Have you ever been to Israel/Palestine? If you have, what were your top 5 favorite sites that you visited? If you have not, what are the top 5 sites you would put on your ‘need to visit’ list?
Have you been keeping up with the news of this region? Once again I am recommending CNN’s Unrest in the Middle East and Africa —country by country article. CNN is keeping this article up to date with new developments making it an excellent resource for a quick overview of recent events in this part of the world.
The historical context of Isaiah 19
You may have recently heard someone mention Isaiah 19 in context with current events in Egypt. If you have not read Isaiah 19 recently, you can read it here.
What is it that Isaiah 19 is talking about? The book of Isaiah can be a complicated and confusing book to read whether or not you know the historical context in which it was written. Knowing that historical context certainly does help.
Isaiah was God’s prophet to King Hezekiah and the people Judah in the 7th century BCE. Isaiah 19 takes place at a time when a man named Shabaka had just ascended to the throne in Ethiopian Upper Egypt (what is today considered Nubia or northern Sudan). Shabaka was preparing for conquests to the north to assert his rule over Lower Egypt (the Nile Delta) as well. In preparation for that conquest Shabaka tried to ally himself with Assyria and Judah (Isaiah 18:2)
The 25th Dynasty was ruling Egypt during the time of Isaiah. This Dynasty was not the powerful kingdom with a dominant pharaoh like the dynasties of the Old Kingdom of Egypt had been. The power of the ruling family of Egypt had waned until there was an independent lord or petty king in every city of the Delta (History of Egypt, 536)! Struggles among those independent rulers eventually led to the fall of Egypt and its subjugation to the foreign Ethiopian king, Shabaka (The Third Intermediate Period, 125). This all lines up very well with the events described in 19:2-4.
Verses 19:5-10 describe an economic nightmare for the Egyptians. These verses draw upon 19:1, illustrating God’s power over the weather and nature. These natural economic disasters combined with the external and internal political pressures to bring Egypt to its knees. This is somewhat reminiscent of the disastrous plagues that befell Egypt prior to the Exodus. It is no wonder the leaders of Egypt were confused and helpless (19:11-15).
In the remainder of Isaiah 19 the phrase “in that day”, or sometimes translated “In such a day”, appears 5 times. This phrase communicates the potential results that will follow if the people of Judah, whom Isaiah is speaking to, comply with God’s plan.
5 potential results
1) The Egyptians will be terrified at what God is doing (vv 16-17). 2) The Hebrew language will be spoken and worship of God will be performed in 5 Egyptian cities (v 18). 3) God will be worshipped throughout Egypt and God will rescue the Egyptians (vv19-22). 4) A highway will be opened between Egypt and Assyria and peace, trade and worship of God will take place. 5) Israel will be a third member of this group. Egypt, Assyria and Israel will all be blessed by God (vv 24-25)
The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (19:25)
This is God’s will and plan for this region. This helps us understand Isaiah’s presentation of Assyria as God’s tool (chapter 10) and Cyrus, the king of Persia, as God’s servant (chapters 45-46).
If God had people in this region doing exactly what He wanted, what would happen? This is the question asked and answered in Isaiah chapters 18-19. Sargon, king of Assyria, is consolidating a fractured empire. Judah has a new king. Egypt is nearing the end of a period of chaos. Shabaka is seeking aid, or at least neutrality, on Egypt’s northern border while he subjugates the rebellious cities of Lower Egypt. His messengers to Jerusalem are referred on to Assyria, which is the real power in the region (18:1-2). God waits and watches and is ready to act when the time comes (18:4-6).
To this day, this plan of God’s has not come to completion. Results 1 and 2 in the list probably took place with the migration of Jews into Egypt during the Persian and Hellenistic periods. There are clear ancient textual references to Jewish temples existing in cities in Egypt. It is number 3 that we still wait upon today. God is not recognized and worshipped throughout Egypt. The same is true of Israel and the region that used to be Assyria (Syria-Iraq). Can you imagine if these modern nations and peoples worshipped God? That would be incredible and seems impossible at this time. But, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Notice the titles given to each of the three nations in Isaiah 19:25.
Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance
These are all titles normally given to Israel! These blessings assure Egypt and Assyria of God’s blessing and claims them as a means of blessing others, particularly Israel. Isaiah 19 demonstrates that God’s plan and blessings do not just incorporate Israel but the entire world!
Is peace in the Middle East possible?
YES! Isaiah 19 outlines God’s plan to bring peace to these lands. As Christians living in the United States what can you do? Be an example of Christ and His love and justice for all people where you are in your community today. Pray for your Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East to have the strength and confidence to live as Christ’s disciples. And, pray for all of those who do not know God and His love, grace and peace.
May you constantly experience the love, grace and peace of your Heavenly Father who “works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).