Monday, April 27, 2015

Isaiah 19, Part Two: In That Day

Isaiah 19, Part Two: In That Day

Isaiah 19:16-25

What's gone before...

In the previous 15 verses of this chapter Isaiah declared an oracle ("massa", a heavy burden or a song of doom) concerning Egypt. The LORD would stir up conflict with the nation, confounding their leadership, bringing devestation to Egypt's political, economic and geographic foundations.

Now, in Part Two...

Isaiah repeats the phrase "In that day" six times in this passage, declaring six specific events or conditions that would befall the Egyptians when the LORD brings war to their nation.

  • In that day the Egyptians will be like women...
  • In that day there will be five cities...
  • In that day there will be an altar...
  • In that day the Egyptians will know...
  • In that day there will be a highway...
  • In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria...

"In that day" occurs over 2000 times in the Old Testament. The first instance refers to the name given to the division between light and darkness made during creation of the first day on earth (Genesis 1:5). It is most commonly translated as "day" in the Old Testament. It could also represent an unspecified number of days, translated as "time":

Genesis 4:3 (ESV) In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground...

The context of Isaiah's 19th chapter is that of a period of time: events that will occur over many literal days, but together form a single period of time, a "day".

In That Day Egyptians Will Be Like Women

Isaiah 19:16-17 (ESV) In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the LORD of hosts shakes over them. And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the LORD of hosts has purposed against them.

There are at least 11 instances of phrases similar to this one. Six of them refer to the cries of pain felt during childbirth. One instance refers to a woman mourning for the dead. Four references connect women with unspecified trembling, weakeness or fear.

Judah would become a terror to the Egyptians. This likely refers to the tenuous alliance between Judah's King Hezekiah and Assyria.

2 Kings 18:13-14 (ESV) In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear."

King Sennacherib of Assyria took 46 cities in Judah and nearly emptied the royal treasury of Hezekiah (A History of Israel, Chapter 25, by Walter C. Kaiser, JR.). Having heard Isaiah's song of doom against them, Egyptian leaders would certainly have looked eastward toward Judah with fear.

In That Day There Will Be Five Cities

Isaiah 19:18 (ESV) In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

During this time of great upheaval in Egypt, five major cities would embrace the faith of Judah, the worship of the God of the Hebrews. Which cities in Egypt these were, or will be, is unknown.

In That Day There Will Be An Altar

Isaiah 19:19-20 (ESV) In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them.

The five cities would ignite a radical change in Egypt's religious foundation. Out of the midst of oppression the LORD would bring safety and freedom. It would be a memorable event, a sudden change, marked with a great altar (a place of religious sacrifice), a pillar (a standing stone), a sign or signal, as a witness to all Egyptian generations of the LORD's great rescue.

This is astounding. No specific comparison can be made to an historical event concerning this divine rescue and radical restoration of faith in Almighty God. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary supposes this might have been the conquest of Alexander the Great over Babylon, bringing a measure of freedom to Egypt. But to this date there is no altar, pillar, sign or witness in Egypt that can be connected with Isaiah's prophecy.

Perhaps this chapter is typical of much of Isaiah's writings. Historical evidence of past events that serve as foreshadowing of future fulfillment of prophecy.

In that day the Egyptians will know

Isaiah 19:21-22 (ESV) And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

"Known" and "know" are the same word in Hebrew. The LORD would instruct Egypt in a most violent manner, forcibly mending their idolatrous hears, turning them back, making them see him as their only God.

In That Day There Will Be A Highway

Isaiah 19:23 (ESV) In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

"Turnpike" historically was a road on which a toll was collected, often with a spiked barrier across as a defense against sudden attack (The New Oxford American Dictionary). The context of this passage emphasizes ease of travel, rather than gates.

Isaiah spoke earlier of a highway between Assyria and Egypt:

Isaiah 11:16 (KJV) And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.

This reference is to the Hebrew exodus out of captivity in Egypt, on dry land, across a sea miraculously swept clear of water (Exodus 14).

Will the highway be for Jews returning to their homeland from exile in Assyria and Egypt? Or will the nations of Assyria and Egypt as a whole turn to the God of the Jews?

The latter is supported by the final passage:

In That Day Israel Will Be The Third With Egypt And Assyria

Isaiah 19:24-25 (ESV) In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance."

Egypt is described as the LORD's people, Assyria as the LORD's work, and Israel as the LORD's inheritance.

Patrimony refers to something inherited from one's father or male ancestor.

Each of these three different relationships with God are intended to be a blessing "in the midst of the earth".

For an example of this word used as "curse", see Job 2:9.

"My people" occurs over 200 times, nearly all speaking specifically of Israel or Christians.

"Work of my hands" occurs only two other times, in reference specically to Israel.

"My inheritance" occurs five times, all in reference to Israel.

References to Egypt and Assyria as "my people" or "the work of my hands" likely refers to the worshippers of the LORD who were citizens of those nations. The Egyptian and Assyrian believers would join with those who remained in Israel.

These three nations would become centers of faith in the Almighty LORD, the God of Israel, Creator and Sustainer of all the earth.

What do you think?

Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet, Creative Commons