Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Isaiah 19: 18-22

18 In that day five cities in the land of Egypt 
will be speaking the language of Canaan and 
swearing allegiance to the Lord of hosts; 
one will be called the City of Destruction.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord 
in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord near its border.
20 It will become a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; 
for they will cry to the Lord because of oppressors, 
and He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will deliver them.

21 Thus the Lord will make Himself known to Egypt, 
and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day. They will even worship with 
sacrifice and offering, and will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. 
22 The Lord will strike Egypt, striking but healing; so they will return to the Lord
and He will respond to them and will heal them.

We are coming to the close of another chapter in Isaiah, and you can sense it with our passage today. There is a change in tone. It resonates with me, in the midst of my celebrating this Advent season, as a passage that rings out with hope.

"In that day," says Isaiah, the first of three appearances of this phrase in our passage. We have already encountered one before this, which continues to suggest that this is a time yet to come. "Five cities" in Egypt will speak the "language of Canaan," (vs. 18) which is what is spoken in Judah. There are not five cities actually named in this verse, but it is more the notion that any city in Egypt might speak what is spoken in Judah. It is a strong statement to say that all speak the same language. I was reminded, in looking at a cross-reference verse, that after "the Lord confused the language of the whole earth," (from Genesis 11:9), that people used interpreters. Obviously, we still do. But, "in that day," there will be those in Egypt who will speak as in Judah. Nothing lost in translation.

Not just speak, either, mind you, but "swearing allegiance to the Lord of hosts." Care to top that off, God? Why, yes! Because now we have a hint that one of those God-speaking cities might by Heliopolis, the "City of the Sun," also called Beth-shemesh in Hebrew, "the house of the sun-god." But that's not what it says in verse 19. Interesting footnote in the Reformation Study Bible: "Jewish scribes parodied the name by changing the Hebrew word for 'sun' to the almost identical Hebrew word for 'destruction.'" The prophet Jeremiah also points to a time in which Heliopolis actually will face destruction.

"He will also shatter the obelisks [stone pillars] of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he will burn with fire."
--Jeremiah 43:13 (brackets mine)

"In that day," again, says Isaiah in verse 20, there will be "an altar to the Lord" and "a pillar to the Lord" in Egypt. For all their gods and all their colossal structures, Egypt has not had anything dedicated to God Almighty. I highlighted the explanatory reference to stone pillars in the Jeremiah passage above (and put in a picture, as well), because Egypt was not short on its monuments. If someone needed honoring, there was some physical structure created in recognition.

That the Egyptians would build an altar and a pillar to the Lord of hosts would align them even more with the Israelites--not just in language, but in their worship. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua--it was commonplace for the Israelites of old to remember their encounters with God, His instructions to them, His demonstration of faithfulness to them by creating a marker (a collection of stones, an altar). The Egyptians will set up altars "to be a sign and witness" of God and for "sacrifice and offering" in worship of God. Egypt "will know the Lord in that day." (vs. 21)

"In that day...." when Egypt cries out to God because of their oppressors. (vs. 20) Back in the day of this prophecy, even a threat like Assyria did not become such an oppressor as to make Egypt cry out to God for deliverance. It seems most plausible that we are speaking of the Day still to come:

"Many prophecies of this book point to the days of the Messiah; and why not this? It is no unusual thing to speak of gospel graces and ordinances in the language of the Old-Testament institutions. And, in these prophecies, those words, in that day, perhaps have not always a reference to what goes immediately before, but have a peculiar significancy pointing at that day which had been so long fixed, and so often spoken of, when the day-spring from on high should visit this dark world."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

"He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will deliver them." (vs. 20) That would be some serious hope right there! Savior and a Champion, or, more literally a "Mighty One." As Egypt begins to look more like Judah in its speaking and mannerisms, reflecting the Lord in their heart and worship, God treats those believers as a brother nation.

"And all flesh will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior
And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob."

--Isaiah 49: 26

Egypt doesn't know this hope by its own wisdom. Let's not forget where we started with this chapter. One of the nation's biggest issues is its reliance on its own thinking. I might go so far to say that none of us can know true hope in merely humanly thinking about it. Hope comes through faith, and a journey of progression. One of my favorite Bible verses of all time:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
--Romans 5:1-5

As verse 22 says, "The Lord will strike Egypt, striking but healing." There is no question that the Lord will bring both. And in this, Egypt will, again, know what Judah and all of Israel proper have experienced in their faith journey with the Lord. With this life come choices. With poor choices comes discipline. With forgiveness and repentance come new life and the opportunity to make right choices. All of this, presuming that there is a "return to the Lord."

"Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us."

--Hosea 6:1 (Israel's response to God's discipline)

"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."
--Hebrews 12:11

Chapter 19 concludes. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 19: 23-25
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, December 4, 2013

Isaiah 19: 14-17

14 The Lord has mixed within her a spirit of distortion;
They have led Egypt astray in all that it does,
As a drunken man staggers in his vomit.
15 There will be no work for Egypt
Which its head or tail, its palm branch or bulrush, may do.
16 In that day the Egyptians will become like women, 
and they will tremble and be in dread 
because of the waving of the hand of the Lord of hosts, 
which He is going to wave over them. 
17 The land of Judah will become a terror to Egypt; 
everyone to whom it is mentioned will be in dread of it, 
because of the purpose of the Lord of hosts 
which He is purposing against them.

God--a mixologist? Good thing they weren't driving cars in Egypt back in the day, because counting the DUIs might make an officer run out of room on his papyrus ticket scroll!

Isaiah's poetics this week provide us a clear and unpleasant description of what Egypt looks like, at the Lord's doing. In verse 14, the prophet presents a cocktail of sorts, in which God uses a "spirit of distortion," that leads to a state of drunkenness. The Amplified Bible lists three ingredients: "The Lord has mingled a spirit of perverseness, error, and confusion within her." For a country that had been filled with such wisdom and ingenuity, this drink is truly toxic.

"One party shall be for a thing for no other reason than because the other is against it; that is a perverse spirit, which, if it mingle with the public counsels, tends directly to the ruin of the public interests."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

I fear we only need look at recent election years in the United States to see Henry's commentary in action. It's one thing when there's trouble in your own house, but when that trouble starts to involve others, or gets shared with others (like that "Oops!" of a Facebook post), the size of the snowball of controversy grows astronomically. Egypt has gone "astray" at the highest levels of its authority, and a video of its staggering around in its own vomit has 158,000 likes on YouTube. Not pretty!

"See what reason we have to pray for our privy-counsellors and ministers of state, who are the great supports and blessings of the state if God give them a spirit of wisdom, but quite the contrary if he hide their heart from understanding."
--Matthew Henry

Verse 15 reminds us of the economic situation in which Egypt has found itself. There is no work for anyone, whether a "palm branch or bulrush." The crops won't be there (because God has dried up the Nile), so those who harvest those crops, and make items from the crops, and sell the manufactured goods, and buy and wear the goods--none will be employed. We can see how "vicious circle" received its name. So confounded is the wisdom of Egypt that it will not know its "head" from its "tail."

With verse 16, note the critical phrase, "In that day," which would denote a specific time at which certain events will occur. This may refer to a near-fulfillment of prophecy, in which Judah will actually be seen by Egypt as a "terror" (vs. 17) or, more literally, a cause of shame. Recall, though, that Judah is far from being mighty in and of itself. The Assyrians would soon come in and destroy most of the nation, with Jerusalem spared at the hand of God and the praying hands of Hezekiah. With the Assyrians poised to head south into Egypt--to break up the Egypt-Judah alliance and to show who's really boss--that would put the willies into Egypt.

[I realize that there are some readers who will want to take someone to task over the phrase "the Egyptians will become like women." It's one of those passages--like the "wives submit to your husbands" and "weaker vessel" passages of the Apostle Paul--that requires a cultural interpretation. Women in the day did not have rank and privilege in society, nor respect or value. They were considered defenseless and helpless. It really does make sense in this context, whether you like the read or not.]

There is also the possibility of a dual fulfillment of this prophecy, in that the day when Egypt acknowledges the "waving of the hand of the Lord" (vs. 16) in all of these doings is still to come--but will come at the Day of the Lord. It may not be unlike Pharaoh's servants at the time of the plague of locusts, begging their leader to release the Israelites that the nation might be freed of its ills.

"Pharaoh’s servants said to him, 'How long will this man [Moses] be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?'"
--Exodus 10:7 (clarification mine)

Pharaoh had opportunity upon opportunity to make a change, to save his people from the "dread" of Almighty God. Yet God had hardened his heart, and even his closest advisers could not sway him from his dogged determination to come out on top. God, of course, did so that He would prevail--and He will continue to prevail, even as "every knee will bow" and "every tongue will confess." (from Philippians 2:10 and 11)

And for those of us whose hearts are not hardened, may we have opportunity to see the will and way of God before us, understanding that His purposes will be accomplished, with or without us.

"How well it becomes us to fear before God when he does but shake his hand over us, and to humble ourselves under his mighty hand when it does but threaten us, especially when we see his counsel determined against us; for who can change his counsel?"
--Matthew Henry

More changes for Egypt. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 19: 18-22
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).