Oracle about the mighty nation (Isa 18:1-18:2)

“O land of whirring wings!

Beyond the rivers of Ethiopia!

They send ambassadors

By the Nile River

In vessels of papyrus

On the waters.

Go!

You swift messengers!

Go to a tall nation!

Go to a smooth nation!

Go to a people

Feared near and far!

Go to a mighty nation!

Go to a conquering nation!

Go to a nation

Whose land the rivers divide!”

Quite often Egypt and Ethiopia were united together. The older name of Ethiopia was Kush, one of the older sons of Ham, the son of Noah. Thus there was some relationship with them. Here it seems that they have swift ambassadors that use papyrus paper like vessels to deliver messages. The reference to a tall, smooth, mighty, and conquering nation could be Egypt, since there is a division between Ethiopia and Egypt.

The great sea thunder to come (Isa 17:12-17:14)

“O the thunder of many people!

They thunder

Like the thundering of the sea!

O the roar of nations!

They roar

Like the roaring of mighty waters!

The nations roar

Like the roaring of many waters.

But he will rebuke them.

They will flee far away.

They will be chased

Like chaff on the mountains

Before the wind.

They will be chased

Like whirling dust

Before the storm.

At evening time,

Behold terror!

Before morning,

They are no more.

This is the fate

Of those who despoil us.

This is the lot

Of those who plunder us.”

Here Isaiah warns of a coming thundering water deluge. Many people will come like thunder. They will roar like roaring mighty waters of the sea. However, Yahweh will rebuke them. They will flee like chaff in front of a mountain wind or like whirling dust before a storm. At night, they will say that terror is coming. But by morning, they will be gone. They will be no more since those who wanted to plunder and destroy them will disappear. This could be an allusion to the Assyrians attempt to capture Jerusalem around 701 BCE as told in 2 Kings, chapters 18-19.

Forgetfulness and no harvest (Isa 17:10-17:11)

“You have forgotten

The God of your salvation.

You have not remembered

The rock of your refuge.

Though you plant pleasant plants,

The harvest will flee away.

Even though you set out slips

Of an alien god,

The harvest will flee away.

Although you make them grow

On the day that you plant them,

The harvest will flee away.

Even though you make them blossom

In the morning that you sow them,

The harvest will flee away.

In a day of grief,

In a day of incurable pain,

The harvest will flee away.”

Yahweh, via Isaiah, reminds the northern Israelites that they have forgotten about their saving God, the rock of their lives. Thus when they plant pleasant plants, they will not come to harvest them because they put in the seeds of foreign gods. They make them grow on the day that they planted them, but they will see them harvested. These flowers seem to blossom in the morning. However, in the day of grief and incurable pain there will be no harvest. In other words, their forgetfulness of God has led to this planting that will not have any good result.

The deserted land (Isa 17:9-17:9)

“On that day,

Their strong cities will be

Like the deserted places of the Hivites,

Like the deserted places of the Amorites.

They deserted them

Because of the children of Israel.

Now there will be desolation.”

On this day of destruction, the strong cities of the north would be deserted like the former places of the Hivites and the Amorites. The Hivites were one of the northern tribes that lived in Canaan, supposedly the Semitic descendants of Ham, the son of Noah. The Amorites were southern Canaanites, before Judah took over. However, the Amorites were more spread out into Mesopotamia and into Syria. Within the biblical literature Amorites and Canaanites are sometimes interchangeable. Anyway, after the takeover of Canaan at the time of Joshua, their cities were deserted because the children of Israel left them in ruins. The same thing was now going to happen to the northern Israelites.

The end of idolatry (Isa 17:7-17:8)

“On that day

People will regard their Maker.

Their eyes will look

To the Holy One of Israel.

They will not have regard

For the altars,

The work of their own hands.

They will not look

To what their own fingers have made,

Either the sacred poles

Or the altars of incense.”

The end of idolatry and the turning to the Holy One of Israel will take place on this day of destruction. On that day, they will turn away from the altars that they made with their own hands. They will not look at the idols that they made with their own fingers.   They will turn away from the sacred or holy poles or sticks, like totem poles, and the altars with incense on them. Idolatry will become a thing of the past.

The devastation of the land of Ephraim (Isa 17:4-17:6)

“‘On that day,

The glory of Jacob

Will be brought low.

The fat of his flesh

Will grow lean.

It shall be

As when reapers

Gather standing grain.

Their arms harvest the ears.

It shall be

As when one gleans

The ears of grain

In the Valley of Rephaim.

Gleanings will be left in it,

As when an olive tree is beaten.

Two or three berries

On the top of the highest bough

Will be left.

Four or five on the branches

Of a fruit tree

Will be left.’

Says Yahweh

God of Israel.”

Here is another oracle of Yahweh, via Isaiah, but about Ephraim of northern Israel. This rebuke is against Jacob, not Damascus. There is a reference to the Valley of Rephaim, which is northwest of Jerusalem in the Ephraim territory. Thus this land of Ephraim will be devastated. The fat animals will grow lean. All that will be left are the gleanings of left over grain that the pickers left behind. The olive trees will only have a few berries that were too difficult to pick, since all the others would have been shaken out of the trees. There will only be a few branches on any trees. There will not be much left after this day of destruction in northern Israel.

The destruction of Damascus (Isa 17:1-17:3)

“‘See!

Damascus will cease to be a city.

It will become a heap of ruins.

Her towns will be deserted forever.

They will be places for flocks.

These animals will lie down.

No one will make them afraid.

The fortress will disappear

From Ephraim.

The kingdom will disappear

From Damascus.

The remnant of Syria

Will be

Like the glory

Of the children of Israel.’

Thus says Yahweh of hosts.”

This is another oracle of Yahweh, via Isaiah. Damascus will cease to be a city, plain and simple, as it will become a heap of ruins deserted forever. This did not happen. Damascus would become a place for grazing animals to lay down where no one would bother them. Then we have an implied reprimand for the northern Israelites, as Yahweh says that Ephraim, with the capital city of Samaria, would lose its fortress. The northern Israelites were aligned with Syria or Aram against Judah. The Aramean kingdom would disappear from Damascus, which did happen. The remnant of Syria would give glory to the children of Israel. Thus we have this divine diatribe against Damascus in Syria.