6. Prophecy regarding an unnamed land, Isaiah 18.

Woe—that is trouble, sorrow—is proclaimed against a land the name of which is not revealed but of which the prophet says that it lies beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. It is not likely that Egypt is meant as with this land the prophet deals separately in the next following discourse. What land is meant cannot be determined. Whatever the land, its great offence seems to be that it sends swift messengers in boats of bulrushes to a nation described in the text as “scat­tered and peeled, feared from the beginning (from afar off) hitherto, meted out and a trampling, whose land the rivers have spoiled.” (verses 1, 2)

According to some the reference is to Ethiopia or to Egypt or Arabia. According to Calvin the nation meant is the people of Israel. This is likely. The clause, “whose land the rivers have spoiled,” must then be taken in the figurative sense. Rivers are then armies so that what is imaged is the intermittent spoliation of Israel’s land by the heathen through the centuries of the past. If the “nation” is Israel, the messengers must have been under orders to induce Is­rael to unite with the people of the unnamed land of vs. 1 in a defensive war perhaps against the Assyri­ans. But God’s people must trust in the Lord and may not put their confidence in an alliance with foreign nations.

The prophet now intimates that something great is going to take place, vers. 3-6.

The Lord will raise up a banner on the mountain that all the inhabitants of the world will see and a trumpet will be blown that all will hear, verse 3. Then the Lord will take His rest and will look in His dwell­ing place like a clear heat upon the herbs and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. But before the harvest He shall cut away the sprigs and the bran­ches, and the fowl of the mountains shall summer upon them and the beasts of the field shall winter upon them, ver. 3-6.

The imagery of this last verse seems to be that of a vine or a tree with all it branches cut away so that only the stock or trunk remains. Just what is indi­cated must remain an open question. Doubtless the “banner” of verse 3 is Christ, so that what is here presented is the exaltation of the crucified and re­surrected Savior to the right hand of God in the highest heavens and His gathering all men—the elect of God—to Himself through the gospel as proclaimed by His servants. By His efficacious look the work of gathering the church—a work that is solely His—prospers. In the final judgment, when the house of God is full, the church will be pruned, that is, it will be separated from the carnal seed that riots in its bosom and from the hostile world-power through the destruction of the latter. As delivered out of all their troubles the redeemed of God—the scattered and peel­ed nation—will present themselves to the Lord as a sacrificial gift, verse 7.

This is a conjecture but not any more so than any of the other explanations that are given of this pro­phecy. And to my mind it comes closest to being the right conception.

To us the prophecy is obscure. But it is clear enough as to its essential idea, which is the salvation of the church through the destruction of the total of its enemies. And before the mind of God’s people for whose comfort it was first spoken it must have clarified itself as to its obscure details in the process of its initial fulfilment. That is, they came to know who that unnamed nation was of verse 1. We do not. Implied in all such prophecies is, of course, the mes­sage that Christ died for our sins.

7. Prophecy regarding Egypt, Isaiah 19, 20.

a. The Lord comes against Egypt in judgment, Isaiah 19:1-15.

As riding upon a swift cloud, the Lord comes into Egypt. The idols flee and the heart of the nation melts (ver. 1). The whole land is torn by civil strife; confounded, the people seek counsel from the idols and wizards (vers, 2, 3); this, of course, does not avail and Egypt passes under the harsh rule of a tyrannical king (ver. 4). The river Nile dries up and becomes a bed of stinking pools and morasses. The reeds and flags wither as also the fields and meadows on its banks (vers. 5-8). Its fisheries cease (ver. 8), and the manufacture of linen goods comes to an end (ver. 9). Both proprietors and the hirelings are ruined (ver. 10). The counsellors of Pharaoh that boast de­scent from wise men and kings are at wits end; for they cannot say what the Lord has purposed against Egypt and counsel accordingly (ver. 11, 12). They are confused in their minds and cause Egypt to err and befoul itself like a drunken man wallowing in his vomit (ver. 14). There is general unemployment. Egypt’s civilization comes to a miserable end (ver. 15).

The word of the prophet has come to pass. Today the far greater part of Egypt is a desolation as a re­sult of the drying up of the river Nile and its tribu­taries. Except where still partially watered by the Nile and cultivated, it is bare and depopulated. Three hun­dred and fifty years previous to the Christian era Egypt passed under the dominion of the Persians. Af­terwards it became entirely subject successively to the hard rule of the Macedonians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Arabs the Georgians, the Ottoman Turks, and lastly the Mamelukes, whose system of oppression was methodical so that explorers as late as 1850 were still saying that “everything the traveller sees or hears, reminds him he is in the country (Egypt) of slavery and tyranny. So the Lord had said, “And a fierce king will rule over them” (see above). Yet at the time that this prophecy was uttered Egypt was mighti­est of ancient kingdoms. It was a most fertile region and was called the granary of the world.

b. The terror of Egypt in the day of its visitation, 16, 17.

When the Lord will lay His hand upon Egypt, it will be afraid and fear, ver. 16. Knowing the power of the Lord, it will live in dread of the land of Judah. When men think thereof, they will quake with fear, beholding as they do the accomplishment of the Lord’s counsel, ver. 17.

c. Egypt converted to the Lord, vers. 18-25.

Five cities shall turn to the Lord including Ir-Che- res, the city of the sun. And soon there will be an altar in the midst of the land and a pillar consecrated to the Lord on its borders. So shall the whole nation serve the Lord, not head for head and soul for soul, but the nation nevertheless, the body of the elect (vers. 18, 19). And their expressions of gratitude and praise, symbolized in the text by the altar and pillar, will signify the Lord’s love of them. And when they cry unto Him through the ages because of their op­pressors, He will deliver them from every hostile pow­er—sinful flesh, devil and the world (ver. 20). So will He reveal Himself unto them as their Savior and the fruit thereof will be that they will know and serve Him and praise and magnify His name. They shall do sacrifice and oblation and vow a vow unto the Lord and perform it (ver. 21). So, if the Lord will smite Egypt, He will also heal. And when they turn unto the Lord, He will be entreated of them and heal them always (ver. 22).

But not only Egypt but Assyria as well will be con­verted to the Lord. Thus they will no longer be ene­mies of one another but will be one by a common faith in Christ as united in the truth (ver. 23). And in this spiritual confederacy Israel will have a place as the third with Egypt and Assyria. And that will be a blessing in the midst of the whole earth but only as the fruit of the Lord’s blessing them saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance” (vers. 24, 25) in whose Christ all the nations of the earth are blessed.

Therefore “Israel mine inheritance”. The prophecy is that of trie calling of the gentiles in this gospel period.

d. Egypt in bondage to Assyria, Isaiah 20.

The prophecy originated in the year that Tartan, commander-in-chief of king Sargon (Salmanassar) of Assyria, came against Ashdod, the key to the land of Egypt, laid siege to the city and took it (ver. 1) The Lord instructed Isaiah to remove his garment made of coarse linen and his shoes and go about nak­ed and barefoot in token that the king of Assyria shall lead away the Egyptians and the Ethiopians as prisoners. They shall go naked and barefoot with their buttocks uncovered as a sign of the nakedness of Egypt (vers. 3, 4). And all the inhabitants of the coast of Palestine, with fear and shame, will perceive how foolish they were in making the power and glory of Egypt and Ethiopia their expectation (ver. 5). This is what they will say, “Behold, such is our ex­pectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape!” (ver. 6).

8. The second prophecy against Babylon; prophe­cies regarding Edom, Arabia, Jerusalem and the Chamberlain Shebna, Isaiah 21, 22.

a. Against Babylon, Isaiah 21:1-10.

The prophet beholds the swift-moving army of Elam (Persia) and Media, that as a dust-laden and violent wind in the south, beats against treacherous and nation-spoiling Babylon and sweeps it clean away. The vision is hard; it presents the complete desola­tion of this world-power that has still to make its ap­pearance. The Lord commands, “Go up, O Elam; besiege O Media.” It is He that sends them. For an end must be put to sighing, i.e. to the bondage of His people (vers. 1, 2).

So terrible is the vision that the prophet is seized with pain as a woman that travails. He is bowed and dismayed at what he hears and sees. He is in a maze from the horror that affrights him. The night, hith­erto longed for as a time of repose, has become a time of fear (vers. 3, 4). This is a description not of the prophet’s own reaction but of the state of mind of the Babylonians in the night when the city was sur­prised by Cyrus. It anticipates the anguish of soul of the kings of the earth in the moment of the fall of the culmination of the Babylon of the Euphrates val­ley—the Babylon of Rev. 18, the world-power still to appear in this gospel period. They—the kings—cast dust on their heads, “and cry, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein we were made rich…” (Rev. 18:19).

Now follows a description of the way in which the Babylonians were occupied in the night that the ca­lamity struck. Though the troops of Cyrus surrounded the city, they were eating and drinking and making merry. The only precaution they took was to set wat­ches. That was dangerous as became apparent when the cry reached the revellers in the midst of their ban­queting: arise ye princes! to arms, The foe is come, anoint the shield” (ver. 5). But it is inconceivable that the prophet can make such an announcement. The thing whereof he speaks is a matter of the distant future. So the prophet affirms at this juncture that what he presents is not his own speculation or inven­tion. How were this possible, if Babylon as a world  power is still to be brought into being. But the Lord has said to him, ‘Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth,” that is what the Lord will show him (ver. 6). Having made this clear, the prophet—for he is the watchman—goes on to relate what he sees next: a train of horses, asses and camels. It is Cyrus’ army on the march with Babylon as its destination. But shortly the vision vanishes and the prophet sees no­thing more for some days and nights, so it seems. Becoming impatient, he cries with the voice of a lion, “My Lord I stand continually upon the watch tower in the daytime and am in my place of watching every night” (vers. 7, 8). Barely has he uttered these com­plaining words, when his vigil is rewarded. The vision recommences, and the prophet sees a chariot and a couple of horsemen. It is a sign upon which the Lord imposes His word in explanation thereof and the pro­phet jubilantly exclaims, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground” (ver.9).

The prophet has announced that his beloved people will be threshed in Babylon. He has declared that they will be delivered from the threshing floor. Both will come to pass without fail. Israel must believe this. Indeed a mere man cannot make such announcements. And therefore the prophet concludes this discourse with the emphatic declaration, “that which I have heard of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you” (ver. 10).

b. Prophecy against Edom. Isaiah 21:11, 12.

In the text Edom is called Dumah, which is a trans­literation of a Hebrew noun that means silence, death, desolation. A man cries to the prophet out of Seir—the dwelling place of Edom—and puts to him the question, “Watchman! what of the night?” meaning: when will the night end and the day dawn for my land? The repetition of the question bespeaks the in­tensity of the desire that the night—Edom’s tribula­tions—may soon come to end. But the watchman re­plies, “The morning cometh but also the night.” The answer is obscure, but it fully clarifies itself when placed alongside of the other prophecies regarding Edom such as that of Malachi at vers. 3, 4 of the first chapter, “And I hated Esau, and laid his moun­tains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impover­ished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The bor­der of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever.

In a word, Edom as a nation is reprobated. The day will certainly dawn, but for Edom never,—Edom, in the final instance, the total of reprobate men. By the judgment of God this people will be reduced to everlasting desolation and will be silent in hell forever. Such is the prediction to the initial fulfilment of which all who have explored the country testify. The report is that by the judgments of God the Edom of Israel’s limited world has been reduced to desolation and is thus a Dumah, a land of silence.

The second part of the watchman’s reply to those who question him is just as enigmatical: If you would enquire again, do so; if you would return, then come. But if the destiny of Edom is irrevocable, why should the prophet thus encourage his interrogators to re­turn? It is not unlikely that he wishes to clarify for them his prophecy but at this time is unable becauso he is in need of more light. Fact is that afterwards another and clearer disclosure was made to him re­garding Edom. In the 34th chapter the prophet is again occupied with this people and its land. Here a new light is shed upon his former prophecy.

c. Prophecy regarding Arabia. Isaiah 21:13-17.

The world power must lay its hand upon the tribes that inhabited the Arabian desert,—tribes engaged in commerce. To reach their market places—Tyre, Sidon, Babylon—they have to cross the desert. Here we see the remnant of their caravans, scattered by a force against which they are unable to defend themselves, hiding in a forest far from the regular route to escape the wrath of their pursuers. They dare not leave their hiding places. Destitute of the means of subsistence, they are given bread and water by the natives, “in­habitants of the land of Tema” (vers. 13-15). These tribes, Kedarenes, descendants of Ishmael, are a mar­tial people, that through the ages of the past have distinguished themselves by the use of the bow, and all this in fulfilment of prophecy (Gen. 16:12, Gen. 21:20, 21). And so they have always been able to defend themselves against the attacks of other plundering tribes. They are the master tribes of the Arabian desert. Yet they, too, must succumb to the world power (ver. 16). Their glory shall fail. Their might shall be reduced to almost nothing (ver. 17).

—G. M. Ophoff