The Oracle Concerning Arabia

21: 13-17

    DIG: What are the Arabian cities of Dedan and Tema told to do? Which fugitives (or refugees) are they to care for? What does the future hold for Arabia or Kedar? How do you think these three prophecies against Babylon (21:1-10), Edom (21:11-12), and Arabia (21:13-17) affect Judah’s sense of hope as they consider the Assyrian threat? Why do you think the LORD had Isaiah reveal these things to Judah?

    REFLECT: Do you sometimes feel like collateral damage in this life? Dedan got caught in the crossfire of something beyond her control? Life happens. Where did Dedan go for help? What happened to those who lived in Tema? Why? What happens when you take control of the steering wheel of your life? What is the alternative?

    The Assyrian threat is the background of this oracle. The Dedanites were a tribe from southern Arabia. Tema (Job 6:19; Jeremiah 25:23) was a well-known oasis in northwestern Arabia, and Kedar (42:11) was in northern Arabia. This oracle discusses the difficult times the people of Arabia would soon experience at the hands of the dreaded Assyrians.

    Isaiah uses play on words here. The meaning of the root letters for Arabia and evening are the same three Hebrew letters. Only the vowel patterns change. The night that Edom is to suffer (see Ej - The Oracle Concerning Edom or Dumah), that night of Edom, will creep into Arabia as well. Only in Arabia it will be more in the sense of evening rather than the night.

    It is insightful how Muslims corrupt this same verse for their own uses. They teach that the Bible reads an oracle upon Arabia, instead of the correct translation, an oracle concerning Arabia in 21:13a. Clearly, Satan is the father of lies and there is no truth in him (John 8:44). They teach that those who believe in the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Matthew 22:32) are trying to destroy them; consequently, it is the responsibility of all Muslims to spread their belief that Allah is the only god and his messenger is Muhammad, throughout the world (see my comments on 21:7). Any effort to say that ADONAI and Allah are the same deity could not be further from the truth. The Muslim view of Allah is not the same for a Messianic Jew or Christian as their view of God. Here are some major differences: First, Allah is one in substance and person whereas God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4) in substance yet three persons in the Godhead; secondly, one of the persons in that Godhead is Yeshua Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God (John 3:16); thirdly, in Islam, Jesus was only human and merely a prophet whose message has become corrupted; and fourthly, Messianic Jews and Christians base their faith on the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua Messiah or Jesus Christ (First Corinthians 15:3-4). Muhammad is still buried in his grave, Christ's tomb is empty.

    In the Old Covenant period, Arabia was never a unified kingdom as it is today in Saudi Arabia. Rather, until recently, Arabia was comprised of various tribes. Here Isaiah focuses on two key tribes. The first one is the tribe of Dedan, or the Dedanites. Dedan is probably identified with the modern al-Ula, which is about ninety miles southeast of the second tribe of Tema.

    This near historical prophecy for Arabia came true. In 715 Sargon II wrote that he had defeated a number of Arabian tribes and had deported them to Samaria. In 703 Arabs joined Merodach-Baladan (39:1) in rebellion against Assyria and were crushed by Sennacherib. The tribe of Dedan had settled just east of Edom. Their origin is mentioned in Genesis 10:7 and 25:3. Because of their proximity to Edom they are often referred to together in the Prophets (Jeremiah 49:8 and Ezekiel 25:23). But here, the Dedanites are viewed as fleeing from war and having to hide. Although their main economy was based upon the caravan routes, they suddenly found they needed to camp in the thickets of Arabia off the beaten path (21:13b).

    Bring water for the thirsty, you who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives (21:14). Tema is about two hundred miles southeast of Dumah on the incense trade route. The word for fugitives occurs in 16:2-3 of the Moabites fleeing from danger. The Dedanites could not even go into the city to buy food. The tribe of Tema needed to feed them. Suddenly, this highly independent  Dedan tribe needed to depend upon other tribes for food and water. Tema was in northwest Arabia (Job 6:19 and Jeremiah 25:23). They could have fled to Jerusalem but the Arabian tribes sought to be self-sufficient.

    They flee from the sword, literally from before swords, from the drawn sword, swords, from the bent bow and from the heat of battle (21:15). The reason why the Dedanites must hide is because they were caught up in the reality of war. The word swords suggests being caught between two opposing forces. They were collateral damage. Inner Arabia became a haven for those fleeing from the warfare that would engulf the more fertile lands around the edges of the desert. Where could they find help?

    Then Isaiah turns his attention to a second Arabian tribe, that of Kedar (Genesis 25:13). The glory of Kedar, her merchant trade and control over certain caravan routes is mentioned elsewhere in Isaiah 42:11, 60:7 and Ezekiel 27:21. Kedar was a very wealthy, strong tribe. They lived in tents, but they were quite elaborate tents. They looked ugly from the outside, but they were quite beautiful on the inside. The tribe of Kedar was known for its tents (Psalm 120:5 and Song of Solomon 1:5).

    The mode of traveling in a caravan is peculiar. They travel four camels abreast, which are all tied one after another, like in teams. The whole body is called a caravan, which is divided into several companies, each of which has its own name and could include thousands of camels. The camels have bells about their necks, which, with the singing of the camel drivers, who travel on foot, make pleasant music. Though there is great confusion at the setting out of a caravan, its different companies and divisions soon settle down into a condition of order.69

    Then Isaiah prophesies. This is what the LORD says to me: Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the pomp of Kedar will come to an end (21:16). In other words, Kedar will fall within one year. This was assured because ADONAI, the God of Israel had spoken. The boldness of this statement is lost on us today. What does the LORD have to do with Babylon or Edom or Arabia? They had their own gods. But Isaiah dares to say it is his LORD alone who holds the nations in His hand. Do you believe that today? Is it true that the Word of God alone shapes the destiny of the nations? Apart from the sovereign control of the LORD is there any hope for mankind that seems intent on destroying itself?

    The survivors of the bowmen, the warriors of Kedar will be few, because they would experience a great defeat (21:17a). When judgment hits, her population will decrease (Jeremiah 49: 28-33). The survivors will become fugitives, running for their lives from the sword. For Arabia, this will be evening. Notice the contrast with the Edomites. For Edom it was night, total destruction. Not a person left. But for Arabia, it was evening, because a remnant will survive into the Millennial Kingdom. This was the far eschatological prophecy for Arabia. The oracle would be fulfilled, for ADONAI, the God of Israel, had spoken (21:17b).

    The suffering Dedanites, and their helpers of Tema, tried to control their plight with their own resources, and the results speak for themselves. Like Edom and Egypt, Arabia teaches us what happens when we cut the LORD out of the picture and take the steering wheel of our lives into our own hands. The bottom line is this: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 

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