Isaiah 18 - Outline of Isaiah (Book Notes menu page)
This chapter is often labeled as "The Burden of the Land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia."
However, since this section does not begin with the words "the burden of...," it seems more appropriate to view it as a continuation of "the Burden of Damascus" from the previous chapter (Isa 17:1). Viewed in this way, the Burden of Damascus includes two "Woes" (17:12-14 and 18:1-7).
     As discussed previously, the Burden of Damascus is more concerned with Israel (Ephraim and also the whole house of Jacob) than with Damascus. Israel's confederacy with Syria was typical of her tendency to put confidence in men (and the kingdoms of the world) rather than in their "Rock," "the God of thy salvation" (17:10). Their misplaced confidences would reap a terrible harvest. Yet, in the end, the LORD God of Israel would bring their enemies to nothing. The first "woe" was upon the avowed enemies of Israel (17:12-14). This second "woe" is upon a purported 'friend' of Israel.
1. Woe to the land shadowing with wings,
which [is] beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:
2 That sendeth ambassadors by the sea,
even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, [saying],
Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered
{HB=mashak, drawn out}
and peeled
{HB=mowrat, scoured, polished, smooth},
to a people terrible
{HB=yare', dreadful, to be feared}
from their beginning hitherto
{ie., onward};
a nation meted out
{lit., measured out (or, of considerable might)}
and trodden down
{or, treading down, subjugating},
whose land the rivers have spoiled
{HB=baza', divided, cut through}!
[Because the Hebrew text is somewhat ambiguous, scholars differ considerably in their interpretation of this chapter. The identities of the lands and peoples described, in v.1,2, have been debated, at length, without general consensus. The notes below, reflect the editor's understanding, which has developed with time.]
woe to the land shadowing with wings...-
This 'Woe' concerns a land or political entity which offers itself as a protector of Israel, and to which Israel looks for protection. Similar language is used with reference to Egypt in Isa 30:1-3; 31:1. Notice that in Isaiah ch. 30 and 31, the "woe" is directed toward Israel, for placing their confidence in Egypt.
     Likewise here, the sense may be: 'Woe to the land {ie., Israel} seeking the shadow of wings beyond the rivers of Ethiopia...'
     [Isaiah ch. 30, 31 and Jer 37:7-10 provide greater detail about the unwise alliances into which the kings of Israel and Judah entered with Egypt. (From time to time, ancient Israel entered into similar alliances with other regional nations.) In contrast, King David looked to the LORD for his help (Psa 17:8,9; 63:7; 121:1,2).]
which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia {lit., Cush}.-
In Isaiah's day, Egypt was ruled by an Ethiopian dynasty. Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel, sent messengers to establish an alliance with "So, king of Egypt," who was part of this dynasty. In doing so, Hoshea rebelled against Assyria and fomented the Assyrian captivity of Israel (2Kin 17:1-6).
     However, here, the land which offers protection to Israel is not Egypt, for it lies "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia {HB= Kush}." Cush is the name of one of Noah's grandsons.
  • Cush and several of his sons settled in northern Africa. Therefore, his name became associated with the region which includes modern day Sudan, northern Ethiopia, and southern Egypt. This region is divided by the Blue and White Nile rivers. Gen 10:7
  • Nimrod, a prominent son of Cush, settled in Mesopotamia. This region is divided by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Gen 10:8-12 (the land of Shinar is Babylon; the descendants of Asshur populated 'Assyria').
At various times in its history, Israel alternately allied itself with one of these regions, against the other. Yet, here, ambassadors are sent to Israel, from outside of either region. The association of Cush with Babylon, and the LORD's message to "All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth" (v.3), suggests that the ambassadors come from the center of gentile world dominion (referred to prophetically as 'Babylon') which will reach its zenith and its end, in the future Day of the LORD (eg., Rev 14:8).
that sendeth ambassadors by sea... in vessels of bulrushes...-
The meaning of the word for 'vessels' {HB= keli, 'something prepared'} is very broad. It refers to 'whatever' the context requires. 'Bulrushes' {HB=gnome'} is often translated 'papyrus' (Egyptian paper was made from bulrush fiber.) Although the text refers to sea travel, it would be impractical for ambassadors to travel in paper boats from a far distant region. But the text also says that the 'ambassadors' are to be 'swift messengers.' The primary concern of the context is not the means of transportation, but rather an urgent message. This message is being conveyed, not in paper boats, but rather in "paper letters" [in quotes from Brenton's Septuagint Translation]. Perhaps, the envelope contains the 'firm covenant' which the Antichrist will make with Israel and other nations (Dan 9:27).
saying, Go... to a nation scattered and peeled...-
The nation to which the message is sent (v.2) is Israel (including all 12 tribes of Jacob, Isa 17:4).
     Because the HB words have a range of meaning, some scholars apply this description to 'the land beyond the rivers of Cush.' Likewise, many Bible translations support this idea. For example, the NASB translates v.2 as follows:
"Which sends envoys by the sea, even in papyrus vessels on the surface of the waters. Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people feared far and wide, a powerful and oppressive nation whose land the rivers divide."
(In the near view, this might describe Egypt, whose Ethiopian rulers were from the land divided by the Blue and White Nile rivers.)
     However, as we saw in ch.17, the focus of 'the Burden of Damascus' (which spans ch.17-18) is actually upon Israel. Here also, the emphasis is placed upon that people by the duplication of their descriptive features (in v.2 and v.7).
...a nation...
  • scattered - Due to the LORD's judgment for their sin,
    Israel was dispersed among the nations by the conquests of Assyria, Babylon and Rome (Deu 4:27; 28:64). Even today, a large portion of the Jewish population remains in the diaspora.
  • peeled - ie., devastated, scoured, ravaged - cp. Lev 26:14-33
  • a people terrible {ie., to be feared} from their beginning hitherto -
    Because the LORD is great and greatly to be feared, His people project that fear to others. 2Sam 7:23; Ex 15:11-16; Deu 2:25; 11:25; 28:10; Josh 2:9-11; Psa 96:4; Zech 12:1-3
    Inspite of their historic unbelief, God's purposes for His chosen people will prevail. Isa 43:10-12; Rom 3:1-4
  • a nation meted out - ie., marked out by a measuring by line.
    God's written Law, uniquely given to Israel, prescribed His standard of righteousness. Deu 4:8; Isa 28:17
  • ...trodden down - Because of God's judgment upon them,
    Israel was trampled by other nations (Jer 12:9-12).
  • whose lands the rivers have spoiled {divided, ruined} -
    Down through the centuries the armies of Egypt, Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (and more recently Islamic and European powers) have overflowed Israel's land like rivers at flood-stage. eg., Jer 46:7,8
3 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.
4 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
{HB= 'or, light, shining},
[and] like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.
Alternate reading of v.4:
"For thus the LORD has told me, I will look from My dwelling place quietly,
Like dazzling heat in the sunshine, Like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest." [NASB]
5 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.
6 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.
all ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers in the earth {HB= 'erets, the land}, see ye... -
The prophecy looks beyond regional conflicts of Isaiah's day, to future events.
Therefore, some have attempted to identify Great Britain or the United States as the end-times fulfillment of the nation "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" (v.1), by viewing this phrase as a reference to a nation outside the region of the Middle East... pointing to the present worldwide influence of these nations (eg., sending ambassadors by sea)... comparing national symbols (eg., the USA depicts itself as an Eagle with spread wings)... or speculating that "the land shadowing with wings" refers to its dominance in air transportation.
     Although these modern nations may play important roles in the end times, the point of the passage is not to identify a specific nation as the object of Israel's misplaced confidence, but rather, to show all the nations of the world, including Israel {those that 'dwell in the land'}, that the LORD alone is the Deliverer of His people.
see ye, when he {ie., the LORD} lifteth up an ensign {ie., a flag, a signal}...-
The 'ensign' has dual meanings...
  1. the call of the nations to the closing battle of the age (Isa 5:26; Rev 16:16),
  2. the coming (again) of the victorious One, the Messiah, who will secure the peace of His people (Isa 11:10-12).
...when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye...-
The LORD Himself will issue the call to the final battle, by which He will exercise judgment upon the nations. Isa 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zech 9:14
the LORD said... I will take my rest... I will consider in {from} my dwelling place...-
     cp. v.4 (and its alternate reading, above) with Jer 17:5-10.
The Lord is not distracted by the confusion of the nations. He knows those individuals who place their full confidence in Him. Resting and rooted in Him, they enjoy the peace of His presence. There, they find just the right balance of sunshine and shadow. Basking in the heat of His light, they grow to reflect His glory. Serving Him, in the heat of persecution, they are refreshed by His shade and dew.
     Yet, every secret sin is exposed in the bright light of His countenance (Psa 90:7,8).
For the LORD to take His rest, He must put away all sin and rebellion. As the wickedness of mankind reaches its peak, at the end of the age, the LORD examines the hearts of men. He will purge His people and preserve them for His settled dwelling place (Jerusalem and the Millennial Kingdom). cp. Isa 1:24-26; 62:1; Psa 132:13,14
     But He will deal severely with those who refuse to turn to Him...
for afore {ie., before} the harvest... when the sour grape is ripening...
...he shall cut off the sprigs... cut off the branches...- cp. v.5,6; Isa 17:10-14;
'Sour grapes' {HB=boser} are symbolic of the bitterness of sin and its consequences (cp. Job 15:31-35; Jer 31:29,30).
     At the end of the age, as the growth of evil comes to full bloom, the LORD will cut off the crop of ungodliness, before its fruit reaches full maturity. The full ripening of man's sin would mean the end of all flesh (Mat 24:21,22). The 'cuttings' will provide food for carnivorous birds. Rev 19:17-21
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.
in that time shall the present be brought... of a people... to... the mount Zion.-
The survivors from the gentile nations, which had been the objects of Israel's fear (ie., the first 'woe', 17:12-14) and of her false confidence (ie., the second 'woe', ch.18), will seek their King in Zion (as in Isa 16:1,5).
They will rest their confidence in Israel's Rock (2Sam 23:3,4; Isa 8:13,14; cf. Isa 17:10,11).
They will bring to Him a present, consisting "of a people scattered and peeled, and 'of' {not 'from'} a people terrible from their beginning hitherto..." cp. Isa 14:1-3; 66:20; Mic 4:1-4; Zeph 3:9,10

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