Matthew Poole's Commentary
Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:God, in defence of his church and punishing her enemies, will destroy the Ethiopians, Isaiah 18:1-6: an access thereby shall be to the church, Isaiah 18:7.
The land; either,
1. Of Arabia; or,
2. Of Ethiopia beyond Egypt; or,
3. Of Egypt, as some both ancient and later interpreters judge; of whom he speaks more darkly in this chapter, and then explains himself more clearly in the next chapter. But this controversy will be best determined by examining the following description.
Shadowing with wings: the title of wings is oft given, both in Scripture and in other authors, unto divers things which have, some general kind of resemblance to wings, as to the battlements of a house or temple, as Matthew 4:5; to the skirts of a garment, as Ruth 3:9, and oft elsewhere; to an army, as Isaiah 8:8 Jeremiah 48:40 49:22; and to the sails of a ship, as this word is here commonly understood, and as it is unquestionably used in other authors. And shadowing with wings is nothing else but overspread or filled with them; which title may be given either to Ethiopia or Egypt, in regard of the great numbers, either,
1. Of their armies; or rather,
2. Of their ships or vessels sailing upon the sea or rivers: for,
1. In these they exceeded most of those nations who had dealings with the Jews, whereas other nations equalled or exceeded them in numerous armies. But they had an innumerable company of ships or boats, not only because of the commodiousness of the river Nilus, and its’ many branches, and the Red Sea, and the Midland Sea, for navigation; but also because of the frequent overflowings of the river Nilus over their land, which made them absolutely necessary.
2. This best suits with the next verse.
3. Those ancient and venerable interpreters, the LXX. and the Chaldee, who best understood the Hebrew words and phrases, expound it so.
Beyond; or, on this side, as this particle is rendered, Numbers 21:13 22:1, and in many other places. Or, as others translate it, besides, which may comprehend both sides; and so the land of which he speaks is supposed to be situated on both sides of this river or rivers; which is most true both of Egypt and of Ethiopia. The rivers: a late learned writer understands this of three or four rivers of Arabia Chusaeea, whereof one flows into the Red Sea, another into the Midland Sea, and a third into a great lake; which being obscure and very inconsiderable rivers, and running in so distant channels, it is not probable that this land should receive its denomination from them. And therefore it seems more reasonable to understand this of the great river Nilus. which comes from Ethiopia, and runs through the length of that land, and through Egypt, into the Midland Sea; and which is here called rivers, in the plural number, as it is also Exodus 7:19 Isaiah 7:18 Ezekiel 29:3,4, and unquestionably Nab. iii. 8. And so it might well be called, either for its greatness, or for the many rivulets that run into it, or for the various streams or channels into which it is divided; as Tigris, upon the same reasons, hath the same title of rivers ascribed to it, Nahum 2:6. Of Ethiopia, Heb. of Cush; by which he seems to understand either,
1. Arabia, which in many places of Scripture comes under that name, though not in all places, as some learned men contend. Nor doth this place seem to be understood here, because these rivers were not interposed between Judea, in which Isaiah wrote this prophecy, and Arabia; nor were the rivers of Arabia, mentioned before, interposed between Judea and Egypt or Ethiopia: and besides, those rivers were but small and inconsiderable; and therefore, as was noted before, this land, whatsoever it is, would not have been denominated from them, especially when it is not properly situated either beyond them, or on this side of them. But if this Cush be Arabia, peradventure it were better to understand the rivers, or the river, as it was explained before, of the Red Sea, beyond which indeed both Egypt and Ethiopia were, in reference to Arabia. And whereas it may be objected that the title of river or rivers is very improperly given to the sea, it may be fairly answered, that as rivers are sometimes called by the name of the sea, as Euphrates is, Isaiah 21:1 Jeremiah 51:36; so this very word here rendered river is used concerning the sea in the Hebrew text, Jonah 2 3, and indeed may not unfitly be given to the Red Sea, which both for its length and breadth hath a manifest resemblance unto some large rivers which are in the world. And so the words may be very truly understood either of Egypt or of Ethiopia, both which countries in this sense are beyond the rivers or river of Arabia. But this I only propose, and submit to the reader’s judgment. Or,
2. Ethiopia, properly so called; for the Cushites or Ethiopians are distinguished by Herodotus, and divers other both ancient and later writers, into the eastern, which seem to be the Arabians, and the western, which seem to be the Ethiopians under Egypt. And it is probably thought that these Cushites were first planted in Arabia, and, upon their increase, part of them passed over into Africa by crossing the Red Sea, which was; very short and an easy passage, and settled there. And according to this interpretation of the word, the description of the land given in the last clause of this verse agrees either to Ethiopia or to Egypt, as is evident from what hath been already said for the clearing of this dark and difficult verse.
That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!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.
All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.See ye; take notice of what I say and God will do. Or, ye shall see it; you shall be eye-witnesses of this dreadful woe or judgment which I am bringing upon the people of whom I have spoken: The prophet doth in a manner summon all nations to bear witness of his prophecy, and of the accomplishment thereof.
When he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains, and when he bloweth a trumpet; when God shall gather together the nations, as it were, by the lifting up of an ensign, or by the sound of a trumpet, to execute his judgments upon this people. Heb. as when a man
lifts up an ensign upon the mountains, which men can easily see; and as when a man sounds a trumpet, they can hear: no less visible and manifest shall this judgment of God be.
Hear ye; ye shall hear it, as in the other branch.
For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.I will take my rest, I will sit still, and not bestir myself, either to help this people, or to hinder their enemies. God is said in Scripture to rest or sit still, when he doth not work on the behalf of a person or people; as, on the contrary, he is said to bestir himself when he acts for them.
I will consider; or, I will contemplate or look upon them, to wit, the people of whom I am here speaking. So it is only an ellipsis of the pronoun. Now God’s looking in Scripture is variously used; sometimes in way of favour and mercy, as Psalm 25:18 Isaiah 66:2, &c.; and sometimes in a way of anger and judgment, as Exodus 14:24 Psalm 25:19, and, as I humbly conceive, in this place. I know some learned men render this and the next word, I will look upon my dwelling-place, and interpret the place of God’s gracious respect to his church or people, to preserve and deliver it in the midst of all the confusions and combustions that happen in the world; which interpretation seems altogether unsuitable to the scope and business of the chapter, which in all the foregoing and following verses speaks of another sort of people, even of the Egyptians or Ethiopians, of whom therefore this verse also must be understood, or otherwise we make a breach in the context.
In my dwelling place; in heaven, the place where God dwells, and where he is said to hear prayers, 1 Kings 8:30,32, as here to consider men and things as elsewhere he is said to hear and to look from heaven, as 2 Chronicles 6:21 Isaiah 63:15; the Hebrew particles beth, in, and mern, from, being put promiscuously one for another, as hath been noted before.
Like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. The sense is, that God would look upon them, as the sun with a clear heat looks upon herbs, &c. But this may be understood either,
1. In way of mercy, as most take it. And so the sense is, that God would look out and shine forth upon his church and people, and be as comfortable and refreshing to them
as the clear heat which shines upon the herbs; or, as others render it, after the rain; or, as a cloud of dew is in the heat harvest. Or,
2. In way of judgment. And so the sense, that God would look upon them with as uncomfortable an influence as the sun with a clear heat upon the herbs, which are scorched and killed by it; and as a cloud of the dew, which brings dew or rain, in the heat of harvest, when it is unwelcome and hurtful. And this sense seems best to agree with the following verse, which continueth the metaphor of a harvest, and manifestly speaks not of refreshing, but of the destruction of the fruits thereof.
For 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.Afore the harvest; before they receive the end of their hopes, and finish the work which they have designed and begun.
When the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower; when the bud or flower is turned into a perfect but unripe grape, which gives hopes of a good vintage. The body of this people are compared to a vine tree.
He; the Lord, who is easily understood from the foregoing verse, and who is here represented under the notion of a husbandman or vine-dresser.
Take away and cut down the branches; instead of the gathering of the grapes, he shall cut down the body and branches of the tree, and throw it into the fire.
They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.The sprigs and branches being cut down and thrown upon the ground, with the unripe grapes upon them, they shall lie upon the earth neglected by men, as being unripe, and unfit for their use, so that either birds or beasts may shelter themselves with them, or feed on them, both summer and winter. You are not to understand that the summer is appropriated to the fowls, and the winter to the beasts; but this is only an elegancy of the Hebrew language to use such distributions, of which we have many instances in prophetical writings.
In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.In that day; which is to be taken largely and indefinitely, as it is frequently in the prophets, as we have already seen, and shall more fully see hereafter. At or after that time, when the judgment threatened in the foregoing verses shall be fully and completely executed, whereby that people will be awakened to repentance.
A people; the people of whom I am speaking shall present and offer themselves and their sacrifices unto the true God. He speaks of their conversion to God and Christ by the preaching of the gospel; the accomplishment of which promise is recorded in the histories of the church.