Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Isaiah 19: 11-13

11 The princes of Zoan are mere fools;
The advice of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers has become stupid.
How can you men say to Pharaoh,
“I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings”?
12 Well then, where are your wise men?
Please let them tell you,
And let them understand what the Lord of hosts
Has purposed against Egypt.
13 The princes of Zoan have acted foolishly,
The princes of Memphis are deluded;
Those who are the cornerstone of her tribes
Have led Egypt astray.

When we began looking at Egypt in Isaiah 19, we noted the nation's legacy of wisdom. In our verses today, Isaiah picks apart this legacy, as we continue to explore the country's downfall.

There are two place names mentioned--Zoan and Memphis. Both were found in northern Egypt, and, at one time, each of these cities was a capital city. Because I know you're thinking about it (I was!), Memphis, Tennessee is named after this ancient Egyptian capital city. On a river, big textile crop producers, royalty (princes and the "King"!)--the city founders must have seen some resemblances. :-)
Unfortunately, Isaiah is singing the blues to its princes for their contribution to Egypt's failings. Our passage today is not short on tough words: "mere fools," "stupid" (vs 11); "acted foolishly," "deluded," "led Egypt astray." (vs 13) There is unprecedented senselessness in the places where there should be a proven legacy of keenness. So, how smart were they? The Bible acknowledges that few were on the same level as the Egyptians: "Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt." (I Kings 4:30)

So if the Bible's not quibbling with their level of intelligence, what caused this perilous situation in Egypt? Two things: its reputation for wisdom and its foolishness--not in a good way--for the things of God.

The very thing that Egypt was known for had been fed into its systems for years upon years upon years to the point that it was quite full--of itself. Note verse 11: "I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings." Probably the only line on the princely resume in Zoan and Memphis. They ran a country successfully until, suddenly, everything went wrong, and they didn't understand why. THEY didn't understand why?!? They "who are the cornerstones of their tribes" (vs 13) have "led Egypt astray," or, more literally, caused Egypt to stagger. If the ones at the top don't know what they're doing, how can those below them hope to follow their lead?

Beyond the obvious problems of people in charge not knowing what they are doing, these princes find themselves completely embarrassed, no longer able to uphold the reputation of their fathers' and forefathers' wisdom--and being totally confounded as to why and how this is happening. Look at the taunt in verse 12: "Well then, where are your wise men? Please let them tell you...." I have used this before on these blog pages, but my mind hears Billy Crystal's voice, again: "Where are your wise men, nooooowwwwww???" Where has their wisdom gone?

"And let them understand what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt."
--vs 12
A-ha! This is the second and more serious part of the Egyptian leadership's issue: They didn't understand or acknowledge that God was behind it all! Should this have come as a surprise to the Earth's most wise? No! They needed only to have considered what God said to the Pharaoh at the time of Moses--

"But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth."
--Exodus 9:16 (emphasis mine)

"Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
--I Corinthians 1:20
The princes of Egypt believed that wisdom came from within, inherited as if in their genes. These "sons of ancient kings" were sorely mistaken. By His plan, God gave them their wisdom, and not with the intent that they would become worldly powerful for their own sake, but to show the world His glory.

"Let no man glory then in his own wisdom, nor depend upon that, nor upon the wisdom of those about him; for he that gives understanding can when he please take it away. And from those it is most likely to be taken away that boast of their policy, as Pharaoh’s counsellors here did, and, to recommend themselves to places of public trust, boast of their great understanding...or of the antiquity and dignity of their families...."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

The cornerstones of Egypt's systems of government, commerce, education, etc., caused their country to stagger. To whom would the nation turn? What would their princes come to understand from this?

In time, another "cornerstone" would come who would bring greatness of wisdom that even Solomon would never know. He would not lead His people astray, as did other princes. The Prince of Peace came to establish the Way, that those who chose, and still choose, to follow Him would not stagger but would become fools--in the best sense!

"....You and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved."
--Acts 4: 10-12 (excerpt)

Judah? A terror to Egypt? ...'Til next Wednesday!

Happy Thanksgiving! All praise and thanks to God!


* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 19: 14-16
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Isaiah 19: 8-10


And the fishermen will lament,
And all those who cast a line into the Nile will mourn,
And those who spread nets on the waters will pine away.
Moreover, the manufacturers of linen made from combed flax
And the weavers of white cloth will be utterly dejected.
10 And the pillars of Egypt will be crushed;
All the hired laborers will be grieved in soul.

Economy lessons in the Bible? You betcha! Building upon the collapse of Egypt's government comes the collapse of Egypt's economy. God has brought His punishment to the nation through nature--and from nature, back through the business of everyday living.

We read last week how God planned to dry up the Nile, the mainstay of Egypt's water supply. No longer will riverside grasses grow, nor will the river's flooding awash the farmers' fields to give their crops a drink. The stench from the dried-up tributaries, streams and rivulets will also yield up dead, smelly fish. It is here, with Egypt's fishing industry, that we pick up with verse 8.

Whether fishermen who cast from the side of the mighty river or those who spread fishing nets out on the larger bodies of water, all will mourn the loss of the fish due to the change in environment. Fish was a staple food in Egypt. Recall the grumbling Israelites in the wilderness, who sought a gourmet alternative to their daily manna:

"We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic...."
--Numbers 11:5

Devastation of the fishing business would not only affect the fishermen and their families, but the state of the nation at large.

Another big economic hit caused by the lack of water in the Nile would strike the linen production industry. Egypt was famous for its production of linen from flax, as well as its production of fine clothing and furnishings made from that linen. The Bible mentions the use of linen for boat sails and sophisticated home accoutrements; Solomon was known for his purchase of fine linen. I admit to not knowing about how flax plants grow nor about how flax is transformed into linen. (Though I have baked with flax seeds before, and, if you have used linseed oil or another type of industrial cleaner, you have likely come across flax.) This description, from the "Tour Egypt" website, provides a wonderful explanation:

"The Egyptians usually planted their flax very close together, to encourage it to grow tall. Harvesting could be done by any person who could pull the plant up by its roots [see picture above], unlike wheat, which had to be cut and was harvested by men. Choosing when to harvest the flax depended upon the quality of linen you wanted to weave. The finest or "royal linen" came from young flax that was pulled up before the seeds had even sprouted at the top of the plant. The process of making linen cloth from flax required many steps. The plants were combed, soaked in water, and beaten to separate the fibers from the plant's woody core. These fibers were then loosely twisted together before being sent on for spinning into the thread that would be woven into linen cloth. Flax thread does not hold dye very well, so linen cloth was usually left in its natural golden state or bleached white."

This ties in so perfectly with the words in verse 9. The dry river kills the flax. No flax means there is no thread to make to weave into cloth, which is why "the weavers of white cloth will be utterly dejected." White cloth is mentioned, because the bleachers would be left without work, as well. No linen meant no new sails, home goods or clothing. The importers of such manufactured items would turn to others in the marketplace. With the reputation Egypt had in this area, this, too, would be a devastating loss.

With verse 10, we come to an interesting passage, since it has been translated quite differently by Bible publishers:

"And the pillars of Egypt will be crushed;
All the hired laborers will be grieved in soul."


"And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, 
all that make sluices and ponds for fish."
--King James Version

My study Bible, which uses 'pillars', makes the case that, "The word refers either generally to the economic structure of the society or specifically to the upper class which organized the businesses of the land." With what I've gleaned over 10 verses of reading, that is not an untrue statement. We are reading that Egypt will be punished at all levels of society due to the crumbling infrastructures of the nation, the environment and the economy--it all works together.

But, given what we have read in Isaiah today, I appreciate the reference in the King James, as there would certainly be a correlation among the loss of the water and fish; the plight of the fishermen; and, those whose job it is to stem the flow of the water to fill the ponds and stock the fish. Their "purposes," as "pillars," would be "broken."

Perhaps you can see that what is most broken in Egypt is not the economy, but, rather, the heart of a nation that has not relied on--much less given any credence to--the God who is the Maker and Authority over all things. Judah and greater Israel can attest that this faulty belief system is a self-made product.

"God can find ways to deprive a country even of that which is its staple commodity. The Egyptians may themselves remember the fish they have formerly eaten freely, but now cannot have for money. And that which aggravates the loss of these advantages by the river is that it is their own doing."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

The prophet rebukes the princes of Egypt. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 19: 11-13
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Isaiah 19: 4-7

“Moreover, I will deliver the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel master,
And a mighty king will rule over them,” declares the Lord God of hosts.
5 The waters from the sea will dry up,
And the river will be parched and dry.
The canals will emit a stench,
The streams of Egypt will thin out and dry up;
The reeds and rushes will rot away.
The bulrushes by the Nile, by the edge of the Nile
And all the sown fields by the Nile
Will become dry, be driven away, and be no more.

Moving forward in Chapter 19, Isaiah continues to bring forth the word of judgment upon Egypt. Last week, we looked at how the nation would crumble from the inside out, with poor judgment and internal strife ruling over wisdom. This week, we look at the effect God's judgment will have upon His Creation in this part of the world.

But, first, verse 4 [which, in hindsight, should have been included with last week's bundle of verses]. Not only will conditions be ripe for a takeover at the top realms of government, but God will bring forward a "mighty" and "cruel master" of a king to rule the nation. If we remember back to the days of Moses' calling, we know that Egypt's ruler, Pharaoh, fits the bill for a cruel master. The people of God were slaves to this leader, who treated them unfairly and caused them great suffering. Now, in Isaiah's prophecy, we see a turning of those tables.

"Now the barbarous usage which the Egyptian task masters gave to God’s Israel long ago was remembered against them and they were paid in their own coin by another Pharaoh. It is sad with a people when the powers that should be for edification are for destruction, and they are ruined by those by whom they should be ruled...."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
Indeed, Egypt would be ruled by tyrants and by foreign rulers--among them, kings from Assyria and Babylon--with like mightiness and fierceness. Though God does not condone cruelty, He has allowed its use as a punishment.

Creation does not lie still in response to the work of God. It responds to God as part of His work in a given situation. I'm guessing that if you asked people on the street for three facts about Egypt, one of those would contain mention of the Nile River. One of the world's longest rivers, the Nile flows from southern Africa up north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The mouth of the the Nile is in Egypt.

Every year, the Nile River has a period of great rising due to changes in climate. Back in the day, it was flooding. When the waters receded, after scaling the river's banks, nutrient-rich soil deposits remained. The farmers took advantage of the prime condition of the land to plant their crops. In fact, Egypt was known as the "bread basket" of the world, as it was a chief exporter of crops. (Reformation Study Bible)

It is with this background that we look at the conditions to come, beginning with verse 5. The "sea," "waters," "river," will "thin out" and "dry up." Making the Nile run dry is the job of only One! God is knocking out the tributaries and connecting waters that the Nile feeds, too. The "canals will emit a stench." (vs. 6) If you have ever walked near a drying river bed that is still a bit damp, there is a smell from the mud and whatever natural or unnatural deposits remain on the soil, not to mention the foul odor of the standing water itself. There would be an even stronger scent over time:

"'...The fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul, and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.'"
--Exodus 7:18

More on the loss of the fish next week. Verse 6 also says that "the reeds and the rushes will rot away." 

"'...Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh?
Can the rushes grow without water?....'"

--Job 8:11

The swamp plants and grasses that make their home along the river will die. In these times, these plants were used judiciously in making baskets, mats and papyrus--as the verse in Job points out--which was used as a paper and building material. Nothing was wasted. These plants usually self-seed and grow continuously with the wealth of water and its resources at the river's edge. God's drying up of the Nile will affect this unmaintained blessing.

Then, verse 7, "all the sown fields of the Nile...," will face the impact of God's hand. If the Nile no longer floods and God refuses to send rain, the result is obvious, and the repercussions of that result enormously difficult on the health and economy of the nation--of which we'll explore more next week.

"Yet this is not all; the drying up of their rivers is the destruction...of their fortifications, for they are brooks of defence (Isa. 19:6), making the country difficult of access to an enemy. Deep rivers are the strongest lines, and most hardly forced. Pharaoh is said to be a great dragon lying in the midst of his rivers, and guarded by them, bidding defiance to all about him, (Ezekiel 29:3)."
--Matthew Henry

Although it might have been easy for an Egyptian of this day to consider God Himself the "cruel master," for the resident of Judah hearing this prophecy, it might well have served as a plea of remembrance for whom to best maintain an alliance. Who saved the Israelites? The "cruel master" or the Lord God of hosts?

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
--Romans 8:31


Egyptian industry will suffer in the wake of the loss of the Nile. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 19: 8-10
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Isaiah 19: 1-3

Message to Egypt

1 The oracle concerning Egypt.
Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt;
The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence,
And the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
“So I will incite Egyptians against Egyptians;
And they will each fight against his brother and each against his neighbor,
City against city and kingdom against kingdom.
“Then the spirit of the Egyptians will be demoralized within them;
And I will confound their strategy,
So that they will resort to idols and ghosts of the dead
And to mediums and spiritists.

It is one of the earliest and most powerful kingdoms of the world. Known for its wisdom, ingenuity, might and mysticism, Egypt is also the place from which God's people are extracted and initially saved. Not surprising to see Isaiah bringing forth a burdensome message concerning this nation, and we devote ourselves to learning more, beginning today, with Chapter 19.

The prophet opens the oracle with God coming down to Egypt on a "swift cloud." (vs. 1) 'Swift' implies a measure of quickness and speed, and also a sense of determination and purpose. In the Bible, the description applies to God not just appearing but bringing His judgment.

"He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.

He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind."

--Psalm 18: 9 and 10

There is a time when the Lord Himself will return on the clouds, as He told the high priest Caiaphus and the Sanhedrin in the hours before His death on the cross:

"Jesus said to him, 'You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.'"
--Matthew 26:64

With such a representation of power, it is no wonder we read that the idols of Egypt "tremble" and the hearts of the people "melt" within them. Hearts are not melting out of love and adoration. Rahab speaks to the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho of her people's fear, as, with the reputation of the Godly warrior and his army, "...our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man...." (from Joshua 2:11) Even mighty Egypt's gods shrink in fear with the Almighty in their sight.

God speaks in verse 2 saying that He will incite a civil war of sorts. The people will turn against each other--brother against brother; city against city; kingdom against kingdom. Disunity is not a state that can stand firm, and God allows sin to run its course, leaving the Egyptians as their own worst enemy. I can more fully appreciate Jesus' wisdom in praying for unity for the community of believers in John 17:

"'Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.... I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.'"
--John 17: 11b and 20

hat is the outcome of disunity and in-fighting? A "demoralized" spirit says verse 3. Confusion! Not only will the Egyptians' behavior cause the downfall of the nation, but God will "confound their strategy." The nation that built the pyramids and inspired the leadership of dynasties would find its wisdom and effectiveness tampered with at God's hand. The earliest roots of the word confound include to "mix, mingle, pour together so as to be unable to distinguish between." (
Online Etymology Dictionary) God's going to mess with Egypt's mental clarity, leaving the country unable to make a sound decision. Uncharacteristic for Egypt and part of what will bring the nation to ruin.

The other outstanding issue is one plaguing so many of the nations for whom prophecy is written: idolatry.

"The Egyptian religion was a strange mixture of pantheism [worship of multiple gods] and animal worship, the gods being adored in the form of animals. While the educated classes resolved their manifold deities into manifestations of one omnipresent and omnipotent divine power, the lower classes regarded the animals as incarnations of the gods."
--Easton's Bible Dictionary (brackets mine)

If there were a hotbed for the worship of false gods, Egypt would certainly be one of those places--not just in Isaiah's day, but over the course of its existence. Recall God's words of institution to Moses and Aaron as He explains the first Passover. Not only does He tell the people how to prepare, He also explains the judgment that is to come that night:

"'For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord.'"
--Exodus 12:12

If you're like me, you focus on the striking down of the firstborn part and kind of skim through the part about striking down Egypt's gods. God knew what a powerfully convincing force the gods of this nation would be upon His people. No doubt makes good reasoning for an escape from that environment into the Wilderness and the Promised Land. But, we know that the power of idols did not completely leave God's people--not even in the Wilderness!

Despite the weakness and futility of these idols, and God's promise to strike them down, the trembling idols, "the mediums and spiritists" become the chief consultants to the Egyptians in this time--rather than an acceptance of the Almighty.
"When they say to you, 'Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,' should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?'"
--Isaiah 8:19, spoken in reference to Israel
The Egyptians choose to go with whom they know. For all their wisdom, they weren't very smart. Their discipline awaits from the cloud.

"And a mighty king will rule over them." ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 19: 4-7
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).