It’s a little early in history for Babylon to play much of a role. Those listening to Isaiah may well wonder what he is talking about. The big oppressor is Assyria. Lesser ones are neighboring nations like Moab and Edom. And yet, the catastrophic destruction of Babylon in chapter 21, and the fact that the news of it debilitates the prophet, indicates that Babylon is to be a major player on the horizon and that her end will be a crushing blow to the people of God (verse 10). That this is a prophecy far into the future is indicated by the report of the sentry who stands his post “day after day.”
God’s prophets were not only known in Israel. In 2 Kings 8 for example, Elisha goes to Damascus and the king seeks an audience with him to discover whether he (the king) will recover from his illness. In Isaiah 21, the nation of Edom calls to Isaiah. He replies with an oracle concerning “Dumah,” meaning “silence.” The Edomites have come for answers, but the prophet gives them none. They are stuck in the unenviable place of being ignored by God.
In 715 B.C., the Assyrians attacked the Arab tribes of the desert. Tema was a city just to the east of the Red Sea. Rather than looking for an alliance to aid them in their struggle, the Arabs tried to make it on their own. It was not “self-sufficiency,” but pure arrogance. Isaiah calls it “pomp.” They would fail miserably. Though only a short passage, it is a reminder that God holds the present and the future in His hands. We must learn to rely on Him.