Isaiah 18 – Concerning Ethiopia
“To us, this brief chapter is the most difficult one of all the sixty-six chapters of Isaiah” (Bultema).“Although the prophecy is a short one, it probably ranks as the most obscure chapter in this entire section” (Wolf). “This is one of the most obscure prophecies in the whole Book of Isaiah” (Clarke).
A. No need to make an alliance with Ethiopia.
1. (1-2) A word directed to Ethiopia.
Woe to the land shadowed with buzzing wings,
Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,
Which sends ambassadors by sea,
Even in vessels of reed on the waters, saying,
“Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth of skin,
To a people terrible from their beginning onward,
A nation powerful and treading down,
Whose land the rivers divide.”
a. Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: In the days of Isaiah, Ethiopia was a major world power, ruling Egypt and a chief rival to Assyria. Since Judah was caught in the middle of this conflict, it might make sense for Judah to align herself with Ethiopia against Assyria.
i. “In 715 B.C. an Ethiopian named Shabako gained control of Egypt as founder of the twenty-fifth dynasty. Ethiopian domination continued until 633 B.C. when a native Egyptian regained the throne.” (Wolf)
ii. “The term designates a much larger area than present-day Ethiopia – an area including the Sudan and Somalia.” (Grogan)
b. Shadowed with buzzing wings: The Nile Valley is famous for its many whirring insects.
c. Which sends ambassadors by sea: The scene pictures Ethiopian ambassadors who come to make an alliance with Judah and the other nations of the region against Assyria.
d. Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth of skin: As the Ethiopian ambassadors invite Judah to rebel against the Assyrians, they ask Judah to send swift messengers back to Ethiopia (to a nation tall and smooth of skin…a nation powerful), and the Ethiopians would hope to hear that Judah has rebelled against Assyria and aligned itself with Ethiopia and Egypt.
2. (3-6) The LORD rejects the offer of help from the Ethiopians.
All inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth:
When he lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it;
And when he blows a trumpet, you hear it.
For so the LORD said to me,
“I will take My rest,
And I will look from My dwelling place
Like clear heat in sunshine,
Like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
For before the harvest, when the bud is perfect
And the sour grape is ripening in the flower,
He will both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks
And take away and cut down the branches.
They will be left together for the mountain birds of prey
And for the beasts of the earth;
The birds of prey will summer on them,
And all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.
a. The LORD said to me, “I will take My rest”: The LORD God rejected the alliance with Ethiopia because He was more than able to deal with the Assyrians Himself. He could take His rest without the help of the Ethiopians. If God had wanted to muster an army against Assyria, He would have raised a banner or sounded a trumpet. God was fully able to do it and would do it when the time was right.
i. Significantly, there is no rebuke or judgment against Ethiopia announced in this chapter. It wasn’t as if God was going to judge Ethiopia for their offer of an alliance. Perhaps the idea is that it is a well-intentioned but unnecessary offer. Instead, Judah was to trust in the LORD.
b. He will both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks and take away and cut down the branches: God can “prune” Assyria all by Himself. He will destroy the Assyrian army so completely that they will be left together for the mountain birds of prey.
B. Ethiopians come and worship God.
1. (7) The Ethiopians come to Mount Zion.
In that time a present will be brought to the LORD of hosts
From a people tall and smooth of skin,
And from a people terrible from their beginning onward,
A nation powerful and treading down,
Whose land the rivers divide—
To the place of the name of the LORD of hosts,
To Mount Zion.
a. A present will be brought to the LORD of hosts: Isaiah announces a day when Ethiopians will come and worship the LORD and bring gifts to Him to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, to Mount Zion.
b. To the place of the name of the LORD: Instead of Israelite messengers bringing news to Ethiopia of an alliance against the Assyrians, the day will come when Ethiopians will come and worship at Mount Zion.
i. This may have been fulfilled in some way close to Isaiah’s time. But we know it was fulfilled in Acts 8:26-40, when an Ethiopian came to worship the LORD at Jerusalem, and then trusted in Jesus at the preaching of Philip. It was also fulfilled in the strong Ethiopian church of the first few centuries, and the enduring Ethiopian church today.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org