Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

7) The Burden Of Egypt

Isaiah 19

The shape of this prophecy is distinctive and clear-cut. The first fifteen verses form a poetic pronouncement of woe upon the land of Egypt; then follows a prose appendix, which five times repeats the characteristic prophetic phrase: “in that day.”

“Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud ... and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence.” Both expressions allude to Israel’s earlier deliverance from Egypt, when the angel of the Lord looked forth from a pillar of cloud and fire, and when judgement was executed against all the gods of Egypt (Exodus 14: 24 and 12: 12). Just as, in ancient days, Egypt reeled under a long series of hammer blows against its people, its economy and its religion, so once again the entire land and nation is to be brought to nought — this as a necessary prelude to its conversion and restoration “in that day.”

The policy of the rulers will be proved to be worthless and ineffective: “Surely the princes of Zoan are fools ... the Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof”; compare the way in which the shattering defeat in the 1967 campaign was transformed into an occasion for great rejoicing by the mobs because their blundering leader had decided not to relinquish the reins of power after all!

The nation itself will be reduced to anarchy: “they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour” — a state of affairs which 1967 did not produce; that campaign only served to increase national solidarity. The prophecy goes on to imply that out of the chaos will emerge a new iron dictator, though whether of themselves or imposed by superior power from elsewhere is not clear. The phrasing seems to favour the latter possibility. Is this the “king of fierce countenance” foretold in Daniel 8:23 “in the latter time of their kingdom”? One can only conclude that an even greater humiliation is in store for Egypt than any which has yet been experienced.


Especially impressive is the long and detailed prophecy of the drying up of the waters of Egypt. The word that seems to be used exclusively with reference to the Nile and its delta streams comes into this prophecy over and over again. “The Nile shall be wasted and dried up ... the meadows by the Nile, by the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile, shall become dry;” and as a result, “the fishers also shall mourn ... and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish;” also, “they that work in fine flax, and they that weave cotton shall be confounded.” It is a picture of complete economic dereliction.

Probably these pictures of the drying up of the Nile waters are to be taken symbolically, as indicating an overthrow of all Egyptian political and economic influence. But so often have symbolic prophecies turned out to have an unexpected foundation in literal fact that such a possibility is not to be ruled out in this place also. Perhaps there is reference here to the stagnation of the Suez Canal which today is every bit as important to Egypt’s economy as the Nile itself. The military destruction of Nile dams is another possibility.


The appendix to this prophecy of woe and dereliction has a feature which does not appear in any other place in the Bible: “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of Hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction.” The last phrase here could read “the city of the sun,” i.e. Heliopolis; but the Septuagint reading is “city of righteousness.” Such a puzzling prophecy must surely be linked with the last verse of Deuteronomy 28, which — so far as is known — has never yet received fulfilment. And, since it comes as the climax to the catalogue of curses laid upon Israel, there is fair justification for the view that this is something yet to happen in the not distant future: “And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you” (Deuteronomy 28: 68).

This interpretation gains support from ensuing details in Isaiah 19: “For they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them” (Isaiah 19: 20b).

Here is indication that these Jewish communities in Egypt are there as slaves who are to be delivered as in the time of Moses (the Hebrew text makes a significant play on the name of Moses); this Saviour is a “great one” like unto Moses.

Here, then, is the repentance of Israel, which must be manifest before their Messiah can be given to them. When this “spirit of grace and supplications” turns to God for help in the hour of greatest need, then “there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt” — not a massive Egyptian-style temple, but one of contrite hearts; not an altar with smoking reeking sacrifices, but One who is the gracious fulfilment of all such fore-shadowings.

It is not difficult to envisage how this prophecy may come to pass. In the final down-treading of Israel in their Land, a bitter experience is still in store. Zechariah 14: 2 says explicitly that in the great invasion of the Land before Messiah’s return, “the city shall be taken ... and half the city (that is, half of the population of the city) shall go into captivity.” It will doubtless be a great delight to the Egyptian nation to have enormous labour camps of Jewish prisoners to build their dams and irrigate their fields. And in such circumstances of hardship and hopelessness the Jews may be driven to turn to the God they have managed without for so long a time.


The Saviour promised in this Scripture turns out to be not only a Moses for Israel but also a Joseph for the Egyptians: “And the Lord shall smite Egypt, he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them” (Isaiah 19:22). “Intreat the Lord for me,” Pharaoh had cried to Moses, and had not truly meant it. But now an Egypt filled to the top with ignorance, squalor and hate will turn in submission to the God of their captives, and will be healed.

“And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it” (Isaiah 19:21). Contrast here the many times that Pharaoh vowed to release God’s people, and then went back on his promise! Instead there is to be a true change of heart. From that day forward “the Egyptians shall serve (God) with the Assyrians”—all the ancient enemies will come gladly acknowledging that the God of the hated Jew is the God of all the earth. It is possible that for “serve” the Hebrew text should read “passover” — i.e. on the highway which there shall be out of Egypt (v. 23). If this reading be accepted, then, in effect, the text reads “the Egyptians shall Hebrew with the Assyrians” — it is a picture of Gentile nations having become Jews to the glory of the God of Israel.

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