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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 18:1-7

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 21, 2008

A Prophecy Against Cush

Babylon, Moab and Damascus. The nations that surround Judah are being condemned, one by one. Now the Lord’s wrath turns south, to Cush.

18 Woe to the land of whirring wings
along 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.

The original Cush was Noah’s grandson through Ham. One of his descendants, perhaps his son or grandson, was the famous Nimrod who established settlements in Babylon, Akkad and Assyria, including the city of Nineveh (Genesis 10:10-11).

The land of Cush was also called Ethiopia in ancient times, but the borders of the ancient kingdom were not the same as those of the present nation of Ethiopia. The Cush of the Bible was geographically more like modern Sudan and parts of Ethiopia. It was a large territory immediately south of Egypt. The town of Aswan was the northern border of Cush (Ezekiel 29:10, 30:6—it is the location of an important dam today).

In 715 BC, during Isaiah’s ministry, a Cushite named Shabako (Shebitku) seized control of Egypt and began the 25th Egyptian Dynasty. His brother, Tirhaka, is mentioned later in Isaiah 37:9 and 2 Kings 19:9 as “the Cushite King of Egypt.” Tirhaka’s reign began in 690 BC. His conquests took him as far away as the Pillars of Hercules (Strabo, 15,1,6). The Cushites terrified their enemies, who thought of them as huge warriors.

The “whirring wings” of this passage could refer to locusts or to the armies of Cush. Many warriors learn the sounds their opponents make and identify them in that way.

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.
6 They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey
and to the wild animals;
the birds will feed on them all summer,
the wild animals all winter.

Here the Lord shows the answer to so many questions we ask of him—perhaps Habakkuk was the boldest of us all, who said, “Why do you tolerate wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3). Here the Lord shows that he sometimes waits until a people have utterly and completely rejected him, and until their sin has reached its full bloom. Here as the Lord waits quietly as Cush sins and sins some more, he sees the blossom of Cush’s sin fold up and begin to ripen into a grape—and the Lord, without warning, without so much as a shout or a whisper, swings the sickle and Cush is harvested in a single moment.

And yet the Lord’s compassion shows itself again…

7 At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty
from a people tall and smooth-skinned,
from a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
whose land is divided by rivers—
the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

In nearly the same description that was given in verse 2 when it was condemned, Cush is now observed bringing gifts to the Lord—something only a believer can do. They aren’t praised for their faith—faith is a gift—and they aren’t congratulated for their decision to follow the Lord. Faith isn’t a decision we make, either. Faith is given to us by God because he is gracious: “Cush,” which was the enemy of God’s people, “will submit herself to God” (Psalm 68:31).

When did the gospel reach this people? It was Philip who explained Isaiah to an Ethiopian (Cushite) eunuch; one of the first Gentiles we know of who was baptized (Acts 8:38).

The miracle of God’s word is that it works in our hearts—it changes us. I said that verse 7 was nearly the same as verse 2. The difference is the word for “people.” In verse 2, the “people tall and smooth-skinned” are described as goy, a Hebrew word for Gentiles, outside the kingdom of God. Although the word goy is used in verse 7 to describe how Cush is “feared far and wide,” they are also called a “people (Hebrew am) tall and smooth-skinned.” The word am in Hebrew is a word that means a close contact, a part of “our group.” The Jews refer to themselves as am, and everybody else as goy (notice how “nation,” am, is used in Deuteronomy 4:6 compared with “nation,” goy, in Deuteronomy 4:7). But here those Cushites who have faith are also the am, and so are we, through faith in Jesus.

We are God’s own people, “called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:6).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.