"They shall all be left to the birds of prey of the mountains and
to the animals of the earth. . . . At that time gifts will be brought to
the Lord of hosts from a people tall and smooth . . . whose land the
rivers divide, to Mount Zion" (Isa. 18:6–7).
On my recent
sojourn in southern Sudan, I learned that in the view of the Christians
of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Isaiah 18's description of the
sufferings of a people "tall and smooth" refer to them. (Manute Bol, the
late Sudanese professional basketball player, was seven feet, seven
inches tall.) Suffering came to the people of southern Sudan when
President Omar al-Bashir in the predominantly Arab-Muslim north sought
to impose Islamic Shari'a law—an effort that sparked a southern uprising
and years of civil war. Isaiah's reference to the "gifts brought to the
Lord" is taken by the Sudanese churchpeople to mean the mass
Christianization of the south; in the midst of civil war the ECS grew
from a fledgling missionary enterprise to a church of 5 million (that's
twice as many Episcopalians as there are in the U.S.).
From one vantage point this interpretation of Isaiah can seem arbitrary.