Isaiah 18

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

18:1.  “Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:”


It is widely accepted that “woe” should be “ho,” i.e., a call to listen to what God has to say.


“... shadowing with wings” is understood by some to mean “teeming with locusts,” but by most others, to speak of Egypt where Israel was preserved under Jehovah’s wings, while multiplying into a nation.


... “the rivers of Ethiopia (Cush)” are understood by most scholars to be the two parts of the river, the Blue and the White Nile.


It is to be noted incidentally that nowhere in Scripture is the Nile designated as Israel’s border, her southern border being “the river of Egypt,” which is not the Nile, but the much smaller river that is the eastern border of the wilderness of Shur, and the southern border of Canaan, and that is marked on the better Bible maps as The River of Egypt.  (Jennings, in his otherwise excellent commentary, has erroneously taken The River of Egypt to be the Nile).


18:2.  “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!”  (“...spoiled” is more accurately translated divides, i.e., “flows through,” Egypt being one of the lands through which the Nile flows).


The ambiguity of the KJ rendering of this verse is clarified to some extent by other translations, e.g., “Swift messengers, return to your people (Egypt),” Moffatt; “Let swift messengers return to you destroying nation (Egypt), whose land the upper Nile divides,” Taylor.

“... meted out and trodden down,” is also ambiguous: it means that the Cushites and Egyptians had attacked and subjugated other nations.


The ambassadors were the representatives of Cush, which included part of Egypt; the “sea” is the Nile; and the “vessels of bulrushes” were boats built of papyrus; the “swift messengers” were the Cushite and Egyptian ambassadors.  “... scattered and peeled” is a very misleading translation: in other versions it is correctly rendered tall and smooth: tall and bronzed, ASV.


18:3.  “All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye when he lifteth up the ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.”


This is generally taken to refer to God’s gathering the Assyrians together for what they expected to be their destruction of Jerusalem, but which turned out to be their own annihilation, for God slew 185,000 of them in one night as they slept during their siege of Jerusalem, see Isaiah 37:36.  That destruction however, foreshadows the more terrible cataclysm that will devastate the world in the coming Great Tribulation.


18:4.  “For 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.”


Other renderings of this verse are, “From my dwelling-place I will look quietly down when the heat shimmers in the summer sun, when the dew is heavy at harvest time,” NEB; “... let your mighty army now advance against the land of Israel.  God will watch quietly from His Temple in Jerusalem - serene as on a pleasant summer day or a lovely autumn morning during harvest time,” Taylor.


God is not perturbed by the schemes and activity of men, for they can do nothing without His permission or direction.  That same equanimity should therefore characterize us, for we have His assurance “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28.  We would do well to remember what the hymnist has written:


Why should I ever careful be,

Since such a God is mine?

He watches o’er me night and day,

And tells me, Mine is thine.



18:5.  “For afore (before) 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.”


Another translation of this verse is, “For before the harvest, when the blossom is over, and the flower becometh a ripening grape... the spreading branches will He take away and cut down” ASV; but Taylor gives also the application of the truth here metaphorically stated, “But before you have begun the attack, and while your plans are ripening like grapes, He will cut you off as though with pruning shears.  He will snip the spreading tendrils.”  This foretells the Divine destruction which overtook the Assyrians as recorded in 37:36.


18:6.  “They shall be left altogether 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.”


Their carcases would be left unburied, to be food for the birds and beasts throughout the summer, the bones still being gnawed by the animals through the winter.  This foreshadows what will be in the coming Great Tribulation as recorded in Ezekiel 39:4-5, “Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee: I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured.  Thou shalt fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God.”


18:7.  “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.”


As discussed in our study of verse 2, “... scattered and peeled” is a very misleading translation: in other versions it is correctly rendered tall and smooth: tall and bronzed, ASV, and refers to the Cushites and Egyptians.  “... meted out and trodden under foot,” is also ambiguous: it was the Cushites and Egyptians who had subjugated and enslaved other nations.  In the Millennium these former aggressors will be submissive to God’s rule, and will join all the other nations in going up to Jerusalem to worship Him, Zechariah 14:16-21.

[Isaiah 19]

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
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