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An Oracle concerning Ethiopia


Ah, land of whirring wings

beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,


sending ambassadors by the Nile

in vessels of papyrus on the waters!

Go, you swift messengers,

to a nation tall and smooth,

to a people feared near and far,

a nation mighty and conquering,

whose land the rivers divide.



All you inhabitants of the world,

you who live on the earth,

when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!

When a trumpet is blown, listen!


For thus the L ord said to me:

I will quietly look from my dwelling

like clear heat in sunshine,

like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.


For before the harvest, when the blossom is over

and the flower becomes a ripening grape,

he will cut off the shoots with pruning hooks,

and the spreading branches he will hew away.


They shall all be left

to the birds of prey of the mountains

and to the animals of the earth.

And the birds of prey will summer on them,

and all the animals of the earth will winter on them.


7 At that time gifts will be brought to the L ord of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the L ord of hosts.


1. Woe to the land. I cannot determine with certainty what is the nation of which Isaiah speaks, though he shews plainly that it bordered on Ethiopia. Some consider it to refer to the whole of Egypt; but this is a mistake, for in the next chapter he treats of Egypt separately, from which it is evident that the people here meant were distinct from the Egyptians. Some think that the Troglodytes are here meant, which does not appear to me to be probable, for they had no intercourse with other nations, because their language, as geographers tell us, was hissing and not speech; 1212     “The Ethiopian Troglodytes,” says Herodotus “are the swiftest of foot of all men of whom we have received any accounts. The Troglodytes feed on serpents, and lizards, and reptiles of that sort, and the language which they have adopted has no resemblance to any other, but they screech like bats. — Herod. 4:183.
    FT270 “In vessels of bulrushes.” — Eng. Ver.

    FT271 “Scattered and peeled, or, outspread and polished.” — Eng. Ver.

    FT272 “A nation meted out and trodden down.” Heb. “A nation of line, and line, and treading under foot.” — Eng. Ver.

    FT273 “A nation meted out by line, that is, utterly subdued. Heb. Put under line and line, to decide what part of them should be destroyed, and what saved by the conquerors. In this manner David is described, (2 Samuel 8:2,) as having dealt with the children of Moab. See Lamentations 2:8. Such a nation might well deserve to be called drawn out and pilled, that is drawn through the fingers (or an instrument) like a willow, in order to be peeled and made fit for wicker work.” — Stock.

    FT274Videbitis.” “Vous le verrez.”

    FT275 “See ye.” “Hear ye.” — Eng. Ver.

    FT276 “And I will consider in my dwelling-place.” — Eng. Ver. “I will rest, and look round in my dwelling-place.” — Stock.

    FT277 “Like a clear heat upon herbs,” or “after rain” — Eng. Ver.

    FT278 Like the clear heat at the coming of daylight. The resting of Jehovah, hovering over the enemy till they are ripe for destruction, is here beautifully compared to the condensed gloom before daylight, which is wont to usher in a hot summer’s day, and to the sheet of dew that appears to hang over the ground in harvest time presently after sunset. עלי, (ălē,) is here used for near the time of, as we say, against such a time. עלי אור, (ălēōr,) prope lucem, adventante luce. — Stock.

    FT279 Rosenmüller takes notice of another reading supported by the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate, ביום קציר, (bĕyōm kātzīr,) “at the time of harvest,” instead of, בהם קציר, (bĕhōm kātzīr,) “in the heat of harvest,” but justly remarks that it makes no difference to the meaning. — Ed.

    FT280 “That is, their dead bodies.” — Jarchi.

    FT281 “To quit the metaphor, the flourishing leaders of a people, devoted by Jehovah to destruction, shall be cut off and trampled on. The people here spoken of are the Assyrians under Sennacherib.” — Stock.

    FT282 See vol. 1 p. 96
but those who are mentioned evidently had intercourse and leagues with other nations.

Still it is uncertain whether they leagued against the Jews or joined with the Egyptians in driving out the Assyrians. If they were avowed enemies to the Jews, Isaiah threatens punishment; but if they deceived them by false promises, he shews that nothing is to be expected from them, because by idle messages they will only protract the time. However that may be, from the neighboring nations to be mentioned in the next chapter, we may in part ascertain where they were situated, that is, not far from Egypt and Ethiopia: yet some may be disposed to view it as a description of that part of Ethiopia which lay on the sea-coast; for we shall afterwards see that the Assyrians were at war with the king of the Ethiopians. (Isaiah 37:9.)

When he says that that land shadows with wings, we learn from it that its sea was well supplied with harbours, so that it had many vessels sailing to it and was wealthy; for small and poor states could not maintain intercourse or traffic with foreign countries. He therefore means that they performed many voyages.

2. Sending ambassadors by the sea. This relates strictly to the state of those times. It would appear that this nation solicited the Egyptians or Syrians to harass the Jews, or that the Assyrians employed them for the purpose of harassing the Jews, or that they had formed an alliance with the Egyptians, in order that, by their united force, they might prevent the power of the Assyrians from increasing beyond bounds; for nothing more than conjectures can be offered, because we have no histories that give any account of it, and where historical evidence is wanting, we must resort to probable conjectures. These voyages, there is reason to believe, were not made to any place near at hand, but to a distant country.

In ships of reeds. 1313    {Bogus footnote} We ought not to think it strange that he calls them ships of reeds, for it is evident from the ancient histories that these were commonly used by the Egyptians, because the channel of the Nile is in some places very steep and dangerous to navigators on account of the cataracts, which the Greeks call Κατάδουπα, so that ships of wood cannot be used at those places without being broken and dashed to pieces on the rocks; and therefore it is necessary to employ ships of pliant materials. That the ships might not admit water and thus be sunk, historians tell us that they were daubed within with pitch.

Go, ye swift messengers. This passage is obscure, but I shall follow what I consider to be probable. The Prophet shews the design of his prediction, or the reason why he foretold the destruction of that nation. If we believe them to have been the avowed enemies of the Jews, the design was to afford some consolation to believers who were wretchedly broken up and scattered, that having received this message they might rejoice and give thanks to God. But if we rather think that the Jews were led by this nation into an unlawful league, we must then consider that this exhortation is ironical, and that the Prophet intended to reprove the folly of the chosen people, in forsaking God and relying on useless aid. Some think that these words were spoken by God, as if he commanded those nations who inhabited the sea-coast to destroy the Jews; but I am not at all of that opinion.

To a nation scattered and plundered. 1414    {Bogus footnote} I do not agree with those who think that these words describe the destruction of that unknown and obscure nation; for by “a plundered nation” he means the Jews who were to be grievously harassed and scattered, so that no part of them escaped injury.

To a people terrible from their beginning hitherto. He calls it terrible, because so great calamities would disfigure it in such a manner that all who beheld it would be struck with terror. I cannot approve of the exposition given by some, that this relates to the signs and miracles which the Lord performed amongst them, so as to render them an object of dread to all men; for the allusion is rather to that passage in the writings of Moses, “The Lord will make thee an astonishment and a terror.” Deuteronomy 28:37 In like manner it is said elsewhere, “for the shaking of the head and mockery.” (Jeremiah 18:16; 19:8; 25:9, 13, 18.) He therefore means that they are a nation so dreadful to behold as to fill all men with astonishment, and we know that this was foretold and that it also happened to the Jews.

A nation trodden down on every side. 1515    {Bogus footnote} קו קו, (kav-kav,) that is, on every side, as if one drew lines and joined them so closely that no space was left between them, or as if one drew furrows in a field so as to break every clod; for in this manner was the nation thrown down and trampled under foot. 1616    {Bogus footnote}

Whose land the rivers have spoiled. By the rivers he means the vast army of the enemies, that is, of the Assyrians. He alludes to what he had formerly said, that the nation, not satisfied with its own little stream, longed for rapid and boisterous rivers. (Isaiah 8:6.) After having applied to them for assistance, they were overwhelmed by them as by a deluge; and the reason of the whole evil was this, that they were not satisfied with the promises of God, and sought assistance in another quarter. Now, if this command is understood to be given to the swift messengers in the name of God, we infer from it that he does not immediately assist his own people, but delays his aid till they are brought to a state of despair. He does not send to them a cheerful and prosperous message while they are still uninjured, or when they have received a light stroke, but he sends a message to a nation altogether trodden down and trampled under foot. Yet when he commands them to make haste, he means that the judgment will be sudden and unexpected, so that light will suddenly burst forth amidst the darkness.

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