What does Isaiah 21:11 mean?
ESV: The oracle concerning Dumah. One is calling to me from Seir, “Watchman, what time of the night? Watchman, what time of the night?”
NIV: A prophecy against Dumah: Someone calls to me from Seir, 'Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?'
NASB: The pronouncement concerning Edom: One keeps calling to me from Seir, 'Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?'
CSB: A pronouncement concerning Dumah: One calls to me from Seir, "Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night? "
NLT: This message came to me concerning Edom : Someone from Edom keeps calling to me, 'Watchman, how much longer until morning? When will the night be over?'
KJV: The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?
Verse Commentary:
Isaiah follows the oracle against Babylon with a short, two-verse oracle concerning Dumah. Some scholars believe Isaiah is referring to an oasis town in north central Saudi Arabia; this is known today as Dumet ej-Jendel. In Isaiah's era, it stood at an important intersection of two trade routes through the desert. It would have been an important spot to Babylon, the subject of the previous oracle (Isaiah 21:1–10), who was attempting to be independent of Assyria. This area's fate would also have mattered to Edom for trade to the east. Isaiah answers a question from Edom, also called Seir, in these verses (Isaiah 21:12).

Other scholars speculate that the mention of Dumah made have been wordplay more than a physical location. In Hebrew, dumāh means "stillness" or "silence" and rhymes with 'edom. The Edomites were descendants of Jacob's brother Esau (Genesis 36:9). Seir is another name for the land of Edom, which was a region south of the Dead Sea. Isaiah may be using poetic language here to describe a person from Seir, or Edom, coming to ask him a question. The same interpretation may apply if the word used here is the name for Edom in the Akkadian language of Assyria and Babylon.

The person calls him "watchman." This description is taken from the role Isaiah played in watching for riders in the previous oracle about Babylon (Isaiah 21:6–9). The Edomite asks the same question twice, revealing the deep importance of the question. The question is "what time of the night?" or "what is left of the night?"

In short, the Edomites want to know how long they must continue to suffer. This suffering is likely under the oppression of the Assyrians, who forced them to pay tribute to their king. The Assyrians also used their land to travel from Damascus in Syria to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Edomites asked the question many in the world at this time were likely asking: When will the darkness of the Assyrian Empire finally end?
Verse Context:
Chapter 21:11–12 contains a very brief oracle against a place called Dumah. This was an oasis town in northern Arabia. The name also means "stillness" or "silence," and it rhymes with the Hebrew word for "Edom." From Edom, also called Sier, comes a man to the assigned watchman: Isaiah. This man asks how long remains in the night, likely referring to Edom's suffering at the hands of the Assyrians. Isaiah's answer promises that morning will come, along with more night. He tells the Edomite to return and to ask again if he wants to.
Chapter Summary:
This chapter delivers oracles against three people groups. Isaiah is terrified to the point of physical pain by the vision he sees. God reveals the terrible things coming for Babylon. Isaiah answers the Lord's call to be a watchman. When he sees the arrival of riders approaching the city, he announces that Babylon has fallen. The oracle against Dumah presents a question from an Edomite with an unsatisfying answer. The oracle against Arabia pictures starving refugees that must be fed and declares that the warriors of Kedar will be nearly wiped out within a year.
Chapter Context:
Earlier chapters included prophecies about nations such as Aram, Egypt, and Cush. Chapter 21 presents three more oracles against Israel's regional neighbors. What Isaiah sees is so horrific that he suffers intense physical pain just from watching. He answers the call to be a watchman, eventually announcing that Babylon has fallen. An oracle against Dumah provides no real answer to the question of how long the night of suffering will continue for Edom. Arabia, too, will suffer at the hand of powerful regional forces. Next is a prophecy about Jerusalem.
Book Summary:
Isaiah is among the most important prophetic books in the entire Bible. The first segment details God's impending judgment against ancient peoples for sin and idolatry (Isaiah 1—35). The second part of Isaiah briefly explains a failed assault on Jerusalem during the rule of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36—39). The final chapters predict Israel's rescue from Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40—48), the promised Messiah (Isaiah 49—57), and the final glory of Jerusalem and God's people (Isaiah 58—66).
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