Description
This chapter prophesies a chain of end-time events that begin with Iran invading Saudi Arabia and end with the fall of a city in Arabia. Identified as Mystery Babylon in Revelation, this city is most likely Mecca or Medina.
Commentary
This chapter contains three prophetic oracles concerning Arabia, described in verse 1 as 'the Desert by the Sea'. The Arabian Peninsula is surrounded by sea on three sides, the Persian Gulf on the east, the Indian Ocean to the south and the Red Sea to the west. The first oracle (v1-10) describes Arabia's invasion by the Medes and Persians, corresponding to modern-day Iran. Surprisingly, when this region falls, the announcement is "‘Babylon has fallen, fallen! All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground” (v9)! Clearly this is not a description of the ancient city of Babylon which lay inland between two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, but not by the sea. Revelation 17-18 describes the fall of a city that is cryptically called Mystery Babylon. In Revelation 18:2 the announcement of its fall is "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!". So Isaiah 21 is an important clue that Mystery Babylon refers to a city in Arabia, not in Mesopotamia. And the announcement, "All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!" (v9) further identifies this city as a centre of religious worship. The obvious conclusion is that Isaiah 21 and Revelation 17-18 are talking about the same event, the fall of a city in Arabia that is a centre of religious worship.

It may seem strange that the bible figuratively refers to a city in Arabia as Babylon. However, Babylon's last king, Nabonidus, extended the Babylonian empire into northern Arabia, as far south as Yathrib (Medina). In fact, he spent most of his reign in his Arabian colony in Tema (v14), known today as Tayma. He left his son Belshazzar to rule Babylon as regent (described as the king of Babylon in Daniel 5:30). Nabonidus was a worshipper of the Babylonian moon-god Sin, rather than the primary Babylonian god Marduk, and he may have preferred to live in Arabia where the worship of Sin was long-established (Exodus 16:1). Whether or not one identifies Allah as an evolved form of this moon-god, it is significant that in the 7th century AD, the crescent moon symbol of Sin was adopted as the symbol of Islam.

Verse 2 tells us, "The deceiver deceives, the destroyer destroys", and it goes on to describe the attack by Iran. The deceiver likely refers to the Antichrist, of whom Daniel 8:25 says, "By his treachery he will succeed through deceit. He will have an arrogant attitude, and he will destroy many who are unaware of his schemes." Ezekiel 38 tells us that Gog (another name for the Antichrist) is 'the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal', indicating that he is a ruler of modern-day Turkey. It also identifies Persia (Iran) as one of his allies. Psalm 120 also describes his deceitfulness, and makes a connection between Meshech (Turkey) and Kedar (Arabia). It seems likely that Saudi Arabia will form an alliance with Turkey, but Turkey will deceive Saudi and make its own alliance with Iran, Saudi's arch-enemy. Saudi trusts Turkey, but Turkey betrays them and gives Iran the green light to attack.

In verse 3, as Isaiah sees this vision of Iran invading Arabia, he experiences stomach cramps like a woman's labour pains. Similarly, Micah pictures the inhabitants of end-time Jerusalem like a woman screaming in the agonies of labour when Jerusalem falls to the Antichrist (Micah 4:9-10, 5:3). In Matthew 24:8, Jesus described several pre-tribulation events as the beginning of birth pains because they point to the coming fall of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. In Revelation 12:1-2, Israel is portrayed metaphorically as a woman in labour, and the second coming as the arrival of her baby. So here in verse 3 we see the beginning of the 'labour metaphor' and its association with end-time events.

The identification of 'the Desert by the Sea' as the Arabian Peninsula is further confirmed by the next two oracles. The second oracle (v11-12) concerns Dumah, which is known today as Dumah Al-Jandal and is in northern Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Jordan.

Both of the first two oracles portray a watchman, watching for an approaching messenger who might bring news. In other words, the fall of these locations is anticipated, but the replies of the watchmen suggest in each case that the fulfilment of these oracles is delayed. This may imply that these oracles would have a distant fulfilment in the end-times, not a near-fulfilment in Isaiah's day. In the second oracle, someone from Seir asks the watchman for news. Seir is in southern Jordan, but Seir is also used in the bible as a synonym for Edom because the hill country of Seir, between modern-day Aqaba and the bottom of the Dead Sea, was given to the descendants of Esau (Joshua 24:4). In Ezekiel 25, the territory of Edom is seen to stretch beyond Seir, down into Arabia as far as Dedan.

The third oracle is said to concern Arabia, and it prophesies the fall of 'the splendour of Kedar'. The Dedanites who lived in western Arabia (Dedan is modern-day Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia), and those who live in Tema (modern day Tayma in Saudi Arabia), are called to provide food and water for refugees from Kedar (v15-16). In Isaiah 42:11 and Jeremiah 49:29, the people of Kedar are described as nomads of the eastern desert (Arabia) who live in tents and keep sheep and camels. As in Genesis 25:6, the Israelites thought of Arabia as being to the east, because to get there from Israel you first travelled east across the Jordan, before turning south. It is likely that Kedar represents central Arabia, as opposed to northern Arabia where Dedan and Tema were located. The people of Kedar were descended from Kedar, the second son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13). Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, claimed to be descended from Ishmael, and is understood to have descended through Kedar. So Kedar may cover a wide area of Arabia, including the region of Mecca in central western Arabia. Verse 16 says, "Within exactly one year all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end". This seems to predict war in Saudi Arabia that will last one calendar year. It appears to start with an attack from Elam and Media (Iran) (v2), and ends with the destruction of the splendour of Kedar. This most likely describes the destruction of one or more major cities in Arabia, possibly Mecca, Riyadh, Jedda, or Medina. Given the identification of the city as a religious centre in verse 9, it most likely refers to Mecca or Medina, or both. Similarly, Revelation 17-18 prophesies the sudden catastrophic fall of the city that is cryptically called 'Mystery Babylon'.

Although this chapter contains three oracles, because they all concern the same general area of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula, it is better to understand them as three parts of the same oracle, describing a chain of events set off by the invasion of Iran. Furthermore, according to the genealogy of 1 Chronicles 1:29-30, Dumah, Tema and Kedar were three of the sons of Ishmael. So this whole chapter is a prophecy about the Ishmaelites of Arabia.

The following slides illustrate this chain of events in a likely sequence:
Stacks Image 4536
Stacks Image 4538
Stacks Image 4540
Stacks Image 4542
Stacks Image 4544
Stacks Image 4546
Tags
Places: Desert by the Sea, Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, Elam, Media, Iran, Babylon, Mystery Babylon, Edom, Seir, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Dedan, Al-Ula, Tema, Tayma, Kedar, Mecca.
Symbols: Labour pains
Tags: Mystery Babylon, Iran attacks Saudi Arabia, Fall of Mecca, Fall of Babylon, Saudi Arabian refugee crisis, Nabonidus, Islam, Moon god Sin, Antichrist as a deceiver
The Lord Will Judge Babylon
21 This is an oracle about the wilderness by the Sea: Like strong winds blowing in the south, one invades from the wilderness, from a land that is feared.
2 I have received a distressing message: “The deceiver deceives, the destroyer destroys. Attack, you Elamites! Lay siege, you Medes! I will put an end to all the groaning!”
3 For this reason my stomach churns; cramps overwhelm me like the contractions of a woman in labor. I am disturbed by what I hear, horrified by what I see.
4 My heart palpitates, I shake in fear; the twilight I desired has brought me terror.
5 Arrange the table, lay out the carpet, eat and drink! Get up, you officers, smear oil on the shields!
6 For this is what the Lord has told me: “Go, post a guard! He must report what he sees.
7 When he sees chariots, teams of horses, riders on donkeys, riders on camels, he must be alert, very alert.”
8 Then the guard cries out: “On the watchtower, O Lord, I stand all day long; at my post I am stationed every night.
9 Look what’s coming! A charioteer, a team of horses.” When questioned, he replies, “Babylon has fallen, fallen! All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!”
10 O my downtrodden people, crushed like stalks on the threshing floor, what I have heard from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, I have reported to you.

Bad News for Seir

11 This is an oracle about Dumah: Someone calls to me from Seir, “Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?”
12 The watchman replies, “Morning is coming, but then night. If you want to ask, ask; come back again.”

The Lord Will Judge Arabia

13 This is an oracle about Arabia: In the thicket of Arabia you spend the night, you Dedanite caravans.
14 Bring out some water for the thirsty. You who live in the land of Tema, bring some food for the fugitives.
15 For they flee from the swords – from the drawn sword and from the battle-ready bow and from the severity of the battle.
16 For this is what the Lord has told me: “Within exactly one year all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end.
17 Just a handful of archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be left.” Indeed, the Lord God of Israel has spoken.
(NET)