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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 19

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 1

Isaiah 19:1

The burden of Egypt

The prophecies concerning Egypt

The kingdom to which all the three prophecies (chaps.

18, 19, 20) refer is the same, namely, the Egypto-Ethiopian kingdom; but it is so dealt with that chap. 18 refers to the ruling people, chap. 19 to the ruled people, and chap. 20 embraces them both together. (F. Delitzsch.)

Egypt interwoven with the history of the kingdom of God

The reason why the prophecy occupies itself so particularly with Egypt is that no people of the earth was so closely interwoven with the history of the kingdom of God from the patriarchal time as Egypt. (F. Delitzsch.)

The oracle concerning Egypt: promise as well as threatening

Because, as the Thora impresses it, Israel must never forget that it long resided in Egypt, and there grew great, and enjoyed much good; so prophecy, when it comes to speak to Egypt, is not less zealous in promising than in threatening. Accordingly, the Isaianic oracle falls into two distinct halves; one threatening, Isaiah 19:1-15, and one promising, Isaiah 19:18-25; and between judgment and salvation there stands the terror in Isaiah 19:16-17, as the bridge from the former to the latter. (F. Delitzsch.)

Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud

The way of the Lord

Here is one way in which the Lord comes, namely, “upon a swift cloud” (Isaiah 19:1). The intimation is one of mystery. No man can tell which way the Lord will come today. Let us keep our eyes upon every point of the horizon; let us distribute the watchmen wisely and assign to each his sphere of observation; for by what door the Lord may enter the field of vision no man can tell,--by a political event, by some new movement in foreign policy, by the discovery of new riches in the earth, by great shocks which try men’s strength, by grim sorrow, by cruel death, by judgments that have no name, by mercies tender as the tenderest love, by compassions all tears, by providences that are surprises of gladness: watch all these doors, for by any one of them the Lord may come into the nation, the family, the heart of the individual. This Divine policy, if it may be so named, baffles the watchers who trust to their own sagacity. If men will say they will circumvent God and know all the ways of His providence, behold God forsakes all ways that are familiar and that lie within the calculation of the human mind; and He startles those who watch with light from unexpected quarters with shakings and tremblings never before felt in the vibrations of history. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him”: the cloud that appears to be nothing but vapour may enshrine the Deity; the bush, yesterday so common that any bird might have alighted upon it, today burns with unseen, infinite energy. The Lord will come by what way He pleases,--now as if from the depths of the earth, and now as from the heights of heaven; blessed is that servant who is ready to receive Him and to welcome Him to the heart’s hospitality of love. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 2

Isaiah 19:2

And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians

Divine providence in civil strife

This method of administration, we say, obtains and prevails in all ages.

This is the meaning of many a controversy, of many a quarrel, of many a dissension, in cabinets, in families, in nations. Men are surprised that they should turn upon their brothers with disdain, and even with cruel hatred. It is indeed matter of surprise and great sorrow, and if looked at within narrow limits it would seem to be a reflection upon Providence: but when does God ask to be judged within the four comers of human imagination or criticism? He not only does the deed, He does it within a field which He Himself has measured, and within the range of declarations which have about them all the mystery and graciousness of evangelical prophecies. We must, therefore, look not only at the incident, but at all its surroundings and to all its issues. When we are puzzled by household difficulties, by commercial perplexities, by unions that only exist for a moment and then dissolve or are turned into sourness and alienation, we must never forget that there is One who rules over all. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 11

Isaiah 19:11

How say ye . . . I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?


On the pride of birth

The charge which the prophet makes upon the Egyptian nobles may, with some justice, be extended to those in modern times who are perpetually reminding the world, directly or indirectly, of the dignity of their ancestors; and who, because they have no living merit to boast of, are ever shrining themselves in the glories of the dead.

1. Not only does the world set a high value upon illustrious birth, but it commonly obtains the preference over talents and virtues. There must be a certain rule of precedence in society, an arrangement of those pretensions we all exhibit for public notice and respect; and those causes which confer superiority must be obvious and not liable to be mistaken; not chemical distinctions, discoverable upon analysis, but natural marks, perceptible to the eye. Such, in some degree, are wealth and birth, the notoriety of which is much greater than that of talents and virtues.

2. But how comes birth to be respected at all? History teaches us to connect courage to one name, and counsel to another; to connect them even to an eye or a look; and it is difficult to behold the son or the descendant of an eminent man without deluding ourselves into an idea that some share of the virtues as well as some trait of the features has been transmitted from one to the other. A person placed in a liberal situation of life, above the necessity of increasing his fortune, is supposed to have derived from education a cultivated understanding and correct moral taste; to be careful of reputation and worthy of trust; and, when a family has been long in this situation, we associate these qualities to them much more strongly, and are apt to conceive that a certain propriety of sentiment has been transmitted, with hereditaments and lands, from one generation to another. It is therefore well to recollect that the reverence mankind pay to birth is founded upon its supposed connection with great and amiable qualities; that it is unjust to inhale the incense without possessing the attributes to which it is offered up; and that no disapprobation is so complete as that which succeeds to detected imposture and misplaced regard.

3. Pride of birth, in common with every other species of pride, is utterly incompatible with the Christian character, the very essence of which is lowliness of spirit, and, in common with every other species of pride, is marked by narrow and erroneous views of human nature. The peculiar objections to it are, that birth may frequently prove a source of the most serious misfortunes; that, at a certain period of depravity, it gives splendour to shame, and inflames the contempt of mankind; that it justifies the painful suspicion of being beloved from name, and not from nature; that, considered singly by itself, without the virtues which sometimes do, and are always expected to, accompany it, it is of all causes of self-approbation the least rational and just.

4. Though pride be the excess of self-approbation, it can only rest ultimately upon the approbation of others. It is always upon the esteem of others, present and future, or upon a title to it, conceived to be extremely strong, that pride is founded. A proud man may not possess esteem, but he must believe that he does possess it, or shall possess it, during life, or after death, or that he deserves to possess it; for, if he conceives himself justly contemptible, he must cease to be proud. Now, all pride proceeds from a wrong, notion of the method by which the approbation of others is secured; from a misappreciation of ourselves, and of the sagacity of mankind, who are so far from adopting a man’s standard of himself as their own, that they commonly value a human being inversely as he values himself. It proceeds from an ignorance of that captivating modesty which lulls rivalry to sleep, and gives all the benevolent affections their free influence upon the judgment. Pride, then, is only another name for ignorance, because it takes the most shortsighted and inefficacious means to effect its object.

5. Travellers tell us that there is a tree, the roots of which afford bread or poison, according as they are managed and prepared. Such is the doubtful nature of illustrious birth: it may be a blessing or a curse, the source of virtue or the cradle of shame; eminence it must ever give, eminence of infamy or eminence of good. God forbid we should not think of ancient days, if thus doing we can add virtue or happiness; forbid us to stifle that solemn pleasure which we feel in gazing at the dead, if that solemn pleasure teach us to live aright. If you will look upon nobleness of birth as a promise to be fulfilled and a debt to be paid to society; if you will recompense mankind, by your personal merit, for their fervent love to your name and fathers, and think exalted birth a solemn pledge for exalted virtue, a covenant for honourable labour and unspotted faith, an oath taken to the shades of the dead, never to pollute their blood or sully their fame; if you hasten to fix this admiration of words and sounds upon some more solid foundation, to reflect more lustre on your race than you take from it, and to be the chief of the people in thought and action as well as by chance and law--then think forever on the greatness of your name, and the splendour of your father’s fathers; and when a prophet shall ask you, yea, when more than a prophet, when God shall ask you, “How have ye said upon earth, I am the son of wise counsellors and ancient kings?” ye may answer, “We have so said, not ignorant that all things on earth are the shadows of a shadow, and the dust of the dust; but hoping like them to walk in the pure and perfect law of Him who made us, and to do the good and righteous things which our fathers have done of old time, that we may draw down upon us Thy blessings, and finally partake of that dear and unknown world which Thy blessed Son has promised us in Thy name.” (Sydney Smith, M. A.)

Verse 18

Isaiah 19:18

The language of Canaan

Converting grace

Converting grace by changing the heart, changeth the language; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

(M. Henry.)

The language of Canaan

1. To speak the language of Canaan is to discourse on sacred subjects in a manner peculiar to those who enjoy Divine revelation, and are taught of God.

2. It is to treat of spiritual matters in that dialect which is best suited to their nature and importance, and which hath been employed for this purpose by patriarchs and prophets, by Jesus Christ Himself, His apostles and disciples in all ages.

3. This language of the people of God hath in it somewhat peculiar, whereby it may be distinguished from all other kinds of speech. It is quite free from vanity, detraction, falsehood, impurity, and folly, with which all other conversation is more or less tinctured; whilst much is said concerning the only true God, the great Messiah, the promises, ordinances, and commandments of Jehovah, with many other such delightful topics. (R. Macculloch.)

Verse 20

Isaiah 19:20

He shall send them a Saviour and a great one

A Saviour and a great one

The literal coincidences between the promise of a “saviour” and a “great one,” and the titles of Alexander the Great and Ptolemy the Saviour are noticeable and interesting.

(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great delivered them from the grievous Persian yoke, and he and his successors greatly favoured the people and improved the country. He settled a great many Jews in Alexandria, giving them equal privileges with the Macedonians; and this Hebrew immigration was still further promoted by Ptolemy Soter, so that Philo reckoned that in his time there were a million Jews in the country. The temple of Onias, the LXX version of the Bible, the books of the Apocrypha, the philosophy and theology of Philo, indicate not only what these Jews were in themselves, but enable us to infer with certainty how great must have been their example and influence in humanising the Egyptians, and bringing them to the knowledge and worship of the true God. And still more were these results apparent, still more amply was this prophecy fulfilled, when Alexandria became one of the great centres of the Christian Church. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

Who was the great Saviour promised to Egypt?

Even if the language of this verse by itself might seem to point to a particular deliverer, the comprehensive language of the context would forbid its reference to any such exclusively. If the chapter is a prophecy not of a single went but of a great progressive change to be wrought in the condition of Egypt by the introduction of the true religion, the promise of the verse before us must be, that when they cried God would send them a deliverer, a promise verified not once but often, not by Ptolemy or Alexander only, but by others, and in the highest sense by Christ Himself. (J. A. Alexander.)

The Messiah a great Saviour

GREAT IN HIS PERSON. “God over all, blessed forever:--





A great Saviour provided

An old Mexican monk, in his dingy cell, once painted an allegorical picture, representing a beautiful maiden standing on an island, with only room for her feet to rest upon, while all around dashed and surged a lake of fire. The angry flames almost touched her, and yet she smiled, all unconscious of danger. More dreadful still, on each billow’s crest rides a malignant fiend, and they are closing around the seemingly defenceless girl, seeking to fasten chains about her limbs, that they may drag her into the burning lake. The maiden still smiles serenely, for she sees them not. A golden cord of grace, descending from above, is twined amidst her sunny hair, but death appears ready to cut the slender thread. A hand of help is reaching down to her, which she must take, or be lost in the fiery abyss. A company of attending angels anxiously await her decision, and this group completes the picture. This is no fancy sketch of the old painter’s brain, but it is your condition unless you have laid hold on Christ Jesus to deliver you. (J. N. Norton.)

Verses 23-25

Isaiah 19:23-25

In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria

Israel, Egypt, and Assyria

Israel is no longer alone God’s people, God’s creation, God’s inheritance, but Egypt and Assyria are each a third sharer with Israel.

In order to express this, Israel’s three names of honour are mixed together, and each of three peoples receives one of the precious names, of which “inheritance” is assigned to Israel as pointing back to the beginning of its history. This essential equalisation of the heathen peoples with Israel is no degradation to the latter; for although henceforth there exists no essential distinction of the peoples in their relation to God, it is nevertheless always Israel’s God who attains recognition, and Israel is the people which, according to the promise, has become the medium of blessing to the earth. (F. Delitzsch.)

The significance of the prophecy

These nations represent to the prophet the heathen world which was “eventually to be incorporated in the kingdom of God. The prediction can never be realised for those nations, because they have ceased to exist; but it will yet be realised in that great peace of the world, which is the hope of all the nations of mankind.” (C. A. Briggs, D. D.)

A forecast of the triumph of Christianity

Never had the faith of the prophet soared so high or approached so near to the conception of a universal religion. (Prof. Robertson Smith.)

The holy triple alliance

The two great powers which have hitherto met only as foes are to meet in the worship of Jehovah. And in consequence of this there is to be fellowship between them. And this is brought about by the little central state. Israel has reached the grand end of its calling; it becomes a blessing to the whole circuit of the earth. It is a grand prophecy destined to find its full accomplishment in the latter days.

IT IS GOD’S PURPOSE TO PERFECT THE RACE THROUGH INTERNATIONAL INTERCOURSE AND FRIENDSHIP. Chronic national antagonism is not Heaven’s design. Neither is the design of God respecting the various peoples that they should dwell in a state of isolation. The Divine purpose is manifestly that the several nations shall complete each other through sympathy and reciprocity.

1. Geography indicates this. The good things of nature are not all found in any one land; reciprocity is designed and necessitated by the very dispositions of soil and climate.

2. Ethnology also gives a reason for national sympathy and intercourse. No one national type includes all perfections. The nations need one another. History shows us the solidarity of the race and how wonderfully any one people is enriched by the contributions of the rest. Take our own nation. In our gardens are the flowers and fruits of all climates. In a thousand ways our neighbours have contributed to make us what we are. The Italians and French taught us silk weaving. The Flemings taught us our fine woollen trade. The Venetians showed us how to make glass. A German erected our first paper mill. A Dutchman began our potteries. The Genoese taught us to build ships. And so history reveals that through successive generations the several nations have enriched each other in art, industry, literature, jurisprudence, language, philosophy, government, and religion. The thought of God is the brotherhood of man, and all things prove it.

THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS THE SUPREME UNIFYING POWER OF THE RACE. In the fulness of its meaning this is what our text signifies. The lesson here for us is that the marriage of nations will take place where other marriages are celebrated--at the altar of God. In other words, the unifying power of the race is the highest religious faith--the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Some suppose that the ameliorative reconciling influence will be found in commerce. But there are malign influences which defeat the benign influences of trade.

2. Others think that the principle of unity will be found in the cultivation of cosmopolitan literature. The influence of great literature is pacifying, but it must also be remembered that such literature feeds patriotism, which is a peril.

3. Many build great hopes on science. Science reveals the unity of nature, but it teaches also that all nature is full of strife, and civilisation itself is built on antagonism. It is only as a great faith changes the spirit of man that discords will resolve themselves into harmonies.

GOD HAS IN A VERY SPECIAL MEASURE COMMITTED UNTO US THE VERY EDIFYING GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. To a large extent England in this age occupies the position that Israel occupied of old--it is our special calling to bring all nations to the obedience of the faith. As Palestine came between Egypt and Assyria so this island comes in a wonderful manner between the Old World and the New. God gave spiritual gifts in a remarkable degree to Israel, and God has given us richly the treasure of His Gospel. God has also given to us special powers for the diffusion of the Gospel. (W. L. Watkinson.)

The missionary religion

This was the glorious vision of the statesman prophet, a new world arising out of the confusions and struggles of the old, a redeemed humanity, of which these now extinct peoples are the symbol, united by the benediction of God.

WE MUST NOT READ INTO THESE WORDS ANY COMPROMISE WITH THE RELIGION OF EGYPT AND ASSYRIA. He did not mean that the faith of Israel was the third with the faiths of the Nile and the Euphrates. Perhaps the most insidious foe of the missionary spirit is the suggestion that Christianity is only one among many religions and rival creeds. It is contradicted by all the facts of Scripture and of human experience. The study of comparative religion so far from blinding us to the gleams of truth and the broken lights of heathenism, enables us to feel more deeply how faint and broken they are. The stars are invisible to us in the glory of the noon. Yet if we descend into some deep pit we lose the daylight and we see the stars. So in all ages some elect souls, sunk in the deep and horrible pit of heathenism, have seen shining far above them the pure, peaceful stars of God. Their faint light has not been enough to live by, not enough for guidance or hope, only enough to reach the remoteness of heaven and God, enough for aspiration and to keep alive the great questions of human existence and destiny. Some of our modern teachers have gone down into the deep pit, and they have forgotten that they themselves are the children of the day. We solemnly deny that any religion is suited to any people, either East or West, which cannot give cleansing to the conscience, or power to the will, or peace to the heart, which is silent where it should speak most clearly, which can cast no light beyond the grave, which does not honour womanhood and protect childhood. Heathenism is man seeking God. The Gospel is God coming down to seek man. In its essence the Gospel is unchangeable, yet there is much in our religion which is capable of adaptation to the conditions, tastes, and temperaments of different races.

We see in our text THE WIPING OUT OF NATIONAL PREJUDICES AND RACIAL ANIMOSITIES IN A COMMON SALVATION. Egypt was the ancient foe and oppressor of Israel. The pages of Isaiah are full of warnings against the broken reed of Egypt. The prophet saw the gathering storm and knew that Assyria should scatter the nation and destroy the city and the temple. Yet he spoke of both as resting with Israel under the blessing of God. But, more than that, the known world of Isaiah’s day was bounded on the west by Egypt and on the east by Assyria. They stand for the world, because they were then the confines of the world. Six centuries later the world of St. Paul was larger still Our world is the whole world, but it has not outgrown the love or the promise or the duty. This larger outlook rests upon three chief grounds.

1. The brotherhood of man.

2. All the great redemptive facts are toy humanity.

3. The purposes of God are for mankind.

It only remains to ask whether this promise of a redeemed humanity is only a dream, and a glowing but unsubstantial vision, or IS IT A DIVINE REALITY? If it rested upon an obscure word in an ancient prophecy we might fear to press it. But it is the burden of Scripture. It was the vision of Christ as He rejoiced in spirit and cried, “And if I be lifted up I will draw all men unto Me.” But it is the method of God to use human instruments. He accepts the tribute of His people’s love, and He makes the wrath of man to praise Him. (J. H. Shakespeare, M. A.)

God’s purposes worked out

1. God intends that each single nation of the earth shall make the most of itself for the good of all other nations.

2. God is ruling over all the nations, and is working out His great and glorious purposes through them. (D. Gregg, LL. D.)

God’s converting grace

These are mysterious words, which certainly have not been fulfilled. There was a partial fulfilment of them on the day of Pentecost, when we learn that Medea, Parthians, Elamites, together with dwellers in Mesopotamia, joined with those of Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, and Judea, in acknowledging the power of the exalted Saviour, and the mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit. But just beyond the veil which hides the immediate future, we are doubtless destined to see greater things than these. In any case, we may take the prophet’s words as illustrating the truth, that none are beyond the pale of Divine mercy; that God can change persecutors into apostles, and that the elements that make men bad will, beneath converting grace, be the constituents of strong and holy lives. God rejoices to take those who have been strong in the service of Satan, and make them lowly and devoted servants of the Cross. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Isaiah’s wide outlook and cosmopolitan sympathies

We shall never do the Jewish religion justice till we pay attention to what its greatest prophets thought of the outside world, how they sympathised with this, and in what way they proposed to make it subject to their own faith.

1. There is something in the very manner of Isaiah’s treatment of foreign nations which causes the old charges of exclusiveness to sink in our throats. Isaiah treats these foreigners at least as men. Take his prophecies on Egypt or on Tyre or on Babylon--nations which were the hereditary enemies of his nation--and you find him speaking of their natural misfortunes, their social decays, their national follies and disasters, with the same pity and with the same purely moral considerations, with which he has treated his own land. When news of those far away sorrows comes to Jerusalem, it moves this large-hearted prophet to mourning and tears. He breathes out to distant lands elegies as beautiful as he has poured upon Jerusalem. He shows as intelligent an interest in their social evolutions as he does in those of the Jewish State. He gives a picture of the industry and politics of Egypt as careful as his pictures of the fashions and statecraft of Judah. In short, as you read his prophecies upon foreign nations, you perceive that before the eyes of this man humanity, broken and scattered in his days as it was, rose up one great whole, every part of which was subject to the same laws of righteousness, and deserved from the prophet of God the same love and pity. To some few tribes he says decisively that they shall certainly be wiped out, but even them he does not address in contempt or in hatred. The large empire of Egypt, the great commercial power of Tyre, he speaks of in language of respect and admiration; but that does not prevent him from putting the plain issue to them which he put to his own countrymen: If you are unrighteous, intemperate, impure--lying diplomats and dishonest rulers, you shall certainly perish before Assyria. If you are righteous, temperate, pure, if you do trust in truth and God, nothing can move you.

2. But he who thus treated all nations with the same strict measures of justice and the same fulness of pity with which he treated his own, was surely not far from extending to the world the religious privileges which he so frequently identified with Jerusalem. In his old age, at least, Isaiah looked forward to the time when the particular religious opportunities of the Jew should be the inheritance of humanity. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

The dominating influence of national righteousness

The moral is this: When the leading nation of the world is true to God and His principles, knowing no compromise and no hesitation; when it lives these principles, incorporates them into its laws and institutions, builds them into the code by which it governs its international relations, makes them part of its foreign policy, and, so far as it has it in its power, insists upon other nations honouring them and administering their affairs by them kit is always sure to win the day, and to rule as a mighty influence among all the nations of the world, and to lift them up toward the level of its own high civilisation. (D. Gregg, LL. D.)

A transformed world

No one who has seen the lovely Bay of Naples can ever forget it. The magnificent stretch of waters, the twenty or thirty miles of memorable coast that girdle it, the vast city with its painted palaces, its domes and spires, Vesuvius with nodding plume of fire and vapour, and over all the sky blue as Aaron’s mantle. Now, geologists tell us that that lovely bay is really the crater of an extinct volcano. In primitive ages it was a vast and awful abyss of flame and fury, but the fires died down, the lava ceased to flow, the smoke rolled away, the glorious sea overflowed the crater, and now the lovely waters sleep and dream, reflecting the lights and colours of the sky. This world, for ages, has been a veritable mouth of hell. But its fires are slackening, its wrath abates, its darkness is less dense, its desolations and miseries come to a perpetual end, and truth and justice, mercy and kindness, are covering it as the great deep profound. (W. L. Watkinson.)

One Gospel for all

God’s Gospel is made not for Englishmen, but for all men. Many think the Gospel is a very beautiful thing--if you would only keep it at home; but the moment you try to apply it to anybody else, it will not suit them. Try it upon the negro; he is too low. Try it upon the Hindoo; he is too high. Each of these must have a religion of his own; one would not suit them all. The rice that forms a suitable food for the natives of hot climates is not suitable for the bleak north. The food that is suitable for the north, the clothing and house suitable for the north, are not suitable for the tropics, and so with religion. “A man looked into the eye of an Anglo-Saxon,” says William Arthur, “and found it blue, and into the eye of a negro and found it black, and he said, ‘These are different organisations; you are not so bewildered as to think you can enlighten both these eyes with the same sun. You must have a sun for each of them; you must have different suns, you see, because the eyes are differently organised.’” Very well, that is exceedingly fine in theory, but try it--try whether the sun which God put in the heaven will not illuminate the pale eye of the northerner and the dark eye of the southerner. (Sunday School Chronicle.)

The universal language

When Haydn was prevailed upon to visit England for the first time, Mozart said to him, “You have no training for the great world, and you speak too few languages.” Haydn replied, “My language is understood by all the world.” The power of the name of Jesus is, however, more universal in its appeal than the power of great music. (Sunday School Chronicle.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 19". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/isaiah-19.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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