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THE BURDEN OF EGYPT. It has been doubted whether this prophecy refers to the conquest of Egypt by Piankhi, as related in the monument which he set up at Napata, or to that by Esarhaddon, of which we gain our knowledge from the inscriptions of his son, Asshur-bani-pal. In the former case, we must suppose it written as early as B.C. 735; in the latter, its date might be as late as B.C. 690. The division of Egypt, "kingdom against kingdom," is a circumstance rather in favor of the earlier date; but the "cruel lord," and the mention of the "princes of Zoan and Noph," are decisive for the later. Piankhi is anything rather than a "cruel lord," being particularly mild and clement; Napata (Noph) is under him, and cannot be said to have been "deceived" or to have "seduced Egypt;" and Zoan plays no part in the history of the period. Esarhaddon, on the contrary, was decidedly a "cruel" prince, and treated Egypt with great severity, splitting it up into a number of governments. Zoan was one of the leading cities of the time, and Noph was the leading power on the Egyptian side, the head of the patriotic party which resisted the Assyrian monarch, but to no purpose. We may, therefore, regard this prophecy as one of Isaiah's latest, placed where it is merely on account of its head-tug—the compiler having placed all the "burdens" against foreign countries together.
The Lord rideth upon a swift cloud. Natural imagery to express the rapidity of Divine visitations (comp. Psalms 104:3). God, being about to visit Egypt with a judgment of extreme severity, is represented as entering the land in person (so in Isaiah 13:5). The idols of Egypt shall be moved. Neither Piankhi nor any other Ethiopian conqueror made war on the Egyptian idols; but the Assyrians were always bent on humbling the gods of the hostile countries (see above, Isaiah 10:10; and comp. Isaiah 36:18-20). We have no detailed account of Esarhaddon's campaign; but we find Asshur-bani-pal's first victory over Tirhakah immediately followed by the presentation to him in his camp of Egyptian deities, i.e. of their images. These were probably taken to Nineveh, or else destroyed. At a later date, the same monarch deprived an Egyptian temple of two of its sacred obelisks. The heart of Egypt shall molt (coup. Isaiah 13:7; Psalms 22:14).
I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians. The disintegration of Egypt commenced about B.C. 760-750, towards the close of the twenty-second dynasty. About B.C. 735 a struggle began between Plan-khi, King of Upper Egypt, and Tafnekhf, King of Sais and Memphis, in which the other princes took different sides. Ten or twelve years later there was a struggle between Bocchoris and Sabaeo. From this time onwards, until Psamatik I. reestablished the unity of Egypt, the country was always more or less divided, and on the occurrence of any crisis the princes were apt to make war one up, n another. Kingdom against kingdom. During the period of disintegration, the title of" king" was assumed by most of the potty princes, though they were little more than chiefs of cities.
They shall seek to the idols. The Egyptians believed that their gods gave them oracles. Menephthah claims to have been warned by Phthah, the god of Memphis, not to take the field in person against the Libyans when they invaded the Delta, but to leave the task of contending with them to his generals. Herodotus speaks of there being several well-known oracular shrines in Egypt, the most trustworthy being that of Maut, at the city which he calls Buto. The charmers … them that have familiar spirits … wizards. Classes of men corresponding to the "magicians" and "wise men" of earlier times (Genesis 41:8). (On the large place which magic occupied in the thoughts of the Egyptians, see 'Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus 7:11.) There was no diminution of the confidence reposed in them as time went on; and some remains of their practices seem to survive to the present day.
The Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord. It has been observed above that Piankhi will not answer to this description. It will, however, well suit Esarhaddon. Esarhaddon, soon after his accession, cut off the heads of Abdi-Milkut, King of Sidon, and of Sanduarri, King of Kundi, and hung them round the necks of two of their chief officers. In an expedition which he made into Arabia, he slew eight of the sovereigns, two of them being women. On conquering Egypt he treated it with extreme severity. Not only did he divide up the country into twenty governments, but he changed the names of the towns, and assigned to his twenty governors, as their main duty, that they were "to slay, plunder, and spoil" their subjects. He certainly well deserved the appellations of "a cruel lord," "a fierce king."
The waters shall fail from the sea. By "the sea" it is generally allowed that the Nile must be meant, as in Isaiah 18:2 and Nahum 3:8. The failure might be caused by deficient rains in Abyssinia and Equatorial Africa, producing an insufficient inundation. It might be aggravated by the neglect of dykes and canals, which would be the natural consequence of civil disorders. Wasted and dried up; rather, parched and dried up. Allowance must be made for Oriental hyperbole. The meaning is only that there shall be a great deficiency in the water supply. Such a deficiency has often been the cause of terrible famines in Egypt.
And they shall turn the rivers far away; rather, and the rivers shall stagnate (Cheyne). Probably the canals are intended, as in Exodus 7:19 (see 'Pulpit Commentary,' ad loc.). The brooks of defense shall be emptied. Some render this "brooks of Egypt," regarding matsor as here used for "Mitsraim;" but our translation is more forcible, and may well stand. The "brooks of defense" are those which had hitherto formed the moats round walled cities (comp. Isaiah 37:25; Nahum 3:8). The reeds and flags shall wither. Reeds, flags, rushes, and water-plants of all kinds abound in the backwaters of the Nile, and the numerous ponds and marshes connected with its overflow. These forms of vegetation would be the first to wither on the occurrence of a deficient inundation.
The paper reeds by the brooks, etc.; rather, the meadows on the river, along the banks of the river, and every seed-plot by the river. The banks of the Nile were partly grass-land (Genesis 41:2, Genesis 41:18), partly cultivated in grain or vegetables (Herod; 2.14), in either case producing the most luxuriant crops. All, however, depended on the inundation, and if that failed, or so far as it failed, the results predicted by the prophet would happen.
The fishers also shall mourn. The fisherman's trade was extensively practiced in ancient Egypt, and anything which interfered with it would necessarily be regarded as a great calamity. A large class supported itself by the capture and sale of fish fresh or salted. The Nile produced great abundance of fish, both in its main stream and in its canals and backwaters. Lake Moeris also provided an extensive supply (Herod; 2.149). All they that east angle into the brooks; rather, into the river. Fishing with a hook was practiced in Egypt, though not very widely, except as an amusement by the rich. Actual hooks have been found, not very different from modern ones, and representations of angling occur in some of the tombs. Sometimes a line only is used, sometimes a rod and line. They that spread nets. Nets were very much more widely employed than lines and hooks. Ordinarily a dragnet was used; but sometimes small fry were taken in the shallows by means of a double-handled landing-net.
They that work in fine flax. Linen of great fineness and delicacy was woven in Egypt, for the priests' dresses, for mummy-cloths, and for corselets. Solomon imported "linen yarn" from his Egyptian neighbors (1 Kings 10:28), and the Phoenicians a linen fabric for their sails' (Ezekiel 27:7). In the general decline of Egyptian prosperity, caused by the circumstances of the time, the manufacturers of linen would suffer. They that weave networks; rather, they that weave while clothes. Cotton fabrics are probably intended. Shall be confounded; literally, shall blush, or be ashamed.
And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof; rather, and the foundations thereof shall be broken, or crushed to pieces (Kay). The rich and noble, the foundations of the fabric of society, seem to be meant. All that make sluices, etc. Translate, all that work for hire (comp. Proverbs 11:18) shall be grieved in soul. The meaning is that all classes, from the highest to the lowest, shall suffer affliction (so Lowth, Gesenius, Knobel, Kay, Cheyne).
Surely the princes of Zoan are fools. Zoan, or Tanis, which had been an insignificant city since the time of the shepherd-kings, came to the front once more at the time of the struggle between Egypt and Assyria. Esarhaddon made it the head of one of the petty kingdoms into which he divided Egypt. Early in the reign of his son it revolted, in conjunction with Sais and Mendes, but was ere long reduced to subjection by the Assyrians. Its king, Petu-bastes, was taken to Nineveh, and there probably put to death. Its "princes" were, no doubt, among those who counseled resistance to Assyria. The counsel of the wise, etc.; literally, as for the wise counsellors of Pharaoh, their counsel is become senseless. Two classes of advisers seem to be intended—nobles, supposed to be qualified by birth; and "wise men," qualified by study and education. Both would now be found equally incapable. Pharaoh. Probably Tirhakah is intended. It is possible that he was really suzerain of Egypt at the time of Sennacherib's invasion, when Shabatek was nominally king. It is certain that, after the death of Shabatok, he was recognized as sovereign both of Ethiopia and of Egypt, and ruled over both countries. Esarhaddon found him still occupying this position in B.C. 673, when he made his Egyptian expedition. Tirhakah's capital at this time was Memphis. How say ye, etc.? With what face can you boast of your descent, or of your learning, when you are unable to give any sound advice?
Where are they? where, etc.? rather, Where, then, are thy wise men? If thou hast any, let them come forward anti predict the coming course of events, what Jehovah has determined to do (compare similar challenges in the later chapters of the book, Isaiah 41:21-23; Isaiah 43:9; Isaiah 48:14, etc.).
The princes of Noph. There are no grounds for changing "Noph" into "Moph." "Noph" is probably "Napata," known as "Nap" in the hieroglyphic inscriptions—the original capital of the Ethiopian kings, and, when Memphis had become their capital, still probably regarded as the second city of the empire. The "princes of Noph" would be Tirhakah's counselors. They have also, etc. Translate, Even they have led Egypt astray, who are the corner-stone of her tribes. Strictly speaking, there were no "tribes" in Egypt, much less "castes," but only classes, marked out by strong lines of demarcation the one from the other. Herodotus gives seven of them—priests, soldiers, herdsmen, swineherds, tradesmen, interpreters, and boatmen. But there were several others also, e.g. agricultural laborers, fishermen, artisans, official employee, etc.
The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit, etc. "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6). To bring Egypt into so distracted a state, the hand of God had been necessary. He had introduced into the nation "a spirit of perverseness." Those in whom this spirit was had then "led Egypt astray in all her doings." They had made her "like a drunken man," who "staggers" along his path, and slips in "his own vomit." Long-continued success and prosperity produces often a sort of intoxication in a nation.
Neither shall there be, etc. Translate, And there shall be for Egypt no work in which both the head and the tail, both the palm branch and the rush, may (conjointly) work. The general spirit of perverseness shall prevent all union of high with low, rich with poor.
In that day; or, at that time; i.e. when the Assyrian invasion comes. Shall Egypt be like unto women (comp. Jeremiah 51:30). So Xerxes said of his fighting men at Salamis: "My men have become women" (Herod; 8.88). Because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 11:15 and Isaiah 30:32). The Egyptians would scarcely recognize Jehovah as the Author of their calamities, but it would none the less be his hand which punished them.
The land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt. In Manasseh's reign Judaea became subject to Assyria, and had to take part in the hostile expeditions, which both Esarhaddon and his son, Asshurbanipal, conducted against Egypt. Egypt had to keep her eye on Judaea continually, to see when danger was approaching her. If is not likely that Isaiah's prophecies caused the "terror" here spoken of. Every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid; rather, when any one maketh mention thereof, they shall turn to him in fear. The very mention of Judaea by any one shall cause fear, because they will expect to hear that an expedition has started, or is about to start, from that country. Because of the counsel of the Lord of hosts. This is how Isaiah views the Assyrian attacks on Egypt, not how the Egyptians viewed them. The fear felt by the Egyptians was not a religious fear. They simply dreaded the Assyrian armies, and Judaea as the country from which the expeditions seemed to issue.
THE TURNING OF EGYPT TO JEHOVAH. The chastisement of the Egyptians shall be followed, after a while, by a great change. Influences from Canaan shall penetrate Egypt (Isaiah 19:18), an altar shall be raised in her midst to Jehovah (Isaiah 19:19), and she herself shall cry to him for succor (Isaiah 19:20) and be delivered (Isaiah 19:20). Egypt shall even become a part of Jehovah's kingdom, shall "know him," and serve him with sacrifice and oblation (Isaiah 19:21), and perform her vows to Jehovah, and have her supplications heard by him, and be converted and healed (Isaiah 19:22).
In that day. Not really the day of vengeance, but that which, in the prophet's mind, is most closely connected with it—the day of restitution—whereof he has spoken perpetually (Isaiah 1:25-27; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 6:13, etc.). The two are parts of one scheme of things, and belong in the prophet's mind to one time. Shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan. It is quite true, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, that the Eastern Delta was from a very early date continually more and more Semitized by an influx of settlers from Palestine, and that Egyptian literature bears strong marks of this linguistic influence. But this is scarcely what the prophet intends to speak about. He is not interested in philology. What he means is that there will be an appreciable influx into Egypt of Palestinian ideas, thoughts, and sentiments. "Five" is probably used as a "round" number. The first manifest fulfillment of the prophecy was at the foundation of Alexandria, when the Jews were encouraged to become settlers by the concession of important privileges (Josephus, 'Contr. Ap.,' Isaiah 2:4), and where they ultimately became the predominant element in the population, amounting, according to Philo ('In Flaec.,' § 6), to nearly a million souls. The next great Palestinian influx was under Ptolemy YI. (Philometor), when Onias fled from Palestine with a number of his partisans, and obtained permission to erect a Jewish temple near Heliopelis. The site of this temple is probably marked by the ruins at Tel-el-Yahoudeh. It seems to have been a center to a number of Jewish communities in the neighborhood. In this double way Jehovah became known to Egypt before Christianity. A Christian Church was early established in Alexandria, possibly by St. Mark. Swear to the Lord of hosts; i.e. "swear fidelity to him." One shall be called, The city of destruction. Some manuscripts read 'Ir-ha-Kheres, "City of the Sun," for 'Ir-ha-heres, "City of Destruction," in which case the reference would be plainly to Heliopelis, which was in the immediate neighborhood of Tel-el-Yahoudeh, and which in the Ptolemaic period may well have fallen under Jewish influence. Even if 'Ir-ha-heres stand as the true reading, the name may still have been given with allusion to Heliopolis, the prophet intending to say, "That city which was known as the City of the Sun-God shall become known as the City of Destruction of the Sun-God and of idolatrous worship generally." That Heliopolis did actually fall under Jewish influence in the Ptolemaic period appears from a remarkable passage of Polyhistor, who says of the Exodus and the passage of the Red Sea, "The Memphites say that Moses, being well acquainted with the district, watched the ebb of the tide, and so led the people across the dry bed of the sea; but they of Heliopolis affirm that the king, at the head of a vast force, and having the sacred animals also with him, pursued after the Jews, because they were carrying away with them the riches which they had borrowed from the Egyptians. Then, "they say," the voice of God commanded Moses to smite the sea with his rod, and divide it; and Moses, when he heard, touched the water with it, and so the sea parted asunder, and the host marched through on dry ground." Such an account of the Exodus would scarcely have been given by Egyptians unless they were three parts Hebraized.
There shall be an altar to the Lord. An altar to the Lord was undoubtedly erected by Onias in the temple which he obtained leave to build from Ptolemy Philometor. Josephus says that he persuaded Ptolemy by showing him this passage of Isaiah ('Ant. Jud.,' 13.3; 'Bell. Jud.,' 7.10). And a pillar at the border thereof. It is not clear that any "pillar" was ever actually erected. The erection of pillars for religious purposes was forbidden by the Law (Deuteronomy 16:22). But this would be a pillar of witness (Genesis 31:52), and would mark that the land was Jehovah's. Dr. Kay suggests that "the Jewish synagogue first, and afterwards the Christian Church at Alexandria, standing like a lofty obelisk, with the name of Jehovah inscribed upon it, at the entrance of Egypt," sufficiently fulfilled the prophecy.
It shall be for a sign. The outward tokens of Jehovah-worship shall witness to God that he has in Egypt now a covenant people, and he will deal with them accordingly. He shall send them a savior, and a great one. This does not seem to point to any earthly deliverer, but to the Savior from the worst of all oppressors, sin and Satan, whom they will need equally with the rest of his people.
The Lord shall be known; rather, shall make himself known, as in Ezekiel 20:5, Ezekiel 20:9; by answering prayer, by spiritual influences, and the like. The Egyptians shall know the Lord (comp. Jeremiah 31:34, "They shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest"). And shall do sacrifice and oblation; rather, shall serve with sacrifice and oblation. The bulk of the Jews settled in Egypt, together with their Egyptian proselytes, went up year by year to worship Jehovah at Jerusalem, and make offerings to him there (see Zechariah 14:16-19). Christian Egypt worshipped God with sacrifice and oblation in the same sense as the rest of the Church (Malachi 1:11).
And Jehovah shall smite Egypt, smiting and healing; i.e. Jehovah shall indeed "smite Egypt," as already prophesied (Isaiah 19:1-16), but it shall be with a merciful object, in order, after smiting, to "heal." His smiting shall induce them to "return" to him, and when they return he will forgive and save (comp. Zephaniah 3:8, Zephaniah 3:9; Jeremiah 12:14-16). Egypt was a Christian country from the third century to the seventh; and the Coptic Church (though very corrupt) still remains, knowing Jehovah, and offering the holy oblation of the Christian altar continually.
UNION BETWEEN EGYPT, ASSYRIA, AND ISRAEL. Assyria's conversion to God will follow or accompany that of Egypt. The two will be joined with Israel in an intimate connection, Israel acting as the intermediary. There will be uninterrupted communication, common worship, and the common blessing of God extending over the three.
Shall there be a highway. The phraseology resembles that of Isaiah 11:16; but the purpose is different. Then the "highway" was to facilitate the return of the Israelites to their own land. Now the object is perfectly free communication between the three peoples. The Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. "Shall serve" means "shall worship" (see verse 21). The "Assyrians" represent the inhabitants of the Mesopotamian regions generally. As, from the time of Alexander, Hebrew influence extended itself largely over Egypt, so, even from an earlier date, it began to be felt in the Mesopotamian countries. The transplantation of the ten tribes, or a considerable portion of them, into Upper Mesopotamia and Media, was the commencement of a diffusion of Hebrew ideas through those regions. The captivity of Judah still further impressed these ideas on the native races. Great numbers of Jews did not return from the Captivity, but remained in the countries and cities to which they had been trans ported, particularly in Babylon (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 11.1). The policy of the Seleucid princes was to establish Jewish colonies in all their great cities. In the time between Alexander and the birth of our Lord, the Hebrew community was re cognized as composed of three great sections—the Palestinian, the Egyptian, and the Syro-Babylonian. Constant communication was maintained between the three branches. Ecclesiastical regulations, framed at Jerusalem, were transmitted to Alexandria and Babylon, while collections made in all parts of Egypt and Mesopotamia for the temple service were annually carried to the Palestinian capital by trusty persons. It is thus quite reasonable to regard as an "initial stage in the fulfillment of this prophecy" the state of things existing at this period (Kay). The more complete fulfillment was doubtless after Pentecost, when Christianity was preached and established in Egypt and Libya on the one hand, in Parthia, and Media, and Elam, and Mesopotamia on the other (Acts 2:9, Acts 2:10).
In that day shall Israel be the third; rather, a third. Not third in rank, for Isaiah 19:25 shows that she would retain a pre-eminence, but the common intermediary, brining the other two together. A blessing in the midst of the land; rather, in the midst of the earth. Judaean monotheism, upheld by God's people in Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, would be a blessing, not only to those three countries, but to the world at large. So, and still more, would Christianity.
Whom the Lord of hosts bless; rather, forasmuch as the Lord of hosts hath blessed him. "Him" must be understood collectively, of the threefold Israel, spread through the three countries, which all partake of the blessing. The three countries are able to be a blessing to the world at large, because God's blessing rests upon them. Egypt my people. Egypt's great work in Jewish times, by which she became a blessing to the world, was her translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, commanded by Egyptian kings, and executed at Alexandria, the Egyptian capital. Neo-Platonism certainly owed much to this source. Stoicism probably something. Assyria the work of my hands. Assyria did no such work as Egypt. Neither the Targum of Onkelos nor the Babylonian Talmud can be compared for a moment with the Septuagint. Still the Mesopotamian Jews were a blessing to their neighbors. They kept alive in the East the notion of one true and spiritual God; they elevated the tone of men's thoughts; they were a perpetual protest against idolatry, with all its horrors. They, no doubt, prepared the way for that acceptance of Christianity by large masses of the population in Syria, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and even in Persia, of which we have evidence in the ecclesiastical history of the first seven centuries. Israel mine inheritance (comp. Isaiah 47:6; Isaiah 63:17).
Egypt's punishment, a proof both of God's song-suffering and of His inexorable justice.
The punishment of Egypt by the Assyrian conquest, on which the prophet enlarges in this chapter, may be regarded in a double light.
I. AS STRONGLY EXHIBITING THE LONG-SUFFERING AND MERCY OF GOD.
1. Consider the long persistence of Egypt in sins of various kinds—idolatry, king-worship, practice of magic, kidnapping of slaves, cruel usage of captives, impurity, indecency; consider that her monarchy had lasted at least sixteen hundred years, and that both in religion and in morals she had continually grown worse.
2. Bear in mind her treatment of God's people—how she had first oppressed them (Exodus 1:8-14), then endeavored to exterminate them (Exodus 1:15-22); this failing, made their bondage harder (Exodus 5:6-19); repeatedly refused to let them go; sought to destroy them at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:9); plundered them in the time of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25, 1 Kings 14:26); alternately encouraged and deserted them in their struggles against Assyria (1 Kings 17:4; 1 Kings 18:21, 1 Kings 18:24).
3. Note also that she had helped to corrupt God's people. In Egypt many Israelites had worshipped the Egyptian gods (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:8). They had brought from Egypt an addiction to magical practices which had never left them. Manasseh, in calling his eldest son "Amon," intended to acknowledge the Egyptian god of that name. Under these circumstances, it is marvelous that Egypt had been allowed to exist so long, and, on the whole, to flourish; and the marvel can only be accounted for by the extreme long-suffering and extraordinary mercy of Almighty God.
II. AS A DECISIVE PROOF OF GOD'S INEXORABLE JUSTICE. However long God defers the punishment of sin, it comes at last with absolute certainty. It might have seemed as if the hardships suffered by his people in Egypt had escaped God's recollection, so many years was it since they had happened. It might have seemed as if all Egypt's old sins were condoned—as if she was to escape unpunished. Sixteen centuries of empire! Why, Rome herself, the "iron kingdom," that "broke in pieces and bruised" all things (Daniel 2:4), was not allowed more than twelve centuries of existence. But Egypt was allowed a far longer term, not only of existence, but of prosperity. Since the time of the shepherd-kings, four hundred years before the Exodus, she had suffered no great calamity. Even the Ethiopians had not been so much foreign conquerors, as princes connected by blood and identical in religion, who claimed the crown by right of descent from former Egyptian sovereigns. But God had all the time been waiting, with his eye upon the sinful nation, counting her offences, remembering them against her, and bent on taking vengeance. And the vengeance, when it came, was severe. First, internal discord and civil war—"kingdom against kingdom, and city against city" (verse 2); then conquest by an alien nation—conquest effected by at least three distinct expeditions, in which the whole land was overrun, the cities taken and plundered, and army after army slaughtered; finally, subjection to a "fierce king," a "cruel lord" (verse 4). And the sufferings of war aggravated, apparently, by the natural calamity of a great drought—a failure of the inundation either for one year, or possibly for several (verses 5-8). Truly, when the day of vengeance came, Egypt was afflicted indeed! No wonder she "was afraid, and feared because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts" (verse 16). It is, indeed, "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).
Smiting and healing closely connected in God's counsels.
God's smiting is no doubt twofold,
(1) remedial and
(2) penal; but by far the greater portion of it is of the former kind.
Once only has he visited mankind at large penalty—at the Deluge; but a thousand times has he visited them remedially. Similarly with nations. He smote Egypt in Moses' time with the ten plagues, not to destroy, but to chasten. So again at the Red Sea. So now by the hands of Esarhaddon and his son. So by Nebuchadnezzar, Cambyses, Ochus. And at last he bowed their hearts and caused them to turn to him, first partially, when Judaism gained an influence over them; afterwards, as a nation, when they accepted Christianity. Former chastisements had doubtless some remedial force, or the nation would scarcely have been borne with so long; but they did not fully heal, and blow after blow became requisite. So God went on "smiting and healing." And the course of his providence is similar with individuals. Primarily he smites to heal. Each offence brings down his red, but the stroke is comparatively light at first, and intended to warn, admonish, call to amendment. If men persist in wrong courses, the blows become heavier. But still the intention is the same; it is sought to bring them to repentance. God has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. Only after repeated trials, after blow upon blow, warning upon warning, if they will not repent, if they will not be healed, the penal sentence goes forth to "pluck up and destroy" (Jeremiah 12:17).
Isaiah 19:23, Isaiah 19:24
Unity in religion joins together the bitterest foes.
As, ultimately, the establishment of the kingdom of Christ among all the nations of the earth (Isaiah 2:2) will produce a reign of universal peace, so that men will everywhere "beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks" (Isaiah 2:4), so, on a lesser scale, wherever true religion prevails, asperities are softened, old enmities die out and disappear, a friendly spirit springs up, and former adversaries are reconciled and become friends. Assyria, Egypt, Israel, long the bitterest foes, were drawn together by a common faith in the later days of Judaism and the earlier ones of Christianity—felt sympathy one with another, and lived in harmony. The Papacy was an attempt to bring all the Roman communion into a species of political unity, to abolish wars between its various members, and unite it against heathendom. This attempt had, however, only a partial success, owing to the admixture of bad with good motives in those who were at the head of the movement and had the direction of it. That war has not yet ceased among all Christian nations is a slur upon Christianity, and an indication that nations are still Christian in name rather than in spirit. The league of Assyria, Egypt, Israel, may well be held up to the modern Christian world as an example that should shame it into the adoption of "peace principles." If such foes, so fiercely hostile, so long estranged, could become close friends through the influence of a community of religion, why cannot the Christian nations of modern times attain to a similar unity?
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Coming judgment upon Egypt.
The historical allusions in this passage cannot be positively cleared up. So far as the discovery of inscriptions in recent years enables us to lift a little the veil which hangs over the land, we see it shaken to the center by the wars of rival chieftains. A victory of Sargon over the Egyptian king Shabatok, in B.C. 720, has been made out from Assyrian inscriptions; and, again, the conquest of Egypt by Esarhaddon in B.C. 672, who divided the land into twenty small tributary kingdoms. The chapter may refer to this event, and it may not (see Cheyne's Introduction to the chapter).
I. THE ADVENT OF JEHOVAH. "He rideth upon a swift cloud" (comp. Psalms 18:10, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly;" comp. Psalms 104:3). To study those magnificent winged figures, which pass generally under the name of griffins, in our museums and works of art, and as they are described by Ezekiel in the land of captivity (1.), may be the best way to realize the significance of this poetry. We must throw ourselves into that mood of mind in which all life and movement in nature is symbolic of the infinite power and majesty of the Divine Being—audibly the wind, visibly the strong gathering cloud upon the horizon. This picture, then, is a hint
(1) of the majesty of Jehovah;
(2) of his ascendency in the world of spirit.
The "not gods" of Egypt shall shake before him. He comes to judge them. The God of Israel is on his way to punish the teeming multitudes of Memphis, Pharaoh, and Egypt, and their gods and kings. The idols are to be destroyed, their images are to cease; and the secular power, which has been supported by a false religion, shall be laid low (comp. Exodus 12:12; Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:13). A striking contrast is suggested between the pure sublime religion of Jehovah and the debased worship of the Egyptians, whose reverence for cats, and bulls, and crocodiles, and onions attracted the satire of later times. How could such worshippers do other than tremble, their heart melting within them at the approach of the light that reveals and judges the voluntary darknesses and confusions of the mind? As Calvin remarks, we should behold the same thing exemplified in all revolutions of kingdoms, which proceed solely from the hand of God. If the heart melts and the strength fails in men who are usually brave, and who had formerly displayed great courage, this ought to be ascribed to the judgment of God.
II. THE JUDGMENTS DESCRIBED.
1. Internal dissension. One canton is set against another. There will be the feud of brother with brother, fellow with fellow, city with city, and kingdom with kingdom. Men's hearts are in the hand of God. Whenever we see in a nation social dissension setting in, unity and co-operation no longer possible, it is a sign that a new force is at work, that a new light has come in, that existing customs are being criticized, in short, that "God has awoke to judgment." Such times are times for self-scrutiny, for thoughtful study, for earnest prayer.
2. The sense of the hollowness of existing institutions. Terrible is it when a nation suddenly awakens to find its strongest ideals reduced to empty and mocking delusions; terrible also for the individual. The "heart made empty." Sometimes it is a "science falsely so called;" sometimes a spurious faith, which is suddenly found to be a leaking cistern, and the water of life has fled. Under these conditions there will be a feverish outbreak of old superstition. Men will resort to the "not gods" and to the "spiritualists"—the "mutterers," who pretend to give voices and messages from the other world. So men have done in our time. The history of the heart repeats itself from age to age. If men have not genuine religion, they must have the counterfeit of it; and they will love the lie and cling to the cheat when the possibility of the truth is no longer within reach.
3. Subjection to the tyrant. The land will be shut up into the hand of a hard lord, and a fierce king shall rule over them. And is not tyranny the last sign of Divine displeasure, as viewed from another side it is the last sign of degeneracy and weakness in a nation's manhood? "Hence we see how great is the folly of men who are desirous to have a powerful and wealthy king reigning over them, and how justly they are punished for their ambition, though it cannot be corrected by the experience of every day, which is everywhere to be seen in the world" (Calvin).—J.
The drying up of the Nile.
Nothing has left a deeper mark on the traditions of Eastern lands than the impressions of burning heat, the drying up of springs, the consequent suffering. Egypt was the "gift of the Nile," Herodotus said. Well might the presence or absence of its waters denote the pleasure or the wrath of Deity.
I. THE DESCRIPTION. The Pelusiac arm of the Nile is dried. The neglected canals, dykes, and reservoirs become stagnant, the vegetation withers. The bright oasis of the Nile will melt away into the surrounding desert. The canals, first undertaken as a necessary work of civilization and culture, become naturally neglected and choked up in time of civil war.
II. THE EFFECTS ON PEACEFUL INDUSTRY. Besides agriculture there were three main sources of Egyptian wealth: the fishing, the linen manufacture, and the cotton manufacture. There was abundance of fish in the Nile, and it was a great article of food. The combed flax was prepared for the priests' clothing and for the mummy-cloths, and the cotton for dress in general. The result is universal consternation in all ranks and classes. The wealthy classes, the "pillars" of the land, and the artisan population are alike in despair.
III. THE COINCIDENCE OF THE SPIRITUAL AND THE NATURAL WORLD. A fertile land, an industrious people, peace and plenty, the favor of God,—these are ideas that He linked together in the thought of the prophet, forming one causal chain. The displeasure of Jehovah, the effect in war, and this, again, working desolation in the face of nature and cutting at the root of industry,—these form another chain of connected representations. From the sources and springs of the mighty Nile up to the seat of thought, passion, and motion in the mightier human heart, all are in the hands of Jehovah. Alike in every occupation of the industrial and of the political and intellectual world, let us own our dependence upon him.—J.
The folly of statesmen.
God hath made foolish the wisdom of this world, in Egypt as in other lands. And the marks and characters of folly are everywhere the same.
I. THE SPIRIT OF BOASTING. The king and his priestly counselors possess sacred books, which they consult as a college in times of emergency. The priests boast of being "sons of the wise," and sons of ancient kings. The Pharaoh himself belonged to the royal stock. Boasting is ever a sign of weakness. The strong man needs not to talk of his strength; he feels it, and others feel it. Wisdom is distinguished by the absence of self-conceit, and is impressive by its silence and modesty.
II. PROOFS OF FOLLY.
1. Inability to read the signs of the times. Prediction was their favorite occupation; how is it they cannot read the thoughts of Jehovah toward the land? They resort to false methods—astrology, divination, etc. Truth may not really be loved, or it may be sought by paths that can only lead away from it. It is not by mere reading, it is not by digging in quaint and curious lore, that we can arrive at sympathy with the mind of God. All the learning of the schools is folly unless we keep the light within brightly burning, the conscience clear, the mind, if not the knees, ever bent in the attitude of uplooking and prayer.
2. Bad administration. They lead the country astray. The priestly class, that is, the intellectual and educated class, looked upon as the "corner-stone of the tribes," are themselves under an illusion, and their "light and leading" is an ignis-fastus. We are too much dazzled by the acuteness, the knowledge, the abilities, the vast grasp of facts, in our great men. Often the cleverness of such overreaches itself, and great men stumble and fall, and" run into great dangers which any peasant or artisan would have foreseen." They become inebriated by their own thoughts. But it ever sobers the mind to collect itself, so to speak, in God. "This wit, this insight, is mine, peculiarly mine"—he who speaks with himself thus—is on the brink of some fatal delusion. "It is God's peculiar gift to me; it is a talent from him, to be used for his world"—this is the thought that steadies; and "if our Wisdom rest on God, he wilt truly be a steadfast Corner-stone, which no one shall shake or overthrow."
III. JUDICIAL INFATUATIONS. These delusions are traced to the judicial act of Jehovah. It is he who has put a cup of enchantment to their lips, so that the power of discernment is suspended. The image of drunkenness fitly represents their state. It is a spirit of "perverseness," or of "subversion." And the people have imbibed the same, so that they stagger about helplessly; there is no consistency, no agreement, no firm and joint action. It is an awful thing—the being "given over to a reprobate mind." Nor dare we accuse the Almighty of injustice. We are ready enough to throw the blame of our own aberrations upon others, upon circumstances, or even upon him. But what "right" have we to anything, from the light of the sun to the light of reason in the soul? God gives and God deprives, for reasons inscrutable to us and no[, to be questioned. But, "the heart has reasons that reason knows not of;" and the heart knows that, if its choice be true, its asking will not be refused, the needed guidance will not be denied.—J.
Mingled judgment and mercy.
I. THE EFFECT OF JUDGMENT. The hind will be like timid and trembling women, for the mighty hand of Jehovah will be brandished aloft in judgment. Whenever it is felt that Divine power is working on the side of the foe, the most warlike nations lose heart. "God with us!"—a watchword that nerves the feeblest arm, and fills the faintest heart with courage. "God against us!"—the hand of the bravest hangs down, the knees of the stoutest tremble. Judah, Jehovah's seat of empire, will be a terror to the proud land of Egypt. The seeming weakest community, the most insignificant individual, will be a power if the truth is operating through it. It is not magnitude that is appalling; it is spiritual force. Men will shudder at the Name of Judah; it will be a symbol of a purpose never successfully resisted. But when thus the prospect is at its darkest for Egypt, a light of hope glimmers.
II. PROMISES OF GOOD.
1. A view of Egypt's conversion to the true religion here opens. There will be five cities speaking the tongue of Canaan, or Hebrew, the language of the worship of Jehovah. They will take the oath of loyalty to him. And it seems that the city known as "city of the sun" shall be called" city of the breaking down of idolatrous altars." And an altar of the true religion, with the pillar marking the holy place, will be seen, visibly witnessing to the Lord of hosts in the land. There is now a covenant between Jehovah and the repentant and restored land. He will no longer be their Foe, but their Friend; and when they cry to him, in the midst of distress and oppression, he will hearken, and send a Helper and Deliverer. The people will sacrifice to him, and he will make himself known; Whether in the land or at Jerusalem (comp. Zechariah 14:16-19) is not stated.
2. This cannot be without previous suffering. Never does conversion from evil, from obstinate persistence in it, occur without suffering. But the suffering is beneficent, inflicted by love. God smites to heal. It is a thought echoed back from many a page: "I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and heal; He has torn, and he will heal us; hath smitten, and will bind us up;" "He wounds, and his hands make whole" (Deuteronomy 32:39; Hosea 6:1; Job 5:18). The fire of his wrath consumes, but purifies. "Then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon the Name of Jehovah, to serve him with one consent" (Zephaniah 3:8, Zephaniah 3:9). There lives a fund of pity in the heart and constitution of nature—compassion in Jehovah, the Hebrew prophet said (Jeremiah 12:14, Jeremiah 12:15). "God does not punish that he may punish, but that he may humble; wherefore, when humility is produced, his punishments proceed no further. God is of too great mercy to triumph over a prostrate soul" (South).
III. THE HAPPY RESULT. Peace replacing war, trust substituted for mutual hate. There is to be intercourse between Egypt and Assyria, a free highway between the two lands. Nay, there shall be a triple alliance, Israel being the third, and blessing is thus to be diffused over all the earth. Where Jehovah's blessing is, there is and must be prosperity. Thus have the clouds dispersed, and the golden year seems to have begun, "peace lying like a lane of beams across the sea, like a shaft of light athwart the land."
PERSONAL APPLICATION. To avoid national judgment, to secure the Divine favor, let each inquire into his own sins. Personal sins bring down national judgments. If there were no personal, there could be no national sin. In punishing the many, God does not overlook the individual. There is no suffering of a nation without the suffering of its members, no repentance which is not that of men one by one, no prosperity and favor which is not reflected from a million faces and hearts. There is infinite ground of hope from the promises of God, and from their actual fulfillment.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
God's presence a trouble.
"Behold the Lord … shall come into Egypt … and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it." The presence of God would produce consternation among the people. This is significant enough. It need excite no wonder, indeed, that the coming of the holy and righteous One into the midst of those who had provoked him by their idolatries would result in quaking of spirit, in liveliest agitation. What could await such guilty ones but the most serious rebuke, the most distressing judgments? But the presence of God is not only troublous to idolatrous Egyptians, but to his own servants. So the prophet himself found (Isaiah 6:5). The psalmist "remembered God, and was troubled" (Psalms 77:3). Why is this? Concerning the trouble which the presence of God brings to the human spirit, we remark—
I. THAT HIS KNOWN NEARNESS TO US AND POWER OVER US MIGHT BE EXPECTED TO PRECLUDE SUCH ALARM. Why should we be concerned to find God appearing unto us? Do we not know well that he is "not far from any one of us;" that "in him we live and move and have our being?" Do we not know that he is judging our actions and our attitude toward himself every moment, and is, moreover, expressing his judgment by Divine bestowals and inflictions day by day? Why should terror or alarm, or even apprehension, seize us because he manifests himself to us, and constrains us to feel conscious that we are standing in his near presence? But, however we may reason thus, it is the fact—
II. THAT OBSERVATION AND EXPERIENCE UNITE TO PROVE THAT HIS FELT PRESENCE DOES TROUBLE US. Both Old Testament and New Testament history show that any visitant from the unseen world causes "the heart to melt;" and if any mere messenger (angel), how much more he who reigns over all that realm—the Divine and eternal Spirit himself? And we find now that when men, in the full possession of their spiritual faculties, have believed themselves to be in, or to be about to pass into, the near presence of the Eternal, their spirit has shrunk and trembled at the thought. We ask—
III. THE EXPLANATION OF THE FACT. The explanation is found in two things.
1. In our sense of God's greatness, and the corresponding consciousness of our own littleness. Those who move in a humble social sphere are agitated when they find themselves in the near presence of human rank, especially of high rank, more especially of royalty; how much more so when men feel themselves to be (or to be about to be) before the King of kings, the infinite God!
2. In our sense of God's holiness and the corresponding consciousness of our own imperfection and sin.
(1) The Christian man may have his reason for apprehension; for has he not to bring his life of Christian service to the judgment of his Divine Master, for his approval or his disapproval; and is he not conscious that this his service has come short of his Lord's desire, if it has not been blemished or even stained by many sins?
(2) The impenitent man has abundant reason for anxiety and even for alarm; for he is the child of privilege and opportunity; he has known his Lord's will; he has heard many times the sacred summons; he has often felt the movings of the Divine Spirit in his heart. But he has "judged himself unworthy of eternal life;" he has striven to silence the voices which came to him from heaven. He is open to the most terrible and intolerable rebuke of God (Proverbs 1:24, etc.); he lies exposed to the penalty of deliberate disobedience, of persistent rejection of the grace of God (Luke 12:47; John 3:18, John 3:19, John 3:36; Hebrews 10:26-31; Hebrews 12:25).—C.
A picture of penalty.
The threatened penalty of Egypt as painted by the prophet here will, on examination, be found to be essentially the penalty with which God causes sin to be visited always and everywhere.
I. STRIFE, especially internal strife (Isaiah 19:2). The guilty nation will find itself plunged into civil war (Egypt, Greece, Rome, France, America—northern and southern states, etc.), or rent with bitter and vindictive factions; the guilty family will have its domestic harmony destroyed by petty broils and miserable disagreements; the individual soul will be compelled to expend its powers in internal strife—conscience having a long and perhaps desperate struggle with passion; reason, which urges to immediate decision, contending with the evil spirit of procrastination; the will to submit to Divine demands doing stern, protracted battle with a desire to conform to the good pleasure of the unholy and the unwise.
II. DELUSION. (Isaiah 19:3.) As the, Egyptians, paying the penalty of disobedience, were to abandon the counsels of human wisdom for the fancies and fooleries of the juggler, so will men find that sin leads down from the guidance of reason to the dictates of folly and the misleadings of delusion. It is not long before the sinner experiences "the deceitfulness of sin;" before he finds that he does not impose ca other men half so much as he is imposed upon, or as he imposes on himself. He comes to think that utterances which are earthly, or of lower origin than that, are the voices of heaven; he "calls evil good, and good evil;" counsel which he ought to abjure as diabolical, he deems excellent and wise; neglecting truths and principles which would be his salvation, he falls back upon sentiments which lead down, with certain path, to innermost and uttermost ruin.
III. BONDAGE. (Isaiah 19:4.) It is one of the most certain and one of the saddest penalties of sin that the wrong-doer is handed over to the despotism of "a cruel lord." By what truer or more descriptive terms could these enemies of the soul be characterized into whose iron grasp the transgressor falls? Is not the insatiable craving for strong drink or for the hurtful narcotic a "cruel lord?" What but cruel lords are covetousness, ambition, lasciviousness, the voracity or extreme delicacy of those "whose God is their belly"—the passion which demands and will not be denied, which consumes the time, which saps the energy, which steals the manhood that should be devoted to nobler ends, that should be laid on a worthier altar? The victims of vice are "holden with the cords of their sins;" they are "in the hand of a cruel lord," who will make them pay "the uttermost farthing."
IV. SHRINKAGE. (Isaiah 19:5-10.) Egypt should be pitiably reduced; the waters of its life-giving river should be wanting (Isaiah 19:5), its vegetation should fade and die (Isaiah 19:6), its industries should be stopped (Isaiah 19:8, Isaiah 19:9), its chief men should be overthrown (Isaiah 19:10). All Egyptian life, through its length and breadth, should be struck a ruinous blow, should shrink from fullness and power into feebleness and decline. Under the dominion of sin, human life suffers a ruinous reduction. Made for God, for his likeness, for his fellowship, for his service, for the highest forms of usefulness and the noblest order of enjoyment, we sink into folly, into selfishness, into smallness of aim and littleness of accomplishment; our lives are narrowed, lessened, shriveled. It is the pitiful penalty of departure from God, of withholding our hearts from our Divine Friend. In Christ we realize the fair and blessed opposites of these. In him is
(1) peace (John 14:27; John 16:33; Ephesians 2:14);
(2) enlightenment (1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 1:9); freedom (John 8:32-36; Romans 6:18; Galatians 5:1); enlargement (Matthew 5:45; John 15:14; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 2:6; Revelation 1:6).—C.
Leaders that mislead.
The strong, energetic language of the prophet respecting the princes and counselors of Egypt express for us the vast injury which is wrought by untrustworthy teachers in every place and time, and the duty of the people to be on their guard against such seducers (Isaiah 19:13).
I. THE LEADERS THAT MISLEAD. (Isaiah 19:10-13.) These are:
1. In the nation, leading their fellow-countrymen into a false and spurious patriotism; into vain-gloriousness; into luxury and extravagance; into the ruinous error that the fascinations of military glory are preferable to the advantages of peaceful industry, etc.
2. In the Church, leading their fellow-members into theological error; into doctrine which is not a faith but only a philosophy, or which is not a faith so much as a superstition; into indulgence in emotion without the cultivation of Christian morality; or into habits of virtue that do not rest on the basis of personal attachment to God, etc.
3. In the family, leading their children into laxity of belief; into the conviction that worldly success is of greater account than the favor of God and the possession of spiritual integrity; into the practice of dubious habits which tend to immorality or irreligion, etc.
II. THEIR LAMENTABLE RELIGIOUS IGNORANCE. (Isaiah 19:12.) The "wise men" of Egypt could not tell "what the Lord of hosts had purposed; "they did not know his mind. What availed all their other knowledge, all their political sagacity, all their pretentious skill, it they were utterly ignorant of what was in the mind of God? Our leaders of to-day, in whatever sphere they may preside, are useless and worse than useless if they cannot propose those measures, if they cannot commend those doctrines, if they cannot foster those habits and instill those principles, which are according to the mind of God, which contain the will of Jesus Christ. To advise the policy, to repeat the phrases, to build up the character which they themselves received of their fathers, may be wholly inadequate, utterly inapplicable, entirely wrong; what is wanted in our leaders is the power to perceive the mind of God, to especially understand what is "his will concerning us in Christ Jesus," to guide and teach and train so that their disciples shall live in the light of his truth and the enjoyment of his friendship.
III. THE MISCHIEF WHICH THEY WORK. (Isaiah 19:13, Isaiah 19:14.) These men seduced Egypt from the true path, and they led her to err and stagger in false paths. The immensity of the evil which is wrought by False leaders, whether in the nation, the Church, or the home, is seen by regarding it on the negative and on the positive side.
1. They seduce from the saving truth. (1 John 2:26.) They lead men from the fear of the living God; from the faith and love of Jesus Christ; from the produce of the heavenlier graces, and therefore from living the nobler and worthier life; from the possession of a peace which no distractions can disturb, and of a treasure which no thief can steal, and of a hope which triumphs over death.
2. They lead into the saddest and even the grossest evils. Their disciples "err … as a drunken man staggereth in his vomit." A painful but graphic picture of those who are led astray into evil paths, into beliefs which are not only false but shocking, into companionships and alliances which are not only unsatisfactory but demoralizing, into habits which are not only wrong but shameful. It is the duty of the community, in view of the fact that false and foolish leaders have always abounded, and that their influence is disastrous,
(1) to be sedulously on guard lest these should be appointed;
(2) to depose those that are found unworthy of their charge,
(3) to realize that every individual man is responsible to God for the faith he holds and the life he lives (Luke 12:57; Galatians 6:4, Galatians 6:5),—C.
Smiting and healing.
We may glean from these verses—
I. THAT THE BLOWS WHICH WE SURFER IN OUR ORDINARY EXPERIENCE COME FROM THE HAND OF GOD. No doubt the various calamities by which Egypt was afflicted came to her in the ordinary ways, and appeared to her citizens as the result of common causes. They accounted for them by reference to general laws, to visible human powers, to known processes and current events. Yet we know them to have been distinctly and decidedly of God, by whatever instrumentalities they may have been brought about. "The Lord shall smite Egypt" (Isaiah 19:22). So now with us; the evils which overtake us—sickness, separation, disappointment, losses, bereavement, etc.—may occur as the result of causes which we can discover and name; nevertheless they may be regarded as visitations, as chastisement, as discipline, from the hand of God.
II. THAT THESE WOUNDS OF GOD'S CAUSING ARE INTENDED BY HIM TO ABOUND UNTO THE HEALTH OF THE WOUNDED SPIRIT. "He shall smite and heal." God's main purpose in smiting was to bring about a far healthier condition than existed before. Afterwards the chastening would "yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness;" and for this end chiefly, if not wholly, it was sent. We are to consider that this is always God's design in sending affliction to his children. He smites that he may heal, and that the new health may be much better than the old—that the blessing gained may greatly outweigh the loss endured (2 Corinthians 4:17). To part with bodily health and to obtain spiritual soundness, to lose material possessions and secure treasures which make "rich toward God,"—this is to be enlarged indeed.
III. THAT THE RESTORATION OF THE SMITTEN SPIRIT IS ATTENDED AND FOLLOWED BY VARIOUS BLESSINGS.
1. The soul addressing itself to God in earnest prayer. "They shall cry unto the Lord" (Isaiah 19:20); "He shall be entreated of them" (Isaiah 19:22). This is an act of returning from folly and forgetfulness unto the God who has been forsaken: "They shall return," etc. (Isaiah 19:22; see also Isaiah 19:21).
2. The soul seeking God's acceptance in his appointed way. "There shall be an altar to the Lord" (Isaiah 19:19). However interpreted, this passage points to the special means appointed by God through Moses for obtaining forgiveness of sin, and suggests to us the one way—repentance and faith—by which we must seek and may find the Divine mercy.
3. Profession of attachment to God. These five cities should "swear to the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 19:18), The pillar at the border would perhaps be an obelisk, making mention of his Name as the One that was worthy of human adoration.
4. The service of the lip. They would "speak the language of Canaan"—the language spoken by the people of God. Language is far from being everything, but it is far from being nothing (Psalms 19:4; Matthew 12:37; Romans 10:10). By truthful, kindly, helpful speech, and in sacred song, we may do much in serving and in pleasing God.
5. Consecration. "They shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it;" the solemn presentation of self unto a Divine Savior and a lifelong redemption of the vow.—C.
Isaiah 19:23, Isaiah 19:24
The crown of privilege.
The promise of the text may not have seemed to Israel so gracious and so inspiring as many others; but it was one that might well have been considered surpassingly good. For it predicted that the time would come when Israel should be closely associated as "a third" with two great world-powers- Egypt and Assyria; not, indeed, to triumph over them, but to be "a blessing in the midst" of them. This is the very crown of privilege. Concerning privilege itself we may consider—
I. ITS UNDOUBTED EXISTENCE. There are "elect" nations and individuals; it is not only a truth written in the pages of Scripture, but a fact confirmed by all testimony and observation, that God has conferred on some much more than he has allotted to others. To one nation (man) he gives one talent, to another two, and to another five. Physical strength, intellectual capacity, force of character, material wealth and natural advantages, knowledge, revealed truth,—these are some of the privileges by which 'men and nations are favored.
II. ITS PERIL. The great danger attending the possession of privilege is that of entirely mistaking the object of the Creator in conferring it; of assuming that he bestowed it simply for the gratification or the exaltation of its recipients. This was the disastrous mistake which the Jews made: hence their spiritual arrogance, their selfishness, their pitiable exclusiveness, their misreading of Scripture, their maltreatment of their Messiah. It is a mistake we are all tempted to make; it is one against which we do welt to guard with the utmost vigilance; for it is a sinful one, and one that carries ruin in its train.
III. ITS CROWN. This is to be "a blessing in the midst of the land;" to be a bond of union between other powers—a "third" to the Egypt and Assyria by which we may be surrounded. Privileged lands, like England, find their crown, not in military successes, nor in annexations, nor even in well-filled banks or well-fitted vessels; but in giving free institutions to neighboring or even distant nations, in conveying the message of Divine mercy to heathen lands, "in being a blessing in the midst of the earth." Privileged men find the crown of their life, not in possession, nor in enjoyment, nor in conscious superiority to others "that are without;" but in distributing, in imparting, in making others partakers of the peace and joy and hope that fill their own hearts, in broadening the belt of light on which they stand, in sowing the seed of the kingdom in land which now bears only briers and thorns, in being "a blessing in the midst of the land."—C.
Lights in which God regards us.
The words intimate that there are various aspects in which the Divine Father looks at his human children, and they may suggest reciprocal views on our part.
I. LIGHTS IN WHICH GOD REGARDS US.
1. As those to whom he is nearly related. Egypt in her hour of obedience has become "my people," i.e. closely connected with God, and having, therefore, serious claims upon him. God does regard his own as those who are most closely, most intimately, most tenderly related to him, standing in such close relation that they may confidently reckon on the continuance of his kindness, on the protection and interposition of his strong arm.
2. As those who are the product of his Divine energy. "Assyria the work of my hands." We who are trusting and rejoicing in him and walking in his truth are frequently to remind ourselves that we are not the product of our own wisdom and effort, but are "his workmanship created in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:10; and see 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:5). God has expended on us Divine thought, Divine love, Divine sorrow, Divine patience, Divine discipline.
3. As those in whom he finds a Divine delight. "Israel mine inheritance." In Israel, when that people was faithful to his rule, God found his portion, his inheritance. In us, when we are attentive to his voice, responsive to his love, obedient to his commands, submissive to his will, he finds a Divine satisfaction (John 15:11).
4. As those on whom he can confer blessedness. "Whom the Lord shall bless;" "Whom God blesses, they are blessed indeed." Theirs is not mere physical excitement, or temporary gratification, or dubious delight, but true, abiding, elevating joy.
II. RECIPROCAL VIEWS WE SHOULD TAKE OF HIM. We should consider God:
1. As One to whom we are most intimately related more closely, indeed, than to any human kindred.
2. As One to whom we owe everything we are, as well as everything we have.
3. As that One in whom, in whose friendship, service, presence, we find (and hope to find) our true and lasting heritage.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Political commotion regarded as Divine judgment.
"And I will spur Egypt against Egypt, and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his fellow, city against city, and kingdom against kingdom." Civil war does far more serious and permanent mischief to a nation than foreign war. There are no such distressing conditions brought about by any other agencies as those which follow civil war. There can be no true heroism in its scenes; because the impulse is either mercenary, or it is class hatred and passion. Patriotism is swallowed up in mere sectional interests. The historical connections of this prophecy seem to be made clear by the recent discoveries of Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions. There has been found an inscription containing a proclamation of one Piankhi, who, in the eighth century B.C; united under his scepter the whole of Egypt and Ethiopia. Lower Egypt was divided among rival princes, whose connection with their over-lord was merely nominal, and civil wars from time to time arose. That which is true of actual civil war, is in measure true of times of political excitement and conflict, when party feeling runs high. Some of the evils of such times may be pointed out.
I. THESE TIMES OF COMMOTION SET CLASS AGAINST CLASS. It is curious to notice that political conflict is never confined to the subject about which it arose. It is opening the flood-gates and letting out all the waters of class jealousy.
II. THESE TIMES DISTURB SOCIAL ORDER. Breaking up families and friendships, and diverting men's minds and energies from their ordinary occupations.
III. THESE TIMES INTERFERE WITH BUSINESS. Which is very sensitive to disturbed conditions of the body politic. Mutual trust is essential to business development, and the sense of security gives value to property.
IV. THESE TIMES GIVE INFLUENCE TO EVIL MEN. The demagogue finds then his opportunity. The masses of society gain undue importance. Noise has more power than intelligence. Reason's voice can seldom be heard. She keeps still, for it is an evil time.
V. THESE TIMES SERIOUSLY HINDER CHRISTIAN AND CHARITABLE ENTERPRISE. Diverting both energy and money. So seasons of political commotion become agencies in executing Divine judgments, and become times of national warning and correction.—R.T.
Temptation to trust in diviners.
"They shall seek … to the charmers." "A time of panic, when the counsels of ordinary statesmen failed, was sure in Egypt, as at Athens in its times of peril, to be fruitful in oracles and divinations." The most remarkable instance recorded in Scripture is that of King Saul, who in his extremity, and after having himself driven the witches out of his land, imperiled his life to consult the witch of Endor. And even in these days there are most curious survivals of the old spirit, in the consultations of fortune-tellers, and the confidence placed in the guesses of prophesiers, and the vague generalities of so-called astrologers. Large numbers of ignorant and only partly educated people hold to this day their confidence in lucky and unlucky times, and their fears of thirteen at the table, the ticking of the death-watch, and the coffin-shaped cinder. In times of national distress men who pretend to prophesy find their harvest, and trade upon the fears and hopes of men.
I. THE UNIVERSAL DESIRE TO PIERCE THE UNSEEN AND THE FUTURE. On this desire rests the success of modern spiritualism. Where there is no restful confidence in God's love and lead, men try to force aside the veils that hide God and God's purposes from mortal view. Man can do so much in the present that he is fretted and annoyed because he can get no guarantees for tomorrow, and every day must act upon the uncertainty whether, for him, there will be any to-morrow. After this life, what then? Men are angry because no fellow-man has ever answered that question or ever can. Revelation from God can alone relieve the mystery. Show how in all ages men have peered into the dark future, and been compelled to confess that they could see nothing but the "folds of the wondrous veil."
II. THE MORAL REASONS WHY THE FUTURE IS HIDDEN FROM US.
1. It is necessary for our probation.
2. It prevents procrastination by impression of the supreme value of now.
3. It keeps from the self-security which nourishes free indulgence in sin.
4. It makes our life manifestly a life of faith.
III. THE REST WHICH RELIGION GIVES FROM THE CARE ABOUT THE FUTURE. Religion brings God into direct relations, and gracious relations, with the individual. Past, present, future, are all in God's control. If the soul is in right relations with God, the present is his overruling, and the future is his provision. If we are with God, all is well, here or there.—R.T.
The withholding of God's gifts making man's woe.
These verses are suggestive of the thousandfold forms of trouble that follow on an unusually low Nile, or the failure of the Nile flood. It is peculiar to the valley of the Nile, and the Delta forming the land of Egypt, that cultivation of the soil depends upon the yearly flooding of the river, which, by canals, sluices, ponds, and ditches, is led over the fields as the great fertilizer. Holy Scripture gives us the picture of supreme distress following on the failure of the Nile for seven successive years in the times of Joseph. The complete dependence of the country on this periodical overflow, and the fact that all agricultural arrangements are adapted to this peculiarity, involved a remarkable helplessness throughout the land when the Nile failed to rise. The people could not do what they were accustomed to do, so they did not know what to do, and could not, in any effective way, make up for this calamity. If their river be dried up, their fruitful land will soon be turned into barrenness, and. their harvests cease. Two things are suggested for consideration.
I. THE WONDERFUL WAY IN WHICH THINGS ARE LINKED TOGETHER. So that failure in one thing brings on a most varied train of evils. The prominent thing here is the failure of the Nile flood; but how many things are found to depend on that!—the basket-trade; the paper-trade; the farmer's trade; the fish-trade; the flax-trade; the net-trade; the builder's trade. So is it still. The cotton supply from America was checked a few years ago, and the consequences reached, in one way or another, all classes of society. Depressions in trade first affect one branch, but presently rise to the highest and descend to the lowest classes of society; and so it is again and again proved that, "we are members one of another."
II. THE WONDERFUL WAY IN WHICH ALL PROSPERITY IS MADE DEPENDENT ON THE FIRST GIFTS OF GOD. Man's riches are God's gifts. Man can never add to the wealth of the world by exchanges, which only vary the possessors. Air, rain, sunshine, water, electricity, coal, increase from field and beast, are man's riches; and these are first things that are absolutely dependent on God, and out of man's control. God withholds the rains, and a nation is in misery; God tempers the air, and plague sweeps away the multitudes; God stops the flood, and Egypt pines away in its helplessness. The source of all real good is God, in whose hands are the very springs and sources of all human happiness and prosperity.—R.T.
Men's minds a sphere in which God's judgments may work.
"The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof." Failure in recognizing men's minds and wills, as spheres of Divine operation, makes difficult to us such cases as that of Pharaoh, whose heart the Lord is said to have hardened; or that of the prophets in the time of Ahab, amongst whom God had sent a "lying spirit." But the apostle distinctly taught that all the sides and all the forces of man's nature are in God's control, and that he can work his purposes through them all, Writing to the Romans (Romans 1:28), Paul says of the Gentiles, "God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient." And the heathen have a motto which embodies the same truth, "Whom the gods would destroy they first dement"—a sentence involving a belief in the control of the gods over men's minds. A further illustration may be found in the prayer offered by David in the time of his extreme peril: "O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness" (2 Samuel 15:31). This truth we can clearly see and fully accept.
I. GOD HAS CONTROL OVER MAN'S CIRCUMSTANCES. These are, undoubtedly, the usual spheres of Divine operation. Life in the midst of varying circumstances, arid subject to the influence of circumstances, is our present lot. God's providence we assume to have its sphere in things and events; and too easily we may come to limit God's working to the incidents of life, and keep him entirely in the external spheres, reaching us only through our senses. So we need to have set before us the further and more searching truth, that—
II. GOD HAS CONTROL OVER MAN'S MIND AND HEART. This may be difficult to harmonize with our notions of man's free-will and independence. But man's free-will is not an absolute thing; it is set within careful and precise limitations. Man has liberty within a tether; and he cannot be trusted beyond the tether. God never looses his hold on him. The point, however, which especially cans for illustration and enforcement here is, that God may execute his judgments on man in the sphere of his mind. A state of stubbornness, perversity, and hardening may be traced by man as the natural response of certain minds to certain circumstances. We are taught to look deeper, and see in bad mental states and moods not Divine permissions only, but Divine operations and Divine judgments. The mental blindness and deafness, the narrow-mindedness, the skeptical tendency, of a particular age, we view aright when we regard as Divine judgment working towards humility.—R.T.
The cry of distress after the true God.
The erection of the altar and the pillar would be a sign of desire after God. "In Isaiah's time it must have seemed incredible that the firmly organized idolatrous system of Egypt should ever be broken up. Yet such a result was brought about by a series of movements—Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek—which commenced almost immediately after the date of the above prediction. In the district of Heliopolis, on the site of a ruined temple at Leontopolis (twenty miles north-east of Memphis), the high priest Onias IV. built his temple, under a special license from Ptolemy Philometor." The chapter deals with the corrective judgments which were to come upon Egypt, and gives this prophecy as the assurance that they will in measure prove efficient; and Egypt in her distress will cry after the true God; and the presence of Jews in her midst would give direction to her cry. We only suggest the following topics for illustration:—
I. THE MISSION OF ALL NATIONAL DISTRESS IS CONVINCEMENT OF THE CLAIMS OF GOD.
II. THE PRESSURE OF NATIONAL DISTRESS IS A PERSUASION TO CALL UPON GOD. III. THE ARRANGEMENTS OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE ALWAYS HELP MEN'S DESIRE TO SEEK GOD. Illustrated in the fact that Jews were settled in Egypt, and witnessing for Jehovah, when the people's hearts were turning towards him. From this we may proceed to show how our establishing missions in various parts of heathendom proves to be providential help afforded to peoples who have begun to cry after God. Our "altar" and our "pillar" are thus for "a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts."—R.T.
God both Smiter and Healer.
"The meaning is not simply that the stroke should be followed by healing, nor is it simply that the stroke should possess a healing virtue; but both ideas seem to be included." The full thought is expressed by the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:1, Hosea 6:2), "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight." Henderson says, "The doctrine here taught is, that when God has purposes of mercy towards a sinful people, he will continue to visit them with calamities till they are humbled, and thus brought into a fit state for appreciating the value of his mercies." For illustrations of the same view of God's working, see Job 5:17-19; Isaiah 57:15-19; Hosea 5:15. There are few conceptions of God which should seem so tender and so restfully satisfying as this to conscious sinners who long to be freed from their sins. God will not leave us alone; he will smite. God will watch the effects of his smiting, and take the first opportunity to heal. God never smites save with the prospect before him of healing, and with gracious intentions of making his healings an unspeakable blessing—"the intention of healing is predominant throughout" (comp. Zephaniah 3:8, Zephaniah 3:9; Jeremiah 12:5-7).
I. THESE TWO THINGS—SMITING AND HEALING—ARE OFTEN SEVERED IN MAN.
1. Some smite for others to heal.
2. Some smite in malice, and do not want us to be healed.
3. Some smite in willfulness, and do not care whether we are healed.
4. Some smite in kindness, but are unable to heal the wounds they make.
And so often men do not know how to smite, though they mean well, and so the wounds they make are mischievous, and only wounds, not really corrective agencies. Man's bungling ways in smiting and healing, make us say, after David, "Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of man."
II. THESE TWO THINGS—SMITING AND HEALING—ARE ALWAYS UNITED IN GOD.
1. In God's thought.
2. In God's arrangement.
3. Given time enough, also in God's action.
Because of the union God's smitings can always be severe enough to be efficient. He can venture to smite harder than any man can ever do, But God's wounds never go beyond his healing power. The most striking illustration is perhaps that set before us in the story of Job. In dealing with him we know not which to admire most—God's wonderful smitings, God's wonderful healings, or the gracious way in which the smitings and the healings fitted in together.—R.T.
The God-fearing man a blessing wherever he is found.
Israel is the type of the God-fearing man, and it is prophesied of Israel, as a nation, that when it is linked in friendly alliance with Egypt and Assyria, its testimony for the true God, and its example of noble living in the fear of God, would make it a blessing in the lands. The prophecy was fulfilled in the time of the Hasmonean princes. Compare the promise made to Abraham, as a man of God and man of faith, that "in him, and in his seed, all nations of the earth should be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). Scripture intimates that the Jews have been the great conservators of the two foundation-truths, of
(1) God's unity and
(2) God's spirituality,
for the whole world, and that they are yet to be the great agents in the conversion of the world to God, as revealed in Jesus Christ; and perhaps no race is so widely scattered over the earth, or so efficiently represented in all lands, as the Jews. They may be a "blessing" indeed, when the veil is taken away, and they see in Jesus of Nazareth the world's Messiah and Savior. We, however, for the purpose of this homily, think of the Jew in the world as representing the godly man set in various circumstances, and exercising a gracious influence in his circle, whatever it may be. He is a source of blessing, a means of blessing, and an object of blessing.
I. HE IS A SOURCE OF BLESSING. This term brings up for consideration his unconscious influence—the blessing which flows from the good man, by virtue of what he is, rather than of what he does. A beautiful picture, a work of perfect art, a gracious and gentle-mannered person, exert power for good apart from conscious intention. And so the pure are the "salt of the earth."
II. HE IS A MEANS OF BLESSING. This term brings to view his conscious influence. For the good man lies under trust, and wants to be faithful. And the good man, by virtue of his goodness, is full of concern for the well-being of others; so his life must be an active charity. Like his Master, he is "ever going about, doing good," inventing ways in which he can become a blessing.
III. HE IS AN OBJECT TO BE BLESSED. By God, whoso work he is doing, whose Name he is honoring, and whose service he is commending. God never forgets our work of faith and labor of love, but ensures that all who are a blessing are blessed.—R.T.
All nations belonging unto God.
This is a singular and even surprising expression. These nations were idolatrous, and they came under severe Divine judgments, and yet God claims them as his, and even declares his favor towards them, using the same terms concerning Egypt and Assyria as concerning his own people Israel, and saying, "Blessed is my people Egypt, and the work of my hands Assyria, and mine inheritance Israel." 'Speaker's Commentary' says, "The widespread influence of the Jews over Syria, and the adjacent countries under the Syro-Macedonian kings, as well as over Egypt under the Ptolemies, may represent an initial stage in the fulfillment of the prophecy. A second stage commenced with that great day, which sent devout men back from Jerusalem into Egypt and Libya on one side, into Parthta, Media, Elam, and Mesopotamia, on the other (Acts 2:9, Acts 2:10), to tell how "God, having raised up his Son Jesus" (the Prince and the Savior), had sent him to bless "the Jews first, and in them all nations."
I. AS INDIVIDUALS, COMPOSING NATIONS, ALL MEN ARE GOD'S CREATION. So he has natural rights in them all. "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;" then "Come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker."
II. AS LOCATED IN PARTICULAR POSITIONS, NATIONS HAVE THE BOUNDS OF THEIR HABITATIONS APPOINTED BY GOD. See St. Paul's argument in Acts 17:26.
III. AS ENDOWED WITH NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS, ALL NATIONS ARE CALLED TO THE SERVICE OF GOD. For nations have special gifts, as truly as individuals; and wherever there are gifts there must be responsibility. The genius of every nation is its special ability to witness for and work for God. It has been well said that Israel, Greece, and Rome were three countries of God's election; Israel called to witness for religion, Greece for art, and Rome for law. But a similar statement might be made concerning every nation.
IV. AS UNDER MORAL TRIAL, ALL NATIONS ARE WITHIN THE SUPERVISION OF GOD. The true way to regard national history and experiences is this: In them, God's dealings with individuals find open and public illustration; and so individuals may learn moral lessons that have personal application to themselves.
V. AS NEEDING A REDEEMER, ALL NATIONS SHARE IN THE ONE PROVISION MADE BY GOD. God loves the world. All have sinned. There is only one Name, but by it all men everywhere may be saved.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent