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).