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!

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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).