William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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 Chapter 19
This chapter gives "the Burden of Egypt," and is followed in the next by a personal sign enjoined on the prophet, as a token of the degradation soon to befall Egypt and Ethiopia. The general drift is so clear as to render prolonged remarks almost useless.
"The burden of Egypt. Behold, Jehovah rideth upon a swift cloud, and cometh unto Egypt. and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. And I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, kingdom against kingdom. And the spirit of Egypt shall be made void in the midst of it; and I will destroy the counsel thereof; and they shall seek unto the idols, and unto the conjurers, and unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto the soothsayers. And I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord Jehovah of hosts" (vv. 14). The prophet thus boldly and with the fullest moral truth sets forth the sure overthrow of the great realm of the old world's prudence, and of debasing idolatry, and abundant natural riches. What availed the boasted bulwarks of their watery barriers, if Jehovah, Who "rideth upon a swift cloud," dooms Egypt to humiliation and decay? Worse than idle their appeal to their false gods; for their idols should be moved at His presence, and the heart of Egypt melt in its midst. Intestine division and civil war (v. 2) should be added to the overwhelming assaults from without; and the downfall be consummated by infatuated counsels as well as the wasting away of all national spirit; for on their recourse in their distress to their old haunts of superstition and sorcery, God would shut them up to the hard bondage of cruel lords and a fierce king.
But the hand of Jehovah should be not only upon the defences of the country, but upon its internal supports, and this in all that was their glory and their confidence. For is not this Ezekiel's "great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself?" (Ezekiel 29:3). Surely it is the same, of whom Isaiah here predicts, "And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up. And the rivers shall stink; the streams (or, canals) of Egypt shall be diminished and drain away: the reeds and the flags shall wither. The meadows by the Nile, by the banks of the Nile, and everything sown by the Nile, shall be dried up, be driven away, and be no [more]. And the fishers shall mourn, and all they that cast hook into the Nile shall lament, and they that cast nets upon the waters shall languish. And they that work in fine flax, and they that weave cotton (or, white stuffs), shall be ashamed. And her pillars shall be broken in pieces, all workers for hire shall be sad of soul" (vv. 5-10).
The prophet next (v. 11) proceeds to taunt this haughty power in that for which, most of all, it stood high in its own conceit and the reputation of men. For who has not heard of "the wisdom of the Egyptians "? Who does not know of their science and civilisation while the most renowned lands of the west, which early aspired to the sovereignty of the world, had not yet emerged from their condition of wild untutored barbarism? "The princes of Zoan [are] utterly fools; the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become senseless. How say ye unto Pharaoh, I [am] the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings? Where [are] they then, thy wise [men]?" is the piercing challenge of the prophet; "and let them tell thee now; and let them make known what Jehovah of hosts hath purposed upon Egypt" (vv. 11, 12).
Alas! how many now are wrapped up in the same carnal security. How many in our day, like the wise counsellors of Egypt, are caught in their own craftiness, too wise to heed the sure and solemn words of divine prophecy; not wise enough to guard themselves from foolish superstition, or still more foolish incredulity! Is it not a maxim among the sages of Christendom, that prophecy cannot be known till the event accomplishes it and fixes its interpretation? Than which notion, we dare to say, none can be produced less reasonable in itself or more flatly contrary to the word of God. Not a believer in the Old Testament but protests against the sinful error; for not a soul then was justified who did not look onward, trusting his soul and spiritual hope on that which was as yet necessarily in the womb of the future - the coming of the woman's Seed, the Messiah. And are believers of the New Testament called of God to be less trustful, less to realise what is coming, with incomparably more light of revelation? What! we, to whom God has revealed by the Spirit, that which, as the brightest of old was compelled to say, "eye had not seen, nor ear heard, neither had entered into man's heart" to consider?
Even on grounds of reason, of which some are so vainglorious, what can be more opposed to it, seeing that God has beyond controversy given His prophetic revelation? Is this alone, of all scripture, to be put under human ban? Even on grounds of personal danger the suicidal folly of such scepticism as this is most apparent. For as the great central point of prophecy is the nearness of the day of Jehovah, which is to judge all the pride and irreligion, all the idolatry and rebellion against God, found then on earth and specially in Christendom, it will be too late for men, before they believe, to await that event which will prove the truth of the prophecies in their own destruction. In short and in every point of view the maxim is as false as it is perilous. It really amounts to blotting out all direct use of prophecy whatsoever: for it refuses to hear its warning till its voice is wholly changed. Prophecy accomplished becomes in effect history rather than prophecy (no small value of which is the silencing of God's enemies); it properly has, while unfulfilled, the admonition and comfort of His people for its primary aim.
But to return. "The princes of Zoan [the ancient royal city of Egypt, named Tanis in profane authors] are become foolish, the princes of Noph [Moph, or Memphis, Hosea 9:6] are deceived; and the corner-stones of its tribes have caused Egypt to err. Jehovah hath mingled a spirit of perverseness in the midst thereof; and they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof, as a drunkard staggereth in his vomit. Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which head or tail, palm-branch or rush, may do" (vv. 13-15). They are judicially confounded of God in their policy.
Now we ought not to be indisposed to allow a measure of accomplishment in the time of the prophet. Only let not this measure be allowed to exclude the complete fulfilment which yet remains to be made good. Such a germinant inclusive style, we have seen, is the habit of Isaiah, as indeed of the prophets. Enough was then accomplished for a stay to the faithful; but it was no more than an earnest of that punctual and full payment which God will yet render, in honour both of His own words and of the Lord Jesus when His manifested glory dawns and His world-kingdom comes (Revelation 11:15). "In that day shall Egypt be like unto women, and it shall tremble and fear because of the shaking of the hand of Jehovah of hosts, which he shaketh over it. And the land of Judah shall be a dismay unto Egypt: every one that thinketh of it shall be afraid for himself, because of the counsel of Jehovah of hosts, which he purposeth against it (or, them)" (vv. 16, 17). Egypt has its part to play in the tremendous convulsions which precede Jehovah's appearing; and to this our chapter looks onward, with which compare Daniel 11:40-43. Out of that land shall He gather some of His outcast people (Isaiah 11:11; Isa 11:15), and in the process, as we know, destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea, and with His mighty wind shake His hand over the river, the Euphrates, smiting it into seven streams.
But mercy shall rejoice over judgement; and at the very time when Egypt shall be as women trembling at the shaking of Jehovah's hand, and the very mention of the land of Judah shall strike terror, "In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to Jehovah of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction (or, Heres). In that day shall there be an altar to Jehovah in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Jehovah. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto Jehovah of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto Jehovah because of the oppressors, and he will send them a Saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. And Jehovah shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know Jehovah in that day and serve with sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto Jehovah and perform it. And Jehovah will smite Egypt; he will smite and heal: and they shall return to Jehovah, and he will be entreated of them and will heal them" (vv. 18-22). Thus evidently shall Jehovah then deliver and revive Egypt. In that day there will be doubtless not only a governing but a religious centre for all the nations of the earth (Isaiah 2:3). For Jehovah shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Jehovah and His name one (Zechariah 14:9). It will be accomplished in and by the Lord Jesus, Who shall build the temple of Jehovah and bear the glory, and sit and rule upon His throne, as Priest as well as King (Zechariah 6:12-13). His house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7). But this will not hinder the fulfilment of Malachi 1:11: "For from the rising of the sun even unto its setting, My Name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure oblation." Under this universal provision for the local worship of the nations falls the special assurance of it for Egypt in that day, which Isaiah here predicts. It was the more impressive to declare it of a nation so debased by idolatry as Egypt of old.
The efforts of interpreters to explain these verses are as manifold as they are vain: and justly are they doomed to darkness who see not the link with Christ, and with Christ the glory of His people Israel then, if they despise Him now. Origen, Eusebius, etc., interpreted it of the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14), and of the overthrow of idolatry and spread of Christianity there also; Jerome embraces along with this an application to the wasting of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. Others have tried to find its accomplishment in the temple which Onias induced Ptolemy Philometor to build for keeping the Jews and their worship in Egypt, and which after 200 years was destroyed under Vespasian, like that in Jerusalem. Moderns generally apply it in substance as Jerome did (in part historically, of the disasters under Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Psammetichus, or the Romans; and in part mystically, of the triumphant spread of the gospel past, present, or future). These speculations do not seem to call for refutation: to state them is to condemn them sufficiently.
The true reference to the future crisis on the earth is yet more confirmed by the blessed intimations of the closing verses. "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. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth; whom Jehovah of hosts will bless, saying, Blessed [be] Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" (vv. 23 25). It is not a heavenly scene, but earthly. It is not the present church condition, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and Christ is all and in all, but a future state of large yet graduated blessing of nations. It is not this dispensation, where tares are mingled with the wheat, but the coming age when all scandals are removed from the scene where the Great King reigns in righteousness. That nation, so proud of its natural wisdom, the old oppressor and frequent snare of Israel, shall be humbled to the dust, and out of the dust cry to Jehovah God of Israel, Who shall send them a mighty deliverer; and they shall know Him and worship Him acceptably, Who smote them but will heal them with a great salvation. For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, Jehovah's name will be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto it and a pure oblation; for His name shall be great among the heathen. No wonder therefore that there shall be an altar to Jehovah in the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Jehovah - a sign and a witness unto Jehovah of hosts in that land. At the same time nothing will supersede Zion as the earth's exalted and religious centre.
But what of that later oppressor of Israel? Has Jehovah but one blessing for the stranger-foe? Has He not reserved a blessing for the Assyrian? Yes, for the Assyrian also. The haughty rival of the north and east shall be brought into the rich blessing of Jehovah. "In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria." Old jealousy and long-lasting animosity shall flee apace and for ever; intimacy and generous trust and mutual love shall cement the alliance that is founded on Jehovah truly known. "And the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians." Happy, though none then be despised and poor! "In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria." That is, Israel shall form one of the trio here specified, and stamped with singular favour in the millennial day. For indeed Jehovah shall bless them, "saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance." Thus again is Abraham 's blessing verified and manifested. "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." But even here, as it appears, the due place of Israel is maintained, and the rank of the others nicely distinguished in God's wisdom, however large His goodness to the rest; for Israel has the glorious title of Jehovah's inheritance, if Egypt be called His people and Assyria fashioned for His praise, the work of His hands.
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.
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.
And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.