Isaiah 19, Part One: Maker of War
Previously, in Chapter 18...
God inspired Isaiah to urge ambassadors from Cush (Ethiopia) to go to Babylonia, a nation "tall and smooth", a people feared "near and far", a nation "mighty and conquering." They were to tell of God's mighty work in delivering Jerusalem from the Assyrian army.
Now, in Chapter 19, verses 1 through 15...
Isaiah issues a harsh word of doom for Egypt.
Isaiah 19:1-4 (ESV) An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom; and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out, and I will confound their counsel; and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers; and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
Egypt would be torn apart by civil war. Their religious and political foundation would crumble, and they would become enslaved to "a hard master, and a fierce king".
The land of Egypt would become a desert.
Isaiah 19:5-10 (ESV) And the waters of the sea will be dried up, and the river will be dry and parched, and its canals will become foul, and the branches of Egypt’s Nile will diminish and dry up, reeds and rushes will rot away. There will be bare places by the Nile, on the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile will be parched, will be driven away, and will be no more. The fishermen will mourn and lament, all who cast a hook in the Nile; and they will languish who spread nets on the water. The workers in combed flax will be in despair, and the weavers of white cotton. Those who are the pillars of the land will be crushed, and all who work for pay will be grieved.
The land of Egypt would become a desert, with a dead Nile River, without fish or farms. The people will be crushed and grieved.
The leaders of Egypt would become worthless.
Isaiah 19:11-15 (ESV) The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish; the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings”? Where then are your wise men? Let them tell you that they might know what the LORD of hosts has purposed against Egypt. The princes of Zoan have become fools, and the princes of Memphis are deluded; those who are the cornerstones of her tribes have made Egypt stagger. The LORD has mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. And there will be nothing for Egypt that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do.
The leaders of Egypt would become perversely silly, nothing more than brute animals in their understanding. Their words would be as from a drunken man.
The leadership of Egypt was directly connected with their religion.
"The priests were the usual "counselors" of the Egyptian king. He was generally chosen from the priestly caste, or, if from the warrior caste, he was admitted into the sacred order, and was called a priest. The priests are, therefore, meant by the expression, "son of the wise, and of ancient kings" (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)
Pharoah was the the chief priest among all the priestly caste of advisors. Their religion dictated the pharoah's rule.
How would Egypt's fall begin? Who was the "fierce king"?
"In Isa 19:1, the invasion of Egypt is represented as caused by "the Lord"; and in Isa 19:17, "Judah" is spoken of as "a terror to Egypt," which it could hardly have been by itself. Probably, therefore, the Assyrian invasion of Egypt under Sargon, when Judah was the ally of Assyria, and Hezekiah had not yet refused tribute as he did in the beginning of Sennacherib's reign, is meant. That Assyria was in Isaiah's mind appears from the way in which it is joined with Israel and Egypt in the worship of Jehovah (Isa 19:24, 25). Thus the dissensions referred to (Isa 19:2) allude to the time of the withdrawal of the Ethiopians from Lower Egypt, probably not without a struggle, especially between 722-715 B.C., answering to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped the throne and entered on the contest with the military caste, by the aid of the town populations: when the Saitic dynasty was another cause of division. Sargon's reign was between 722-715 B.C. answering to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped his throne." (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Isaiah will later describe Egypt as being invaded and controlled by a king from Assyria:
Isaiah 20:1,4 (ESV) In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it...so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.
Ashdod was a major city of the Philistines, allies of Egypt. The taking of Ashdod was a direct threat against Egypt. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)
Egypt at this time was not at all unified. Three distinct dynasties struggeled to control the nation. The in-fighting broke Egypt into two separate states: the north and the south, much like what happened to Israel and Judah. The northern dynasty sought control of the eastern Mediterranean Sea commerce, and thus opposed any Assyrian encroachment.
Assyria herself was at this time beginning to fray at the edges. Repeated rebellion from Babylonia on her eastern border was eroding Assyria's military and economic foundation.
"Assyrian control over Judah during the previous century was now giving way to Egyptian dominance. Egyptian policy changed after the fall of Nineveh in 611 b.c. No longer was Assyria painted as the villain Egypt had experienced in days past. The emergence of Babylon as the new power demanded that Egypt side with Assyria." (A History of Israel, Chapter 26, 1998 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.)
It is important to see God's hand behind the disintegration of Egypt.
- I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians...
- I will confound their counsel...
- I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts. (Isaiah 19:2-4)
God would create a tangled web of confusion and fear throughout Egypt's population. He would swallow up their plans and assumptions, making their counsel of no effect. He would allow a "had master and fierce king" to take control of their lives.
God would make war within Egypt. Why?
Isaiah 13:11 (ESV) I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
Isaiah 17:7-8 (ESV) In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.
Isaiah 17:10 (ESV) For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger.
God desires that all people, of every nation, language and culture, remember their Maker and exalt him as their Strength and Song.
Isaiah 12:1-4 (ESV) You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted."
Through fire and blood the nations will one day assemble together under the banner held high by Israel: The LORD is Our God!
Isaiah 11:10-12 (ESV) In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations.
Isaiah 5:15-16 (ESV) Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
Isaiah 2:2-3 (ESV) It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."
Israel, Moab, Syria, Cush, Egypt...all these nations experienced confusion, fear, violence and death as a result of forgetting their Creator.