Monday, January 28, 2008

Isaiah, Chapter 18

During my commentary last week on chapters 13 and 14 of Isaiah, I pointed out that, despite the ethnocentric view that the Bible sometimes takes, God's message is still for the entire world. As we have seen so far throughout Isaiah, God has had specific judgments and warnings against Damascus, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and Moab. It may seem that God did not like these people and only liked the Israelites, but we know from reading that it was merely His judgment against them because they had turned away from Him.

Today we see something slightly different because the prophecy in chapter 18 concerns the people of Cush. The Cush were descendents of Ham that were believed to have lived in northeastern Africa and part of what is now modern day Saudi Arabia. Their largest concentration was along the Nile river south of Egypt. We see in the beginning of this chapter that they are called an aggressive people, but God calls for messengers to be sent to them. This is key because it appears that God has a different plan in mind for them other than judgment.

1 Woe to the land of whirring wings
       along the rivers of Cush,

 2 which sends envoys by sea
       in papyrus boats over the water.
       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.

This is clearly not a judgment against them. Clearly the Israelites had already had contact with the people of Cush, and since they are believed to be descendents of Ham they were ethnically related to the Israelites through Noah. This may be one of the earliest instances of the Lord sending out missionaries in His name to spread His love. As we can see from our previous discussions this is a big step. This also sets the stage for what Paul and the early church would accomplish in the New Testament. Clearly God has an open heart and an open mind here because he is not reigning down a judgment upon these people. They had had previous contact with the Israelites that appeared to be friendly (as evidenced by the fact they had sent envoys), so we know they are not a new people. They are also said to be aggressive, but they are not conquering like the Assyrians.

4 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."

 5 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.

 6 They will all 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.

 7 At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty
       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, the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.

If these people were aggressive against Israel, why would they bring gifts to the Lord Almighty? In this they were being submissive to the Lord, therefore, He found them in His favor. According to my study Bible's commentary, they were thankful that God had defeated the Assyrians, so they paid tribute to the Lord. I think this is a wonderful example that shows that even before Christ came, His message was meant for all nations.

One final point that is made here is the fact that the people of Cush, though relatives of the Israelites through Ham, are believed to be ethnically different from the Israelites. They are described as a tall, smooth-skinned people. Many Biblical scholars also believe they were black, and this was in no way viewed in a derogatory way by the Israelites. This proves that even as far back as the Old Testament, God was busy breaking down ethnic and racial barriers simply because those barriers are not as important as His message.


  1. How have we sent his relationship with the Cush progress to the present day?

  2. Do you see any animosity in this chapter between Cush and Israel?

  3. How does this set the stage for future missionary work?


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