In my last post, we learned of A Further Prophecy Against Ashdod, Egypt, and Cush in Yesha’yahu 20:1-6. In this post, we learn of Another Prophecy Against the Desert by the Sea (Bavel) in Yesha’yahu 21:1-10.
The prophecy in these verses was against the Desert by the Sea or coastal desert as Stern translates the phrase. This designation is ambiguous when first stated, but the end of the passage (verse 9) makes it clear that Bavel was meant. The description of the fall of Bavel is mysterious. Debate surrounds whether it anticipates an Ashurim defeat of Bavel in the late eighth or early seventh century BCE (three times: 710, 700, 689) or the ultimate conquest of Bavel by Persia in 539 BCE. A good argument can be made that both the earlier and the later defeats are alluded to in this prophecy. The intention of this prophecy at the time of Yesha’yahu was to show that Bavel would not be a useful ally against Ashur as even King Hezekiah of Y’hudah at one point had hoped (Yesha’yahu 39). 
1 A prophecy about the coastal desert: Like whirlwinds sweeping over the Negev, it comes from the desert, from a fearsome land. 2 A dire vision has been shown to me: the betrayer betrays, and the spoiler spoils. ‘Eilam, advance! Madai, lay siege! I will end all groaning.
The me here is Yesha’yahu. ‘Eilam and Madai (Medes) were countries on the Iranian plateau east of Bavel. In this verse, they are called to advance, but against whom? In the late eighth century BCE, they were allies with Bavel and would have fought against Ashur. In 539 BCE they were both parts of the Persian Empire that defeated Bavel. Perhaps the ambiguity intends the reader at a later time to recognize allusions to both events.
3 This is why my insides are racked with pain; I am seized by pangs, like a woman in labor; wrenched by what I hear, aghast at what I see.
Yesha’yahu used the theme of a woman in labor, one widely used in prophetic literature. This was a graphic image of the pain and distress that would fall on the object of God’s warring activity.
4 My mind reels, shuddering assails me. The twilight I longed for terrifies me.
The realization that judgment was coming brought Yesha’yahu no joy. The destruction was so real to him that he felt tortured inside. I’m praying that the Lord might do much more of that in our lives because we sometimes talk quite easily about heaven and hell, without really being broken and hurting over the fact that people we care about deeply are headed for judgment and an eternity apart from God. Yesha’yahu had not only a prophetic message but a prophetic heart. When is the last time you shared the Gospel message to those who have yet to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah?
5 They set the table, light the lamps, eat and drink – “Get going, princes! Oil the shields!”
The apparent banquet scene portrayed here might suggest that Bavel was unprepared for the attack that would capture the city. Attack would come during celebratory feasting, reminiscent of Daniel 5 when Belshatzar ate and drank on the eve of Bavel’s destruction.
The practice of oiling shields in preparation for battle may be based on the desire to make the leather more flexible and less brittle (see 2 Samuel 1:21). The shine from a freshly oiled leather shield might also help blind an opponent.
6 For this is what Adonai said to me: “Go, post a watchman to report what he sees!
The watchman was posted at some point distant from the battle, perhaps at the city of the attackers. He looked for signs of victory or defeat.
7 If he sees the cavalry, horsemen in pairs, riders on donkeys, riders on camels, he must be on alert, on full alert!”
The Ashurim used chariot corps, divided into squadrons of fifty, as the heart of their army’s campaign forces. They held two, three, or four men, with one man serving as a driver and the others as archers or shield bearers.
Most of what we know about the use of cavalry in the eighth century comes from depictions on Ashurim reliefs. They show that in areas such as the hilly or wooded country where chariots were ineffective, the armies in the ancient Near East employed cavalry. Some of these men were equipped with bows, while others served as lancers, carrying a long spear. These latter forces would be used as shock troops, charging along with chariots against a massed enemy, driving wedges in their ranks so the Ashurim infantry could follow into the breaches (see 1 Kings 20:21). Cavalry archers often fought in pairs, with one using his bow while the other carried a shield to protect his companion (see 2 Kings 9:25). Riders were also used to send messages on the battlefield and to report events to nearby fortresses and cities (see Ben-Hadad’s escape with covering cavalry in 1 Kings 20:20). 
8 He calls out like a lion: “My lord, I stand on the watchtower all day long, I stay at my post all night.” 9 Then, as they appeared — the cavalry, horsemen in pairs — he spoke these words: “She has fallen! She has fallen — Bavel! All the carved images of her gods lie shattered on the ground.”
At the death of Sargon II in 705 BCE, Merodach-Baladan once again set himself up as the ruler of Bavel. This signaled yet another series of revolts throughout the Ashurim empire. Sennacherib’s Annals describe how he systematically subjugated each rebellious region. Bavel and ‘Eilam were dealt with first because of their proximity to the heart of the Ashurim empire. Still, the Bavlim leader was able to maintain control over a portion of the south and cause Sennacherib persistent problems, despite Ashurim attempts to conciliate the Chaldean people. Bavel was finally besieged in 689 BCE, and when the walls were breached, the Ashurim slaughtered the population and destroyed the wall systems, the temples and every house within the city. They even dug canals to channel water from the Euphrates through the city to wash away foundations and brickwork. 
10 My people, who have been threshed, grain trodden down on my threshing-floor: I am telling you what I have heard from Adonai-Tzva’ot, the God of Isra’el. ~ Yesha’yahu 21:1-10 (CJB)
The trodden down people were the people of Isra’el. The prophet confirmed to them that the destruction of Bavel had been announced by none other than God Himself.
In my next post, we will explore A Prophecy Against Dumah and Arabia in Yesha’yahu 21:10-17.
 HCSB Study Bible.
 The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.