Isaiah 18:1

A Prophecy Against Cush

1 Woe to the land of whirring wings[a]along the rivers of Cush,[b]

Isaiah 18:1 in Other Translations

1 Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:
1 Ah, land of whirring wings that is beyond the rivers of Cush,
1 Listen, Ethiopia —land of fluttering sails that lies at the headwaters of the Nile,
1 Doom to the land of flies and mosquitoes beyond the Ethiopian rivers,
1 Ah! The land of buzzing insect wings beyond the rivers of Cush

Isaiah 18:1 Meaning and Commentary

Isaiah 18:1

Woe to the land shadowing with wings
Or, "O land", as calling to it; so Aben Ezra and Kimchi. It is very difficult to determine what land is here meant: some think the land of Assyria is here designed, as Aben Ezra and others, and so it is a continuation of the prophecy concerning the destruction of the Assyrians, in the three last verses of the preceding chapter ( Isaiah 17:12-14 ) ; the stretching out of whose wings is mentioned, ( Isaiah 8:8 ) and thought to be referred to here; others are of opinion that the land of Judea is intended, which trusted under the shadow of the wings of Egypt and Ethiopia, to whom the characters in the next verse ( Isaiah 18:2 ) are supposed to belong: but the more generally received sense is, that either Egypt or Ethiopia themselves are pointed at, described as "shadowing with wings"; not with the wings of birds, as Jarchi interprets it, which flocked thither in great numbers, the country being hot, and so shaded it with their wings; but rather with mountains, with which Ethiopia, at least some part of it, was encompassed and shaded; or else with ships, whose sails are like wings, and which resorting hither, in numerous fleets of them, and hovering about their coasts and ports, seemed to shadow them; to which agrees the Septuagint version, "Woe to the land, the wings of ships!" and so the Targum,

``Woe to the land to which they come in ships from a far country, whose sails are stretched out, as an eagle that flies with its wings;''
so Manasseh Ben Israel F3 renders them,
``Woe to the land, which, under the shadow of veils, falls beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.''
The word translated "shadowing" is used for a cymbal, ( 2 Samuel 6:5 ) ( Psalms 150:5 ) and so it is rendered here in the Vulgate Latin version, "Woe to the land, with the cymbal of wings": and some think the "sistrum", is meant, which was a musical instrument used by the Egyptians in their worship of Isis; and which had wings to it, or had transverse rods in the middle of it, which looked like wings, one of which may be seen in Pignorius F4; and so it describes the land of Egypt, famous for its winged cymbals. Minucius Felix F5 makes mention of the swallow along with the sistrum, which was a bird of Isis; and which some say was placed over the statue of Isis, with its wings stretched out. Which [is] beyond the rivers of Ethiopia;
the principal of which were Astaboras and Astapus F6, and also Nile itself, which came out of Ethiopia into Egypt: or, "which is on this side of the rivers of Ethiopia" F7; and so may intend Egypt, which bordered on this side of it towards Judea; or, "which is beside the rivers of Ethiopia" F8; and so may denote Ethiopia itself, situated by these rivers. The Targum renders it,
``the rivers of Judea.''
Some would have it, that the rivers of Arabia Chusaea are meant, which, lay between Judea and Egypt, as Besor, Rhinocorura, Trajan, and Corys; and Arabia seems rather to be meant by "Cush", than Ethiopia in Africa, since that lay beyond the rivers of Egypt, rather than Egypt beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.

F3 Spes Israelis, sect. 17. p. 57.
F4 Mensa Isiaca, p. 67.
F5 Octav. p. 21.
F6 Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 9. Ptolem. Geograph. 1. 4. c. 8.
F7 (vwk yrhnl rbem rva) "quae est citra flumina Cuscheae", Vitringa. So some in Gataker.
F8 "Quae est secundum flumina Aethiopiae", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

Isaiah 18:1 In-Context

1 Woe to the land of whirring wingsalong 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.
3 All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.
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.

Cross References 2

  • 1. Isaiah 5:8
  • 2. S Genesis 10:6; S Psalms 68:31; S Ezekiel 29:10; Isaiah 20:3-5; Eze 30:4-5,9; Zephaniah 2:12; Zephaniah 3:10

Footnotes 2

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