Isaiah 19: Egypt
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Isaiah 19: Egypt

Original Publication Date
September 29, 2018
Updated
Jan 28, 2023 4:41 AM
Tags
IsaiahChapter StudyProphecyEgyptSymbolism
Bible References
Isaiah 19
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Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on September 29, 2018 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

Egypt is spoken of a lot in the Bible. While it may not be the powerhouse it was in Biblical times, even today I'd wager most people are familiar with the country. From oppressing the Israelites through slavery to pagan worship, Egypt was not scoring any brownie points with God from their behavior. Therefore, it's no surprise that they would be among the countries that God issues a judgment for.

Isaiah 19 presents the prophesy for Egypt's judgement with quite a few parallels to modern history. Scholars aren't sure if the passage has been fulfilled yet, but as you read the chapters and look through history, it's easy to see how it could be in the process of fulfillment.

Internal Fighting

The first symptom of God's judgment on Egypt is fighting within the nation's borders. Not only would cities turn against cities (like a civil war), but family members would turn against each other! Who can you trust in this world if you can't trust your own family? There are so many psychological side effects of growing up in a family where you can't trust anyone; the long term effects of this could have been major.

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Note, throughout the Bible its often family that sabotages family (e.g., Cain and Abel)

When we think about this in terms of Egypt—ancient Egypt at that—it's hard to really care about this prophecy. Those of us who have already seen enough to believe are probably content enough to just assume it was fulfilled, and those who need a little more evidence might simply use the information to search for the fulfillment. However, it doesn’t really concern us—or does it? I realized how much it sounds like present day in the United States of America (probably the whole world).

Our past election was really a war between the middle states and the metropolitan areas on the East and West coasts. The 2016 election may have been the most polarizing election in the history of the country, and the aftermath has brought up quite a bit of hatred within these borders. In recent weeks, we've just seen:

  • a man arrested for killing his wife and children.[18]
  • a man sued his parents.[17]
  • a sister killed her sister.[1]

It sounds eerily relevant to today!

That's probably why the first time I read this passage I asked myself if Isaiah was speaking to the physical nation of Egypt alone, or if he was also speaking to the nations who take on the spirit of Egypt (i.e., deliberately sinful nations). The behavior prophesied to occur is very much like what is happening around the world today. In many cases of the Bible, there are initial or partial fulfillments, followed by absolute fulfillments (like David versus Jesus fulling the prophecy of a great ruler coming from the tribe of Judah).

External Fighting

God also declares that there will be kingdoms against kingdoms, which means the chaos would spill out from Egypt's borders and nations would attack them. The worst time to be fighting wars is when there's civil unrest and the nation is falling apart internally. This also sounds familiar as Donald Trump cozies up to Russia and pokes at North Korea, while the tension between groups within the country are on the rise.

Some believe the fulfillment of this prophecy is given in Jeremiah 46 when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeats Egypt.

Pagan Crutch

Isaiah 19:3 lets us know that in this time of judgment, Egypt will turn to many of the man-made methods (the occult) God condemned in Deuteronomy 18:10. I think it's easy for most to skip over passages like this and write it off as irrelevant to today. After all, who believes in witches and wizards? This mentality firmly sets the passage in the past when people did believe in witches. However, I would caution us to remember that terminology can change, especially when deceit is at play. People may not rely on statues, but they do dote on people or develop dependencies on objects (like cellphones). There are quite a few celebrities that have "alter egos" whom they claim as inspiration or creators of their art (e.g., Beyoncé/Sasha Fierce, Nicki Minaj/Roman, Eminem/Slim Shady[13][14][15]). There are mediums and psychics, magic 8 balls, and Ouija boards. In our society, we are just as likely to use our own creations as a crutch or object of comfort, despite God's warnings against this. Just because we don't refer to people as witches or idols, doesn't mean some of the same concepts aren't at play.

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Also, lack of belief in “magic” or demons or spirits doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Many people play with the occult because they don’t believe in it, but there’s a reason the Father warned us about these things.

A Fierce King

When I read Isaiah 19:4, it drew me to a verse from my favorite book of prophecy: Daniel. Let's look at the two verses...

And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 19:4 KJV
And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. Daniel 8:23 KJV

Of course what drew me to Daniel 8:23 is this fierce king that is being discussed. There's something very interesting about this reference. If you've watched too many Disney movies, you probably think of kings as short, old, fat, and/or only concerned about their child's well being and marriage (e.g., AladdinCinderella, etc.). However, if you stop and thing about history, kings have always been "fierce"—there have been many ruthless kings in this world.[2] I'd also like to point out that many words we use today to denote a ruler might not have existed in Isaiah nor Daniel's day. Leaders such as Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Un, would probably fall under these writers' understanding of the word "king" even though they assumed different titles. So, as we continue, I'm going to use the word "leader" to describe these fierce kings, because I think it's more likely what Isaiah and Daniel meant and I don't want us to focus only on rulers we call king as we analyze the text.

Defining Fierce

The description of fierce is supposed to be a clue to the identity of these leaders, so something in their demeanor should make us go "ah ha! that's the fierce king." Naturally, given the history of kings/queens, dictators, and even presidents in the world, that brings me to the question: what makes these leaders so much worse than all the other bad leaders we've read about? Daniel's leader comes with the added description that he understands "dark sentences," but Isaiah just tells us the leader will rule over Egypt. Fierce doesn't always have to be negative; in fact, in our society today it's usually used to mean something positive. However, in the context of these two verses, I'm confident the word was meant to describe the leader negatively. Traits of someone who is fierce (in a negative sense) that come to my mind are aggressiveness, lack of mercy and compassion, arrogance, and greed. For us to identify the person by these traits, I would imagine that along with the prophesied climate in the country (discussed below), the person would would exhibit these traits to an extreme not seen before (or perhaps just not seen before in Egypt). Most commentaries suggest this prophesy hasn't been fulfilled yet, though some suggest Nebuchadnezzar. Some speculated that this mysterious leader would arise out of the chaos that occurred in Egypt on the heels of Arab Spring.[3]

Is it the Same Person?

So the next question, naturally, is whether or not these verses are describing the same person. The person described in Daniel 8 is the antichrist power that will be ruling the world, not just Egypt. I feel as though if God wanted us to make that leap, He would have made this pronouncement on Babylon, since the end time power is referred to as Babylon—or he would have referred to the end time power as Egypt. Based on this, I think these two leaders will be very similar in demeanor and purpose, but are not the same person.

Drought

What's the worst thing that could happen to a country other than a war? Well, God pronounces a drought on Egypt. In a society that doesn't have grocery stores and can't have food shipped in from around the world, a drought is a big deal. Animals would thirst to death, crops wouldn't grow, and the direct result would be a famine.

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When I spoke of a society without grocery stores and unable to import food from around the world, I was speaking on ancient Egypt. Modern Egypt has access to these things, but importing water and food costs money and thus a drought is still devastating in the modern era.

The effect of such a drought is submission to God. When we are down, we have no choice but to trust God. We become desperate and cling to anything we think will improve our situation. The problem is that we don't keep this faith in times of prosperity, therefore God is forced to remind us we need Him through such disasters.

Zoan

In Isaiah 19, Isaiah really goes in on the princes of Zoan and the princes of Noph; they are said to be fools and deceived, respectively. It appears that the princes of Zoan are cocky and unable to recognize their foolishness (as is usually the case). It seems pretty reasonable that God would not be happy about their behavior, but who are they and what do they have to do with Egypt? (At least that's what I asked myself after reading Isaiah 19:11-15.)

Zoan and Noph are actually both cities in Egypt. Zoan was even the capital at one point.[9][16] The princes of these cities would have been high ranking members of Egyptian society, maybe even some of the pharaohs. As is the case in most societies, these rich and elite men would have set the standard for the culture and behavior in Egypt.

Isaiah tells us that these men have fallen into deception and foolishness because God has "sent a perverse spirit" among them. If you read this verse without the context of the whole Bible or the historical context of the Israelites, it sounds as though God made them act this way then punished them for it. Luckily, that's not what is being said.

If you remember Genesis 1, you know that in the beginning there was darkness until God created light. Even today we know that darkness is simply the absence of light. The light is the glory of God; when His presence is gone, terrible things are bound to happen. God does not force us to love Him nor does He force us to stay in His presence, however if we choose to push Him away, He does get to choose how long to extend protection over us before allowing us to completely leave His presence. It is in the absence of God's presence that these men found a perverse spirit. The most accurate way of describing this situation is that God allowed it to happen (because He didn't force the people to worship Him instead).

Comparison to a Woman

In Isaiah 19:16 Egypt is compared to a woman. Because of what follows the comparison, it seems like it is meant as an insult, but I'm not sure that is the case. Throughout the Bible a woman is symbolic of a church. Later in the passage we will see that some people in Egypt are worshipping the Lord. These people would recognize the hand of God in Egypt's destruction. In their fear, they would realize they need God to escape that judgment. In a stereotypical sense, this is similar to how a wife would depend on her husband in fearful situations, just as the church is the bride of Christ.

If compared to Jeremiah 51:30, you might also interpret this comparison to mean powerless. Jeremiah 51:30 likens soldiers to a woman during a time where it was illegal and pretty much unheard of for a woman to be involved in battle. It's basically the school yard cry of "you hit like a girl." We see this idea carried in verse 17 where Isaiah prophesies that Judah will be more powerful Egypt. Perhaps it is worth noting that currently, Egypt is the only Arab country in which the government recognizes Israel and holds some sort of alliance.[10][11][12]

This might be part of the fulfillment of the last few verses in the chapter that discuss some sort of alliance between Assyria, Egypt, and Israel.

The Language of Canaan

Isaiah then tells us that Egypt will begin speaking the language of Canaan (Isaiah 19:18). Many assume this to be Hebrew, since the Israelites over took the land of Canaan.

I find this an odd way to describe the language if it is the language of the Israelites. Why didn't Isaiah just say "our language?"

Today, Israel—a.k.a. the land of Canaan—is home to two main groups: Jews and Arabs. The Jews speak Hebrew, but the Arabs speak Arabic. During Isaiah's day, the Israelites would have shared the land with Canaanites, who are not necessarily related to the Palestinians. The Canaanites of Isaiah's day may not have been speaking Arabic, but I imagine they weren't speaking Hebrew like the Israelites. So which language did/will Egypt adopt?

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Aramic was also a common language in that region at the time

Today, most Egyptians speak Arabic, but you can probably guess from the knowledge of hieroglyphics that Arabic wasn't always the primary language in Egypt.[4] Arabic, though not the language of the Israelites, is a Semitic language and the language of most Arab countries in the Middle East. Although most say the Canaanites cannot be traced to modern times, a DNA study asserts that 93% of Canaanite DNA can be found in the people of Lebanon today.[6] While this doesn't mean they are the same people, it seems likely that the Canaanites heavily intermarried with the Lebanese. The language of Lebanon used to be Phoenician until it was replaced by Arabic under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. That is also how Arabic became the primary language of Egypt.[5][7]

So technically, Egypt is speaking the same language as the land of Canaan...

If you interpret this to mean Egypt will be speaking Hebrew, we'll have to wait a little longer to talk about fulfillment. In any case, this prophecy is also referenced in Isaiah 11:15, where God says He will destroy the Egyptian language.

An Altar to God

Isaiah also says that these people build an altar to God and cry out to Him. All 3 Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are currently practiced in Egypt. Gone are the days of the Egyptian pantheon of gods like Ra, Horus, and Amun. I don't know if there are altars, per se, but there are definitely churches in Egypt. Holding true to Isaiah's prophecy, Christianity and Judaism are in the minority and do not constitute the whole of Egypt.

Conclusion of the Judgement

In some cases, absolute destruction is foretold, but it seems that at the end of all this, Egypt will turn to God. That's definitely something to focus on. Even this far back, God was calling other nations to worship Him and prophesying of their eventual conversion. It also speaks to the power of repentance. If you are going through a judgment of sorts, do not be discouraged, but take this time to refocus your life on God.

References and Footnotes

  1. Kyle Swenson. "Two sisters wed two brothers. Sibling rivalry and a grudge led to murder". The Washington Post. May 24, 2018
  2. Elena Holodny and Amanda Macias. "The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time". Business Insider. October 7, 2015
  3. Eric Salus. "Is Isaiah 19 Finding Fulfillment Amidst Egypt’s Chaos?". Prophecy Depot Ministries. August 15, 2013
  4. James Hoch. "Egyptian language". Encyclopædia Britannica. October 30, 2013
  5. Peter M. Holt, et. al. "Ottoman Administration". Encyclopædia Brittanica; visited September 2018
  6. Mira Abed. "The DNA of ancient Canaanites lives on in modern-day Lebanese, genetic analysis shows". The LA Times. July 27, 2017
  7. "History of the Arabic Language". Arab Academy; visited September 2018
  8. "Religion in Egypt". Wikipedia; visited September 8, 2018
  9. Emil G. Hirsch and W. Max Muller. "Zoan". Jewish Encyclopedia; visited September 2018
  10. David D. Kirkpatrick. "Secret Alliance: Israel Carries Out Airstrikes in Egypt, With Cairo’s O.K.". The New York Times. February 3, 2018
  11. Tzvi Lev. "We have ties with a dozen Arab countries". Israel Nation News. November 27, 2017
  12. Zena Tahhan. "Egypt-Israel relations 'at highest level' in history". Al Jazeera. September 20, 2017
  13. "Nicki Minaj Has A Gay Alter Ego, Roman Zolanski". Essence. December 5, 2010
  14. The Associated Press. "Beyonce Transforms Into 'Sasha' Onstage". The Washington Post. December 15, 2006
  15. Nicole Weiner. "D12 Talks About How Eminem Became Slim Shady". Billboard. November 20, 2015
  16. "Zoan". Bible Hub; visited September 2018
  17. Lia Eustachewich. "Parents win suit to kick 30-year-old deadbeat son out of their house". The New York Post. May 22, 2018
  18. Matt Zerrell. "Man accused of killing pregnant wife, daughters says he walked in on wife strangling children: Police". ABC News. August 20, 2018

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