A prophecy against Arabia: You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty; you who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives. They flee from the sword, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow and from the heat of battle. This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few.” The Lord , the God of Israel, has spoken. – Isaiah 21:13-17
I continue to find the book of Isaiah challenging to understand and navigate on my float through water references in the bible. I have been pondering and praying about this — trying to figure out why this particular book is harder than even books like Leviticus or numbers. I remain somewhat perplexed but here is what I have figured out so far. It seems that many of the prophecies of Isaiah are referencing very specific people and geographic regions.
Much of the information about these people and places is difficult to find and subject to interpretation. This imparts a certain level of murkiness to the stories and prophecies. This fuzziness is combined with what appears to be multi-layered meanings to many passages that have been interpreted to transcend time and space. For example, the references to Immanuel and the lamb in past passages. I will press on through Isaiah and perhaps I will come to more easily navigable water down river.
This passage continues a series of prophecies about people groups who will be affected by their failure to follow or acknowledge God. In this passage the subject of wrath and rescue is Arabia, pretty much the region of the Arabian peninsula. The caravans of the Dedanites were apparently nomadic people that moved around in the desert near an oasis called Dedan which presumably had water.
Basically this verse is directing the Dedanites, and those who live in the region, to accept and care for refugees fleeing the conflict to the west. They are to share the water and food that has been entrusted to them. Apparently “Kedar” is synonymous with Arabia and consists of the scattered “sons of Ishmael”. So as I read it this would refer to most of the modern-day people we collectively call Arabs.
So if one takes this verse as applying to modern times it would be saying something rather revolutionary. Arabs should care for refugees that come from other people groups, including jews and gentiles. This would seem to be something that is not likely to happen. For example, it would mean that the Arabs would have welcomed the returning remnant after WWII instead of trying to destroy them. Of course, the Jews would have to be willing to accept this help from the Arabs which may also be challenging. How would the middle east look if both Arabs and Jews actually helped and cared for one another. Perhaps this occurs and I am ignorant of it, but it does not seem common.
So applying this passage to modern followers of Christ would probably mean caring for those we cannot imagine getting along with, let alone feeding and providing water. For example, serving and providing water to atheists or others with whom we have profound disagreements. A Sunday brunch with atheists? Jesus certainly called on his followers to practice this type of profound love for even their enemies. It sounds like God intended the same things for the Jews and Arabs in this passage.
Prayer: God help us to love and care for one another, especially those who we find it hard to love.