Isaiah 18



                        THE HOMAGE OF ETHIOPIA TO JEHOVAH

                                                            (vs. 1-7)


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 (vs. 1-2).

The earth stands agaze to see the result of the approaching collision

(v. 3); but God rests calmly in heaven while events are ripening (vs. 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 (v. 6). Then Ethiopia will

make an act of homage to Jehovah by the sending of a present to Jerusalem

(v. 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



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

Woe to the land; rather, Ho for the land! (compare ch. 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

(compare ch. 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, to be 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).


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!”  That sendeth

ambassadors; rather, perhaps, messengers, as the word is translated in 

ch. 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 

ch. 19:5. Vessels of papyrus could not possibly have been employed in the

very difficult navigation of the Red SeaVessels 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

monumentsSaying. 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 (II 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 (ibid. 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;

ratherwhose 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 soil. 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.


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.”

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 ch. 11:10, 12

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 II Kings 19:20-34).


Many student of the Word consider the “ensign” mentioned here

to be the ark of the tabernacle, which was later transferred to the

temple.  It disappeared at the time of the Babylonian captivity, and

there is a tradition which says it was carried to Ethiopia.  I have been

told that there is a church in that land that claims to have the ark. 

I don’t know if is true or not, but an ensign will come out of that land. 

                                                                        (J. Vernon McGee)


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, and like a cloud of dew in the

heat of harvest.”  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 v. 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 sunshinewhile 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.


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.”  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 (compare ch. 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.


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.” 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 hyaenasShall summer... shall winter. They will furnish food to the beasts

and birds of prey for the remainder of the year.


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; 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 (Herodotus 2:159).  We have, however, no

historical record of Tirkakah’s present as sent.  Of a people (compare the next

clause, which supplies the ellipse of the preposition).  For the rest of the verse

see notes on v. 2.


This is evidently a reference to the time when the kingdom of Christ will be

established on this earth and the Ethiopians will come again to Jerusalem to

worship.  There is no judgment spoken against them.  In Psalm 87:4, evidently

in reply to what he is doing in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian answers that “he was

born there.”  God has wonderful things to say about Ethiopia.

                                                                                    (J. Vernon McGee)


Who knows the influence that the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion

to Christ had on that country in the Christian era? – Acts 8:26-40



                                    ADDITIONAL THOUGTS


The Contrast of Divine Calm with Human Bustle, Hurry,  and Excitement.

                                                (vs. 1-4)


When men take a matter in hand wherein they feel an interest, and set

themselves either to carry out a certain design of their own, or to frustrate

the designs of others, nothing is more remarkable than (if we may use a

vulgarism) the “fuss” that they make about it. Heaven and earth are moved,

so to speak, for the accomplishment of the desired end; the entire nation is

excited, stirred, thrilled to its lowest depths; a universal eagerness prevails;

all is noise, clamor, haste, bustle, tumult, whirl, confusion. Assyria’s

noise” is compared (Isaiah 17:12) to the roar of the sea, and the

rushing of mighty waters. Ethiopia’s stir is like the sound of many wings

(Isaiah 18:1). Even Cyrus, though he has a Divine mission, cannot set

about it without “the noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a

great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered

together” (Isaiah 13:4). It is in vain that men are told to “stand still and

see the salvation of God” (Exodus 14:13), or admonished that “in

quietness and confidence should be their strength” (Isaiah 30:15); they

cannot bring themselves to act on the advice tendered. Great minds indeed

are comparatively quiet and tranquil; but even they are liable upon occasion

to be swept away by the prevailing wave of excited feeling, and dragged, as

it were, from their moorings into a turbid ocean. And the mass of mankind

is wholly without calm or stability. It trembles, flutters, rushes hither and

thither, mistakes activity for energy, and “fussiness” for the power of

achievement. This condition of things results from three weaknesses in



  • His want of patience.
  • His want of confidence in himself.
  • His want of confidence in God.



I. MAN’S WANT OF PATIENCE. Man desires to obtain whatever end he

sets himself at once. The boy is impatient to be grown up, the private

would at once be a general, the clerk a partner, the student a professor of

his science. Men “make haste to be rich” (Proverbs 28:20), and

overshoot the mark, and fall hack into poverty. They strive to become

world-famous when they are mere tyros, and put forth ambitious writings

which only show their ignorance. They fail to recognize the force of the

proverb, that “everything comes to those who wait.” To toil long, to

persevere, to make a small advance day after day — this seems to them a

poor thing, an unsatisfactory mode of procedure. They would reach the

end per saltum, “by a bound.” Hence their haste. Too often “most haste is

worst speed” “Vaulting ambition cloth o’er leap itself, and falls on the

other side.”



himself can afford to wait. He knows that he will succeed in the end; what

matters whether a little sooner or a little later? But the bulk of men are not

sure of themselves; they misdoubt their powers, capacities, perseverance,

steadiness, reserve fund of energy. Hence their spasmodic efforts, hurried

movements, violent agitations, frantic rushings hither and thither. If they do

not gain their end at once, they despair of ever attaining it. They are

conscious of infinite weakness in themselves, and feel that they cannot tell

what a day may bring forth in the way of defeat and disappointment. They

say that it is necessary to strike while the iron is hot; but their real reason

for haste is that they question whether their ability to strike will not have

passed away if they delay ever so little.



God is on his side has no need to disquiet himself. He will not fear the

powers of darkness; he will not be afraid of what flesh can do unto him.

But comparatively few men have this feeling. Either they put the thoughts

of God altogether away from them, or they view Him as an enemy, or they

misdoubt, at any rate, His sympathy with themselves. Mostly they feel that

they do not deserve His sympathy. They cannot “rest in the Lord,” and

they cannot find rest outside of Him. Hence they remain in perpetual

disturbance and unrest. Strangely in contrast with man’s unquiet is God’s

immovable calm and unruffled tranquility. “The Lord said, I will take my

rest” (v. 4).  None can really resist His will, and hence he has no need to

trouble himself if resistance is attempted. “The fierceness of man” will

always “turn to His praise.” Time is no object with Him who is above time,

whose goings have been from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). In silence

and calm He accomplishes His everlasting purposes. Himself at rest in the

still depths of His unchangeable nature, it is He alone who can give His

creatures rest. As they grow more like to Him, they will grow more and

more tranquil, until the time comes when they will enter finally into that

rest which “remaineth for His people” (Hebrews 4:9).



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