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This past week our nation remembered the anniversary of the awful events of 9/11 – the destruction of the two World Trade Centers in NYC and the loss of almost 3,000 lives. People continue to die from cancer from what they were exposed to in the suffocating cloud of dust and smoke and rubble. I saw some TV footage I had not seen previously – video shots taken by ordinary citizens who were caught up in those events. You could hear their anguished cries as they recorded the scene – “Oh my God . . . Oh my God . . .” When such national Woes hit home there are no words to express the panic and fear and sense of helplessness.

We are wrestling with another potentially volatile situation in dealing with the national Woe that is associated with Syria’s use of chemical weapons. What should the response of our nation be? I was shocked to read the Public Relations piece the Russian President artfully crafted and distributed through the New York Times – lecturing our President and our nation on how to pursue peace and righteousness on the world stage. [Let me just read you some excerpts.] This advice coming from the KPG director who excels at abusing personal rights and oppressing people around the world. Yet now he is offering himself as the voice of reason.

The best response our administration could come up with was to try to indict Putin for his stance against the homosexual agenda – advising him to turn his attention to protecting these poor, vulnerable objects of bigotry and prejudice as the Summer Olympics approach next year. How tragic! The United States is on the wrong side of this moral issue as compared to the repressive regime of Russia who at least recognizes the dangers to any culture of taking a permissive and even supportive stance towards homosexuality. What confusing times! We have national Woes popping up all over.

To say nothing of those personal Woes that impact our lives more directly. How do we respond when our comfort and peace is threatened or disrupted by various pressures and trials? How does God want us to respond?



4 Stages in the Pathway to Gentile Salvation – Moving from Woe to Waiting to Watching to Worship


“Alas, oh land of whirring wings which lies beyond the rivers of Cush, which sends envoys by the sea, even in papyrus vessels on the surface of the waters. Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people feared far and wide, a powerful and oppressive nation whose land the rivers divide.”

Context: In between the Oracle concerning Damascus (17:1-11) and the Oracle concerning Egypt (19-20) stand two sections introduced by the same word “Alas” or “Woe” – Chapters 13-23 speak of God’s judgments against the nations – this portion comes right in the middle of that discussion – 5 chapters on either side — we know how important the middle section is as a point of emphasis in all of the chiastic arrangements we have been studying – so we are dealing with something that is thematically very important for Isaiah – chapter break really should have been at 17:12

1) 17:12-14 (also the conclusion to chapter 17 and oracle concerning Damascus)

God Will Triumph Over Israel’s Pillaging Enemies – Judah can take comfort –

Emphasis on Judgment of the Gentiles

2) 18:1-7 (also the introduction to chapter 19 and the oracle concerning Egypt)

God Will Triumph Over Israel’s Pillaging Enemies – Gentiles will end up worshiping –

Emphasis on Salvation of the Gentiles (in the midst of judgment)

Make no mistake – God will triumph

“Woe” – something that should grab your attention; a cause for concern and worry here; often followed by a pronouncement of doom; connected to 17:12-14 which is introduced by the same word; that is a swing passage – Interjection – often expressing dissatisfaction and pain, Ah, Alas;

Turning attention to the area south of Judah – Ethiopia and Egypt – land beyond the rivers of Cush

Very obscure passage – lots of uncertainty in interpretation

Look at the danger this land faced from Assyria – but they themselves are described as a powerful and oppressive nation themselves

Look at how the U.S. responds to the danger posed by nations like Syria that manifest the capability to use chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction – sets in motion a frenzy of activity

How do we respond to dangers in our own lives – send out a flurry of emails and swift messages – alerting everyone and trying to galvanize support

Young: This is a land in which there is a rustling of wings, a buzzing of insects, as it were, aland in which the hordes swarmed and buzzed, devastating regions about them, like swarms of obnoxious insects. Isaiah mentions some of the characteristics of these people and gives a certain air of mystery to the whole description. The land is in agitation and sends messengers from tribe to tribe, for on the horizon were the signs of an oncoming enemy; a conflict was in the offing, and the people are in an agitated condition. . . Inasmuch as the vessels are of papyrus, it would seem that the sea must be inland = the Nile and its tributaries [quotes Pliny]

Motyer: The land of whirring wings originally referred to Egypt with its endemic profusion of flying insects, but Egypt is not now mentioned and the whirring wings constitute a picture of the busy, restless world.

[Another option] Oswalt: interpretation rests upon the LXX and Targum, both of which identify this phrase as a figure referring to ships. The prophet may be intending to say that the ships of the Ethiopians whiz up and down the rivers like winged insects. This view accords well with the reference to rivers in the second line of the verse and with the opening lines of v. 2. It also supports the picture of the Ethiopians as emissaries to the world. Finally, the references to sails as wings are almost universal among sailors.

Constable: Taken together these descriptions represent all great, aggressive nations.

Beall: To whom are the messengers going? Some feel they are going to Jerusalem to try to strike an alliance with Judah; some even think the Medes are in view (so Kissane, Oswalt);more likely, however, is that they are going to their own tribes (so Keil, 350; Young, 1:476) to warn of an Assyrian invasion.

People are described as tall and smooth – Herodotus claims that on every third day the Egyptian priests shaved the entire body

That Protective Activity can manifest itself in a variety of forms:

– Don’t put your confidence in the arm of the flesh – no matter how strong and powerful you think you may be

– Don’t put your confidence in the United Nations

– Don’t put your confidence in whatever peace treaties and alliances you are able to negotiate


“All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on earth, as soon as a standard is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and as soon as the trumpet is blown, you will hear it.”

Context has been talking about situation faced by Ethiopia – but worldwide application here

“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” – you won’t be able to miss it; when the Lord move into action, it will be evident

Like the NT concern of some believers that perhaps they had missed the Rapture – you won’t be able to miss it because the Lord will snatch you up (even though He comes as a thief in the night on that occasion); but when He returns for that great and final confrontation, there will be no mistaking His battle cry

Waiting to see and hear the Lord spring into action and engage the threat

Postmil stance: we need to actively bring about the dominion in every realm of society – this pre-mill perspective is vastly different

Again, there is a near term application (Lord striking down the Assyrians in Isaiah’s day) and an ultimate fulfillment in the Day of the Lord

When the Lord straps His sword on His thigh and mounts His white horse to lead into battle all those who are followers of the Lord of hosts – you will know that something dramatic is happening

– Requires waiting to see the Lord respond and answer our prayers; Illustration: email from 3 years ago – someone had committed to praying for some of our family needs – Lord has answered – sent him back word of thanks to encourage him

– Requires waiting for the Lord to provide direction and guide our paths


“For thus the LORD has told me,” – The message God wants delivered

This is the main section for us to study and gain application insights:

A. God is Totally Engaged from His Majestic Throne Above

“I will look from My dwelling place”

– Sees all that is taking place

– Is very engaged – not distant and removed

– Has a settled dwelling place that is secure and supreme

B. God Works Quietly Behind the Scenes – “quietly” — 2 simple analogies from nature; Any farmer knows that a good harvest depends on the right combination of sunshine and moisture

1. Analogy of Burning Heat

“like dazzling heat in the sunshine,”

2. Analogy of Hidden Moisture

“like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”

Silent — Seems very passive – like there is no engagement; not making anything happen;

Yet both the heat and the dew contribute greatly to the ultimate harvest;

God is working productively behind the scenes from His throne above

Young: standing in remarkable contrast to the agitation of Ethiopia with her swiftly traveling messengers, is the quietness of God who alone can control the destinies and movements of nations

Oswalt: The truth is that the quiet look of the Sovereign is of greater importance than the mightiest of the world’s armies (Ps. 2:1–4; 33:13–17; 80:14; Lam. 5:1; Isa. 63:15). For to him to do nothing (qw , “sit quietly”) but merely look on is of greater significance than all the deliberations in all the world’s chancelleries.

Motyer: As naturally and inevitably as there is heat with light and dew in harvest so the Lord is present, unobserved, remaining quiet. . . he is not only the transcendent God in heaven but the present God in the affairs of earth. But heat and dew are not just incidental to harvest, they are actual contributory factors in the ripening. Thus, the Lord is more than a watcher; he presides over the process. . . People’s attempts to run the world on the basis of either Assyria-like purposes of imperialism or Egypt-like schemes of collective security will collapse utterly.

C. God Works Visibly at the Last Minute at Just the Right Time

“For before the harvest, as soon as the bud blossoms and the flower becomes a ripening grape,”

Van Parunak: How different his intervention is from that of men. We justify preemptive action, whether sanctions or war, to keep an adversary from growing too strong. Humans know that given time and resources, any one party can become strong enough to destroy any other. The Lord just sits back and lets them come almost to the full power, so that he can show how overwhelming his power is.

D. God Works Decisively to Purge the Wicked

“then He will cut off the sprigs with pruning knives and remove and cut away the spreading branches.”

E. (:6) God’s Judgment Will be Total and Devastating and Humiliating

“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.”

Like road kill – carcasses left out in the open for the vultures and beasts of prey to pick apart

Nobody comes along quickly to clean them up and offer a proper burial; they sit out there all summer and into the harvest – stinking, rotten mess


“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.”

“At that time”

Martin: Possibly Isaiah was speaking of the millennial kingdom when peoples from around the world will worship the Lord (cf. Zech. 14:16) because of His gracious acts.

“Gift of homage”

Judah seems like such a small and insignificant parcel of land compared to the vast empires of Ethiopia/Egypt and Assyria – yet Jerusalem and Mount Zion will be the focal point for the reign of the Messiah – the city of God

Motyer: The omnipotent Lord brings the world home to Mount Zion for there alone he made his name dwell.

(cf. Ps.68:31; Zech. 14:16; Acts 8:26-36)

How are we gratefully rendering our submission and tribute to the Lord right now as He reigns already in our hearts?

He has demonstrated that only His power can bring about peace and rest and security in the midst of all of our life challenges


19:23-24 We see this emphasis on salvation of the Gentiles – 2 major warring nations oppressing Judah = Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south –

Pathway to salvation moves from Woe to Waiting to Watching to Worship

God has established His covenant people to be a blessing to the world

Vine: So it has been, and will be, in every crisis of the strife of nations, and especially when efforts have been put forth to crush God’s chosen people. The passage gives us lessons of confident patience to await God’s time of direct interposition for deliverance, assured that in all our experiences everything is under His absolute control. . . . Trials and difficulties are sent to cast us upon God in simple and unwavering dependence upon Him.