Matthew Poole's 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.The confusion of Egypt; their intestine dissension; their idols deceive them; cruel lords over them; waters fail them; their trade dead; their princes and counsellors made foolish; their terror before the Lord, Isaiah 19:1-17. The calling of Egypt to the church, Isaiah 19:18-22. The covenant of Egypt, Assyria, and Israel, Isaiah 19:23-25.
The burden of Egypt. Some learned men conceive that what was said more generally and darkly in the foregoing chapter, is here more particularly. and clearly explained to be meant of Egypt; it being usual for the prophets to mix obscure and plain passages together, and to clear the one by the other. Others understand that chapter of Ethiopia, and this of Egypt. But this controversy must be decided by an exact consideration of all the passages of the former chapter.
The Lord rideth, as a general in the head of his army, or as a judge riding the circuit to execute judgment.
Upon a swift cloud; which phrase showeth that the judgment shall come speedily, unexpectedly, and unavoidably. And clouds being very unusual in Egypt, the appearance of a cloud was a kind of prodigy, and a prognostic of some grievous calamity. Shall be moved from their seats, and from their former reputation. Or, shall shake or tremble. So far shall they be from helping the Egyptians, as they expect, that they shall tremble for themselves; which divers of the Egyptian gods, being living creatures, might properly do.
The heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it; they shall lose all their ancient strength and courage, for which they had been famous formerly.
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.I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians; I will raise civil wars among them.
Kingdom against kingdom; for although all Egypt was now one kingdom, and under one king, yet not many years after this time it was divided into twelve several kingdoms, between whom there were many and cruel wars, as is related by the historians of those times, and particularly by Herodotus and Diodorus.
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.The spirit; either
1. Their courage. But of that he spake Isaiah 19:1. Or,
2. Their understanding, as it is explained in the next clause; for the word spirit is oft put for the reasonable soul, as Ecclesiastes 3:21 12:7, and for the thoughts of the mind, as Proverbs 29:11 Eze 13.
3. They shall seek to the idols, as not knowing what to do without the help of a higher power.
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.A fierce king; either,
1. The king of Assyria or Chaldea; or,
2. Those twelve petty kings, the singular number being put for the plural; or,
3. Psammetichus, who being at first one of those twelve kings, waged war with the rest, and subdued them, and conquered all the land of Egypt, and ruled it with rigour.
And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.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 they shall turn the rivers far away; and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither.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.
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 paper reeds; which 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, as our paper is; and consequently was a very good commodity.
Sown by the brooks; and much more what was sown in more dry and unfruitful places.
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.Because they could catch few or no fish, by which trade they got their living; which also was a great plague to the people, whose common diet this was, because out of superstitious conceits they killed and eat but few living creatures, as appears both from sacred and profane writers.
Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded.That work in fine flax; that make fine linen, which was one of their best commodities; of which See Poole "1 Kings 10:28", See Poole "Proverbs 7:16", See Poole "Ezekiel 27:7".
And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish.Thereof, i.e. of Egypt, or of the Egyptians. They shall lose their ends and hopes; for the fishes in them shall die for want of water.
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?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.
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.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 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.Noph; another chief city, and one of the king’s seats, so called also Jeremiah 2:16 44:1; called also Moph in the Hebrew text, Hosea 9:6; and by other and later authors, Memphis.
Even they that are the stay, Heb. even the corner, or the corner-stone, which is the chief support of the building. Whereby he may design either,
1. The king; or,
2. Some eminent statesman of that age, upon, whose counsels both king and people depended; or
3. Their chief counsellors, the, singular number being then put collectively, as it is in many other places. 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 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.Hath mingled; or, hath poured out or given them to drink as appears from their drunkenness, expressed in the end of the verse; which also suits with the Scripture phrase whereby a cup signifies God’s judgments, as Isaiah 51:17,21 22 Jer 25:15.
A perverse spirit, Heb. a spirit of perversities or crookednesses; or, as the LXX. and Chaldee render it, of error or delusion; a disposition of mind very apt to mistake, and to mislead them into foolish and crooked counsels and courses; which God could easily effect, partly by laying occasions of stumbling in their way, and partly by withdrawing or darkening that wisdom which he had infused, by which alone men can discern their way.
In every work thereof; in all their designs and undertakings.
Staggereth in his vomit; when he is so excessively drunk, that he reels to and fro, and vomits up his drink.
Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do.All people, both high and low, shall be at their wits’ end not knowing what to 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.Like unto women; feeble and fearful, as it follows.
Because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts; 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, Exodus 14, the very remembrance whereof is very terrible to 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.The land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt; either,
1. Because of Judah’s calamities and desolations; for Judah was their bulwark against the Assyrians and Babylonians; and when this bulwark was removed, the Egyptians, their neighbours and confederates, had just cause to fear. Or,
2. Because of their manifold both former and later injuries against Judah, for which they now apprehend that God is calling them to an account; which interpretation seems to be favoured by the following words; for their fear of mentioning Judah’s name seems to have proceeded partly from the sense of their guilt and miscarriages towards Judah, and partly from their apprehensions and experience of the irresistible power and justice of the God of Judah, whom they had provoked, and who was now marching to plead his own and Judah’s cause against them. Compare Jeremiah 23:34, &c.
Which he hath determined; because God is now about to execute his appointed judgment.
Against it; against Egypt.
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; after that time, as this phrase is used, Isaiah 4:2 18:7, and oft elsewhere. In the times of the gospel, which are oft noted in the prophets by that very expression.
Five cities; a considerable number of their chief cities, a certain number being put for an uncertain.
Speak the language of Canaan; profess the Jewish religion, agree with them in the same mind; which is fitly signified by speaking the same language, because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Thus the changing and purifying of a people’s lips is used to signify the change of their hearts and lives, Zephaniah 3:9; and praising God with one mouth, to note their unity or consent in the faith, Romans 15:6.
Swear to the Lord of hosts: it is well observed by some learned interpreters, that he doth not say swear by the Lord, which is the most common phrase, and which, being one eminent part and act of worship, is put for the whole; but swear to the Lord; which phrase is also used 2 Chronicles 15:14 Psalm 132:2 Isaiah 45:23; and it implies the dedication, or oblation, and yielding up of a person or thing to the Lord, by a solemn vow, or covenant, or oath, as appears by the places now quoted. In like manner God is said to swear to a man, Deu 26:15, and one man to another, Genesis 21:23, when they oblige themselves by oath to do such or such a thing for them. And therefore what is called swearing to God, Isaiah 45:23, is rendered or expounded bowing the knee (which signifies the subjection of a man’s self) to God, and confessing to God, Romans 14:11.
One; not one of the five, for they are supposed to be saved in the foregoing clause; but one city, or another city, the sixth city. As divers cities shall be converted and saved, so some other cities shall continue in their impenitency, and be destroyed. Others render this clause thus, one of them
shall be called, ( or, shall be; for to be called is oft put for to be.) The city of the sun; or, as the Grecians call it, Heliopolis; which the Egyptians called On, Genesis 41:45; which was a very eminent city, and a chief seat of idolatry, being a city of priests, as Strabo reports; and therefore its conversion to the faith was more wonderful.
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.An altar for God’s worship; not a Levitical, but a spiritual and evangelical altar, as appears from hence, because that was confined to one place, Deu 12:13,14. The altar is put for the worship of God, as it is in many places both of the Old and New Testament. And nothing is more common in the prophets than to speak of gospel worship in the phrases of the law.
A pillar; a monument of the true religion. Here also he alludes to the ancient custom of erecting pillars to God; of which See Poole "Genesis 12:7", See Poole "Genesis 28:18", See Poole "Joshua 22:10", See Poole "Joshua 24:26", See Poole "Joshua 24:27".
At the border thereof; as before, in the midst of it. The meaning is, There shall be evidences of their piety in all places.
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 it, the altar or pillar last mentioned,
shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord, to testify that they own the Lord for their God.
They shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors; being sorely distressed, and finding the weakness of their idols, they shall turn unto the true God.
A Saviour, and a great one; a great or mighty Saviour, by a common figure called hendiaduo, as a cloud and smoke is put for a smoking cloud, Isaiah 4:5; or, a Saviour and a Prince, even Christ, who is so called, Acts 5:31, as is evident from the whole context, which apparently speaks of gospel times. And the emphatical phrase here used directed them to look for an extraordinary Saviour.
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.Shall know the Lord; shall acknowledge, and love, and serve him; for words of knowledge in Scripture commonly include affection and practice, as hath been often observed.
Shall do sacrifice and oblation; shall worship God spiritually; which yet is signified by typical phrases, as it is Malachi 1:11, and in many other places.
And perform it; they shall not only profess and promise piety, but shall seriously and diligently practise 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.He shall smite and heal it; God will afflict them by oppressors, Isaiah 19:20, and otherwise; and by those afflictions he will convert and save 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.The Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; they who were implacable enemies one to another, and both to the church and people of God, shall now be reconciled and united together in the service of God, and love to his church.
Shall serve, to wit, the Lord, who is easily understood from Isaiah 19:21,25.
In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:The third; the third party, to wit, in that sacred league, whereby all of them oblige themselves to God.
With Egypt and with Assyria: these people are named because they were the most obstinate and malicious enemies to God’s church, and therefore in a special manner accursed by God; but they are here put synecdochically for all the Gentiles.
Even a blessing: this is peculiar to Israel, who is not only a third party, as the others are, but is the most eminent and blessed of the three, as being the fountain, or rather the conduit-pipe, 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 the earth; which may be added, to imply that God’s blessing should be conveyed from and by Israel, not only to the Egyptians and the Assyrians, but to all the nations of the earth, in the midst of which the land of Israel might well be said to lie. Or, of that land of which I am here speaking; or, the singular number being put for the plural, of those lands, Egypt and Assyria, between which Israel lay.
Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless; whom, i.e. which people, to wit, Israel, Egypt, and Assyria, expressed both in the foregoing verse, and in the following clause of this verse; of whom he speaks as of one people, in the singular number, because they are all united into one body and church. Or, For or because (as this particle is taken, 1 Samuel 15:15, and elsewhere) the Lord of hosts shall bless him or them. So this is added as a reason why he said Israel should be a blessing to them all. My people: this title, and those which follow, that were peculiar to the people of Israel, shall now be given to these and all other nations of the world.