Isaiah 19:11
Surely the princes of Zoan are fools, the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish: how say you to Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?
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(11) Surely the princes of Zoan are fools.—Zoan, the great city of the Delta, was known to the Greeks as Tanis, founded, as stated in Numbers 13:22, seven years after Hebron. Here the great Rameses II. fixed his capital, and the city thus acquired the name of Pi-Rameses.

How say ye unto Pharaoh . . .?—The princes of Zoan, probably priest-princes and priest-magicians (Exodus 7:11), boasting at once of their wisdom and their ancestry, are represented as speaking to the Pharaoh of the time (probably, as in Isaiah 18, of Ethiopian origin) in something like a tone of superiority. They claim to be the only counsellors; and the prophet challenges their claim. Can they disclose, as he can, the future that impends over their country?

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.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.Surely the princes - The following verses, to Isaiah 19:16, are designed to describe further the calamities that were coming upon Egypt by a want of wisdom in their rulers. They would be unable to devise means to meet the impending calamities, and would actually increase the national misery by their unwise counsels. The word 'princes' here is taken evidently for the rulers or counselors of state.

Of Zoan - The Vulgate, Septuagint, and Chaldee, render this 'Tanis.' Zoan was doubtless the Tans of the Greeks (Herod. ii. 166), and was a city of Lower Egypt, built, according to Moses Numbers 13:22, seven years after Hebron. It is mentioned in Psalm 78:12; Isaiah 19:11, Isaiah 19:13; Isaiah 30:4; Ezekiel 30:14. It was at the entrance of the Tanitic mouth of the Nile, and gave name to it. Its ruins still exist, and there are seen there at present numerous blocks of granite, seven obelisks of granite, and a statue of Isis. It was the capital of the dynasty of the Tanitish kings until the time of Psammetichus; it was at this place principally that the miracles done by Moses were performed. 'Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt; in the field of Zoan' Psalm 78:12. Its ruins are still called "San," a slight change of the word Zoan. The Ostium Taniticum is now the "Omm Faredje."

Are fools - They are unable to meet by their counsels the impending calamities. Perhaps their folly was evinced by their flattering their sovereign, and by exciting him to plans that tended to the ruin, rather than the welfare of the kingdom.

The wise counselors of Pharaoh - Pharaoh was the common name of the kings of Egypt in the same way as "Caesar" became afterward the common name of the Roman emperors - and the king who is here intended by Pharaoh is probably Psammetichus (see the note at Isaiah 19:4).

How say ye ... - Why do you "flatter" the monarch? Why remind him of his ancestry? Why attempt to inflate him with the conception of his own wisdom? This was, and is, the common practice of courtiers; and in this way kings are often led to measures most ruinous to their subjects.

11. Zoan—The Greeks called it Tanis, a city of Lower Egypt, east of the Tanitic arms of the Nile, now San; it was one the Egyptian towns nearest to Palestine (Nu 13:22), the scene of Moses' miracles (Ps 78:12, 43). It, or else Memphis, was the capital under Sethos.

I am … son of the wise … kings—Ye have no advice to suggest to Pharaoh in the crisis, notwithstanding that ye boast of descent from wise and royal ancestors. The priests were the usual "counsellors" 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"; this was their favorite boast (Herodotus, 2.141; compare Am 7:14; Ac 23:6; Php 3:5). "Pharaoh" was the common name of all the kings: Sethos, probably, is here meant.

Zoan; the chief city, in which the king and court frequently resided. See Psalm 78:12.

Brutish; exceeding foolish, and destructive to themselves.

How say ye unto Pharaoh? why do you 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, although he undid himself and his people by his folly.

The son of ancient kings: he derides the vanity of the Egyptians, who used to make great brags of the antiquity of their nation, and especially of their kings, who, as they pretended, had reigned successively for above ten thousand years; which number of years they made up by this craft, by making those successive kings, which reigned together at the same time, in their several Nomi, or provinces. Surely the princes of Zoan are fools,.... Zoan was a very ancient city of Egypt, it was built within seven years of Hebron in the land of Judah, Numbers 13:22 here it was that the Lord did those miracles, by the hands of Moses and Aaron, before Pharaoh and his people, in order to oblige him to let Israel go, Psalm 78:12 by which it appears that it was then the royal city, as it seems to have been now; since mention is made of the princes of it, who usually have their residence where the court is. The Targum, Septuagint, and Vulgate Latin versions, call it Tanis, which was the metropolis of one of the nomes or provinces of Egypt, called from it the Tanitic nome (q); near it was one of the gates of the Nile, which had from it the name of the Tanitic gate (r); the princes of this place, the lords of this nome, though they had princely education, acted a foolish part, in flattering their sovereign, as afterwards mentioned, and in putting him upon doing things destructive to his kingdom and subjects:

the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish; the men of whose privy council were esteemed very wise, and greatly boasted of, and much confided in; and yet the counsel they gave him were such as made them look more like brutes than men:

how say ye unto Pharaoh; the then reigning prince, for Pharaoh was a name common to all the kings of Egypt. Some think their king Cethon is meant, said to be a very foolish king: others Psammiticus; which seems more likely; though there is no need to apply it to any particular king, they being used to say what follows to all their kings:

I am the son of the wise; suggesting that wisdom was natural and hereditary to him; though this may not merely respect his immediate ancestors, but remote ones, as Menes or Mizraim, the first king of Egypt, to whom is attributed the invention of arts and sciences; and his son Thoth, the same with Hermes, the Mercury of the Egyptians. The Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, make these words to be spoken by the wise counsellors of themselves, "we are the sons of wise men", and so the next clause; likewise Aben Ezra and Jarchi, also the Targum:

the son of ancient kings? according to these, it is spoken to Pharaoh thus, "and thou the son of kings of old"; of Ham, Mizraim, Thoth, &c.; the Egyptians boasted much of the antiquity of their kingdom and kings; and they say, from their first king Menes, to Sethon the priest of Vulcan, who lived about the time of this prophecy, were three hundred and forty one generations or ages of men, in which were as many kings and priests; and three hundred generations are equal to ten thousand years (s); and so many years, and more, their kings had reigned down to the prophet's time; which was all vain boasting, there being no manner of foundation for it. Vitringa renders it the son of ancient counsellors; this, as the former, being spoken by the counsellors, not of Pharaoh, but themselves.

(q) Herodot. l. 2. c. 166. Plin. l. 5. c. 9. Ptolem. Geogr. l. 4. c. 5. (r) Ptolem. ib. Plin. l. 5. c. 10. (s) Herodot. l. 2. c. 142.

Surely the princes of {i} Zoan are fools, the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become senseless: how say ye to Pharaoh, I {k} am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?

(i) Called also Tanes, a famous city on the Nile.

(k) He notes the flatterers of Pharaoh: who persuaded the king that he was wise and noble, and that his house was ancient and so he flatters himself, saying I am wise.

11. Surely … fools] Mere fools are the princes of Zoan. Zoan (Tanis, between the two most easterly mouths of the Nile), an ancient city (Numbers 13:22), had played an important part in Egyptian history. Formerly the seat of the Hyksos kings, it had subsequently given its name to two native dynasties (21st and 23rd). Partly because of its proximity to Canaan it is frequently mentioned in the O.T. as representing Egypt. The next clause runs literally: the wisest counsellors of Pharaoh—stupid counsel (sc. is theirs)!

how say ye unto Pharaoh …] The wisdom of Egypt was the hereditary possession of the priestly caste to which the early dynasties belonged. The counsellors are here introduced boasting of the purity of their descent from these kings and sages of the olden time. Read (in both cases) a son.

11–15. The stultification of Pharaoh’s advisers.Verse 11. - Surely the princes of Zoan are fools. Zoan, or Tanis, which had been an insignificant city since the time of the shepherd-kings, came to the front once more at the time of the struggle between Egypt and Assyria. Esarhaddon made it the head of one of the petty kingdoms into which he divided Egypt (G. Smith, 'History of Asshur-bani-pal,' p. 21, 1. 2). Early in the reign of his son it revolted, in conjunction with Sais and Mendes, but was ere long reduced to subjection by the Assyrians. Its king, Petu-bastes, was taken to Nineveh, and there probably put to death. Its "princes" were, no doubt, among those who counseled resistance to Assyria. The counsel of the wise, etc.; literally, as for the wise coun-sellers of Pharaoh, their counsel is become senseless. Two classes of advisers seem to be intended - nobles, supposed to be qualified by birth; and "wise men," qualified by study and education. Both would now be found equally incapable. Pharaoh. Probably Tirhakah is intended. It is possible that he was really suzerain of Egypt at the time of Sennacherib's invasion, when Shabatek was nominally king. It is certain that, after the death of Shabatok (about B.C. 698), he was recognized as sovereign both of Ethiopia and of Egypt, and ruled over both countries. Esarhaddon found him still occupying this position in B.C. 673, when he made his Egyptian expedition. Tirhakah's capital at this time was Memphis. How say ye, etc.? With what face can you boast of your descent, or of your learning, when you are unable to give any sound advice? The prophet then proceeds to foretell another misfortune which was coming upon Egypt: the Nile dries up, and with this the fertility of the land disappears. "And the waters will dry up from the sea, and the river is parched and dried. And the arms of the river spread a stench; the channels of Matzor become shallow and parched: reed and rush shrivel up. The meadows by the Nile, on the border of the Nile, and every corn-field of the Nile, dries up, is scattered, and disappears. And the fishermen groan, and all who throw draw-nets into the Nile lament, and they that spread out the net upon the face of the waters languish away. And the workers of fine combed flax are confounded, and the weavers of cotton fabrics. And the pillars of the land are ground to powder; all that work for wages are troubled in mind." In Isaiah 19:5 the Nile is called yâm (a sea), just as Homer calls it Oceanus, which, as Diodorus observes, was the name given by the natives to the river (Egypt. oham). The White Nile is called bahr el-abyad (the White Sea), the Blue Nile bahr el-azrak, and the combined waters bahr eṅNil, or, in the language of the Besharn, as here in Isaiah, yām. And in the account of the creation, in Genesis 1, yammim is the collective name for great seas and rivers. But the Nile itself is more like an inland sea than a river, from the point at which the great bodies of water brought down by the Blue Nile and the White Nile, which rises a few weeks later, flow together; partly on account of its great breadth, and partly also because of its remaining stagnant throughout the dry season. It is not till the tropical rains commence that the swelling river begins to flow more rapidly, and the yâm becomes a nâhâr. But when, as is here threatened, the Nile sea and Nile river in Upper Egypt sink together and dry up (nisshethu, niphal either of shâthath equals nâshattu, to set, to grow shallow; or more probably from nâshath, to dry up, since Isaiah 41:17 and Jeremiah 51:30 warrant the assumption that there was such a verb), the mouths (or arms) of the Nile (nehâr), which flow through the Delta, and the many canals (ye'orim), by which the benefits of the overflow are conveyed to the Nile valley, are turned into stinking puddles (האזניחוּ, a hiphil, half substantive half verbal, unparalleled elsewhere,

(Note: It is not unparalleled as a hiph. denom. (compare הצהיר, oil, יצהר, to press, Job 24:11, Talm. התליע, to become worm-eaten, and many others of a similar kind); and as a mixed form (possibly a mixture of two readings, as Gesenius and Bttcher suppose, though it is not necessarily so), the language admitted of much that was strange, more especially in the vulgar tongue, which found its way here and there into written composition.)

signifying to spread a stench; possibly it may have been used in the place of הזניח, from אזנח or אזנח, stinking, to which a different application was given in ordinary use). In all probability it is not without intention that Isaiah uses the expression Mâtzor, inasmuch as he distinguishes Mâzort from Pathros (Isaiah 11:11), i.e., Lower from Upper Egypt (Egyp. sa-het, the low land, and sa-res, the higher land), the two together being Mitzrayim. And ye'orim (by the side of nehâroth) we are warranted in regarding as the name given of the Nile canals. The canal system in Egypt and the system of irrigation are older than the invasion of the Hyksos (vid., Lepsius, in Herzog's Cyclopaedia). On the other hand, ye'ōr in Isaiah 19:7 (where it is written three times plene, as it is also in Isaiah 19:8) is the Egyptian name of the Nile generally (yaro).

(Note: From the fact that aur in old Egyptian means the Nile, we may explain the Φρουορῶ ἤτοι Νεῖλος, with which the Laterculus of Eratosthenes closes.)

It is repeated emphatically three times, like Mitzrayim in Isaiah 19:1. Parallel to mizra‛, but yet different from it, is ערות, from ערה, to be naked or bare, which signifies, like many derivatives of the synonymous word in Arabic, either open spaces, or as here, grassy tracts by the water-side, i.e., meadows. Even the meadows, which lie close to the water-side (pi equals ora, as in Psalm 133:2, not ostium), and all the fields, become so parched, that they blow away like ashes.

Then the three leading sources from which Egypt derived its maintenance all fail: - viz. the fishing; the linen manufacture, which supplied dresses for the priests and bandages for mummies; and the cotton manufacture, by which all who were not priests were supplied with clothes. The Egyptian fishery was very important. In the Berlin Museum there is an Egyptian micmoreth with lead attached. The mode of working the flax by means of serikâh, pectinatio (compare סרוק, wool-combs, Kelim, 12, 2), is shown on the monuments. In the Berlin Museum there are also Egyptian combs of this description with which the flax was carded. The productions of the Egyptian looms were celebrated in antiquity: chōrây, lit., white cloth (singularet. with the old termination ay), is the general name for cotton fabrics, or the different kinds of byssus that were woven there (compare the βυσσίνων ὀθονίων of the Rosetta inscription). All the castes, from the highest to the lowest, are not thrown into agonies of despair. The shâthōth (an epithet that was probably suggested by the thought of shethi, a warp, Syr. 'ashti, to weave, through the natural association of ideas), i.e., the "pillars" of the land (with a suffix relating to Mitzrayim, see at Isaiah 3:8, and construed as a masculine as at Psalm 11:3), were the highest castes, who were the direct supporters of the state edifice; and שׂכר עשׂי cannot mean the citizens engaged in trade, i.e., the middle classes, but such of the people as hired themselves to the employers of labour, and therefore lived upon wages and not upon their own property (שׂכר is used here as in Proverbs 11:18, and not as equivalent to סכר, the dammers-up of the water for the purpose of catching the fish, like סכרין, Kelim, 23, 5).

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