What does Isaiah 21:12 mean?
ESV: The watchman says: “Morning comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; come back again.”
NIV: The watchman replies, 'Morning is coming, but also the night. If you would ask, then ask; and come back yet again.'
NASB: The watchman says, 'Morning comes but also night. If you would inquire, inquire; Come back again.'
CSB: The watchman said, "Morning has come, and also night. If you want to ask, ask! Come back again."
NLT: The watchman replies, 'Morning is coming, but night will soon return. If you wish to ask again, then come back and ask.'
KJV: The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.
Verse Commentary:
In this tiny oracle, an Edomite has come to Isaiah from the hill country of Seir. This person has come to ask the prophet the question that must have been on the minds of many during the time of the Assyrian Empire. They want to know how much longer will this oppression and suffering continue (Isaiah 21:11)?

Isaiah responds, but his answer is not satisfying. He assures the person that "morning will come." But he also indicates that the night is not finished: it will either continue or come again. In other words, Isaiah offers no specific information beyond the vague idea that morning will eventually come. The dark time will ultimately end.

Still, Isaiah invites the Edomite to come back and ask again if he wants to. This may mean that Isaiah expects to know a more specific answer later. Perhaps he is also commending the asker for his humility in reaching out to a prophet of the Lord God of Israel for insight. "Don't stop asking," Isaiah says, in a sense. This person had come to the best source of truth.
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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