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.Isaiah 19:1. The burden of Egypt — Concerning the term burden, see on chap. 13:1. “Not many years after the destruction of Sennacherib’s army before Jerusalem, by which the Egyptians were freed from the yoke with which they were threatened by so powerful an enemy, who had carried on a successful war of three years’ continuance against them, the affairs of Egypt were again thrown into confusion by intestine broils among themselves, which ended in a perfect anarchy that lasted some years. This was followed by an aristocracy, or rather tyranny, of twelve princes, who divided the country between them, and at last by the sole dominion of Psammitichus, which he held for fifty-four years. Not long after that, followed the invasion and conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar; and then by the Persians under Cambyses, the son of Cyrus. The yoke of the Persians was so grievous, that the conquest of the Persians by Alexander may well be considered as a deliverance to Egypt; especially as he and his successors greatly favoured the people, and improved the country. To all these events the prophet seems to have had a view in this chapter;” which contains the fifth discourse of the second part of Isaiah’s prophecies, delivered at another time, and much later than the preceding, and copiously setting forth the fate of Egypt, a nation, from the remotest antiquity, famous in the East. See Bishop Lowth and Vitringa.
Behold, the Lord rideth on a swift cloud — As a general at the head of his army: or, as a judge going in state to the bench, to try and condemn malefactors. He makes the clouds his chariots, and rides upon the wings of the wind, with a power far above the reach of opposition or resistance, and with a majesty far excelling the greatest pomp and splendour of earthly princes. He is said to ride upon a swift cloud, to signify that the judgment should come speedily and unexpectedly: for God’s judgments do not linger when the time of his long-suffering is completed. And the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence — From their seats, and from their former reputation. Or they shall shake or tremble, as the word נעו, here used, properly signifies. So far shall they be from helping the Egyptians, as they expect, that they shall tremble for themselves. And the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it — The Egyptians shall lose all their ancient strength and courage, and their very souls shall faint within them, through dread of their approaching calamities. From these particulars of the prediction we learn, that the prince who should come upon Egypt, as the executer of the decrees of the divine justice, should approach with the most swift and rapid motion; that he should throw down and destroy their idols, and fill all Egypt with the greatest consternation. Now it is certain that Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, the Persian, exactly fulfilled these things, particularly with respect to the idols of Egypt. “The first attempt made by Cambyses,” says Bishop Newton, “was upon Pelusium, a strong town at the entrance of Egypt, and the key of the kingdom; and he succeeded by the stratagem of placing before his army a great number of dogs, sheep, cats, and other animals, which being held sacred by the Egyptians, not one of them would cast a javelin or shoot an arrow that way: and so the town was stormed and taken, in a manner, without resistance. He treated the gods of Egypt with marvellous contempt, laughed at the people, and chastised the priests for worshipping such deities. He slew Apis, or the sacred ox which the Egyptians worshipped, with his own hand; and burned and demolished their other idols and temples; and would likewise, if he had not been prevented, have destroyed the famous temple of Jupiter Ammon. Ochus, too, who was another king of Persia, and subdued the Egyptians again, after they had revolted, plundered their temples, and caused Apis to be slain, and served up in a banquet to him and his friends.”
And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.Isaiah 19:2-3. I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians — Two principal calamities to befall Egypt are foretold in this prophecy; the first of which is here described: civil wars should arise among them. They shall fight every one against his brother and neighbour — Whom he ought to love as himself. City against city, and kingdom against kingdom — “The LXX. read, νομος επι νομον, province against province, Egypt being divided into prefectures, or provinces. Vitringa and others apply this to the time of the twelve kings, the anarchy that preceded, and the civil wars that ensued, in which Psammitichus prevailed over the rest; but it may, perhaps, be more properly applied to what agrees better, in point of time, with other parts of the prophecy, the civil wars between Apries and Amasis, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion; and the civil wars a little before the country was finally subdued by Ochus. It is no wonder, that in such distractions and distresses as these, the Egyptians, being naturally a cowardly people, should be destitute of counsel, and that the spirit of Egypt should fail in the midst thereof, as the prophet foretels, (Isaiah 19:3,) and that, being also a very superstitious people, they should seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that had familiar spirits, and to the wizards. But their divination was all in vain,” God having determined that they should be subdued and oppressed by cruel lords and tyrants, as it follows.
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.
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.Isaiah 19:4. The Egyptians will I give into the hand of a cruel lord, &c. — This is the second calamity here threatened, and the most essential part of the prophecy; and “it may with great truth and propriety be understood of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, whose dominion was very grievous to the conquered nations: but with the greatest propriety and justice may be applied to the Persians, and especially to Cambyses and Ochus; one of whom put the yoke upon the neck of the Egyptians, and the other riveted it there, and who are both branded in history for cruel tyrants and monsters of men.” — Bishop Newton.
And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.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.
And they shall turn the rivers far away; and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither.
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 fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish.
Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded.
And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish.
Surely the princes of Zoan are fools, the counsel of the wise counsellers of Pharaoh is become brutish: how say ye unto Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?Isaiah 19:11-15. Surely the princes of Zoan are fools, &c. — Zoan was the chief city, in which the king and court frequently resided. In these verses the prophet describes “the immediate causes of these evils; 1st, The folly of the princes and rulers, who valued themselves upon their Wisdom , , 2 d, The cowardice and effeminacy of the people in general. Egypt would not have become a prey to so many foreign enemies, but through the excessive weakness of the Egyptians, both in counsel and in action. They had not the courage even to defend themselves. They trusted chiefly to their Grecian and other mercenaries, who, instead of defending, were often the first to betray them.” — Bishop Newton. How say ye unto Pharaoh — Why do ye put such false and foolish words into Pharaoh’s mouth? I am the son of the wise — Wisdom is hereditary and natural to me. This vain opinion of himself they cherished by their flatteries. The son of the ancient kings — The prophet derides the vanity of the Egyptians, who used to boast of the antiquity of their nation, and especially of their kings, who, as they pretended, had reigned successively for 10,000 years. Where are thy wise men? — Who pretended, that either by their deep policy, or by their skill in astrology, or magic, they could certainly foresee things to come. The princes of Noph are deceived — Another chief city, and one of the king’s seats, called also Moph, in the Hebrew text, (Hosea 9:6,) and by other and later writers, Memphis. They that are the stay — Their chief counsellors; of the tribes — Of the provinces, which he calls by a title borrowed from the Hebrews, in whose language he spake and wrote this prophecy. The Lord hath mingled — Hath poured out, or given them to drink, a perverse spirit — A spirit of error, or delusion, as the LXX. and Chaldee render it. That is, he has suffered them, in punishment of their sins, to take foolish steps, and follow pernicious counsels. They have caused Egypt to err in every work — In all their designs and undertakings. They have given such ill counsel, and pursued such wrong measures, that nothing has succeeded as it should. Neither shall there be any work which the head or tail may do — The people shall generally want employment, or, as some explain it, all orders of men, from the highest to the lowest, shall fail in the discharge of their duty, or be unsuccessful in all they undertake.
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 upon Egypt.
The princes of Zoan are become fools, the princes of Noph are deceived; they have also seduced Egypt, even they that are the stay of the tribes thereof.
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.
Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do.
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.Isaiah 19:16-17. In that day shall Egypt be like unto women — Feeble and fearful, as it follows. The cowardice and effeminacy of the people in general, joined with their fear and trepidation, are here set forth as a second cause of their calamity; and the reason of this, among other things, is drawn from a sense of the divine judgment. They shall be like women, and fear, because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord, &c. — Because they shall perceive that they do not fight with men only, but with the Lord of hosts, who now lifts up his hand against them, as he did against their forefathers. The land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt — That is, the calamities brought on the land of Judah by the Assyrians and Chaldeans. When the Egyptians shall hear of the ravages and desolations made in Judah, by the army of Sennacherib, and shall afterward be informed of its overthrow by Nebuchadnezzar, they shall be dreadfully afraid of suffering the same calamities themselves, considering both their near neighbourhood to Judah, and their strict alliance therewith. Indeed Judah was their bulwark against the Assyrians and Babylonians, and when this bulwark was removed they had just cause to fear. “The threatening hand of God,” says Bishop Lowth, “will be held out, and shaken over Egypt, from the side of Judea; through which the Assyrians will march to invade it.” Every one that makes mention thereof, &c. — Poole thinks their fear of mentioning Judah’s name might proceed partly from a sense of their guilt and misconduct toward Judah, and an apprehension that the God of Judah was calling them to an account for it. Perhaps, also, as the next clause seems to imply, they might have heard of the prophecies uttered in Judah concerning these very calamities coming upon them.
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 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.Isaiah 19:18. In that day — After that time, as this phrase is often used; that is, in the times of the gospel. This latter part of the prophecy contains an account of the salutary benefits which God would bestow on Egypt after the above-mentioned calamities. “Isaiah, to whom God had most clearly revealed the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles to the grace of Christ, everywhere takes occasion to speak of it; and frequently finishes his prophecies concerning the nations with a promise of the spiritual blessings designed for them by God; but he does this nowhere more explicitly than in the present passage;” in which one cannot but observe with what ease he passes from the one argument to the other. He had said that some of the Egyptians, when under these calamities, should be afraid of the hand of the Lord of hosts, which he should shake over Egypt, and should fear, because of his counsel which he had determined against it; and he now teaches, that this servile fear and dread should hereafter be turned into a religious fear, with this effect, that five cities in the land of Egypt, that is, that many of their chief cities, a certain number being put for an uncertain, should speak the language of Canaan — That is, should profess the Jewish religion, or agree with the Jews in their worship of one living and true God. Thus, I will turn to the people a pure language, (Zephaniah 3:9,) signifies, I will restore to the people a pure religion; or, I will change and purify their conversation, their hearts and lips, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. And shall swear to the Lord of hosts — Swearing to the Lord implies the dedication and yielding up of a person or thing to the Lord, by a solemn vow or covenant, as appears from 2 Chronicles 15:14; Psalm 132:2; Isaiah 45:23-24. One — Or one of them, namely, of the five; shall be called the city of destruction — Or, of the sun, as it is in the margin of our Bibles, meaning Heliopolis, a famous city in Egypt, and a chief seat of idolatry, being a city of the priests, as Strabo reports; and therefore its conversion to the faith was the more wonderful. It must be acknowledged, however, that there is much uncertainty as to the true reading of the text, whether it be עיר החרס, city of the sun, or, עיר החרםcity of destruction, and therefore “no one,” as Bishop Lowth justly observes, “can pretend to determine what the city was that is here mentioned by name; much less to determine what the four other cities were which the prophet does not name.” “I take the whole passage,” says he, “from the eighteenth verse to the end of the chapter, to contain a general intimation of the future propagation of the knowledge of the true God in Egypt and Syria, under the successors of Alexander; and, in consequence of this propagation, of the early reception of the gospel in the same countries, when it should be published to the world.”
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.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.
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 saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.Isaiah 19:20-22. And it shall be for a sign — Namely, the altar or pillar, last mentioned; and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts — To testify that they own the Lord for their God. For they shall cry unto the Lord because of their oppressors — Being sorely distressed, and finding that their idols are unable to help them, they shall turn unto the true God. And he shall send them a saviour, and a great one — In these words the prophet sets forth the cause of this happy change in Egypt, with its immediate effects, namely, their crying to the Lord in their distress, and his sending them a saviour, who should deliver them. “Here it is clearly foretold,” says Bishop Newton, “that a great prince, sent by God, from a foreign country, should deliver the Egyptians from their Persian oppressors, and heal their country, which was smitten of God, and afflicted: and who could this be but Alexander, who is always distinguished by the name of Alexander the Great, and whose first successor in Egypt was called the great Ptolemy, and Ptolemy Soter, or the saviour? Upon Alexander’s first coming into Egypt the people all cheerfully submitted to him out of hatred to the Persians, so that he became master of the country without any opposition. For this reason he treated them with humanity and kindness, built there a city, which, after his own name, he called Alexandria, appointed one of their own country for their civil governor, and permitted them to be governed by their own laws and customs. By these changes and regulations, and by the prudent and gentle administration of some of the first Ptolemies, Egypt revived, trade and learning flourished, and, for a while, peace and plenty blessed the land. But it is more largely foretold, that, about the same time, the true religion and the worship of the God of Israel should begin to spread and prevail in the land of Egypt; and what event was ever more unlikely to happen than the conversion of a people so sunk and lost in superstition and idolatry, of the worst and grossest kind? It is certain that many of the Jews, after Nebuchadnezzar had taken Jerusalem, fled into Egypt, and carried along with them Jeremiah the prophet, who there uttered many of his prophecies concerning the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. “From hence,” and by the means above described, “some knowledge of God, and some notice of the prophecies, might easily be derived to the Egyptians.” “By these means, the Lord must, in some degree, have been known to Egypt, and the Egyptians must have known the Lord — And, without doubt, there must have been many proselytes among them. Among those who came up to the feast of pentecost, (Acts 2:10,) are particularly mentioned the dwellers in Egypt, and in the parts of Lybia about Cyrene, Jews and proselytes. Nay, from the instance of Candace’s eunuch, (Acts 8:27,) we may infer that there were proselytes even beyond Egypt, in Ethiopia. Thus were the Jews settled and encouraged in Egypt, insomuch that Philo represents their number as not less than a hundred myriads, or ten hundred thousand men.” But though this prophecy concerning Egypt might have its first accomplishment in the deliverance of the Egyptians from the Persian yoke by Alexander the Great, and in that knowledge of the true God, and of his revealed will, which many of the Egyptians received under the government of the Ptolemies, through their intercourse with the Jews, and the translation of the Jewish Scriptures into the Greek language; yet, doubtless, this prediction has a further and higher aspect, as commentators in general have understood it, and refers to that spiritual redemption and salvation which the Egyptians, among many other ignorant and idolatrous Gentiles, were to receive, and actually did receive, by the coming of Christ, the great and only Saviour of lost mankind, and by the publication of his gospel to them. This appears still more evidently from the verses which follow. But the full and final accomplishment of this, as well as of many other important prophecies, shall not take place till Mohammedanism and idolatry shall be completely overthrown, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
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.
And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them.
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.Isaiah 19:23-25. In that day, &c. — Here the prophet proceeds to show the effect of this benefit of divine grace toward the Egyptians, namely, their spiritual alliance with the Assyrians and Israelites, with a great abundance of the divine blessings. There shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria — A happy correspondence and intercourse settled. And the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, &c. — They who were implacable enemies one to another, and both to the church of God, shall now be reconciled and united together in the service of God, and love to his church. In that day shall Israel be the third — The third party in that sacred league, whereby all of them oblige themselves to serve God. With Egypt and with Assyria — These are named, because they were the most obstinate enemies to God’s church, but they are here put for all the Gentiles. Even a blessing — That is, Israel shall be a blessing. This is peculiar to Israel, who is not only a third party, but is the most eminent of the three, as being the fountain by which the blessing is conveyed to the other two; because Christ was to be born of them, and the gospel-church and ordinances were first established among them, and from them derived to the Gentiles. In the midst of the land — Or, of those lands, namely, Egypt and Assyria, between which Israel lay: or, in the midst of the earth, as כקרב הארצ, more properly means: which may be added, to imply that God’s blessing should be conveyed from and by Israel, not only to the Egyptians and Assyrians, but to all the nations of the earth, in the midst of which the land of Israel might well be said to be. Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless — That is, which people, Israel, Egypt, and Assyria; of whom he speaks as of one people, because they were all to be united into one church. Blessed be Egypt my people — This title, and those which follow, that were peculiar to the people of Israel, should now be given to these and all other nations.
In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.