Monday, August 15, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 48

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 48

Today we look at Chapter 18, a short chapter which is called A Prophecy Against Cush.

It's not easy to determine the exact location or national boundaries of Cush. The NIV Bible usually has a footnote whenever we see the word "Cush" and that footnote simply says "the upper Nile region". The Jewish Virtual Library states that Cush, a name the pharaohs of Egypt gave this portion of the Nile Valley, is the same place known to the Greeks as Nubia. Easton's Bible Dictionary says that Cush included all the southern territories below Israel, including Ethiopia, Elam, Persia, and Sabea. 

Egypt had been in decline for a while but at around 715 BC the Ethiopians achieved dominance over Egypt, founding the twenty-fifth dynasty, and Egypt enjoyed a period of revival as a world power. In the Bible we often see Cush and Egypt mentioned together, for the people of Cush became Egyptianized. The timing of this Egyptian revival corresponds with the beginning of the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, a king during whose reign Isaiah prophesied. Cush and Egypt set about forming an anti-Assyrian coalition and invited Hezekiah to join them. The first time they did so, he refused. It was during the early years of his reign that Israel and Aram fell to Assyria and Hezekiah feared Assyria too much to join with anyone against it, choosing instead to ally himself with the king of Assyria. King Sargon II was a fearsome man to be reckoned with and if Israel and Aram couldn't stand against him, Hezekiah didn't believe the small nation of Judah could either. Hezekiah was again invited to rebel against Assyria when Sargon II died and his son, Sennacherib, ascended to the throne. The changing of the throne seemed like a good time, to the surrounding nations, to rebel against paying tribute to Assyria, and at this time Hezekiah agreed to join with them. It was thought Sennacherib would be a weak and ineffective leader but he proved to be even more powerful than his father.

Isaiah is warning Cush, and also Judah, that rebellion against Assyria will not stand, for the Lord has determined to discipline a number of nations under Assyria's mighty hand. Cush sends envoys to the king of Judah to encourage him to join with them against the threat of this superpower, but no coalition is going to stand against Assyria at this time because the Lord has made up His mind. "Woe to the land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush, 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." (Isaiah 18:1-2) The whirring wings mentioned here may refer to the locusts along the Nile. Cush sent envoys to see if Judah will ally herself with them and, if so, Judah is to send messengers back to Cush to speak with the people who are tall and smooth-skinned, people feared far and wide because they have gained control of Egypt, taking the throne away from native Egyptians.

As far as prophecies against a nation, this one isn't terribly woeful. We don't find any words of condemnation against the people of Cush. But the Lord is pointing out the futility of an alliance against Assyria. Any nation who resists will find her land ravished. Nobody is going to be able to stop Assyria until the time for her downfall, as determined by the Lord, arrives. The anti-Assyrian alliance does not have the Lord's blessing on it, as Isaiah has been telling Judah's king. Isaiah calls the world to witness what is about to take place in the region. "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." (Isaiah 18:3) This is battle imagery: the sight of the enemy's banner and the sound of the trumpet.

The Lord does not intend to intervene. Assyria will be allowed to march in and overthrow and He tells this to Isaiah. "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.'" (Isaiah 18:4)

There is, however, an appointed end for Assyria. At that time the Lord will step in against her, "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. 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." (Isaiah 18:5-6) 

"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." (Isaiah 18:7) There may have been a partial fulfillment of this prophecy in ancient times when Ethiopians made pilgrimages to bring offerings to the God of Israel. At the time Cush allied herself with Judah, the temple still stood in Jerusalem, and it could be that the citizens of Cush gave homage to the God of Israel. But this verse also looks ahead to the day when all the nations of the world, including Ethiopia/Cush, will come to honor the Lord at Mount Zion. This will take place when Jesus Christ rules from David's throne and all nations look to Him in praise and worship. In that day there will be no war cry or battle trumpet and the only banner (or flag) flying will be that of the King of kings. "In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious." (Isaiah 11:10)


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