"And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing." (Isaiah 34:9-12)
The streams are torrent valleys or wadis. This barren region south of Judah had no continuous river, but it was marked by various riverbeds that experienced flash floods during the rainy seasons. Instead of being filled with water, these seasonal stream beds would be dried up and scorched by the sun's intense heat.
The Lord promises desolation. No longer would Edom be inhabited. Today, this area is barren and void of any significant settlement. This desolation did not happen overnight but, similar to the decline of Babylon, came steadily over time. The Scriptures declare that Nebuchadnezzar and his armies wreaked havoc on the Edomites (Jeremiah 27:2-7, Lamentations 4:21-22). After the Babylonian conquests, the Nabateans attacked the Edomites from within under the guise of peaceful trade relations. This did much to move Edom toward desolation. During the Hasmonian dynasty of the intertestamental period, Edom experienced further subjugation by Judah which was at least a partial fulfillment of Ezekiel 25:14 and Obadiah 18. Lastly, the Romans slaughtered the Edomites after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and in process of time, the nation passed off the scene of history through the invasions of the Arab tribes.
Edom's desolation today is an indisputable fact; yet, it would seem that Scripture intimates a revival of the nation in the end times. More than one passage speaks of the Lord Himself conquering and ruling over Edom in the context of the millennial kingdom (Numbers 24:17-18, Isaiah 11:14, 63:1-6, Obadiah 21). If such is the case, then Edom will be resurrected in the last days only to experience a final and complete subjugation by the Lord Jesus Christ Who will forever put to rest Edom's fierce hatred of God's ways.
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city (Numbers 24:17-19).
The exact identification of the animals mentioned in the Hebrew text is difficult to pinpoint. Rather than labor over the uncertainty of each creature's exact identity, it would be better to give a brief description of each while focusing on the overall emptiness of the scene. A cormorant is a type of pelican. A bittern represents a porcupine. This same creature is mentioned in the desolations of Babylon (Isaiah 14:23). The owl and the raven are not difficult to picture. These birds paint an especially barren and lonely scene.
The Hebrew words behind confusion and emptiness are seen in Genesis 1:2 where they have been translated as without form (WhT) and void (WhB). As the condition of the earth was chaotic prior to the intervention of God's perfecting hand, even so will Edom be chaotic under the curse of the Creator.
In the text, the kingdom is literally called Nothing There. Edom's princes took great pride in their kingdom. Many of her cities and fortresses were actually built into the rocks and cliffs. Such a vantage point encouraged the people of Edom to rest in a false security. Obadiah's prophecies clearly display this reality.
The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD (Obadiah 3-4).
Despite Edom's pride, all would vanish. To this day, only a few archaeological tourist attractions remain. As the text says, there is no kingdom there.