Isaiah 19 – The Burden Against Egypt
A. God strikes Egypt.
1. (1-4) The LORD strikes Egypt by giving them over to civil war and submission to a cruel master.
The burden against Egypt.
Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud,
And will come into Egypt;
The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence,
And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.
“I will set Egyptians against Egyptians;
Everyone will fight against his brother,
And everyone against his neighbor,
City against city, kingdom against kingdom.
The spirit of Egypt will fail in its midst;
I will destroy their counsel,
And they will consult the idols and the charmers,
The mediums and the sorcerers.
And the Egyptians I will give
Into the hand of a cruel master,
And a fierce king will rule over them,”
Says the Lord, the LORD of hosts.
a. The LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt: Egypt was one of the great powers of the ancient world, and being situated immediately to the south of Israel, it was an empire that Israel constantly had to reckon with. Many times, Egypt had been the enemy of Israel, at times Egypt had been a refuge for Israel, and sometimes Egypt offered a tempting but ungodly alliance to Israel. In this chapter, the LORD presents both a prophecy against and for Egypt.
b. The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence: Egypt was known for its worship of many, many different gods. Through His hand of judgment, the LORD will “knock over” these many different gods.
i. “In Isaiah’s day there was no other nation on earth that was so much in the grip of superstition and filthy idolatry as Egypt. Apes, cats, frogs, crocodiles, lizards – everything was venerated by them.” (Bultema)
ii. At the time of the Exodus, when the Pharaoh of Egypt would not release the children of Israel from their captivity, the LORD also made the idols of Egypt to totter at His presence. He directed each of the plagues against a particular idol of Egypt.
The LORD knocked down the god Khnum, the guardian of the Nile, the god Hapi, the spirit of the Nile, and the god Osiris (who had the Nile as his bloodstream) when the waters were turned to blood.
The LORD knocked down the goddess Heqt, the frog-goddess of fertility, with the plague of frogs.
The LORD knocked down the goddess Hathor, a cow-like mother goddess, with the plague on livestock.
The LORD knocked down the god Imhotep, the god of medicine, with the plague of boils.
The LORD knocked down the god Nut, the sky goddess, with the plague of hail.
The LORD knocked down the whole system of Egyptian worship of their gods with loathsome lice and swarms of insects.
The LORD knocked down the god Seth, thought to be the protector of crops, with the plague of locusts.
The LORD knocked down the god Ra, thought to be the sun god, with the plague of darkness.
The LORD knocked down Osiris, the Egyptian god thought to be the giver of life, and the supposed deity of Pharaoh himself, with the plague against the firstborn.
iii. In the days of the Exodus, God made all the idols of Egypt to totter at His presence. Here, Isaiah tells us the LORD will do it again.
c. I will set Egyptians against Egyptians: Isaiah prophesies a coming civil war in Egypt, which was indirectly the hand of God’s judgment against them.
i. “Not many years after this time it was divided into twelve several kingdoms, between whom there were many and cruel wars, as is related by the historians of those times.” (Poole)
d. I will destroy their counsel, and they will consult the idols and the charmers: When a nation is under the judgment of God, He often seems to “remove” sound counsel and wisdom from their leaders, and they turn to vain, pagan things for wisdom instead (idols and the charmers).
i. “Egypt was renowned for her class of wise men (1 Kings 4:30), but they would not be able to cope with this judgment from the Lord.” (Wolf)
e. The Egyptians I will give into the hand of a cruel master, and a fierce king will rule over them: God may judge a nation through their leadership in two ways. First, by removing competent leadership (I will destroy their counsel). Second, by giving them cruel and oppressive rulers. This is a curse and a judgment to any people.
2. (5-10) The LORD strikes Egypt by drying up the Nile, thus wrecking their economy.
The waters will fail from the sea,
And the river will be wasted and dried up.
The rivers will turn foul;
The brooks of defense will be emptied and dried up;
The reeds and rushes will wither.
The papyrus reeds by the River, by the mouth of the River,
And everything sown by the River,
Will wither, be driven away, and be no more.
The fishermen also will mourn;
All those will lament who cast hooks into the River,
And they will languish who spread nets on the waters.
Moreover those who work in fine flax
And those who weave fine fabric will be ashamed;
And its foundations will be broken.
All who make wages will be troubled of soul.
a. The river will be wasted and dried up: The Nile River was the key to Egypt’s agriculture and economy. For it to suffer a severe drought or lowering would have a devastating effect on the lives of Egyptians. God promises this will happen as a judgment against Egypt.
b. The rivers will turn foul: Because of this ecological disaster, the workers of Egypt would cry out. The fishermen also will mourn…they will languish who spread nets on the waters…. those who weave fine fabric will be ashamed…. all who make wages will be troubled of soul.
3. (11-15) The LORD strikes Egypt by sending them with foolish counsel.
Surely the princes of Zoan are fools;
Pharaoh’s wise counselors give foolish counsel.
How do you say to Pharaoh, “I am the son of the wise,
The son of ancient kings?”
Where are they?
Where are your wise men?
Let them tell you now,
And let them know what the LORD of hosts has purposed against Egypt.
The princes of Zoan have become fools;
The princes of Noph are deceived;
They have also deluded Egypt,
Those who are the mainstay of its tribes.
The LORD has mingled a perverse spirit in her midst;
And they have caused Egypt to err in all her work,
As a drunken man staggers in his vomit.
Neither will there be any work for Egypt,
Which the head or tail,
Palm branch or bulrush, may do.
a. Surely the princes of Zoan are fools; Pharaoh’s wise counselors give foolish counsel: As the LORD strikes Egypt, not only does He give them cruel rulers, but He also gives those cruel rulers foolish counsel.
b. Where are your wise men? Let them tell you now, and let them know what the LORD of hosts has purposed against Egypt: Here, the LORD reminds us of what true wisdom is. It is knowing what the LORD of hosts has purposed. True wisdom isn’t knowing all kinds of facts and plans and strategies. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10).
4. (16-17) When God strikes Egypt, there will be terror among the people.
In that day Egypt will be like women, and will be afraid and fear because of the waving of the hand of the LORD of hosts, which He waves over it. And the land of Judah will be a terror to Egypt; everyone who makes mention of it will be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the LORD of hosts which He has determined against it.
a. Because of the waving of the hand of the LORD of hosts: All the LORD will need to do is to wave His hand, and the people of Egypt will respond in terror, they will be afraid and fear.
b. The land of Judah will be a terror to Egypt: This is a dramatic change. For thousands of years, the land of Judah lay submissively in the shadow of the great Egyptian Empire. The LORD prophesies a day when Judah will be mightier than Egypt, and the land of Judah will be a terror to Egypt.
B. God saves Egypt
1. (18-22) Egypt turns to the LORD.
In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear by the LORD of hosts; one will be called the City of Destruction. In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the LORD will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the LORD and perform it.And the LORD will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the LORD, and He will be entreated by them and heal them.
a. Five cities in the land of Egypt will become more identified with the LORD than with Egypt. A better translation of the phrase City of Destruction may be, City of the Sun, which was a well-known Egyptian city known as Heliopolis.
b. Egypt will speak the language of Canaan: This prophecy announces a day when Egypt will worship the LORD, with an altar to the LORD, and will memorialize God’s great works with a pillar to the LORD. When Egypt is brought under this oppression, they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and then He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them.
i. “In the time of the Maccabees, the high priest Onias IV was forced to flee to Egypt, and there he built a temple that was similar to the one in Jerusalem. Some commentators relate the ‘altar’ of verse 19 to this structure.” (Wolf) This may relate to the City of the Sun prophecy because the temple Onias IV built was in the province of Heliopolis.
ii. He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One: “The text says the Saviour is a great one. Oh! I wanted a great Saviour. A little Saviour would not have answered my turn, for great sin wanted a great atonement, and my hard heart wanted great grace to soften it down.” (Spurgeon)
c. The Egyptians will know the LORD in that day: There did come to be a widespread knowledge of the LORD in Egypt. In the days of Jesus, more than a million Jews lived in Egypt. In the early days of Christianity, there was a strong, vital church in Egypt for more than 600 years.
i. This prophecy may have additional fulfillment during the Millennium, but it certainly has been fulfilled in history. In the fourth century, the great theologian Athanasius, wrote this from Egypt: “The thing is happening before our very eyes, here in Egypt; and thereby another prophecy is fulfilled, for at no other time have the Egyptians ceased from their false worship save when the Lord of all, riding as on a cloud, came down here in the body and brought the error of idols to nothing and won over everybody to Himself and through Himself to the Father.” (From On the Incarnation, cited by Grogan)
ii. The altar and sacrifice described most likely are fulfilled during the Millennium, when sacrifice will be allowed as a memorial of Jesus’ great work, but never as atonement. “For just as restored Israel will bring blood sacrifices unto the Lord to keep in remembrance of the all-sufficient blood sacrifice of Christ, so this may also take place in Egypt on that memorable day.” (Bultema)
d. He will strike and heal it: Whatever judgment God allowed, His desire was that people would repent and return to Him so they could be healed.
2. (23-25) An amazing peace between three formerly hostile enemies.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”
a. Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria: God promises the day will come when there will be peace between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria. There will be trade and travel between the three nations (a highway from Egypt to Assyria). In that day, the LORD will bless all three nations.
b. Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria, the work of My hands, and Israel is My inheritance: What an amazing work of redemption! This shows that God’s salvation will extend to the nations, and He will call forth His own even from Egypt and Assyria, not only from Israel.
i. It was powerful to say this of Egypt; it was almost unbelievable to say it about Assyria, the nation Jonah hated so much. “In Isaiah’s day, Assyria was the one power feared by every little nation in the Fertile Crescent. The calculated brutality of the Assyrians probably made them more of an object of general hatred than any other nation of antiquity. The Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians were all capable of inhuman acts, but the Assyrian record for callous cruelty is difficult to parallel.” (Grogan)
ii. “Who, standing amid the terrors of the plagues, could ever have supposed that Egypt would be addressed as ‘my people’? Who could have thought that Assyria, the tyrant persecutor, would ever be called ‘the work of my hands’? Yet these are the trophies and triumphs of divine grace.” (Meyer)
iii. “But Israel is always his inheritance. There he finds rest and home, for the Lord’s portion is his people. Oh to know the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints!” (Meyer) We are also the Lord’s inheritance; in Ephesians 1:18, Paul prayed that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. God’s people are His riches and inheritance and glory.
c. Blessed is Egypt My people: From this passage regarding the conversion of Egypt, Spurgeon drew the following points (from his sermon, The Fruits of Grace).
God’s grace often comes to the very worst of men.
God’s grace sends a Savior.
Grace changes men’s language.
God’s grace sets men on holy service.
God’s grace teaches men to pray.
God’s grace instructs men.
Grace makes even trouble a blessing to a man.
God’s grace changes the relations of men to each other.
God’s grace makes men to be blessed, and to be a blessing to others.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org