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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 4

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 21: Babylon, Edom, and Arabia

Chapter 3: Arabian Refugees

Isaiah 21:13-17 gives us another short prophecy, this time in regard to Arabia. Isaiah 21:13-15 starts by saying,

13 The oracle against Arabia. In the thickets of Arabia, you must spend the night, O caravans of Dedanites. 14 Bring water for the thirsty, O inhabitants of the land of Tema, meet the fugitive with bread. 15 For they have fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow and from the press of battle.

The Hebrew word for Arabia is Arab, pronounced Arav, which means “to become dark, to become evening.” Figuratively, it meant “sterility,” because Arabia was so hot and dry. Isaiah uses this as part of his prophecy, telling the people of Tema to “bring water for the thirsty” refugees coming from Dedan. Likewise, it sets the tone for the advancing darkness of those times, as the Assyrian army approached.

Refugees from Dedan

In those days Arabia was limited to the northern portion of what is now called Saudi Arabia. This was where the children of Ishmael settled, along with Midian, the son of Abraham through his later wife, Keturah (Gen. 25:1, 2). Midian’s brother was Jokshan, the father of Sheba and Dedan. Isaiah specifically mentions the Dedanites in his prophecy.

There were no “thickets of Arabia,” at least not in the sense of forests. The word ya’ar can also refer to rugged country with brush and rocks—inhospitable locations where travelers would not normally spend the night. The “caravans of Dedanites” are pictured as wartime refugees traveling toward Tema that was located along the main trade route between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aqaba that ran across northern Arabia.

Dedan means “low country,” so the prophet, using a play on words, may be suggesting that Dedan was being brought low by the judgment of God through the hand of Assyria. A century later, Dedan, along with Tema and Edom, were again ravaged by the Babylonians (Ezek. 25:13, 14).


Tema was not the same city as the Edomite city of Teman. Gen. 36:15 tells us that Teman was the son of Eliphaz, the oldest son of Esau-Edom, and Jer. 49:20 speaks of Teman as an Edomite city. On the other hand, Tema was a son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13, 15) and was therefore an Arabian tribe.

The people of Tema, then, were instructed to meet these fugitives with bread and water, because hospitality was (and is) a great cultural virtue in the Mideast. The Wikipedia says about Tema:

An Aramaic stele [stone monument] recently discovered, belonging to the 6th century BC, shows the influence of Assyria in the town.

This may indicate that the Assyrians took over the town along with other parts of Arabia, but at the least it shows that Assyria’s empire extended as far south as Tema.

After the fall of Assyria a century later, Babylon rose to power for 70 years. Its final kings were Nabonidus and his son, Belshazzar. Nabonidus had made Tema his second capital, as it was the center of worship of his favorite god (the moon god) known as Sin. There he built a royal complex (which has recently been excavated by archeologists).

When Nabonidus moved to Sin, he left his son Belshazzar in Babylon to rule in his place as co-regent. As the Persian army drew near, Nabonidus led the Babylonian army to meet him. Cyrus defeated Nabonidus at Opis, and Nabonidus fled to nearby Borsippa. Belshazzar did not know if his father was dead or alive, so he was effectively the king of Babylon when the city fell in Dan. 5:30. Nabonidus was later captured and brought in chains to Babylon. His fate is uncertain, but most believe that he was exiled and given a governmental post in Iran/Persia until his death.


Isaiah 21:16, 17 concludes,

16 For thus the Lord said to me, “In a year as a hired man would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will terminate; 17 and the remainder of the number of bowmen, the mighty men of the sons of Kedar, will be few; for the Lord God of Israel has spoken.”

A “year as a hired man would count it” is an idiom for a shortened year, for hirelings work only as long as they must, having no particular love or loyalty to their employers or to the sheep that they tend.

Kedar represents Arabia as a whole. Kedar was one of the sons of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13), and his tribe lived in northern Arabia. His name means “dark” or “to mourn.” Isaiah seems to suggest that all of Arabia would soon be in mourning because of all the casualties of war.