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!

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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).