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Monday, April 6, 2015

Isaiah 18, Part Three: The Signal

Isaiah 18, Part Three: The Signal

Isaiah had greeted ambassadors sent by a land of "whirring wings, beyond the rivers of Cush", probably referring to Ethiopia, south of Egypt.

The alliance between Judah, Egypt and Ethiopia was condemned by God. Isaiah foretold that nothing would result except shame and disgrace for Judah.

Now, Isaiah tells the ambassadors to look toward the east, to "a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering..."

A People Feared Near and Far

Isaiah 18:2 (ESV) 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.

Who were the people "tall and smooth, a people feared near and far"?

This passage begins and ends with reference to a nation "tall and smooth...a people feared near and far":

Isaiah 18:2 (ESV) 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.

Isaiah 18:7 (ESV) Tribute will be brought to the LORD 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 LORD of hosts.

God, through Isaiah, urged the Egyptian/Ethiopian ambassadors to go to a mighty nation, a land of many people on the march, or expanding its borders at a rapid pace. The ambassadors were to proclaim a great victory ("A signal is raised on the mountains...come look! A trumpet is blown...listen!).

These "tall and smooth" people would later visit Jerusalem, bringing gifts.

There is reference in the historical book of 2 Kings, describing such a visit:

2 Kings 20:12 (ESV) At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah.

The representatives of Babylon had heard that Hezekiah had been miraculously healed of a serious illness:

2 Kings 20:1 (ESV) In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.”

"In those days" refers the impending threat of invasion by the Assyrian army. Hezekiah had prayed, expressing his dependence upon God, and God had healed him:

2 Kings 20:5-6 (ESV) I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.

The Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem was suddenly decimated by God.

2 Kings 19:35-36 (ESV) And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed.

Ambassadors from Babylon then traveled to Jerusalem, probably to inquire of this miraculous conquest over a mighty army.

Isaiah is describing how Jerusalem first drew attention from a mighty empire in the east. Babylon is not mentioned by name, only implied, making this chapter a divine "teaser", a dimly seen vision of Jerusalem's future.

But this is not the first reference to Babylon that can be found in Isaiah's book of visions. The judgement of Babylon was previously described in chapters 13-14:

Isaiah 13:19 (ESV) And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

Isaiah 14:3-6 (ESV) When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: “How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased! The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution.

A people "tall and smooth", a people "feared near and far" would hear a report of divine intervention in human affairs, and would travel to Jerusalem to determine its veracity.

The rumour acted as a sort of signal:

Isaiah 18:3 (ESV) All you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on the earth, when a signal is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet is blown, hear!

Isaiah urged Ethiopian ambassadors to go to Babylon with the news of Israel's miraculous victory over the Assyrian army.

If the ambassadors obeyed Isaiah, news of the sudden destruction of a mighty army would have come to the Babylonians as a short report, describing a major event. It would be as if a guard standing watch in Babylon suddenly spotted a flag raised on a hill several miles away, communicating a message of alarm or urgency.

What do you think?

U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Greg Messier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons