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).

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