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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 18

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-3

Isaiah 18:1-3

Woe to the land shadowing with wings

The Ethiopians

The people here peculiarly described are the Ethiopians, and the prophet prophesies the effect on Ethiopia of the judgment concerning Assyria which Jehovah executes, as Drechsler has convincingly proved, and as is now universally recognised.

(F. Delitzsch.)


What land is it of which the prophet speaks? It is no doubt Ethiopia itself, a great kingdom in the olden time. For although he says “beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,” that is the Blue Nile, and the White Nile, and the Astaboras, the meaning is perhaps more accurately “beside” those rivers. In any event the ancient land of Ethiopia reached out to the south far beyond the confluence of those rivers in the mighty Nile, including probably all upper Egypt beyond Philae, Nubia, and the northern portion of modern Abyssinia. It was a fertile country, very rich in gold, ivory, ebony, frankincense, and precious stones. A country thickly inhabited by a stalwart well-formed race, “men of stature” the prophet calls them, who if they were black were yet comely. It was a mighty kingdom for many centuries, a rival of Egypt, sometimes its enemy, and apparently even its conqueror; a kingdom able to make war against the Assyrians, and a kingdom, too, carrying on a great trade by means of abundant merchandise with many people. (A. Ritchie.)

“The land shadowing with wings”

1. Full of poetic suggestion is the expression “shadowing with wings.” The thought is of tender protection, as the mother bird hovers over and shields her young. The Psalmist is never tired of crying out to God, “Hide me under the covering of Thy wings.” It was right that Israel and Judah should cry thus to Jehovah for protection, but not that they should look to the shadowing wings of Ethiopia. Just as it was pathetically true that in later times our Lord should say of the Holy City, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not”--so seven hundred years earlier it was true that Judah would not seek refuge under the wings of the Lord, but under the shadowing of Egypt and the covering of Ethiopia.

2. In the Revised Version we have the passage rendered, “Ah, the land of the rustling of wings.” Some of the old commentators find in this an allusion to the multitude of bees and the swarms of flies in Ethiopia, so that there the hum of wings was never absent. More picturesque is another suggestion, that the reference is to the ever plashing waters of the rivers, hurrying along with swift current, in rapids and through cataracts until the broad bosom of father Nile was reached. The swish and lapping of the rushing waters seemed to the poet like the noise made by the swift flight of many birds, beating the air with strong pinions, as they sweep on towards the horizon.

3. If we turn to the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, we read the text thus: “Woe to you, ye wings of the land of ships.” What are the wings of the land of ships but the many sails whereby those ships flit hither and thither? One sees before him a new picture. The graceful dahabiehs with their long yards and triangular sails, dotting the water everywhere, and naturally suggesting great sea birds, with outspread wings, shining in the starlight white and ghostly on the calm surface of the mysterious river which is Egypt’s life.

4. Some of the more acute Hebrew scholars point out that it is possible to understand the prophet’s language in yet another way: “Woe to the land where the shadow falleth both ways,” that is, of course, near the Equator, where sometimes the shadows stretch out to the south and sometimes to the north, according to the time of the year. If we understand our text so, it is natural to see in it an allusion to the fickleness of the Ethiopians, a nation which Judah vainly trusted in, since today it would be found an ally and tomorrow an enemy. (A. Ritchie.)

The prophet’s charge to the Ethiopian ambassadors

Ethiopia (Hebrews, “Cush”) corresponds generally to the modern Soudan (i.e., the blacks)

. Egypt and Ethiopia were at this time ruled by Tirkakah (704-685). His ambassadors are in Jerusalem offering an alliance against the Assyrian; and the prophet sends them back to their people with the words, “Go, ye swift messengers,” etc. Jehovah needs no help against His enemies. (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)


Full stop at “waters” (Isaiah 18:2), and omit “saying.” The prophet speaks: “Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth . . . a nation all-powerful and subduing, whose land rivers divide (intersect).” “Smooth” may refer to the glancing, bronzed skin of the people. (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)

Vessels of bulrushes

It is well known that timber proper for building ships was very scarce in Egypt: to supply this deficiency, the Egyptians used bulrushes, or a reed called papyrus, of which they made vessels fit for sailing. Ships and boats built of this sort of materials, being extremely light, and drawing very little water, were admirably suited to traverse the Nile, along the banks of which there were doubtless many morasses and shoals. They were also very convenient and easy to be managed at the waterfalls, where they might be carried with no great difficulty to smooth water. From such circumstances as these, we may conclude, that they would sail exceeding fast, and afford a very speedy conveyance of all kinds of intelligence from one part of the country to another, and from Egypt to neighbouring nations. In them, therefore, ambassadors or messengers were often sent to different places with various kinds of information, after having received their orders in terms such as these, “Go, ye swift messengers.” (R. Macculloch.)

They were made for folding together, so that they could be carried past the cataracts. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)

Verse 3

Isaiah 18:3

All ye inhabitants of the world . . . see ye

Missionary exertion

Our whole hope of success rests on the prophecies of the Word of God, declaring it to be His will.

We must first accurately examine what is the object we have in view, for if it be not in unison with the prophets it must be disappointed.

THE LANGUAGE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ON THIS SUBJECT. What does that give us reason to expect under the present dispensation? An elect Church, though in one sense it is called an universal Church, because it is gathered out of all nations on the earth.

THE EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCH AS STRENGTHENING THIS ARGUMENT. For long years the Gospel has been preached, and what is the result? But is it not written in the Scriptures that all flesh shall see the salvation of God, etc.? Do we not, then, rightly expect the conversion of all the people on the earth? Yes, it is written, and shall come to pass. But the means are also written, and the time. What are the means? What is the time? “All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye!” When? “When He lifteth up an ensign on the mountains, and when He bloweth a trumpet, hear ye!” I will read you an extract from a missionary sermon preached by Dr. Buchanan shortly before his death: “The ensign to be lifted up is the Jewish Church restored to Zion; and the Gospel trumpet is to be sounded by Jewish missionaries, for to them is reserved the evangelising of the heathen.” But before this will be the coming of the Son of God. (Hugh MNeile, M. A.)

Verses 4-5

Isaiah 18:4-5

For so the Lord said unto me, I will take My rest

The rest of providence

Although much diversity of opinion exists among commentators in regard to the primary design of the prophecy from which this passage is taken, there can be but one sentiment as to the sublime moral which it teaches concerning the mode in which the Almighty conducts His government.

There are times, probably, in every man’s life, when he feels the temptations to scepticism unusually strong. They are the times of personal suffering, or of prosperous iniquity.

How often has the sincere Christian mourned in bitterness of spirit, BECAUSE NO IMMEDIATE ANSWER SEEMED GIVEN TO HIS PRAYERS. In such circumstances, the assurance that providence is only taking its rest and considering, is in the highest degree consolatory. It is not in judgment, but in tender mercy, that God apparently suspends His answer to His people’s prayers. Thus does He exercise their faith, and the trial of it is more precious than gold. Thus does He convince them of their needs, and the conviction leads them to greater self-abandonment. Thus does He call forth in them the feeling of Christian sympathy for those who are similarly tried, and this is better for them than heart’s desire. Thus does He give unto them those experiences which, it is not improbable, may contribute to their felicity in heaven itself.

A second example of providence taking its rest, is to be seen in THE COMPARATIVELY SLOW AND LIMITED PROGRESS WHICH THE BLESSED GOSPEL OF CHRIST HAS YET MADE IN THE WORLD. The march of His administration is not the less sublime, because it is occasionally invisible.

Providence takes its rest WHEN SENTENCE AGAINST THE EVIL WORKS OF MEN IS NOT EXECUTED SPEEDILY. When the mystery of God is finished, His ways will appear at once marvellous and right. This “rest of providence” is beautifully illustrated by similitudes taken from nature--“a clear heat upon herbs, and a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” You have observed, on a fine summer day, the sunshine resting calmly on the cornfield, or the dew covering the plants at eventide. All is peaceful and serene. It seems as if the winds had forgotten to blow, or the thunder to utter its voice. Thus calmly and silently does the Almighty “rest in His dwelling place,” till the time comes for interposition. The patience of God is a demonstration of His power, and His slowness to wrath a testimony to His infinite wisdom. The metaphor in Isaiah 18:5 is to be regarded as a continuation of the preceding one, and may be understood as intimating the utter disappointment of those plans which wicked men form against God, and which He so forbearingly allows them to mature. “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.” The meaning is, that at the very moment when the likelihood is, humanly speaking, greatest, that their projects shall be successful, He will awake to overturn them. Conclusion--

1. The passage under consideration, while it ought to alarm the enemies, may well enough bring comfort to the people of God. Let them look up for their redemption draweth nigh.

2. On the other hand, let not the impenitent flatter themselves into security because their Lord delayeth His coming. (J. L. Adamson.)


“A figure of perfect stillness.” (A. B. Davidson.)

The arrest of evil men

It is as though Jehovah were quietly looking on, and permitting the Assyrians to do their worst. So far from arresting them, He seems even to favour their plans. He is to them, as the dew to the growth of plants. But before the bud is formed, He arises to cut them off. This probably refers to the fatal blow which overwhelmed Sennacherib’s army in a single night. The gratitude of surrounding nations for so great a deliverance would cause them to bring sacrifices to Jehovah’s temple (Isaiah 18:7). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

God’s secret words

How striking are those secret words, whispered by God to His favoured servant, “The Lord said unto me.” It was as though He had called Isaiah aside, and spoken to him confidentially of matters which must not be uttered to uncircumcised ears. It was thus that God spake of old to Abraham and Moses. And in modern days it is remarkable, in reading the journals of George Fox, to find how conscious he was of similar confidences reposed in him by his ever-present and faithful Friend. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

God resting in His dwelling place

THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD AND HIS REPOSE. Let me ask where the queen rests in her love: You must pass and press beyond the regalia, beyond the throne-room, beyond the council, beyond the levee, there in the family, amidst her children, in a charmed family circle,--there she rests in love. And has not God such a circle, such a dwelling place, and home? “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him.” God has revealed to us this great thing, that He, too, lives in the sympathies and affections of His intelligent creatures. God’s Church is His dwelling place. God descends to dwell in us, as we ascend to dwell in Him. I have been struck with a thought like this, when I have been on some quiet village hill, or in the deeps of some country forest, when, beneath me, or away from me, all the villagers were in the booths of some fair. I saw it, perhaps, at my feet, or heard the sounds dying away on my ear. So it is, as we rise to rest in God. At our feet the uproar the vice--the vanity--of the Babel booths--the dissoluteness and the song,--but with us deep peace, and quiet, and the rest of heart and soul, and the prospect of the glory and the vistas beyond; it is even so, as the world lies beneath us, and above us spreads the calm--when the soul possesses God, and God sinks into the soul--what does the soul look out upon: what does the soul look down upon? what does the soul look in upon: the soul one with God.

“I WILL CONSIDER.” “So the Lord said unto me, I will take My rest.” Exceedingly sublime are all those magnificent passages in which the calm of the Divine mind is contrasted with the passion and the agitation of human affairs. This is the connection of the preceding verses (chap. 17:12, 13). It is amidst that turbulence of the oceans of the population that God says, “I will take My rest, and consider.”

THE ILLUSTRATIONS OF DIVINE CONSIDERATION, the loving and beautiful result. (E. Paxton Hood.)

God’s all-sufficiency

There is that in God which is a shelter and refreshment to His people in all weathers, and arms them against the inconveniences of every change. Is the weather cool: There is that in His favour that will warm them. Is it hot: There is that in His favour that will cool them. Great men have their winter house and their summer house Amos 3:15); but they that are at home with God have both in Him. (M. Henry.)

When the bud is perfect

The flower bud

B--U--D--bud. Beauty; use; design, shall be our three points.

BEAUTY. Among the many kinds of beauty nature gives us, three are very noticeable--

1. Beauty of form.

2. Beauty of colour.

3. Beauty of scent. And to these man has added--

4. Beauty of association.


1. Food. In the economy of nature flowers are useful as food for insect and bird and man. Groundsel for the birds of the air! The honeysuckle really belongs to, and is the early home of, a green moth, brown round the edges, with transparent wings. It also belongs to a caterpillar, which afterwards becomes a brown and white and dull blue butterfly. And so list after list might be given of flowers upon which the insect world feeds, and by which it is nourished. Again, it is from flowers that the bees collect the honey! Thus the flowers may be said literally to feed man.

2. Medicine.

3. Fruit. Flowering is a stage on the way to fruit. What Christian graces will you have to show when the time of the ingathering comes:

DESIGN. Nature works on a plan. Who made the plan, the design? There cannot be a plan without someone to plan; nor a design without a designer. The Christian looks from nature to nature’s God. (C. H.Grundy, M. A.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/isaiah-18.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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