In our study of Isaiah chapter twenty one, we will look at the fact that God judges people and nations in truth not by appearances. We look at three nations that appeared to be strong and doing well but in reality were doomed by the hand of God.
"A prophecy against the Desert by the Sea: Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror." NIV translation
The "Desert by the Sea" speaks of opposites and what is commonly called a mirage. A mirage is something that appears to be real but is not and, in nature, it is caused by the refraction of light by heated air.
The most common example is of a sheet of water appearing to be in the desert. In this case, the phrase is being used to identify the nation of Babylon. The city appeared to be wonderful but, in fact, was full of death due to the rampant idolatry.
"A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot. Elam, attack! Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused." NIV translation
Elam refers to Persia as they became a part of the Persian army. This verse corresponds to the visions of Daniel and the defeat of the Babylonians at the hands of the Medo-Persian empire which happened in 539 B.C. The Babylonians had appeared to be unbeatable in their fortress but their strength was proved to be a mirage when the fortress fell in a single night.
"At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see. My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me." NIV translation
We see that this vision of judgment is terrible as it physically shakes the prophet to his core. Isaiah had longed for God to judge Babylon but, when he saw how terrible it was, it really troubled him. That is a reminder to us that we, as Christians, look forward to the judgment and long to see the return of Christ but it will be horrible for those that have rejected Him.