Isaiah 18 – An Oracle about Ethiopi & Chemosha

I just don’t understand people, You tell them not to worship other gods (Ex 20:3-6) or bad things will happen (22:20; Deut 18:19; Jer 25:6-7), and they still do it. 

People still do that stuff today, like the Muslims and people go and talk to psychics, and You said those types of people will be destroyed (Ex 22:18; Lev 20:6, 27; 1 Chr 10:13; Isa 19:3; Rev 22:15). It appears to me that people are getting dumber and dumber.

Shabako
Neferkare Shabaka (or Shabako) was the third Kushite pharaoh of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt, who reigned from 705–690 BC.

Shabaka’s timeline in the 25th dynasty
The archaeological evidence now in 2016/2017 firmly favours a Shebitku-Shabaka succession. Gerard Broekman’s GM 251 (2017) paper shows that Shebitku reigned before Shabaka since the upper edge of Shabaka’s NLR #30’s Year 2 Karnak quay inscription was carved over the left-hand side of the lower edge of Shebitku’s NLR#33 Year 3 inscription. This can only mean that Shabaka ruled after Shebitku.

Critically, Frederic Payraudeau writes in French that “the Divine Adoratrix or God’s Wife of Amun Shepenupet I, the last Libyan Adoratrix, was still alive during the reign of Shebitku because she is represented performing rites and is described as “living” in those parts of the Osiris-Héqadjet chapel built during his reign (wall and exterior of the gate).

In the rest of the room, it is Amenirdis I, Shabaka’s sister), who is represented with the Adoratrix title and provided with a coronation name. The succession Shepenupet I – Amenirdis I as God’s Wife of Amun or Divine Adoratrix thus took place during the reign of Shebitku. This detail in itself is sufficient to show that the reign of Shabaka cannot precede that of Shebitku.

The construction of the tomb of Shebitku (Ku. 18) resembles that of Piye (Ku. 17) while that of Shabaka (Ku. 15) is similar to that of Taharqa (Nu. 1) and Tantamani (Ku. 16). This also favours a Shebitku-Shabaka succession in the 25th dynasty. One of the strongest evidence that Shabaka ruled after Shebitku was demonstrated by the architectural features of the Kushite royal pyramids in El Kurru.

Only in the pyramids of Piye (Ku 17) and Shebitku (Ku 18) are the burial-chambers open-cut structures with a corbelled roof, whereas fully tunnelled burial chamber substructures are found in the pyramids of Shabaka (Ku 15), Taharqa (Nu 1) and Tantamani (Ku 16), as well as with all subsequent royal pyramids in El Kurru and Nuri. The fully tunnelled and once decorated burial chamber of Shabaka’s pyramid was clearly an architectural improvement since it was followed by Taharqa and all his successors. The pyramid design evidence also shows that Shabaka must have ruled after—and not before—Shebitku.

1 Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:

“Shadowing with wings” – a reference to insects (perhaps locusts) or a figurative description of the armies of Ethiopia or Cush (see 7:18-19).

“Ethiopia” – Nubia or ancient Ethiopia (not to be confused with modern Ethiopia, which is located farther to the southeast), south of Egypt.  In 715 B.C. a Cushite named Shabako gained control of Egypt and founded the 25th dynasty.

2 That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!

“Sea” – the Nile River (cf 19:5; Nah 3:8).

“Vessels of bulrushes” – lightweight boats made out of papyrus reeds.

“Go ye swift messengers” – with the message contained in vv 3-6.

“Nation scattered and peeled” – Lit. “tall and smooth.”  Probably the people of Cush and Egypt.  Unlike Semites, they were clean-shaven.

3 All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.

“All ye inhabitants of the world” – all the nations arrayed against God’s people Israel (see 17:12-14 and note).

4 For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.

“I will take my rest…I will consider” – the Lord responds thoughtfully and deliberately.  In the face of the hostility of the nations, the Lord will not act immediately; but when they are in the full growth of summer (v 5), He will cut them down.

“Like a clear heat upon herbs” – or “like a dazzling heat caused by the sunlight.”

5 For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.

6 They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.

“Fowls of the mountains…beasts of the earth” – cf 56:9; Jer 7:33; Eze 32:4, 39:17-20.

7 In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.

“Present” – according to 2 Chr 32:23 gifts were brought to Hezekiah after Sennacherib’s death.  The Moabites were asked to send tribute to mount Zion in 16:1 (cf 45:14; Zeph 3:10).

“Place of the name” – see Deut 12:5.

Chemosh

Chemosh
Chemosh was the national deity of the Moabites whose name most likely meant “destroyer,” “subduer,” or “fish god.” While he is most readily associated with the Moabites, according to Judges 11:24 he seems to have been the national deity of the Ammonites as well.

Chemosh was the national deity of the Moabites whose name most likely meant “destroyer,” “subduer,” or “fish god.”  While he is most readily associated with the Moabites, according to Judges 11:24, he seems to have been the national deity of the Ammonites as well.

His presence in the Old Testament world was well-known, as his cult was imported to Jerusalem by King Solomon (1 Kings 11:7).  The Hebrew scorn for his worship was evident in a curse from the scriptures (2 Kings 23:13-15).  

Evidence about Chemosh

Information on Chemosh is scarce, although archaeology and text can render a clearer picture of the deity.  In 1868, an archaeological find at Dibon provided scholars with more clues to the nature of Chemosh. 

The find, known as the Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele, was a monument bearing an inscription commemorating the c. 860 B.C. endeavors of King Mesha to overthrow the Israelite dominion of Moab.  The vassalage had existed since the reign of David (2 Samuel 8:2), but the Moabites revolted upon the death of Ahab.  Consequently, the Moabite Stone has the oldest existing inscription of a Semitic alphabet. 

Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele)

Moabite Stone
The Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone, is a stele (inscribed stone) set up around 840 BCE by King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom located in modern Jordan). Mesha tells how Chemosh, the god of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be subjugated to Israel, but at length Chemosh returned and assisted Mesha to throw off the yoke of Israel and restore the lands of Moab. Mesha describes his many building projects. Some say it is written in the Phoenician alphabet, but others say it is written in the Old Hebrew script, which is closely related.

The stone was discovered intact by Frederick Augustus Klein, an Anglican missionary, at the site of ancient Dibon (now Dhiban, Jordan).

The Moabite Stone is a priceless source of information about Chemosh.  Within the text the inscriber mentions Chemosh twelve times.  He also names Mesha as the son of Chemosh. 

Mesha made it clear that he understood Chemosh’s anger and the reason he allowed the Moabites to fall under the rule of Israel.  The high place on which Mesha oriented the stone was dedicated to Chemosh as well. 

In summary, Mesha realized that Chemosh waited to restore Moab in his day, for which Mesha was grateful to Chemosh.  

Blood Sacrifice for Chemosh

Chemosh seems to have also had a taste for blood.  In 2 Kings 3:27 we find that human sacrifice was part of the rites of Chemosh.  This practice, while gruesome, was certainly not unique to the Moabites, as such rites were commonplace in the various Canaanite religious cults, including those of the Baals and of Moloch.

Mythologists and other scholars suggest that such activity may be because the Chemosh and other Canaanite gods such as the Baals, Moloch, Thammuz, and Baalzebub were all personifications of the sun, or of the sun’s rays. 

Synthesis of Semitic Gods

As subtext, Chemosh and the Moabite Stone seem to show something of the nature of religion in Semitic regions of the period.  Namely, they give insight into the fact that goddesses were indeed secondary, and in many cases being dissolved or compounded with male deities. 

This may be seen in the Moabite Stone inscriptions where Chemosh is also called “Asthor-Chemosh.”  Such synthesis reveals the masculinization of Ashtoreth, a Canaanite goddess worshipped by Moabites and other Semitic peoples. 

Biblical scholars have also noted that Chemosh’s role in the Moabite Stone inscription is analogous to that of Yahweh in the book of Kings.  Thus, it would seem that Semitic regard for national deities operated similarly from region to region.