Isaiah 19:19
In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the middle of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(19) In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord . . .—The words naturally tended to bring about their own fulfilment, as related in the preceding note. From the prophet’s own stand-point, however, the altar was probably thought of, not as the centre of a rival worship, but, like that erected by the trans-Jordanic tribes in the time of Joshua, as an altar of “witness” (Joshua 22:27), and the words that follow supply a distinct confirmation of this view. Substantially the prophet saw in the distant future a time in which the connection between Judah and Egypt should be one influencing the latter for good, and not the former for evil. The admission of Egyptian and Ethiopian proselytes, already referred to, was as the first fruits of such an influence. It may not be without interest to note some of its later workings. (1) In the time of Manasseh, who gave to his son Amon a name singularly Egyptian in its sound, a body of Jewish settlers were invited by Psammetichus to station themselves on the frontiers of Upper Egypt (“Pseudo-Aristeas,” in Hudson’s Josephus). (2) Under Ptolemy I. large numbers of Jewish emigrants fixed themselves at Alexandria, with full toleration of their faith and worship. (3) Under Ptolemy Philadelphus the intercourse between the Palestinians and Egyptians led to the translation of the Old Testament Scriptures known as the LXX., and this was followed by the growth of a Hellenistic or a Græco-Jewish literature, of which we have the remains in the Apocrypha and in Philo. (4) There was the erection of the Leontopolis Temple, already spoken of, and this was followed by that of numerous synagogues, perhaps also of monasteries for communities of Jewish ascetics of the Essene type, such as that which Philo describes under the name of the Thera-pœutœ (Euseb. H.E. ii. 17).

A pillar at the border thereof . . .—The pillar was the familiar obelisk of the Egyptians, commonly associated with the worship of the sun. The point of Isaiah’s prediction was that the symbol should be rescued from its idolatrous uses, and stand on the border-land of Egypt and of Judah, as a witness that Jehovah, the Lord of hosts, was worshipped in both countries.

Isaiah 19:19. In that day shall there be an altar — For God’s worship; not a Levitical, but a spiritual and evangelical altar, as appears from hence, that the Levitical altar was confined to one place, Deuteronomy 12:13-14. The altar is here put for the worship of God, as it is in many places, both of the Old and New Testaments. And nothing is more common in the prophets than to speak of gospel worship in those phrases of the law which were suitable to their own age. And, accordingly, when they speak of the Gentiles coming into the church, they represent them as serving the true God by such acts of devotion as were most in use in their own time, and therefore could be best understood by those to whom they directed their discourses. And a pillar — A monument of the true religion; (he alludes to the ancient custom of erecting pillars to God;) at the border thereof — Of the land, as before in the midst of it. The meaning is, There shall be evidences of their piety in all places. This passage evidently implies that the temple-service, which was confined to Jerusalem, should be abolished, as it was by the introduction of Christianity, and that the God of Israel should be worshipped with the most solemn rites, even in the most abhorred and unsanctified places, such as the Jews esteemed Egypt to be. Such is the meaning of this prophecy, as it refers to the Christian dispensation, and such will be its more remote and ultimate accomplishment. But, in its primary sense, it seems to relate to the conversion of the Egyptians to the Jewish religion; which was brought about by the following progressive changes. “Alexander the Great transplanted many of the Jews to Alexandria, and allowed them extraordinary immunities, equal to those of the Macedonians themselves. Ptolemy Soter carried more of them into Egypt, who enjoyed such advantages that many of them were allured to settle there. Ptolemy Philadelphus redeemed and released the captive Jews; and in his and his father’s reign, the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek. Ptolemy Euergetes, having subdued Syria, did not sacrifice to the gods of Egypt in acknowledgment of his victory, but, coming to Jerusalem, made his oblations to God after the manner of the Jews. Ptolemy Philometer and his queen, Cleopatra, committed the whole management of the kingdom to two Jews, Onias and Dositheus, who were the chief ministers and generals. This Onias obtained a license to build a temple for the Jews in Egypt, alleging for that purpose this very prophecy; and the king and queen, in their rescript, make honourable mention of the law and of Isaiah, and express a dread of offending God. The place chosen for this temple was in the prefecture of Heliopolis, or the city of the sun, likewise mentioned in prophecy. It was built after the model of the temple of Jerusalem, but not so sumptuous. Onias himself was made high-priest; other priests and Levites were appointed for the ministration, and divine service was daily performed there in the same manner as at Jerusalem, and continued as long: for Vespasian, having destroyed the temple at Jerusalem, ordered this to be demolished also.” See Newton, Proph., vol. 1. p. 375.19:18-25 The words, In that day, do not always refer to the passage just before. At a time which was to come, the Egyptians shall speak the holy language, the Scripture language; not only understand it, but use it. Converting grace, by changing the heart, changes the language; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So many Jews shall come to Egypt, that they shall soon fill five cities. Where the sun was worshipped, a place infamous for idolatry, even there shall be a wonderful reformation. Christ, the great Altar, who sanctifies every gift, shall be owned, and the gospel sacrifices of prayer and praise shall be offered up. Let the broken-hearted and afflicted, whom the Lord has wounded, and thus taught to return to, and call upon him, take courage; for He will heal their souls, and turn their sorrowing supplications into joyful praises. The Gentile nations shall not only unite with each other in the gospel fold under Christ, the great Shepherd, but they shall all be united with the Jews. They shall be owned together by him; they shall all share in one and the same blessing. Meeting at the same throne of grace, and serving with each other in the same business of religion, should end all disputes, and unite the hearts of believers to each other in holy love.In that day shall there be an altar - An "altar" is properly a place on which sacrifices are offered. According to the Mosaic law, but one great altar was to be erected for sacrifices. But the word 'altar' is often used in another sense to denote a place of "memorial;" or a place of worship in general (Joshua 22:22-26. It is clear that Isaiah did not intend that this should be taken "literally," or that there should be a rival temple and altar erected in Egypt, but his description is evidently taken in part from the account of the religion of the patriarchs who erected altars and pillars and monuments to mark the places of the worship of the true God. The parallelism here, where 'pillars' are mentioned, shows in what sense the word 'altar' is used. It means that the worship of the true God would be established in Egypt, and that certain "places" should be set apart to his service. "altars" were among the first places reared as connected with the worship of God (see Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 35:1; Exodus 17:15).

To the Lord - To Yahweh - the true God.

And a pillar - That is, a memorial to God. Thus Jacob set up the stone on which he had lain 'for a pillar,' and poured oil on it Genesis 28:18. Again Genesis 35:14, he set up a pillar to mark the place where God met him and talked with him (compare Genesis 31:13; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 16:22). The word 'pillar,' when thus used, denotes a stone, or column of wood, erected as a monument or memorial; and especially a memorial of some manifestation of God or of his favor. Before temples were known, such pillars would naturally be erected; and the description here means simply that Yahweh would be worshipped in Egypt.

At the border thereof - Not in one place merely, but in all parts of Egypt. It is not improbable that the "name" of Yahweh, or some rude designation of the nature of his worship, would be inscribed on such pillars. It is known that the Egyptians were accustomed to rear pillars, monuments, obelisks, etc., to commemorate great events, and that the names and deeds of illustrious persons were engraven on them; and the prophet here says, that such monuments should be reared to Yahweh. In regard to the fulfillment of this prophecy, there can be no question. After the time of Alexander the Great, large numbers of Jews were settled in Egypt. They were favored by the Ptolemies, and they became so numerous that it was deemed necessary that their Scriptures should be translated into Greek for their use, and accordingly the translation called the Septuagint was made. See Introduction, Section 8, 1, (1).

19. altar—not for sacrifice, but as the "pillar" for memorial and worship (Jos 22:22-26). Isaiah does not contemplate a temple in Egypt: for the only legal temple was at Jerusalem; but, like the patriarchs, they shall have altars in various places.

pillar—such as Jacob reared (Ge 28:18; 35:14); it was a common practice in Egypt to raise obelisks commemorating divine and great events.

at the border—of Egypt and Judah, to proclaim to both countries the common faith. This passage shows how the Holy Spirit raised Isaiah above a narrow-minded nationality to a charity anticipatory of gospel catholicity.

An altar for God’s worship; not a Levitical, but a spiritual and evangelical altar, as appears from hence, because that was confined to one place, Deu 12:13,14. The altar is put for the worship of God, as it is in many places both of the Old and New Testament. And nothing is more common in the prophets than to speak of gospel worship in the phrases of the law.

A pillar; a monument of the true religion. Here also he alludes to the ancient custom of erecting pillars to God; of which See Poole "Genesis 12:7", See Poole "Genesis 28:18", See Poole "Joshua 22:10", See Poole "Joshua 24:26", See Poole "Joshua 24:27".

At the border thereof; as before, in the midst of it. The meaning is, There shall be evidences of their piety in all places. In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt,.... Josephus (c), and other Jewish writers (d), suppose this to be fulfilled when Onias, the son of Simeon the just, fled into Egypt, and obtained leave of Ptolemy king of Egypt, and Queen Cleopatra, to build a temple and an altar there, like those at Jerusalem, in order to draw the Jews thither, which was about six hundred years after this prophecy; and who did build both a temple and an altar in the nome of Heliopolis, about twenty three miles from the city of Memphis, and which continued three hundred and forty three years; but not a material altar is here meant, but a figurative and spiritual one, and no other than Christ, who is the altar that sanctifies every gift, and upon which the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise being offered up are acceptable to God. The phrase denotes a public profession of Christ, and a setting up of his worship; it is used in allusion to the patriarchs, who, wherever they came, set up an altar to the Lord, and worshipped him:

and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord; in like manner as the patriarchs used to do, Genesis 28:18 it signifies not only that in the middle of the land, but upon the borders of it, the Christian religion should be embraced and professed; so that no sooner did a man step into it, but he should find that this was the religion professed there: it signifies that here would be placed ministers of the Gospel, who are as pillars to hold forth and support the doctrines of it; and a church state, which is the pillar and ground of it; and persons converted, that should be pillars in the house of God, that should never go out; see Proverbs 9:1.

(c) Antiqu. l. 13. c. 3. sect. 1. 3. & de Bello Jud. l. 7. c. 10. sect. 2, 3, 4. (d) T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 109. 2.

In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and {t} a pillar at its border to the LORD.

(t) There will be evident signs and tokens, that God's religion is there: which manner of speech is taken of the patriarchs and ancient time, when God has not as yet appointed the place, and full manner how he would be worshipped.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
19. It was to this verse, according to Josephus (and not to Isaiah 19:18), that Onias appealed in support of the legitimacy of his project. The statement is perfectly intelligible; it had never occurred to any one to think of Leontopolis in connexion with Isaiah 19:18; on the other hand, the promise of Isaiah 19:19 was warrant enough.

an altar to the Lord] evidently intended for sacrificial offerings, not a mere memorial (see Isaiah 19:21). The writer thus transcends the limits of the Mosaic legislation, which recognised but one altar of Jehovah. Some explain the prediction in a symbolical sense, of the spiritual worship of Jehovah maintained by the Jews and their proselytes. But this is hardly justifiable.

a pillar at the border thereof] The word maçççbâ usually denotes the sacred stones which stood by the idolatrous shrines of Canaan and whose destruction is enjoined in the Law (Deuteronomy 16:22; Exodus 23:24, &c.). From its use here it has been inferred that the prophecy dates from a time anterior to the promulgation of the Deuteronomic Code in the reign of Josiah. But it is doubtful if even in the age of Isaiah the maçççbâ in this sense could have had positive value as an adjunct of Jehovah’s worship. The word is probably used in the general sense of a memorial pillar, and may have been suggested by the huge monoliths which were so characteristic of Egyptian civilisation. This one stands on the frontier of Egypt, as a sign to every one entering the country that Jehovah is known there.Verse 19. - There shall be an altar to the Lord. An altar to the Lord was undoubtedly erected by Onias in the temple which he obtained leave to build from Ptolemy Philometor. Josephus says that he persuaded Ptolemy by showing him this passage of Isaiah ('Ant. Jud.,' 13:3; 'Bell. Jud.,' 7:10). And a pillar at the border thereof. It is not clear that any "pillar" was ever actually erected. The erection of pillars for religious purposes was forbidden by the Law (Deuteronomy 16:22). But this would be a pillar of witness (Genesis 31:52), and would mark that the land was Jehovah's. Dr. Kay suggests that "the Jewish synagogue first, and afterwards the Christian Church at Alexandria, standing like a lofty obelisk, with the name of Jehovah inscribed upon it, at the entrance of Egypt," sufficiently fulfilled the prophecy. The prophet now dwells upon the punishment which falls upon the pillars of the land, and describes it in Isaiah 19:11-13 : "The princes of Zoan become mere fools, the wise counsellors of Pharaoh; readiness in counsel is stupefied. How can ye say to Pharaoh, I am a son of wise men, a son of kings of the olden time? Where are they then, thy wise men? Let them announce to thee, and know what Jehovah of hosts hath determined concerning Egypt. The princes of Zoan have become fools, the princes of Memphis are deceived; and they have led Egypt astray who are the corner-stone of its castes." The two constructives יעצי חכמי do not stand in a subordinate relation, but in a co-ordinate one (see at Psalm 78:9 and Job 20:17; compare also 2 Kings 17:13, Keri), viz., "the wise men, counsellors of Pharaoh,"

(Note: Pharaoh does not mean "the king" (equivalent to the Coptic π-ουρο), but according to Brugsch, "great house" (Upper Egyptian perâa, Lower Egyptian pher-âo; vid., aus dem Orient, i. 36). Lauth refers in confirmation of this to Horapollo, i. 62, ὄφις καὶ οἶκος μέγας ἐν μέσω αὐτοῦ σημαίνει βασιλέα, and explains this Coptic name for a king from that of the Οὐραῖος (βασιλίσκος) upon the head of the king, which was a specifically regal sign.)

so that the second noun is the explanatory permutative of the first. Zoan is the Tanis of primeval times (Numbers 13:22), which was situated on one of the arms through which the Nile flows into the sea (viz., the ostium Taniticum), and was the home from which two dynasties sprang. Noph (per aphaer. equals Menoph, contracted into Moph in Hosea 9:6) is Memphis, probably the seat of the Pharaohs in the time of Joseph, and raised by Psammetichus into the metropolis of the whole kingdom. The village of Mitrahenni still stands upon its ruins, with the Serapeum to the north-west.

(Note: What the lexicons say with reference to Zoan and Noph needs rectifying. Zoan (old Egyptian Zane, with the hieroglyphic of striding legs, Copt. 'Gane) points back to the radical idea of pelli or fugere; and according to the latest researches, to which the Turin papyrus No. 112 has led, it is the same as Αὔαρις (Ἄβαρις), which is said to mean the house of flight (Ha-uare), and was the seat of government under the Hykshōs. But Memphis is not equivalent to Ma-m-ptah, as Champollion assumed (although this city is unquestionably sometimes called Ha-ka-ptah, house of the essential being of Ptah); it is rather equivalent to Men-nefer (with the hieroglyphic of the pyramids), place of the good (see Brugsch, Histoire d'Egypte, i. 17). In the later language it is called pa-nuf or ma-nuf, which has the same meaning (Copt. nufi, good). Hence Moph is the contraction of the name commencing with ma, and Noph the abbreviation of the name commencing with ma or pa by the rejection of the local prefix; for we cannot for a moment think of Nup, which is the second district of Upper Egypt (Brugsch, Geogr. i. 66). Noph is undoubtedly Memphis.)

Consequently princes of Zoan and Memphis are princes of the chief cities of the land, and of the supposed primeval pedigree; probably priest-princes, since the wisdom of the Egyptian priest was of world-wide renown (Herod. ii. 77, 260), and the oldest kings of Egypt sprang from the priestly caste. Even in the time of Hezekiah, when the military caste had long become the ruling one, the priests once more succeeded in raising one of their own number, namely Sethos, to the throne of Sais. These magnates of Egypt, with their wisdom, would be turned into fools by the history of Egypt of the immediate future; and (this is the meaning of the sarcastic "how can ye say") they would no longer trust themselves to boast of their hereditary priestly wisdom, or their royal descent, when giving counsel to Pharaoh. They were the corner-stone of the shebâtim, i.e., of the castes of Egypt (not of the districts or provinces, νομοί); but instead of supporting and defending their people, it is now very evident that they only led them astray. התעוּ, as the Masora on Isaiah 19:15 observes, has no Vav cop.

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