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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 13–17
Verses 13–17

Arabia was a large country, that lay eastward and southward of the land of Canaan. Much of it was possessed by the posterity of Abraham. The Dedanim, here mentioned (Isa. 21:13), descended from Dedan, Abraham’s son by Keturah; the inhabitants of Tema and Kedar descended from Ishmael, Gen. 25:3, 13, 15. The Arabians generally lived in tents, and kept cattle, were a hardy people, inured to labour; probably the Jews depended upon them as a sort of a wall between them and the more warlike eastern nations; and therefore, to alarm them, they shall hear the burden of Arabia, and see it sinking under its own burden.

I. A destroying army shall be brought upon them, with a sword, with a drawn sword, with a bow ready bent, and with all the grievousness of war, Isa. 21:15. It is probable that the king of Assyria, in some of the marches of his formidable and victorious army, took Arabia in his way, and, meeting with little resistance, made an easy prey of them. The consideration of the grievousness of war should make us thankful for the blessings of peace.

II. The poor country people will hereby be forced to flee for shelter wherever they can find a place; so that the travelling companies of Dedanium, which used to keep the high roads with their caravans, shall be obliged to quit them and lodge in the forest in Arabia (Isa. 21:13), and shall not have the wonted convenience of their own tents, poor and weather-beaten as they are.

III. They shall stand in need of refreshment, being ready to perish for want of it, in their flight from the invading army: “O you inhabitants of the land of Tema!” (who probably were next neighbours to the companies of Dedanim) “bring you water” (so the margin reads it) “to him that is thirsty, and prevent with your bread those that flee, for they are objects of your compassion; they do not wander for wandering sake, nor are they reduced to straits by any extravagance of their own, but they flee from the sword.” Tema was a country where water was sometimes a scarce commodity (as we find, Job 6:19), and we may conclude it would be in a particular manner acceptable to these poor distressed refugees. Let us learn hence. 1. To look for distress ourselves. We know not what straits we may be brought into before we die. Those that live in cities may be forced to lodge in forests; and those may know the want of necessary food who now eat bread to the full. Our mountain stands not so strong but that it may be moved, rises not so high but that it may be scaled. These Arabians would the better bear these calamities because in their way of living they had used themselves to hardships. 2. To look with compassion upon those that are in distress, and with all cheerfulness to relieve them, not knowing how soon their case may be ours: “Bring water to those that are thirsty, and not only give bread to those that need and ask it, but prevent those with it that have need; give it to them unasked.” Those that do so shall find it remembered to their praise, as (according to our reading) it is here remembered to the praise of the land of Tema that they did bring water to the thirsty and relieved even those that were on the falling side.

IV. All that which is the glory of Kedar shall vanish away and fail. Did they glory in their numerous herds and flocks? They shall all be driven away by the enemy. It seems they were famous about other nations for the use of the bow in battle; but their archers, instead of foiling the enemy, shall fall themselves; and the residue of their number, when they are reduced to a small number, shall be diminished (Isa. 21:17); their mighty able-bodied men, and men of spirit too, shall become very few; for they, being most forward in the defence of their country, were most exposed, and fell first, either by the enemies’ sword or into the enemies’ hand. Note, Neither the skill of archers (though they be ever so good marksmen) nor the courage of mighty men can protect a people from the judgments of God, when they come with commission; they rather expose the undertakers. That is poor glory which will thus quickly come to nothing.

V. All this shall be done in a little time: “Within one year according to the years of a hireling (within one year precisely reckoned) this judgment shall come upon Kedar.” If this fixing of the time be of no great use to us now (because we find not either when the prophecy was delivered or when it was accomplished), yet it might be of great use to the Arabians then, to awaken them to repentance, that, like the men of Nineveh, they might prevent the judgment when they were thus told it was just at the door. Or, when it begins to be fulfilled, the business shall be done, be begun and ended in one year’s time. God, when he please, can do a great work in a little time.

VI. It is all 6e4 ratified by the truth of God (Isa. 21:16); “Thus hath the Lord said to me; you may take my word for it that it is his word;” and we may be sure no word of his shall fall to the ground. And again (Isa. 21:17): The Lord God of Israel hath spoken it, as the God of Israel, in pursuance of his gracious designs concerning them; and we may be sure the strength of Israel will not lie.