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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 18

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-3


Isaiah 18:0

א) The danger that threatens in the present

Isaiah 18:1-3

1          Woe to the land 1shadowing with wings,

Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:

2     That sendeth ambassadors by the sea,

2Even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters,

Saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation 34scattered and peeled,

To a people 5terrible from their beginning hitherto;

6A nation7 8meted out and trodden down,

9 Whose land the rivers have spoiled!

3     All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the 10earth,

See ye, when 11he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains;

And when 12he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.


Isaiah 18:1. הוי like Isaiah 17:12.—צְלָצַל occurs only here in Isaiah. Beside this: in Deuteronomy 28:42, with the meaning “cricket, cicada;” Job 40:31 meaning “harpoon” (so Called from the clinking); 2 Samuel 6:5 and Psalms 150:5, we find the plural meaning “cymbals.” Older expositors have taken the word in the sense of the simple צֵל “shadow,” or also, because of the reduplication = “double shadow,” with supposed reference to the double shadow of the tropics (ἀμφίσκιος, Strabo). Both are impossible. The word can only mean “stridor, clinking, whizzing, buzz,” because this is the underlying sense of every shade of its use.—But what are the כְּנָפַיִם? Some have thought of the wings of an army, referring for proof to Isaiah 8:8. But what would this afford as a characteristic? The same objection lies against the construction “grasshopper wings,” or “sails” (LXX.). It is a hardy conjecture to refer this to the wings of the sun, Mal. 3:20 (Malachi 4:2) comp. Tac. Germ. 45; Juven. Sat. 14, 279; the Egyptian Sistrum [a kind of cymbal] with two rims or wings, is too insignificant as a characteristic, and cannot be shown to belong to Ethiopia. On the other hand it is quite suitable to call a land that is warm and that abounds with water and rushes, and hence also with winged insects, the land “of the whirring wings.” The conjecture is very enticing, that the expression צלצל כנפים is chosen with reference to the Tzaltzala, or Tsetse-fly, which was first described by the Englishman Francis Galton (“Exploring expedition in tropical South-Africa, London, Murray, 1854). It is “a little fly, in size and form nearly like our house fly, but somewhat lighter colored, of which the natives say that a single bite is sufficient to kill a horse, an ox or a dog; whereas asses and goats suffer no harm from it.” But it is not satisfactorily made out whether this resemblance is to be traced to a radical relation or whether it is only an accidental similarity in sound. Comp. in the Ausland 1868, No. 8, p. 192.

Isaiah 18:2. השׁלה is to be referred to ארץ. The masculine is explained in that while Isaiah 18:1 ארץ means the land proper, in Isaiah 18:2 it represents more particularly the notion of people: for the messengers are sent by men. Comp. on Isaiah 15:1.—יָם like Isaiah 19:5; Isaiah 27:1; Nahum 3:8.—צִיר, in the sense of “messenger,” again in Isaiah 57:9.—מְמֻשָׁךְ part. Pual from מָשַׁךְ trahere, protrahere, extrahere, used again only Proverbs 13:12, of the תּוֹכֶלֶת מְמֻשָּׁכָה, “the long-drawn out expectation.” Therefore the word here, too, can mean nothing but “long-drawn, long-stretched, procerus, élancé.” The Sabeans, too, are called, Isaiah 45:14, אַנְשֵׁי מִדָּה [“men of extension.” Eng. Bib. “men of stature”].—מָרַט is “to make smooth, bright.” It is used of the sword that is not only sharpened, but polished till it flashes (Ezekiel 21:14-16); also of pulling out the hair till the crown is smooth and shining (Leviticus 13:40 sq.). Comp. moreover 1 Kings 7:45; Ezekiel 29:18. In Isaiah the word occurs only once more, Isaiah 50:6, of the pulling out of the hair. The form מוֹרָט stands for מְמורָט, comp. Ezekiel 21:15 sq.——נורא מן־הוא והלאה; the construction is the same as מִמְּךָ וָהָֽלְאָה 1 Samuel 20:22; 1 Samuel 10:3, and מֵּעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם .מִקָּטוֹן וְעַד־גָּדוֹל. Only we are surprised that it does not read מִמֶּנּוּ. But the pron. sep. is used for the sake of emphasis (comp. Genesis 27:34; 1 Samuel 19:23. etc.). And wherefore may it not stand instead of the suffix? The Prophet wishes to mark the point of departure and support of the Ethiopian power, thus he does not write מִמֶּנּוּ. Analogous is מִימֵי הִיא Nahum 2:9 (8) (a closed up water pool was Nineveh since its existence; but now the pool runs out, the people of Nineveh flee on all sides). There, too, מִיָּמֶיהָ might have been used. When Stade remarks that it must properly read here מֵאֲשֶׁר הוּא, he is correct. But מִן הוּא can be used also. On the other hand, according to his explanation, i.e., if הוּא should be referred to Israel, it must of necessity read מִזֶּה. Or if מִן הוּא is to be understood of time, who in the world would know that הוּא should point to the period of time, “quo Aethiopes Aegyptiorum jugo excusso aliis populis et imprimis Aegyptiis bella inferre coeperunt?”——מִן הוּא, in a temporal sense, could only mean: ex quo est. But in order to express this Isaiah would likely have written מִימֵי הוּא, not to mention that it is not credible that the Ethiopians were a widely feared people from the moment of their existence onwards. It is my opinion therefore that מִן הוּא stands in a local sense, brief and pregnant for מִן אֲשֶׁר הוּא or מן אֲשֵׁר הוּא שָׁם.—The meaning of קו־קו must be measured by Isaiah 28:10; Isaiah 28:13, for no other passage exists so nearly like this text. There, too, the word appears repeated, קו לקו. It means originally “measuring line,” and occurs in Isaiah, beside the above mentioned places, Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 34:11; Isaiah 34:17; Isaiah 44:13. From the meaning “measuring line” is developed “norm, prescription rule,” Isaiah 28:10; Isaiah 28:13. So we must take it here; and the choice of the short, abruptly spoken word, which moreover is repeated, is not to be regarded as accidental and undesigned. For this reason (see also Exegct. Comm. below) we take קו־קו = “command, command.” There was much commanding, but short and sharp.—מבוסה (again only Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 22:5) is “conculcatio, treading down,” comp. אִישׁ תּוֹכָחוֹת Proverbs 29:1; בִּן־הַכּוֹת Deuteronomy 25:2.—בָּזָז = בָּזָא, like שַׁסַם = שָׁאַם ,שָׁסַם = שָׁסָה (Ewald, § 112 g; 114 b; 151 b).

Isaiah 18:3. שׁכני ארץ only here.——כְּ designates the coincidence, as in cases of time when. We have here the Inf. Constr. after a Prepos. forming a phrase with the subject latent.——הָרִים is accusative of place.


1. The Prophet sends a cry of alarm to the remote Ethiopians, because they too are threatened by the Assyrians. He characterizes the land by the use of predicates suggested by the abundance of its insects, and its situation on great rivers (Isaiah 18:1). In this land the messengers fly away in swift skiffs over the waters. Therefore the Prophet summons these swift messengers to command the people, at the same time describing them as a people of lofty stature, and shining color of skin, as a nation dreaded far beyond its borders, as a nation among whom reigns strict command and ruthless use of power, that is yet exposed to the power of mighty streams that carry off its land (Isaiah 18:2). This nation is commanded: it will arm itself for this strife. Between it and the Assyrian there shall come to pass a terrible collision. When it is announced by visible and audible signals, all nations must give good heed: for all are in the highest degree interested in it.

2. Woe——hear ye.

Isaiah 18:1-3. Cush is Ethiopia, the land that bounds Egypt on the south, which began at Syene below the first cataract of the Nile (comp. Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:6), and had Meroe for its capital (Herod. 2:29). The Egyptians, also, call Ethiopia Kus or Kes (comp. Eber’s Egypten und die Bucher Mosis, I. p. 57; Lepsius in Herz. R. Encycl. I., p. 148). I do not believe, as Stade maintains (De Is. vatt. aeth., p. 16), that the assumption of Mesopotamian Cushites rests merely on the erroneous identifying of the κίσσιοι (Her. III. 91) or κοσσαῖοι (Strabo XI. p. 524, XIV. 744) with the biblical Cushites. The streams of Ethiopia are the White Nile (Bahr-el-Abjad) and its tributaries, the Atbara, the Blue Nile (Bahr-el-Asrak), the Sobat, the Bahr-el-Ghasal, etc. In describing the land of whirring-wings as beyond the rivers of Ethiopia (comp. Zephaniah 3:10), this form of expression arises from the mighty waters occupying the foreground in the mental vision of the Prophet, thus the land lies for him beyond them.—גֹּמֶא (Isaiah 35:7; Exodus 2:3) is the papyrus-reed. Light and fleet boats were made of it, as is abundantly testified by the ancients and by the monuments (comp. Gesen. in loc., Wilkinson, The ancient Egyptians, V., p. 119). Papyrus, once very abundant in Egypt, is no longer found there; but is found in Abyssinia (comp. Champollion-Figeac, L’Egypte ancienne, p. 24, sq. 195) and Sicily (Herz. R. Encycl. I., p. 140 sq.).

Go ye swift messengers, to a nation, etc., is understood by most expositors as if the Prophet sent the messengers home, because Jehovah Himself would undertake Himself the destruction of the enemy. But then the Prophet would not have used לְכוּ, but rather שׁוּבוּ. Besides one can’t understand why, if the Ethiopians were not to fight, their warlike qualities are depicted in such strong colors. I therefore take לְכוּ in its proper sense; “go ye.” The Ethiopians are to be bidden to the contest, and actually to fight; but they must know that it is the Lord that gives them the victory.

To a nation grown high: see under Text. and Gram. It is, moreover, not impossible that, as Jos. Friedr. Schelling conjectured, there lies in the expression an allusion to the longevity of the Ethiopians which was an accepted notion of the ancients. The Ethiopians are called smooth and shining, not, we may suppose, because they deprived the body of hair, but because they had a way of making the skin smooth and shining. This is known from what Herodotus relates of the scouts of Cambyses (Isaiah 3:23). When these wondered at the long life of the Ethiopians, they were led to a spring: “by washing in which they became very shining as if it were of oil.” By the constant use of this spring, the Ethiopians became, it was said, μακρόβιοι, “long-lived.” It is seen from this that to the Ethiopians was ascribed a skin shining as if oiled. In general the Ethiopians, according to Herodotus, were accounted “the largest and comeliest of all men.” On the upper Nile there yet live men whom this description suits. For example the Schilluks, that were reached by the British Consul, John Petherick, after eight days’ journey on the White Nile, from Chartum, are described by him as “a large, powerful, finely formed race, with countenances of noble mould” (Ausland, 1861, No. 24). Comp. Ernst Morno (in Peterman’s Geogr. Mitheilungen, 1872, 12 Heft., p. 452 sqq.) on the ethnological relations in Upper-Sennar, and especially on the Hammedach and their neighbors. That is dreaded far away; so the Prophet names the people because they are feared from their borders and far away. See Text. and Gram. We know with certainty, at least with reference to Egypt, that Ethiopia at that time had dominion beyond its own territory. The Ethiopian dynasty seems to have put an end to a condition of great disorder in Egypt. The first king of it, Sabakon, must have been a powerful and wise regent. Champollion-Figeac, l. c., p. 363, says of him: “The internal disorders involved the ruin of the public establishments, and when order was revived by the presence of a wise and prudent monarch, his first thought ought to be to repair them. After his invasion of Egypt this duty devolved on the conqueror, and Sabakon did not neglect it.” To the third king, Tirhaka, are ascribed great military expeditions—as far as the Pillars of Hercules,—and conquests (ibid., p. 364). One may well suppose that the strict discipline and order, which naturally at times ran to the excess of ruthless oppression, was a characteristic peculiarity of those Ethiopic princes. We therefore take קו־קו = “command, command:” there was much commanding, but short and sharp. The meaning “power, strength,” which some assume only for our text, after Arabian analogy, is not satisfactorily established. We do perfectly well with the meaning nearest at hand. Egypt, as is well known, is a gift of the Nile (comp. Eber’s Egypten n. d. Bücher Mosis, I. p. 21. Fraas, Aus dem Orient, geologische Beobachtungen am Nil, auf der Sinai-Halbinsel u. in Syrien, 1867. p. 207). But what the Nile gives to Egypt it has stolen in Ethiopia. Therefore the expression “whose land rivers carry away” corresponds exactly with the fact. It appears in a measure as a Nemesis accomplished by nature that Ethiopia, in return for “the down treading” practised by it, should succumb to the spoiling done by the rivers flowing through it. The nation of Ethiopia therefore is summoned to the strife. A collision impends. It must be attended with important consequences. All inhabitants of the world (comp. Isaiah 26:9; Isaiah 26:18), especially the dwellers of the territory concerned, must be on the look-out when the signals for the combat are given; for something of moment will happen.


[1]of whirring wings.

[2]And in boats of papyrus on the face of the waters.

[3]Or, out spread and polished.

[4]grown high and gleaming.

[5]feared far away.

[6]A nation of stem command and rough tread.

[7]Or, that meteth out, and treadeth down.

[8]Heb. of line, line, and treading under foot.

[9]Or, Whose land the rivers despise.


[11]one lifts up.

[12]one blows.

Verses 4-6

ב) The Deliverance of Ethiopia in the Near Future

Isaiah 18:4-6

4          For so the Lord said unto me, 13I will take my rest,

And I will 14 15consider in my dwelling-place

Like a clear heat 16 17upon herbs,

And like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

5     For afore the harvest, when the 18bud is perfect,

19And the sour grape is ripening in the flower,

20He shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks,

And take away and cut down the branches.

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.


Isaiah 18:4. According to K’thibh אֶשְׁקוֹטָה is to be read; according to K’ri אֶשְׁקֳטָה (comp. אֶשְׁקֽוֹלָה Ezra 8:25. Ewald, § 40 b; 41 c; 68 b). The form written plene with the accent drawn back, is of course not normal. Precisely for this reason the Masorets chose the other. But Hitzig may not be wrong when he says, that the double checking of the voice with twice raising it between depressions fittingly depicts the agreeable re pose in equipoise. שָׁקַט Isaiah 14:7; Isaiah 62:1—מָכוֹן principally used of the divine throne, comp. on Isaiah 4:5; Psalms 33:13.——I take כְּ before חֹם in the sense of comparison, and not in that of coincidence as in Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 18:5; see under Exegetical. For what “clear heat,” etc., and “a dew-cloud” is for harvest, such is Jehovah’s quiet waiting for the Assyrian.—חֹם is “warmth, heat;” only here in Isaiah.——צַח (comp. Isaiah 32:4) is “bright, clear.” עלי אור is = “by daylight” (comp. Amos 8:9; Habakkuk 3:4, etc.). על is taken here in the cumulative sense, which it often has (Genesis 32:12; Exodus 35:22; 1 Samuel 14:32, etc.). Thus it is properly: “heat added to daylight;” for it can be cold during daylight.——עָב טַל “dew-cloud,” is the light cloud that at night dissolves in dew (comp. עָב טַלְקוֹשׁ Proverbs 16:15, whereas עַב Exodus 19:9 = עֲבִי.)

Isaiah 18:5. כְּתָם־פֶּרַח (כְּ like Isaiah 18:3; ???Isaiah 5:24) is followed by a phrase in which, Hebrew fashion, the discourse relapses into the verb. finit.——בֹּסֶר (only here in Isaiah; comp. Jeremiah 31:29 sq.; Ezekiel 18:2) is the unripe grape.——גָּמַל, which elsewhere means “disaccustom, wean,” (Isaiah 11:8; Isaiah 28:9) is used here in a sense derived from that. The mother, that weans her child, has brought it to a certain degree of maturity. But, beside the present, the word occurs in the sense of “ripeness” only Num. 17:23; it must be noted beside that גָּמַל is to be taken in a transitive sense. For in Num. 17:23 this is undoubtedly the case, and Genesis 40:10 it reads in the same sense הִבְשִׁילוּ אַשְׁכְּלֹתֶיהָ עֲנָבִים, “their grape-stalks cooked grapes;” בּסֶר is accordingly meant for a degree of development of the vine that produces ripe grapes.——It appears as if the Prophet had in mind Genesis 40:10; for both כְּפֹרַחַת and נִצָּה and the words already quoted recall our passage.—נִצָּה “the flower, blossom,” occurs only here in Isaiah; beside this, Job 15:33. נִצָּה, moreover, is subject; thus the predicate is put emphatically in advance.——With וְכָרַת begins the apodosis. Jehovah need not be taken as subject, and therewith the substitution of the Prophet as speaker. The subject is indefinite. We express it by “one” (Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 10:4; Isaiah 14:32).——זלזלים (ἅπ. λεγ.) are “the branches” of the vine; ינטישׁות “the shoots, sprouts” that develop from it (only here in Isaiah, Jeremiah 5:10; Jeremiah 48:32).——הֵתַז, ἅπ. λεγ.

Isaiah 18:6. עַיִט, beside here, only Isaiah 46:11.——קָץ, “summering,” and יֶֽחֱרַף, “wintering,” are both denominatives from קַיִץ and חֹרֶף, and are ἅπαξ λεγόμενα.


1. The Prophet has intimated that something great impends (Isaiah 18:3)—he now declares wherein it consists. He can say it because Jehovah revealed it to him. That is the Lord has announced to him, that He would keep altogether quiet as a mere observer. Like warmth and dew ripen the harvest, so, by the favor of His non-intervention, the power of the Assyrians will be brought almost to the greatest prosperity (Isaiah 18:4). Almost! For before this highest point is attained, the Assyrian power shall be destroyed, like one destroys a vine, by cutting off, not merely the grapes, but the grape branches and the sprouts (Isaiah 18:5). So terrible will this overthrow be, that the beasts of prey shall all through summer and winter find abundant to devour on the field of battle (Isaiah 18:6).

2. For so——winter upon them.

Isaiah 18:4-6. The Lord purposely abstains from interfering. He quietly allows matters to take their own course, He waits patiently till His time comes. This quiet, observant waiting the Prophet compares to that weather which is most favorable for maturing the harvest: warm days and dewy nights. The ancients conceived of the dew as originating like the rain. This appears, e.g., from Job 38:28, where the אֶגְלֵי טַל “drops of dew,” are the receptacula roris (Cod. Alex. συνοχαὶ δρόσου. The summer heat, the nightly dew, is an extraordinary benefit to vegetation. Therefore dew is so often used as the figure for blessing: Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 33:13; Deuteronomy 33:28; Hosea 14:6; Micah 5:6; Proverbs 19:12. The causal כִּי, “for,” at the beginning of Isaiah 18:5 connects two thoughts that are impliedly contained in Isaiah 18:4-5 : the Lord observes this expectant conduct, because only immediately before maturity of events will He interfere. “Harvest” is evidently to be taken in the wide sense that includes also the wine harvest. By an emphatic asyndeton wherein the second word (התז, “to cut down”) explains the first (הסיר, “to take away”), it is now affirmed that the enemy, that is, Assyria, shall be thoroughly destroyed. For there will not be merely a gleaning of grapes (comp. Isaiah 63:1 sqq.), but from the vine shall be cut off the very branches that yield fruit. The meaning of what has been said, becomes evident from the literal language of Isaiah 18:6. It means a terrible overthrow of the Assyrian army. Its dead bodies lie in such vast numbers that birds I and beasts of prey for a summer and a winter, shall find abundance of food on the field of battle. “Beasts of the earth,” comp. Deuteronomy 28:26, of which passage, moreover, our whole verse serves to remind one.


[13]I will rest or be quiet.

[14]Or. regard my set dwelling.

[15]look on.

[16]Or, after rain.

[17]by daylight.

[18]the bloom.

[19]And the flower becomes a ripening grape.


Verse 7


Isaiah 18:7

7     In that time shall 21the present be brought unto the Lord of hosts

22Of a people 23 24scattered and peeled,

And from a people terrible 25from their beginning hitherto;

A nation 26meted 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.


Only עַם and מֵעָם present difficulty.——It is ungrammatical to supply the preposition before עַם from מֵעַם. To amend the text by prefixing the מ is needless violence.——הוּבַל in Isaiah again Isaiah 53:7; Isaiah 55:12.——שַׁי, of uncertain derivation, is found again only Psalms 68:30; Psalms 76:12.—The expression מְקוֹם שֵׁם י׳ occurs only here: yet comp. Leviticus 14:13; Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 66:1.


1. The gaze of the Prophet embraces the immediate and the most remote future, while he overleaps all time spaces that lie between as unessential. The consequence of that mighty overthrow will be this, that Ethiopia presents itself as a sacrificial gift to the Lord, and that out of this people will be sent sacrificial gifts to the spot where men call on the name of the Lord.

2. In that time——mount Zion.

Isaiah 18:7. By the “in that time” the Prophet joins what follows close on to what precedes. Although what Isaiah 18:7 affirms belongs to the remote future, yet the Prophet sees it as the great chief effect immediately after the cause, Isaiah 18:5-6.——By עם and מעם the Prophet would say that the entire nation shall be brought to the Lord as present, tribute, or sacrificial gift; that is it will bring itself—a thought, that is familiar: Isaiah 66:20; Psalms 68:32,—that also, in consequence thereof, presents out of the nation will be brought to the place of the worship of Jehovah. For that is two different things; in order to bring itself, the nation does not need to leave its own place; but in order to bring presents to the sanctuary of the Lord, there must be a motion from one place to another. Therefore a double definition appears, for “there shall be brought a present:” 1) “to the Lord of hosts a people,” 2) “from the people dreaded,” etc. “to the place,” etc.——The passage Zephaniah 3:10 is a reminiscence of our text.


[21]a gift.

[22]omit of.

[23]Or, outspread and polished.

[24]grown high and shining.

[25]from far away.

[26]of stern command and rough tread.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 18". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/isaiah-18.html. 1857-84.
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