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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 19

 

 

Verses 1-17

Isaiah 19. Oracle on Egypt.—This is one of the most difficult chapters in the book. It falls into two sections, Isaiah 19:1-17 and Isaiah 19:18-25. If Isaiah 19:1-17 is in the main from Isaiah, it probably refers to an anticipated conquest of Egypt by Assyria. Three possibilities are then open: (a) the defeat of Egypt by Sargon at Raphia in 720 B.C. (pp. 59, 71); (b) the occasion which called forth the similar prophecy in Isaiah 20; (c) the early part of Sennacherib's reign, when Judah was planning an alliance with Egypt. It is true that no Assyrian king ruled over Egypt till 672, when Esarhaddon did so (p. 60). But it is better to regard the cruel lord and fierce king, into whose power Egypt is to be delivered, as an Assyrian rather than a native ruler, even though it is difficult to fix the precise historical occasion to which the prophecy belongs. But its Isaianic authorship is by no means unquestioned. No agreement, however, has been reached as to its date if non-Isaianic. The cruel lord would probably be a Persian king. Cambyses (529-522), Xerxes (485-465), and Artaxerxes Ochus (359-338) have been suggested. Isaiah 19:18-25 forms an appendix. Its tone is strikingly different from that of the earlier part. In the former part of the prophecy the tone is both threatening and sarcastic towards Egypt, while in the latter it is very sympathetic. Stylistically the passage does not resemble Isaiah's work, and it is most difficult of all to account for the very circumstantial details into which the prophet enters, if it is Isaiah's. The main objection to a post-exilic date has been the reference to a pillar in the land of Egypt as a sign that Egypt will turn to God. Since pillars are forbidden in Deuteronomy 16:22, it is urged that the prophecy must be earlier, while this is confirmed by the fact that the altar would conflict with the Deuteronomic law of a single sanctuary (Deuteronomy 12). But the pillar may have merely a memorial character, and be mentioned here because pillars were so numerous in Egypt. And in spite of Dt. a temple was actually erected in Egypt in the second century B.C. The date is very uncertain, especially since the text and meaning of Isaiah 19:18 are quite unsettled. The view that this verse refers to the temple founded at Leontopolis about 160 B.C. is dubious, though the variation in the text may have expressed later judgment upon this temple.

Isaiah 19:1-17. Yahweh rides on a cloud (cf. Psalms 104:3, and, if the cherubim originally represented the thundercloud, Psalms 18:10) and enters Egypt. He strikes dismay into her and her gods, for He is about to judge them. He afflicts Egypt with civil war; Egypt's intellect is paralysed, so, incapable of wise counsel, she has recourse to the idols and occult arts. In spite of this she falls under the sway of a tyrant. The Nile, here called the sea (cf. Isaiah 18:2)—for it was more like a sea than a river when it overflowed its banks—will dry up, and the canals on which the country depended for its system of irrigation will also be dry. The land will be barren, vegetation fail, the fishermen and weavers be thrown out of employment. The princes and counsellors of the king have become foolish; how can they boast their descent from ancient sages and kings? Pharaoh is twitted with the helplessness of his advisers, the chief caste has caused Egypt to go astray. Yahweh has mixed a draught for the leaders, consisting of a spirit of infatuation which makes them incapable of directing the people aright. The people, thus misdirected, go astray like a drunken man. No one, either high or low, can render effective help. As Yahweh smites Egypt with blow after blow, she is filled with terror like a woman, and the very mention of Judah will dismay her, since the author of her trouble is Judah's God.

Isaiah 19:2. Egypt was divided into small provinces, which were very jealous of each other and constantly at feud. When the central power was weakened, they easily drifted into civil war.

Isaiah 19:7. The text is probably corrupt; the LXX is quite different.

Isaiah 19:9. Linen was worn by the priests and used for bandaging mummies. Cotton was worn by the non-priestly classes.

Isaiah 19:10. The pillars of society may be the upper classes or the labourers, but perhaps we should read "they that weave it," i.e. the fabrics mentioned in Isaiah 19:9.

Isaiah 19:11. Zoan is Tanis in the N.E. of the Delta, once the chief commercial city of Egypt. It was the capital of Egypt during the Hyksos dynasty (pp. 52, 54), and also under Rameses II and other important Egyptian kings.

Isaiah 19:13. Noph is Memphis, a city on the left bank of the Nile, shortly before it branches to form the Delta. It was founded by Menes, the first monarch of the 1st dynasty, and was for a long time one of the most important cities of Egypt.—tribes: render "castes."

Isaiah 19:15 b. Cf. Isaiah 9:14.


Verses 18-25

Isaiah 19:18-25. Five cities in Egypt will speak Hebrew and swear fealty to Yahweh. One shall be called "city of the sun." There will be an altar to Yahweh in Egypt, and an obelisk to Him at its border, which shall witness for Him; and He will send a deliverer from their oppressors, so that they will worship Him with the animal and vegetable offerings and perform vows to Him. Then He will treat them as He had often treated Israel, smiting them for transgression, and healing them when they repented after their chastisement. Then a highway will lead from Egypt through Palestine to Assyria, that there may be free intercourse between them; for not only Egypt but also Assyria will serve Yahweh, and Israel will be united with these two empires as the third member of the league.

Isaiah 19:18. Herodotus reckons the cities of Egypt as 20,000. Five is thus a very small proportion. These cities are apparently inhabited by Hebrew-speaking Jews. The Jews in Egypt nearly all spoke Greek, and the LXX translation was made because they were unable to read the Scriptures in Hebrew.—The city of destruction: the text is uncertain. There are two Heb. variants—Heres, "destruction," and Heres, "sun." The former is also rendered "lion," and the reference supposed to be to Leontopolis, where Onias IV built a Jewish temple in 170 B.C. The translation, however, seems far-fetched: the rendering "destruction" does not suit the favourable tone of the prophecy; it may be a correction made by Palestinian Jews to express the anticipated doom of the Egyptian temple. Similarly the LXX, "city of righteousness," may be a deliberate Alexandrian alteration to secure sanction for the Egyptian temple. On the whole it seems best to read "city of the sun"; in that case Heliopolis (i.e. sun-city) is meant. Leontopolis was situated in the district of Heliopolis.

Isaiah 19:19. The altar is intended for sacrifice, and thus the author rises above the limitation of sacrifice to the Temple at Jerusalem. The pillar is probably simply memorial, and in that case does not conflict with the prohibition of pillars in Dt. It is placed at the border of Egypt to testify of Yahweh to all who enter the country.

Isaiah 19:23. Assyria probably means Syria (Isaiah 11:11*).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Isaiah 19:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/isaiah-19.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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