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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 19

After the destruction of Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Ephraim and Judah has been recounted in the previous chapters, the king of the North goes on to the south, to Egypt. The burden of Egypt is particularly interesting because of its amazing climax. At first we find that Egypt, or the king of the south, is going to attack Israel, but without success (Dan 11:40a). But then Assyria or the king of the North comes to attack Israel and he is successful (Dan 11:40b). After the destruction of Israel (Isa 28:22) Assyria will continue and also attack Egypt (Dan 11:42). Egypt is humiliated.

Here, however, we see that God’s judgment on the Egyptians is followed by their repentance and conversion. We also see manifestations of God’s grace for them and their introduction into the people of God, along with their bitter enemy Assyria, at a time when Israel, God’s chosen people, has suffered so painfully from both of these enemies.

Verses 1-10

Judgment on Egypt

“The burden of Egypt” begins with the LORD coming “on a swift cloud” to Egypt (Isa 19:1; Psa 104:3). This indicates that He will perform His actions through Assyria briefly and powerfully. Both the Egyptians themselves and the idols on which they rely – the sun, the Nile – become null and void at the appearance of His majesty. The idols, the demons behind them, tremble and the heart of the Egyptians melts within them. All fame disappears like snow in the sun.

After Christ has judged Egypt, we also read that He will then appear on earth in Megiddo (Rev 16:15-16) and then go to Edom (Isa 63:1) and to the Mount of Olives (Zec 14:4). These are events that will take place shortly after each other. His coming to these various places indicates that He is about to perform judgmental acts where He comes. These judgments, which are exercised after the end of the great tribulation, will endure for several more days (cf. Dan 12:11).

By His doing the Egyptians will fight each other in a civil war (Isa 19:2). In that situation they will consult their idols. They will ask necromancers to let death depart from them and, by consulting the ghosts of the dead, they will want to know what they can do to escape death (Isa 19:3). They will also resort to fortune-telling. But what will those demons who tremble before the majesty of the LORD be able to tell them? It will only lead to the proof of the complete futility of such consultations.

Out of this chaos a ruler, a cruel master, emerges who makes life even more difficult for them (Isa 19:4). By this cruel ruler is meant the future king of the North. He is the instrument of “the Lord, GOD of hosts”, Who does this, for only He is so great that He can deliver one powerful nation into the hand of the other powerful nation.

Disasters and plagues will succeed each other during this future war (Isa 19:5-10; Isa 11:15). Because of the disasters there will be a shortage of all necessities of life. The entire economy of Egypt depends on the Nile, which is described here in detail with the Nile Delta and canals derived from it for the irrigation of the land. When the Nile dries up, there is no more fertile land (Isa 19:5-6). It will no longer be possible to bake bread (Isa 19:7). Egypt’s fear of the current (we write 2014) construction of a gigantic dam in Ethiopia gives an indication of how dependent Egypt is on the Nile.

A parched Nile also makes the fishermen unemployed (Isa 19:8). There will also be no more fish available. The clothing industry also collapses (Isa 19:9). For flax and linen, of which the raw materials are also supplied by the Nile, there are no more raw materials. All those who earn a living in them will be fired and will be without income (Isa 19:10). In short, the three pillars of the Egyptian economy, agriculture (Isa 19:6-7), fishery (Isa 19:8) and textile industry (Isa 19:9), are severely affected.

Verses 11-15

Judgment on the Wisdom of Egypt

The proverbial wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22a; 1Kgs 4:30) fails (Isa 19:11). Zoan and Memphis (Isa 19:13) are the most important places in Lower Egypt. Memphis has been the capital of Egypt for a long time; later Zoan (Tanis) also became particularly important. The monarchs of these two cities seem to have no solutions for this malaise. The policy makers, the council of wise men, are in the dark about the cause of the misery. The LORD challenges the Egyptians to let their wise men come up and tell in the light of their wisdom what He has decided about Egypt (Isa 19:12). They cannot do that because they keep Him out of their wisdom.

Paul adopts this word and says that it is in accordance with God’s wisdom that the world with its supposed wisdom has not come to the knowledge of God (1Cor 1:20-21). He then draws the conclusion that it has rather pleased God to save people through what the world sees as foolishness: the preaching of the cross (1Cor 1:23). This should be all the more reason for a Christian to consider the world and its seeming to be crucified.

If the Egyptians are truly wise, they will recognize and announce that these disasters come from the LORD of hosts. They will realize that their wise men, who are the cornerstone of their society, upon whom everything rests, have led them astray. That is what the LORD has done, for He has poured a spirit of intoxication into their proud leaders as a judgment (Isa 19:13-14).

As a result, they stagger in their vomit like drunks. This means that they themselves have caused the misery in which they ended up. Foolish confidence in their own wisdom leads not only to a failure to give suitable advice, but also to a walk that causes others to follow the path that leads to destruction.

They are in a state from which no one can redeem them (Isa 19:15). The confusion and hopelessness are so great that neither the leaders, “head” and “palm branch”, nor anyone of the common people, “tail” and “bulrush”, can find a solution to work on.

Verses 16-17

The Dread of Egypt

In the remainder of this chapter six paragraphs follow all beginning with “in that day” (Isa 19:16; 18; 19; 21; 23; 24), the typical expression – Hebrew be’jom – indicating the end time. Here the direct consequences of the judgments described above are seen. As always with prophecy, we also get to see the consequences in the long run, fulfillments which will only take place in the realm of peace.

The Isa 19:16-17 form a transition from the first part of the burden containing the judgment to the second part of the burden in which grace and salvation are central. The first effect of God’s judgments on Egypt is that the Egyptians will be in dread because of the threatening hand of the LORD (Isa 19:16). This is the introduction to their conversion, for without a broken heart and a humbled spirit there can be no conversion.

For the future Isaiah points to Judah as the Divine instrument for the exercise of His anger on Egypt (Isa 19:17). This will cause fear of Judah among the Egyptians, as in the past (Exo 1:9). Also in the present time people fear for the military strength of Israel. The king of Egypt used to react to this with oppression. Today people threaten with total annihilation. This has been tried several times, for example in the Six-Day War in 1967 and again later in 1973, but in vain. In the future, after the failed invasion of Israel and the invasion of the king of the North, Egypt’s attitude towards Israel will have changed so much that they will open up to God’s people!

Verse 18

The Language of Canaan in Egypt

Here we read that there will come a time when a certain number of cities in Egypt “will be speaking the language of Canaan”, the language of God’s people. As a general explanation and pre-fulfillment of this verse, it is said that many Jews went to Egypt when the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. It is known from historiography that many Israelites lived in Egyptian cities and built synagogues there, and read and taught the law of Moses. Because Egypt was strongly influenced by Judaism in the early Christian period, the Christian faith quickly spread there.

Then “the language of Canaan” was spoken in Egypt, which means that faith in the God of Israel was also culturally and linguistically present in Egypt. It also means that the speaking of the believing Egyptians indicated that they had changed spiritually.

Ultimately, however, the prophecy does not refer to pre-Christian times, nor to Christian times, but looks forward to the millennial realm of peace when Israelites and Egyptians together will acknowledge the one true God. The city called “City of the Destruction” is a reminder of the worship of the sun as an idol [some ancient mss and versions read “City of the Sun”]. In this former stronghold of idolatry, the LORD is served as the living and true God. The Lord Jesus is “the sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2).

There is an application to make for us and our time. With ‘the language of Canaan’ is not meant a certain ‘jargon’, the use of language and words that are only understood by professionals. No, ‘the language of Canaan’ is a way of speaking that breathes the purity of heaven. As soon as someone is converted and redeemed from the world, of which Egypt is a picture, he speaks a different language. He has a new ‘native language’ with its own vocabulary, with which he can put into words the holy truths of Scripture.

The believer has been given a new vocabulary. These are words that ‘Egypt’ knows nothing about and has no words for. They are ordinary English words, but with a new meaning. There are also many words he used before his conversion, but which he will not and may not use since his conversion. He is therefore admonished: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word] as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment], so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29; cf. Eph 5:3-4). His language makes it clear what ‘country’ he belongs to.

Verses 19-22

Egypt Worships the LORD

The influence of God’s people will increase. There will even be an altar to the LORD “in that day” in the midst of the land of Egypt (Isa 19:19). Because of this they will testify of Him (Isa 19:20). There is also “a pillar” or “a memorial stone” at his border, which speaks of the acknowledgment that their land is the property of the LORD. Then the blessing for Egypt takes a great flight. The LORD stands up for them when enemies come and they pray to Him. He makes Himself known to them as if they are His people and they will know Him (Isa 19:21). They will offer sacrifices to Him and make vows, which they will not fail to perform. Isa 19:22 is a summary of all previous verses.

Verses 23-25

Egypt and Assyria Serve the LORD.

And the blessing is becoming greater and greater. The two arch-enemies Egypt and Assyria are reconciled (Isa 19:23). Both nations, who fought with each other for world domination, are now united and will serve the LORD together. A highway will connect them. That highway cannot but pass through Israel, a symbol that all blessing for the entire world comes from Israel. First that highway will be used by the rest of the ten tribes to return to Israel (Isa 11:16), but later also by the nations to travel to Israel to worship the LORD. Jews and Gentiles together enjoy the blessings of the promised realm of peace.

That Israel is the link between the two countries, we see in Isa 19:24. Instead of being subject now to the one, then to the other, as in the past, God’s people will have reached the height of power and glory intended by the LORD. Israel will be “a blessing in the midst of the earth”, the earth represented here by Egypt and Assyria. Egypt and Assyria will be among the three most important countries on earth. This is only because the LORD of hosts has blessed them (Isa 19:25).

Egypt and Assyria, the former enemies of God’s people, each receive one of the honorary titles with which God call His own people. Egypt is called “My people” (Isa 1:3) and Assyria “the work of My hands” (Isa 45:11). This indicates that this new situation is not transient. The special bond of the LORD with Israel, the whole people, is evidenced by the name with which He also calls His people in the realm of peace: “My inheritance”.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 19". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.