The Oracle Concerning Ethiopia (or Cush)

18: 1-7

    DIG: How would you sum up God’s answer in 18:3-6, which they are to bring to the aggressive nation? What do the images of the summer heat, morning dew, and the farmer pruning his garden say about the way God will work with Assyria? How do the events of 37:36-38 illustrate the lesson of 18:5-6? Beyond the Assyrian crisis, what ultimately will result from God’s work among the nations (2:2-4, 9:5-7, 11:10-12, 14:1-2, 16:4-5; also Psalm 68:31)?

    REFLECT: If the LORD's purpose for the nations is unchanged, how does this affect the way you pray for peoples that seem most fearsome to you? How has Christ, the banner who is raised for all to see, transformed someone who is feared far and wide into someone close to Him? The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26 is one example. Can you think of anyone else you know of? Who has been God’s heat and dew in your life? How might you be like that to someone in your circles who is feared far and wide? What would that take for you to do so?

    The woe to Cush is a specific example of the oracle to Damascus and Syria. It puts the message to them in a particular context. This word points to distress, or a threat voiced in the face of present or coming disaster. It is not directed to the Ethiopians, and no word of judgment is pronounced on them. Rather, they are to be the bearers of a message that no alliance against Assyria would succeed. As Isaiah had prophesied all along, the alliance of Syria and Isra'el would fail to conquer the southern kingdom of Judah. ADONAI was using the Assyrians to discipline His people.

    When we think of this prophecy, that the Ethiopians will come to Jerusalem bearing gifts to the LORD, we remember the Ethiopian eunuch who received the divinely guided interpretation of Isaiah 53 in Acts 8:26-39 and became a believer. He represents all those other nations who have brought their gifts to God in Jerusalem, both before the birth of the Messiah and even more since. Isaiah has the long view that sees the reality behind what the other people of his day cannot see.56 This segment provides a transition to the oracles against Egypt, but the poem is not a part of Chapters 19 and 20. It is the closing of the segment that began in 17:1.

    Woe to the land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush, which sends envoys by sea in papyrus boats over the water (18:1-2a). The woe was directed against the land of whirring wings, or the nation of Cush. The term whirring wings refers to swarms of insects, and to Ethiopia in particular. Cush included modern-day southern Egypt, Sudan, and northern Ethiopia.

    Go, swift messengers, to a people tall and smooth-skinned, to a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers (18:2b). Ethiopia has three rivers (two key rivers, and serves as a source for a third one). The first key river is the Atbara River. The second river is the Blue Nile, and the third river is the Nile itself. The Nile, like the Euphrates, is sometimes designated as the sea. Ethiopia is the source for the Nile. From Ethiopia the Nile flows northward into Egypt, and becomes Egypt’s key river. From the Israeli point of view, the land beyond these rivers was the city of Napata, which was the capital of Ethiopia at that time.

    Second Kings 19:9 states that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt had responded to Hezekiah, who was seeking an alliance against Assyria, by marching out to fight the Assyrian king while Sennacherib was threatening Jerusalem (see Gp – The Timeline of Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah). Apparently, Ethiopia sent messengers to Judah. When they arrived Isaiah is the one who speaks to them, and he sends them back with a word of judgment. All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it (18:3a).

    The LORD would defeat the enemy at the proper time. While the people of Cush represented all the people of the world who wanted to see Assyria defeated, Assyria is not the point here. Isaiah helps us see beyond a mere nation to the fact that ADONAI is LORD over all the earth. The entire world is called to witness His Lordship. When the banner of Messiah is raised on the mountains, the world will see it. And when the shofar, or last trumpet, sounds (First Corinthians 15:51-52), the world will hear it (18:3b). So when the signals are given, all the people of the world must be prepared to accept the evidence that God has given us that He is at work in the world. Many times we do not see His hand in events because we do not expect to see it. But having been altered, we will, through faith, see the Hand that controls the universe.

    On the surface of it, it seems strange that God would judge Cush so harshly because she was sincerely trying to help Judah. But her actions, however well intentioned, went directly against the Word of ADONAI through His prophet Isaiah. Is this still not true today? Anytime we go against God’s Word, however well intentioned we might be, our desires, like Cush, will not succeed.

    This is what the LORD says to me: I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest (18:4). These verses contain the content of what Isaiah said to these messengers from Ethiopia. He said that God’s plans would linger much like the summer heat and harvest dew. ADONAI told Isaiah that He would wait until the proper time to cut off the enemy. The prophet had already been given the reasons for this (10:12, 25 and 32). But the Assyrian army first had to complete the task ADONAI gave them. That was to punish the people of Israel by taking them captive. No Ethiopian alliance against Assyria would succeed. The near historical prophecy for Cush would be that they were sentenced to destruction by Assyria.

    For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches (18:5). The LORD carefully watched the state of affairs developing on the earth and then, like a farmer who prunes back his vines, ADONAI will cut off the excess leaves that were not bearing fruit and leave it. God has perfect timing and, like the farmer, will not act too soon or too late. Once the fruit is matured, the LORD's pruning knife will go into action. The near historical context is the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s attack on Hezekiah and Jerusalem. At the last possible moment, when it seemed all was lost for Judah, ADONAI quietly pruned and cut off 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and left them on the ground like so many leaves (see Gw – Then the Angel of the LORD Put To Death a Hundred and Eighty Five Thousand Men in the Assyrian Camp).

    They will be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter (18:6). However, once God’s purposes had been accomplished He would intervene and cut them off just when the Assyrians, like grapes beginning to ripen (or beginning to expand their empire), would be killed and left on the mountains as food for wild birds in the summer and wild animals in the winter (37:36-38).

    But it has a happy ending of sorts because Ethiopia submitted herself, and offered herself to the LORD. It is ironic that the Ethiopians, who did not have the Torah, submitted to ADONAI, but in the final analysis, Judah, who had the Torah and the prophets, would not. But God would honor the submission of the Ethiopians.

    At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers – the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, to the place where the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies lives (CJB), Mount Zion (18:7). After the Assyrian defeat, God would cause the people of Cush to bring gifts to the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies at Mount Zion, where His name dwelt. He says that no alliance that Ethiopia will try to gain against Assyria will succeed. The Assyrians sentence Ethiopia to destruction. It is no accident that Isaiah uses the same phrase, the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB), which Zechariah uses when describing the nations of the world bringing gifts to Him at Mount Zion during the Millennial Kingdom. Therefore, the far eschatological prophesy for Ethiopia would be that in the Kingdom, they, along with people and nations from all over the world, would go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of heaven’s armies (CJB), and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-19).


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