Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
The nineteenth and twentieth chapters are connected, but with an
interval between. Egypt had been held by an Ethiopian dynasty, Sabacho,
Sevechus, or Sabacho II, and Tirhakah, for forty or fifty years.
Sevechus (called So, the ally of Hoshea,
retired from Lower Egypt on account of the resistance of the priests;
and perhaps also, as the Assyrians threatened Lower Egypt. On his
withdrawal, Sethos, one of the priestly caste, became supreme, having
Tanis ("Zoan") or else Memphis as his capital, 718 B.C.; while the Ethiopians retained Upper Egypt, with
Thebes as its capital, under Tirhakah. A third native dynasty was at
Sais, in the west of Lower Egypt; to this at a later period belonged
Psammetichus, the first who admitted Greeks into Egypt and its armies;
he was one of the dodecarchy, a number of petty kings between whom
Egypt was divided, and by aid of foreign auxiliaries overcame the rest,
670 B.C. To the divisions at this last time,
"a cruel lord." The dissensions of the ruling castes are certainly
referred to. But the time referred to is much earlier than that of
the invasion of Egypt is represented as caused by "the Lord"; and in
"Judah" is spoken of as "a terror to Egypt," which it could hardly have
been by itself. Probably, therefore, the Assyrian invasion of
Egypt under Sargon, when Judah was the ally of Assyria, and Hezekiah
had not yet refused tribute as he did in the beginning of Sennacherib's
reign, is meant. That Assyria was in Isaiah's mind appears from the way
in which it is joined with Israel and Egypt in the worship of Jehovah
(Isa 19:24, 25).
Thus the dissensions referred to
allude to the time of the withdrawal of the Ethiopians from Lower
Egypt, probably not without a struggle, especially with the priestly
caste; also to the time when Sethos usurped the throne and entered on
the contest with the military caste, by the aid of the town
populations: when the Saitic dynasty was another cause of division.
Sargon's reign was between 722-715 B.C. answering
to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped his throne [G. V.
1. burden--(See on
upon . . . cloud--
(Ps 104:3; 18:10).
come into Egypt--to inflict vengeance. "Egypt," in
Hebrew, Misraim, plural form, to express the two regions of Egypt.
BUNSEN observes, The title of their kings runs thus: "Lord of Upper and
idols--the bull, crocodile, &c. The idols poetically are said to
be "moved" with fear at the presence of one mightier than even they were
supposed to be
2. set--stir up. GESENIUS translates, "arm."
Egyptians against the Egyptians--Lower against Upper: and Saitic
against both. (See
NEWTON refers it to the civil wars between Apries
and Amasis at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion; also between
Tachos, Nectanebus, and the Mendesians, just before Ochus subdued
kingdom against kingdom--The Septuagint has "nome against nome";
Egypt was divided into forty-two nomes or districts.
3. spirit--wisdom, for which Egypt was famed
answering to "counsel" in the parallel clause.
fail--literally, "be poured out," that is, be made void
They shall "seek" help from sources that can afford none,
charmers--literally, "those making a faint sound"; the soothsayers
imitated the faint sound which was attributed to the spirits of the dead
4. cruel lord--"Sargon," in Hebrew it is lords;
but plural is often used to express greatness, where,
one alone is meant
The parallel word "king" (singular) proves it.
NEWTON makes the general reference to be to
Nebuchadnezzar, and a particular reference to Cambyses, son of
Cyrus (who killed the Egyptian god, Apis), and Ochus, Persian
conquerors of Egypt, noted for their "fierce cruelty."
GESENIUS refers it to Psammetichus, who had
brought into Egypt Greek and other foreign mercenaries to subdue the
other eleven princes of the dodecarchy.
5. the sea--the Nile. Physical calamities, it is observed in history,
often accompany political convulsions
The Nile shall "fail" to rise to its wonted height, the result of which
will be barrenness and famine. Its "waters" at the time of the overflow
resemble "a sea" [PLINY, Natural History,
85.11]; and it is still called El-Bahr," "the sea," by the
A public record is kept at Cairo of the daily rise of the water at the
proper time of overflow, namely, August: if it rises to a less height
than twelve cubits, it will not overflow the land, and famine must be
the result. So, also, when it rises higher than sixteen; for the waters
are not drained off in time sufficient to sow the seed.
6. they shall turn the rivers--rather, "the streams shall become
putrid"; that is, the artificial streams made for irrigation shall
become stagnant and offensive when the waters fail
with the Septuagint, translates, "And waters from the sea shall be
drunk"; by the failure of the river water they shall be reduced to sea
brooks of defence--rather, "canals of Egypt"; "canals," literally,
"Niles," Nile canals, the plural of the Egyptian term for the
great river. The same Hebrew word, Matzor, whence comes
Mitzraim, expresses Egypt, and a place of "defense."
English Version translates it, "embanked canals,"
reeds . . . flags--the papyrus. "Reed and rush";
7. paper-reeds--rather, pastures, literally, "places naked" of
wood, and famed for rich herbage, on the banks of the Nile [GESENIUS]. Compare
HORSLEY translates, "nakedness upon the river,"
descriptive of the appearance of a river when its bottom is bare and
its banks stripped of verdure by long drought: so Vulgate.
the brooks--the river.
mouth--rather, "the source" [Vulgate]. "Even close to the river's
side vegetation shall be so withered as to be scattered in the shape
of powder by the wind" (English Version, "driven away")
8. fishers--The Nile was famed for fish
many would be thrown out of employment by the failure of fishes.
angle--a hook. Used in the "brooks" or canals, as the "net" was in
"the waters" of the river itself.
9. fine flax--GESENIUS, for "fine,"
translates, "combed"; fine "linen"
was worn by the rich only
Egypt was famous for it
The processes of its manufacture are represented on the Egyptian tombs.
Israel learned the art in Egypt
The cloth now found on the mummies was linen, as is shown by the
microscope. WILKINSON mentions linen from Egypt
which has five hundred forty (or two hundred seventy double) threads in
one inch in the warp; whereas some modern cambric has but a hundred
networks--rather, white cloth
(Es 1:6; 8:16).
10. in the purposes--rather, "the foundations," that is, "the nobles
shall be broken" or brought low: so
"The princes--the stay of the tribes. The Arabs call a prince "a
pillar of the people" [MAURER]. "Their
weaving-frames" [HORSLEY]. "Dykes"
all that make sluices, &c.--"makers of dams," made to confine
the waters which overflow from the Nile in artificial fish-ponds
[HORSLEY]. "Makers of gain," that is, the common
people who have to earn their livelihood, as opposed to the "nobles"
11. Zoan--The Greeks called it Tanis, a city of Lower Egypt, east of
the Tanitic arms of the Nile, now San; it was one the Egyptian towns
nearest to Palestine
the scene of Moses' miracles
(Ps 78:12, 43).
It, or else Memphis, was the capital under Sethos.
I am . . . son of the wise . . . kings--Ye
have no advice to suggest to Pharaoh in the crisis, notwithstanding
that ye boast of descent from wise and royal ancestors. The priests
were the usual "counsellors" of the Egyptian king. He was generally
chosen from the priestly caste, or, if from the warrior caste, he was
admitted into the sacred order, and was called a priest. The priests
are, therefore, meant by the expression, "son of the wise, and of
ancient kings"; this was their favorite boast (HERODOTUS, 2.141; compare
"Pharaoh" was the common name of all the kings: Sethos, probably, is
12. let them know--that is, How is it that, with all their boast of
knowing the future [DIODORUS, 1.81],
they do not know what Jehovah of hosts . . .
13. Noph--called also Moph; Greek, Memphis
on the western bank of the Nile, capital of Lower Egypt, second only to
Thebes in all Egypt: residence of the kings, until the Ptolemies
removed to Alexandria; the word means the "port of the good" [PLUTARCH]. The military caste probably ruled in
it: "they also are deceived," in fancying their country secure
from Assyrian invasion.
stay of . . . tribes--rather, "corner-stone of her
castes" [MAURER], that is, the princes, the two
ruling castes, the priests and the warriors: image from a building
which rests mainly on its corner-stones (see on
14. err in every work thereof--referring to the anarchy arising from
their internal feuds. HORSLEY
translates, "with respect to all His (God's) work"; they misinterpreted God's dealings at every step.
"Mingled" contains the same image as "drunken"; as one mixes spices
with wine to make it intoxicating
Pr 9:2, 5),
so Jehovah has poured among them a spirit of giddiness, so that
they are as helpless as a "drunken man."
15. work for Egypt--nothing which Egypt can do to extricate itself
from the difficulty.
head or tail--high or low
(Isa 19:11-15, and
branch or rush--the lofty palm branch or the humble reed
(Isa 9:14, 15; 10:33, 34).
16. like . . . women--timid and helpless
shaking of . . . hand--His judgments by means of the invaders
(Isa 10:5, 32; 11:15).
17. Judah . . . terror unto Egypt--not by itself: but
at this time Hezekiah was the active subordinate ally of Assyria in its
invasion of Egypt under Sargon. Similarly to the alliance of Judah with
Assyria here is
where Josiah takes the field against Pharaoh-nechoh of Egypt, probably
as ally of Assyria against Egypt [G. V. SMITH].
VITRINGA explains it that Egypt in its calamities
would remember that prophets of Judah had foretold them, and so Judah
would be "a terror unto Egypt."
18-22. In that day, &c.--Suffering shall lead to repentance. Struck
with "terror" and "afraid"
because of Jehovah's judgments, Egypt shall be converted to Him: nay,
even Assyria shall join in serving Him; so that Israel, Assyria, and
Egypt, once mutual foes, shall be bound together by the tie of a common
faith as one people. So a similar issue from other prophecies
(Isa 18:7; 23:18).
five cities--that is, several cities, as in
Isa 17:6; 30:17;
Rather, five definite cities of Lower Egypt
(Isa 19:11, 13; 30:4),
which had close intercourse with the neighboring Jewish cities [MAURER]; some say, Heliopolis, Leontopolis (else
Diospolis), Migdol, Daphne (Tahpanes), and Memphis.
language of Canaan--that is, of the Hebrews in Canaan, the language
of revelation; figuratively for, They shall embrace the Jewish
religion: so "a pure language" and conversion to God are
as also the first confounding and multiplication of languages was the
punishment of the making of gods at Babel, other than the One God.
was the counterpart of Babel: the separation of nations is not to
hinder the unity of faith; the full realization of this is yet future
The next clause, "swear to the Lord of Hosts," agrees with this view;
that is, bind themselves to Him by solemn covenant
(Isa 45:23; 65:16;
city of destruction--Onias; "city of the sun," that is,
On, or Heliopolis; he persuaded Ptolemy Philometer (149 B.C.) to let him build a temple in the prefecture
(nome) of Heliopolis, on the ground that it would induce Jews to reside
there, and that the very site was foretold by Isaiah six hundred years
before. The reading of the Hebrew text is, however, better
supported, "city of destruction"; referring to Leontopolis, the
site of Onias' temple: which casts a reproach on that city because
it was about to contain a temple rivalling the only sanctioned
temple, that at Jerusalem. MAURER, with some
manuscripts, reads "city of defense" or "deliverance";
namely, Memphis, or some such city, to which God was about to send "a
to "deliver them."
19. altar--not for sacrifice, but as the "pillar" for memorial and worship
Isaiah does not contemplate a temple in Egypt: for the only
legal temple was at Jerusalem; but, like the patriarchs, they shall
have altars in various places.
pillar--such as Jacob reared
(Ge 28:18; 35:14);
it was a common practice in Egypt to raise obelisks commemorating
divine and great events.
at the border--of Egypt and Judah, to proclaim to both countries the
common faith. This passage shows how the Holy Spirit raised Isaiah above
a narrow-minded nationality to a charity anticipatory of gospel
20. it--the altar and pillar.
a sign--(of the fulfilment of prophecy) to their contemporaries.
a witness--to their descendants.
unto the Lord--no longer, to their idols, but to Jehovah.
for they shall cry--or, "a sign . . . that they cried, . . . and
He sent to them a saviour"; probably, Alexander the Great
(so "a great one"), whom the Egyptians welcomed as a deliverer
(Greek, Soter, a title of the Ptolemies) out of the hands of the
Persians, who under Cambyses had been their "oppressors." At
Alexandria, called from him, the Old Testament was translated into
Greek for the Greek-speaking Jews, who in large numbers dwelt in
Egypt under the Ptolemies, his successors. Messiah is the antitype
ultimately intended (compare
22. return--for heathen sin and idolatry are an apostasy from
23. highway--free communication, resting on the highest basis, the
common faith of both
Assyria and Egypt were joined under Alexander as parts of his empire:
Jews and proselytes from both met at the feasts of Jerusalem. A type of
gospel times to come.
serve with--serve Jehovah with the Assyrians. So "serve" is used
24. third--The three shall be joined as one nation.
blessing--the source of blessings to other nations, and the object
of their benedictions.
in the midst of the land--rather, "earth"
Judah is designed to be the grand center of the whole earth
25. Whom--rather, "Which," namely, "the land," or "earth," that is,
the people of it [MAURER].
my people--the peculiar designation of Israel, the elect people, here
applied to Egypt to express its entire admission to religious privileges
1Pe 2:9, 10).
work of my hands--spiritually