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Isaiah 18:1-4

Context
The Lord Will Judge a Distant Land in the South

18:1 The land of buzzing wings is as good as dead, 1 

the one beyond the rivers of Cush,

18:2 that sends messengers by sea,

who glide over the water’s surface in boats made of papyrus.

Go, you swift messengers,

to a nation of tall, smooth-skinned people, 2 

to a people that are feared far and wide, 3 

to a nation strong and victorious, 4 

whose land rivers divide. 5 

18:3 All you who live in the world,

who reside on the earth,

you will see a signal flag raised on the mountains;

you will hear a trumpet being blown.

18:4 For this is what the Lord has told me:

“I will wait 6  and watch from my place,

like scorching heat produced by the sunlight, 7 

like a cloud of mist 8  in the heat 9  of harvest.” 10 

1 tn Heb “Woe [to] the land of buzzing wings.” On הוֹי (hoy, “woe, ah”) see the note on the first phrase of 1:4.

sn The significance of the qualifying phrase “buzzing wings” is uncertain. Some suggest that the designation points to Cush as a land with many insects. Another possibility is that it refers to the swiftness with which this land’s messengers travel (v. 2a); they move over the sea as swiftly as an insect flies through the air. For a discussion of the options, see J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:359-60.

2 tn The precise meaning of the qualifying terms is uncertain. מְמֻשָּׁךְ (mÿmushakh) appears to be a Pual participle from the verb מָשַׁךְ (mashakh, “to draw, extend”). Lexicographers theorize that it here refers to people who “stretch out,” as it were, or are tall. See BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ, and HALOT 645-46 s.v. משׁךְ. מוֹרָט (morat) is taken as a Pual participle from מָרַט (marat), which can mean “to pull out [hair],” in the Qal, “become bald” in the Niphal, and “be wiped clean” in the Pual. Lexicographers theorize that the word here refers to people with bare, or smooth, skin. See BDB 598-99 s.v. מָרַט, and HALOT 634-35 s.v. מרט. These proposed meanings, which are based on etymological speculation, must be regarded as tentative.

3 tn Heb “from it and onwards.” HALOT 245 s.v. הָלְאָה suggests the translation “far and wide.”

4 tn Once more the precise meaning of the qualifying terms is uncertain. The expression קַו־קָו (qav-qav) is sometimes related to a proposed Arabic cognate and taken to mean “strength” (see BDB 876 II קַו). Others, on the basis of Isa 28:10, 13, understand the form as gibberish (literally, “kav, kav”) and take it to be a reference to this nation’s strange, unknown language. The form מְבוּסָה (mÿvusah) appears to be derived from בּוּס (bus, “to trample”), so lexicographers suggest the meaning “trampling” or “subjugation,” i.e., a nation that subdues others. See BDB 101 s.v. בּוּס and HALOT 541 s.v. מְבוּסָה. These proposals, which are based on etymological speculation, must be regarded as tentative.

5 tn The precise meaning of the verb בָּזָא (baza’), which occurs only in this oracle (see also v. 7) in the OT, is uncertain. BDB 102 s.v. suggests “divide” on the basis of alleged Aramaic and Arabic cognates; HALOT 117 s.v., citing an alleged Arabic cognate, suggests “wash away.”

6 tn Or “be quiet, inactive”; NIV “will remain quiet.”

7 tn Heb “like the glowing heat because of light.” The precise meaning of the line is uncertain.

8 tn Heb “a cloud of dew,” or “a cloud of light rain.”

9 tc Some medieval Hebrew mss, with support from the LXX, Syriac Peshitta, and Latin Vulgate, read “the day.”

10 sn It is unclear how the comparisons in v. 4b relate to the preceding statement. How is waiting and watching similar to heat or a cloud? For a discussion of interpretive options, see J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:362.



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