The 18th chapter of Isaiah opens with these words: “Ha for the land of the whirring insects with wings, which is in the region of the rivers of Ethiopia! It is the one sending forth envoys by means of the sea, and by means of vessels of papyrus upon the surface of the waters, saying: ‘Go, you swift messengers, to a nation drawn out and scoured, to a people fear-inspiring everywhere, a nation of tensile strength and of treading down, whose land the rivers have washed away.’”
What is the land of the whirring insects with wings and what is the message of the envoys God commands them to send forth? And who are the fear-inspiring people and the nation of tensile strength to whom the messengers are sent?
Over the years that I have studied prophecy I have revisited the 18th chapter of Isaiah many times to ponder it’s possible meaning. It remains maddeningly inscrutable. What seems clear, though, is that, the prophecy is intended to apply to the ultimate success of God’s purpose at the conclusion of the present system of things.
And what is God’s purpose?
As all of Jehovah’s Witnesses know, God’s grand, over-arching purpose is to bring forth a new creation composed of 144,001 humans that will ultimately be reborn into immortal, incorruptible spirits. Jesus is, of course, “the firstborn among many brothers,” as Paul described the Christ.
Because Mount Zion was the original site of the physical temple of God and the place where Jehovah initially caused his name to reside, Zion is used throughout prophecy as a symbol of God’s heavenly place of dwelling, where the new creation will also reign.
Now consider the last verse of the 18th chapter: “In that time a gift will be brought to Jehovah of armies, from a people drawn out and scoured, even from a people fear-inspiring everywhere, a nation of tensile strength and of treading down, whose land the rivers have washed away, to the place of the name of Jehovah of armies, Mount Zion.”
The nation of treading down accomplishes God’s purpose by presenting to him a gift. What is that gift? The verses preceding supply the answer: “All you inhabitants of the productive land and you residents of the earth, you will see a sight just as when there is the raising up of a signal upon the mountains, and you will hear a sound just as when there is the blowing of a horn. For this is what Jehovah has said to me: ‘I will keep undisturbed and look upon my established place, like the dazzling heat along with the light, like the cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. For before the harvest, when the blossom comes to perfection and the bloom becomes a ripening grape, one must also cut off the sprigs with pruning shears and must remove the tendrils, must lop them off. They will be left all together for the bird of prey of the mountains and for the beast of the earth. And upon it the bird of prey will certainly pass the summer, and upon it even every beast of the earth will pass the harvesttime.”
As is common knowledge, the harvest is the concluding phase of the vinedresser’s season-long work. But just as the previous chapter foretold the harvest would unexpectedly cease, so too this prophecy. Before the grapes can be gathered they are lopped off and left for the birds of prey and the beasts of the earth? What does this analogy signify in reality?
As Jesus foretold in his illustration, the harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, which is also known as the time of the end in the Hebrew texts. According to the prophecy of Daniel, the time of the end is marked by very specific, earth shaking developments among the nations that will have a profound impact upon the holy ones – (those invited to be part of the new creation.) What developments?
The eighth chapter of Daniel foretells that a king fierce in countenance will bring to ruin the mighty ones of the world, along with the holy ones, during a freedom for care.
The 11th chapter of Daniel foretells that the king of the north will flood over all the lands during the time of the end and that he will even enter into the land of the Decoration. The land of the Decoration is God’s possession; or, as it states in the prophecy under consideration: “For this is what Jehovah has said to me: ‘I will keep undisturbed and look upon my established place, like the dazzling heat along with the light, like the cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.’”
Interestingly, the king of the north also subjugates “Ethiopia.” Ethiopia is referred to in Isaiah as the land of the whirring winged insects. It appears, then, that the “land of the whirring insects with wings” are the same as the locust swarms depicted in Joel that overrun God’s earthly sanctuary. The land washed away by the rivers parallels the lands flooded over by the king of the north.
Keep in mind that the rulers of the present evil world are not necessarily literal kings of individual nations. The real human rulers are the aristocratic oligarchs – powerful families that have ruled Europe for centuries. True, nominally they are grouped around the British Crown and lesser thrones of Europe. But even those literal kingdoms are expendable. The real levers of power are exerted through control of the monetary and financial systems. Through that mechanism the elites are able to control sovereign nations and through their control over political nations it is as though a single king can muster vast armies.
The prophecy of Joel portrays in symbolism God’s established place being overrun and the harvest devoured by Jehovah’s own military force, yet the assault merely accomplishes God’s purpose and the nations are ultimately destroyed. That would seem to be the message contained in this portion of Isaiah.
“Jehovah will remain undisturbed” while his established place is trampled. That trampling will serve as a sign to the nations that Christ’s kingdom has come.
The nations will see a sight, in what sense? They will witness nation rising against nation on a scale never before seen. According to Joel, the final sealing and outpouring of holy spirit will proceed after the harvest is interrupted and will be accompanied by blood and columns of smoke, which is undoubtedly a reference to the fear-inspiring mushroom clouds produced by nuclear explosions. They will see the raising of the signal on the mountains and hear as if the blast of a heavenly trumpet that will indicate Christ reigns upon Mount Zion.
But what is the meaning of the previously cited span: “They will be left all together for the bird of prey of the mountains and for the beast of the earth. And upon it the bird of prey will certainly pass the summer, and upon it even every beast of the earth will pass the harvesttime”?
The bird of prey and the beasts of the field represent the nations that bring the holy ones to ruin during the harvest. The “harvesttime” interval that the beasts are allowed to pass must find a parallel in the 1,260 day time period common to Daniel and Revelation.
But how does the nation of tensile strength present a gift to Jehovah in Mount Zion? By killing the sealed holy ones. Then they are changed in the twinkling of an eye into immortal spirits. When the last one is changed and presented to Jehovah on heavenly Mount Zion God’s purpose comes to a conclusion and the nations are destroyed.