Isaiah 7:18
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.
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(18) The Lord shall hiss for the fly . . .—See for the phrase the Note on Isaiah 5:26. The legions of Egypt are represented by the flies that swarmed on the banks of the Nile (Exodus 8:24, and possibly Isaiah 18:1), those of Assyria by the bees of their forests and their hills (Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalm 118:12). The mention of Egypt indicates that some of the king’s counsellors were then, as afterwards (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 31:1), planning an Egyptian alliance, as others were relying on that with Assyria. The prophet tells them that each is fraught with danger. No help and much evil would come from such plans. Consistent in his policy from first to last, the one counsel he gives is that men should practise righteousness, and wait upon the Lord.

The uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt.—The phrase points to the whole extent of the Delta of the Nile, probably to the whole Egyptian course of the Nile itself. Historically the prophecy found its fulfilment in the invasion of Pharaoh Necho in the reign of Josiah (2Kings 23:29), or, nearer Isaiah’s time, in the movements of Tirhakah’s arms (2Kings 19:9).

Isaiah 7:18-19. In that day — Known to God, and appointed by him for the execution of these judgments; the Lord shall hiss for the fly — The flies, rather. Thus he calls these enemies, to signify either their great number, or their speedy march: see on Isaiah 5:26. As the word hiss carries with it a low idea, and does not properly express the meaning of the original word שׁרק, sherek, which properly signifies, sibilando advocare, to call by whistling, it seems desirable that it should not have been used here and Isaiah 5:26. Bishop Lowth renders it, Jehovah shall hist the fly, shall call them softly, bring them by a slight intimation of his will. In the uttermost part of the rivers, &c. — In their extremity, where they go out into the sea. The river Nile is undoubtedly intended, which may be called rivers, either for its greatness, or because toward the end of it it is divided into seven streams. When the Chaldeans had, in good measure, subdued the Egyptians, it is probable great numbers of the Egyptian soldiers listed themselves in the Chaldean army, and with them invaded the land of Judah. And for the bee, &c. — The Assyrian army, compared to bees, as for their numerous forces and orderly march, so for their fierce attempts and mischievous effects. In the land of Assyria — In the empire of Assyria or Babylon; for these two were united into one empire, and therefore in Scripture are promiscuously called sometimes by one title, and sometimes by the other. They shall come — The flies, and especially the bees. And shall rest all of them — They shall have an easy victory; few or none of them shall be slain in the attempt. In the desolate valleys — Such as they found very fruitful, but made desolate. And in the holes of the rocks — To which possibly the Israelites fled for refuge. Upon all bushes — Which he mentions, because flies and bees use frequently to rest there; and to intimate, that no place should escape their fury.7:17-25 Let those who will not believe the promises of God, expect to hear the alarms of his threatenings; for who can resist or escape his judgments? The Lord shall sweep all away; and whomsoever he employs in any service for him, he will pay. All speaks a sad change of the face of that pleasant land. But what melancholy change is there, which sin will not make with a people? Agriculture would cease. Sorrows of every kind will come upon all who neglect the great salvation. If we remain unfruitful under the means of grace, the Lord will say, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth for ever.In that day the Lord shall hiss - see the note at Isaiah 5:26.

For the fly - That is, for the army, or the multitude of people. The comparison of a numerous army with "flies" is not uncommon; see Homer's "Iliad," B. ii. 469, etc.

- Thick as insects play,

The wandering nation of a summer's day.

That, drawn by milky streams at evening hours

In gathered swarms surround the rural bowers;

From pail to pail with busy murmur run

The gilded legions, glittering in the sun.


The comparison is drawn probably from the "number," but also is intended to indicate the troublesome character, of the invaders. Perhaps, also, there is an allusion here to the well-known fact that one of the ten plagues of Egypt was caused by numerous swarms of flies; Exodus 8:21-24. An army would be brought up from that country as numerous, as troublesome, and as destructive as was that swarm of flies. The following description, by Bruce, of a species of flies in Abyssinia and the adjacent regions, will give an idea of the character of this calamity, and the force of the language used here:

'This insect is called Zimb; it has not been described by any naturalist. It is, in size, very little larger than a bee, of a thicker proportion, and has wings, which are broader than those of a bee, placed separate, like those of a fly: they are of pure gauze, without color or spot upon them; the head is large, the upper jaw or lip is sharp, and has at the end of it a strong pointed hair, of about a quarter of an inch long; the lower jaw has two of these pointed hairs; and this pencil of hairs, when joined together, makes a resistance to the finger, nearly equal to that of a strong hog's bristle; its legs are serrated in the inside, and the whole covered with brown hair or down. As soon as this plague appears, and their buzzing is heard, all the cattle forsake their food, and run wildly about the plain, until they die, worn out with fatigue, fright, and hunger. No remedy remains, but to leave the black earth, and hasten down to the sands of Atbara; and there they remain, while the rains last, this cruel enemy never daring to pursue them further.

Though his size be immense, as is his strength, and his body covered with a thick skin, defended with strong hair, yet even the camel is not capable to sustain the violent punctures the fly makes with his pointed proboscis. He must lose no time in removing to the sands of Atbara, for when once attacked by this fly, his body, head, and legs, break out into large bosses, which swell, break, and putrefy, to the certain destruction of the creature. Even the elephant and rhinoceros, who, by reason of their enormous bulk, and the vast quantity of food and water they daily need, cannot shift to desert and dry places as the season may require, are obliged to roll themselves in mud and mire, which, when dry, coats them over like armor, and enables them to stand their ground against this winged assassin; yet I have found some of these tubercles upon almost every elephant and rhinoceros that I have seen, and attribute them to this cause.

All the inhabitants of the seacoast of Melinda, down to Cape Gardefan, to Saba, and the south coast of the Red Sea, are obliged to put themselves in motion, and remove to the next sand, in the beginning of the rainy season, to prevent all their stock of cattle from being destroyed. This is not a partial emigration; the inhabitants of all the countries, from the mountains of Abyssinia northward, to the confluence of the Nile, and Astaboras, are once a year obliged to change their abode, and seek protection in the sand of Beja; nor is there any alternative, or means of avoiding this, though a hostile band were in their way, capable of spoiling them or half their substance. This fly has no sting, though he seemed to me to be rather of the bee kind; but his motion is more rapid and sudden than that of the bee, and resembles that of the gad-fly in England. There is something particular in the sound or buzzing of this insect; it is a jarring noise together with a humming, which induces me to believe it proceeds, at least in part, from a vibration made with the three hairs at his snout.'

The uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt - The remotest part of the land - that is, from the whole country. Egypt was watered by a single river; the Nile. But this river emptied into the Mediterranean by several mouths; and from this river also were cut numerous canals to water the land. These are intended by the "rivers" of Egypt; see the notes at Isaiah 19:6-7. Those canals would be stagnant for no small part of the year; and around them would be produced, as is usual near stagnant waters, great quantities of flies. This prophecy was fulfilled by the invasion of the land in subsequent times by the Egyptians; 2 Kings 23:33-34; 2 Chronicles 35:20, 2 Chronicles 35:24; 2 Chronicles 36:1-2.


18. hiss—whistle, to bring bees to settle (see on [695]Isa 5:26).

fly—found in numbers about the arms of the Nile and the canals from it (Isa 19:5-7; 23:3), here called "rivers." Hence arose the plague of flies (Ex 8:21). Figurative, for numerous and troublesome foes from the remotest parts of Egypt, for example, Pharaoh-nechoh.

bee—(De 1:44; Ps 118:12). As numerous in Assyria as the fly in marshy Egypt. Sennacherib, Esar-haddon, and Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled this prediction.

In that day; known to God, and appointed by him for the execution of these judgments.

Shall hiss: See Poole "Isaiah 5:26".

The fly; the flies. So he calls these enemies, to imply either their great numbers, or their speedy march, or their unavoidable assault.

In the uttermost part; in, or near, or towards their extremity or end, where they go out into the sea.

Of the rivers; of the river Nilus, which may be called rivers, either for its greatness, for which cause the title of rivers is given also to Euphrates, Psalm 137:1, and to Tigris, Nahum 2:6; or because, towards the end of it, it is divided into seven famous streams, by which it emptieth itself into the midland sea, Isaiah 11:15. He seems plainly to design and describe the Egyptians, who were always dangerous neighbours to Judah, and did probably animate and assist the Philistines, and Edomites, and others against them, and at last made a formal invasion and conquest of their land, 2 Kings 23:33, &c. Besides, when the Chaldeans had in good measure subdued the Egyptians, it is very probable that great numbers of the Egyptian soldiers did list themselves in the Chaldean army, and with them invade the land of Judah.

The bee; the bees, the Assyrian army, who are compared to bees, as for their numerous forces and orderly march, so for their fierce attempts and mischievous effects.

In the land of Assyria; in the empire of Assyria, or Babylon; for these two were united into one empire, and therefore in Scripture are promiscuously called sometimes by one title, and sometimes by the other. And it shall come to pass in that day,.... the time when those evil days before spoken of should take place:

that the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt; or flies, as the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions render it; the Egyptians, so called because their country abounded with flies; and because of the multitude of their armies, and the swiftness of their march; this seems to have had its accomplishment when Pharaohnechoh king of Egypt slew Josiah, put his son Jehoahaz, that reigned after him, in bands, placed Eliakim his brother in his stead, and made the land of Judah tributary to him, 2 Kings 23:29 though some think either the Edomites or Philistines, that bordered on Egypt, are meant; who in Ahaz's time invaded Judah, and brought it low, 2 Chronicles 28:17 or else the Ethiopians, that inhabited on the furthermost borders of Egypt, and the rivers of it; who either came up separately against Judah, or served under Nebuchadnezzar; see Isaiah 18:1,

and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria; the Assyrian army, so called because the country abounded with bees; and because of the number of their armies, their military order and discipline, and their hurtful and mischievous nature. The Targum paraphrases the whole thus,

"and it shall be at that time that the Lord shall call to a people, bands of armies, of mighty men, who are numerous as flies, and shall bring them from the ends of the land of Egypt; and to mighty armies, who are powerful as bees, and shall bring them from the uttermost parts of the land of Assyria:''

hissing or whistling for them denotes the ease with which this should be done, and with what swiftness and readiness those numerous and powerful armies should come; and the allusion is to the calling of bees out of their hives into the fields, and from thence into their hives again, by tinkling of brass, or by some musical sound, in one way or another.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the {r} fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

(r) Meaning, the Egyptians: for since the country is hot and moist, it is full of flies, as Assyria is full of bees.

18. the Lord shall hiss …] See ch. Isaiah 5:26. The comparison of the Egyptians to flies and the Assyrians to bees is thoroughly appropriate, Egypt being infested with swarms of flies (Isaiah 18:1), while Assyria was pre-eminently a land of bees. Dangerous enemies are compared to bees in Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalm 118:12. the uttermost part] (or “end”) naturally suggests the Ethiopians, who however did not become masters of Egypt till b.c. 728. the rivers (strictly “Nile-arms”) of Egypt] The word used is an Egyptian name for the Nile.

18, 19. Judah, as the theatre of the inevitable duel between Assyria and Egypt for the mastery of Asia, must endure all the horrors of the double invasion.

18–25. Further announcements (not addressed to Ahaz, but probably compiled from fragments of several of Isaiah’s prophecies) of the Assyrian invasion (18–20) and its consequences (21–25).Verse 18. - The Lord shall hiss (see Isaiah 5:26, and note ad loc.). For the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt. The "fly of Egypt," like the "bee of Assyria," represents the military force of the nation, which God summons to take part in the coming affliction of Judaea. The prophetic glance may be extended over the entire period of Judah's decadence, and the "flies" summoned may include those which clustered about Neco at Megiddo, and carried off Jehoahaz from Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:29-34). There may be allusion also to Egyptian ravages in the reigns of Sargon, Sennacherib, and Esar-haddon. In any general review of the period we shall find it stated that, from the time of Sargon to that of Cyrus, Judaea was the battle-ground upon which the forces of Assyria (or Assyro-Babylonia) and Egypt contended for the empire of western Asia. The desolation of the land during this period was produced almost as much by the Egyptian "fly as by the Assyrian bee." The "rivers of Egypt" are the Nile, its branches, and perhaps the great canals by which its waters were distributed. The bee that is in the land of Assyria. The choice of the terms "bee" and "fly," to represent respectively the hosts of Assyria and Egypt, is not without significance. Egyptian armies were swarms, hastily levied, and very imperfectly disciplined. Assyrian were bodies of trained troops accustomed to war, and almost as well disciplined as the Romans. Thus spake Isaiah, and Jehovah through him, to the king of Judah. Whether he replied, or what reply he made, we are not informed. He was probably silent, because he carried a secret in his heart which afforded him more consolation than the words of the prophet. The invisible help of Jehovah, and the remote prospect of the fall of Ephraim, were not enough for him. His trust was in Asshur, with whose help he would have far greater superiority over the kingdom of Israel, than Israel had over the kingdom of Judah through the help of Damascene Syria. The pious, theocratic policy of the prophet did not come in time. He therefore let the enthusiast talk on, and had his own thoughts about the matter. Nevertheless the grace of God did not give up the unhappy son of David for lost. "And Jehovah continued speaking to Ahaz as follows: Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God, going deep down into Hades, or high up to the height above." Jehovah continued: what a deep and firm consciousness of the identity of the word of Jehovah and the word of the prophet is expressed in these words! According to a very marvellous interchange of idioms (Communicatio idiomatum) which runs through the prophetic books of the Old Testament, at one time the prophet speaks as if he were Jehovah, and at another, as in the case before us, Jehovah speaks as if He were the prophet. Ahaz was to ask for a sign from Jehovah his God. Jehovah did not scorn to call Himself the God of this son of David, who had so hardened his heart. Possibly the holy love with which the expression "thy God" burned, might kindle a flame in his dark heart; or possibly he might think of the covenant promises and covenant duties which the words "thy God" recalled to his mind. From this, his God, he was to ask for a sign. A sign ('oth, from 'uth, to make an incision or dent) was something, some occurrence, or some action, which served as a pledge of the divine certainty of something else. This was secured sometimes by visible miracles performed at once (Exodus 4:8-9), or by appointed symbols of future events (Isaiah 8:18; Isaiah 20:3); sometimes by predicted occurrences, which, whether miraculous or natural, could not possibly be foreseen by human capacities, and therefore, if they actually took place, were a proof either retrospectively of the divine causality of other events (Exodus 3:12), or prospectively of their divine certainty (Isaiah 37:30; Jeremiah 44:29-30). The thing to be confirmed on the present occasion was what the prophet had just predicted in so definite a manner, viz., the maintenance of Judah with its monarchy, and the failure of the wicked enterprise of the two allied kingdoms. If this was to be attested to Ahaz in such a way as to demolish his unbelief, it could only be effected by a miraculous sign. And just as Hezekiah asked for a sign when Isaiah foretold his recovery, and promised him the prolongation of his life for fifteen years, and the prophet gave him the sign he asked, by causing the shadow upon the royal sun-dial to go backwards instead of forwards (chapter 38); so here Isaiah meets Ahaz with the offer of such a supernatural sign, and offers him the choice of heaven, earth, and Hades as the scene of the miracle.

העמּק and הגבּהּ are either in the infinitive absolute or in the imperative; and שאלה is either the imperative שׁאל with the He of challenge, which is written in this form in half pause instead of שׁאלה (for the two similar forms with pashtah and zakeph, vid., Daniel 9:19), "Only ask, going deep down, or ascending to the height," without there being any reason for reading שׁאלה with the tone upon the last syllable, as Hupfeld proposes, in the sense of profundam fac (or faciendo) precationem (i.e., go deep down with thy petition); or else it is the pausal subordinate form for שׁאלה, which is quite allowable in itself (cf., yechpâtz, the constant form in pause for yachpōtz, and other examples, Genesis 43:14; Genesis 49:3, Genesis 49:27), and is apparently preferred here on account of its consonance with למעלה (Ewald, 93, 3). We follow the Targum, with the Sept., Syr., and Vulgate, in giving the preference to the latter of the two possibilities. It answers to the antithesis; and if we had the words before us without points, this would be the first to suggest itself. Accordingly the words would read, Go deep down (in thy desire) to Hades, or go high up to the height; or more probably, taking העמק and הגבה in the sense of gerundives, "Going deep down to Hades, or (או from אוה, like vel from velle equals si velis, malis) going high up to the height." This offer of the prophet to perform any kind of miracle, either in the world above or in the lower world, has thrown rationalistic commentators into very great perplexity. The prophet, says Hitzig, was playing a very dangerous game here; and if Ahaz had closed with his offer, Jehovah would probably have left him in the lurch. And Meier observes, that "it can never have entered the mind of an Isaiah to perform an actual miracle:" probably because no miracles were ever performed by Gthe, to whose high poetic consecration Meier compares the consecration of the prophet as described in Isaiah 6:1-13. Knobel answers the question, "What kind of sign from heaven would Isaiah have given in case it had been asked for?" by saying, "Probably a very simple matter." But even granting that an extraordinary heavenly phenomenon could be a "simple matter," it was open to king Ahaz not to be so moderate in his demands upon the venturesome prophet, as Knobel with his magnanimity might possibly have been. Dazzled by the glory of the Old Testament prophecy, a rationalistic exegesis falls prostrate upon the ground; and it is with such frivolous, coarse, and common words as these that it tries to escape from its difficulties. It cannot acknowledge the miraculous power of the prophet, because it believes in no miracles at all. But Ahaz had no doubt about his miraculous power, though he would not be constrained by any miracle to renounce his own plans and believe in Jehovah. "But Ahaz replied, I dare not ask, and dare not tempt Jehovah." What a pious sound this has! And yet his self-hardening reached its culminating point in these well-sounding words. He hid himself hypocritically under the mask of Deuteronomy 6:16, to avoid being disturbed in his Assyrian policy, and was infatuated enough to designate the acceptance of what Jehovah Himself had offered as tempting God. He studiously brought down upon himself the fate denounced in Isaiah 6:1-13, and indeed not upon himself only, but upon all Judah as well. For after a few years the forces of Asshur would stand upon the same fuller's field (Isaiah 36:2) and demand the surrender of Jerusalem. In that very hour, in which Isaiah was standing before Ahaz, the fate of Jerusalem was decided for more than two thousand years.

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