Isaiah 19 - Outline of Isaiah (MENU page)
I.C.5. The Burden of Egypt (19:1- 20:6)
1. The burden of Egypt.
Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt:
and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence,
and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.
2 And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians:
and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour;
city against city, [and] kingdom against kingdom.
3 And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof:
and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers,
and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.
4 And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord;
and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts.
the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud... -
The LORD, not the false gods to whom the Egyptians looked for rain and prosperity (and who sometimes were depicted as riding on a swift cloud), was coming to judge Egypt. It was He who was directing the armies of Assyria (and later, of Babylon) in their invasions of Egypt, though their kings were not aware of His hand (cp. 10:7). Egypt was invaded by a succession of Assyrian kings, including Sargon and Esarhaddon, and later by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar's invasion is foretold in Jer 43:8-13; 46:1-28 and Eze 29:1-21. In those passages, the dual reasons for Egypt's judgment are identified as her trust in idols, and her untrustworthiness toward Israel (cp. Isa 36:6).
the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence... -
"Though idols are nothing, yet they represent demons who energize the worship addressed to them (1Cor 10:19-21). The demons, therefore, were 'moved' with terror at Jehovah's entrance into Egypt; just as they were terror-stricken at His entrance into Gadara (Mark 5)." [in quotes, GWms]
I will set Egyptian against Egyptian...-
Shortly before Sargon's invasion, Egypt was torn by civil war, and divided into several city states.
the spirit of Egypt shall fail... I will destroy the counsel thereof...- Egypt's failure of spirit
is linked to the counsel they sought. Their idols, spiritists and occult practises could not deliver them.
the Egyptians... into the hand of a cruel lord {lit., of cruel lords}...-
Egypt would be under the successive dominion of "the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Moslems; and finally 'a fierce king,' ie., the anti-christ." [GWms]
5 And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.
6 And they shall turn the rivers far away;
[and] the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up:
the reeds and flags shall wither.
7 The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks,
and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no [more].
8 The fishers also shall mourn,
and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament,
and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish.
9 Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded.
10 And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof,
all that make sluices [and] ponds for fish.
the waters shall fail {ie., be dried up} from the sea...-
The root meaning of the word 'sea' is 'roaring.' This word is used of major bodies of water including the Red Sea (eg., Isa 11:15). However, since the Nile River, is Egypt's dominant body of water, it was sometimes referred to as Egypt's "sea." The stated effects upon Egypt's livelihood and commerce, which were dependent upon the Nile, seem to favor this meaning. The failure of the Nile would be caused by the hand of God, not by human aggressors. cp. Eze 30:10-13
the rivers... the brooks... shall be emptied and dried... - The canals and small rivers of the Nile delta would be emptied of water.
Today, the flow of these channels has been greatly diminished because of the accumulation of silt.
the paper reeds... and everything sown... shall wither... and be no more.-
The fertile banks of the Nile supported rich agriculture, in the days of the Pharaohs. Today, the prominence of Egypt's agricultural industry has greatly diminished. Among the former crops were the plants from which Papyrus was manufactured. For centuries Papyrus, a writing material similar to paper, was Egypt's most important export. Once common, these plants are now scarce because of environmental and economic changes (eg., the displacement of papyrus by pulp based paper).
the fishers shall mourn...- Like agriculture, fishing, once a major industry along the Nile,
has declined because of changes to the Nile. The Israelites, in the wilderness, yearned for the fish of Egypt (Num 11:5).
they that work in fine flax... shall be confounded.-
"Fine linen" from Egypt, which the Israelites brought with them during their Exodus, was used in construction of the Tabernacle. Due to the quality of Egypt's flax plants, and their unique processing methods, Egypt's linen had an unusually fine weave of about 360 threads to the inch, whereas modern fine linen has about 160. (Linen material, discovered in Egypt's ancient tombs, had an extremely fine weave of about 540 threads to the inch.) Egyptian fine linen was highly sought as an export product. This industry rested upon the flax crop, which also was dependent upon the Nile.
they shall be broken in the purposes {or, foundations} thereof...-
The failure of Egypt's natural and economic resources may have been most complete during the forty year period immediately following her defeat by Nebuchadnezzar (although, thus far, no secular record of that collapse has been discovered). Yet, even today, Egypt has never regained the economic and industrial prominence that she once enjoyed, but remains a "base" {ie., lowly, humble} nation (Eze 29:9-15).
11 Surely the princes of Zoan [are] fools,
the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish:
how say ye unto Pharaoh, I [am] the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?
12 Where [are] they? where [are] thy wise [men]?
and let them tell thee now, and let them know what the LORD of hosts hath purposed upon Egypt.
13 The princes of Zoan are become fools, the princes of Noph are deceived;
they have also seduced Egypt, [even they that are] the stay of the tribes thereof.
14 The LORD hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof:
and they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof,
as a drunken [man] staggereth in his vomit.
15 Neither shall there be [any] work for Egypt,
which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do.
the counsel of the wise counsellors... - is foolish,
because it is ignorant of and in denial of the Lord's purposes (v.12).
the princes of Zoan... of Noph...
Zoan {Raamses, Ex 1:11} was the capital city of the delta region, and home to the Pharaohs. Noph (Memphis) was another prominent city, located on the Nile, south of the delta.
the princes... are deceived... even... the stay {ie., corner, corner stone, foundation} of the tribes {of Egypt}... -
The princes were priest-princes claiming divine wisdom because of their royal descent (v.11).
They declared themselves to be wise, while they themselves were in gross error (cp. Rom 1:21-23 with Ex 9:13,14; 14:18).
The priest-princes were promoting false principles which imperiled their nation, though it trusted them implicitly (cp. 2Tim 3:13).
neither shall there be any work for Egypt...-
The failure of the spiritual leadership was behind the nation's failure of spirit through false religion (v.3). Theeir false gods were powerless to reverse the failure of natural resources which diminished her economy (v.5). High and low, rich and poor would find themselves unemployed.
16 In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: and it shall be afraid and fear
because of the shaking of the hand of the LORD of hosts, which he shaketh over it.
17 And the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt,
every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid in himself,
because of the counsel of the LORD of hosts, which he hath determined against it.
in that day... - In prophecy, the phrase 'in that day' is often equivalent to 'in the Day of the LORD.'
This phrase occurs 6 times in 'the Burden of Egypt'. This first occurrence relates to the smiting of Egypt (in God's judgment of their sin). The remaining 5 relate to their healing, by God's grace (v.22).
The first 17 verses of this chapter have been at least partially fulfilled. in past history. Verses 16-25 will see fulfillment in the future (v.16-17 have both near and far application).
the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt...-
In the near term, Egypt would fear as they received reports that enemy nations (ie., Assyria and Babylon, in succession) had overwhelmed Judah's defenses and were advancing toward them.
...because of the counsel of the Lord... which he hath determined against it {or, 'in regard to it,' ie., Judah}-
  • In the near view, the Lord's purpose, in these invasions, was Judah's judgment (eg., 10:5-7).
  • In the far view, Egypt will fear as they recognize their sins against Israel, are an affront to the LORD, and a cause of His wrath upon them (cp. 14:24-27,32). This fear will bring them to repentance and to salvation (cp. 2Cor 7:10). Their change of heart is evidenced in the remainder of the chapter.
18. In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan,
and swear to the LORD of hosts;
one shall be called, The city of destruction.
shall speak the language of Canaan {ie., Hebrew} and swear to the LORD of hosts...-
This does not mean that Egypt will cease speaking their own language, but that they will also speak the language of Israel, thus identifying themselves with that nation, and with the God of Israel. cp. Zeph 3:9; Isa 45:23,24; Jer 12:14-17
five cities... - ie., the five most prominent cities, implying the whole land.
one shall be called, The city of destruction.- This line has been a puzzle for translators.
Suggested readings:
  • "Each one shall be called 'The city of Righteousness.'" [GWms] (Whereas they were previously cities of unrighteousness.)
  • "The city of the Sun" - This may be a play on words. The HB words "heres" and "cheres" are nearly identical when written. The meaning of the former is "destruction" and the later is one of the HB words for "sun." The reference may be to the city devoted to worship of the sun, called 'On' by the Egyptians (cp. Gen 41:45) and 'Heliopolis' by the Greeks. In repentance from their false religion, they acknowledge the end to which it led, by calling their city "destruction." cp. Prov 14:12
19 In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt,
and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD.
20 And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt:
for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors,
and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.
an altar... and a pillar... to the LORD... for a sign... for a witness...-
These monuments will be erected to testify of Egypt's identification with the LORD (Jehovah, the God of Israel's covenant). Egypt is a land full of monuments to false gods and empty promises. These new monuments (of v.19) will honor the true and living God, who was formerly unknown to them (cp. Acts 17:23). Observe that 'altar' and 'pillar' are singular, not plural. These will not be alternate places of worship, but reminders of their identification with Jehovah's one Sacrifice and one Covenant. (cp. Josh 22:10,26-29; Gen 28:10-15,18; Heb 10:12-18)
they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors... - Pressure from the antichrist and his associates (v.4),
will cause the Egyptians to pray to the God of Israel for deliverence. Psa 50:15; Isa 45:22
...He shall send them a saviour... a great one - cp. Luk 2:11; Titus 2:13
Counterfeit saviors have arisen throughout human history, to disappoint rather than deliver their followers. About 550 years after Isaiah spoke, and 450 years after the Babylonian invasion of Egypt, during the time of the Maccabean revolt against the oppression of the Jews and the desecration of the second Temple in Jerusalem, by the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, a Jewish high priest named Onias IV obtained permission from the Greek Ptolemies (Ptolemy and Cleopatra) who then ruled a portion of Egypt which had a large Jewish population, to build a replica of the Temple in the Egyptian city of Leontopolis (c. 154 BC). Onias used this passage to claim that he was the great savior. He hoped that his temple would replace the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem. However, his claims were rejected because the Law of Moses prescribes but one place of worship. (eg., Deu 12:5,11,13,14)
     This prophecy awaits the second coming of Christ. (See Mat 24:15, re: a still future desecration of the Temple); and Mat 24:21-30, re: the many false saviors who will appear before the one great Savior returns).
21 And the LORD shall be known to Egypt,
and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation;
yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform [it].
22 And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal [it]:
and they shall return [even] to the LORD,
and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them.
cp. Hab 2:14; Joh 17:3; Gal 4:8,9; Mal 1:11
23 In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria,
and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria,
and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
a highway...- cp. Isa 11:16; 35:8-10
Former enemies will interact freely, through open borders, with a common purpose (ie., to serve the Lord).
24 In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria,
[even] a blessing in the midst of the land:
25 Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying,
Blessed [be] Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.
Blessed be Egypt... Assyria... Israel...-
The Lord's blessing upon these historically warring peoples is indicative of worldwide peace, since these nations represent the descendants of Noah's three sons Shem (Israel, semitic nations), Ham (Egypt, Africa), and Japheth (Assyria, Europe, Asia). Rom 3:29; 9:24,25
Egypt my people...- 1Pet 2:10
Assyria the work of my hands...- Eph 2:10-22
Israel mine inheritance...- Deu 32:9
[This section continues into the next chapter.]

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