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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 19

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6 are connected, but with an interval between. Egypt had been held by an Ethiopian dynasty, Sabacho, Sevechus, or Sabacho II., and Tirhakah, for 40 or 50 years. Sevechus (called So, the ally of Hoshea, 2 Kings 17:4) retired from Lower Egypt on account of the resistance of the priests; and perhaps, also, as the Assyrians threatened Lower Egypt. On his withdrawal, Sethos, one of the priestly caste became supreme, having Tanis ("Zoan") or else Memphis as his capital, 718 BC; while the Ethiopians retained Upper Egypt, with Thebes as its capital, under Tirhakah. A third native dynasty was at Sais, in the West of Lower Egypt: to this at a later period belonged Psammitichus, the first who admitted Greeks into Egypt and its armies: he was one of the dodecarchy, a number of petty kings between whom Egypt was divided, and by aid of foreign auxiliaries overcame the rest, 670 BC To the divisions at this last time Gesenius refers Isaiah 19:2, and to Psammitichus, Isaiah 19:4, 'a cruel lord.' The dissensions of the ruling caste are certainly referred to. But the time referred to is much earlier than that of Psammitichus. In Isaiah 19:1 the invasion of Egypt is represented as caused by "the Lord;" and in Isaiah 19:17 "Judah" is spoken of as 'a terror to Egypt,' which it could hardly have been by itself. Probably, therefore, the Assyrian invasion of Egypt under Sargon, when Judah was the ally of Assyria, and Hezekiah had not yet refused tribute, as he did in the beginning of Sennacherib's reign, is meant. That Assyria was in Isaiah's mind, appears from the way in which it is joined with Israel and Egypt in the worship of Yahweh (Isaiah 19:24-25).

Thus the dissensions referred to (Isaiah 19:2) allude to the time of the withdrawal of the Ethiopians from Lower Egypt, probably not without a struggle, especially with the priestly caste; also to the time when Sethos usurped the throne, and entered on the contest with the military caste, by the aid of the town populations, when the Saitic dynasty was another cause of division. Sargon's reign was between 722 BC - 715 BC answering to 718 BC, when Sethos usurped his throne (G.V. Smith).

The burden of Egypt - (note, Isaiah 13:1.)

Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud - (Psalms 104:3; Psalms 18:10.)

And shall come into Egypt - to inflict vengeance. "Egypt," in Hebrew, Misraim: plural form, to express the two regions of Egypt. Bunsen observes, The title of their kings run thus: 'Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt.'

The idols of Egypt - the bull, the crocodile, etc.

Shall be moved at his presence. The idols, poetically, are said to be "moved" with fear at the presence of one mightier than even they were supposed to be (Exodus 12:12; Jeremiah 43:12).

Verse 2

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 - stir up. The same Hebrew (siksakti) as in Isaiah 9:11, where see note. Compare margin here-literally, to fold and mix together like thorns (Nahum 1:10) [akin to showk, to entwine with thorns]. Compare Luke 21:10. Gesenius translates, 'I will arm'-cover with arms [akin to caakak (H5526), to thickly cover].

The Egyptians against the Egyptians - Lower against Upper Egypt, and Saitic against both (see Isaiah 3:10). Newton refers it to the civil wars between Apries and Amasis at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion; also between Tachos, Nectanebus, and the Mendesians, just before Ochus subdued Egypt.

Kingdom against kingdom. The Septuagint have 'nome against nome.' Egypt was divided into 42 nomes or districts.

Verse 3

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 of Egypt - the wisdom for which Egypt was famed (Isaiah 31:2; 1 Kings 4:30; Acts 7:22): answering to "counsel" in the parallel clause. Shall fail (nabquah) - literally, be poured out, or emptied; i:e., be made void (Jeremiah 19:7).

They shall seek to the idols ... charmers ... familiar spirits ... wizards - they shall "seek" help from sources that can afford none - "charmers," etc. (Isaiah 8:19).

Charmers (Hebrew, ittim, from at, a low sound) - literally, those making a faint sound. The soothsayers imitated the faint sound which was attributed to the spirits of the dead (note, Isaiah 8:19).

Verse 4

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.

The Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord - Sargon. In Hebrew it is lords; but the plural is often used to express greatness, where one alone is meant (Genesis 42:30). The parallel word "king" (singular) proves that the singular is meant. The Ethiopian rulers, however, who oppressed Egypt at that time, may be meant. Newton makes the general reference to be to Nebuchadnezzar, and a particular reference to Cambyses, son of Cyrus (who killed the Egyptian god Apis), and Ochus, Persian conquerors of Egypt, noted for their 'fierce cruelty.' Gesenius refers it to Psammitichus, who had brought into Egypt Greek and other foreign mercenaries to subdue the other eleven princes of the dodecarchy.

Verse 5

And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.

The waters shall fail from the sea - the Nile. Physical calamities, it is observed in history, often accompany political convulsions (Ezekiel 30:12). The Nile shall "fail" to rise to its wonted height, the result of which will be barrenness and famine. Its "waters" at the time of the overflow resemble 'a sea' (Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.' 35: 11), and it is still called El-Bahr, "the sea," by the Egyptians (Isaiah 18:2; Jeremiah 51:36). A public record is kept at Cairo of the daily rise of the water at the proper time of overflow-namely, August. If it rises to a height less than twelve cubits, it will not overflow the land, and famine must be the result. So also when it rises higher than sixteen cubits; because the waters are not drained off in time sufficient to sow the seed.

Verse 6

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, [ he'ezniychuw (H2186), from zaanach (H2186), to put far away] - or else with the sense to put away in disgust as putrid; 'the streams shall become putrid;' i:e., the artificial streams made for irrigation shall become stagnant and offensive when the waters fail (Maurer). Horsley, with the Septuagint, translate, 'and waters from the sea shall be drunk:' by the failure of the river-water they shall be reduced to sea-water. I prefer, with Vatablus, 'the rivers shall withdraw themselves far away.' So the Vulgate, 'the rivers shall fail.' So the Syriac and Arabic. The Chaldaic translates 'the rivers shall be desolated.'

The brooks of defense - or else, 'the canals of Egypt:' canals-literally, 'Niles,' Nile-canals, the plural of the Egyptian term for the great river ['oreey] (Bochart, Phaleg). The same Hebrew word, matsowr (H4692), whence comes Mitsrayim (H4714), expresses Egypt, and a place of "defense." Horsley translates it, 'embanked canals.' I prefer the English version in this sense, which is supported by the Vulgate, "the brooks," or 'canals of defensed embankments.' The embankments not only were a "defense" against the inundations of the Nile, but also against the assault of invaders.

The reeds and flags shall wither - the papyrus. 'Reed and rush:' utter withering.

Verse 7

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, [`aarowt] - or else grassy pastures; literally, places naked of wood [from `aarah (H6168), to make bare] and famed for rich herbage, on the banks of the Nile (Gesenius). Compare Genesis 13:10; Deuteronomy 11:10. Horsley translates, 'Nakedness upon the river;' descriptive of the appearance of a river when its bottom is bare and its banks stripped of verdure by long drought. So the Vulgate. The English version takes the Hebrew from a root [ `owr (H5785)], skin, the papyrus being composed of delicate membranes, which were used as paper. It has in its favour, that in mentioning "the reeds and flags," the papyrus would not be likely to be omitted. Also, the antithesis to "everything sown by the brooks" requires that here there should be something mentioned that grows without sowing, as is the paper reed.

The brooks - Hebrew, yeor; the river.

The mouth - rather, the source (Vulgate). 'Even close to the river's side vegetation shall be so withered as to be scattered in the shape of powder by the wind' (English version, "be driven away") (Horsley).

Verse 8

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.

The fishers also shall mourn. The Nile was famed for fish (Numbers 11:5). Numbers would be thrown out of employment by the failure of fish.

And all they that cast angle - a hook. Used in "the brooks," or canals, as the 'net' was in "the waters" of the river itself. Still the Hebrew for "brooks" is literally, 'into the river;' bay`or (H2975).

Verse 9

Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded.

They that work in short flax. Gesenius, for "fine," translates ( sªriyqowt (H8305)) 'combed.' Fine linen was worn by the rich only (Luke 16:19). Egypt was famous for it (Exodus 9:31; 1 Kings 10:28; Proverbs 7:16; Ezekiel 27:7). The processes of its manufacture are represented on the Egyptian tombs. Israel learned the art in Egypt (Exodus 26:36). The cloth now found on the mummies was linen, as is now known by the microscope. Wilkinson mentions linen from Egypt which has 540 (or 270 double) threads in one inch in the warp; whereas some modern cambric has only 160 (Barnes).

They that weave net-works, [ chowraay (H2355)] - from chowr (H2355), an aperture. So reticulated tapestry. Or rather, as the English version, net-works, nets. As in Isaiah 19:8 the prophet had said, "they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish," so here also, "they that weave them shall be confounded." Or else, as Gesenius takes it (from chuwr (H2353), white), in parallelism to "fine flax," white cloth (Esther 1:6; Esther 8:15). The Septuagint translates [ ton (G3588) busson (G1040)], fine linen; but the Chaldaic supports the English version.

Verse 10

And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish.

They shall be broken in the purposes thereof - i:e., of Egypt (the Hebrew suffix is feminine). Hebrew, shaatoteyhaa (H8356), from shiyt (H7896), 'a foundation'-literally, the foundations; i:e., 'the nobles shall be broken' or brought low. So Isaiah 3:1; Psalms 11:3: cf. Isaiah 19:13, "The princes ... the stay of the tribes." The Arabs call a prince 'a pillar of the people' (Maurer). 'Their weaving-frames' (Horsley). 'Dykes' (Barnes).

All that make sluices ... - `makers of dams,' made to confine the waters which overflow from the Nile in artificial fish-ponds [ seker (H7938), akin to caakar, to enclose] (Horsley). 'Makers of gain' [from saakar (H7936), to gain] - the usual sense of the Hebrew; i:e., the common people, who have to earn their livelihood, as opposed to the 'nobles' previously (Maurer). I agree with the last interpretation.

(And) ponds for fish Hebrew agmee naphesh ponds for the life; ie ponds for living fish (cf margin; also (And) ponds for fish - Hebrew, agmee naphesh, ponds for the life; i:e., ponds for living fish (cf. margin; also Genesis 1:20) (Vatablus). Or else, ponds of the soul - i:e., of the desire; pleasure ponds for fish. Maurer takes the Hebrew [ 'agmeey (H99), as if it were the same as `aagªmaah (H5701), Job 30:25 ], 'The makers of gain (the common people) shall be sad in soul.' The parallelism is thus good. The Septuagint and Arabic also translate, 'shall be afflicted [ponesousi] in their souls.' But the Chaldaic Targum and Vulgate favour the English version; and Maurer's view strains the Hebrew word into the sense of the term in the Chaldaic, out of the ordinary Hebrew sense, which is that of the English version.

Verse 11

Surely the princes of Zoan are fools, the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish: how say ye unto Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?

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

The counsel of the wise counselors of Pharaoh is become brutish: how say ye unto Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings? Ye have no advice to suggest to Pharaoh in the crisis, notwithstanding that ye boast of descent from wise and royal ancestors (according to the testimony of Strabo, Plato, etc.) The priests were the usual "counselors" of the Egyptian kings. 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, therefore, meant themselves, severally and individually, by the expression, "I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings:" this was their favourite boast (Herodotus, 2:141. cf. Amos 7:14; Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5). "Pharaoh" was the common name of all the kings: Sethos, probably, is here meant. The priests identify themselves with the Pharaohs, who belonged, either by birth or by adoption, to their caste.

Verse 12

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.

Where are thy wise men? and let them tell thee now, and let them know what the Lord of hosts hath purposed upon Egypt - i:e., How is it that, with all their boast of knowing the future (Diodorus, 1: 81), they do not know what Yahweh of hosts hath purposed against Egypt, as He declares now by me, His prophet?

Verse 13

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 - called also Moph; Greek, Memphis (Jeremiah 2:16; Hosea 9:6); on the western bank of the Nile, capital of Lower Egypt, second only to Thebes in all Egypt: the residence of the kings, until the Ptolemies removed to Alexandria; the word means the port of the good (Plutarch). The Copts call it Menouf.

The princes of Noph are deceived. The military caste probably ruled in it: 'they also are deceived,' in fancying their country secure from Assyrian invasion.

The stay of the tribes thereof - rather, 'the corner-stone of her castes' (Maurer); i:e., the princes, the two ruling castes, the priests and the warriors: image from a building which rests mainly on its corner- stones (Isaiah 19:10, note; Isaiah 28:16; Psalms 118:22; Numbers 24:17, margin; Judges 20:2; 1 Samuel 14:38, margin; Zechariah 10:4).

Verse 14

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.

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 - referring to the anarchy arising from their internal feuds. Horsley translates, 'with respect to all His (God's) works;' they misinterpreted God's dealings at every step. "Mingled" contains the same image as "drunken:" as one mixes spices with wine to make it intoxicating (Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 9:2; Proverbs 9:5), so Yahweh has poured among them a spirit of giddiness, so that they are as helpless as a "drunken man."

Verse 15

Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do.

Neither shall there be (any) work for Egypt - nothing which Egypt can do to extricate itself from the difficulty.

Which the head or tail - high or low (Isaiah 19:11-15; Isaiah 19:8-10).

Branch or rush, may do - the lofty palm branch or the humble reed (Isaiah 9:14-15; Isaiah 10:33-34).

Verse 16

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.

In that day shall Egypt be like unto women - timid and helpless (Jeremiah 51:30; Nahum 3:13).

It shall ... fear, because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts - His judgments by means of the invaders (Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 11:15).

Verse 17

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.

Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt - not by itself: but at this time Hezekiah was the active subordinate ally of Assyria in its invasion of Egypt under Sargon. Similarly to the alliance of Judah with Assyria here is 2 Kings 23:29, where Josiah takes the field against Pharaoh-necho of Egypt, probably as ally of Assyria against Egypt (G.V. Smith). Vitringa explains it, that Egypt in its calamities would remember that prophets of Judah had foretold them, and so Judah would be "a terror unto Egypt."

Every one that maketh mention thereof - of Judah.

Shall be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the Lord of hosts, which he hath determined against it - against Egypt.

Verses 18-22

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.

-Suffering shall lead to repentance. Struck with "terror" and "afraid" (Isaiah 19:17), because of Yahweh's judgments, Egypt shall be converted to Him; nay, even Assyria shall join in serving Him; so that Israel, Assyria, and Egypt, once mutual foes, shall be bound together by the tie of a common faith as one people. So a similar issue from other prophecies (Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 23:18).

Verse 18. In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt - i:e., several cities; as in Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 30:17; Genesis 43:34; Leviticus 26:8. Rather, five definite cities of Lower Egypt (Isaiah 19:11; Isaiah 19:13; Isaiah 30:4), which had close contact with the neighbouring Jewish cities (Maurer): some say, Heliopolis, Leontopolis (else Diospolis), Migdol, Daphne (Tahpanes), and Memphis.

Speak the language of Canaan - i:e., of the Hebrews in Canaan; the language of revelation. A figure. They shall embrace the Jewish religion: so "a pure language" and conversion to God are connected in Zephaniah 3:9. Since also the first confounding and multiplication of languages was the punishment of the making of gods at Babel, other than the One God. Pentecost (Acts 2:4) was the counterpart and antidote of Babel: the separation of nations is not to hinder the unity of faith: the full realization of this is yet future (Zechariah 14:9; John 17:21): 'Multae terricolis linguae, coelestibus una.' One language alone was the vehicle of honouring God in Israelite times. In the coming antitype to the old theocracy, "the multitude which no man can number, of all tongues" shall sing one and the same song of praise for "salvation" to the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). Mark is reported by tradition to have preached the Gospel in Alexandria and Egypt. Then their language became spiritually that "of Canaan," the heavenly inheritance: it was no longer uncircumcised, but pure (Isaiah 6:5).

And swear to the Lord of hosts, This clause agrees with this view - i:e., shall bind themselves to Him by solemn covenant (Isaiah 45:23; Isaiah 65:16; Deuteronomy 6:13).

City of destruction - [ hacherec (H2775)]. Onias, who had fled, in disappointment at not getting the high-priesthood, into Egypt, and rose to high rank under Ptolemy Philometer, read 'city of the sun' [ hacherec (H2775)] - i:e., On, or Heliopolis: he persuaded Ptolemy Philometer (149 BC) to let him build a temple in the prefecture (nome) of Heliopolis, on the ground that it would induce Jews to reside there, and that the very site was foretold by Isaiah 600 years before. So 16 manuscripts. So Vulgate reads. The Chaldaic reads, 'One of them shall be called The city, the house of the sun which is doomed to be destroyed.' The reading of the Hebrew text is, however, better supported, "city of destruction," referring to Leontopolis, the site of Onias' temple: which casts a reproach on that city because it was about to contain a temple rivalling the only sanctioned temple, that at Jerusalem. Maurer and Gesenius translate, 'city of defense,' or 'deliverance'-namely, Memphis, or some such city, to which God was about to send a "saviour" (Isaiah 19:20), to 'deliver them from their many calamities.'

Verse 19. Altar - not for sacrifice, but as the "pillar" for memorial and worship (Joshua 22:22-26). Isaiah does not contemplate a temple in Egypt: for the only legal temple was at Jerusalem; but, like the patriarchs, they shall have altars in various places.

And a pillar - such as Jacob reared (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 35:14); it was a common practice in Egypt to raise obelisks commemorating divine and great events.

At the border - of Egypt and Judah, to proclaim to both countries the common faith. This passage shows how the Holy Spirit raised Isaiah above a narrow-minded nationality to a charity anticipatory of Gospel catholicity.

Verse 20. And it - the altar and pillar.

For a sign (of the fulfillment of prophecy) - to their contemporaries.

And for a witness - to their descendants.

Cry unto the Lord - no longer to their idols, but to Yahweh. And he shall send them a saviour - probably Alexander the Great (so "a great one"), whom the Egyptians welcomed as a deliverer (Greek, Soter, a title of the Ptolemies) out of the hands of the Persians, who under Cambyses had been their "oppressors." At Alexandria, called from him, the Old Testament was translated into Greek for the Greek-speaking Jews, who in large numbers dwelt in Egypt under the Ptolemies, his successors. Messiah is the Antitype ultimately intended (cf. Acts 2:10, in "Egypt.")

Verse 21. The Egyptians ... shall do ... oblation - unbloody (Hebrew, minchah (H4503)).

Verse 22. The Lord shall smite Egypt ... and heal it - as described, Isaiah 19:18-20.

And they shall return (even) to the Lord - for pagan sin and idolatry are an apostasy from primitive truth.

Verse 23

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.

Highway out of Egypt to Assyria - free communication, resting on the highest basis, the common faith of both (Isaiah 19:18; Isaiah 11:16). Assyria and Egypt were joined under Alexander as parts of his empire: Jews and proselytes from both met at the feasts of Jerusalem. A type of Gospel times to come.

The Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians - serve Yahweh with the Assyrians. So "serve" is used absolutely (Job 36:11).

Verse 24

In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:

Israel be the third - the three shall be joined as one nation.

(Even) a blessing - the source of blessings to other nations, and the object of their benedictions.

In the midst of the land - rather, earth (Micah 5:7). Judah is designed to be the grand center of the whole earth (Jeremiah 3:17).

Verse 25

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 - rather, Which, namely, "the land," or 'earth,' - i:e., the people of it (Maurer).

Blessed (be) Egypt my people - the special designation of Israel, the elect people, here applied to Egypt, to express its entire admission to religious privileges (Romans 9:24-26; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

And Assyria the work of my hands - spiritually (Hosea 2:23; Ephesians 2:10).

Remarks: How vain are men's boasts of wise and kingly ancestors! The wisdom and glory which are not of the Lord give place to abject and helpless "fear" when "the Lord shaketh His hand" in wrath. But the Lord remembers mercy amidst judgments. Suffering and terror, through God's judgments made manifest, are often overruled to the sinner's conviction and conversion, as in the case of Egypt. Christianity, when it shall have played out its full and final results, shall counterwork all the evils of the fall, and subsequently of the confusion of tongues at Babel. In the perfect state which yet shall be, all the redeemed out of every land shall speak the same tongue, praising the Triune God with one heart and one voice. Meanwhile we should try in spirit to speak already "the language of Canaan," the better land to which we are hastening.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/isaiah-19.html. 1871-8.
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