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!


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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).