Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Isaiah 18:1-3

Message to Ethiopia

1 Alas, oh land of whirring wings
Which lies beyond the rivers of Cush,
Which sends envoys by the sea,
Even in papyrus vessels on the surface of the waters.
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.
All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on earth,
As soon as a standard is raised on the mountains, you will see it,
And as soon as the trumpet is blown, you will hear it.

Chapter 18 is a short seven verses, but we'll spend three posts studying Isaiah's imagery. According to my study Bible, the message is for Ethiopia (or Cush, in Hebrew), a territory which included part of southern Egypt and far beyond, into modern-day Ethiopia. But, there seems to be a lot of debate as to which nation "beyond the rivers of Cush" is the prophecy's focus. Commentator Matthew Henry believes this is a prophecy extension about Assyria's demise. If you follow the link from which I found this map of Cush (see photo credit below), you will find information suggesting that the United States is the nation for whom Isaiah wrote the prophecy. I will tell you this with certainty: This gal is not here to interpret prophecy. I'm just trying to make some sense out of what I read.

The first word of verse 1 is alas, so that tells us that the news is not good for someone. "Whirring wings" brings to mind the locusts of Joel, or the Lord "whistling for the fly that is in the remotest part of the rivers of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria." (Isaiah 7:18) Large, powerful, buzzing armies! This is a land that has made a lot of "noise." Cush, by the way, is also the name of one of Noah's grandsons. Interestingly, Cush and some of the other sons of Ham became enemies of Israel down the line, with Cush being the father of Nimrod, who founded Babel, which became Babylon. (Genesis 10: 6-10) There's a lot of "noise" in that lineage.

The next ideas might also support a nation being from this region, as Isaiah makes several mentions to waterways in verse 2. Vessels made from papyrus or wicker brings to mind baby Moses' basket, hiding in the reeds. The land "the rivers divide" might well be this region, with the Nile and its tributaries breaking up the land. But, there are plenty of rivers in Assyria, too--some that would even lead to the Nile region. We can't forget last week's passage, either: "Alas [note the symmetry], the uproar of many peoples who roar like the roaring of the seas; and the rumbling of nations who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters!" (Isaiah 17: 12)  Noise and water, from Assyria!

The nation was "powerful and oppressive," "to a people feared far and wide...." (vs. 2) We already know what a threat the Assyrian Empire was. Egypt could fit here, but Isaiah has a separate message for Egypt beginning with Chapter 19. (A prequel, perhaps?) And what about Ethiopia? The description of the Ethiopian from the Asbury Bible Commentary falls in line with Isaiah's description: "The tall, bronzed Ethiopian was legendary: Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C., described the Ethiopians as 'the tallest and most beautiful of men.'" Scripture marks them as powerful warriors:

"Now Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and he came to Mareshah."
--II Chronicles 14:9
It is also curious that the Ethiopians play a role--albeit, indirect--in the fulfilling of the prophecy we read about last week, from II Kings 19. We read that God slew the Assyrian army, and even though its king and his cupbearer returned to Assyria, God made the means for their demise to come about there. What helped to put the Assyrian leadership on the run home and made the armies beat louder on the doors of Jerusalem's wall? It was a threat from--that's right--the Ethiopians!

"'Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land....' Then Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king [Ethiopia] had left Lachish. When he heard them say concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, 'Behold, he has come out to fight against you....'"
--II Kings 19: 6-9 (excerpts, brackets mine referencing study Bible note)

With verse 3, the emphasis is taken off the nation in question--whichever it may be--and put on everybody else. What will happen in this moment of "alas" is something that all on earth will witness. A "standard is raised" and a "trumpet is blown." The prophets have used these phrases as indicators of the work of God to come. A standard is not just a signal but a badge of office or authority. [] All will see and all will hear, and it will be clear by Whose authority this work will be done (even if we aren't clear for whom it is being done!)


Isaiah becomes figurative, again, as we look at the Pruner at harvest time.  ...'Til next Wednesday!

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Next week:  Isaiah 18: 4 and 5
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).