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TRUE NATIONAL GREATNESS
Isaiah 19:1-3; Isaiah 19:14. The burden of Egypt, &c.
The prophecies of Isaiah take a wide range, embrace the fortunes of almost every nation, however remote, with whom the Israelites were brought into common relation, whether of policy or commerce—Moab, Damascus, Tyre, Babylon, Ethiopia, Egypt. The prophet records the political and social phenomena of his day, not with the eye of a mere statesman or diplomatist, but as reviewing the moral as well as the political aspects of things, the eternal governing laws as well as the fitful moods and changes of a nation’s life, the spiritual as well as the material forces of the world.
Israel, in their dread of the great Assyrian monarchy, often cast wistful eyes towards Egypt, where they hoped to find a sure and powerful ally. The Egyptians accepted their subsidies, but thought they consulted their own interests best by observing what has been called amongst ourselves a “masterly inactivity.” Their strength was to sit still. They had a large standing army; but, as Rabshakeh showed, on a memorable occasion, that he knew (chap. Isaiah 36:6) the nation, with all its outward semblance of prosperity, was being eaten up with a thousand moral and social cankers, which corrupted the very source of all national life. This chapter lays bare those wounds and bruises and putrefying sores.
1. There was a day when Egypt had been famous for its wisdom. This wisdom had become a thing of the past (Isaiah 19:11-12).
2. There was no unity of purpose, no coherence of action in the body politic. The true ideas of the family, of the municipality, of the nation, were lost. Every man was fighting against his brother (Isaiah 19:2). It is history eternally repeating itself; it is the lament of Thucydides over Greece; of Horace, Livy, and Tacitus over the corruption of guilty imperialism, and over the absence of the masculine, simple, republican virtues of ancient Rome.
3. With the decay of public virtue comes the decay of public spirit, and then soon follows the decay of national strength. Then comes what these old Hebrew seers called the “judgment;” God coming out of His place to visit the earth; anarchy, internal dissolution, collapse, conquest by the foreigner; the giving over of the nation into the hand of a cruel lord; the establishment of a military despotism.
It were easy to point these remarks elsewhere, but let us look at home. Many feel that during the last decade of years or more England has been parting with many of her old traditions. Some of those principles which were merely corrupt remnants of a social and political system which has passed away—feudalism—we have undoubtedly gained by losing. But there are others which we have lost, or are fast losing, to the great detriment of the commonwealth. The high sense of duty to the State overruling the sense of interest in the individual citizen; the true measure of a nation’s wealth and greatness, not by its revenue in pounds sterling, but by its revenue in the healthy bodies, and honest hearts, and pure, healthy homes of the people; the noble, self-sacrificing spirit of devotion to the call of duty; the principle of right recognised as a higher principle than that of expediency; a temper of loyalty in the strict sense of the word, of willing obedience to the law and those who represent the law; strict commercial integrity, and not the tricks of trade which have been generated by an unwholesome competition—these are maxims of ancient wisdom which made England great, and the loss of which will make England small. Our greatness, whatever it has been, has not rested so much upon material forces, but, like Israel’s of old, upon moral. We can only hope that our position among the peoples will be maintained as long as we hold fast the principles by which it was won. These privileges are not things of chance, but the direct result of moral laws as immutable and irreversible as the laws which govern the physical world. God send us statesmen who will turn the nation’s mind away from delusive and partisan aims, and direct them seriously to efforts which may unite us all in one great crusade against evil; in which every soldier might certainly feel that he was fighting under the banner of Christ, in a righteous war, for objects which surely have a place in the redemption which Christ accomplished for the world.—Bishop Fraser: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii. pp. 177, 178.
AN ALTAR AND A SAVIOUR FOR EGYPT
Isaiah 19:18-20. In that day shall five cities, &c.
I. God is able to raise up monuments and trophies of His grace in the most unlikely places (Isaiah 19:18-19). For the historical fulfilments of these predictions, see the ordinary commentaries. They should teach us not to despair of the progress of religion in the most unlikely places, the most unlikely times, among the most unlikely persons. The grace of God is able to subdue the hardest hearts, to enlighten the darkest minds, to convert the most guilty natures, to cast out Satan where his power seems strongest and his interest most secure. Despair not of your own salvation (H. E. I., 2376), of the salvation of those dear to you, of the final triumph of the cause of truth (H. E. I., 979, 1166–1168). But recollect that all that has been done has been done by the use of appropriate means: the altar to God in Egypt was built by human hands, the Ark was not built by miracle but by means; all the triumphs we anticipate are to be achieved by the diffusion of Divine truth, by the prayers and efforts of the Church. What effort are you making?
II. God often overrules the trials of life to produce a spirit of prayer, and to bring men to Himself. “They shall cry unto the Lord because of their oppressors 
 See Outline: SANCTIFIED AFFLICTION, chap. Isaiah 17:7-8.
III. It is God’s prerogative to raise up a Saviour (Isaiah 19:20). Whatever comforts or deliverances you have had through the medium of creatures, the hand of God is to be pre-eminently acknowledged in them all. Spiritually we need a great Saviour, and God has provided one equal to the emergency of the case. Our guilt is very great, our danger very threatening, our enemies very powerful, our ruin very awful, but help is laid on One that is mighty. The greatness of Christ as a Saviour appears from the essential dignity of His nature (Hebrews 1:1), from the certain efficacy of His atonement (Hebrews 7:25), from the countless number of the redeemed (Revelation 7:9), from the completeness of the salvation He imparts (1 Corinthians 1:30).—Samuel Thodey.
Isaiah 19:22. And the Lord shall smite Egypt, &c.
I. The benevolent design of God in chastisement. God smites in order to heal. Scripture teaches throughout that God’s dealings with men are—
1. Not capricious.
2. Not indiscriminate.
3. Not unjust. He does not impose burdens that cannot be borne, nor exact obedience which man cannot render, nor select favourites for preference or victims for vengeance, without any regard to the relations existing between man and Himself. Contrary to all this, God’s smiting is that—
(1) of a Rescuer, who inflicts blows upon our chains that He may set us free;
(2) of a Physician, who in mercy probes the wound that He may heal it;
(3) of a Father, who uses the rod for the salutary purposes of correction and reformation (H. E. I., 56–74).
II. The conduct befitting in men when under chastisement. “And they shall return,” &c. This return includes—
1. Submission (H. E. I., 143).
2. Entreaty for help. (See also Isaiah 19:20.) This involves humble confession of sin, and hearty reliance upon God (H. E. I., 145–147).
3. Sincerity of purpose, as manifested in the fulfilment of vows. (See also Isaiah 19:21.)—William Manning.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20