New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Isaiah 19:1 The burden of Egypt: Behold, Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and comes to Egypt- The Old Testament describes Yahweh, the one true God, as riding through the heavens on chariots to the help of His people Israel (Dt. 33:26; 2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10; 104:3; Is. 19:1; Hab. 3:8). But Baal was known as the rkb 'rpt, the one who rides upon the clouds. We noted on Is. 17:13; 18:1 that the language of the cherubim is used in these judgments upon the nations, because God was potentially at work with them to move them towards a position whereby His Kingdom would be reestablished, including the repentant remnants of Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations like Egypt. I have commented through Is. 13-18 upon the conditional nature of these prophecies. They envisage a situation in which Babylon and / or Assyria will judge Judah and the surrounding nations, and a repentant remnant from all of them will unite in a multi-ethnic, reestablished Kingdom of God in Judah. But this scenario was precluded by various factors, not least the impenitence of all the peoples; and perhaps foreseeing this, God did not bring about all the judgments to the extent spoken of. Here we have an example- Egypt didn't suffer all the things prophesied in this chapter. The essence of the prophecies however will come true in the last days.

The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence; and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst- “Even the demons believe and tremble” (James 2:19) may allude here. The idols of the first century Middle Eastern world were made to demons; and the ultimate non-existence of idols therefore proves the non-existence of demons. See on Is. 65:3.

Isaiah 19:2 I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians, and they will fight each one against his brother, and each one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom-
God prefers to use the wicked to punish themselves; the Lord maybe alludes here in speaking of how kingdoms divided against themselves will fall, whereas His Kingdom stands because it is ultimately undivided. This is a powerful exhortation to unity; disunity in the community makes us as Egypt. God worked directly on their hearts, causing fallout between them, as He did in Jud. 9:23. He can work directly on the human heart, even on the hearts of Gentiles like Egypt, to bring about His purpose. And He can work positively too, to create the unity of the Spirit. All these things are done by His Spirit working directly upon the human spirit.

Isaiah 19:3 The spirit of Egypt will fail in its midst; I will destroy its wisdom. They will seek the idols, the charmers, those who have familiar spirits, and the wizards-
The allusion may be to how Pharaoh's spirit was troubled at the failure of his magicians to explain the dreams (Gen. 41:8); with the implication that if they accepted the Hebrew Joseph / Jesus as Saviour and source of wisdom, then far better times could come. See on :7.

Isaiah 19:4 I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel lord; a fierce king will rule over them, says the Lord Yahweh of Armies-
Presumably a reference to the Assyrian domination of Egypt under Esarhaddon in BC 672 and again by Asshurbanipal in BC 662. He ravaged the country but only as far as Thebes; and in BC 645 Psammetichus succeeded in shaking off the Assyrian yoke and uniting Egypt under his rulership. The permanent nature of Egypt's destruction was not therefore fulfilled at the time, and Egypt survives as a nation to this day. As explained on :1, the potential prophetic scenario was that the Assyrian crushing of Egypt could have led to their repentance and participation in a restored kingdom of God in Judah. This was the same potential scenario for the other surrounding nations, as noted throughout Is. 13-18.

Isaiah 19:5 The waters will fail from the sea, and the river will be wasted and become dry-
"The sea" may refer to the Nile as in Nah. 3:8; but the LXX has "And the Egyptians shall drink the water that is by the sea, but the river shall fail, and be dried up". This total drying up of the Nile suggests direct Divine intervention; see on :6. :

Isaiah 19:6 The rivers will become foul; the streams of Egypt will be diminished and dried up, the reeds and flags will wither away-
There is no evidence that the Assyrian invasions produced this result (see on :4). The implication is that there would be direct supernatural judgment upon the physical land of Egypt as at the time of Joseph (see on :7). It was God who would directly dry up the Nile (Ez. 30:12). As explained on Is. 13:13, what was in view was judgments on the scale of Sodom's destruction coming upon the surrounding nations to bring them to Yahweh and to join with a repentant Judah in a restored Kingdom of God. But this didn't come about at the time, not only because the Gentiles were impenitent, but because Judah were too, and the Kingdom was not to be restored at the time. See on :16.

Isaiah 19:7 The meadows by the Nile, by the brink of the Nile, and all the sown fields of the Nile, will become dry, be driven away, and be no more-
LXX "everything sown by the side of the river, shall be blasted with the wind and dried up". Blasting by the wind recalls Pharaoh's dreams of Egyptian corn blasted by the wind (Gen. 41:6); with the implication that if they accepted the Hebrew Joseph / Jesus, then far better times could come. See on :11,20.


Isaiah 19:8 The fishermen will lament, and all those who fish in the Nile will mourn, and those who spread nets on the waters will languish-
A drought would damage the flood plains upon which Egyptian agriculture depended. But in drought, the Egyptians depended on fishing. It's not that there would simply be no fish in the river; there would be no river at all. That is the implication, implying major Divine intervention with supernatural judgments. This was the potential envisaged, but it didn't happen because various preconditions weren't fulfilled; see on :1.

Isaiah 19:9 Moreover those who work in combed flax and those who weave white cloth will be confounded-
Egyptian linen was renowned (1 Kings 10:28; Ez. 27:7). But all her glory was to come to an end.

Isaiah 19:10 The pillars will be broken in pieces. All those who work for hire will be grieved in soul-
"Pillars" alludes to the Egyptian idea that their nation was held up by special pillars. The judgments of the nations in Is. 13-19 are often expressed in terms understood by them; but the concepts they held are not necessarily correct. But no correction is offered in the text, because it is assumed we understand that God uses the language of the day in talking to people.

Isaiah 19:11 The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish, the counsel of the wisest counsellors of Pharaoh has become stupid. How do you say to Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings?-
This may continue the similarities with the situation in Joseph's time (see on :7), when the Egyptian wise men were unable to provide wisdom, and Joseph had to teach these wise counsellors Divine wisdom (Ps. 105:22. Always in these judgments there is the hope that spiritual reformation will come out of them, in this case that a Hebrew Joseph / Jesus figure would be accepted by the Egyptians as their saviour; see on :16,20. They believed that wisdom was inherited, and they were the sons of the wise; and the priesthood and royal family were related. Hence Pharaoh gave Joseph a wife from the priesthood. The point is clearly made here, as it is in Matthew's genealogy of the Lord, that spirituality and wisdom is not inherited, but is a personal matter.


Isaiah 19:12 Where then are your wise men? Let them tell you now; and let them know what Yahweh of Armies has purposed concerning Egypt-
These rhetorical questions can be read not as sarcasm but as an actual appeal for the Pharaoh to repent. For that was the intention of the judgments, as this prophecy later makes clear.

Isaiah 19:13 The princes of Zoan have become fools, the princes of Memphis are deceived. They have caused Egypt to go astray, they who are the cornerstone of her tribes-
The "tribes" may refer to the ruling castes, or to the cantons of the empire. They were "deceived" by Yahweh. He confirms sinful people in the way they wish to go, and likewise opens the eyes of those who genuinely look towards Him. See on :14.

Isaiah 19:14 Yahweh has mixed a spirit of division in the midst of her; and they have caused Egypt to go astray in all of its works, like a drunken man staggers in his vomit-
The princes of Zoan became fools because of the "perverse spirit" (LXX "spirit of error") the LORD had mingled in their hearts- presumably through the work of His Angels, seeing that God makes His Angels spirits. Through the work of the Angels or directly, God can work directly on men’s hearts, and sometimes he does send an "evil spirit" (an "Angel of evil"?) on men, like He did to Saul. See on Ez. 14:9. Intellectual confusion is therefore a judgment from God. God acted upon their minds and perceptions to confuse them. "The spirit of error" is a phrase used in 1 Jn. 4:6 as being given today. When we read that God gave His good spirit (Angel?) to instruct Israel, the implication perhaps is that He was and is just as capable of giving an evil or confusing spirit to others (Ex. 9:20). The same language of judgment is used about Judah in Is. 29:10; they acted and thought like Egypt, and so they received Egypt's judgment; just as the unfaithful of the new Israel will be "condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).


Isaiah 19:15 Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which head or tail, palm branch or rush, may do-
The same words are used for God's judgment upon His people in Is. 9:14; as noted on :14, they acted and thought like Egypt, and so they received Egypt's judgment.

Isaiah 19:16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, they will tremble and fear because of the shaking of the hand of Yahweh of Armies which He shakes over them-
The trembling of women may imply they are about to give birth; always in these judgments there is the hope that spiritual reformation will come out of them; see on :7,11. The trembling suggests literal earthquakes, confirming my suggestion on :6 that what was in view was judgments on the scale of Sodom's destruction coming upon the surrounding nations to bring them to Yahweh and to join with a repentant Judah in a restored Kingdom of God. But this didn't come about at the time, not only because the Gentiles were impenitent, but because Judah were too, and the Kingdom was not to be restored at the time.

Isaiah 19:17 The land of Judah will become a terror to Egypt. Everyone to whom mention is made of it will be afraid, because of the plans of Yahweh of Armies which He determines against it-
The allusion is to the effect of the plagues at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 10;7; 11:3; 12:33,36). There could have been supernatural divine judgments upon Egypt at this time, to result in the deliverance of Judah and the repentance of a remnant amongst the Egyptians as happened at that time. But there were not those supernatural judgments at the time because the repentance was not going to be forthcoming; see on :1,6,16.

Isaiah 19:18 In that day, there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan, and swear to Yahweh of Armies-
Five is a number simply representing a remnant or small number (Is. 30:17; Lev. 26:8; 2 Kings 7:13). The great prophetic theme is that a remnant shall repent and turn to Israel's God. However what could also be in view is the repentance of the Jewish communities in Egypt (Jer. 44:1) who were starting to forget Hebrew and assimilate into Egypt. This would be the situation of :25  LXX "Blessed be my people that is in Egypt, and that is among the Assyrian".

The potential here would connect with that spoken of in Jer. 12:14-17: "Thus says Yahweh against all My evil neighbours, who touch the inheritance which I have caused My people Israel to inherit: behold, I will pluck them up from off their land, and will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. It shall happen, after that I have plucked them up, I will return and have compassion on them; and I will bring them again, every man to his inheritance, and every man to his land. It shall happen, if they will diligently learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, As Yahweh lives; even as they taught My people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built up in the midst of My people. But if they will not hear, then will I pluck up that nation, plucking up and destroying it, says Yahweh". Sadly this didn't happen at the time; for neither God's people nor the nations like Egypt repented. The Jews mixed with the people of the land of their exile, they didn’t teach them the Name, and so the prophecy didn’t come true- they weren’t built up in the midst of Israel as intended. Prophecies like Is. 19:18,24 were thereby disabled from fulfilment at that time- “In that day there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt that… swear to the Lord… in that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria”. Is. 2:2-4, Zech. 8:21-23 etc. speak of how Gentile nations would desire to learn the ways of God and come up to a temple in Zion for this purpose. Could it not be that these passages are to be read in the context of Jer. 12:14-17- that all this was only possible if at the time of the restoration the nations had learnt God’s ways from the Jews?

One will be called The city of destruction- Another reading is "the city of the Lion,” i.e. Leontopolis, where a Jewish Temple was built in BC160. Perhaps at that time there was a potential for the fulfilment of the prophecy. But the LXX has “city of Righteousness”.

Isaiah 19:19 In that day there will be an altar to Yahweh in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to Yahweh at its border-
Josephus claims that this verse was used by the Egyptian Jews as justification for building a Jewish temple at Leontopolis in Egypt in BC160. But this would have merely been an attempt to force the fulfilment of a Kingdom prophecy, and as such it was irrelevant. As explained on :18, this was to happen when Judah was penitent and the Kingdom of God had been reestablished there. But that potential didn't work out as was possible. And so the detail of this prophecy wasn't fulfilled, although the essence of it will be in the last days. Under the Mosaic law, there was to be only one altar to Yahweh, in Jerusalem. And under that law, "pillars" were forbidden (Dt. 16:22). This therefore envisages a situation when Zion's temple would be rebuilt but the law of Moses would not be in force. The potential was that the temple and worship system of Ez. 40-48 would have been built and operated by the Jews; and although that system included sacrificial worship, it is clearly not the law of Moses. It was all part of a new deal offered to Judah, a new covenant to replace the old which they had broken; and they refused that.   

Isaiah 19:20 It will be for a sign and for a witness to Yahweh of Armies in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to Yahweh because of oppressors, and He will send them a saviour and a defender, and He will deliver them-
The historical saviour of Egypt had been Joseph, Zaphnath Paaneah, 'saviour of the world'. Their judgments were intended to lead them to accept him; see on :7,11. Egypt were intended to turn to Yahweh as saviour due to their oppression at the hands of the Assyrians (:4). But they didn't. In the latter day application this refers to the acceptance of the Lord Jesus by the nations around Israel after their experience of judgment.

Isaiah 19:21 Yahweh will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know Yahweh in that day. Yes, they will worship with sacrifice and offering, and will vow a vow to Yahweh, and will perform it-
The process of Egypt's conversion is planned here in detail. The Jewish exiles in Egypt were to repent and make known the Yahweh Name to those around them in Egypt; then the Egyptians would respond to their oppression by quitting their idols and turning to Yahweh in prayer (:20), making animal and vegetable offerings to Him ("sacrifice and offering") as a result of His making Himself known to them (RVmg.), then undergo further discipline (:22), and then they would fully turn to Yahweh. Likewise God has prepared detailed potential scenarios for repentance in trillions of lives, and the tragedy is that as here, the majority of those scenarios never come about. He must watch with great joy as we at least show willingness to respond to those plans for us.


Isaiah 19:22 Yahweh will strike Egypt, striking and healing. They will return to Yahweh, and He will be entreated by them, and will heal them-
See on :21. As in Hos. 6:1, the striking of them was in order to heal them. This was the intention of the Assyrian invasions of Egypt (see on :4); but Egypt didn't spiritually respond to the striking, and so the Divine healing didn't happen.

An indication that all men who hear the Gospel have the potential to respond to it is perhaps seen in the parable of the prodigal son. His ‘coming home’ to the Father is just that- a coming home, a being received back, to all we were created to be from the very beginning. And perhaps this explains the odd reference to how ultimately, Egypt shall "return unto the Lord" (Is. 19:22). For Egypt were never 'with' the Lord. But in prospect, Egypt along with all humanity were redeemed, and they have to be brought by us to Him in actuality.

Isaiah 19:23 In that day there will be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians-
A highway from Egypt to Assyria would have to pass through Judah, and Jerusalem in particular. This was the Divine potential at the time- that a remnant from Assyria and Egypt would repent, and would come to Zion to worship. The Jerusalem temple was to be the central point of their fellowship with each other. This highway is alluded to in Is. 40:3; the highway was to be prepared in a spiritual sense in that the people would repent and be spiritually levelled out, so that the glory of Yahweh in Messiah could come over it to Zion. That would then be reflected in a literal highway leading the nations and repentant exiled Jews to Zion (Is. 49:11; 62:10; Jer. 31:21).

This prophecy clearly connects with Is. 11:16: "There will be a highway for the remnant that is left of His people from Assyria [LXX "Egypt"], like there was for Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt. Egypt was always attractive for the Jews; they trusted in Egypt and some even fled there, seeking help from Egypt rather than from their God. The significance of the highway is therefore that God would give the opportunity for spiritual repentance and return to Him; playing on the idea that the Hebrew word for "return" is also used for repentance. Just as He could dry up the Euphrates for the return to happen from there, so He could build a highway in the desert. But there was no literal highway built for Israel when they left Egypt. Yet they had God's guidance, and therefore the unchartered desert was in fact a direct highway- for those with faith to perceive it. And the apparent random twists and turns of our lives must be understood by us in that same way. It's all in fact a direct highway.

Isaiah 19:24 In that day, Israel will be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth-
The idea of each having a third is to demonstrate that ethnic differences will not be significant in the restored kingdom. Israel would have an equal part with the repentant remnants of Egypt and Assyria. This would have been hard to swallow for nationalistic, xenophobic Jews who hated the Assyrians. See on :25. "The midst of the land" often refers to Jerusalem and the temple; this was the point at which there would be no Jew nor Gentile but all would be united in the Messiah. These things didn't happen at the time but look forward to their essential fulfilment in the things of the Lord Jesus Christ in future times.

Isaiah 19:25 because Yahweh of Armies has blessed them, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance
- LXX "Blessed be my people that is in Egypt, and that is among the Assyrian". The idea is that the exiled people of God in Assyria and Egypt would repent and join with their captors in repentance and acceptance of Yahweh. This was the potential possible at the time, but as explained on :1, it didn't happen because they refused to repent. But in essence it will do so in the last days. The same possibility is alluded to in :18, where what could have been in view was the repentance of the Jewish communities in Egypt (Jer. 44:1) who were starting to forget Hebrew and assimilate into Egypt. It was Israel who are called the work of God's hands, but now the repentant remnant of the Egyptians and Assyrians were to be called that too. All this would have been hard to swallow for nationalistic, xenophobic Jews who hated the Assyrians. And perhaps that was one reason why they didn't preach to them. Jonah's refusal to preach to Nineveh is the parade example of their attitude.