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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Isaiah 18

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XVIII.

God, in care of his people, will destroy the Ethiopians. An access thereby shall grow unto the church.

Before Christ 741.


Verse 1

Isaiah 18:1. Woe to the land The fourth member of this prophesy is contained in the present chapter; which, being another part of the second section, connects with the preceding most closely, as containing an enarration of the former member; that is, of the Assyrian punishment, figuratively set forth in the manner of our prophet; for he commands ambassadors to be sent to the Egyptians, who not only reverenced but feared the Assyrian power; as also to other nations, to inform them concerning this great work of the divine justice to be effected in the most proper season, and to invite them to this tremendous spectacle. This is Vitringa's idea of the present prophesy, which is extremely obscure, and has been very differently interpreted. The scene of it, says he, is fixed in Judaea, at that time which immediately preceded the Assyrian overthrow, when the mountains nearest to Jerusalem were occupied by the Assyrian forces, whose standards were erected upon them, and they now threatened destruction to the city. The prophet sees the tents removed, the hurry of the forces, the standards moving on the mountains, and all things prepared to execute the destructive purposes of the Assyrian. But God had fixed upon this time as most proper to execute the judgment decreed on the haughty enemy. He commands the Egyptians therefore first, (Isaiah 18:1-2.) who feared from the Assyrians, for themselves, the same things which the Jews feared, and then all the other nations of the earth to be informed by swift messengers, that they should diligently attend to this period of time, and expect this specimen of the divine judgment. The parts of the prophesy therefore are, first, A declaration of the divine judgment decreed for the Assyrians, to be made to the Egyptians and other nations: Isaiah 18:1-3. Secondly, A description of that judgment to be inflicted upon these enemies of the people of God in the most proper season: Isaiah 18:4-6. Thirdly, The consequence of this judgment: Isaiah 18:7. The first part contains, I. An address to Egypt, whereby that nation is excited to attention, and prepared to receive some messenger of great importance; which address is composed with so great art, that the Egyptian superstition is at the same time ridiculed in it; Isaiah 18:1 to the middle of Isaiah 18:2. II. A figurative proposition, concerning that messenger to the Egyptians now attentive and ready to receive him;—latter part of the second verse. III. A similar declaration to the other nations of the earth, Isaiah 18:3. Egypt is addressed here, and spoken of under three of its attributes: in the first place, it is said to be shadowing or shadowed with wings, because it is situated between two mountains on its eastern and western side, which as it were overshadow it; and as Egypt is most narrow towards Ethiopia, these two mountains overshadowing it from the east of the Nile towards Arabia, and from the west towards Lybia, unfold themselves more and more, in the manner of two wings, from the south towards the north, or, from Syene towards Arabia; as if the prophet had said, "Hearken, O land, which art defended on either side by great mountains overshadowing thee, and expanding themselves gradually more and more, after the manner of wings, from the south towards the north." The word ףּכנ kanap, rendered wings, signifies the extremity or border of any thing, and is so used by our prophet, chap. Isaiah 11:12, Isaiah 24:16 in the original. This interpretation is exactly agreeable to history. See Strabo, lib. 17: p. 543. Herod. lib. 2: p. 103. The second attribute is, that it is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia; whereby Vitringa understands the Nile, and the rivers Astabor and Astapus, which flow into it from Ethiopia: great and celebrated rivers, which very much increase the waters of the Nile. The prophet the rather denominates Egypt from this epithet, because at this time it was under the power of the Ethiopians. The third character is in the second verse, that sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters; which words contain a criterion of the people of the land of Egypt; as if the prophet had said, "As you, Egyptians, are accustomed, in little barks and vessels made of papyrus, which are extremely quick in their motion, to send ambassadors or letters, which bear your commands to your confederates; prepare your vessels, which may bear my commands, &c." Vitringa is of opinion, that something farther is referred to in these expressions; namely, a superstitious custom among the Egyptians, who used to send a vessel of papyrus to Byblos, with a letter concerning the death of Adonis, which was lamented by the people of Byblos; a superstition which is mentioned by Ezekiel, chap. Isaiah 8:14. The reader will find this matter explained at large in Vitringa. After the preface, by which Egypt is excited to attention, a third person is here introduced, who supplies the messengers with the command to be borne through all the creeks and parts of the Nile to the Egyptians, to inform them of the judgment to be inflicted on the Assyrian, the enemy of them and of the Ethiopians. We are either to suppose God, or the prophet by his command, speaking here. By the swift messengers, we are to understand those vessels above-mentioned, which were the usual and speedy conveyances of their notices and commands; and the inhabitants of Egypt are here described from their true attributes. They are first called a nation scattered, which should rather be rendered a nation protracted, or stretched out. The prophet alludes to the land of Egypt, which, from the north to the south, was stretched out or extended in length, and so inhabited on either side of the Nile. Diodorus says its figure is oblong. It is, secondly, called peeled; depilata, shaven, which very exactly characterises the Egyptians, who in many cases used to shave off all the hair of their body, as ancient historians in general witness. The third character is, A people formidable from their beginning, and still so; which also well suits the Egyptians, whose kingdom was one of the most ancient, and continued long to be extremely formidable. The fourth criterion is, as we render it, a nation meted out; but literally, קו קו גוי goi kav kav, a nation of precept and precept; that is, a superstitious nation, and abounding with innumerable rites and religious ceremonies; (see chap. Isaiah 28:9-10.) which also is well known to have been the case with Egypt. The fifth and sixth criterions are, A nation trodden down, and whose land the rivers have spoiled; literally, A nation of conculcation, or of treading down; that is to say, according to some, "a terrible nation, which hath frequently trodden down others:" But the word may certainly be understood in the passive sense; which seems the more proper, from the clause that follows it, and which should be rendered, whose land the rivers (that is, of the Nile) carry away, or spoil; which is the case when the Nile in its annual overflowings rises above its common height. The prophet, therefore, here alludes to an usual custom among the Egyptians, who, when the Nile had returned to its channel, used to sow their land, and with their cattle tread in their seeds. See Diodor. lib. 1: p. 23. Herodotus, lib. 2: p. 106 and Vitringa.


Verse 3

Isaiah 18:3. All ye inhabitants 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 on the mountains of Judeaea, and the sound of the trumpets of the hostile army preparing to besiege Jerusalem, they should attend to the execution of this divine judgment. When he lifteth up, seems undoubtedly to mean the commander of this great army, or Sennacherib. Vitringa.


Verses 4-6

Isaiah 18:4-6. For so the Lord said, &c.— We have here the divine judgment to be inflicted upon the Assyrian in its due time. The passage is obscure and difficult. The first part of it sets forth, figuratively, Jehovah as it were expecting and in his counsel considering the proper time for the execution of this judgment, while he had determined in himself to refresh the pious among his people with some proofs of his favour. The second part describes the judgment itself. The former part is contained in these words, For so the

Lord said unto me; that is to say, revealed this thing unto me from his secret purposes; I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling-place; that is to say, "While the Assyrian is forming his designs for the destruction of my people, I will seem to rest, and to have a regard for their preservation; and I will behold and consider in the heavens, what time most conveniently to execute my purpose upon the Assyrians." Every reader must observe that this is spoken humano more (after the manner of men). But while God was in this state, with what disposition towards his people would he rest? The prophet clearly informs us in the next words; Like a clear or serene heat upon herbs, or after rain; like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. See 2 Samuel 23:4. 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 his people after this affliction, and of refreshing them with his blessings: that he only considered at what time to do it most effectually; both that he might destroy the enemies of his people, and might give them such a refreshment, as that of a serene heat after a heavy rain, and as a cloud of dew in the time of harvest: the Chaldee paraphrast understands the passage in this sense. The latter part of this period informs us how he would behave towards those adversaries for whom he had destined this great slaughter. The prophet in the fifth verse compares the adversaries of the people of God to a vine, which after it has sent forth its bud, then its flower, and the flower the sour grape, which too was beginning to ripen,—then comes the hand which suddenly cuts off all hope of the vintage, destroying as well the sprigs as the greater branches of the vine with pruning hooks, and leaves those branches burdened with grapes a prey to the birds of heaven and the beasts of the earth; the whole vine being thus miserably cut down and spoiled: Isaiah 18:6 by which the prophet means, that when every thing respecting the Assyrians, was in the most promising situation, a sudden destruction should come upon them, and destroy all their flattering hopes of a successful harvest. See Job 15:33 and Vitringa.


Verse 7

Isaiah 18:7. In that time The words of this verse are sufficiently plain, exhibiting a notable consequence of the divine judgment, whereby the Egyptians as well as the Ethiopians should receive great benefit: for it should come to pass that they, or some of them, awakened by this tremendous judgment, should come to the knowledge of the God of Israel, and should profess their faith, and unite themselves to the church establishment in mount Zion. chap. Isaiah 19:18-19, &c. Psalms 68:31; Psalms 87:3. In that time, or after that time, signifies soon after the execution of this signal judgment; and that this was the case we learn very remarkably from sacred history, 2 Chronicles 32:23. These offerings then, made from Egypt and all nations, were a prelude of the more perfect conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Israel; (see particularly Josephus against Apion, lib. 2 and Vitringa;) and there is nothing more certain than that God, after the remarkable overthrow of Sennacherib, was like the clear heat after rain, like dew in the time of harvest, to the people of Israel. See the chapter of Chronicles above referred to.

REFLECTIONS.—

1. A woe is pronounced on Egypt—the land which sendeth ambassadors to form alliances, and to engage auxiliary forces, in order to strengthen its army.

2. God prepares to disappoint their designs, and gives his orders: Go, ye swift messengers of his vengeance, to a nation scattered and peeled; which, with the following words, some suppose addressed to Judaea, harassed by the Assyrians; but are rather spoken of these invaders.

3. All the people of the earth are called to be spectators of the controversy, when on the mountains of Judaea the proud Assyrian monarch should lift up his banners, and sound the dread alarm. However intimidating his appearance, God bids them see and hear, and mark the end. Note; God's hand of providential interposition is carefully to be remarked; and, when dangers are most alarming, he is nearest to defend and save us. As it is written, in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.

4. For a while God seems to give up his people for a prey. So the Lord said unto me, I will take my rest, as one asleep, and disregarding the distress of his people; and I will consider in my dwelling-place what I resolve to do; or, I will look upon my dwelling-place, Jerusalem, so called from the Shechinah of glory abiding in the temple, like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest; either reviving them, as the sun quickens the grass after a shower, and a cloud allays the scorching heat of harvest; or, suffering them for a while to be afflicted, as the sun burns up the grass, and as rain is hurtful in the time of harvest. And this may refer to his dealings with his people, whom he would comfort and protect; or the invading Assyrians, whose devices he would thus consider and disappoint. Note; (1.) God's repose can never be disturbed by all the impotent rage of his foes. (2.) He seems, respecting his people, sometimes to have forgotten and forsaken them, when he is just ready to display his designs of grace for their deliverance.

5. His enemies, when ready in their own conceits, to reap the fruits of their conquests, are destroyed. Afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, their designs formed for execution, and the sour grape, the mischievous purpose, is ripening in the flower, ready to be accomplished, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning-hooks, and take away and cut down the branches; destroy both the soldiers of the army and the chief captains by the sword of the angel; and such a slaughter shall be made, that food enough will be provided from the carcases of the slain, during summer and winter, for the fowls and the wild beasts. Note; The deepest-laid schemes against God's people, in which their adversaries already triumph in the certainty of success, God can easily counteract, to the confusion of all the enemies of his cause.

6. God's people, delivered by his wondrous interposition, would bring to his altar a grateful present from the spoil of their enemies. Or this may refer to future times, when the posterity of these as well as of other ancient enemies of God's church, should present themselves to him; and, wretched and vile as before their character was esteemed, being converted by grace, their offering would be accepted, and they admitted into the church of Christ, the place of the name of the Lord of Hosts, the spiritual mount Zion. Note; (1.) If God enriches us by his providence, we are bound to bring the grateful present to him, and the poor are his receivers. (2.) They who design the ruin of others, are themselves justly given up for a prey.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 18:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/isaiah-18.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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