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Isaiah 21:

11 A prophecy against Dumah:
Someone calls to me from Seir,
“Watchman, what is left of the night?
Watchman, what is left of the night?”
12The watchman replies,
“Morning is coming, but also the night.
If you would ask, then ask;
and come back yet again.”

Who is the watchman? He seems to be speaking in a riddle. What is the prophecy against Dumah? Particularly, what is the point of verse 12?

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The BSB foot note for "Dumah" in Isa 21:11 says this:

Dumah  is a wordplay on Edom, meaning silence.

This is confirmed by the following parallel statement in the second half of the verse:

One calls to me from Seir, (another name for Edom)

All interpreters of this brief prophecy agree that it is both brief and obscure. here is what we can say about this brief piece of poetic Hebrew:

  • "watchman" is a term used very generally for any person, especially prophets who deliver divine messages, eg, Eze 3:17, 33:2, 7, Hos 9:8, Job 27:18, Ps 127:1, Isa 21:6, 8, 9, etc.
  • The clever word-play of turning Edom into "silence" is part of the prophecy - Edom was doomed to silence and obscurity. Indeed, they disappear from history soon after the second century.

Ellicott suggests this:

Probably here, as in Isaiah 21:1 and Isaiah 22:1, we have a mystical prophetic name, Edom being altered to Dumah, i.e., “silence,” as in Psalm 94:17; Psalm 115:17, the silence of the grave. In this case, as in the preceding, there is first the oppressive silence of expectancy, and then of desolation.

He calleth . . . out of Seir . . .—The subject is indefinite: one calleth. The watchman hears the silence of the night broken by a voice from Seir. It is probable that the prophet had actually been consulted by the Edomites, and that this is his answer to their enquiries. The cry is, “Watchman, what part of the night?” In the weary night of calamity the sufferer desires to know what hour it is, how much of the darkness still remains to be lived through. The answer is mysterious and ill-boding. There is a “morning” coming, a time of light and hope, but the day which is so opened closes too quickly in the blackness of night (Amos 5:18). The words sum up the whole future of Edom, subject as it was to one conqueror after another, rising now and then, as under Herod and the Romans, and then sinking to its present desolation.

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