For Isaiah 18, most Bibles have a descriptive header that says something like “Proclamation Against Ethiopia.” Personally, I don’t think this passage is necessarily a proclamation against Ethiopia although according to Ezekiel, Ethiopia is expected to come against Israel in the last days during the Battle of Gog.
Isaiah 18:1-2 begins: “Woe to the land shadowed with buzzing wings, Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, 2 Which sends ambassadors [tsiyriym] by sea, Even in vessels of reed on the waters, saying, “Go, swift messengers [malakiym], to a nation tall [mashak] and smooth of skin [morat], To a people terrible from their beginning onward, A nation powerful and treading down, Whose land the rivers divide [bazu].”
Isaiah 18:7 concludes, “In that time a present will be brought to the Lord of hosts From a people tall [mashak] and smooth of skin [morat], And from a people terrible from their beginning onward, A nation powerful and treading down, Whose land the rivers divide [bazu]— To the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, To Mount Zion.
First, note that the land of woe is somewhere beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. We don’t know how far away the land of woe is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. Sudan was once part of Ethiopia and the land referred to in verse two could be Egypt since the Blue Nile River from present day Ethiopia and the White Nile River from present day Sudan combine in Sudan and flow north into Egypt. The land “shadowing with buzzing wings” or “whirring with wings” could be a reference to Egypt’s insects but we can’t say for sure.
Tsiyriym can be translated as either ambassadors or messengers. Normally, malakiym can be translated as ambassadors, angels, kings, or messengers. Bazu, a grammatical form of baza, can mean to spoil or divide. Some people may be tempted to say that tsiyriym and malakiym are simply synonyms but I believe the verse should be: “that sends messengers by the sea…saying, kings [of the nations], ‘Go to Israel, whose land has been polluted by its rivers.’” This is a call for the nations to send armies that will destroy God’s people and seize the land.
The Jordan River divides Israel while the rest of Israel’s rivers provide water in various areas of the country. It’s quite possible that in the last days, the rivers of Israel could become polluted by the third trumpet. At that time, a great star will fall from heaven. It will fall on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. Many will die from the water because it will be made bitter. Fortunately, Ezekiel 47:8 says the waters be healed.
Mashak is translated as “tall” in various English versions but it can also be translated as extended, stretched out, or scattered. Morat is often translated as “peeled” or “smooth of skin” in various English versions but it can also be translated as obstinate. Since verse seven indicates the land the people were being sent to was Mount Zion, it becomes obvious that mashak should be translated as scattered since the Jews are scattered throughout the earth and morat should be translated as obstinate because of the rebellion demonstrated by the idolatry of God’s people. Both words well describe God’s people in the Old Testament Scriptures.
In verse 2, the prophet was basically saying, “Woe to the land who sends messengers to the kings of the nations to tell them to go to the people of Israel.” The Bible speaks primarily of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East so it’s highly probable that the land of woe is from this area; however, some people have suggested this is a reference to America. Again, although the prophet said the land is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, we don’t know in which direction or how far away this land is. Usually, things are written from the perspective of the writer.
Anyway, suddenly Isaiah 18 shifts. Isaiah 18:3 says, “All inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth: When he lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it; And when he blows a trumpet, you hear it.” Who is “he”? Isaiah 5:26 refers to the Lord as the one who will lift up a banner to the nations from afar. In Isaiah 11:10, Jesus is the banner that will be lifted up. The trumpet will announce His coming. Before that time comes, Jesus is waiting and watching until the time is right to come with His armies to destroy Israel’s enemies.
Isaiah 18:5 says, “For before the harvest, when the bud is perfect And the sour grape is ripening in the flower, He will both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks And take away and cut down the branches.” The timing of this is in the fall, most likely just as a year of Jubilee is about to begin. This is a reference to Revelation 14:18-20 which describes it like this: “And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” 19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.”
Isaiah 18:6 then says, “They will be left together for the mountain birds of prey And for the beasts of the earth; The birds of prey will summer on them, And all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.” This is a description of the feast for birds which follows the Battle of Armageddon. Revelation 19:21 tells us, “And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.”
After that, a present will be brought unto the Lord of hosts of Israel…
Zephaniah 3:10-12 explains, “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering. 11 In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds In which you transgress against Me; For then I will take away from your midst Those who rejoice in your pride, And you shall no longer be haughty In My holy mountain. 12 I will leave in your midst A meek and humble people, And they shall trust in the name of the Lord.”