Isaiah 19:5
And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.
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(5) The waters shall fail from the sea.—The “sea,” like the river, is, of course, the Nile (Homer calls it Oceanus), or, possibly, indicates specially the Pelusiac branch of the river. So the White and Blue Niles are respectively the White and Blue Seas (Bahr). The words that follow seem to describe partly the result of the failure of the annual rising of the Nile, partly of the neglect of the appliances of irrigation caused by the anarchy implied in Isaiah 19:2 (Herod. ii. 137).

Isaiah 19:5-10. The waters shall fail from the sea, &c. — The river Nile shall cease to pour its usual quantity of water into the sea, being wasted and dried up, as it follows. “Tremellius,” says Lowth, “shows out of Herodotus, that this was literally fulfilled under the government of the twelve petty tyrants who ruled Egypt after Sethon. And Scaliger understands it of a great drought, which occasioned a dearth, by the failing of the inundation of the Nile.” They shall turn the rivers — Those rivulets, by which the waters of the Nile were distributed into several parts of the land, shall be turned far away, as they must needs be, when the river which fed them was dried up. The brooks of defence shall be emptied — The several branches of the river Nile, which were a great defence to Egypt. The reeds — Which were useful to them for making their boats; shall wither — As they commonly do for want of water. The paper-reeds shall wither — These, by a needle, or other fit instrument, were divided into thin and broad leaves, which, being dried and fitted, were used, at that time, for writing; and consequently were a very good commodity for trade. Every thing sown by the brooks shall wither — And much more what was sown in more dry and unfruitful places. The fishers also shall mourn — Because they can catch no fish; which was a great loss to the people, whose common diet this was. They that work in fine flax — That make fine linen, which was one of their best commodities; shall be confounded — Either for want of flax to work on, or for want of a demand of that which they have worked, or opportunity to export it. They shall be broken, that make sluices, &c. — Their business shall fail, either for want of water to fill their ponds, or for want of fish to replenish their waters. But it is probable the expressions in these verses are metaphorical, and denote the decay of the strength, wealth, trade, and prosperity of Egypt, by metaphors taken from the decrease of the river Nile, upon the overflowing of which all the plenty and prosperity of that country depended. “The prophet,” says Bishop Newton, “sets forth, in figurative language, the consequences of the forementioned subjection and slavery, the poverty and want, the mourning and lamentation, the confusion and misery which should be entailed on both them and their posterity.” The Nile, the reader must observe, is supposed to “figure out the whole kingdom of Egypt. The reed, the lotus, the papyrus, and the other productions of the Nile, signify the riches, merchandise, and whatever was found in the flourishing state of Egypt. And, as when the waters of the Nile are withdrawn, or dried up, or do not rise to their proper height, all things languish and wither in Egypt, and the greatest poverty and want ensue; so the kingdom of Egypt being depressed under the dominion of its cruel lords the Persians, who should rule it by rapacious governors, all things should languish in that kingdom; the cities, with the temples and ornaments, be subverted; their commerce, to which the Nile was so subservient, should fail; their riches be consumed by strangers, and their lands be left uncultivated. In short, the face of the country should be desolate and melancholy, as when the Nile withheld its necessary overflowings.” — See Vitringa.19:1-17 God shall come into Egypt with his judgments. He will raise up the causes of their destruction from among themselves. When ungodly men escape danger, they are apt to think themselves secure; but evil pursues sinners, and will speedily overtake them, except they repent. The Egyptians will be given over into the hand of one who shall rule them with rigour, as was shortly after fulfilled. The Egyptians were renowned for wisdom and science; yet the Lord would give them up to their own perverse schemes, and to quarrel, till their land would be brought by their contests to become an object of contempt and pity. He renders sinners afraid of those whom they have despised and oppressed; and the Lord of hosts will make the workers of iniquity a terror to themselves, and to each other; and every object around a terror to them.And the waters shall fail - Here commences a description of the "physical" calamities that would come upon the land, which continues to Isaiah 19:10. The previous verses contained an account of the national calamities by civil wars. It may be observed that discord, anarchy, and civil wars, are often connected with physical calamities; as famine, drought, pestilence. God has the elements, as well as the hearts of people, under his control; and when he chastises a nation, he often mingles anarchy, famine, discord, and the pestilence together. Often, too, civil wars have a "tendency" to produce these calamities. They annihilate industry, arrest enterprise, break up plans of commerce, and divert the attention of people from the cultivation of the soil. This might have been in part the case in Egypt; but it would seem also that God, by direct agency, intended to afflict them by drying up their streams in a remarkable manner.

From the sea - The parallelism here, as well as the whole scope of the passage, requires us to understand this of the Nile. The word ים yâm is sometimes used to denote a large river (see the notes at Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 18:2). The Nile is often called a sea. Thus Pliny ("Nat. Hist." ii. 35) says, 'The water of the Nile resembles the sea.' Thus, Seneca ("Quaest. Nat." v. 2) says, 'By continued accessions of water, it stagnates (stagnat) into the appearance of a broad and turbid sea.' Compare Herodot. ii. 97; Diod. i. 12, 96; 'To this day in Egypt, the Nile is el-Bahr, "the sea," as its most common appellation.' 'Our Egyptian servant,' says Dr. Robinson, 'who spoke English, always called it "the sea."' ("Bib. Rescarches," vol. i.542).

And the river - The Nile.

Shall be wasted - This does not mean "entirely," but its waters would fail so as to injure the country. It would not "overflow" in its accustomed manner, and the consequence would be, that the land would be desolate. It is well known that Egypt derives its great fertility entirely from the overflowing of the Nile. So important is this, that a public record is made at Cairo of the daily rise of the water. When the Nile rises to a less height than twelve cubits, a famine is the inevitable consequence, for then the water does not overflow the land. When it rises to a greater height than sixteen cubits, a famine is almost as certain - for then the superabundant waters are not drained off soon enough to allow them to sow the seed. The height of the inundation, therefore, that is necessary in order to insure a harvest, is from twelve to sixteen cubits. The annual overflow is in the month of August. The prophet here means that the Nile would not rise to the height that was desirable - or the waters should "fail" - and that the consequence would be a famine.

5. the sea—the Nile. Physical calamities, it is observed in history, often accompany political convulsions (Eze 30:12). The Nile shall "fail" to rise to its wonted height, the result of which will be barrenness and famine. Its "waters" at the time of the overflow resemble "a sea" [Pliny, Natural History, 85.11]; and it is still called El-Bahr," "the sea," by the Egyptians (Isa 18:2; Jer 51:36). A public record is kept at Cairo of the daily rise of the water at the proper time of overflow, namely, August: if it rises to a less height than twelve cubits, it will not overflow the land, and famine must be the result. So, also, when it rises higher than sixteen; for the waters are not drained off in time sufficient to sow the seed. The waters shall fail from the sea; which may be understood either,

1. Metaphorically, of the taking away of their dominion or commerce, &c.; or rather,

2. Properly, as may be gathered from the following words and verses. For as the river Nilus, when it had a full stream, and free course, did pour forth a vast quantity of waters by its seven famous mouths into the sea; so when that was dried up, which is expressed in the next clause, those waters did truly and properly fail from the sea. So there is no need of understanding by sea either the river Nilus, or the great lake of Moeris, which, after the manner of the Hebrews, might be so called.

The river, to wit, Nilus, upon whose fulness and overflow both the safety and the wealth of the land depended, as all authors agree; and therefore this was a very terrible judgment.

Dried up, not totally, but in a very great measure, as such phrases are commonly used. And the waters shall fail from the sea,.... Which Kimchi understands figuratively of the destruction of the Egyptians by the king of Assyria, compared to the drying up of the waters of the Nile; and others think that the failure of their trade by sea is meant, which brought great revenues into the kingdom: but, by what follows, it seems best to take the words in a literal sense, of the waters of the river Nile, which being dried up, as in the next clause, could not empty themselves into the sea, as they used, and therefore very properly may be said to fail from it; nay, the Nile itself may be called a sea, it being so large a confluence of water:

and the river shall be wasted and dried up; that is, the river Nile, which was not only very useful for their trade and navigation, but the fruitfulness of the country depended upon it; for the want of rain, in the land of Egypt, was supplied by the overflow of this river, at certain times, which brought and left such a slime upon the earth, as made it exceeding fertile; now the drying up of this river was either occasioned by some great drought, which God in judgment sent; or by the practices of some of their princes with this river, by which it was greatly impaired, and its usefulness diminished.

And the waters shall {e} fail from the sea, and the rivers shall be wasted and dried up.

(e) He shows that the sea and their great river Nile by which they thought themselves most sure, would not be able to defend them but that he would send the Assyrians among them, that would keep them under as slaves.

5. It has been supposed by some that there is a causal connexion between the judgments here threatened and the political calamities described in the first strophe. The loss of a stable and beneficent central administration in Egypt is immediately felt by the peasantry through the neglect of the vast system of artificial irrigation which is essential to the maintenance of the fertility of the soil. It is manifest, however, that the expressions here point to something far more serious than this, viz. a drying up of the Nile by the direct exercise of Jehovah’s power. Cf. Ezekiel 30:12 and Job 14:11 (where the latter part of this verse is reproduced).

the sea] Cf. Isaiah 18:2. “Nili aqua mari similis est” (Pliny). At the time of the annual inundation the Nile has far more the appearance of an inland sea than of a stream; hence it is still called by the Arabs Elbaḥr (the sea).

5–10. The material and industrial ruin of Egypt.Verse 5 - The waters shall fail from the sea. By "the sea" it is generally allowed that the Nile must be meant, as in Isaiah 18:2 and Nahum 3:8. The failure might be caused by deficient rains in Abyssinia and Equatorial Africa, producing an insufficient inundation. It might be aggravated by the neglect of dykes and canals, which would be the natural consequence of civil disorders (see Canon Cook's 'Inscription of Piankhi,' p. 14). Wasted and dried up; rather, parched and dried up. Allowance must be made for Oriental hyperbole. The meaning is only that there shall be a great deficiency in the water supply. Such a deficiency has often been the cause of terrible famines in Egypt. The prophet knows for certain that the messengers may be home and announce this act of Jehovah to their own people and to all the world. "For thus hath Jehovah spoken to me: I will be still, and will observe upon my throne during clear weather in sunshine, during a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. For before the harvest, when the blossom falls off, and the fruit becomes the ripening grape: then will He cut off the branches with pruning-hooks; and the tendrils He removes, breaks off. They are left altogether to the birds of prey on the mountains, and to the cattle of the land; and the birds of prey summer thereon, and all the cattle of the land will winter thereon." The prophecy explains itself here, as is very frequently the case, especially with Isaiah; for the literal words of v. 6 show us unquestionably what it is that Jehovah will allow to develop itself so prosperously under favourable circumstances, and without any interposition on His part, until He suddenly and violently puts an end to the whole, must as it is approaching perfect maturity. It is the might of Assyria. Jehovah quietly looks on from the heavenly seat of His glorious presence, without disturbing the course of the thing intended. This quietness, however, is not negligence, but, as the hortative expressions show, a well-considered resolution. The two Caphs in v. 4 are not comparative, but indicate the time. He remains quiet whilst there is clear weather with sunshine (עלי indicating continuance, as in Jeremiah 8:18; 1 Samuel 14:32), and whilst there is a dew-cloud in the midst of that warmth, which is so favourable for the harvest, by causing the plants that have been thoroughly heated in the day and refreshed at night by the dew, to shoot up and ripen with rapidity and luxuriance. The plant thought of, as v. 5 clearly shows, is the vine. By liphnē kâtzir (before the harvest) we are either to understand the period just before the wheat-harvest, which coincides with the flowering of the grape; or, since Isaiah uses kâtzir for bâzri in Isaiah 16:9, the time at the close of the summer, immediately preceding the vintage. Here again the Caph indicates the time. When the blossoming is over, so that the flower fades away, and the fruit that has set becomes a ripening grape (boser, as in Job 15:33, not in the sense of labruscum, but of omphax; and gâmal, maturescere, as in Numbers 17:8, maturare), He cuts off the branches (zalzalilm, from zilzēl, to swing to and fro; compare the Arabic dâliye, a vine-branch, from dalâ, to hang long and loose) upon which the nearly ripened grapes are hanging, and removes or nips off

(Note: התז equals התז with a pausal sharpening of the tzere, which is lengthened by the tone, from tâzaz or tı̄z in post-biblical Hebrew, to knock off, knock to pieces, or weaken (compare tâshash). On this change of vowels in pause, see at Genesis 17:14; and compare Olshausen, 91, d. For an example of the post-biblical use of the word, vid., b. Sanhedrin 102a, "like two sticks hammattı̄zōth," i.e., one of which "hits the other in two" (hittiz, apparently from tūz, or tiz, like hinnı̄ach from nuach).)

the tendrils (netishoth, as in Jeremiah 5:10, from nâtash, to stretch far out; niphal, to twist about a long way, Isaiah 16:8, compare Jeremiah 48:32); an intentional asyndeton with a pictorial sound. The words of Jehovah concerning Himself have here passed imperceptibly into words of the prophet concerning Jehovah. The ripening grapes, as Isaiah 18:6 now explains, are the Assyrians, who were not far from the summit of their power; the fruit-branches that are cut off and nipped in pieces are their corpses, which are now through both summer and winter the food of swarms of summer birds, as well as of beasts of prey that remain the whole winter through. This is the act of divine judgment, to which the approaching exaltation of the banner, and the approaching blast of trumpets, is to call the attention of the people of Ethiopia.

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