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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 19

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-25

Isaiah 19:4 . A cruel lord. Such was Nebuchadnezzar; and after him, Cambyses, and other Persian kings. One oppression succeeded another, as illustrated in Daniel 11:0.

Isaiah 19:11 . The princes of Zoan. This was the most ancient city of lower Egypt, as appears from its being but seven years less ancient than Hebron. Numbers 13:0. It is called Taneos by the LXX, and Tanes or Tanis by the Chaldee, and the ancient geographers. This is done, says Poole, by the omission of a letter. Troan is made Tanes, as Tuor or Tsur is made Tyre. It was the key of the Nile, and the capital of Tanis. Rosetta has now succeeded Zoan.

Isaiah 19:13 . The princes of Noph; that is, Memphis, where the kings of Egypt were interred. Hence some would change the Hebrew letter nun for mem.

Isaiah 19:18 . In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts: one [of the five cities] shall be called destruction. Just the reverse is the reading of the LXX; πολις ασεδεκ , the city of righteousness. Dr. Lowth reads, the city of the sun; that is, Heliopolis, עיר החרס îr ha-cheres. Lowth [of whom I would make a more frequent use, only Dr. Clarke has reprinted the whole volume of his notes on Isaiah] adds, this passage is attended with much difficulty. First, with regard to the true reading; for Onias the third being a refugee in Egypt during the captivity, built a temple at Heliopolis in imitation of that in Jerusalem, which continued till the time of Vespasian, by whose command it was destroyed. Egesippus. lib. 2. cap. 13. Now, though the present Hebrew text reads, ההרס ha-heres, which by the alteration of a single letter makes it destruction, it is conjectured by some, that the Jews out of contempt for a rival temple, falsified the reading of Isaiah. Be that as it may, Isaiah certainly never imagined that his words would be construed to favour the temple at Heliopolis, and leave the mount of God, the place he chose with fire from heaven. Still it must ever strike the reader, that the word destruction, after the prophet had spoken so many handsome things of the five cities, is very incongruous.

Isaiah 19:19 . In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of Egypt. When Onias, son of Onias the highpriest, went into Egypt, favoured by the king, Ptolemy Philometor, he erected an altar to the Lord at Heliopolis, and offered burnt-offerings, alleging this text of Isaiah in defence of a conduct so unusual among the Jews.


Egypt was one of the most ancient kingdoms of the earth. It was first inhabited by Mizraim son of Ham or Cham, and grandson of Noah. Genesis 10:0. The Turks and Arabs still call it Mizir. It is usually divided into three parts; the lower or the Delta; the middle or the country above Cairo; and Thebais or upper Egypt. The river Nile waters it for six hundred miles, and makes it the most fruitful country in the world. About the 29th of June it begins to rise by the tropical rains in Abyssinia and towards the mountains of the moon, and its waters encrease for forty days, and decrease in forty days more. It sometimes rises thirty one feet, and sometimes but sixteen: twenty four feet is the medium. Our Bruce visited the Abyssinian source of the Nile, but the western and main source, which is said to be lake Nilid, near the mountains of the moon, is as yet unknown to us. Ancient Egypt was once the most flourishing kingdom in the world, and said to contain three thousand cities. Sesostris was the most celebrated of all its kings. His father, whom the learned say was Amenophis, or Memnon, trained him for conquest. All the males born on the same day he educated at court, and made them companions of his son, and captains in his army. This young prince first subdued the Arabs, then Libya, and next he reduced the Abyssinians to tribute. Not long after he marched against Jerusalem, and snatched away the riches of Solomon from the hand of Rehoboam. He carried his conquest beyond the Ganges, and even to the north of Asia as far as the Scythians. After a career of conquests for nine years Sesostris returned to Egypt loaded with spoil, and his chariot drawn by captive kings. But Egypt afterwards fell, never to rise to its former glory. Thus the sacred writings mark the sentence of heaven against a faithless nation.

The calamities here predicted against Egypt are six in number.

(1) Civil commotions. I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: Isaiah 19:2. This was fulfilled after the death of Sethon; or after Sennacherib’s invasion proved abortive, when twelve tyrants divided the kingdom, and often fought one against another. Psammiticus subdued his eleven rivals, and reigned in all fifty four years.

(2) Confusion of counsel was another calamity predicted against Egypt: Isaiah 19:14. When God is about to punish a nation, he apparently commissions his angels to baffle the wisest counsellors, and deceive the most experienced generals. Whereas on the contrary, the invader succeeds in his measures, and even beyond his expectations.

(3) Famine was another scourge. The Lord would deny the periodical rains, which would occasion the brooks and canals to dry up, and the fish to die; and the Egyptians, not eating many of the animals of which we eat, would be driven to extreme want: Isaiah 19:5-8.

(4) Another plague was the almost total loss of trade. The starving weavers and manufacturers were confounded: Isaiah 19:9. The want of bread, and the want of work, are the heaviest of visitations on the poor.

(5) Imbecility was the character of their kings. They advised and retracted; they gave orders, and countermanded them again: Isaiah 19:11. The government was characterized by weakness of council, and indecision of conduct. Jerome reads Isaiah 19:11, Stulti principes Taneos, sapientes concilliarii Pharaonis, dederunt concillium incipiens.

(6) This naturally dispirited the army: they who were so bold and valiant under Sesostris, were now timid and fearful like women: Isaiah 19:16. Now, all these calamities came upon them in succession. Sennacherib’s war is supposed to have occasioned the anarchy; and Nebuchadnezzar visited them with his heavy hand of conquest. Cambyses, son of Cyrus, was a cruel king, and God soon gave him his reward. Advancing against the Ethiopians as a fool, without order, without guides, without discipline, he saw his army perish in the desert for want of food, before he had reached the enemy’s country. Lastly, Isaiah saw that Egypt would be a sanctuary for the Jews who should escape the sword of the Chaldees: and at one time the number of the refugees was so great that “five cities did literally speak the language of Canaan.” Alexander the great was a saviour to them, and the Ptolemies were their patrons. God blesses the nation that receives his exiled people. This prophecy may however have a reference to the future conversion of Egypt to the christian faith.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/isaiah-19.html. 1835.
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