The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 18

Isa 18:1

Isa 18: "A picture of an ambassage of friendship and alliance coming to Jerusalem from Tirhakah, the Ethiopian king of Egypt. Yet everything about succeeding prophecies suggests Egyptian undependability and deceit, and even hostility. Isaiah gives no encouragement at all to the repeated eager efforts of the faithless statesmen in Jerusalem to make a firm defensive alliance against the tide of Assyrian expansion" (WIsa 223). Cp idea, Joel 3:19.

WHIRRING WINGS: "The significance of the qualifying phrase 'buzzing wings' is uncertain. Some suggest that the designation points to Cush as a land with many insects. Another possibility is that it refers to the swiftness with which this land's messengers travel" (NET notes).

"A strange [wd] which might ref to the buzzing of the flying insects or the whirring of wings or even the reverberation of cymbals. In fact, it is almost the same as the local name for the tsetse fly, and is perhaps chosen to suggest the hornet which Moses used as a sym for the might of the Pharaohs... There is evidence, too, that the ancient sym for Ethiopia was the sun's disc with a prominent pair of wings" (WIsa 223).

RIVERS OF CUSH: The several branches of the Nile delta.

CUSH: Or Ethiopia. Used with ref to the ruling Egyptian dynasty, for Tirhakah (Isa 37:9) and his predecessors were a Cushite family from the extreme south.

Isa 18:2

PAPYRUS BOATS: "Gomeh" = papyrus -- ie Exo 2:3; Job 8:11; 9:26; Isa 35:7. Such reed boats are still in use in Lake Tana in Ethiopia -- the source of the Blue Nile. Similar boats were used by Thor Heyerdahl in the "Ra" expedition (Tes 48:391). Or poss, simply the papyrus sails of the Egyptian skiffs. Perhaps the "papyrus" suggests "paper" promises of the ambassadors -- ie, trivial, flimsy, undependable. "Thus, gently, the prophet's later slurs against Egyptian undependability are anticipated (Isa 30:5,7; 31:3)" (WIsa 224).

TALL AND SMOOTH-SKINNED: "Scattered and peeled" (KJV). "Tall and smooth" (RSV, ASV, WEB). "Strange and harsh" (LXX). "Drawn out and polished" (Roth). "Tall and of glossy skin" (JPS). "Tall, smooth-skinned": "The precise meaning of the qualifying terms is uncertain... Lexicographers theorize that it here refers to people who 'stretch out,' as it were, or are tall (as BDB, HAL). The second term is a participle from 'to pull out [hair]'... to 'become bald' or 'be wiped clean'. Lexicographers theorize that the word here refs to people with bare, or smooth, skin (BDB, HAL). These proposed meanings, which are based on etymological speculation, must be regarded as tentative" (NET and notes).

But... do these phrases describe the Egyptians? Or the people to whom their ambassadors go -- ie the people of Israel? HAW suggests: "dragged away and plucked off (their Land), or (poss) flayed" (cp Isa 50:6), and calls this "a picture of people destined to face desperate hardship when the invader takes multitudes of them off into captivity in a far-off land" (WIsa 224).

TALL: Or "scattered", or "dragged away": the Jewish dispersion (ie Deu 29:28; Luk 19:44; Mat 23:38), this time at the hand of the Assyrians.

WHOSE LAND IS DIVIDED BY RIVERS: The land of Egypt is divided by the branches of the Nile delta. But... the land of Israel/Judah has been "divided" by the rivers of the mighty army of the king of Assyria (Isa 17:12-14; cp Isa 8:7,8)!

Isa 18:3

BANNER... TRUMPET: Usually, to call to war, but in this to call the nations to celebrate the peace achieved by God's awesome overthrow of Sennacherib's host (2Ch 32:23).

BANNER: Christ in Isa 11:10.

TRUMPET: // Joel 2:15; Psa 81:3. Sounds of Jubilee, when Israelites return to claim their own Land!

Isa 18:4

I WILL REMAIN QUIET: But only until... See Isa 62:1.

MY DWELLING PLACE: The Temple mount at Jerusalem, which will remain inviolate from the Assyrian hordes.

LIKE SHIMMERING HEAT IN THE SUNSHINE: "As the light of mid-day heat" (LXX). The Glory of the Lord, the pillar of cloud and fire, which protected Israel coming out of Egypt (Exo 14:20). Heat = the devouring fire used by the Angel to destroy the Assyrian army (Isa 30:30).

LIKE A CLOUD OF DEW IN THE HEAT OF HARVEST: A phenomenon in Israel: a cloud of dew hovering over the grain in the early morning. Implying coolness before the heat of the day; refreshing (Baly 45). Cp general idea, Pro 25:13; 2Sa 23:4; Psa 72:6.

Isa 18:6

"By common consent, 'they' are the Assyrian plunderers suddenly brought low in Judea. The grim figure of vultures and wild beasts gorging themselves on mounds of carcases is ghoulish enough. But the details are impressive. The siege of Jerusalem took place at Passover (Isa 31:5; 26:20; 33:20; 29:1). Here is an indication that through the summer and into the winter the wild creatures would still be foraging for their food among the piles of the dead. 185,000 -- no less! (Isa 37:36)" (WIsa 225). Cp generally Eze 38:20; 39:17; Rev 19:17,21.

Isa 18:7

The captives brought back to Judah (Isa 49:8...; 60:6,7; 66:20), bringing gifts with them (2Ch 32:23).

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