on Isaiah 18 :2
In vessels of bulrushes "In vessels of papyrus" - This circumstance agrees perfectly well with Egypt. It is well known that the Egyptians commonly used on the Nile a light sort of ships, or boats, made of the reed papyrus. Ex ipso quidem papyro navigia texunt. Pliny, 42:11.
Conseritur bibula Memphitis cymba papyro.
Go, ye swift messengers - To this nation before mentioned, who, by the Nile, and by their numerous canals, have the means of spreading the report in the most expeditious manner through the whole country: go, ye swift messengers, and carry this notice of God's designs in regard to them. By the swift messengers are meant, not any particular persons specially appointed to this office, but any of the usual conveyers of news whatsoever, travelers, merchants, and the like, the instruments and agents of common fame. These are ordered to publish this declaration made by the prophet throughout Egypt, and to all the world; and to excite their attention to the promised visible interposition of God.
Scattered "Stretched out in length" - Egypt, that is, the fruitful part, exclusive of the deserts on each side, is one long vale, through the middle of which runs the Nile, bounded on each side to the east and west by a chain of mountains seven hundred and fifty miles in length; in breadth from one to two or three days' journey: even at the widest part of the Delta, from Pelusium to Alexandria, not above two hundred and fifty miles broad. Egmont and Hayman, and Pococke.
Peeled "Smoothed" - Either relating to the practice of the Egyptian priests, who made their bodies smooth by shaving off their hair, (see Herod. 2:37); or rather to their country's being made smooth, perfectly plain and level, by the overflowing of the Nile.
Meted out "Meted out by line" - It is generally referred to the frequent necessity of having recourse to mensuration in Egypt, in order to determine the boundaries after the inundations of the Nile; to which even the origin of the science of geometry is by some ascribed. Strabo, lib. 17 sub init.
Trodden down - Supposed to allude to a peculiar method of tillage in use among the Egyptians. Both Herodotus, (lib. ii.), and Diodorus, (lib. i.), say that when the Nile had retired within its banks, and the ground became somewhat dry, they sowed their land, and then sent in their cattle, (their hogs, says the former), to tread in the seed; and without any farther care expected the harvest.
The rivers have spoiled "The rivers have nourished" - The word בזאו bazeu is generally taken to be an irregular form for בזזו bazezu, "have spoiled," as four MSS. have it in this place; and so most of the Versions, both ancient and modern, understand it. On which Schultens, Gram. Hebrews p. 491, has the following re; mark:"Ne minimam quidem speciem veri habet בזאו bazau, Esai. Isaiah 18:2, elatum pro בזזו bazazu, deripiunt. Haec esset anomalia, cui nihil simile in toto linguae ambitu. In talibus nil finire, vel fateri ex mera agi conjectura, tutius justiusque. Radicem בזא baza olim extare potuisse, quis neget? Si cognatum quid sectandum erat, ad בזה bazah, contemsit, potius decurrendum fuisset; ut בזאו bazeu, pro בזו bazu, sit enuntiatum, vel בזיו baziv. Digna phrasis, flumina contemmunt terram, i.e., inundant." "בזא baza, Arab. extulit se superbius, item subjecit sibi: unde praet. pl. בזאו bazeu, subjecerunt sibi, i.e., inundarunt." - Simonis' Lexic. Heb.
A learned friend has suggested to me another explanation of the word. בזא baza, Syr., and ביזא beiza, Chald., signifies uber, "a dug," mamma, "a breast;" agreeably to which the verb signifies to nourish. This would perfectly well suit with the Nile: whereas nothing can be more discordant than the idea of spoiling and plundering; for to the inundation of the Nile Egypt owed every thing; the fertility of the soil, and the very soil itself. Besides, the overflowing of the Nile came on by gentle degrees, covering with out laying waste the country: "Mira aeque natura fluminis, quod cum caeteri omnes abluant terras et eviscerent, Nilus tanto caeteris major adeo nihil exedit, nec abradit, ut contra adjiciat vires; minimumque in eo sit, quod solum temperet. Illato enim limo arenas saturat ac jungit; debetque illi Aegyptus non tantum fertilitatem terrarum, sed ipsas." - Seneca, Nat. Quaest., 4:2. I take the liberty, therefore, which Schultens seems to think allowable in this place, of hazarding a conjectural interpretation. It is a fact that the Ganges changes its course, and overruns and lays barren whole districts, from which it was a few years back several miles distant. Such changes do not nourish but spoil the ground.
on Isaiah 18 :2
That sendeth ambassadors - That is, "accustomed" to send messengers. What was the design of their thus sending ambassadors does not appear. The prophet simply intimates the fact; a fact by which they were well known. It may have been for purposes of commerce, or to seek protection. Bochart renders the word translated 'ambassadors' by "images," and supposes that it denotes an image of the god Osiris made of the papyrus; but there does not seem to be any reason for this opinion. The word ציר tsı̂yr may mean an idol or image, as in Isaiah 45:16; Psalm 49:15. But it usually denotes ambassadors, or messengers Joshua 9:4; Proverbs 25:13; Proverbs 13:17; Isaiah 57:9; Jeremiah 49:14; Obadiah 1:1.
By the sea - What "sea" is here meant cannot be accurately determined. The word 'sea' (ים yâm) is applied to various collections of water, and may be used in reference to a sea, a lake, a pond, and even a large river. It is often applied to the Mediterranean; and where the phrase "Great Sea" occurs, it denotes that Numbers 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 11:24. It is applied to the Lake of Gennesareth or the Sea of Galilee Numbers 34:11; to the Salt Sea Genesis 14:3; to the Red Sea often (Exodus 13:10; Numbers 14:25; Numbers 21:4; Numbers 33:10, "et al.") It is also applied to "a large river," as, "e. g., the Nile" Isaiah 19:5; Nehemiah 3:8; and to the Euphrates Jeremiah 51:36. So far as this "word" is concerned, therefore, it may denote either the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Nile, or the Euphrates. If the country spoken of is Upper Egypt or Nubia, then we are naturally led to suppose that the prophet refers either to the Nile or the Red Sea.
Even in vessels of bulrushes - The word rendered 'bulrushes' (גמא gôme') is derived from the verb גמא gâmâ', "to swallow, sip, drink;" and is given to a reed or bulrush, from its "imbibing" water. It is usually applied in the Scriptures to the Egyptian "papyrus" - a plant which grew on the banks of the Nile, and from which we have derived our word "paper." 'This plant,' says Taylor ("Heb. Con."), 'grew in moist places near the Nile, and was four or five yards in height. Under the bark it consisted wholly of thin skins, which being separated and spread out, were applied to various uses. Of these they made boxes and chests, and even boats, smearing them over with pitch.' These laminoe, or skins, also served the purpose of paper, and were used instead of parchment, or plates of lead and copper, for writing on. This plant, the Cyperus Papyrus of modern botanists, mostly grew in Lower Egypt, in marshy land, or in shallow brooks and ponds, formed by the inundation of the Nile. 'The papyrus,' says Pliny, 'grows in the marsh lands of Egypt, or in the stagnant pools left inland by the Nile, after it has returned to its bed, which have not more than two cubits in depth.
The root of the plant is the thickness of a man's arm; it has a triangular stalk, growing not higher than ten cubits (fifteen feet), and decreasing in breadth toward the summit, which is crowned with a thyrsus, containing no seeds, and of no use except to deck the statues of the gods. They employ the roots as firewood, and for making various utensils. They even construct small boats of the plant; and out of the rind, sails, mats, clothes, bedding, ropes; they eat it either crude or cooked, swallowing only the juice; and when they manufacture paper from it, they divide the stem by means of a kind of needle into thin plates, or laminae, each of which is as large as the plant will admit. All the paper is woven upon a table, and is continually moistened with Nile water, which being thick and slimy, furnishes an effectual species of glue. In the first place, they form upon a table, pefectly horizontal, a layer the whole length of the papyrus, which is crossed by another placed transversely, and afterward enclosed within a press.
The different sheets are then hung in a situation exposed to the sun, in order to dry, and the process is finally completed by joining them together, beginning with the best. There are seldom more than twenty slips or stripes produced from one stem of the plant.' (Pliny, xiii. 11, 12.) Wilkinson remarks, that 'the mode of making papyri was this: the interior of the stalks of the plant, after the rind had been removed, was cut into thin slices in the direction of their length, and these being laid on a flat board, in succession, similar slices were placed over them at right angles, and their surfaces being cemented together by a sort of glue, and subjected to the proper deuce of pressure, and well dried, the papyrus was completed.' ("Ancient Egyptians," vol. iii. p. 148.) The word used here is translated 'bulrushes' in Exodus 2:3, where the little ark is described in which Moses was laid near the Nile; the 'rush' in Job 8:11; and 'rushes,' in Isaiah 35:7.
It does not elsewhere occur. That the ancients were in the practice of making light boats or vessels from the papyrus is well known. Thus Theophrastus (in the "History of Plants," iv. 9) says, that 'the papyrus is useful for many things, for from this they make vessels,' or ships (πλοῖα ploia). Thus, Pliny (xiii. 11, 22) says, ex ipso quidem papyro navigia texunt - 'from the papyrus they weave vessels.' Again, (vi. 56, 57): 'Even now,' says he, 'in the Britannic Ocean useful vessels are made of bark; on the Nile from the papyrus, and from reeds and rushes.' Plutarch describes Isis going in search of the body of Osiris, 'through the fenny country in a bark made of the papyrus (ἐν βαριδι παπυοινη en baridi papnoinē) where it is supposed that persons using boats of this description (ἐν παπυρινοις ὀκαφεσι πλωοντας en papurinois okaphisi pleontas) are never attacked by crocodiles out of respect to the goddess,' (De Isaiah 18:1-7.) Moses, also, it will be remembered, was exposed on the banks of the Nile in a similar boat or ark. 'She took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it With slime and with pitch, and put the child therein' Exodus 2:3. The same word occurs here (גמא gôme') which is used by Isaiah, and this fact shows that such boats were known as early as the time of Moses. Lucan also mentions boats made of the papyrus at Memphis:
Conseritur bibula Memphitis cymba papyro.
- Phar. iv: 136.
At Memphis boats are woven together from the marshy papyrus
The sculptures of Thebes, Memphis, and other places, abundantly show that they were employed as punts, or canoes for fishing, in all parts of Egypt, during the inundation of the Nile.' (Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii. p. 186.) In our own country, also, it will be remembered, the natives were accustomed to make canoes, or vessels, of the bark of the birch, with which they often adventured on even dangerous navigation. The circumstance here mentioned of the גמא gôme' (the papyrus), seems to fix the scene of this prophecy to the region of the Nile. This reed grew nowhere else; and it is natural, therefore, to suppose, that some nation living near the Nile is intended. Taylor, the editor of Calmet, has shown that the inhabitants of the upper regions of the Nile were accustomed to form floats of hollow earthen vessels, and to weave them together with rushes, and thus to convey them to Lower Egypt to market. He supposes that by 'vessels of bulrushes,' or rush floats, are meant such vessels. (For a description of the "floats" made in Upper Egypt with "jars," see Pococke's "Travels," vol. i. p. 84, Ed. London, 1743.) 'I first saw in this voyage (on the Nile) the large floats of earthen-ware; they are about thirty feet wide, and sixty feet long, being a frame of palm boughs tied together about four feet deep, on which they put a layer of large jars with the mouths uppermost; on these they make another floor, and then put on another layer of jars, and so a third, which last are so disposed as to trim the float, and leave room for the men to go between. The float lies across the river, one end being lower down than the other; toward the lower end on each side they have four long poles with which they row and direct the boat, as well as forward the motion down.' Mr. Bruce, in his "Travels," mentions vessels made of the papyrus in Abyssinia.
Upon the waters - The waters of the Nile, or the Red Sea.
Saying - This word is not in the Hebrew, and the introduction of it by the translators gives a peculiar, and probably an incorrect, sense to the whole passage. As it stands here, it would seem to be the language of the inhabitants of the land who sent the ambassadors, usually saying to their messengers to go to a distant nation; and this introduces an inquiry into the characteristics of the nation to "whom" the ambassadors are sent, as if it were a "different" people from those who are mentioned in Isaiah 17:1. But probably the words which follow are to be regarded as the words of the prophet, or of God Isaiah 17:4, giving commandment to those messengers to "return" to those who sent them, and deliver the message which follows: 'You send messengers to distant nations in reed boats upon the rivers. Return, says God, to the land which sent you foth, and announce to them the will of God. Go rapidly in your light vessels, and bear this message, for it shall speedily be executed, and I will sit calmly and see it done' Isaiah 17:4-6. A remarkably similar passage, which throws great light on this, occurs in Ezekiel 30:9 : 'In that day shall messengers go forth from me (God) in ships to make the careless Ethiopians afraid, and great pain shall come upon them, as in the day of Egypt, for lo, it cometh.'
Go, ye swift messengers - Hebrew, 'Light messengers.' This is evidently addressed to the boats. Achilles Tatius says that they were frequently so light and small, that they would carry but one person (Rosenmuller).
To a nation - What nation this was is not known. The "obvious" import of the passge is, that it was some nation to whom they were "accustomed" to send ambassadors, and that it is here added merely as "descriptive" of the people. Two or three characterstics of the nation are mentioned, from which we may better learn what people are referred to.
on Isaiah 18 :2
18:2 Sendeth - That at this time are sending ambassadors, to strengthen themselves with alliances. Bulrushes - Both the Egyptians and Ethiopians, used boats of rushes or reeds, which were more convenient for them than those of wood, because they were both cheaper and swifter, and lighter for carriage from place to place. These seem to be the words of the prophet, who having pronounced a woe against the land hitherto described, here continues his speech, and gives a commission from God to these messengers, to go to this nation scattered, and c. Then he calls to all nations to be witnesses of the message sent, ver.3, and then the message follows in the succeeding verse s. Messengers - Whom I have appointed for this work, and tell them what I am about to do with them. Scattered - Not by banishment but in their habitations. Which agrees well to the Ethiopians, for the manner of their habitation, which is more scattered than that of other people. Peeled - Having their hair plucked off. This is metaphorically used in scripture, for some great calamity, whereby men are stripped of all their comforts. And this title may be given to them prophetically, to signify their approaching destruction. Terrible - Such were the Egyptians, and Ethiopians, as appears both from sacred and profane histories. Meted - Meted out as it were with lines to destruction. Trodden - By Divine sentence, and to be trodden down by their enemies. The rivers - Which may be understood of the Assyrians or Babylonians breaking in upon them like a river, and destroying their land and people.