Isaiah 21: Edom & Arabia

The latter half of Isaiah 21 addresses Dumah (or Edom) and Arabia.


The last part of Isaiah 21 prophesies about Edom and Arabia. While reading this passage, I had to go back and look at some of the genealogies from Genesis—yes, the ones I'm sure we all love to skip over.



Isaiah starts off addressing Dumah. Where and who is Dumah you ask? So did I. Dumah was a son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13-15), but it was also a city in the land given to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15). However, if you have a modern translation, it probably tells you that the prophesy given here is for Edom. Despite the two non-Edomite uses of the word Dumah, this prophecy is linked to Edom because of the reference to Mount Seir. Seir is where the Edomites lived (Genesis 32:3; 36:8-9). Since the Bible tells us that Seir is where the Edomites lived, we know the prophecy must have something to do with them.[5]


So, we've solidified the fact that Dumah is a reference to Edom, but what exactly is the judgment, or prophecy, against Edom? Not much is actually said, in the verses that follow. A watchman is asked about the night and responses with the obvious that morning and night come. Three things stand out to me from Isaiah's account:


The Bible talks about watchmen quite often. The purpose of a watchman is to watch for a particular event and then alert their group of the occurrence. Usually, watchmen are used in times of war to ensure that the enemy isn't able to capture the nation by surprise. In a similar fashion, we are urged to watch for the return of Jesus Christ so that we are not taken by surprise. The watchman mentioned in Isaiah 21 could actually be a literal watchman or a spiritual watchmen. He could be instructed to watch for the army that would bring about the judgment God is proclaiming, but he could also be sent to watch for the spiritual decline of the people. After reading the passages several times, I realized it was possible that this watchman was actually an Israelite watching Edom, not an Edomite watching his own people.


Morning, which is mentioned by the watchman as something to come, is something we often take for granted. Unless we are sick or on a battlefield, we assume that we will wake up the next morning. We assume that the Earth will keep spinning on it's axis and the Sun will rise in the morning. When times are hard, many of us are told things will be better in the morning. Whether we're morning people our not, morning is the time we look forward to symbolically. We typically think "the sun'll come out tomorrow."

Therefore, the watchman is telling there are good times ahead. However, the watchman mentions the morning before the night, which implies that the morning is not something to hope for after the night, but something that will precede the night.


Photocredit: Savchenko
You can probably guess that if the morning represents good times, the night represents hard times. For much of human history, there's been a stigma about the night. Older people in my family used to say "nothing good happens after dark." If you've even suffered from sinus trouble, you might also notice that it's typically worse at night. The watchman is warning them that as surely as day comes, night will come to. They may enjoy times of prosperity, despite the refusal to recognize God's sovereignty or His people, but eventually there will be consequences to these actions.

Who are the Dedanim

Isaiah tells us that the Dedanim are a traveling company sleeping in the wilderness and somehow involved in the judgment on Arabia. It's pretty obvious that the Dedanim are a group of people, and just as easy to assume the father of those people was someone named Dedan. However, when I read the passage, I wasn't sure who Dedan was. The name isn't familiar to me like Edom or Moab, so I had to research it. I expected him to be a son of Ishmael, since he is considered the father of the Arabs.

Dedan #1

To my surprise, Dedan was actually the grandson of Cush, the son of Ham (Genesis 10:7).[3]

Cush is generally thought of as settling sub-Saharan Africa, but it seems reasonable to me that some of his descendants remained in the Northern part of Africa. I'm not sure of the exact history of Northern Africa, but today it is considered part of the Arab world. I always assumed this was due to the Ottoman Empire taking control of those lands, but perhaps there is a connection between Dedan and Ishmael.

There us also the possibility that the Dedanim are actually the opposing army that is defeating Arabia. Historically, sub-Saharan Africa has never been considered part of the Arab world. Perhaps this is why.

Dedan #2

Of course, it couldn't be that easy. There is another Dedan mentioned in Genesis 25:3. This Dedan is a descendant of Abraham through his wife Keturah. Could this be the group living in Arabia that is being discussed? Most commentaries assume the Dedanim are those descended from Cush, but there is no concrete evidence supporting either group.[4]

Cities of Arabia


The first city mentioned in the judgment against Arabia is Tema. If you're like me, that doesn't ring a bell when you first read it. However, God is telling us specific names for a reason. Is it possible the city of Tema is named after a person who bore the name? Genesis 25:13-15 tells us that Ishmael had a son named Tema. Not only does he have a son named Tema, but he also has a son named Kedar, which is the name of the second city mentioned in this passage. Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac, is already known to be the father of Arabia, so it makes sense that the namesakes of these cities are his sons. It's also a reminder that the people in these cities are distant cousins of the Israelites. This may be slightly off topic, but have you ever thought about how dysfunctional some of these Biblical families must have been?

According to sources, there is a small town near Syria called Teyma, and it is thought that this may be the same as the Tema spoken of in the Bible.[1] I couldn't find it on Google maps. Many things are possible: it could be too small to be considered a city on it's own and incorporated with a larger city; it could have been renamed; considering all that has happened in Syria recently, it could have been destroyed. Regardless of whether or not we can still locate the city of Tema today, it did exist during Isaiah's time.

Although Isaiah 21:13-17 pronounces judgment on Arabia, Tema doesn't actually sound that bad. It seems that they're giving water to those who are thirsty, which sound like a good thing. In the New Testament, we are commanded to provide for our fellow man when they are in need (CITE VERSE). They people of Tema even provide bread to those who are in need. It seems that this is the place the refugees of the war will end up. While it may be good that the people of Tema are so accommodating, the people they are accommodating are not civilians displaced by the battle, but the soldiers themselves who have fled the battle. The fact that they are fleeing the battle tells us all we need to know about who is winning.


The outcome of the battle against Arabia is confirmed in the discussion on Kedar in the final verses of the chapter. Here we learn that within a year, Kedar will be defeated. Their army would be diminished and their glory would be taken.

As mentioned above, Kedar was a son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13-15). Kedar is mentioned many times in scripture, and the people of Kedar are often used to depict the whole of Arabia. Whether they made up the majority of the Arabians at the time or whether they were just the loudest or most recognizable tribe is speculation.[2]

Defeating an Army

God knew that Kedar, a city in Arabia, needed to be struck down, and His way of maintaining that was to drastically reduce their army. God is a master general and many of the strategies we employ today can be found biblically. For example, one of the major factors in WWII was Germany rebelling against sanctions put on it after WWI. One of those sanctions was a reduction of arms and military. The US had placed similar sanctions of countries it deems unstable or hostile, such as Iraq and North Korea. Ostensibly, the goal of these sanctions is to curtail the military effort and prevent those nations from gaining credibility through show of force, as well as, keep them from attacking weaker nations.


  1. "Tema". Bible Hub; visited November 2018
  2. "Kedar". Bible Hub; visited November 2018
  3. "Strong's H1720". Blue Letter Bible; visited November 2018
  4. "Commentary on Isaiah 21:13". Bible Hub; visited November 2018
  5. "Commentary on Isaiah 21:11". Bible Hub; visited November 2018

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