What does Isaiah 21:9 mean?
ESV: And behold, here come riders, horsemen in pairs!” And he answered, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.”
NIV: Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!''
NASB: Now behold, here comes a troop of riders, horsemen in pairs.' And one said, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon; And all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground.'
CSB: Look, riders come -- horsemen in pairs." And he answered, saying, "Babylon has fallen, has fallen. All the images of her gods have been shattered on the ground."
NLT: Now at last — look! Here comes a man in a chariot with a pair of horses!' Then the watchman said, 'Babylon is fallen, fallen! All the idols of Babylon lie broken on the ground!'
KJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
Day and night Isaiah has faithfully occupied the watchtower. He is looking into the distance to see when the riders will come. Scholars for the most part assume this takes place during his vision from the Lord. In this vision he is watching and waiting for the enemy to ride up to Babylon's walls to begin the attack. Some commentators speculate that Isaiah may be calling out from Jerusalem's walls instead, looking for riders to approach with news from the battle for Babylon (Isaiah 21:6–8).

In either interpretation, the horse riders have arrived, riding in pairs. Isaiah has either seen in his vision or received the news that Babylon has fallen. He adds that all the carved images of their gods have been shattered as well.

Many commentators believe Isaiah's prophecy is about Sennacherib's utter destruction of Babylon in 689 BC. For many years prior, Babylon's ruler Merodach-Baladan had resisted Assyria's attempts to put down his rebellion. Assyria was particularly determined to crush these rebellions, because Babylon's strength inspired revolts by cities and states around the region. Finally, Sennacherib succeeded in first laying siege to Babylon and then breaching its walls. We know from his own annals that he unleashed soldiers to fully obliterate the city. They killed all the inhabitants and smashed all the gods and idols—apart from the two they carried off with them. The Assyrians even rerouted the river to flow through the town and destroy its foundations.

In the end, though, it is the Lord who brought down Babylon. Sennacherib was just a tool of the Lord God. Assyria's defeat of Babylon destroyed the hope of many nations that Babylon would save them that threat. Many in Judah shared that hope, but the Lord didn't want His people to trust in other nations or their to rescue them.

Many years later, John's vision, recorded in Revelation 14:8, echoes Isaiah's words. This adds a prophecy about the fall of another Babylon. John hears an angel say, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality." That future Babylon will also come crashing down by the Lord's hand. God's people will see they don't need such worldly kingdoms to survive. They, as well as all of us, need only the Lord to save us.
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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