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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 18

Verse 1

Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:

Isaiah announces the overthrow of Sennacherib's hosts, and desires the Ethiopian ambassadors, now in Jerusalem, to bring word of it to their own nation, and calls on the whole world to witness the event (Isaiah 18:3). As Isaiah 17:12-13 announced the presence of the foe, so Isaiah 17:14 and Isaiah 18:1-7 foretell his overthrow. The heading in the English version, 'God will destroy the Ethiopians,' is a mistake arising from the wrong rendering "Woe," whereas the Hebrew, hoi, does not express a threat, but is an appeal calling attention (Isaiah 55:1; Zechariah 2:6), "Ho." He is not speaking against, but to the Ethiopians, calling on them to hear his prophetic announcement as to the destruction of Judah's and their common enemy.

To the land shadowing with wings - rather, 'land of the winged bark;' i:e., 'barks with wing-like sails:' answering to "vessels of bulrushes" in Isaiah 18:2. So the Septuagint [gees ploioon pteruges] and Chaldaic Targum ('the land to which they come in ships from a distant land: and their sails are extended as an eagle which flies with its wings') (Ewald). 'Land of the clanging sound of wings' - i:e., land of armies (as in Isaiah 8:8) that clash their arms together. The rendering 'bark,' or 'ship' ( tsiltsal (H6767)), is rather dubious. Tsaalal (H6750), the root, is to make a clang. So the Vulgate (Maurer and Gesenius). The armies referred to are those of the Ethiopian Tirhakah, advancing to meet the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:9). In the English version (which accords best with the ordinary meaning of tsiltsal (H6767), if from tseel, a shadow) "shadowing" means protecting-namely, Ethiopia stretching out its wings (both its armies and its winged ships) to defend a feeble people-namely, the Hebrews (Vitringa). The Hebrew ( kªnaapaayim (H3671)) for "wings" is the same as for the idol Cneph, which was represented in temple- sculptures with wings (Psalms 91:4).

Which (is) beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. Meroe, the island between the "rivers" Nile and Astaboras is meant, famed for its commerce, and perhaps the seat of the Ethiopian government, hence addressed here as representing the whole empire. Remains of temples are still found, and the name of 'Tirhakah' in the inscriptions. This island-region was probably the chief part of Queen Candace's kingdom (Acts 8:27). For, "beyond," others translate, less literally, 'which borderest on.'

Ethiopia - literally, Cush. Horsley is probably right, that the ultimate and fullest reference of the prophecy is to the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land, through the instrumentality of some distant people skilled in navigation (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 60:9-10; Psalms 45:15; Psalms 68:31; Zephaniah 3:10, "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, (even) the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering"): perhaps England. Phoenician voyagers coasting along would speak of all West remote lands as "beyond" the Nile's mouth. 'Cush,' too, has a wide sense, being applied not only to Ethiopia, but Arabia Deserta and Felix, and along the Persian Gulf, as far as sense, being applied not only to Ethiopia, but Arabia Deserta and Felix, and along the Persian Gulf, as far as the Tigris (Genesis 2:13).

Verse 2

That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!

That sendeth ambassadors - messengers sent to Jerusalem at the time that negotiations passed between the Ethiopian Tirhakah and Hezekiah against the expected attack of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:9).

By the sea - on the Nile (Isaiah 19:5), as what follows proves.

Even in vessels of bulrushes - light canoes formed of papyrus, daubed over with pitch: so the "ark" in which Moses was exposed (Exodus 2:3).

Saying. Or else, as Maurer, Gesenius, etc., omit this, it not being in the Hebrew.

Go. Isaiah (in Gesenius' and Maurer's view) tells them to take back the tidings of what God is about to do (Isaiah 18:4) against the common enemy of both Judah and Ethiopia.

To a nation scattered and peeled - else, strong and energetic (Gesenius). The Hebrew for "scattered" [ mªmushaak (H4900), from maashak (H4900), to draw out] is literally, drawn out (margin, Psalms 36:10; Ecclesiastes 2:3). The Hebrew for "peeled" is mowraaT (H4178), from maarat (H4803), to make smooth or sharp. 'Energetic'-literally, sharp (Habakkuk 1:8, margin; the verb means to sharpen a sword, Ezekiel 21:15-16); also polished. Since Herodotus (3: 20, 114) characterizes the Ethiopians as the 'tallest and fairest of men,' G.V. Smith translates, 'tall and comely'-literally, extended (Isaiah 45:14, "men of stature") and polished (the Ethiopians had smooth, glossy skins). In the English version the reference is to the Jews, scattered outcasts, and "peeled" - i:e., loaded with indignity; literally, having their hair torn off (Horsley). The Vulgate, 'to a nation convulsed and torn asunder.' I prefer, with the English version, to supply 'saying:' thus, "Go, ye," etc., is the instruction given by "the land shadowing with wings" (Ethiopia), to its ambassadors, when it was sending them to Judah, the "nation scattered and peeled." The Chaldaic and Vulgate both support the English version, rather than Gesenius. Thus, the Chaldaic translates, 'to a nation suffering violence, and torn to pieces.'

Terrible - the Ethiopians, famed for warlike prowess (Rosenmuller). The Jews who, because of God's plague, made others to fear the like (Deuteronomy 28:37). Rather, 'awfully remarkable' (Horsley). God put the 'terror' of His people into the surrounding nations at the first (Exodus 23:27; Joshua 2:9): so it shall be again in the latter days (Zechariah 12:2-3, "I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem").

From their beginning hitherto. So the English version rightly. But Gesenius, 'to the terrible nation (of Upper Egypt) and further beyond' (to the Ethiopians properly so called). Meted out - Hebrew, of line, line ( qaw (H6957), qaw (H6957)). The measuring line was used in destroying buildings (Isaiah 34:11; 2 Kings 21:13; Lamentations 2:8). Hence, actively, it means here, 'a people meting out'-`an all-destroying people'-which suits the context better than "meted," passively (Maurer). Horsley, understanding it of the Jews, translates (quav, quav, from quavah, to expect), 'expecting, expecting (in a continual attitude of expectation of Messiah), and trampled under foot:' a graphic picture of them. Most translate, of strength, strength (from an Arabic root, to brace the sinews) - i:e., a most powerful people.

Trodden down - true of the Jews. Compare Horsley's translation above. But Maurer translates it actively, a people treading underfoot all its enemies - i:e., victorious (Isaiah 14:25); namely, the Ethiopians.

Whose land the rivers have spoiled - `cut up.' The Nile is formed by the junction of many streams in Abyssinia, the Atbara, the Astapus or Blue river (between which two rivers, Meroe, the "Ethiopia" here meant, lies), and the Astaboras or White river. These streams wash down the soil along their banks in the "land" of Upper Egypt, and deposit it on that of Lower Egypt. G.V. Smith translates it, 'divide.' Horsley takes it figuratively, of the conquering armies which have often "spoiled" Judea: Isaiah 8:8 supports this. On the whole, I prefer to explain thus: God, by His prophet (Isaiah 18:1-2), calls the attention of the land of Ethiopia, which had sent its ambassadors to Judah, its ally, against the common enemy, Sennacherib. Those ambassadors, in embarking in their bulrush boats, had been instructed to 'go to Judah, a nation scattered, and as it were made bald, yet terrible originally because of God's protection, but now spoiled by the overwhelming floods of the Assyrian rivers.' God's announcement respecting His interposition in behalf of His people against the Assyrian hosts follows (Isaiah 18:3-6).

Thus, the antitypical and ultimate event foretold will be, as Isaiah 18:7 requires-God will interpose in behalf of His people against the anti-Christian hosts; and some friendly Gentile nation, of which Ethiopia here is the type, will, at God's call, be instrumental in restoring Israel and Judah to their own land after their lengthened dispersion and down-treading, just as the Ethiopian Tirhakah was made the instrument of turning aside Sennacherib himself, so that when God destroyed his army before Jerusalem, the Jews were established in secure possession of their own land.

Verse 3

All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.

All ye inhabitants of the world ... see ye ... hear ye - rather, ye shall see-shall hear. Call to the whole earth to be witnesses of what Yahweh ("He") is about to do.

When he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains. He will 'lift up an ensign,' calling the Assyrian motley hosts together (Isaiah 5:26) on "the mountains" round Jerusalem, to their own destruction. The antitype shall be the gathering of Antichrist's hosts against Jerusalem to their destruction (Zechariah 12:2-3; Zechariah 12:6; Zechariah 14:2-4). This (Isaiah 18:1-7) declares the coming overthrow of those armies whose presence is announced in Isaiah 17:12-13. The same motive which led Hezekiah to seek aid from Egypt led him to accept gladly the Ethiopian Tirhakah's aid (Isaiah 36:6; Isaiah 37:9). Ethiopia, Egypt, and Judea were probably leagued together against the common enemy, 713 BC See notes on Isaiah 22:1-25, where a difference of tone (as referring to a different period) as to Ethiopia is observable. Horsley takes the "ensign" to be the cross, and the "trumpet" the Gospel trumpet, which shall be sounded more loudly in the last days (Revelation 14:6-7).

Verse 4

For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

For so the Lord said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place - I will calmly look on from heaven, my dwelling place, and from Zion my earthly seat (Isaiah 18:7), and not interpose, while all seems to promise success to the enemy; when 'the sun's heat' and 'the night dews' ripen their "harvest;" but 'before' it reaches its maturity I will destroy it (Isaiah 18:5; Ecclesiastes 8:11-12).

Like a clear heat upon herbs, (and) like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest - `at the time of [so kª- is used in Genesis 18:1 ] the clear (serene) heat' (Maurer). But the Hebrew may be taken, with the English version, in its usual sense, "like:" I will be like the heat and dew maturing the herbs; 'but afore harvest' I will cut off 'the sprigs' (Isaiah 18:5).

Upon herbs - answering to "harvest" in the parallel clause. Maurer translates, 'in the sunlight' (Job 31:26; Job 37:21; Habakkuk 3:4). But the Hebrew [plural of 'owr (H216)], is used for "herbs" in 2 Kings 4:39. The idea of sprouting as an herb is associated with the idea of sunlight, so that the same Hebrew term expresses both. The English version is supported by the parallelism.

Like ... dew. Maurer here also translates, 'at the time of the dew-cloud.' But the English version is good sense. I will look on, seeming to mature the enemies' plans, like as the dew ripens the harvest (Proverbs 19:12). God's "silence" is mistaken by the ungodly for consent; His delay in taking vengeance for forgetfulness (Psalms 50:21); so it shall be before the vengeance which in the last day shall usher in the restoration of the Jews (Isaiah 34:1-8; Isaiah 57:11, end; 2 Peter 3:3-10).

Verse 5

For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.

For - rather, But in contrast to God's seemingly favouring the enemy while their projects against Judah were in the bud (Isaiah 18:4).

Afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect - perfected; when the enemy's plans are on the verge of completion.

And the sour grape is ripening in the flower rather 'when the flower shall become the ripening grape' And the sour grape is ripening in the flower - rather, 'when the flower shall become the ripening grape' (Maurer).

He shall both cut off the sprigs - the shoots with the grapes on them. God will not only disconcert their present plans, but prevent them forming any future ones. The "harvest" and vintage here typify the purifying judgments which shall cause the excision of the ungodly from the earth, as the prelude to the placing of the faithful in a state of peace on the earth. not the last judgment (John 15:2; Revelation 14:15-20).

Verse 6

They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.

They shall be left together unto the fowls ... and ... beasts - transition from the image, "sprigs," "branches," to the thing meant.

The fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts ... winter upon them - the Assyrian soldiers and leaders shall be the prey of birds and beasts the whole year through, "winter" and "summer," so numerous shall be their carcasses. Horsley translates the Hebrew, which is singular, 'upon it' not "upon them:" the 'it' refers to God's "dwelling place" (Isaiah 18:4) in the Holy Land, which Antichrist ('the bird of prey' with the "beasts," his rebel hosts) is to possess himself of, and where he is to perish. But Revelation 19:17-18; Ezekiel 39:17-20 show that the anti-Christian hosts, as carcasses, are to be the prey of birds and beasts, which shall summer and winter upon them, as the carcasses of the Assyrian host, the type, were formerly.

Verse 7

In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.

In that time shall the present be brought unto the Lord of hosts of a people scattered and peeled - (see the note at Isaiah 18:2.) The sense in Gesenius' translation of these epithets, as referring to the Ethiopians, will be this: the Ethiopians, wonder-struck at such an interposition of Yahweh in behalf of His people, shall send gifts to Jerusalem in His honour (Isaiah 16:1; Psalms 68:31; Psalms 72:10). Thus, translate, 'a present ... from a people.' Or translate as the English version, "the present" will mean 'the people' of Ethiopia converted to God (Romans 15:16). Horsley takes the people converted to Yahweh as the Jews in the latter days. I prefer taking this as the ultimate and antitypical event here foretold; and the restoration to Judah by Ethiopia of some of the Jewish outcasts, after the destruction of Sennacherib's hosts, to be the typical event here alluded to. Doubtless Sennacherib, when he "took all the defensed cities of Judah" (Isaiah 36:1), carried in his train, in marching to the southwest of Palestine, where he defeated the Egyptians and Ethiopians (according to the inscriptions), many Jewish captives. Some of these escaping to the Ethiopians would be by them restored to Judah, after the Jewish captives. Some of these escaping to the Ethiopians would be by them restored to Judah, after the overthrow of Sennacherib's host at Jerusalem.

To the place of the name of the Lord of hosts - where Yahweh peculiarly manifests His glory.

The mount Zion. Acts 2:10; Acts 8:27, show how worshippers came up to Jerusalem from "Egypt" and "Ethiopia." Frumentius, an Egyptian, in the fourth century, was the human instrument in converting Abyssinia to Christianity; and a Christian Church, under an abuna or bishop, still flourishes there. The full accomplishment is probably still future, and refers to the restoration of the Jews by some friendly Gentile power, after Antichrist's overthrow.

Remarks: The Lord will yet 'lift up His ensign' of manifested power and glory "on the mountains," and with the mighty 'sound of a trumpet.' He will summon 'all the inhabitants of the world' to see His doings, and to hear His words in behalf of His covenant people. It is true, Israel has been long "a nation scattered and peeled," or denuded of all its comeliness; and its land has been for ages 'trodden down and spoiled' by Gentile oppressors. But the Lord, though He, seem now to 'take His rest in His dwelling-place,' and though in the coming days of Antichrist God at first shall allow the plans of the godless persecutor to progress favourably (Isaiah 18:4), yet 'before the harvest' He will cut down the foe 'sprigs and branches' (Isaiah 18:5). The hosts of Antichrist shall be a prey to all birds and beasts (Isaiah 18:6). Let us hence learn to wait the Lord's time with patience.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 18". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/isaiah-18.html. 1871-8.