Isaiah 19

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

19:1.  “The burden of Egypt, Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.”


The “burden” is the prophecy of the judgment that was to come upon Egypt, but as has been discussed already, the literal judgments that fell upon the OT nations foreshadow those that will devastate the earth in the swiftly approaching Great Tribulation.  It has been discussed also that Egypt represents the world of business and pleasure living in defiant independence of God, so that only the spiritually blind will fail to see in it a type of today’s world which is of similar mutinous character.  (Incidentally, as Egypt was watered by its two-part river, the Blue and the Green Nile, speaking of the world’s business and pleasure, so also was Babylon (symbol of the world’s false religious systems) dependent on its two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which are symbolic of the world’s religions and pleasure).


In the OT a cloud was symbolic of God’s presence leading Israel through the wilderness in the daytime, as a pillar of fire was indicative of His presence with them during the night.  Here the cloud bespeaks His coming to execute judgment upon Egypt, the moving of whose idols means that they would tremble, stagger, melt, i.e., they would be destroyed.  That past destruction foreshadows God’s annihilation of idolatry at the close of the Great Tribulation.  The ”melting” of Egypt’s heart is also rendered tremble, stagger, quail, quake, that trepidation pointing also to what is yet future as described in Revelation 6:12-17.


19:2.  “And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.”


This adds yet another typological brush stroke to the canvas of the Tribulation age world as recorded in Matthew 24:7 and Mark 13:8, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.”


19:3.  “And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.”


“... spirit” in the present context means courage; and “counsel” refers to their worldly wisdom and planning.  God would bring it all to nothing; and as it was with ancient Egypt so will it be also with the Tribulation age earth.  The occupation with idols, charmers, familiar spirits and wizards points to the fact that in the Great Tribulation there will be a phenomenal preoccupation with the occult, the signs of that engrossment being all too apparent even now, and that will culminate in the worship of the Beast.


19:4.  “And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord: and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts.”


This threat was fulfilled in 671 BC, when Assyria’s king Esarhaddon conquered Egypt, his harsh dominion being God’s repayment of Egypt’s earlier brutal treatment of the Israelites, see Exodus 1:11; 3:7; 5:6, 10-14, and Galatians 6:7-8, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”


Beyond the literal statement relative to Egypt however, is the far more important spiritual lesson that those who refuse Christ’s benevolent rule here on earth, will suffer the wrath of God eternally in the lake of fire.


19:5.  “And waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.”


The “sea” here is the Nile, other translations of this verse being, “The waters will ebb from the Nile, the river bed be parched and dry,” The Jerusalem Bible; “The waters of the Nile will fail to rise and flood the fields; the ditches will be parched and dry,” Taylor.


There is no known record of any past occurrence of this, so there is every reason to conclude that the prophecy will be fulfilled literally, or much more likely metaphorically, in the Great Tribulation, for it is necessary to remember that the Nile represents the great river of wealth that “waters” the world’s commerce, and it is impossible to grasp the magnitude of the global chaos that would follow the drying up of that “river,” though the ripple effects of the crash of the Stock Market in the early 1930's afford a dramatic preview of what would result from such an event.


19:6.  “And they shall turn the rivers far away; and the brooks of defense shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither.”


This is also translated “And rivers shall stink, the canals of Egypt be shallow and waste, reed and rush be withered,” Rotherham; “... its canals will become foul, and the branches of Egypt’s Nile will diminish and dry up, reeds and rushes will rot away,” RSV; “Their channels fouled with rotting reeds,” Taylor.  The literal condition thus described may be also symbolic of the misery that will be concomitant with the collapse of the world’s financial institutions in the Great Tribulation.


19:7.  “The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no more.”


The literal ruin resulting from the drying up of the Nile continues to be described here; but as in the preceding verse, the wider application is to the devastation that will attend the collapse of the world’s commercial and financial enterprises in the Great Tribulation.


19:8.  “The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle (fish hook) into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish.”


In Scripture the fisherman is a type of those who fish for souls, i.e., who try to win others to Christ, see Matthew 4:19, “And He said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” so that the mourning fishermen here may represent the Tribulation age believers who will lament the paucity of response to their preaching of the gospel.  This present day, and the coming Tribulation age, are the counterparts of what is here declared symbolically: few will listen to the gospel.


19:9.  “Moreover they that work in fine flax (white linen), and they that weave networks, shall be confounded,”


All whose work was connected with flax - one of the principal crops cultivated along the Nile - would be reduced to hopeless despair.  Such workers represent those of this Christian era, and of the coming Tribulation period, involved in the spread of the gospel, and in the instruction and upbuilding of believers.  They are, and will continue to be frustrated and discouraged as they battle against the rising tide of worldliness, and antagonism to the gospel.


19:10.  “And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish.”


“... the purposes (pillars) thereof” were the pillars of society, i.e., the political, religious, and business leaders; those who made sluices and ponds being the ordinary working people.  Every strata of society would be brought to ruin; and as discussed already, since there is no historical record of such a past disaster, the obvious truth is that all of this awaits, not just local, but world-wide fulfillment in the now imminent Great Tribulation.


19:11.  “Surely the princes of Zoan are fools, the counsel of the wise counselors of Pharaoh is become brutish: how say ye unto Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?”


Zoan, meaning removal, was the capital of ancient Egypt, but since Egypt is a type of the world of business and pleasure living in defiance of God, this city typifies the governments of the nations at any time and place; and the meaning removal is particularly apropos of all of them, for each one, having enjoyed its brief day of glory, has passed away, giving place to an equally transient successor.  As God called the princes of Zoan fools, so does the appellation describe all governors of the nations, for apart from a formal token acknowledgement of God by some, they all rule according to the dictates of their own corrupt minds.


Other translations render the latter half of this verse “... the wisest of Pharaoh’s advisers give stupid counsel,” NAB; “... the princes of Zoan are utterly witless, Pharaoh’s wisest planners make the silliest plans,” PHILLIPS; “Fools that you are, you princes of Zoan!  Wisest of Pharaoh’s counselors you may be, but stupid counselors you are,” NEB; “... how can you say to Pharaoh, “I am a disciple of the sages, a disciple of bygone kings”?


19:12.  “Where are they? Where are thy wise men? And let them tell thee now, and let them know what the Lord of hosts hath purposed for Egypt.”


Here God, knowing that not one of them could foresee Egypt’s coming destruction, challenged Pharaoh’s so-called wise men to foretell the nation’s future, their unjustified optimism precluding even the thought of its glory ever coming to an end.  And so is it today relative to the world.  Only the few instructed by God’s Word realize that following the now imminent rapture of the Church, the earth will be devastated by the terrible Tribulation judgments that will leave it a virtual ruin.

In their roseate dreams men envision a Utopia from which ignorance, war, want, and disease will have been banished by man’s ingenuity in eradicating these scourges.  It will be God, not man, Who will first purge the world in the Great Tribulation, and then inaugurate the Millennium that will bring this present earth’s history to a glorious close, after which there will be a new heavens and a new earth, see Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”


19:13.  “The princes of Zoan are become fools, the princes of Noph (Memphis) are deceived; they have also seduced Egypt, even they that are the stay of the tribes thereof.”


Zoan and Noph (Memphis) were principal cities of Egypt, and the rulers of them had misled the people into believing that the nation would continue for ever; but it is instructive to note that Zoan means removal; Noph presentability; and Memphis, being made fair, blamable, encompassed, meanings which include the thought of beauty, but also of instability, guilt, and ultimate destruction.  The same is true of today’s world, which, as noted already, will be reduced to ruin by the coming Tribulation judgments.


19:14.  “The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof: and they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof, as a drunken man staggereth in his vomit.”


“Perverse” means confusion, giddiness, warped judgment.  The complacency and pride produced by their imagined wisdom and superiority was unwarranted, for in God’s sight they were as foolish and filthy as a drunken man wallowing in his own vomit. 


This is a dramatic and accurate picture of today’s world, for the government and business of our vaunted western society are conducted in the midst of a moral cesspool that is not only offensive to God, but to so-called “heathen” nations which have far higher moral standards.  And that those responsible for the production of the western world’s so-called entertainment are well aware of its filthy content is announced in the polite euphemism which precedes presentation, “Viewer discretion is advised,” or “For adult audiences.”


19:15.  “Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do.”


Some understand this to mean that unemployment will be rampant; others, that no one will be able to do anything to alleviate the misery.  There is a measure of truth in both, but the former seems the more probable.  “Head or tail” is generally understood to be symbolic of government or business management, “the head” being the highest rank, and “tail” being the lowest.


19:16.  “In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: and it shall be afraid and fear because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts, which he shaketh over it.”


Taylor’s rendering of this verse is, “In that day the Egyptians will be as weak as women, cowering in fear beneath the upraised fist of God.”  This foretold experience of Egypt languishing under Assyrian oppression is but the miniature of what will be world-wide as a result of the terrible judgments that will ravish the whole earth in the Great Tribulation.


19:17.  “And the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt, every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the Lord of hosts, which he hath determined against it.”


In time past Judah has had supremacy over Egypt, but the ultimate application is to the Millennium when Israel will be supreme among the nations.


19:18.  “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction.”


Five is the Biblical number of responsibility, and it seems likely that “five cities” is to be understood here as representing the whole land of Egypt; and that their speaking the “language of Canaan” means, not that all the Egyptians will speak Hebrew, but that they will abandon idolatry, and worship Jehovah only, some of that worship being rendered by genuine believers, and some by mere professors.  It seems that this will be fulfilled in the Tribulation, the terrible judgments of that era bringing many Egyptians to repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and some to mere professed faith.


Heliopolis is the city which in the KJ translation is given as “The city of destruction,” but many competent scholars reject this rendering, preferring the alternative “City of the Sun,” which seems to accord better with the context.


19:19.  “In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.”


This seems to take us forward to the millennial age, and continues to emphasize that in that era Egypt will be a believing people, the altar speaking of her worship; and the pillar, of her testimony.  That pattern remains the same for us: we too are to be a worshiping people, bearing a clear testimony to those around us, not only by our obedient lives, but by our activity in spreading the gospel.


19:20.  “And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a savior, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.”


It is difficult to understand this verse, for there will be no oppression in the Millennium, so it seems that it is simply a retrospective glance at the conditions that will lead to Egypt’s conversion in the Great Tribulation.


19:21.  “And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it.”


This verse reiterates the fact of Egypt’s conversion and her continuing obedience.


19:22.  “And the Lord shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be entreated of them, and shall heal them.”


Egypt has been smitten in the past, God using other nations such as the Assyrians as His instruments, but clearly this smiting will be in the Tribulation, for the repentance and conversion mentioned here have not yet occurred.  It is to be noted also that this is invariably God’s method relative to conversion; every convert is first convicted of his guilt, and then led to put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, see e.g., the record of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:4-6, and that of the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:29-30.


19:23.  “In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria; and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.”


“... that day” is the Millennium, and this foretold intercourse between these former bitter rivals is an example of the universal peace that will prevail in that glorious era.


The Egyptians serving with the Assyrians means that they will worship Jehovah, as will all the nations, in the Millennium.


19:24.  “In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:”


Israel’s being “the third” doesn’t mean that she will occupy an inferior place with Egypt and Assyria, but that the three of them will be a triumvirate worshiping Jehovah.


19:25.  “Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”


This continues to reiterate the truth that in the Millennium, not only will there be peace and harmony among these three, but that all the nations will enjoy the same blessing.

[Isaiah 20]

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
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