Isaiah 18


This chapter contains a very obscure prophecy; possibly

designed to give the Jews, and perhaps the Egyptians, whose

country is supposed to be meant, 1, 2,

and with whom many Jews resided, an indignation of God's

interposition in favour of Sion, 3, 4;

and of his counsels in regard to the destruction of their

common enemy, Sennacherib, whose vast army, just as he thought

his projects ripe, and ready to be crowned with success, 5,

should become a prey to the beasts of the field, and to the

fowls of heaven, 6;

and that Egypt should be grateful to God for the deliverance

vouchsafed her, 7.

This is one of the most obscure prophecies in tho whole Book of

Isaiah. The subject of it, the end and design of it, the people

to whom it is addressed, the history to which it belongs, the

person who sends the messengers, and the nation to whom the

messengers are sent, are all obscure and doubtful.-L.


Verse 1. Wo to the land] hoi arets! This interjection

should be translated ho! for it is properly a particle of calling:

Ho, land! Attend! Give ear!

Shadowing with wings-"The winged cymbal] tsiltsal

kenaphayim. I adopt this as the most probable of the many

interpretations that have been given of these words. It is

Bochart's: see Phaleg, iv. 2. The Egyptian sistrum is expressed

by a periphrasis; the Hebrews had no name for it in their

language, not having in use the instrument itself. The cymbal they

had was an instrument in its use and sound not much unlike the

sistrum; and to distinguish it from the sistrum, they called it

the cymbal with wings. The cymbal was a round hollow piece of

metal, which, being struck against another, gave a ringing sound:

the sistrum was a round instrument, consisting of a broad rim of

metal, through which from side to side ran several loose laminae

or small rods of metal, which being shaken, gave a like sound.

These, projecting on each side, had somewhat the appearance of

wings; or might be very properly expressed by the same word which

the Hebrews used for wings, or for the extremity, or a part of any

thing projecting. The sistrum is given in a medal of Adrian, as

the proper attribute of Egypt. See Addison on Medals, Series iii.

No. 4; where the figure of it may be seen. The frame of the

sistrum was in shape rather like the ancient lyre; it was not


If we translate shadowing with wings, it may allude to the

multitude of its vessels, whose sails may be represented under the

notion of wings. The second verse seems to support this

interpretation. Vessels of bulrushes, gome, or rather the flag

papyrus, so much celebrated as the substance on which people wrote

in ancient times, and from which our paper is denominated. The

sails might have been made of this flag: but whole canoes were

constructed from it. Mat sails are used to the present day in

China. The Vulgate fully understood the meaning of the word, and

has accordingly translated, in vasis papyri, "in vessels of

papyrus." Reshi vesselis.-Old MS. Bib. This interpretation does

not please Bp. Lowth, and for his dissent he gives the following


In opposition to other interpretations of these words which have

prevailed, it may be briefly observed that tsiltsel is never

used to signify shadow, nor is canaph applied to the sails

of ships. If, therefore, the words are rightly interpreted the

winged cymbal, meaning the sistrum, Egypt must be the country to

which the prophecy is addressed. And upon this hypothesis the

version and explanation must proceed. I farther suppose, that the

prophecy was delivered before Sennacherib's return from his

Egyptian expedition, which took up three years; and that it was

designed to give to the Jews, and perhaps likewise to the

Egyptians, an intimation of God's counsels in regard to the

destruction of their great and powerful enemy.

Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia-"Which borders on the

rivers of Cush"] What are the rivers of Cush? whether the eastern

branches of the lower Nile, the boundary of Egypt towards Arabia,

or the parts of the upper Nile towards Ethiopia, it is not easy to

determine. The word meeber signifies either on this side or

on the farther side: I have made use of the same kind of ambiguous

expression in the translation.

Verse 2. In vessels of bulrushes-"In vessels of papyrus"] This

circumstance agrees perfectly well with Egypt. It is well known

that the Egyptians commonly used on the Nile a light sort of

ships, or boats, made of the reed papyrus. Ex ipso quidem papyro

navigia texunt. PLINY, xlii. 11.

Conseritur bibula Memphitis cymba papyro.

LUCAN, iv. 136.

Go, ye swift messengers] To this nation before mentioned, who,

by the Nile, and by their numerous canals, have the means of

spreading the report in the most expeditious manner through the

whole country: go, ye swift messengers, and carry this notice of

God's designs in regard to them. By the swift messengers are

meant, not any particular persons specially appointed to this

office, but any of the usual conveyers of news whatsoever,

travellers, merchants, and the like, the instruments and agents of

common fame. These are ordered to publish this declaration made by

the prophet throughout Egypt, and to all the world; and to excite

their attention to the promised visible interposition of God.

Scattered-"Stretched out in length"] Egypt, that is, the

fruitful part, exclusive of the deserts on each side, is one long

vale, through the middle of which runs the Nile, bounded on each

side to the east and west by a chain of mountains seven hundred

and fifty miles in length; in breadth from one to two or three

days' journey: even at the widest part of the Delta, from Pelusium

to Alexandria, not above two hundred and fifty miles broad. Egmont

and Hayman, and Pococke.

Peeled-"Smoothed"] Either relating to the practice of the

Egyptian priests, who made their bodies smooth by shaving off

their hair, (see Herod. ii. 37;) or rather to their country's

being made smooth, perfectly plain and level, by the overflowing

of the Nile.

Meted out-"Meted out by line"] It is generally referred to the

frequent necessity of having recourse to mensuration in Egypt, in

order to determine the boundaries after the inundations of the

Nile; to which even the origin of the science of geometry is by

some ascribed. Strabo, lib. xvii. sub init.

Trodden down] Supposed to allude to a peculiar method of tillage

in use among the Egyptians. Both Herodotus, (lib. ii.,) and

Diodorus, (lib. i.,) say that when the Nile had retired within its

banks, and the ground became somewhat dry, they sowed their land,

and then sent in their cattle, (their hogs, says the former,) to

tread in the seed; and without any farther care expected the


The rivers have spoiled-"The rivers have nourished"] The word

bazeu is generally taken to be an irregular form for

bazezu, "have spoiled," as four MSS. have it in this place; and

so most of the Versions, both ancient and modern, understand it.

On which Schultens, Gram. Heb. p. 491, has the following

remark:-"Ne minimam quidem speciem veri habet bazau, Esai.

xviii. 2, elatum pro bazazu, deripiunt. Haec esset anomalia,

cui nihil simile in toto linguae ambitu. In talibus nil finire,

vel fateri ex mera agi conjectura, tutius justiusque. Radicem

baza olim extare potuisse, quis neget? Si cognatum quid

sectandum erat, ad bazah, contemsit, potius decurrendum

fuisset; ut bazeu, pro bazu, sit enuntiatum, vel

baziv. Digna phrasis, flumina contemmunt terram, i.e.,

inundant." " baza, Arab. extulit se superbius, item subjecit

sibi: unde praet. pl. bazeu, subjecerunt sibi, i.e.,

inundarunt."-Simonis' Lexic. Heb.

A learned friend has suggested to me another explanation of the

word. baza, Syr., and beiza, Chald., signifies

uber, "a dug," mamma, "a breast;" agreeably to which the verb

signifies to nourish. This would perfectly well suit with the

Nile: whereas nothing can be more discordant than the idea of

spoiling and plundering; for to the inundation of the Nile Egypt

owed every thing; the fertility of the soil, and the very soil

itself. Besides, the overflowing of the Nile came on by gentle

degrees, covering with out laying waste the country: "Mira aeque

natura fluminis, quod cum caeteri omnes abluant terras et

eviscerent, Nilus tanto caeteris major adeo nihil exedit, nec

abradit, ut contra adjiciat vires; minimumque in eo sit, quod

solum temperet. Illato enim limo arenas saturat ac jungit;

debetque illi AEgyptus non tantum fertilitatem terrarum, sed

ipsas.-Seneca, Nat. Quaest., iv. 2. I take the liberty, therefore,

which Schultens seems to think allowable in this place, of

hazarding a conjectural interpretation. It is a fact that the

Ganges changes its course, and overruns and lays barren whole

districts, from which it was a few years back several miles

distant. Such changes do not nourish but spoil the ground.

Verse 3. When he lifteth up an ensign-"When the standard is

lifted up"] I take God to be the Agent in this verse; and that by

the standard and the trumpet are meant the meteors, the thunder,

the lightning, the storm, earthquake, and tempest, by which

Sennacherib's army shall be destroyed, or by which at least the

destruction of it shall be accompanied; as it is described in

Isa 10:16, 17; 29:6, and Isa 30:30, 31. See also Ps 76:1-12,

and the title of it, according to the Septuagint, Vulgate and

AEthiopic. They are called, by a bold metaphor, the standard

lifted up, and the trumpet sounded. The latter is used by Homer, I

think with great force, in his introduction to the battle of the

gods; though I find it has disgusted some of the minor critics:-



Il. xxi. 388.

"Heaven in loud thunders bids the trumpet sound,

And wide beneath them groans the rending ground."


Verse 4. For so the Lord said unto me-"For thus hath JEHOVAH

said unto me"] The subject of the remaining part of this chapter

is, that God would comfort and support his own people, though

threatened with immediate destruction by the Assyrians; that

Sennacherib's great designs and mighty efforts against them should

be frustrated; and that his vast expectations should be rendered

abortive, when he thought them mature, and just ready to be

crowned with success; that the chief part of his army should be

made a prey for the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air,

(for this is the meaning of the allegory continued through the

fifth and sixth verses;) and that Egypt, being delivered from

his oppression, and avenged by the hand of God of the wrongs which

she had suffered, should return thanks for the wonderful

deliverance, both of herself and of the Jews, from this most

powerful adversary.

Like a clear heat-"Like the clear heat"] The same images are

employed by an Arabian poet:-

Solis more fervens, dum frigus; quumque ardet

Sirius, tum vero frigus ipse et umbra.

Which is illustrated in the note by a like passage from another

Arabian poet:-

Calor est hyeme, refrigerium aestate.

Excerpta ex Hamasa; published by Schultens, at the end of

Erpenius's Arabic Grammar, p. 425.

Upon herbs-"After rain"] " aur here signifies rain,

according to what is said Job 36:11: 'The cloud scatters his

rain.'"-Kimchi. In which place of Job the Chaldee paraphrast does

indeed explain auro by matereyh; and so again

Job 36:21 and Job 36:30. This meaning of the word seems to

make the best sense in this place; it is to be wished that it were

better supported.

In the heat of harvest-"In the day of harvest."] For bechom,

in the heat, fourteen MSS., (several ancient,) the Septuagint,

Syriac, Arabic, and Vulgate read beyom, in the day. The

mistake seems to have arisen from kechom in the line above.

Verse 5. The flower-"The blossom"] Heb. her blossom;

nitstsah, that is, the blossom of the vine, gephen, vine,

understood, which is of the common gender. See Ge 40:10. Note,

that by the defective punctuation of this word, many interpreters,

and our translators among the rest, have been led into a grievous

mistake, (for how can the swelling grape become a blossom?) taking

the word nitstsah for the predicate; whereas it is the subject

of the proposition, or the nominative case to the verb.

Verse 7. The present-"A gift"] The Egyptians were in alliance

with the kingdom of Judah, and were fellow-sufferers with the Jews

under the invasion of their common enemy Sennacherib; and so were

very nearly interested in the great and miraculous deliverance of

that kingdom, by the destruction of the Assyrian army. Upon which

wonderful event it is said, 2Ch 32:23, that "many brought gifts

unto Jehovah to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah;

so that he was magnified of all nations from henceforth." It is

not to be doubted, that among these the Egyptians distinguished

themselves in their acknowledgments on this occasion.

Of a people-"From a people"] Instead of am, a people, the

Septuagint and Vulgate read meam, from a people, which

is confirmed by the repetition of it in the next line. The

difference is of importance; for if this be the true reading, the

prediction of the admission of Egypt into the true Church of God

is not so explicit as it might otherwise seem to be. However, that

event is clearly foretold at the end of the next chapter.-L.

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