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Isaiah 21:1

ESV The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea. As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on, it comes from the wilderness, from a terrible land.
NIV A prophecy against the Desert by the Sea: Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror.
NASB The pronouncement concerning the wilderness of the sea: As windstorms in the Negev come in turns, It comes from the wilderness, from a terrifying land.
CSB A pronouncement concerning the desert by the sea: Like storms that pass over the Negev, it comes from the desert, from the land of terror.
NLT This message came to me concerning Babylon — the desert by the sea : Disaster is roaring down on you from the desert, like a whirlwind sweeping in from the Negev.
KJV 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.

What does Isaiah 21:1 mean?

Isaiah continues to deliver oracles: prophecies given to him by the Lord. The oracle in the first ten verses of this chapter is not easy to follow. Most Bible scholars and commentators agree that the focus is on destruction coming against Babylon. They differ about which defeat Isaiah is referring to. Also subject to debate is how that defeat will impact his audience, the people of Judah.

Given the context of this portion of his book, Isaiah is most likely writing about the defeat of Babylon by Assyria. This historical event would have taken place in stages from 710 BC to 689 BC. Some scholars also suggest that Isaiah's prophecy here may be applied to Babylon's defeat by the Medes and Persians much later in 539 BC.

Why would Babylon's defeat cause Isaiah, and the people of Judah, such distress and sadness? As with Egypt, many people appeared to be hoping that Babylon could put a stop to the Assyrian threat once and for all (Isaiah 20). They hoped that Babylon could provide relief and protection to all the nations in the region around the Mediterranean Sea. Isaiah's prophecy shows that, instead, Babylon will be destroyed.

He begins by identifying the focus of the oracle: the "wilderness of the sea." This could also be called the "desert by the sea," depending on the translation. Most commentators identify this area as being southern Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf. In places, it was both a desert and a swampland. The city of Babylon was located in modern-day Iraq, south of Baghdad.

The prophet's vision begins a little like a horror movie. He paints the picture with few details, but enough to cause unease in his audience. He uses the image of the storm winds that would blow through the desert region south of Israel. This was an area known as the Negeb. Isaiah communicates the fear of what will come using an unsettling lack of detail; few things more terrifying than the unknown. Isaiah merely says "it" will come from the wilderness, from a land of terror. "It" will be like one of those unstoppable, life-engulfing sandstorms that tear across the open desert.
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