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Deeper Commentary


Isaiah 18:1 Ah, the land of the rustling of wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia- I have commented through Is. 13-17 upon the conditional nature of these prophecies. They envisage a situation in which Babylon and / or Assyria will judge Judah and the surrounding nations, and a repentant remnant from all of them will unite in a multi-ethnic, reestablished Kingdom of God in Judah. But this scenario was precluded by various factors, not least the impenitence of all the peoples; and perhaps foreseeing this, God did not bring about all the judgments to the extent spoken of. The essence of the prophecies however will come true in the last days. Here we have an example- the people of Cush didn't respond to their judgment by coming to Zion in repentance (:7).

The land shadowed by wings may again be a cherubim allusion, suggesting that God's purpose was potentially with them too if only they would respond; for it was His intention that the reestablished Kingdom should include repentant remnants of all the surrounding nations. Or perhaps there is simply a reference to the swarms of buzzing flies, especially the tsetse, which Cush was famous for. Those swarms might also represent their hosts of warriors (cp. Is. 7:18).

We can also read this as a reference to God's land of Judah, shadowed by the wings of the cherubim. The rivers of Ethiopia would then refer to the armies of the Ethiopians, upon which Judah were tempted to trust against the Babylonian threat. The idea would be that they were "beyond" those rivers of human help, because they were surroudned by the wings of God's cherubim, with their associated Angelic chariots.

Isaiah 18:2 That sends ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of papyrus on the waters, saying, Go, you swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people awesome from their beginning onward, a nation that measures out and treads down, whose land the rivers divide!- "The sea" is the Nile (Is. 19:5; Nah. 3:8). The reference is apparently to the huge power of the Ethiopian army (2 Chron. 14:9-13). The terms used here for this nation are legitimately translated otherwise by the AV: "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!". The language here would be more appropriate to Judah. See on :7. The ambassadors in this case would then be representatives of Cush coming to the restored remnant of God's people in Zion, seeking Yahweh of Israel. See on :3,4. And if we read the verse as the modern versions, we appear to have Cush sending ambassadors to her own people which makes little sense.

But if (as discussed on :1) the land shadowed with wings is Judah- then the reference here is to the people of Judah sending messengers to Ethiopia and Egypt, asking for their help against Babylon. When in fact they should have trusted instead upon the shadowing of the wings of the Angel cherubim. They were in any case appealing to a nation "scattered and peeled" (AV), a nation that was to be destroyed, so certainly that their future destruction was spoken of in the past tense. This is the theme of Jer. 46- that Babylon was going to decimate the Egyptian-Ethiopian army at Carchemish. And that indeed happened. Judah's hope was to be in Yahweh, not in the armies of north Africa.


Isaiah 18:3 All you inhabitants of the world and you dwellers on the land, when a banner is lifted up on the mountains, look! When the trumpet is blown, listen!-
The ensign or banner set up on mount Zion in Is. 13:2 would refer to the "pole" upon which the serpent was lifted up, representing the crucified Lord Jesus (Num. 21:8 s.w.). In the latter day application, this is to be the spiritual rallying point for the repentant remnant of both Judah ("the land") and the surrounding nations of the "world" (s.w. Is. 11:10,12; 18:3; 30:17; 31:9; 49:22; 62:10). Although this was precluded from happening at the time because those remnants didn't repent, it will become gloriously true in the last days. Cush at the time could have repented and come to Zion; see on :7.

We could also read this as an appeal to Judah; not to look to Egypt and Ethiopia for help (see on :2), but to realize that their help was right next to them, in Zion, where Yahweh's banner or ensign was to be lifted up.

Isaiah 18:4 For Yahweh said to me, I will be still, and I will be seen in My dwelling place, like clear heat in sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest-
The reference may be to the cloud of glory which was to appear over Zion in the reestablished Kingdom when Yahweh would literally dwell in Zion (Ez. 48:35) and men would see His face (Rev. 22:4) after the final "harvest" of judgment; this was intended to be a place of refuge for the remnants of the surrounding nations (Is. 4:6). The "clear heat" would refer to the full reestablishment of David's Kingdom in the time off a Messianic descendant of his (2 Sam. 23:4). In Is. 16:3, Moab had been invited to come to this refuge, and the envisioned outcome here was that the repentant remnant of Cush would also respond to their judgment by coming to Zion in repentance (:7). So very much was precluded from fulfilment by their impenitence.

Or we can read this as meaning that if Judah had eyes of faith, and stopped trusting upon Egypt-Ethiopia for help against Babylon (see on :2), then Yahweh would visibly appear. The heat of harvest refers to His judgmet of His people; but He would appear like a cloud of dew to save them. In some form this happened, by grace, when Yahweh's Angel saved Zion from the Assyrians- although they generally didn't have faith. Perhaps He saved them by grace anyway. Or maybe the faith of the small remnant was accepted, and salvation was given to them because of that.

Isaiah 18:5 For before the harvest, when the blossom is over, and the flower becomes a ripening grape, He will cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and He will cut down and take away the spreading branches-
Here and in :6 we are reading of how the situation of :3,4 will come about. Firstly there must be a gleaning of the potentially fruitful tree, and only after that the remnant would be harvested (both of Cush and Judah), after the rest of the branches are destroyed by the wild beasts of the earth / land (:6). The Lord may allude here when He taught that the blossom on the fig tree (Judah) and all the trees (such as Cush) would be the sure sign that the final harvest is about to begin (Lk. 21:29-31). The latter day application is to the "pruning hooks" of the surrounding nations ranged against Israel (Joel 3:10 s.w.). The cutting off of the twigs and branches implies they had been unfruitful (cp. Jn. 15:2; Rom. 11:18).

I discussed on :4 the reference here to the gracious deliverance of Zion at the time of the Assyrian invasion. But ideally, that deliverance was to be predicated upon faith and spirituality in Zion. This was not generally forthcoming; and so the vine of God's people were pruned before the harvest, the coming of judgment, so they would repent and the full extent of judgment need not come upon them. These things will have their latter day equivalent in Israel.

Isaiah 18:6 They will be left together for the ravenous birds of the mountains, and for the animals of the earth. The ravenous birds will summer on them, and all the animals of the earth will winter on them-
See on :5. This devastation was to be necessary so that the final harvest could come (:5). The ravenous birds would have been the Babylonian confederacy (s.w. Jer. 12:9), along with the beasts of the eretz promised to Abraham; but Judah weren't repentant and neither were the Cushites as a result of that. And so the fulfilment is in essence transferred to events of the last days. It would be a tiny harvest; but that small remnant would be enough for the reestablishment of the Kingdom of God in Judah. The reference to summer and winter could suggest that there is a one year period in view, after which Cush would repent (:7).


Isaiah 18:7 In that time, a present will be brought to Yahweh of Armies from a people tall and smooth, even from a people awesome from their beginning onward, a nation that measures out and treads down, whose land the rivers divide, to the place of the name of Yahweh of Armies, Mount Zion
The envisioned outcome here was that the repentant remnant of Cush would also respond to their judgment by coming to Zion in repentance (:4). This didn't happen at the time, but it has a deferred fulfilment in the last days, when repentant Jews are sent to call in to Zion these peoples; those who make tall the bow (Is. 66:19, s.w. "tall"). But I noted on :2 the alternative translation and interpretation of this nation as referring to Judah. In this case the "present" brought to Yahweh in Zion would be the Cushites / Ethiopians bringing their Jewish remnant back to Zion- the latter day fulfilment of this would then perhaps have a foretaste in the return of the Falasha Jews from this area to the state of Israel. Gentiles bringing presents to Zion is the language of the reestablished kingdom (Ps. 68:29 s.w.). It could have come about then, when the surrounding nations brought presents to Hezekiah; but human pride and impenitence precluded it. And Hezekiah and his descendants adopted the ways of those nations rather than ruling over them and helping them toward Israel's God.

Another take on this verse would be that as a result of Yahweh's chastening of His people (see on :5), they would become "smooth", the Hebrew meaning 'polished'. And a repentant Judah would be an acceptable sacrifice to Yahweh in Zion. Despite the terrible beginnings of God's people in the furnace of Egypt, they would eventually be perfected through suffering and repentance.