The meaning of this chapter has been very variously given by those who have interpreted it.  I prefer that of Bishop Horsley, as the most literal, consistent with itself, and agreeable to the ancient interpretations and general tenour of prophecy.  Dr. Henderson’s offends against that great canon of prophecy, which forbids us to regard as of private interpretation that which is of universal import to the Church.  The following are some of the Bishop’s commencing observations:‑


I set out with considering every one of these assumptions (that the prophecy regarded Egypt; described a heavy judgement; and that the time was close at hand), as doubtful; and the conclusion to which my investigations bring me, is that every one of them is false.  First, the prophecy indeed predicts some woful judgement.  But the principal matter of the prophecy is not judgement but mercy, a gracious promise of the final restoration of the Israelites.  Secondly, the promise has no respect to Egypt or to any of the contiguous countries.  What has been applied to Egypt is a description of some people or another destined to be the principal instruments, in the hand of Providence, in the great work of the resettlement of the Jews in the Holy Land - a description of that people by characters by which they shall be evidently known when that time arrives.  Thirdly, the time for the completion of the prophecy was very remote when it was delivered, and is yet future, being indeed the season of the second Advent of our Lord.”


A summons is uttered to some mighty nation, situated either towards the east or west of Cush (or Ethiopia), and accustomed to send ambassadors by sea (to all nations), and letters on the surface of the waters, commanding her messengers to go forth.  Yet it should be noticed that the first characteristic of this nation is given differently by the LXX., according to whom it should be, “Land of the winged ships!”


A commercial and maritime nation is certainly pointed out by these various yet harmonious features.  But to whom are the messengers to be sent?  Jerome, Horsley, and others, understand the Jews, and it will be seen that the lineaments accord with the historical character of that people.  They are “dragged away and plucked” - torn from their native country again and again.  They are “a people wonderful from their beginning hitherto.”  Moses brings this observation before their eyes in his day.  Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?  Or hath God essayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut. 4: 33, 34.)  Nor has their singularity and the awe of their history ceased since then.  The wonders of Joshua’s day, of the Judges, and the Kings, of the Saviour’s appearance, and their scattering through the world, combined with their present existence still unchanged and unchangeable, confirm their title to be considered the most wonderful people of the earth.  To a like effect speaks the Geneva Bible on this clause – “The Jews (are the nation spoken of) who, because of God’s plagues, made all others afraid of the like.”  They are also “an always expectant nation.”  Perpetually disappointed in the hope of a Messiah yet to come, still in every country and under every disappointment they are expectant, even to the present day.  Yet in spite of their hope of one day ruling the world, they are also “trampled under foot.”  Who more so than the Jews?  Their very name a proverbial expression of insult, their persons despised everywhere, and in former times subjected to every species of ignominy, injury, and death.  Whose land rivers have spoiled.”  That is, according to Bishop Horsley, ‘whose country kings have frequently plundered’.  This interpretation seems borne out by chapter 8: 6, 7, nor is there need to prove at length that the country of the Jews has been subject to invading armies.  In addition, however, the confirmatory words of Jerome may not be unacceptable – “Go swiftly to the nation of the Jews, plucked up and torn by the Assyrian invasion; to a people once terrible, who were under the rule of God, with whose power none may be compared; to a nation always expecting the aid of God, and nevertheless trodden down by man; whose land, rivers, that is, different kings, have laid waste.”


Nor are the messengers to go to them alone; but their cry is to all the nations of the world, to announce to them the appearing as of a banner on the mountains, and the sound of a trumpet.  Now as the appearance of a banner and the sound of a trumpet are the signals for an army to gather, so I apprehend are these.  We read of both these signals in the Saviour’s great prophecy of his return; to which time, as Horsley justly observes, this prophecy reaches.  And then shall they see the sign of the Son of Man in heaven,” whatever it be: whether or not, as the Fathers expected, it signify the cross, which is indeed the emblem of the Son of Man.  But the Saviour proceeds to declare, “He shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall qather toqether his elect from one end of heaven to the other.”  Nor is this all.  The coincidence is yet more complete.  Isaiah assures us that the message is to all nations.  St. Luke, immediately before this prophecy of the sign of the Son of Man and of the last trumpet of the Archangel, places “the distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them for fear;” while St. Matthew adds,  And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  Respecting the 4th verse there is so much uncertainty, that though Horsley’s version is retained in the text, that of the LXX. seems almost equally worthy of reception:‑-


For thus said Jehovah unto me,

There shall be safety in my city;

As a cloud in the mid-day light and heat,

And as dew in the day of harvest.”


If Bishop Horsley’s be preferred, the verse will signify a long withdrawal of the miraculous interposition of God in the affairs of the world.  He will sit still in his dwelling place until the inhabitants will think that he has forgotten; that he hideth away his face and will never regard what is done on earth, and that, just before God’s vengeance shall burst forth like lightning.  This is in entire accordance with the tenour of prophecy.  The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till 1 make thine enemies thy footstool.”  If the Septuagint version be adopted, the sense will be, that when the banner is thus erected, and the trumpet blown, “Jerusalem shall be a quiet habitation,” and the security experienced shall be the more grateful because of the preceding time of great tribulation, even as a cloud is grateful in the midst of the glare and heat of a tropical clime, and, as Jerome observes, “as the dew is pleasant to the panting reaper.”  Which of these is to be preferred, as both exceedingly well accord with the analogy of prophecy, is left to the reader’s choice.  The 5th verse describes the judgements of God just before the harvest (or ingathering of believers, as the Saviour explains it in his parable of the tares and wheat), upon his professing Church.  As at the time immediately preceding harvest, when the vine is in blossom, the husbandman prunes it of its luxuriant and useless shoots, so will Christ deal with his Church; he will send such troubles and persecutions upon it, that all who are mere professors will be severed from it, as the useless boughs by the pruning-knife.  The time will come “that judgement must begin at the house of God.” 


This interpretation is made good by the fifteenth of St. John,  I am the true vine, and my Father is the husband man.  Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”  Moreover, as Isaiah declares that these useless twigs shall be left to the ravenous bird and the wild beasts, signifying thereby the desertion of the Christian faith by false professors, for the lies and abominations of Antichrist and his seducing spirits, so Paul foretells, that “in the latter days men shall depart from the (Christian) faith,” and the Man of Sin shall gather them to his party and to his own dreadful end.  For this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  In St. Paul their want of faith is ascribed as the reason of their rejection; in St. John the want of those works which are the evidence of faith.


Yet at that time when the wickedness of man has come to the full, the Lord Jesus shall appear, and then shall his ancient people become glorious in the eyes of the Gentiles, who shall bring them by every mode of conveyance to their native land, and especially to the Saviour’s abode on Mount Zion.


The observations of Procopius on this point are here presented to the reader’s notice.  After ‘the harvest’ of the present life, they that are thought worthy of that consummation, shall partake of unmixed divinity, when the separation shall take place of those that are now gathered together in the Church of God.  And the superfluous branches of the vine shall be cast for food to the avenging Powers; and the fruitful souls shall attain their expectation from God.  But who he is that shall take away and cut off, the Saviour himself declares, setting before us under the figure of a vine and its branches, the good and the foolish, saying, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.  Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away.’”  Here the writer refers the period spoken of to that succeeding the final judgement, which the concluding words forbid us to admit; for the time specified shall be that of the Jews’ return, both locally to “Mount Zion,” and spiritually in heart to the faith of Christ; and this were impossible in its former part after the earth is burnt up.  With this exception the view of Procopius agrees with that given above.