Morning Light – Isaiah 21

Today: [Isaiah 21] Defining the Burden of the Lord. In the book of Isaiah there are 9 times that Isaiah speaks explicitly of specific prophetic burdens. For Isaiah these are ominous messages to various nations, some of whom do not even exist yet as world powers. To many of Isaiah’s contemporaries, his prophesies seem as though they have no relevance to current events. Isaiah claims to look down through many succeeding kings of Judea and beyond, describing events that are far off. Many prophets and prophetic types today take on the semblance of Isaiah’s burdens and even whole components of Christian culture seek to define all of life in Christ as an ominous burden to bear – which we will explore and consider just what the nature is of burden and yoke in the believer’s life.
[Isa 21:1-17 KJV] 1 The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; [so] it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. 2 A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease. 3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing [of it]; I was dismayed at the seeing [of it]. 4 My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me. 5 Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, [and] anoint the shield. 6 For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. 7 And he saw a chariot [with] a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, [and] a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed: 8 And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:
In Isaiah 21 we pause to make a reflection on the subject of the burdens of Isaiah. From Isaiah chapter 13 and Isaiah 30 we find mention of 9 specific prophetic burdens (or ominous messages) given to Isaiah about specific nations. In this brief chapter we find a total of 3 of these burdens. The nations addressed here are Babylon, Edom and Arabia. The idea of a prophetic burden or of a spiritual burden runs throughout Christian culture as a defining characteristic of all thoughtful Christians. When we think of a leader or a believer with a furrowed brow and an ominous message to deliver it speaks to us of their depth in spiritual things and the calling we suppose they must have on their lives. However we would do we to remember that the charge of Jeremiah 17:21:
[Jer 17:21 KJV] 21 Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring [it] in by the gates of Jerusalem;
The Sabbath represents that place of rest and refreshing that the Father intended in creation to be the ongoing state of man. Being a Christian is more than walking through life with a heavy burden and a darkened countenance. John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. 1 Peter 1:8 exhorts us to joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is the bane of many Christians to fall prey to taking themselves far, far too seriously in life and thus rob themselves of much peace and joy in the Spirit and rob the world of a testimony of the sweetness of living for God. Jeremiah 23:38 speaks of the ultimate plan of God regarding the heavy burden of man:
[Jer 23:38 KJV] 38 But since ye say, The burden of the LORD; therefore thus saith the LORD; Because ye say this word, The burden of the LORD, and I have sent unto you, saying, Ye shall not say, The burden of the LORD;
Jesus made this point very emphatically in Matt. 11:
[Mat 11:28-30 KJV] 28 Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.
This is an important insight as we begin to study the major and minor prophets lest we become so burdened down and so negative and judgment oriented that we lose our joy. There are things to learn here and messages that we would be utterly wrong to ignore but we must proceed in the context of the words of Jesus “with a yoke easy” and a “burden light” discerning the words of the Lord rightly.
9 And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, [with] a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. 10 O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you. 11 The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? 12 The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come. 13 The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim. 14 The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, they prevented with their bread him that fled. 15 For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. 16 For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail: 17 And the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished: for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken [it].
In this chapter Isaiah presents his message differently perhaps than in other chapters. He takes the part of a play actor. First he portrays himself as a captive in Babylon of the future seeing the taskmasters of Babylon brought to destruction. Then he pretends he is a Babylonian enjoying a party when devastation comes in a moment of time. Thirdly he poses as a watchman serving as a security guard of a Babylonian celebration who sees the destruction that comes and takes down this great nation in a moment of time. What do you suppose the response of the people contemporary to Isaiah – those to whom he initially brought this word. This is during the reign of Hezekiah. Hezekiah’s reign was the highest point of the success of the kings of David other than Solomon and David himself. Isaiah isn’t prophesying into current events. He is looking down through time – through the prosperous days of Hezekiah past several kings yet to come and sees the southern kingdom taken into captivity and the nation completely dismantled. Yet at the time Isaiah speaks the people are in an upbeat frame of mind. None of this has any bearing on what is taking place when Isaiah delivers his message. The only person we know that gave any heed to what Isaiah said was Hezekiah himself who placed the city on a siege footing long before invading armies came to overthrow Jerusalem. The northern kingdom completely ignored Isaiah. Many no doubt in the southern kingdom laughed him to scorn. Babylon is a distant and vague threat. Yet Isaiah foresees the fall of Judah and looking through time is speaking to a generation of captives yet to come saying that they should not be discouraged for Babylon will indeed fall.
In Isaiah’s description of Babylon’s fall he describes the nation and the city coming to ruin in the midst of a celebration. This indeed actually happens in Daniel 5:5 when the king of Babylon is having a party and brings out the vessels of the temple for a drunken feast. A disembodied hand appears in the room for all to see and writes “mene, mene tekel upharsin” upon the wall which means “thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting”. That night the king is assassinated and the nation falls before morning as the prophet Isaiah so accurately predicted. What were the implications of the fall of Babylon for the captives of the southern kingdom? The Medes and the Persians rose to power and their king Cyrus will eventually take the throne and order the city and the temple to be restored. The southern kingdom will be reconstituted, not as an independent nation but as a province of Persia itself. Eventually Persia falls to Alexander and from the remnants of Alexander’s rule Rome rises to empire and the son of God is born in a manger to live a sinless life, die on the cross and rise to the right hand of God the Father. To all of this Isaiah prophesies and from the standpoint of history we see that while these events might seem as nonsense to the people of Isaiah’s day they have very personal and relevant meaning to those of us who have found our place at the feet of king Jesus brought into the earth through the line of kings that Isaiah is called to prophesy to.

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