Ah, land of whirring wings
that is beyond the rivers of Cush,[a]
2 which sends ambassadors by the sea,
in vessels of papyrus on the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
to a nation tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,z
whose land the rivers divide.
Alright, this is a tricky chapter. The first verse is very tricky indeed. The prophecy is often said to be about Ethiopia, where the Nile river originates and since Cush is associated with Nubia, south of Egypt in the Bible times. Cush was a grandson of Noah who was the forefather of the Cush-ites, and related to the Nubians of Sudan and other Africans. The rivers of Cush are clearly the Nile and her tributaries. So what is this telling us in Isaiah 18?
The nation and the river.
The first trouble is that the prophecy is directed toward a land of some kind of ... sounds (whirring wings). The word for whirring is a word associated with the noise of crickets, perhaps a clicking sound, and with barbed weapons. It is used 6x in 5 verses in the Old Testament.
Deu 28:42 all thy trees and the fruit of thy ground doth the locust possess; (YLT) 2Sa 6:5 and David and all the house of Israel are playing before Jehovah, with all kinds of instruments of fir-wood, even with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cornets, and with cymbals. (YLT) Job 41:7 Dost thou fill with barbed irons his skin? And with fish-spears his head? (YLT) Psa 150:5 Praise Him with cymbals of sounding, Praise Him with cymbals of shouting. (YLT) Isa 18:1
Ah, land of whirring wings that is beyond the rivers of Cush (ESV)
Whether this word means "bug" or "kazoo" or "locust" or "cricket" whatever it is there was a special use for this word we don't really understand, but it was associated with either music or weapons. It is some kind of instrument either way.
The "wings" word is also a tricky one, it is taken from the Hebrew word for "extents" or "extremities". A birds wings were the same word as the edges of a robe, and it was also assocated with the private areas of a person. It is also used as a word for stretched-out or spread-out (see Dan 9:27).
So this nation, whatever it is, is something to do with a very significant noisyness?.
The nation is both beyond Nile River, and divided (or cleaved) by rivers.
Beyond the Nile valley: Ethiopia is at the boundary of the Nile Valley, making it one choice. But Ethiopia is also very accessible by sea from Israel.
The Nile and Egypt are primarily West of Israel as the setting of the sun goes, and so it would be possible that the direction of the prophecy is generally directed westward, and Egypt was generally to the direct West of Judah. If Ethiopia is the target of the prophecy, due south, how do the people of Ethiopia match the prophecy? Have they been feared from their beginning onward?
The people of the prophecy
>> "a nation mighty and conquering," (Verse 7)
Are any of the African nations mighty and conquering? No. They've been divided for spoil by the imperialist western nations, and who is the mightest of the nations today? Who is accused around the world of illegal war and invasions?
The time of the prophecy
Verses 3 and 7 implicate the end times as the focus, and the surrounding chapters reinforces this as well. If the time of the end is in focus, what nation is noiser, more feared, than any other, and also divided by rivers, and full of tall people?