Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 19

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-25

Concerning Egypt (19:1-25)

As the prophet continues his survey of the international situation in order to observe what it is that God is doing, his attention is fixed on Egypt. In the preceding chapter he had addressed a message to the ambassadors representing the new Ethiopian Dynasty that took over control of the government of Egypt about 714 b.c. The signs of the time, which to Isaiah are the signs of the Lord’s working, point to the destruction of Egypt. The poetic oracle in verses 1-15 is composed of three sections. The first (vss. 1-4) pictures the political and social chaos in the country, with brother fighting brother, until they turn to magic and primitive religious practices and finally to a dictator, “a hard master” and “a fierce king” (vs. 4). This reference may be the prophet’s interpretation of the disorders in Egypt which led to the seizure of power by the Ethiopian Dynasty. This is not absolutely certain, because the drive of the Assyrian army through Palestine to the border of Egypt was precisely for the purpose of conquering their ancient rival on the Nile in due course. Shortly after the time of Isaiah the Assyrian plans were successful. Lower Egypt was occupied by the Assyrian army in 671 b.c. and Thebes, the center of Upper Egypt and the ancient capital of the country, was destroyed in 663 b.c. While it is possible that the prophecy against Egypt has the country’s ultimate destruction at the hands of the Egyptian army in view, verses 1-4 could most easily be interpreted as referring to disorders in the country during the prophet’s lifetime.

The second section of the poetic oracle (vss. 5-10) pictures the disaster that comes upon the nation when the Nile River has insufficient water for irrigation. Egypt is a country completely dependent upon the Nile to irrigate and fertilize its valley each year. Outside the valley to east and west stretches the desert with drifting sand. Whether in Isaiah’s time there actually had been a bad year in Egypt which the prophet is here interpreting as the work of the Lord, or whether he is prophesying a future disaster, is unknown. It is typical of prophecy to see both historical and natural forces at work in the destruction of a country, because the forces and powers in both are but servants of the Lord to do his will.

The third section (vss. 11-15) makes reference to the famed Egyptian wise men and points to their complete inability to divine the purpose of the Lord against their country. Consequently, counselors and government officials share “a spirit of confusion.”

The editors of Isaiah’s oracles have appended to the primary poetic word against Egypt a number of prose fragments in verses 16-25, the origin and date of which cannot be determined with certainty. While verses 16-17 are quite negative and seemingly nationalistic with regard to the future of Egypt, verses 18-25 preserve one of the most remarkable expressions of responsible international understanding which the Old Testament contains. They envisage the conversion of Egypt and of Assyria, for the smiting of Egypt is for the purpose of their healing and conversion (vs. 22). In the great day to come, therefore, Egyptians and Assyrians, the great political rivals of ancient times, will mingle together and worship together. Israel will be associated with them, “a blessing in the midst of the earth,” and the Lord will be heard to say: “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage” (vss. 2425). Israel will now be a part of a larger community in fellowship with the Lord. Indeed, this union of all mankind in the service of God, also expressed in 2:2-4, is precisely that which is the center of the Christian hope for the earth.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 19". "Layman's Bible Commentary".