Isaiah – Chapter 21

A Few More Nations Foretold

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Now Isaiah returns to prophesying about Babylonia. Armies will come upon Babylonia like a massive storm that kicks up dust clouds in a dry land. Those who robbed and pillaged will themselves be robbed and pillaged. The nations of Elam and Media will march on Babylonia, relieving the world of their oppression. As usual, Isaiah is sympathetic to them for the fate they will suffer.

G-d tells Isaiah that one of his students (Rashi says the prophet Habakkuk) will eventually complain about Babylonia’s enduring reign; Isaiah is to put him on watch to see Babylonia’s downfall. He will see a chariot and a pair of riders, one on a horse and one on a camel, representing Persia and Media. The “lion” (Habakkuk) will say that he stands guard by day and watches by night. (Rashi points out that the Hebrew word aryeh – a lion – has the same numerical value as the name Habakkuk, which is why it’s used as the symbol for him in this prophecy.) He will see the pair of riders coming and will proclaim Babylonia’s downfall and that of their idols.

Speaking now of Edom, a prophet or angel calls from Seir, “Watchman, what’s the story with the night?” The watchman replies that morning has come (for the righteous), and so has night (for the wicked). If you want to end the exile, repent and come!

Isaiah turns to Arabia: When the Jews were exiled, they begged the Assyrians to take them through Arabia, since the Jews and Arabs are cousins and they thought the Arabs might help them. They didn’t give them water, but salty food and wineskins inflated with air. Therefore, Arabia will also be brought low, their proud archers (like their ancestor Ishmael) decreased in number.

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