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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Isaiah 19, Part One: Maker of War

Isaiah 19, Part One: Maker of War

Isaiah 19:1-15

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 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.

What do you think?

photo credit: God of War iPhone wallpaper via photopin (license)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Isaiah 18, Part Three: The Signal

Isaiah 18, Part Three: The Signal

Isaiah had greeted ambassadors sent by a land of "whirring wings, beyond the rivers of Cush", probably referring to Ethiopia, south of Egypt.

The alliance between Judah, Egypt and Ethiopia was condemned by God. Isaiah foretold that nothing would result except shame and disgrace for Judah.

Now, Isaiah tells the ambassadors to look toward the east, to "a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering..."

A People Feared Near and Far

Isaiah 18:2 (ESV) Go, you swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide.

Who were the people "tall and smooth, a people feared near and far"?

This passage begins and ends with reference to a nation "tall and smooth...a people feared near and far":

Isaiah 18:2 (ESV) Go, you swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide.

Isaiah 18:7 (ESV) Tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts.

God, through Isaiah, urged the Egyptian/Ethiopian ambassadors to go to a mighty nation, a land of many people on the march, or expanding its borders at a rapid pace. The ambassadors were to proclaim a great victory ("A signal is raised on the mountains...come look! A trumpet is blown...listen!).

These "tall and smooth" people would later visit Jerusalem, bringing gifts.

There is reference in the historical book of 2 Kings, describing such a visit:

2 Kings 20:12 (ESV) At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah.

The representatives of Babylon had heard that Hezekiah had been miraculously healed of a serious illness:

2 Kings 20:1 (ESV) In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.”

"In those days" refers the impending threat of invasion by the Assyrian army. Hezekiah had prayed, expressing his dependence upon God, and God had healed him:

2 Kings 20:5-6 (ESV) I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.

The Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem was suddenly decimated by God.

2 Kings 19:35-36 (ESV) And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed.

Ambassadors from Babylon then traveled to Jerusalem, probably to inquire of this miraculous conquest over a mighty army.

Isaiah is describing how Jerusalem first drew attention from a mighty empire in the east. Babylon is not mentioned by name, only implied, making this chapter a divine "teaser", a dimly seen vision of Jerusalem's future.

But this is not the first reference to Babylon that can be found in Isaiah's book of visions. The judgement of Babylon was previously described in chapters 13-14:

Isaiah 13:19 (ESV) And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

Isaiah 14:3-6 (ESV) When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: “How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased! The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution.

A people "tall and smooth", a people "feared near and far" would hear a report of divine intervention in human affairs, and would travel to Jerusalem to determine its veracity.

The rumour acted as a sort of signal:

Isaiah 18:3 (ESV) All you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on the earth, when a signal is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet is blown, hear!

Isaiah urged Ethiopian ambassadors to go to Babylon with the news of Israel's miraculous victory over the Assyrian army.

If the ambassadors obeyed Isaiah, news of the sudden destruction of a mighty army would have come to the Babylonians as a short report, describing a major event. It would be as if a guard standing watch in Babylon suddenly spotted a flag raised on a hill several miles away, communicating a message of alarm or urgency.

What do you think?

U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Greg Messier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons