Isaiah 18
Pulpit Commentary
Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:
Verses 1-7. - THE HOMAGE OF ETHIOPIA TO JEHOVAH. Amid the general excitement caused by the advance of Assyria, Ethiopia also is stirred, and stirred to its furthest limits. The king sends messengers in beats upon the canals and rivers to summon his troops to his standard (vers. 1, 2). The earth stands agaze to see the result of the approaching collision (ver. 3); but God rests calmly in heaven while events are ripening (vers. 4, 5). When the time comes he will strike the blow - Assyria will be given to the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field (ver. 6). Then Ethiopia will make an act of homage to Jehovah by the sending of a present to Jerusalem (ver. 7). The time seems to be that immediately preceding the great invasion of Sennacherib (about B.C. 700), when Shabatok the Ethiopian was King of Egypt, and Tirhakah (Tahark) either Crown Prince under him, or more probably Lord Paramount of Egypt over him, and reigning at Napata. Verse 1. - Woe to the land; rather, Ho for the land! (comp. Isaiah 17:12). Shadowing with wings; literally, either the land of the shadow of wings or the land of the noise of wings, most probably the latter. Allusion is thought to be made to the swarms of buzzing flies, especially the tsetse, with which Ethiopia abounds. At the same time, these swarms are, perhaps, intended to be taken as emblems of the hosts of warriors which Ethiopia can send forth (comp. Isaiah 7:18). Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. The prophet cannot be supposed to have had more than a vague knowledge of African geography. He seems, however, robe aware that Ethiopia is a land of many rivers (see Baker's 'Nile Tributaries'), and he assumes that the dominion of the Ethiopian kings extends even beyond these rivers to the south of them. His object is, as Mr. Cheyne says, "to emphasize the greatness of Ethiopia." It may be questioned, however, whether the dominion of the Ethiopian kings of the time extended so far as he supposed. The seat of their power was Napata, now Gebel Berkal, in the great bend of the Nile between lat. 18° and 19° N.; and its southern limit was probably Khar-toum and the line of the Blue Nile (see Rawlinson's 'History of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 2. p. 436).
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!
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.
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.
Verse 3. - All ye inhabitants of the world. From exhorting the messengers to hasten on their errand, Isaiah turns to the nations generally, and bids them attend to a coming signal - an ensign is about to be raised, a trumpet is about to be sounded - let them gaze and hearken; the result will be well worth noting. The imagery is not to be taken literally, but in the same way as the notices in Isaiah 11:10, 12; Isaiah 13:2. When he lifteth up an ensign... when he bloweth a trumpet; rather, when an ensign is lifted up... when a trumpet sounds. On the mountains. Wherever the great event took place, the signal for it was given on the mountains of Judea (see 2 Kings 19:20-34).
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.
Verse 4. - For so; rather, for thus. The word koh is prospective. I will take my rest, and I will consider; or, I will be still and look on. The rest of God is contrasted with the bustle and hurry of the Ethiopians and Assyrians. God "sits in his holy seat," calm and tranquil, knowing what the result is about to be, and when it will be; he waits while the influences of heat and moisture, sunshine and dew - his own agencies - ripen Assyria's schemes, impassive, taking no part. Then, suddenly, he takes the part described in the latter portion of ver. 5, "cuts off the shoots and hews down the branches." Like a clear heat upon herbs, etc.; rather, while there is clear heat in the sunshine, while there is a cloud of dew in the harvest-warmth; i.e. while surrounding influences are such as must favor the growth of Assyria's power and pride.
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.
Verse 5. - For afore the harvest. God can rest thus tranquil, because he can step in at any time; and this he is about to do, before Assyria reaps her harvest. When the bud is perfect, etc.; rather, when the blossom is past, and the green grape is becoming a ripening bunch. He shall cut off (comp. Isaiah 10:33, 34). The metaphor is slightly varied in this place, to suit the imagery of the preceding clause, where Assyria has been represented as a vine-stock. Formerly her "boughs" were to be "lopped;" now her "branches" and "sprigs" or "sprouts" are to be cut away with pruning-hooks.
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.
Verse 6. - They shall be left together unto the fowls. At length imagery is dropped. The vine is shown to be an army, slaughtered all "together," and left a prey to kites and vultures, jackals and hyaenas. Shall summer... shall winter. They will furnish food to the beasts and birds of prey for the remainder of the year.
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.
Verse 7. - In that time shall the present be brought; rather, a present. It would not be at all improbable that Tirkakah should, after the destruction of Sennacherib's army, send a gift to the temple of the Jews, either as a recognition of the miracle as wrought by Jehovah, or simply as a thank offering. Necho sent the armor in which he had fought at Megiddo to the temple of Apollo at Branchidae, near Miletus, as a thank offering (Herod., 2:159). We have, however, no historical record of Tirkakah's present as sent. Of a people; rather, from a people (compare the next clause, which supplies the ellipse of the preposition). (For the rest of the verse, see notes on ver. 2.)

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