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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 3

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 18: Oracle Against Ethiopia

Chapter 22: Pruning Ethiopia

Having addressed Ethiopia, which, in Isaiah’s time, was ruling Egypt as its 25th Dynasty, God then gives a strange prophecy to the entire world. Isaiah 18:3 says,

3 All you inhabitants of the world [tebel] and dwellers on earth [eretz], as soon as a standard [nas] is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and as soon as the trumpet [shofar] is blown, you will hear it [shama, “hear, obey”].

We see how the prophet suddenly expands the scope of his prophecy to the entire habitable world, addressing them as well as Ethiopia itself. This is a prophecy that can only be fulfilled through a great revelation of God to all nations. This revelation will come when God raises a standard, or banner, on the “mountains,” i.e., nations.

The Standard is Christ

As we saw in our study of Isaiah 2:2, 3, mountains are nations, and the day will come when all nations will stream toward “the mountain of the house of the Lord” to learn His ways and His laws.

While the prophecy in Isaiah 2 speaks of a longer period of time (the millennial reign of Christ, I believe), the prophecy in Isaiah 18 seems to be the awakening of the nations that will cause the nations to turn to Christ. Recall that the prophet mentioned the “standard” earlier in Isaiah 11:12,

12 And He will lift up a standard [nas] for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel and will gather the dispersed of Judah.

The regathering, or “return,” is essentially a return to God, that is, a repentance. The Old Covenant fulfillment is a physical return, such as what happened when Judah returned to the old land after its Babylonian captivity. However, the tribes of Israel never returned in an Old Covenant manner, for they remained in Assyria until that empire disintegrated, after which time most of them spread north and west into Europe. Because many passed through the Dariel Pass in the Caucasus Mountains, historians have called them Causasians.

The “standard” is Christ Himself, for Isaiah 11:9, 10 reads,

9 … For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. 10 Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal [nas] for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.

The “root of Jesse,” i.e., David, the son of Jesse, was the primary type of Christ, the Heir of the throne of David. Isaiah identifies Christ as the “signal” (nas), which is the same word translated “standard” in Isaiah 18:3 and 11:12. Hence, we see that the purpose of raising this “standard” is to regather Israel, Judah, and “the nations” alike and to rally them around Christ Himself.

Gen. 49:10 also prophesies the day when the people will gather around Christ in His prophetic role as Shiloh. The verse tells us that this gathering will take place when Judah passes the Dominion Mandate to Joseph. This, then, dates the fulfillment to the time of the second coming of Christ.

Therefore, we see that Isaiah’s prophecy that the nations (including Ethiopia) will hear and obey (shama) the call and gather around God’s “standard” is an end-time prophecy. The only way such multitudes of people will hear the call and gather around Christ is through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon “all mankind” (Joel 2:28).

The Shofar

Isaiah 18:3 tells us that “as soon as the shofar is blown, you will hear it.”

There were two types of trumpet in those days. Silver trumpets (invented by Moses himself) were used in calling the assembly (Num. 10:2). Such trumpets were also used on the feast of Trumpets, the first day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar.

The shofar was used specifically on the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the seventh month. This was not a call to assemble but a call to repentance. Therefore, when Isaiah 18:3 says the shofar would be heard and obeyed, it is really a call to repentance. Their repentance included assembling or gathering around the standard that is Christ, but the underlying message is their repentance.

In other words, Isaiah was prophesying a world-wide outpouring of the Spirit that would open the eyes of the people and inspire wide-spread repentance. The prophet’s use of the word shofar also gives us the timing of the prophecy’s ultimate fulfillment. While there have been many revivals where the Spirit has been poured out, these have all been limited in scope. Yet ten days after the resurrection of the dead (feast of trumpets) will signal a world-wide repentance in preparation for the manifestation of the sons of God on the feast of Tabernacles.

Before the Harvest

Isaiah 18:4 says,

4 For thus the Lord has told me, “I will look from My dwelling place quietly like dazzling [tsakh, “clear, bright, glowing”] heat [chom, “heat, warmth”] in the sunshine [owr, “light, daylight”], like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”

The prophet paints a picture of the dawn of a new day, clear and bright, where the sunshine warms the earth. It is not meant to convey an oppressive heat, but warmth after the chilly night. The sun rises quietly, and the earth is warmed quietly. So also God will look down from heaven “quietly” and without fanfare.

A second metaphor pictures this heavenly observance as “a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” Dew makes no sound when it distills on the ground. This may convey the idea that the day will come unexpectedly without prior warning, except, of course, for those who are watchful, for God does nothing apart from revealing it “to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Isaiah 17:5, 6 prophesied of the “gleanings,” but Isaiah 18 prophesies in terms of pruning. Isaiah 18:5 continues,

5 For before the harvest, as soon as the bud blossoms and the flower becomes a ripening grape, then He will cut off the sprigs with pruning knives [mazmara, “a hooked knife for pruning”] and remove and cut away the spreading branches.

Pruning conveys the idea of repentance, for it is plain that this is an inner pruning, similar to what Jesus said in John 15:2,

2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

The purpose of pruning is to increase productivity by cutting away dead or unfruitful branches. So Isaiah was prophesying of a day when Christ’s standard would be raised and the Holy Spirit would be sent to prune the nations of their dead branches, thus making them fruitful.

This can be applied in either a personal or a global manner to the nations as a whole. On a personal level, God prunes us so we are able to bear the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the Kingdom. On a global level, certain ungodly nations will be pruned (separated) from God’s Universal Empire that will be formed during the great Sabbath Millennium.

This is supported by Dan. 2:35, where the fifth kingdom—the Stone Kingdom—will grow until it fills the whole earth. It is a process, during which time some nations will continue to function without declaring Christ as King. Nonetheless, at the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan for a short season (Rev. 20:7, 8) in order to provoke those ungodly nations into attacking the Kingdom of God. This will give Christ lawful cause to defend the Kingdom from their attack and to take over their territories by conquest.

Hence, even those nations that were pruned will be claimed, because Christ will be the Heir of the world. Only then will the Great White Throne judgment take place.

Isaiah 18:6 tells us more about the pruned branches:

6 They will be left together for mountain birds of prey, and for the beasts of the earth; and the birds of prey will spend the summer feeding on them, and all the beasts of the earth will spend harvest time on them.

The personal application of this prophecy will see the dead branches cast off, so that each individual can bear more fruit. However, the prophecy seems more oriented toward the global application. The pruned nations “will be left together for mountain birds of prey and for the beasts of the earth.”

This seems to be one of the texts that John drew upon in writing about the battle in Rev. 19:17, 18,

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.”

In other words, the ungodly will be given as food for the birds of prey. Isaiah’s metaphor says that this will begin “before the harvest, as soon as the bud blossoms.” It appears, then, that the pruning will occur first—early in the growing season—and the harvest will come later.

Because the prophet puts this in the context of the grape-growing season (Isaiah 18:5), it is clear that the pruning begins early in the year at the time of “flowering,” while the grape harvest occurs in September. The Day of Atonement is the day of vintage, where the grapes were to be trodden in order to obtain the new wine that was poured out as drink offerings on the seven days of the feast of Tabernacles.

The Gift of Homage

We see, then, how the prophet was commenting on the prophetic fulfillment of the feast days. The prophecy has an element of divine judgment built into it, but the overall purpose of this judgment is to bring about repentance and restoration of the nations. So the prophet concludes in Isaiah 18:7,

7 At that time a gift of homage will be brought to the Lord of hosts from a people tall and smooth, even from a people feared far and wide, a powerful and oppressive nation, whose land the rivers divide—to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, even Mount Zion.

Isaiah ties this back to Ethiopia, as a representative of all nations on the earth who currently oppress the people and who rule by fear. The conclusion is that the nations will recognize Christ as King by sending “a gift of homage.” It was customary in those days to bring a gift when seeking an audience with the king.

So also, the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, carrying gifts (1 Kings 10:1, 2). Her actions prophesied of the day when the true Prince of Peace would be recognized for His wisdom and peaceable nature. The nations will not be subdued forcibly but will give homage to Christ voluntarily, except for the few remaining nations at the end of His Millennial reign. This is the prophetic harvest that we expect to see in the years ahead.