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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 21:1-5

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Prophecy Against Babylon

21 An oracle concerning the Desert by the Sea:
Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland,
     an invader comes from the desert,
     from a land of terror.

Verse 9 will assure us that this prophecy is about Babylon (“Babylon has fallen! Has fallen!”). So why does Isaiah obscure the point by saying that this is “an oracle concerning the Desert by the Sea”? First, we humbly remember that God the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to record these words for his own purposes. And yet, the Holy Spirit also used Isaiah’s talents as he wrote and preached: Did the prophet realize that these words would be useful long after Babylon’s fall?

In the third line of this first verse, the Hebrew text only says “He comes from the desert…” Although the NIV has chosen to make a little more sense of the passage, Isaiah may have wished to let it sound less certain, and therefore more ominous.

2 A dire vision has been shown to me:
     The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot.
Elam, attack! Media, lay siege!
     I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused. 
3 At this my body is racked with pain,
     pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor;
I am staggered by what I hear,
     I am bewildered by what I see.
4 My heart falters,
     fear makes me tremble;
the twilight I longed for
     has become a horror to me. 
5 They set the tables,
     they spread the rugs,
     they eat, they drink!
Get up, you officers,
     oil the shields! (NIV)

Isaiah uses the picture of a woman in labor pains as the worst torment imaginable this side of hell (see also Psalm 48:6; Jeremiah 22:23, 49:24; Micah 4:10). The same picture is also used in Scripture to describe the way the Last Day will come on suddenly, without warning (“these are the beginning of birth pains,” Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8; and 1 Thessalonians 5:3).

Isaiah was sickened by the vision God showed him; the prophet Daniel lay sick for days after one of God’s messages for him (Daniel 8:27, 10:16-17). We can only imagine how Zechariah felt after the Lord showed him eight separate visions all on the same night of February 15th, 519 BC (Zechariah 1:7, 1:18, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 5:5, 6:1).

The fall of Babylon that Isaiah sees is far worse than anything he would have wished on them. His words may very well prophesy what the 81-year old Daniel would see with his own eyes the night that the handwriting appeared on the wall during Belshazzar’s drinking party and Babylon fell (Daniel 5:5).

We have been warned about the end that is coming. The twilight of the world will not be pleasant for those who will be living then. But God will end those terrible days. He will cut the world’s suffering short, and Judgment Day will be on us. What does it matter what the world thinks of us until that time? Isn’t it worth reaching out to just one more soul while we have time, while it is still day? Our God was patient and gracious with us. Today, reach out with God’s saving message about Jesus and his forgiveness to someone who needs to hear it. After all, who can say when the labor pains will begin?


In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.