Isaiah 18

The Lord Will Judge a Distant Land in the South

The land of buzzing wings is as good as dead,
Heb “Woe [to] the land of buzzing wings.” On הוֹי (hoy, “woe, ah”) see the note on the first phrase of 1:4.
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 (v. 2a); they move over the sea as swiftly as an insect flies through the air. For a discussion of the options, see J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:359–60.

the one beyond the rivers of Cush,
that sends messengers by sea,
who glide over the water’s surface in boats made of papyrus.
Go, you swift messengers,
to a nation of tall, smooth-skinned people,
The precise meaning of the qualifying terms is uncertain. מְמֻשָּׁךְ (memushakh) appears to be a Pual participle from the verb מָשַׁךְ (mashakh, “to draw, extend”). Lexicographers theorize that it here refers to people who “stretch out,” as it were, or are tall. See BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ, and HALOT 645-46 s.v. משׁךְ. מוֹרָט (morat) is taken as a Pual participle from מָרַט (marat), which can mean “to pull out [hair],” in the Qal, “become bald” in the Niphal, and “be wiped clean” in the Pual. Lexicographers theorize that the word here refers to people with bare, or smooth, skin. See BDB 598-99 s.v. מָרַט, and HALOT 634-35 s.v. מרט. These proposed meanings, which are based on etymological speculation, must be regarded as tentative.

to a people that are feared far and wide,
Heb “from it and onwards.” HALOT 245 s.v. הָלְאָה suggests the translation “far and wide.”

to a nation strong and victorious,
Once more the precise meaning of the qualifying terms is uncertain. The expression קַו־קָו (qav-qav) is sometimes related to a proposed Arabic cognate and taken to mean “strength” (see BDB 876 II קַו). Others, on the basis of Isa 28:10, 13, understand the form as gibberish (literally, “kav, kav”) and take it to be a reference to this nation’s strange, unknown language. The form מְבוּסָה (mevusah) appears to be derived from בּוּס (bus, “to trample”), so lexicographers suggest the meaning “trampling” or “subjugation,” i.e., a nation that subdues others. See BDB 101 s.v. בּוּס and HALOT 541 s.v. מְבוּסָה. These proposals, which are based on etymological speculation, must be regarded as tentative.

whose land rivers divide.
The precise meaning of the verb בָּזָא (baza’), which occurs only in this oracle (see also v. 7) in the OT, is uncertain. BDB 102 s.v. suggests “divide” on the basis of alleged Aramaic and Arabic cognates; HALOT 117 s.v., citing an alleged Arabic cognate, suggests “wash away.”

All you who live in the world,
who reside on the earth,
you will see a signal flag raised on the mountains;
you will hear a trumpet being blown.
For this is what the Lord has told me:
“I will wait
Or “be quiet, inactive”; NIV “will remain quiet.”
and watch from my place,
like scorching heat produced by the sunlight,
Heb “like the glowing heat because of light.” The precise meaning of the line is uncertain.

like a cloud of mist
Heb “a cloud of dew,” or “a cloud of light rain.”
in the heat
Some medieval Hebrew mss, with support from the LXX, Syriac Peshitta, and Latin Vulgate, read “the day.”
of harvest.”
It is unclear how the comparisons in v. 4b relate to the preceding statement. How is waiting and watching similar to heat or a cloud? For a discussion of interpretive options, see J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:362.

For before the harvest, when the bud has sprouted,
and the ripening fruit appears,
Heb “and the unripe, ripening fruit is maturing.”

he will cut off the unproductive shoots
On the meaning of זַלְזַל (zalzal, “shoot [of the vine] without fruit buds”) see HALOT 272 s.v. *זַלְזַל.
with pruning knives;
he will prune the tendrils.
Heb “the tendrils he will remove, he will cut off.”

They will all be left
Heb “they will be left together” (so NASB).
for the birds of the hills
and the wild animals;
Heb “the beasts of the earth” (so KJV, NASB).

the birds will eat them during the summer,
and all the wild animals will eat them during the winter.
At that time
tribute will be brought to the Lord who commands armies,
by a people that are tall and smooth-skinned,
a people that are feared far and wide,
a nation strong and victorious,
whose land rivers divide.
On the interpretive difficulties of this verse, see the notes at v. 2, where the same terminology is used.

The tribute
The words “the tribute” are repeated here in the translation for clarity.
will be brought to the place where the Lord who commands armies has chosen to reside, on Mount Zion.
Heb “to the place of the name of the Lord who commands armies [traditionally, the Lord of hosts], Mount Zion.”

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