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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 18

A.M. 3290. B.C. 714.

The prophecy contained in this chapter, says Bishop Lowth, “is one of the most obscure in the whole book of Isaiah. The subject of it, the end and design of it, the people to whom it is addressed, the history to which it belongs, the person who sends the messengers, and the nation to whom the messengers are sent, are all obscure and doubtful.” Hence, as may be easily supposed, this prophecy has been very differently interpreted by learned men, with whose discordant opinions, however, we shall not trouble the reader, but rather shall lay before him that exposition which seems to be attended with the fewest difficulties, and therefore to be most probable. Vitringa, who has bestowed much labour upon it, considers it as being closely connected with the preceding prophecy concerning the destruction of the Assyrian army, of which he thinks it contains an enarration. According to him, we have a description of Egypt, Isaiah 18:1 , Isaiah 18:2 . A command to send messengers to them, as also to other nations, to inform them concerning this great work of divine justice to be effected on the Assyrian power, Isaiah 18:3-6 . The glory that would hereby redound to God, Isaiah 18:7 .

Verse 1

Isaiah 18:1. Wo to the land Or, rather, as Bishop Lowth renders it, and as the particle הוי , here used, undoubtedly means, Isaiah 55:1, and elsewhere, Ho! to the land. The words seem evidently to contain an address to the land here meant, which is supposed to be Egypt, because of the attributes under which it is spoken of. 1st, It is said to be shadowing, or shadowed with wings, a description which, it is thought, agrees to Egypt, as connected with Ethiopia, because it is situated between two mountains on the eastern and western side of the Nile, which, as it were, overshadow it, especially where it is most narrow, toward Ethiopia, and which unfold themselves more and more in the manner of two wings, from the south toward the north. Thus Vitringa interprets the first member of the prophet’s description. But the Hebrew word, which our translators render shadowing, properly signifies a sort of timbrel, called in Latin sistrum, which was an instrument of music peculiar to the Egyptians in their sacrifices to Isis; and the two words here used, צלצל כנפים , tziltzal kenaphim, are interpreted by some, a winged timbrel or cymbal, which is an exact description of the Egyptian sistrum, and therefore is supposed to be made use of here as a distinguishing epithet of Egypt, termed the land of the winged timbrel, or cymbal. This interpretation is adopted by Bishop Lowth and many others. Both interpretations agree in this, that Egypt is the land intended; which is still more manifest from the second attribute mentioned as descriptive of it, that it is beyond, or rather borders upon, the rivers of Ethiopia, the word מעבר , signifying either on this side, or on the further side. The word כושׁ , chush, here rendered Ethiopia, sometimes signifies Arabia, and some interpreters think some rivers of a part of Arabia are meant, beyond which Egypt lay; but Vitringa, Bishop Lowth, and many others, understand the prophet as speaking of the Nile, and some great and celebrated rivers which flow into it from Ethiopia, and very much increase its waters. It is probable, that either the eastern branches of the lower Nile, the boundary of Egypt toward Arabia, are intended, or the parts of the upper Nile toward Ethiopia. It is thought the prophet the rather denominates Egypt from this epithet, because at this time it was under the power of the Ethiopians.

Verse 2

Isaiah 18:2. That sendeth ambassadors by sea That is accustomed to send, or at this time is sending, ambassadors to strengthen themselves with leagues and alliances, or to encourage their confederates; in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters This circumstance agrees perfectly well with Egypt; Pliny, Lucan, Diodorus Siculus, and Strabo, all affirming that the Egyptians commonly used on the Nile a light sort of ships, or boats, made of the reed papyrus. Go, ye swift messengers “To this nation before mentioned, who, by the Nile, and by their numerous canals, have the means of spreading the report, in the most expeditious manner, through the whole country; go and carry this notice of God’s designs in regard to them. By the swift messengers are meant, not any particular persons specially appointed to this office, but any of the usual conveyers of news whatsoever; travellers, merchants, and the like, the instruments and agents of common fame; these are ordered to publish this declaration, made by the prophet, throughout Egypt, and to excite their attention to the promised visible interposition of Providence.” Thus Bishop Lowth; who further says, “I suppose that this prophecy was delivered before Sennacherib’s return from his Egyptian expedition, which took up three years; and that it was designed to give to the Jews, and perhaps likewise to the Egyptians, an intimation of God’s counsels in regard to the destruction of their great and powerful enemy.” To a nation scattered Or stretched out, as many translate ממשׁךְ . “Egypt, that is, the fruitful part of it, exclusive of the deserts on each side, is one long vale, through the middle of which runs the Nile, bounded on each side to the east and west by a chain of mountains, seven hundred and fifty miles in length, in breadth, from one to two or three days’ journey: even at the widest part of the Delta, from Pelusium to Alexandria, not above two hundred and fifty miles broad.” And peeled Or rather smoothed, as ומורשׂ may be rendered. This, Bishop Lowth thinks, “either relates to the practice of the Egyptian priests, who made their bodies smooth by shaving off the hair; or, rather, to the country’s being made smooth, perfectly plain and level, by the overflowing of the Nile.” Terrible from the beginning hitherto This also well suits the Egyptians, whose kingdom was one of the most ancient, and continued long to be extremely formidable. And they were wont to boast extravagantly of the antiquity and greatness of their kingdom, asserting that gods were their first kings, and then demi-gods, and lastly men. A nation meted out and trodden down Hebrew, גוי קו קו ומבוסה , a nation of line, line, and treading down. See the margin. The prophet is here generally supposed to refer, 1st, To the necessity which the Egyptians were frequently under of having recourse to mensuration, in order to determine the boundaries of their lands, after the inundations of the Nile; which is thought by some to have given birth to the science of geometry; (Strabo, lib. 17;) and, 2d, To a peculiar method of tillage in use among them. “Both Herodotus and Diodorus say, that when the Nile had retired within its banks, and the ground became somewhat dry, they sowed their land, and then sent in their cattle to tread in the seed; and without any further care expected the harvest.” Whose land the rivers have spoiled The word בזאו , here used, may either be rendered spoiled, or despised. It seems plainly to relate to the overflowing of the Nile; which, as it were, claims Egypt to itself, while it overwhelms with its waters the whole land, except the cities and towns, secured by the banks raised about them. It is true, this overflow is rather an advantage than a disadvantage to the land, as it renders it fruitful; nevertheless it puts the inhabitants to very great inconveniences during its continuance.

Verse 3

Isaiah 18:3. All ye inhabitants of the world, &c,, see ye Take notice of what I say, and what God will do: Or, Ye shall see. “We have here the declaration made to the other people of the world, to expect the fall of the Assyrian. God invites all the people of the earth to this sight; that, as soon as they should observe the sign appointed by God, namely, the standards lifted up by Sennacherib, on the mountains of Judea, and the sound of the trumpets of the hostile army preparing to besiege Jerusalem, they should attend to the execution of this divine judgment.” Vitringa.

Verse 4

Isaiah 18:4 . For so the Lord said unto me That is, revealed this thing to me from his secret purposes; I will take my rest While the Assyrian is forming designs for the destruction of my people, I will seem to rest, as if I had no regard for their preservation. The reader will observe, God is said in Scripture to rest, or sit still, when he does not work on the behalf of a person or people; as, on the contrary, he is said to bestir himself when he acts for them. And I will consider in my dwelling-place Namely, in the heavens, what time will be most proper for the execution of my purpose upon these proud blasphemers of my name, and persecutors of my people. This is spoken after the manner of men. Like a clear heat upon herbs, &c. The meaning of these metaphorical expressions is, that God would not so rest as to lay aside all care and regard for his people; but that he rested with the best and most benevolent purpose of comforting them after this affliction, and of giving them refreshment, like that of a serene heat after a heavy rain, or a cloud of dew in the time of harvest.

Verse 5

Isaiah 18:5. For afore the harvest Here the Lord informs his people how he would act toward those of their adversaries, for whom he had prepared this great slaughter. He compares them to a vine, which, after it hath sent forth its buds, then its flowers, and the flowers the sour grapes, which too were beginning to ripen, is suddenly stripped of its shoots and branches by the pruning-hook of the vine-dresser, who leaves them, burdened with grapes, a prey to the fowls of heaven, and the beasts of the earth. By which allegory, continued through this and the sixth verse, the prophet means, that, when every thing respecting the Assyrians was in the most promising situation, when Sennacherib’s great designs seemed almost mature, and just ready to be crowned with success, his mighty efforts should be in a moment frustrated, his vast expectations rendered abortive, and the chief part of his immense army made a prey to the beasts and birds.

Verse 7

Isaiah 18:7. In that time After the execution of this signal judgment; shall the present be brought unto the Lord, &c. Here the prophet foretels that Egypt, being delivered from the oppression of the Assyrian, and avenged, by the hand of God, of the wrongs which she had suffered, should return thanks for the wonderful deliverance, both of herself and of the Jews, from this most powerful adversary. “The Egyptians,” it must be observed, “were in alliance with the kingdom of Judah, and were fellow- sufferers with the Jews, under the invasion of the common enemy Sennacherib; and so were very nearly interested in the great and miraculous deliverance of that kingdom, by the destruction of the Assyrian army. Upon which wonderful event it is said, (2 Chronicles 32:23,) that many brought gifts unto Jehovah, to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah; so that he was magnified of all nations from thenceforth. And it is not to be doubted, that among these the Egyptians distinguished themselves in their acknowledgments on this occasion.” These offerings, then made from Egypt and other nations, were a prelude of a more perfect conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Israel; and there is nothing more certain than that God, after the remarkable overthrow of Sennacherib, was like the clear heat after rain, and like dew in the time of harvest, to the people of Israel. See Bishop Lowth and Vitringa.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 18". Benson's Commentary. 1857.