What does Isaiah 21:4 mean?
ESV: My heart staggers; horror has appalled me; the twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling.
NIV: My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me.
NASB: My mind reels, horror overwhelms me; The twilight I longed for has been turned into trembling for me.
CSB: My heart staggers; horror terrifies me. He has turned my last glimmer of hope into sheer terror.
NLT: My mind reels and my heart races. I longed for evening to come, but now I am terrified of the dark.
KJV: My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.
Verse Commentary:
The prophet of the Lord paid a price for witnessing visions of future judgment. Isaiah has seen the horrendous things coming for Babylon. This judgement is likely in the form of the Assyrian army led by Sennacherib (Isaiah 21:1–2). The prophet has reported that his body is wracked with pain, comparing the torment to a woman in labor. The experience has left him staggered and bewildered, not wanting to see any more (Isaiah 21:3).

Now he adds that his heart falters from the terror. While the imagery of a "failing heart" often means spiritual weakness, this reference is physical. This vision of horror is causing Isaiahs' body to tremble and his heart to race. He is describing the abject terror of those who will experience what he has only witnessed in his visions. His empathy has brought him to his knees with the same suffering they will experience ahead of their actual destruction.

Isaiah says that he has longed for the twilight, but now that has changed. That might mean that he longed for relief from his vision but found none. It may mean that his visions typically came at night—and what he used to desire, he now dreads. It's also possible Isaiah wished for a "twilight" to fall on the enemy nations, but seeing the actual carnage they will endure has changed his perspective. Whatever Isaiah expected experience doesn't occur.
Verse Context:
Chapter 21:1–10 contains Isaiah's prophecy against Babylon. God sends Isaiah a fierce vision which causes him great physical suffering and emotional terror. His heart falters, and his body trembles at what he witnesses. Isaiah calls the leaders to prepare for battle. He obeys the Lord's call for a watchman, taking his post on the tower until the riders come. When they arrive, the prophet announces that Babylon is fallen and her gods have all been smashed.
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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