Notes on Isaiah 19 & 20

 

David H. Linden, University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA     revised Nov. 2010

 

 

Isaiah 19 shows Egyptian plans, cut down by God, just as in chapter 18. Chapter 20 forecasts Egypt’s defeat by Assyria. Since this is what God has spoken, the people of God are being given multiple reasons not to trust in Egypt to save them. Egypt cannot save itself. But God can save, and here He shows His intention to bring Egyptians to bow before the Lord with other of like precious faith, namely God-worshipping Assyrians and Israelites.  That is three miracles in one.  

 

19:1    God will bring swift judgment on the gods of Egypt, just as He did in the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12:12). The true and living Lord God will allow no competitors. If Egypt’s gods were a real help, then the Lord would lose His glory as God alone. They must tremble before Him and their worshippers likewise. The Lord rides the clouds; He is in control. Riding indicates that He is moving or acting. 

 

19:2-4   Egypt will have civil war, discouragement, frustration, and even turn to mediums in desperation.  V.4 indicates a dictator.   

 

19:5-10   Its entire infrastructure will crumble.  This part shows the suffering of the people.  They depend on the Nile and it will be so low that the irrigation canals cannot supply water for crops.  There are no fish.  With no flax product, there will be no production of linen. The country is in distress, one that began in the opening of this oracle by Egypt having false gods.  

 

19:11-15   Their leaders are confused.  The advice of its wise men is confounded by the Lord who says, the wisdom of the wise will perish,” (29:14; 1 Corinthians 1:19). What they suggest fails. It is the Lord Who has a plan concerning Egypt, no plan of God is ever frustrated, and no plan of man opposing Him ever succeeds. Cornerstones are leaders, as in 28:16 and Ephesians 2:20. The staggering of a drunkard illustrates the confusion of its leaders.  Isaiah spoke of head and tail, as in 9:14-16. In other words, both leaders and people are in despair.

 

19:16-17    As women cry out in anguish, Egypt will be overwhelmed with fear. The uplifted hand of the Sovereign Lord will be against them. And since this is a fear instilled by the hand of the Lord, bowing to it involves a fear of both the Lord and His people, in this case, Judah. There is no salvation that is simply a matter between a repentant sinner and God, for the Lord joins all who believe in Him together in His church. No one can be united to Christ the Head without being united to the body of Christ. (Compare 14:1,2).There is no unilateral relationship, one with God and God only. The fear of the Lord in Egypt combined with a fear of Israel. This proper fear of Israel happened earlier at the conquest of the land of Canaan. (See Joshua 2:22-24, a fulfillment of Deuteronomy 2:25 & 11:25.) When Israel lived in sin, no one feared them, but when they trusted the Lord and saw His deliverance,  a fear of Israel followed. This is seen also in Esther 8:17. When God was protecting Israel, men feared their God and His people as well.

 

19:18    Isaiah loves to make a sudden shift,  which, like 43:24,25, switches from judgment to salvation.  V.17 is an odd kind of wonderful judgment.  The Egyptians experience terror, they come to fear Judah because of Judah’s God.  God’s plan against them is to subdue them, and in doing so they are saved!    They speak a new language with words that swear allegiance to the Lord Almighty.   We cannot be saved without being subdued before the One we confess as Lord.  For rebels against God, making such a confession is a terror.  They can see nothing but defeat in it, a loss of autonomy.  But the one who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart will be saved, (Romans 10:9).  God “terrorizes” by making them bow at the feet of a mighty Conqueror.  But He is that Conqueror and in His mercy they are saved. This salvation is presented in progressive terms: five cities, the nation (vv.19, 20); and finally, the world (vv.23-25) composed of its chief competing factions.

 

Zechariah 10   The end of Isaiah 19 has a number of parallels with Zechariah 10. There we read of storm clouds, reference to false gods, and empty counsel. From the Jews will come the cornerstone, a label used of Christ in 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. The House of Judah becomes fearsome in battle. Judgment on Egypt includes specific mention of the Nile. Both Assyria and Egypt suffer defeat, but then the Lord graciously makes these two foes He defeated to be “strong in the Lord, and they shall walk in His Name…” (ESV). 

 

The Salvation of Egypt 19-22:  With an altar in the heart of the land and a monument at the border to advertise the new allegiance of Egypt, the picture of Egypt’s salvation is vivid. The marker at the border announces that Egypt is now the Lord’s land. They too are part of the stream of nations coming to Mount Zion in chapter 2.  They are really saved, so in their trouble they do not make an alliance with other heathen nations as they once did; in their trouble they cry out to the Lord. (The One you call to for help is your real God.) Imagine Jews in Isaiah’s day reading this, as God broadcast His grace to their first persecutors. God will send His Egyptian people a Savior when they call upon Him.  700 years later a Savior born in nearby Bethlehem, would be a Savior for all people (Luke 2:10,11). Building the altar meant that sacrifices would be offered, offered for the purpose of reconciliation with the Holy One of Israel, willing to be the Holy One of the Egyptians. The Holy One of Israel can only be approached by sinners if a sacrifice has been made to Him, satisfying to Him. Egypt has an altar. The God of Israel will become the Lord of other people. When Gentiles come to Zion; they will be brought to Israel’s God. To come to God is to come to Zion. “There will be one flock [Israel] and one shepherd [Christ] (John 10:16). They all become one people, speaking the same language, because the divisions of mankind at Babel are over (Genesis 11:1-9). All are united in a common language, worship, confession and allegiance to the Lord. The Lord strikes them down, and they are healed.  Many times the first way sinners will acknowledge the Lord is to feel His rod, and then knowing Him in this sense, the Lord then turns them to Himself and they are saved.

 

19:23-25  A Highway between Egypt and Assyria    In this way we learn of God’s saving mercy to even more who once lived under His wrath. Israel’s first oppressor (Egypt) will be saved. Then in the lifetime of Isaiah, in the very time when Assyria was tormenting Judah and blaspheming its God (36:18-20; 37:4), God spoke of the salvation of Assyrians. They will not use this highway in chapter 19 for war, because they too reconciled and made one people under one Lord. They will worship together, with Israel joining in – all being a blessing as promised through Abraham and his seed in Genesis 12:3; 22:18. Terms once used of the covenant people (my people, my handiwork) are now used of Gentiles. [Israel is called  people:10:24; handiwork: 60:21;  inheritance: 63:17.] Earlier this prophecy had a remnant from Aram (17:3) and Cush (18:7). God’s eternal intention in salvation is unfolding in its gracious embrace the entire world. 

 

Does anyone realize?   How emphatic God’s Word is that there will be a huge Gentile response to the gospel. It is a great shame that something so encouraging as the salvation of Egyptians and Assyrians is not well known. They will be united to Israel in fellowship, all bowing before the same Lord – it is a great loss if such words from the Lord are not worked deeply into our consciousness. What could be more encouraging to the missionary endeavor than such a truth?

 

 

20:1-6    Isaiah switches back to the current reality, and writes in narrative rather than in the proclamation of an oracle. Before this salvation comes, Egypt must be shown the futility of its gods. She must fall to Assyria. Sargon is getting close; Ashdod, a Philistine city in SW Judah, has fallen. Egypt had assured the people of Ashdod of their support. They never gave it.  Soon the Assyrians will enter Egypt too Like the prophet in Ezekiel 4, Isaiah will be on display as a physical illustration. The Lord communicates primarily in words. The Bible is a book of words. He also uses actions and pointed images to accompany His word, and uses His word to accompany and explain visible imagery. The point here is that the Egyptians will be taken captives and even the poor Cushites who agreed to help them. It ought to be very clear that putting trust in Egypt is a bad idea. Poor Egypt cannot even protect itself!

 

Later chapters (28 and following) speak strongly against trusting in Egypt. Those reading this entire prophecy, in the order in which these chapters are written, would see this early oracle first. For readers who believe the Word of the Lord, this would make the issue of faith all the more vivid. Later in Isaiah it is a grief that Judah and Jerusalem were committed to trusting a doomed ally, but the Lord is so mighty He would bring these unbelievers to know Him. When a comparison is made, The House of Israel should be shamed by the future faith of the heathen (2:1-5). The Lord marveled at Gentile faith in Matthew 8:5-13 and Matthew 15:21-28 and grieved at the unbelief of His own people.