Isaiah 18 - Outline of Isaiah (MENU page)
This chapter is often described 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 (17:1). Viewed in this way, the Burden of Damascus includes two "Woes" (17:12-14 and 18:1-7).
     As discussed previously, the focus of the Burden of Damascus is more on the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) than on 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 enemies of Israel (17:12-14).
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 (ie., of considerable might)}
and trodden down
{or, treading down, subjugating},
whose land the rivers have spoiled
{HB=baza', divide, cut through}!
woe to the land shadowing with wings...-
This 'Woe' concerns a country 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, the sense here 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 go into greater detail about the unwise alliances into which the kings of Israel and Judah entered with Egypt. 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 So, king of Egypt, who was part of this dynasty (2Kin 17:4).
that sendeth ambassadors... - The sending of ambassadors works in both directions...
saying, Go... to a nation scattered and peeled...-
The meaning of the text is difficult here. (But consider the Hebrew words shown above.)
  • Some interpreters identify Israel as the nation described in v.2.
    According to this view, Israel has been scattered and peeled from her land, meted out and trodden down by the nations. Their land was spoiled by the Assyrians and Babylonians who came from the rivers (Tigris and Euphrates).
    However, in v.7, the same nation is said to bring a gift to Zion, which seems self-contradictory.
  • It is more likely that this verse describes a strong nation to which Israel turns for protection.
    Consider the NASB translation of v.2b:
    "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 would describe Egypt, whose Ethiopian rulers were from the land divided by the Blue and White Nile rivers. Cush is the ancient name for the region which is occupied, today, by southern Egypt, Sudan and northern Ethiopia. However, the far view is primary (see below).
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:
"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.
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.
all ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers in the earth {HB= 'erets, the land}, see ye... -
The message looks to the future, and beyond regional conflict.
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), 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)... and in some cases, speculating that "the land shadowing with wings" refers to its dominance in air transportation.
     Although these modern nations may fill such a role 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...-
The 'ensign' has dual meanings...
  1. the call of the nations to the closing battle of the age (Isa 5:26),
  2. the victorious One, the Messiah, who will secure the peace of His people (Isa 11:10-12).
the LORD said... I will take my rest... - cp. v.4 (and its alternate reading, above) with Jer 17:5-10.
The Lord is not troubled by the noise of the nations. In His presence, there is peace for those who are rooted in Him. 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 in the work of His harvest, they are refreshed by His shade and dew. Yet, He deals severely with the 'tares' (Mat 13:30)...
for afore {ie., before} the harvest... he shall cut off the sprigs... - cp. v.5,6; Isa 17:10-14; Eze 17:6-10
The full ripening of this world's evil would mean the end of all flesh. Before that terrible end, the LORD will cut the harvest short. The unpleasant result will provide food for carnivorous birds. Rev 19:17,18
in that time shall the present be brought... of a people... to... the mount Zion.-
The people, who remain alive following that judgment, including those of the nation described in (v.2), will present themselves unto the LORD, in Jerusalem. The nations, which had been the objects of Israel's fear (ie., the first 'woe') and of her false confidence (ie., the second 'woe'), will have a part in bringing Israel back to their Rock. cp. Isa 14:1-3; 45:14; 66:20; Mic 4:1-8; Zeph 3:9,10

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