Isaiah 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.
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(6) And they shall turn the rivers far away.—Better, the river shall stagnate; i.e., in consequence of the Nile’s inundation failing.

The brooks of defence.—The latter noun (Heb., matzor) is better treated as a proper name, the singular of the dual form Mitsraim, commonly used for Egypt. Here it would seem to be used for Lower Egypt, the region of Zoan and Memphis, as distinct from Upper Egypt or the Thebaid. The same form occurs in Isaiah 37:25; 2Kings 19:24; Micah 7:12. Its primary meaning is that of a fortified land. The “flags” are strictly the papyrus of the Nile; the “brooks” are the canals or Nile-branches of the Delta.

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 they shall turn the rivers far away - (האזיּחוּ he'ezenı̂ychû), probably from זנח zânach, "to have an offensive smell; to be rancid, or putrid." The word in this form occurs nowhere else. It is in the Hiphil conjugation, and is probably a form made from a mixture with the Chaldee. The sense is not doubtful. It means 'the rivers shall become putrid - or have an offensive smell;' that is, shall become stagnant, and send forth unwholesome "miasmata" producing sickness, as stagnant waters often do. The Vulgate renders it, 'And the rivers shall fail.' The Septuagint, 'And the Egyptians shall drink the waters from the sea, but the river shall fail, and be dried up, and the rivers shall fail, and the streams (διὼρυχες diōruches) of the river, and all the assembling (συναγωγή sunagōgē) waters shall be dried up.'

And the brooks of defense - Hebrew, 'The rivers of מצור mâtsôr. The word מצור mâtsôr often means "straitness, affliction;" then a siege, a wall, a bulwark, a fortification. But, probably, it here means "Egypt," or the same as מצרים mı̂tserayı̂m (compare Isaiah 37:25; 2 Kings 18:24; Mark 7:12). Perhaps the Hebrews may have thought of Egypt as a strongly fortified place, and thus have given the name to it; or possibly this may have been a modification of the name "Mitsraim."

The reeds and flags - Which grew on the banks of the Nile - the papyrus, etc. (see the note at Isaiah 18:2)

6. they shall turn the rivers—rather, "the streams shall become putrid"; that is, the artificial streams made for irrigation shall become stagnant and offensive when the waters fail [Maurer]. Horsley, with the Septuagint, translates, "And waters from the sea shall be drunk"; by the failure of the river water they shall be reduced to sea water.

brooks of defence—rather, "canals of Egypt"; "canals," literally, "Niles," Nile canals, the plural of the Egyptian term for the great river. The same Hebrew word, Matzor, whence comes Mitzraim, expresses Egypt, and a place of "defense." Horsley, as English Version translates it, "embanked canals,"

reeds … flags—the papyrus. "Reed and rush"; utter withering.

They shall turn the rivers far away; which is to be taken impersonally, as such expressions are very frequently, for, the rivers (those small rivulets by which the waters of Nilus were conveyed and distributed into several parts of the land)

shall be turned far away, as they must needs be, when the greater river Nilus, which fed them, was dried up.

The brooks of defence; the several branches of the river Nilus, which were a great defence to Egypt, as is well known.

The reeds and flags; which were very useful to them for making their boats, which were absolutely necessary in that country, and divers other things.

Shall wither; as they commonly do for want of water. And they shall turn the rivers far away,.... The river Nile, called "rivers", the plural for the singular, because of the abundance of water in it; or its seven streams, with other rivulets, derived from it. Some make the "they" here to refer to the kings of Egypt, and interpret the words of some projects of theirs, by which the course of the river was turned to great disadvantage; particularly they understand it of the twelve tyrants that reigned after Sethon, to whom they ascribe the digging of the vast lake of Moeris, the two pyramids built in the midst of it, and a labyrinth near it, though only the labyrinth was made by them (b); and as for the lake, it was made by Moeris, a king of Egypt, from whom it had its name, some hundred years before; and, besides, was of service, and not disservice, to the Nile; for it received its waters when it overflowed too much, and it furnished it with water by an outlet when it failed: rather therefore this passage may be illustrated by the attempt which Necus, the son of Psammiticus, whom the Scripture calls Pharaohnecho, made, to join the Nile and the Red Sea together, by making a canal from the one to the other; in which work he lost a hundred and twenty thousand men, and desisted from it without finishing it (c); but it is thought hereby the river was greatly weakened:

and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up; as the river of Nile and its streams were the defence of the land of Egypt, as well as made for the fruitfulness of it, for these must make it less accessible to a foreign enemy; and besides, here lay their shipping, which were their protection; and moreover, from hence brooks and courses of water might be derived and carried about their fortified cities, which added to the strength of them. The Targum renders it deep brooks or rivers; and Kimchi interprets it the brooks of Egypt, taking Matzor to signify Egypt, a word in sound near to Mitzraim, the common word used for Egypt. It looks, by this and other expressions in the context, as if more were designed than the above instance or instances will account for:

the reeds and flags shall wither; which grew in the brooks, and near them; and therefore much more the grass and corn, and other trees, which were at a distance; besides, these are mentioned, bemuse of the great usefulness they were of; for of these they made ships, barks, and boats, and mats for bedding, and nets fishing; as also paper to write on, as follows, and which was a staple commodity with them; See Gill on Isaiah 18:2.

(b) Herodot. l. 2. c. 148, 149. (c) Ib. c. 158.

And they shall turn the {f} rivers far away; and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither.

(f) For the Nile ran into the sea by seven streams, as though they were many rivers.

6. The verse reads: And the streams shall stink, the canals of Egypt shall become feeble and dry up, &c. The word for “stink” is an anomalous form in Hebr. That rendered in A.V. “defence” is a rare name for Egypt (Maçôr, cf. Assyr. Muṣur, Arab. Miṣr), found also in ch. Isaiah 37:25; 2 Kings 19:24; Micah 7:12. “Canals” (A.V. “brooks”) is literally “Niles” (cf. Isaiah 7:18).Verse 6. - And they shall turn the rivers far away; rather, and the rivers shall stagnate (Cheyne). Probably the canals are intended, as in Exodus 7:19 (see 'Pulpit Commentary,' ad loc.). The brooks of defense shall be emptied. Some render this "brooks of Egypt," regarding matsor as here used for "Mitsraim;" but our translation is more forcible, and may well stand. The "brooks of defense" are those which had hitherto formed the moats round walled cities (comp. Isaiah 37:25; Nahum 3:8). The reeds and flags shall wither. Reeds, flags, rushes, and water-plants of all kinds abound in the backwaters of the Nile, and the numerous ponds and marshes connected with its overflow (see the 'Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus 2:3, p. 24). These forms of vegetation would be the first to wither on the occurrence of a deficient inundation. What effect this act of Jehovah would have upon the Ethiopian kingdom, if it should now take place, is described in Isaiah 18:7 : "At that time will there be offered as a homage to Jehovah of hosts a nation stretched out and polished, and from a terrible people, far away on the other side; a nation of command upon command and treading down, whose land rivers cut through, at the place of the name of Jehovah of hosts, the mountain of Zion." עם (a people), at the commencement, cannot possibly be equivalent to מעם (from a people). If it were taken in this sense, it would be necessary to make the correction accordingly, as Knobel has done; but the important parallels in Isaiah 66:20 and Zephaniah 3:10 are against this. Consequently ‛am and goi (people and nation) must be rendered as subjects; and the מן in מעם must be taken as partitive. Ethiopia is offered, i.e., offers itself, as a free-will offering to Jehovah, impelled irresistibly by the force of the impression made by the mighty act of Jehovah, or, as it is expressed in "the Titan among the Psalms" (Psalm 68:32, probably a Davidic psalm of the time of Hezekiah), "there come kingdoms of splendour out of Egypt; Cush rapidly stretches out its hands to Elohim." In order that the greatness of this spiritual conquest might be fully appreciated, the description of this strangely glorious people is repeated here; and with this poetical rounding, the prophecy itself, which was placed as a kind of overture before the following massa Mitzraim when the prophet collected the whole of his prophecies together, is brought to a close.
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