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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Isaiah 19

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The Book of the Prophet Isaiah

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET

CHAPTER 19

Isa 19:1-25.

      The nineteenth and twentieth chapters are connected, but with an interval between. Egypt had been held by an Ethiopian dynasty, Sabacho, Sevechus, or Sabacho II, and Tirhakah, for forty or fifty years. Sevechus (called So, the ally of Hoshea, 2Ki 17:4 ), retired from Lower Egypt on account of the resistance of the priests; and perhaps also, as the Assyrians threatened Lower Egypt. On his withdrawal, Sethos, one of the priestly caste, became supreme, having Tanis ("Zoan") or else Memphis as his capital, 718 B.C.; while the Ethiopians retained Upper Egypt, with Thebes as its capital, under Tirhakah. A third native dynasty was at Sais, in the west of Lower Egypt; to this at a later period belonged Psammetichus, the first who admitted Greeks into Egypt and its armies; he was one of the dodecarchy, a number of petty kings between whom Egypt was divided, and by aid of foreign auxiliaries overcame the rest, 670 B.C. To the divisions at this last time, GESENIUS refers Isa 19:2; and Psammetichus, Isa 19:4, "a cruel lord." The dissensions of the ruling castes are certainly referred to. But the time referred to is much earlier than that of Psammetichus. In Isa 19:1, the invasion of Egypt is represented as caused by "the Lord"; and in Isa 19:17, "Judah" is spoken of as "a terror to Egypt," which it could hardly have been by itself. Probably, therefore, the Assyrian invasion of Egypt under Sargon, when Judah was the ally of Assyria, and Hezekiah had not yet refused tribute as he did in the beginning of Sennacherib's reign, is meant. That Assyria was in Isaiah's mind appears from the way in which it is joined with Israel and Egypt in the worship of Jehovah ( Isa 19:24, 25 ). Thus the dissensions referred to ( Isa 19:2 ) allude to the time of the withdrawal of the Ethiopians from Lower Egypt, probably not without a struggle, especially between 722-715 B.C., answering to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped the throne and entered on the contest with the military caste, by the aid of the town populations: when the Saitic dynasty was another cause of division. Sargon's reign was between 722-715 B.C. answering to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped his throne [G. V. SMITH].

      1. burden--(See on JF & B for Isa 13:1).
      upon. . . cloud-- ( Psa 104:3 18:10 ).
      come into Egypt--to inflict vengeance. "Egypt," in Hebrew, Misraim, plural form, to express the two regions of Egypt. BUNSEN observes, The title of their kings runs thus: "Lord of Upper and lower Egypt."
      idols--the bull, crocodile, &c. The idols poetically are said to be "moved" with fear at the presence of one mightier than even they were supposed to be ( Exd 12:12 Jer 43:12 ).

      2. set--stir up. GESENIUS translates, "arm."
      Egyptians against the Egyptians--Lower against Upper: and Saitic against both. (See Isa 3:10 ). NEWTON refers it to the civil wars between Apries and Amasis at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion; also between Tachos, Nectanebus, and the Mendesians, just before Ochus subdued Egypt.
      kingdom against kingdom--The Septuagint has "nome against nome"; Egypt was divided into forty-two nomes or districts.

      3. spirit--wisdom, for which Egypt was famed ( Isa 31:2 1Ki 4:30 Act 7:22 ); answering to "counsel" in the parallel clause.
      fail--literally, "be poured out," that is, be made void ( Jer 19:7 ). They shall "seek" help from sources that can afford none, "charmers," &c. ( Isa 8:19 ).
      charmers--literally, "those making a faint sound"; the soothsayers imitated the faint sound which was attributed to the spirits of the dead (see on JF & B for Isa 8:19).

      4. cruel lord--"Sargon," in Hebrew it is lords; but plural is often used to express greatness, where, one alone is meant ( Gen 39:2 ). The parallel word "king" (singular) proves it. NEWTON makes the general reference to be to Nebuchadnezzar, and a particular reference to Cambyses, son of Cyrus (who killed the Egyptian god, Apis), and Ochus, Persian conquerors of Egypt, noted for their "fierce cruelty." GESENIUS refers it to Psammetichus, who had brought into Egypt Greek and other foreign mercenaries to subdue the other eleven princes of the dodecarchy.

      5. the sea--the Nile. Physical calamities, it is observed in history, often accompany political convulsions ( Eze 30:12 ). The Nile shall "fail" to rise to its wonted height, the result of which will be barrenness and famine. Its "waters" at the time of the overflow resemble "a sea" [PLINY, Natural History, 85.11]; and it is still called El-Bahr," "the sea," by the Egyptians ( Isa 18:2 Jer 51:36 ). A public record is kept at Cairo of the daily rise of the water at the proper time of overflow, namely, August: if it rises to a less height than twelve cubits, it will not overflow the land, and famine must be the result. So, also, when it rises higher than sixteen; for the waters are not drained off in time sufficient to sow the seed.

      6. they shall turn the rivers--rather, "the streams shall become putrid"; that is, the artificial streams made for irrigation shall become stagnant and offensive when the waters fail [MAURER]. HORSLEY, with the Septuagint, translates, "And waters from the sea shall be drunk"; by the failure of the river water they shall be reduced to sea water.
      brooks of defence--rather, "canals of Egypt"; "canals," literally, "Niles," Nile canals, the plural of the Egyptian term for the great river. The same Hebrew word, Matzor, whence comes Mitzraim, expresses Egypt, and a place of "defense." HORSLEY, as English Version translates it, "embanked canals,"
      reeds. . . flags--the papyrus. "Reed and rush"; utter withering.

      7. paper-reeds--rather, pastures, literally, "places naked" of wood, and famed for rich herbage, on the banks of the Nile [GESENIUS]. Compare Gen 13:10 Deu 11:10. HORSLEY translates, "nakedness upon the river," descriptive of the appearance of a river when its bottom is bare and its banks stripped of verdure by long drought: so Vulgate.
      the brooks--the river.
      mouth--rather, "the source" [Vulgate]. "Even close to the river's side vegetation shall be so withered as to be scattered in the shape of powder by the wind" (English Version, "driven away") [HORSLEY].

      8. fishers--The Nile was famed for fish ( Num 11:5 ); many would be thrown out of employment by the failure of fishes.
      angle--a hook. Used in the "brooks" or canals, as the "net" was in "the waters" of the river itself.

      9. fine flax--GESENIUS, for "fine," translates, "combed"; fine "linen" was worn by the rich only ( Luk 16:19 ). Egypt was famous for it ( Exd 9:31 1Ki 10:28 Pro 7:16 Eze 27:7 ). The processes of its manufacture are represented on the Egyptian tombs. Israel learned the art in Egypt ( Exd 26:36 ). The cloth now found on the mummies was linen, as is shown by the microscope. WILKINSON mentions linen from Egypt which has five hundred forty (or two hundred seventy double) threads in one inch in the warp; whereas some modern cambric has but a hundred sixty [BARNES].
      networks--rather, white cloth ( Est 1:6 8:16 ).

      10. in the purposes--rather, "the foundations," that is, "the nobles shall be broken" or brought low: so Isa 3:1 Psa 11:3; compare Isa 19:13, "Their weaving-frames" [HORSLEY]. "Dykes" call a prince "a pillar of the people" [MAURER]. "Their weaving-frames" [HORSLEY]. "Dykes" [BARNES].
      all that make sluices, &c.--"makers of dams," made to confine the waters which overflow from the Nile in artificial fishponds [HORSLEY]. "Makers of gain," that is, the common people who have to earn their livelihood, as opposed to the "nobles" previously [MAURER].

      11. Zoan--The Greeks called it Tanis, a city of Lower Egypt, east of the Tanitic arms of the Nile, now San; it was one the Egyptian towns nearest to Palestine ( Num 13:22 ), the scene of Moses' miracles ( Psa 78:12, 43 ). It, or else Memphis, was the capital under Sethos.
      I am. . . son of the wise. . . kings--Ye have no advice to suggest to Pharaoh in the crisis, notwithstanding that ye boast of descent from wise and royal ancestors. The priests were the usual "counsellors" of the Egyptian king. He was generally chosen from the priestly caste, or, if from the warrior caste, he was admitted into the sacred order, and was called a priest. The priests are, therefore, meant by the expression, "son of the wise, and of ancient kings"; this was their favorite boast (HERODOTUS, 2.141; compare Amo 7:14 Act 23:6 Phl 3:5 ). "Pharaoh" was the common name of all the kings: Sethos, probably, is here meant.

      12. let them know--that is, How is it that, with all their boast of knowing the future [DIODORUS,1.81], they do not know what Jehovah of hosts. . .

      13. Noph--called also Moph; Greek, Memphis ( Hsa 9:6 ); on the western bank of the Nile, capital of Lower Egypt, second only to Thebes in all Egypt: residence of the kings, until the Ptolemies removed to Alexandria; the word means the "port of the good" [PLUTARCH]. The military caste probably ruled in it: "they also are deceived," in fancying their country secure from Assyrian invasion.
      stay of. . . tribes--rather, "corner-stone of her castes" [MAURER], that is, the princes, the two ruling castes, the priests and the warriors: image from a building which rests mainly on its corner-stones (see on JF & B for Isa 19:10; Isa 28:16 Psa 118:22 Num 24:17, Margin; Jdg 20:2 1Sa 14:28, Margin; Zec 10:4 ).

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

      15. work for Egypt--nothing which Egypt can do to extricate itself from the difficulty.
      head or tail--high or low ( Isa 19:11-15, and Isa 19:8-10 ).
      branch or rush--the lofty palm branch or the humble reed ( Isa 9:14, 15 10:33, 34 ).

      16. like. . . women--timid and helpless ( Jer 51:30 Nah 3:13 ).
      shaking of. . . hand--His judgments by means of the invaders ( Isa 10:5, 32 11:15 ).

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

      18-22. In that day, &c.--Suffering shall lead to repentance. Struck with "terror" and "afraid" ( Isa 19:17 ) because of Jehovah's judgments, Egypt shall be converted to Him: nay, even Assyria shall join in serving Him; so that Israel, Assyria, and Egypt, once mutual foes, shall be bound together by the tie of a common faith as one people. So a similar issue from other prophecies ( Isa 18:7 23:18 ).
      five cities--that is, several cities, as in Isa 17:6 30:17 Gen 43:34 Lev 26:8. Rather, five definite cities of Lower Egypt ( Isa 19:11, 13 30:4 ), which had close intercourse with the neighboring Jewish cities [MAURER]; some say, Heliopolis, Leontopolis (else Diospolis), Migdol, Daphne (Tahpanes), and Memphis.
      language of Canaan--that is, of the Hebrews in Canaan, the language of revelation; figuratively for, They shall embrace the Jewish religion: so "a pure language" and conversion to God are connected in Zep 3:9; as also the first confounding and multiplication of languages was the punishment of the making of gods at Babel, other than the One God. Pentecost ( Act 2:4 ) was the counterpart of Babel: the separation of nations is not to hinder the unity of faith; the full realization of this is yet future ( Zec 14:9 Jhn 17:21 ). The next clause, "swear to the Lord of Hosts," agrees with this view; that is, bind themselves to Him by solemn covenant ( Isa 45:23 65:16 Deu 6:13 ).
      city of destruction--Onias; "city of the sun," that is, On, or Heliopolis; he persuaded Ptolemy Philometer (149 B.C.) to let him build a temple in the prefecture (nome) of Heliopolis, on the ground that it would induce Jews to reside there, and that the very site was foretold by Isaiah six hundred years before. The reading of the Hebrew text is, however, better supported, "city of destruction"; referring to Leontopolis, the site of Onias' temple: which casts a reproach on that city because it was about to contain a temple rivalling the only sanctioned temple, that at Jerusalem. MAURER, with some manuscripts, reads "city of defense" or "deliverance"; namely, Memphis, or some such city, to which God was about to send "a saviour" ( Isa 19:20 ), to "deliver them."

      19. altar--not for sacrifice, but as the "pillar" for memorial and worship ( Jos 22:22-26 ). Isaiah does not contemplate a temple in Egypt: for the only legal temple wat at Jerusalem; but, like the patriarchs, they shall have altars in various places.
      pillar--such as Jacob reared ( Gen 28:18 35:14 ); it was a common practice in Egypt to raise obelisks commemorating divine and great events.
      at the border--of Egypt and Judah, to proclaim to both countries the common faith. This passage shows how the Holy Spirit raised Isaiah above a narrow-minded nationality to a charity anticipatory of gospel catholicity.

      20. it--the altar and pillar.
      a sign--(of the fulfilment of prophecy) to their contemporaries.
      a witness--to their descendants.
      unto the Lord--no longer, to their idols, but to Jehovah.
      for they shall cry--or, "a sign. . . that they cried,. . . and He sent to them a saviour"; probably, Alexander the Great (so "a great one"), whom the Egyptians welcomed as a deliverer (Greek, Soter, a title of the Ptolemies) out of the hands of the Persians, who under Cambyses had been their "oppressors." At Alexandria, called from him, the Old Testament was translated into Greek for the Greek-speaking Jews, who in large numbers dwelt in Egypt under the Ptolemies, his successors. Messiah is the antitype ultimately intended (compare Act 2:10, "Egypt").

      21. oblation--unbloody.

      22. return--for heathen sin and idolatry are an apostasy from primitive truth.
      heal--as described ( Isa 19:18-20 ).

      23. highway--free communication, resting on the highest basis, the common faith of both ( Isa 19:18 Isa 11:16 ). Assyria and Egypt were joined under Alexander as parts of his empire: Jews and proselytes from both met at the feasts of Jerusalem. A type of gospel times to come.
      serve with--serve Jehovah with the Assyrians. So "serve" is used absolutely ( Job 36:11 ).

      24. third--The three shall be joined as one nation.
      blessing--the source of blessings to other nations, and the object of their benedictions.
      in the midst of the land--rather, "earth" ( Mic 5:7 ). Judah is designed to be the grand center of the whole earth ( Jer 3:17 ).

      25. Whom--rather, "Which," namely, "the land," or "earth," that is, the people of it [MAURER].
      my people--the peculiar designation of Israel, the elect people, here applied to Egypt to express its entire admission to religious privileges ( Rom 9:24-26 1Pe 2:9, 10 ).
      work of my hands--spiritually ( Hsa 2:23 Eph 2:10 ).

Psalm 138:2

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