Of the several theories respecting this prophecy, the most approvable to sound judgment is that which, in a prophetic way, connects it with the last three verses of the preceding chapter. The prophet herein “announces the overthrow of Sennacherib’s hosts, and desires the ambassadors of Ethiopia now in Jerusalem to take word of it to their own nation, and calls on the world to witness the event.” — Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown. Sargon of Assyria had humbled Ethiopia, and Sennacherib was on his way to complete the work of his father when he was met with a providential defeat. One word more in relation to Ethiopia. It is known that Ethiopia, with Egypt, constituted, in the prophet’s time, the great rival empire to Assyria in the northeast. Sabaco, of the 25th, or the Ethiop-Egyptian, dynasty, was the Tirhaka of the Old Testament. His Ethiopic realm extended above Egypt southward; covering, probably, the present Nubia, Sennaar, Kordofa, northern Abyssinia, also Upper and Lower Egypt, as one empire.
1.Woe — Not minatory, but salutatory: Ho!
Land shadowing with wings — Or, land of the clanging sound of wings; the buzz or rustling of insect wings; or, as some interpret, referring to the rustle and clatter of marching armies; as if it means, “Ho, land that sends forth armies to the aid of invaded Egypt below.”
Beyond the rivers — That is, regions lying south of Egypt around and beyond the head-waters of the Nile.
2.By the sea — The Nile. Any distinguished waters were called seas.
Saying — This is useless. The word is not in the original, nor is it essential to the sense of the passage.
Go, ye — This is addressed to the vessels on the Nile made of papyrus (bulrushes) bark. This plant, now seldom found, anciently abounded along the Nile and its branches, and from its inner bark the earlier writing material was obtained, as well as from its strips coverings for boat frames; thus making “ships” light for sailing on the level Nile, and portable for its cataracts.
To a nation scattered and peeled — A description of the Ethiopians. Better, tall, or drawn out, and smooth. So the original. To a people of smooth skin, lithe, active, and terrible, or much to be feared, for their fierceness.
From their beginning — From that time and beyond, or from long ago; referring, perhaps, to an antiquity sufficient to account for the constitutional difference in blackness, smoothness of skin, etc.
A nation meted out — Still the Ethiopians. The Hebrew is, , (kav, kav,) line, line. The English translation implies a measuring line thoroughly used. (The repeated words imply this.) The measuring line was in war used upon buildings devoted to destruction. By figure it may here mean all destroyers, and hence the term is of active signification, not passive; and if this be active, so the next word. Then it is not trodden, but treading down; a people treading and crushing; an all powerful and victorious people.
Spoiled — This also is an inadequate rendering, and was made on an incorrect theory of the passage. It rather means, dissects, cuts up. The branches of the Upper Nile divide the country into many sections.
3.See ye, when, etc. — The picture takes in the prophet as saying to all the people in those far lands, “Be ready when ye shall see the signal raised on the mountains; note it, when the trumpet shall sound; listen, and be on the alert.” The prophet’s alarm is in the interest of Judah, or, which is the same thing, of Jehovah’s cause. The passage-way of the armies of the rival empires lay through Judah, now a dependent of Egypt, on account of which dependence Judah is to suffer if Assyria prevails. The implied prediction is, that God is about to deliver the world from the all-conquering might of Assyria.
4.All being thus ready, Jehovah comes now into the scene. In his watchful providence he looks on calmly from the high heavens, and waits up to the right time.
Like a clear heat upon herbs — “Clear heat” is serene, continuous heat, suited to ripen herbs, grasses, wheat.
Like a cloud of dew — Moisture combining with heat to hasten the harvest. The Hebrew particle kaph, here twice used, is a particle of comparison, not of time, and the meaning obviously is, that God not only does not hinder the operations of the enemy against Egypt and Ethiopia, but he even favours his success to a certain point, as dew and sunshine promote a ripening harvest.
5.But God does interfere at the last and right moment.
For afore the harvest — In this case the grape harvest, as the defining terms following indicate. In the interval between the two harvests God has looked calmly on. The Assyrian’s answer to the figure of the “grape harvest” — the pruning and nipping off of shoots to facilitate ripening by letting in of sunheat — symbolizes God’s own forwarding of the enemy and his plans unto destruction.
6.They’ be left — The branches cut off for the fowls and beasts represent the carcasses of the enemy laid prostrate on the field, as the Assyrians were arrested in their march against Egypt. Both Judah is saved, and Egypt and Ethiopia are relieved from the dreaded foe. This is the message the Ethiopian ambassadors of Isaiah 18:2 were summoned to send off to their country. The message relates to the destruction of the enemy, and said destruction was a marked wonder, worthy to be known at the farthest places of the earth. For the enemy just ready to pounce upon the Egyptians, and with them upon Judah also, was itself pounced upon by the Almighty One. This event is the ensign on the mountains, and the trumpet sound (Isaiah 18:3) to which the prophet invites Ethiopia’s attention. The mustering of their hosts in self-defence is not now necessary. God has come to their defence, but chiefly in behalf of his people in Judah.
7.In that time shall the present be brought — Now that Ethiopia is delivered by the fall of her enemy, the usual offerings of submission and gratitude are due from her. The proper offering is, that of herself to her deliverer, making herself over to him and to his religion as established on mount Zion. The terms characterizing Ethiopia are the same as in Isaiah 18:2, where see explanations. Was this call to the Ethiopians unheeded? Did this wonder from Jehovah — the Assyrian destruction — prove a vain event in directing the world’s attention to Him as its almighty Creator and Sovereign? “This particular case has already thrown forward some foreshadowing of its future fulfilment in the scenes briefly sketched in Acts 8:26-39, when the prime minister of a celebrated queen of Ethiopia found Christ, by the aid of Philip, in reading this very book of Isaiah, and went home to his country rejoicing. Also in the further fact, that some vestiges of Christianity — traces of its early power, and perhaps prophecies of its later — have lived in that remote land unto this day. Assuredly ‘Ethiopia shall yet stretch forth her hands unto God.’” — Cowles.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 18". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany