Isaiah 18:2
That sends ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes on the waters, saying, Go, you swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning till now; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) That sendeth ambassadors . . .—The words point to the embassies which the Ethiopian king had sent, in the papyrus boats used for the navigation of the Upper Nile, down that river to Hezekiah and other princes, inviting them to join the alliance against Assyria.

Go, ye swift messengers . . .—The interpolated “saying” being omitted, the words that follow are as the prophet’s address to the messengers, as he sends them back to their own people. Instead of “scattered and peeled, “we are to read tall and polished, as describing the physique which had probably impressed itself on Isaiah’s mind. (Comp. the Sabeans as “men of stature” in Isaiah 45:14.) They were terrible then, as they had ever been (i.e., imperious and mighty), a nation that treadeth down its foes. Instead of “meted out and trodden down,” they are a nation of command, command (or, perhaps, “strength, strength”). The rivers are literally the affluents of the Nile that intersect and fertilise (not “spoil”) the hills and valleys of Nubia. Some commentators, however, though with less probability, accept the Authorised version, and refer the words to Israel, as “scattered and plundered,” with its land “spoiled” by the “rivers of invading armies (Isaiah 8:7).

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 ומורשׂmay 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.18:1-7 God's care for his people; and the increase of the church. - This chapter is one of the most obscure in Scripture, though more of it probably was understood by those for whose use it was first intended, than by us now. Swift messengers are sent by water to a nation marked by Providence, and measured out, trodden under foot. God's people are trampled on; but whoever thinks to swallow them up, finds they are cast down, yet not deserted, not destroyed. All the dwellers on earth must watch the motions of the Divine Providence, and wait upon the directions of the Divine will. God gives assurance to his prophet, and by him to be given to his people. Zion is his rest for ever, and he will look after it. He will suit to their case the comforts and refreshments he provides for them; they will be acceptable, because seasonable. He will reckon with his and their enemies; and as God's people are protected at all seasons of the year, so their enemies are exposed at all seasons. A tribute of praise should be brought to God from all this. What is offered to God, must be offered in the way he has appointed; and we may expect him to meet us where he records his name. Thus shall the nations of the earth be convinced that Jehovah is the God, and Israel is his people, and shall unite in presenting spiritual sacrifices to his glory. Happy are those who take warning by his judgment on others, and hasten to join him and his people. Whatever land or people may be intended, we are here taught not to think that God takes no care of his church, and has no respect to the affairs of men, because he permits the wicked to triumph for a season. He has wise reasons for so doing, which we cannot now understand, but which will appear at the great day of his coming, when he will bring every work into judgment, and reward every man according to his works.That sendeth ambassadors - That is, "accustomed" to send messengers. What was the design of their thus sending ambassadors does not appear. The prophet simply intimates the fact; a fact by which they were well known. It may have been for purposes of commerce, or to seek protection. Bochart renders the word translated 'ambassadors' by "images," and supposes that it denotes an image of the god Osiris made of the papyrus; but there does not seem to be any reason for this opinion. The word ציר tsı̂yr may mean an idol or image, as in Isaiah 45:16; Psalm 49:15. But it usually denotes ambassadors, or messengers Joshua 9:4; Proverbs 25:13; Proverbs 13:17; Isaiah 57:9; Jeremiah 49:14; Obadiah 1:1.

By the sea - What "sea" is here meant cannot be accurately determined. The word 'sea' (ים yâm) is applied to various collections of water, and may be used in reference to a sea, a lake, a pond, and even a large river. It is often applied to the Mediterranean; and where the phrase "Great Sea" occurs, it denotes that Numbers 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 11:24. It is applied to the Lake of Gennesareth or the Sea of Galilee Numbers 34:11; to the Salt Sea Genesis 14:3; to the Red Sea often (Exodus 13:10; Numbers 14:25; Numbers 21:4; Numbers 33:10, "et al.") It is also applied to "a large river," as, "e. g., the Nile" Isaiah 19:5; Nehemiah 3:8; and to the Euphrates Jeremiah 51:36. So far as this "word" is concerned, therefore, it may denote either the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Nile, or the Euphrates. If the country spoken of is Upper Egypt or Nubia, then we are naturally led to suppose that the prophet refers either to the Nile or the Red Sea.

Even in vessels of bulrushes - The word rendered 'bulrushes' (גמא gôme') is derived from the verb גמא gâmâ', "to swallow, sip, drink;" and is given to a reed or bulrush, from its "imbibing" water. It is usually applied in the Scriptures to the Egyptian "papyrus" - a plant which grew on the banks of the Nile, and from which we have derived our word "paper." 'This plant,' says Taylor ("Heb. Con."), 'grew in moist places near the Nile, and was four or five yards in height. Under the bark it consisted wholly of thin skins, which being separated and spread out, were applied to various uses. Of these they made boxes and chests, and even boats, smearing them over with pitch.' These laminoe, or skins, also served the purpose of paper, and were used instead of parchment, or plates of lead and copper, for writing on. This plant, the Cyperus Papyrus of modern botanists, mostly grew in Lower Egypt, in marshy land, or in shallow brooks and ponds, formed by the inundation of the Nile. 'The papyrus,' says Pliny, 'grows in the marsh lands of Egypt, or in the stagnant pools left inland by the Nile, after it has returned to its bed, which have not more than two cubits in depth.

The root of the plant is the thickness of a man's arm; it has a triangular stalk, growing not higher than ten cubits (fifteen feet), and decreasing in breadth toward the summit, which is crowned with a thyrsus, containing no seeds, and of no use except to deck the statues of the gods. They employ the roots as firewood, and for making various utensils. They even construct small boats of the plant; and out of the rind, sails, mats, clothes, bedding, ropes; they eat it either crude or cooked, swallowing only the juice; and when they manufacture paper from it, they divide the stem by means of a kind of needle into thin plates, or laminae, each of which is as large as the plant will admit. All the paper is woven upon a table, and is continually moistened with Nile water, which being thick and slimy, furnishes an effectual species of glue. In the first place, they form upon a table, pefectly horizontal, a layer the whole length of the papyrus, which is crossed by another placed transversely, and afterward enclosed within a press.

The different sheets are then hung in a situation exposed to the sun, in order to dry, and the process is finally completed by joining them together, beginning with the best. There are seldom more than twenty slips or stripes produced from one stem of the plant.' (Pliny, xiii. 11, 12.) Wilkinson remarks, that 'the mode of making papyri was this: the interior of the stalks of the plant, after the rind had been removed, was cut into thin slices in the direction of their length, and these being laid on a flat board, in succession, similar slices were placed over them at right angles, and their surfaces being cemented together by a sort of glue, and subjected to the proper deuce of pressure, and well dried, the papyrus was completed.' ("Ancient Egyptians," vol. iii. p. 148.) The word used here is translated 'bulrushes' in Exodus 2:3, where the little ark is described in which Moses was laid near the Nile; the 'rush' in Job 8:11; and 'rushes,' in Isaiah 35:7.

It does not elsewhere occur. That the ancients were in the practice of making light boats or vessels from the papyrus is well known. Thus Theophrastus (in the "History of Plants," iv. 9) says, that 'the papyrus is useful for many things, for from this they make vessels,' or ships (πλοῖα ploia). Thus, Pliny (xiii. 11, 22) says, ex ipso quidem papyro navigia texunt - 'from the papyrus they weave vessels.' Again, (vi. 56, 57): 'Even now,' says he, 'in the Britannic Ocean useful vessels are made of bark; on the Nile from the papyrus, and from reeds and rushes.' Plutarch describes Isis going in search of the body of Osiris, 'through the fenny country in a bark made of the papyrus (ἐν βαριδι παπυοινη en baridi papnoinē) where it is supposed that persons using boats of this description (ἐν παπυρινοις ὀκαφεσι πλωοντας en papurinois okaphisi pleontas) are never attacked by crocodiles out of respect to the goddess,' (De Isaiah 18:1-7.) Moses, also, it will be remembered, was exposed on the banks of the Nile in a similar boat or ark. 'She took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it With slime and with pitch, and put the child therein' Exodus 2:3. The same word occurs here (גמא gôme') which is used by Isaiah, and this fact shows that such boats were known as early as the time of Moses. Lucan also mentions boats made of the papyrus at Memphis:

Conseritur bibula Memphitis cymba papyro.

- Phar. iv: 136.

At Memphis boats are woven together from the marshy papyrus

The sculptures of Thebes, Memphis, and other places, abundantly show that they were employed as punts, or canoes for fishing, in all parts of Egypt, during the inundation of the Nile.' (Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii. p. 186.) In our own country, also, it will be remembered, the natives were accustomed to make canoes, or vessels, of the bark of the birch, with which they often adventured on even dangerous navigation. The circumstance here mentioned of the גמא gôme' (the papyrus), seems to fix the scene of this prophecy to the region of the Nile. This reed grew nowhere else; and it is natural, therefore, to suppose, that some nation living near the Nile is intended. Taylor, the editor of Calmet, has shown that the inhabitants of the upper regions of the Nile were accustomed to form floats of hollow earthen vessels, and to weave them together with rushes, and thus to convey them to Lower Egypt to market. He supposes that by 'vessels of bulrushes,' or rush floats, are meant such vessels. (For a description of the "floats" made in Upper Egypt with "jars," see Pococke's "Travels," vol. i. p. 84, Ed. London, 1743.) 'I first saw in this voyage (on the Nile) the large floats of earthen-ware; they are about thirty feet wide, and sixty feet long, being a frame of palm boughs tied together about four feet deep, on which they put a layer of large jars with the mouths uppermost; on these they make another floor, and then put on another layer of jars, and so a third, which last are so disposed as to trim the float, and leave room for the men to go between. The float lies across the river, one end being lower down than the other; toward the lower end on each side they have four long poles with which they row and direct the boat, as well as forward the motion down.' Mr. Bruce, in his "Travels," mentions vessels made of the papyrus in Abyssinia.

Upon the waters - The waters of the Nile, or the Red Sea.

Saying - This word is not in the Hebrew, and the introduction of it by the translators gives a peculiar, and probably an incorrect, sense to the whole passage. As it stands here, it would seem to be the language of the inhabitants of the land who sent the ambassadors, usually saying to their messengers to go to a distant nation; and this introduces an inquiry into the characteristics of the nation to "whom" the ambassadors are sent, as if it were a "different" people from those who are mentioned in Isaiah 17:1. But probably the words which follow are to be regarded as the words of the prophet, or of God Isaiah 17:4, giving commandment to those messengers to "return" to those who sent them, and deliver the message which follows: 'You send messengers to distant nations in reed boats upon the rivers. Return, says God, to the land which sent you foth, and announce to them the will of God. Go rapidly in your light vessels, and bear this message, for it shall speedily be executed, and I will sit calmly and see it done' Isaiah 17:4-6. A remarkably similar passage, which throws great light on this, occurs in Ezekiel 30:9 : 'In that day shall messengers go forth from me (God) in ships to make the careless Ethiopians afraid, and great pain shall come upon them, as in the day of Egypt, for lo, it cometh.'

Go, ye swift messengers - Hebrew, 'Light messengers.' This is evidently addressed to the boats. Achilles Tatius says that they were frequently so light and small, that they would carry but one person (Rosenmuller).

To a nation - What nation this was is not known. The "obvious" import of the passge is, that it was some nation to whom they were "accustomed" to send ambassadors, and that it is here added merely as "descriptive" of the people. Two or three characterstics of the nation are mentioned, from which we may better learn what people are referred to.

continued...

2. ambassadors—messengers sent to Jerusalem at the time that negotiations passed between Tirhakah and Hezekiah against the expected attack of Sennacherib (Isa 37:9).

by … sea—on the Nile (Isa 19:5): as what follows proves.

vessels of bulrushes—light canoes, formed of papyrus, daubed over with pitch: so the "ark" in which Moses was exposed (Ex 2:3).

Go—Isaiah tells them to take back the tidings of what God is about to do (Isa 18:4) against the common enemy of both Judah and Ethiopia.

scattered and peeled—rather, "strong and energetic" [Maurer]. The Hebrew for "strong" is literally, "drawn out" (Margin; Ps 36:10; Ec 2:3). "Energetic," literally, "sharp" (Hab 1:8, Margin; the verb means to "sharpen" a sword, Eze 21:15, 16); also "polished." As Herodotus (3:20, 114) characterizes the Ethiopians as "the tallest and fairest of men," G. V. Smith translates, "tall and comely"; literally, "extended" (Isa 45:14, "men of stature") and polished (the Ethiopians had "smooth, glossy skins"). In English Version the reference is to the Jews, scattered outcasts, and loaded with indignity (literally, "having their hair torn off," Horsley).

terrible—the Ethiopians famed for warlike prowess [Rosenmuller]. The Jews who, because of God's plague, made others to fear the like (De 28:37). Rather, "awfully remarkable" [Horsley]. God puts the "terror" of His people into the surrounding nations at the first (Ex 23:27; Jos 2:9); so it shall be again in the latter days (Zec 12:2, 3).

from … beginning hitherto—so English Version rightly. But Gesenius, "to the terrible nation (of upper Egypt) and further beyond" (to the Ethiopians, properly so called).

meted out—Hebrew, "of line." The measuring-line was used in destroying buildings (Isa 34:11; 2Ki 21:13; La 2:8). Hence, actively, it means here "a people meting out,—an all-destroying people"; which suits the context better than "meted," passively [Maurer]. Horsley, understanding it of the Jews, translates it, "Expecting, expecting (in a continual attitude of expectation of Messiah) and trampled under foot"; a graphic picture of them. Most translate, of strength, strength (from a root, to brace the sinews), that is, a most powerful people.

trodden down—true of the Jews. But Maurer translates it actively, a people "treading under foot" all its enemies, that is, victorious (Isa 14:25), namely, the Ethiopians.

spoiled—"cut up." The Nile is formed by the junction of many streams in Abyssinia, the Atbara, the Astapus or Blue river (between which two rivers Meroe, the "Ethiopia" here meant, lies), and the Astaboras or White river; these streams wash down the soil along their banks in the "land" of Upper Egypt and deposit it on that of Lower Egypt. G. V. Smith translates it, "Divide." Horsley takes it figuratively of the conquering armies which have often "spoiled" Judea.

That sendeth ambassadors; that at this time are sending ambassadors, after their manner, to strengthen themselves with leagues and alliances, whereby they think to prevent those judgments and calamities which, notwithstanding all their endeavours, I will bring upon them. The first part of this verse seems to contain a further description of the people of the land, mentioned in the foregoing verse. By the sea; either by the Midland Sea, or by the Red Sea, or by great lakes which were both in and near the land of Egypt; it being usual among the Hebrews to give the title of seas to lakes, or any great collections Of waters, As hath been oft observed before.

In vessels of bulrushes; for both the Egyptians and Ethiopians, as Diodorus Siculus, and Strabo, and Pliny relate, did commonly use boats of rushes or reeds, which were more convenient for them than those of wood, because they were both cheaper, and swifter, and lighter for carriage from place to place, for which they had frequent occasion in those parts; and safer, because of the many rocks, and shelves, and waterfalls of Nilus.

Upon the waters, Heb. upon the face or surface of the waters; which is properly expressed, because such vessels being very light, did not sink so deep into the waters as those of wood do.

Saying: this word is supplied here, as it is in many other places. And the words here following are supposed to contain the commission and direction given by the people hitherto described unto their messengers, to go to the people described in the following words. But this word saying is not in the Hebrew text, nor is it supplied either by the LXX. or by the Chaldee: nor doth it seem necessary to be understood. And it seems very improbable that the people to whom the messengers were sent should be described in such general and ambiguous terms, and in so large a manner, and not a word said concerning their message. And therefore, with submission, I humbly conceive these to be the words of the prophet, who having in God’s name pronounced a woe against the land hitherto described, here continues his speech, and gives a commission from God to these

messengers following to go to this nation scattered, &c. Then he calls to all nations to be witnesses of the message sent by these messengers, Isaiah 18:3. And then the message follows in the succeeding verses. And so the coherence seems to be clear.

Go, ye swift messengers: O you, my angels, or men, whom I have appointed for this work, go speedily to them, and tell them what I am about to do with them, or inflict the following judgment upon them.

Scattered, not by banishment, but in their habitations; which agrees well to the Cushites or Ethiopians, both for the vastness of the land inhabited by them, to wit, Ethiopia and Arabia, and for the manner of their habitation, which is more scattered than that of other people. Or these people may be called scattered prophetically, not that they were so, but that they should be so. Or this word may be rendered, as it is in the margin, and by some others, outspread, or drawn out at length; which exactly suits to Egypt, which is much more extended in length than in breadth. Peeled; either,

1. Without hair; for so were the Ethiopians in a great measure, through the great heat of their country. Or,

2. Having their hair shaven or plucked off; for the word doth not signify a natural want of hair, but a violent taking away of hair, as appears from Ezra 9:3 Nehemiah 13:25 Isaiah 1:6. And this plucking or shaving of the hair is metaphorically used in Scripture, to signify some great calamity, whereby men are stripped of all their comforts, as Isaiah 7:20, and elsewhere. And this title maybe given to them prophetically, to signify their future and approaching destruction. Terrible from their beginning hitherto; such were the Egyptians and Ethiopians or Cushites, as appears both from sacred and profane histories. And this may be here added as an aggravation of their impending miseries, that they who had been for a long time terrible to others, should now become a contemptible and wretched people. Meted out, Heb. of line, line, i.e. meted out as it were with lines to destruction; of which phrase and custom see 2 Samuel 8:2 2 Kings 21:13 Psalm 60:6 Isaiah 34:11.

Trodden down by Divine sentence and to be trodden down by their enemies.

The rivers have spoiled: which may be taken either,

1. Literally, because Egypt and Ethiopia were frequently overflowed by those two great rivers Niger and Nilus; although that overflow was rather an advantage to the land, by making it fruitful than a mischief. Or,

2. Metaphorically and prophetically, of the Assyrians or Babylonians breaking in upon them like a river, and destroying their land and people; of which see more on Ezekiel 30. For powerful enemies invading a country are oft compared to a river, as Isaiah 8:7,8 59:19 Jeremiah 46:7,8. That sendeth ambassadors by the sea,.... The Red Sea, which washed the coasts of Egypt and Ethiopia, and which were united into one kingdom under Sabacus, or So the Ethiopian, called king of Egypt, 2 Kings 17:4 and this kingdom, or rather the king of it, is here described as sending ambassadors by sea to foreign courts, to make leagues and alliances, and thereby strengthen himself against attempts made on him; though some understand it of one part of Ethiopia, on one side of the Red Sea, sending to that on the other side; and some of Tirhakah the Ethiopian sending messengers to the king of Assyria to bid him defiance, and let him know he intended to fight him; and at the same time sent to the Jews, that they might depend upon his protection and help, Isaiah 37:9 some understand this of the Egyptians sending to the Ethiopians, to let them know of the Assyrian expedition; and others, of their sending to the Jews, with the promise of a supply; and the word for "ambassadors" signifying "images", Isaiah 45:16 some have thought it is to be understood of carrying the head of Osiris, and the image of Isis, from place to place, in proper vessels:

even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters; or, "upon the face of the waters" (i); where these light vessels floated without sinking, not drawing the quantity of waters as vessels of wood did. Both the Egyptians and Ethiopians had ships made of the "papyrus" (k), or "biblus" (l), a sort of rush, that grew upon the banks of the Nile, and which were light, and moved swiftly, and were also safest; there was no danger of their being broken to pieces, as other vessels, on shelves, and rocks, and in waterfalls: yea, Pliny (m) says, that the Ethiopian ships were so made, as to fold up and be carried on their shoulders, when they came to the cataracts.

Saying, go, ye swift messengers; the word "saying" is not in the text, nor is it to be supplied; for these are not the words of the nation before described, sending its messengers to another nation after described, either the Jews or the Assyrians; but they are the words of God to his messengers, angels or men, who were swift to do his will, whom he sends to denounce or inflict judgment upon the same nation that is before mentioned, with which agrees Ezekiel 30:9,

to a nation scattered; that dwelt in towns, villages, and houses, scattered about here and there; or who would be scattered and dissipated by their enemies: or, "drawn out", and spread over a large tract of ground, as Ethiopia was:

and peeled; of their hair, as the word signifies; the Ethiopians, living in a hot country, had very little hair upon their bodies. Schultens (n), from the use of the word in the Arabic language, renders it,

"a nation strong and inaccessible:''

to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; for their black colour and grim looks, especially in some parts; and for the vast armies they brought into the field, as never were by any other people; see 2 Chronicles 12:3 and they might well be said to be so from the beginning, since Nimrod, the mighty hunter, was the son of Cush, from whence the Ethiopians have the name of Cushites, and is the name Ethiopia is called by in the preceding verse Isaiah 18:1,

a nation meted out, and trodden down: to whom punishment was measured by line, in proportion to their sins, and who in a little time would be trodden under foot by their enemies:

whose land the rivers have spoiled: which must not be understood literally of Niger and Nilus, of Astapus and Astaboras, which were so far from spoiling the land, that it was much more pleasant and fruitful for them; but figuratively, of powerful princes and armies, that should come into it, and spoil and plunder it; see Isaiah 8:7. Jarchi and Kimchi interpret it of the kings of the nations of the world; and so the Targum,

"whose land the people spoil.''

Some understand all this of the Assyrians, whose army was now scattered, and its soldiers exhausted, who had been from the beginning of their monarchy very terrible to their neighbours, but now marked for destruction; and whom the Ethiopians, who dwelt by the rivers, despised, as some render the words: and others interpret them of the Jews, as overrun by the Assyrian army like a mighty river, by whom they were scattered, and peeled, and spoiled, and plundered; who from their beginning had been very terrible, because of the wonderful things wrought for them at the Red Sea, in the wilderness, and in the times of Joshua and the judges; and because of the dreadful punishments inflicted on them; but the first sense is best. Vitringa interprets all this of the Egyptians, whose country was drawn out or long, their bodies peeled or shaved; a people terrible to their neighbours, and very superstitious; a nation of line and line, or of precept and precept.

(i) "super facies aquarurum", Montanus. (k) Hence , paper skiffs, in Plutarch, de Is. et Osir. and , ships of reeds which the Indians made and used, as Herodotus relates, l. 3. sive Thalia, c. 98. and so Diodorus Siculus speaks of ships made of a reed in India, of excellent use, because they are not liable to be eaten by worms, Bibliothec. l. 2. p. 104. to the Egyptian vessels of this kind Lucan has respect when he says, "-----Sic cum tenet omnia Nilus, Conficitur bibula Memphitis cymba papyro. Pharsal. l. 4.

(l) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 6. c. 22. & l. 13. 11. Heliodor. l. 10. c. 4. p. 460. (m) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 9. (n) Animadv, Philol. in Job, p, 108.

That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of {b} bulrushes upon the waters, saying, {c} Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and stripped, to a {d} people terrible from their beginning to this time; a nation measured by line and trodden down, whose land the {e} rivers have laid waste!

(b) Which is those countries were great, so much so that they made ships from them for swiftness.

(c) This may be taken that they sent others to comfort the Jews and to promise them help against their enemies, and so the Lord threatened to take away their strength, that the Jews should not trust in it: or that they solicited the Egyptians and promised them aid to go against Judah.

(d) That is, the Jews who because of God's plague made all other nations afraid of the same, as God threatened in De 28:37.

(e) Meaning the Assyrians, Isa 8:7.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. The ambassadors are those who have arrived in Jerusalem. They had descended the Nile (here called the sea, as in ch. Isaiah 19:5; Nahum 3:8) in vessels of bulrushes (R.V. papyrus). These light skiffs, constructed for one or two passengers, and capable of being carried where the river ceased to be navigable, are frequently mentioned by ancient writers (cf. Pliny Isaiah 13:11 “ex ipso quidem papyro navigia texunt,” and other authorities cited by Gesenius). Their great speed is referred to in Job 9:26 (“ships of reed”).

Go, ye swift messengers] Isaiah’s charge to the ambassadors begins here; they are to return to their own country with this answer. (The “saying” of A.V. and R.V. is quite misleading.)

a nation scattered and peeled] Render as R.V.: a nation tall and smooth (lit. “drawn-out and polished”). The latter epithet probably denotes the bronze-like appearance of the skin of the Ethiopians; some, however, take it in the general sense of “beautiful” (μέγιστοι καὶ κάλλιστοι). The Nubians of the Soudân are still a remarkably tall and handsome race.

terrible from their beginning hitherto] Better: dreaded near and far. Lit., perhaps, “from where it is and onward,” cf. 1 Samuel 10:3; 1 Samuel 20:22; 1 Samuel 20:37. The temporal sense, however, is possible (1 Samuel 18:9), although less natural here.

meted out and trodden down] Render: strong and victorious (lit. “of strength and treading down”). The Hebr. for “strength” presents some difficulty. If read as pointed (qav-qav) it looks like a repetition of the word for “measuring-line” (qav); and this is the origin of the ‘meting out” of E.V. (“people of line-line”). But this sense has little probability; and the translation “strength” is warranted by the analogy of the cognate Arabic noun quvva. It is perhaps better to read it as a reduplicated form (qavqav), although the word occurs nowhere else. Note that R.V. rightly takes both nouns in an active sense.

have spoiled] The word is found only here and is of uncertain meaning. A more likely translation is “intersect” or (as R.V.) divide.Verse 2. - That sendeth ambassadors; rather, perhaps, messengers, as the word is translated in Isaiah 57:9 and Proverbs 25:13. They are sent, apparently, by the king to his own people. By the sea. "The sea" must in this place necessarily mean the Nile, which is called "the sea" in Nahum 3:8 certainly, and probably in Isaiah 19:5. Vessels of papyrus could not possibly have been employed in the very difficult navigation of the Red Sea. Vessels of bulrushes. That some of the boats used upon the Nile were constructed of the papyrus (which is a sort of bulrush) we learn from Herodotus (it. 96), Theophrastus ('Hist. Plant.,' 4:9), Plutarch ('De Isid. et Osir.,' § 18), Pliny (Hist. 'Nat.,' 6:22), and Lucan ('Pharsal.,' 4:136). They are represented occasionally on the Egyptian monuments. Saying. This word is interpolated by our translators, and gives a wrong sense. It is the prophet that addresses the messengers, not the king who sends them. To a nation scattered and peeled; rather, tall and polished, or tall and sleek. The word translated "scattered" means properly "drawn out," and seems to be applied here to the physique of the Ethiopians, whose stature is said to have been remarkable (Herod., 3:20, 114). The other epithet refers to the glossy skin of the people. A people terrible from their beginning hitherto; The Israelites first knew the Ethiopians as soldiers when they formed a part of the army brought by Shishak (Sheshonk I.) against Rehoboam, about B.C. 970 (2 Chronicles 12:3). They had afterwards experience of their vast numbers, when Zerah made his attack upon Asa; but on this occasion they succeeded in defeating them (2 Chronicles 14:9-13). It was not till about two centuries after this that the power of Ethiopia began to be really formidable to Egypt; and the "miserable Cushites," as they had been in the habit of calling them, acquired the preponderating influence in the valley of the Nile, and under Piankhi, Shabak, Shabatek, and Tirhakah (Tahark), reduced Egypt to subjection. Isaiah, perhaps, refers to their rise under Piankhi as "their beginning." A nation meted out and trodden down; rather, a nation of meting out and trampling; i.e. one accustomed to mete out its neighbors' bounds with a measuring-line, and to trample other nations under its feet. Whose land the rivers have spoiled; rather, whose land rivers despoil. The deposit of mud, which fertilizes Egypt, is washed by the rivers from Ethiopia, which is thus continually losing large quantities of rich son. This fact was well known to the Greeks (Herod., 2:12, ad fin.), and there is no reason why Isaiah should not have been acquainted with it. Third turn: "In that day will his fortified cities be like the ruins of the forest and of the mountain top, which they cleared before the sons of Israel: and there arises a waste place. For thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not thought of the Rock of thy stronghold, therefore thou plantedst charming plantations, and didst set them with strange vines. In the day that thou plantedst, thou didst make a fence; and with the morning dawn thou madest thy sowing to blossom: a harvest heap in the day of deep wounds and deadly sorrow of heart." The statement in Isaiah 17:3, "The fortress of Ephraim is abolished," is repeated in Isaiah 17:9 in a more descriptive manner. The fate of the strongly fortified cities of Ephraim would be the same as that of the old Canaanitish castles, which were still to be discerned in their antiquated remains, either in the depths of forests or high up on the mountains. The word ‛azubâh, which the early translators quite misunderstood, signifies, both here and in Isaiah 6:12, desolate places that have gone to ruin. They also misunderstood והאמיר הסהרשׁ. The Septuagint renders it, by a bold conjecture, οἱ Αμοῤῥηαῖοι καὶ οὶ Εὐαῖοι; but this is at once proved to be false by the inversion of the names of the two peoples, which was very properly thought to be necessary. האמיר undoubtedly signifies the top of a tree, which is quite unsuitable here. But as even this meaning points back to אמר, extollere, efferre (see at Psalm 94:4), it may also mean the mountain-top. The name hâ'emori (the Amorites: those who dwell high up in the mountains) proves the possibility of this; and the prophet had this name in his mind, and was guided by it in his choice of a word. The subject of עזבוּ is self-evident. And the reason why only the ruins in forests and on mountains are mentioned is, that other places, which were situated on the different lines of traffic, merely changed their inhabitants when the land was taken by Israel. The reason why the fate of Ephraim's fortified castles was the same as that of the Amoritish castles, which were then lying in ruins, was that Ephraim, as stated in Isaiah 17:10, had turned away from its true rocky stronghold, namely from Jehovah. It was a consequence of this estrangement from God, that Ephraim planted נעמנים נטעי, plantations of the nature of pleasant things, or pleasant plantations (compare on Psalm 78:49, and Ewald, 287, ab), i.e., cultivated all kinds of sensual accompaniments to its worship, in accordance with its heathen propensities; and sowed, or rather (as zemōrâh is the layer of a vine) "set," this garden-ground, to which the suffix ennu refers, with strange grapes, by forming an alliance with a zâr (a stranger), namely the king of Damascus. On the very day of the planting, Ephraim fenced it carefully (this is the meaning of the pilpel, sigsēg from שׂוּג equals סוּג, not "to raise," as no such verb as שׂוּג equals שׂגה, סגא, can be shown to exist), that is to say, he ensured the perpetuity of these sensuous modes of worship as a state religion, with all the shrewdness of a Jeroboam (see Amos 7:13). And the very next morning he had brought into blossom what he had sown: the foreign layer had shot up like a hot-house plant, i.e., the alliance had speedily grown into a hearty agreement, and had already produced one blossom at any rate, viz., the plan of a joint attack upon Judah. But this plantation, which was so flattering and promising for Israel, and which had succeeded so rapidly, and to all appearance so happily, was a harvest heap for the day of the judgment. Nearly all modern expositors have taken nēd as the third person (after the form mēth, Ges. 72, Anm. 1), and render it "the harvest flees;" but the third person of נוּד would be נד, like the participle in Genesis 4:12; whereas the meaning cumulus (a heap), which it has elsewhere as a substantive, is quite appropriate, and the statement of the prophet resembles that of the apostle in Romans 2:5. The day of the judgment is called "the day of נחלה" (or, according to another reading, נחלה), not, however, as equivalent to nachal, a stream (Luzzatto, in giorno di fiumana), as in Psalm 124:4 (the tone upon the last syllable proves this), nor in the sense of "in the day of possession," as Rosenmller and others suppose, since this necessarily gives to נד the former objectionable and (by the side of קציר) improbable verbal sense; but as the feminine of nachleh, written briefly for maccâh nachlâh (Jeremiah 14:17), i.e., inasmuch as it inflicts grievous and mortal wounds. Ephraim's plantation is a harvest heap for that day (compare kâtzir, the harvest of punishment, in Hosea 6:11 and Jeremiah 51:33); and the hope set upon this plantation is changed into אנוּשׁ כּאב, a desperate and incurable heartfelt sorrow (Jeremiah 30:15). The organic connection between Isaiah 17:12-14, which follow, and the oracle concerning Damascus and Israel, has also been either entirely misunderstood, or not thoroughly appreciated. The connection is the following: As the prophet sets before himself the manner in which the sin of Ephraim is punished by Asshur, as the latter sweeps over the Holy Land, the promise which already began to dawn in the second turn bursts completely through: the world-power is the instrument of punishment in the hands of Jehovah, but not for ever.
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