The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 14; chapter 19-20 (One God, One World, One People)
In the last oracle, Isa 17-18, we found a vision of a remnant of both Israel and Gentiles drawn to the Lord in Zion.
"The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
And sovereignty from Damascus
And the remnant of Aram (Syria);
They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,"
Declares the Lord of hosts.
The question remains as to how or on what terms the Gentiles will come in. Will they really share in the same glory as Israel? To answer this question, Isaiah picks the unlikeliest candidate, Egypt, the first adversary of Israel. Then, at the climax of this section, the current adversary of Israel, Assyria, is linked with Egypt in reconciliation to God. If the Lord can bring Egypt and Assyria into the same glory as promised to Israel, then the world really will be one, united in peace. Can this be so?
This oracle falls into three sections; 1) the collapse of Egypt (19:1-15), 2) a healing of Egypt using five “in that day” statements, 3) and an interim fulfillment involving Egypt and Assyria (20:1-6).
After Assyria had dispatched Aram (Syria) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel by 721 B.C., and they were now poised to continue to conquer, Egypt was behind every anti-Assyrian aggression. This made an alliance with Egypt a constant temptation to the politically ambitious rulers of Judah. Isaiah has still a lot to say about making alliances other than God (chapters 28-31 and 36-37). It won’t come as a shock to us that Isaiah vigorously opposed any alliance with Egypt. Help and security must only come from the Lord. So then, the destruction of Egypt is first set forth in Isaiah’s oracle in order to dissuade Judah from considering any partnership.
The destruction of Egypt predicted: 19:1-15.
This section is a poem in itself consisting of three eight-line stanzas. It paints Egypt as helpless, both spiritually and nationally. It predicts a social collapse, an economic collapse, and a political collapse. It is clearly shown here that the problems of society, economics, and politics are spiritual ones. The word society means association or fellowship, and without God’s love and laws, the evils of greed, lust, and power overtake a society, infects its markets, its political halls and palaces, and destroys it from within.
Yet, though the society decays from its lack of divine wisdom and execution of divine laws, and although its decline is natural due to the absence of law, justice, and love; God Himself acts upon the society at the proper time.
“So I will incite Egyptians against Egyptians;
And they will each fight against his brother, and each against his neighbor,
City against city, and kingdom against kingdom.”
“And I will confound their strategy,”
“Moreover, I will deliver the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel master,” [a dictator]
Egypt was conquered by the Ethiopians in 715, the Assyrians in 671, the Persians in 525, and the Greeks in 332 BC.
God pictures the Nile, the aorta of all economic prosperity in Egypt, as drying up.
And the waters from the sea will dry up,
And the river will be parched and dry.
Yet, the Nile never did actually dry up. Therefore, we must understand that the economic collapse of Egypt was “as if” the Nile went dry. Because of the scarcity of God’s ways and laws in the land, the nation lost its spirit, and when a nation’s spirit evaporates, the interests of small part of the population predominates and no plan seems to prosper. When only a few are in power, and only their interests predominate the lives of the rest, they will suck their entire country dry in the pursuit of maintaining and protecting their position. This situation has been forming in our own nation, and by both political parties.
Fools rise to power.
The princes of Zoan [a city on the Nile Delta, capital in the 21st to 23rd Dynasties] are mere fools;
The advice of Pharaoh's wisest advisers has become stupid.
And again, it is the Lord’s doing.
Well then, where are your wise men?
Please let them tell you,
And let them understand what the Lord of hosts
Has purposed against Egypt.
The spiritual collapse of the nation moves the hand of God to allow the stupid to rise to power. We may lament some of our leaders, but one must conclude the we (the nation) deserve them.
The Lord has mixed within her a spirit of distortion;
The Lord is at work within the leaders, imparting a spirit of dizziness. They are leaders, watching the foundations of their nation decaying and not knowing which way to turn. It is like the world swirling around them and they are helpless to point to any one thing to focus on it and fix it.
To those contemporary with Isaiah, 19:1-15 exposes the folly of an alliance with Egypt. Should they partner with a nation under divine wrath (vs. 1)? could they trust the purposes of a divided people (vs. 2)? would help against the Assyrians come from a collapsing economy (vv. 5-10)? should they expect wisdom where there was only folly (vv. 11-13)? and would they believe that a people who cannot solve their own problems could help solve the problems of others (vs. 15)?
Yet, what sins in Egypt are specifically pointed to by God? In this particular poem (vv. 1-15) there are none highlighted, yet there is severe divine opposition to them. Certainly there is idol worship and a long list of other abominations, but they are not specifically mentioned.
Egypt stands for the Gentile world, a world that has always been heading into an irreversible decline. One kingdom after another throughout the history of man rises up. They seem to start out okay, but like a lemon off a used car lot, after it goes for a bit it begins to break down. Evil men always rise to the top and eventually the kingdom corrodes from within. The human machine was designed to run on God, and to ignore Him is to plant cancer in your bones. The real problem of the Gentile world [represented by Egypt] is divine opposition, but why would there be opposition from God unless the Gentile world opposed Him? Ever since the city of Cain, named after his son Enoch, and then subsequently after the flood - the Tower of Babel, the Gentile world has sought life and the solutions to life’s inherent problems apart from God.
But, God’s wrath is not the last word. In contrast to the world’s problem in vv. 1-15 comes the Lord’s solution in vv. 16-25. The great contrast of these two poems are a part of their beauty. It is like a desert oasis. The solution is couched in five “in that day” oracles. Take courage Gentile world, many of your inhabitants will be delivered by a Savior and Champion.
The healing of Egypt.
The fear of the Lord (19:16-17).
What is the beginning of blessing looks like only more trouble, but the fear of the Lord is always the beginning of something good.
And the land of Judah will become a terror to Egypt; everyone to whom it is mentioned will be in dread of it, because of the purpose of the Lord of hosts which He is purposing against them.
Judah never conquered Egypt, but this fear rises from Judah because of the God of Judah. JOB 28:28; PSA 111:10; PRO 1:7; 9:10; 15:33 all state that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, ISA 11:2 states that the fear of the Lord would rest upon the Messiah Himself.
The fear of the Lord comes upon many individuals, and why do some come to fear and others not (like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) is a knot that cannot be untied. One should not try to undo a knot by cutting it, for then you lose what the rope has tied together. If you can’t untie it, leave it and the rope intact. Some respond to God and others in the same situation do not. The power of the Lord also descends upon groups of people through war, disaster, famine, etc., and in the Tribulation, the power of the Lord will descend upon the whole earth, but not all respond with fear of the Lord.
One language, one Lord (19:18)
In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will be speaking the language of Canaan and swearing allegiance to the Lord of hosts; one will be called the City of Destruction.
The obscurity of this passage (why the language of Canaan? which five cities are referred to? and what is the City of Destruction?) all lead to the normal suppositions among commentators that only detract from the clear meaning. We don’t have to know which cities are referred to. What we should see and rejoice in is that Egypt will speak the same language as the Land of Promise, meaning, one tongue.
Man’s independence from God at Babel moved God’s hand to confuse their languages. The true form of worship is communication or fellowship - one people with one language which God also uses to communicate to them and with which they praise Him in return. One with God and one with each other would be a fine, though condensed, definition of the kingdom of God. This unity is clearly seen in the next lines - and it should not be forgotten - it is Egypt or the world that is in view.
The altar (vs. 19) represents the sacrifice, and therefore the meeting place between God and man in vicarious reconciliation. Prayer in vs. 20 is the sign of the reconciled living in communication with God and seeking His solutions to their problems. Revelation in vs. 21 is the result of that communication and the response of the people to revealed truth. There is also service to the Lord in sacrifices and vows, which will be kept properly, and then finally in vs. 22, there will be divine discipline which brings healing and proper correction.
Harmony and unity among men
The two superpowers at the time of writing are Egypt and Assyria, Assyria being the more super-er. The emphasis now turns to the reconciliation of all hostilities. Egypt represents the world. Egypt vs. Assyria represents the conflict in the world. God brings them all together in worship of Him. There will be peace in this world under the world’s one true King.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
Co-equality with all the Lord’s people (19:24-25)
At one time the word to Egypt was, “Let My people go,” and now it is “Egypt, My people”
In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance."
All three in harmony and equality. As Paul writes:
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
Nothing could so wonderfully and fully depict the accomplishment of the purpose of God - Egypt, Assyria, and Israel together in perfect brotherhood. The plans, the governments, the UN, nothing man-made can establish peace. Peace is only found in the Lord as the fruit of His Spirit.
An interim fulfillment, the smiting of Egypt by Assyria (20:1-6).
For the third time Isaiah offers a prophecy that will be soon fulfilled, the interim future, so that the people can see and believe the Lord’s wider and fuller purposes destined in the distant future. Isaiah will go around stripped to his skivvies and barefoot (Hebrew: arom suggests “naked”) while he prophecies that Egypt will be taken captive in their bare butts to Assyria after the invasion of Sargon II, the greatest of the Assyrian kings. Isaiah’s nakedness was a warning to Judea not to make an alliance with Egypt.
The unity of the distant future between the nations was just that, distant, but for now, Egypt was under discipline and to make a pact with her was to sign a death warrant. King Hezekiah seems to have listened to the scantily dressed prophet, for he did not make an Egyptian coalition. It wouldn’t be long before Judea would literally witness the fulfillment of 20:1-6, along with their own deliverance by the direct hand of the Lord, Isa 36-37.
The point, if I may state it again (I may and I will) is the crazy thought that Egypt, Assyria, and Israel would one day be joined together as one people. Is this credible? To prove that it is, Isaiah prophecies what will soon happen between Egypt and Assyria, showing clearly and historically that two great world powers are subject to the word of the Lord. In 701 after one battle (Eltekeh) Judah witnessed the sad sight of strings of Egyptian captives filing past them on a long and often fatal journey north with Assyrian ropes around their necks. What can happen that the Lord has not ordained to happen? All of His promises are “Yea, and Amen!”
To God be the glory, forever and ever.
Pastor Joe Sugrue