ten Lost Tribes". Five groups of Gentile people were brought to what then became the Assyrian Province of Samaria, and they came to be known as the Samaritans (2 Kings 17:24-41). In 713 BC, Sargon's troops took, among others, the Neo-Hittite kingdoms and city states of Karalla and Tabal (in south central Anatolia) and Cilicia (south coastal region of Asia Minor). The rulers of Persia and the Medes submitted and offered tribute to avoid conquest.
The date is now 711 BC and the Assyrians have taken Gurgum (another Neo-Hittite kingdom in south Anatolia), but soon afterward there was an uprising among the Philistine city-states, including the city of Ashdod, along the Mediterranean coast. These revolts were supported by Judah, Moab, Edom and the Nubian rulers of Egypt. The army of King Sargon II of Assyria has captured the Philistine city of Ashdod on the western border with Judah near the Mediterranean Sea in 711 BC, and Philistia is now an Assyrian province. Sargon's name actually appears in the Bible only once, in this passage in Isaiah 20:1, which records the Assyrian capture of the Philistine city of Ashdod. It is not lost on the Assyrians that these other nations are encouraging revolts against them.
Question: Why has Isaiah been wearing sackcloth in verse 2? See Is 3:24.
Answer: It is probably because Isaiah has been wearing sackcloth as a sign of repentance for his people and mourning for the oracles he has witnessed. It is also a fulfillment of the prophecy Isaiah spoke concerning the people's fear and mourning for the conditions in Jerusalem in Isaiah chapter 3.
Answer: After the capture of Ashdod, God commanded Isaiah to perform a prophetic ot, an action that symbolically points to a greater future event. This command reminds us that the life of a prophet was never easy or without perils and was full of both emotional and physical discomfort.

Question: What was the sign Isaiah was told to perform, what was its significance and for how long was he to enact the sign according to the way we mark the passing of years? The ancients did not count using the concept of a zero place-value.
Answer: He was to walk naked and barefoot for three years from harvest to harvest by ancient reckoning but two years in the way we count as a sign of the fate instore for the Cushite/Nubian and Egyptian exiles who will be led away naked into exile. It will also be a sign for the other Philistine cities on the coast that looked to Egypt for help.

Question: Can you think of any symbolic actions Jesus performed as God's supreme prophet that pointed to greater future events?
Answer: There were several, but to name just two: the three times cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple and the cursing of the fig tree His last week in Jerusalem. Both prophetic acts pointed to the end of the Old Covenant that was to be replaced by the New and eternal Covenant and the New Covenant liturgy of worship through the Universal Church.

This is the only prophetic act Isaiah is commanded to perform. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the 6th century BC were frequently commanded to perform prophetic actions as signs of coming oracle fulfillments.

Isaiah 21:1-10 ~ Oracle concerning the Fall of Babylon
1 Proclamation about the coastal desert: As whirlwinds sweeping over the Negeb, he comes from the desert, from a fearsome country. 2 A harsh vision has been shown me, "The traitor betrays and the despoiler despoils. Advance, Elam, lay siege, Media!" I have cut short all groaning. 3 This is why my loins are racked with pain, why I am seized with pangs like the pangs of a woman in labor; I am too distressed to hear, too afraid to look. 4 My heart is bewildered, dread overwhelms me, the twilight I longed for has become my horror. 5 They lay the table, spread the cloth, they eat, they drink. Up, princes, grease the shield! 6 For this is what the Lord has told me, "Go, post a look-out, let him report what he sees. 7 He will see cavalry, horsemen two by two, men mounted on donkeys, men mounted on camels; let him watch alertly, be very alert indeed!" 8 Then the look-out shouted, "On the watchtower, Lord, I stay all day and at my post I stand all night. 9 Now the cavalry is coming, horsemen two by two." He shouted again and said, "Babylon has fallen, has fallen, and all the images of her gods he has shattered to the ground!" 10 You whom I have threshed, grain of my threshing-floor, what I have heard from Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, I am telling you now.

The "coastal desert" is probably a reference to the region of the Persian Gulf. This is either an oracle on the fall of Babylon in the distant future in the 6th century BC when Babylon is conquered by the combined armies of the Persians and Medes (already covered in chapters 13-14), or this is the fall of Babylon that has already taken place when Babylon was conquered by the Assyrians in 729 BC with the assistance of the Medes. In both events, the Medes, who were at one time vassals of the Babylonians, can be said to be traitors. Elam, located to the east of Mesopotamia was the homeland of the Medes and Persians. It is possible that the prophecy might be referring to both events, since sometimes Biblical prophecy has more than one fulfillment as in the prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC that was repeated by the Romans in 70 AD and on the same date, the 9th of Ab.

4 My heart is bewildered, dread overwhelms me, the twilight I longed for has become my horror.
The vision that Isaiah sees fills him with dread, even though it is an event he has "longed for".
This suggests it is the destruction of Babylon in 539 BC that will result in the release of the faithful remnant of 10:20-23 and 14:1-2.

5 They lay the table, spread the cloth, they eat, they drink. Up, princes, grease the shield!
However, this verse suggests that the oracle is for the fall of Babylon in 539 BC after the citizens of Judah has suffered 70 years of exile. According to the prophet Daniel in the Book of Daniel Chapter 5, and also recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC, on the night when Babylon fell to the Persians, King Belshazzar was giving a royal banquet/orgy in the palace as part of a festival celebration. See Daniel 5:1-31/6:1 and Herodotus, 1.191.

Up, princes, grease the shield! This is a call to prepare for battle. Shields were greased so the enemy's weapons would slide off the shield when it was struck.

"On the watchtower, Lord, I stay all day and at my post I stand all night. 9 Now the cavalry is coming, horsemen two by two." The messengers "two by two" are those carrying the news of the fall of Babylon and the destruction of the images of her false gods (see verses 6-9).

10 You whom I have threshed, grain of my threshing-floor, what I have heard from Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, I am telling you now. The literal translation is "my crushed one, son of my threshing-floor, meaning the exiles in Babylon. The news is being brought to the people of God in exile in Babylon. These exiles are the "crushed one", those purified by suffering (literally God's son of the threshing-floor), who will now rejoice because they know their deliverance is coming.

Isaiah 21:11-17 ~ Oracles against Edom and the Arabian Tribes
11 Proclamation about Dumah: From Seir, someone shouts to me, "Watchman, what time of night? Watchman, what time of night?" 12 The watchman answers, "Morning is coming, then night again. If you want to ask, ask! Come back! Come here!" 13 Proclamation about the wastelands: In the thickets, on the wastelands, you spend the night, you caravans of Dedanites. 14 Bring water for the thirsty! The inhabitants of Tema went with bread to greet the fugitive. 15 For these have fled before the sword, the naked sword and the bent bow, the press of battle. 16 For this is what the Lord has told me, "In one year's time as a hired worker reckons it, all the glory of Kedar will be finished 17 and, of the valiant archers, the Kedarites, hardly any will be left, for Yahweh, God of Israel, has spoken."

Dumah means "fortress" or "silence"; it is an oasis in northern in Arabia on the border of Edom (also called Seir), a nation at the south end of the Dead Sea, but Isaiah may be using Dumah as a variant name for Edom-Seir. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau brother of Jacob-Israel and son of Isaac and Rebekah and the tribe of Dumah were descendants of Abraham's on by Hagar, Ishmael. It is ominous that Isaiah, the "watchman" hears nothing but silence as morning fades into night again, which may be a word-play on the name Duman. Often great acts of God are followed by periods of profound silence, as in the silence in the Mass after the Eucharistic miracle (also see Rev 8:1). Edom's time was coming but not yet.

"Watchman, what time of night? Watchman, what time of night?" is a call for vigilance. 12 The watchman answers, "Morning is coming, then night again. If you want to ask, ask! Come back! Come here!" The "watchman" responds to Isaiah's warning that everything is normal; they do not take Isaiah's warning seriously. St. Bernard applied this passage to the Christian's obligation to warn others to be vigilant concerning the return of Christ: "Although I must guard my own conscience and that of my neighbor neither is well-known to me; each contains inscrutable depths. Nevertheless I am called to be the guardian of both, and they cry out: Watchman, what of the night?" (St Bernard, Sermones in adventu Domini, 3.6).

Question: How are most people today like the people Isaiah tried to warn in this oracle concerning the warnings that Christ will return to judge the earth?
Answer: They don't see any signs of His coming "morning turns into night in the normal passage of time "so they either are unaware of the warning, do not believe or care, or think of the event as sometime in the distant future.

Question: What did warning did Jesus give about the timing of His Second Advent in Matthew 24:37-44?
Answer: He said His return will be sudden, while people are going about their normal, daily lives. He warns to remain alert because we do not know the day or hour of His coming.

The Arab tribes in verses 13-17 have fallen as victims of a foreign invasion from the north. The people of Tema, probably an oasis in in northern Arabia known for its caravan traffic (see Job 6:19), take pity on the refugees and bring them bread. Kedar is another name for the same region and was a confederation of Arab tribes based in the north Arabian Desert. Dumah, Kedar and Tema are listed as sons of Ishmael, son of Abraham (Gen 25:13, 15 and 1 Chr 1:29, 30), and Dedan is a grandson of Abraham and Keturah (Gen 25:3; 1 Chr 1:32, 33); their descendants became the tribes who settled in the north Arabian Desert.

Question: What does Isaiah urge the Denanites and the citizens of Tema to do in 21:13-15?
Answer: He calls upon them to assist the refugees who are fleeing the oncoming army.

Question: When does Isaiah predict this oracle will take place?
Answer: Within 3 years as a hired worker reckons time; 2 years as we reckon time.

Assyrian King Sargon II advanced into northwestern Arabia after his campaign in the Transjordan (east side of the Jordan River), subduing all the northern Arabian tribes.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
How do Isaiah's oracles against the nations demonstrate the extent of God's grace? How does God's reaching out to foreign nations set the stage for the fullness of God's revelation concerning the nations in the New Testament?

Endnotes:
1. At the time Tirhakah/Taharqa tried to render help to Judah in 701 BC, he may have only been a prince commanding the army of the reigning Pharaoh, his cousin Shabatoka. Tirhakah did not officially become Pharaoh until the former's death in 693 B.C. The name of this Nubian ruler of Egypt and his native realm appears in hieroglyphics as Taharqa, his prenomen being Nefer-atmu-Ra-chu. The Assyrian form of Tirhakah is Tarqu or Tarqu'u (Assyrian inscriptions of Assurbanipal). He died after a reign of at least 26 years in 667 B.C. It has also been suggested that the Assyrian historians, like those of 2 King and Isaiah, have mingled two campaigns made by Sennacherib, one of them being before and the other after the accession of Tirhakah.
2. The artifact called "Sennacherib's Prism" details the events of Sennacherib's campaign against the Kingdom of Judah. It was discovered in the ruins of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, in 1830. The inscription dates from about 690 BC and boasts of Assyrian conquests including how Sennacherib destroyed 46 of Judah's fortified cities and took 200,150 people captive before trapping Hezekiah in Jerusalem "like a caged bird". The inscription also records how the Assyrian army caused the Arabs and mercenaries reinforcing Jerusalem to desert. It supports the Biblical account in not recording that Jerusalem was taken and only records that Sennacherib and the army returned to Assyria and later received a tribute payment from Judah. This description varies somewhat from the Biblical account, but for the most part supports the Biblical account. The massive Assyrian casualties mentioned in the Bible are not mentioned in the Assyrian version, but Assyrian government records, like the Egyptian official records, tended to commonly take the form of propaganda by claiming their own invincibility, with the result that they rarely mention their own defeats or heavy casualties.
3. The plaque commemorating the completion of the tunnel was discovered in the late 1884. It records the challenges the Israelite engineers dealt with in the difficulty of making two teams digging from opposite ends meet far underground. It is still not fully understood how they accomplished this feat, but some suggest that the two teams were directed from above by sound signals generated by hammering on the solid rock through which the men digging the tunnels were working.

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