Tagged: Matthew Henry’s commentary

Isaiah 19: Egypt’s Heart will Melt

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Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

The oracle in Chapter 19 describes four different kings who are trying to control Egypt around 720 – 711 B.C., according to Gary V. Smith in The New American Commentary. If so, this would place Isaiah’s prophecy in the reigns of Judah’s kings Ahaz and Hezekiah.

Key verse:

Isa. 19:1 – Look, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. Egypt’s idols will tremble before Him, and Egypt’s heart will melt within it.

Quick summary:

D.A. Carson summarizes: “This oracle is a strong expression of the truth that God smites in order to heal (see v 22). The initial breakdown is followed by a renewal which goes beyond anything promised to a Gentile nation in the O.T. Perhaps Egypt is shown here in its two aspects: first, as the worldly power to which Israel was always looking (cf. 20:5) and secondly, as part of God’s world, for which he cares, with a place in his kingdom in which present ranks and races will be quite superseded” (New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, S. Is 18:1).

Take note:

While Egypt must suffer God’s judgment, Isaiah depicts a glorious day when the nation will be converted and worship Him. When the Egyptians are converted (vv. 18-22) they will openly honor the Lord with an altar in the center of the country and a pillar near the border (vv. 19-20). The Egyptians will offer sacrifices and gifts to the Lord (v. 21) and, along with the Assyrians and Israelites, joyfully serve Him (vv. 23-25). Other Old Testament prophets wrote of Egypt’s future as well (see Jer. 46; Ezek. 29-30).

The Lord’s Message to Egypt (Isa. 19:1-15)

Here and in other passages of Scripture the Lord is seen riding on a cloud (v. 1; see also Ps. 68:4, 33: 104:3). In Canaanite mythology, the same imagery is used of Baal, the god of rain and fertility. But the Lord, not Baal, is the true Giver of rain, something the Egyptians will sorely need (vv. 5-10). The Egyptians’ false gods will not be able to save them from approaching judgment. Forced to abandon their trust in idols that “tremble” before Yahweh, the Egyptians will be reduced to infighting, despair and defeat at the hands of “harsh masters” and “a strong king” (v. 4). Isaiah does not identify the strong king, but possibly it is the Ethiopian ruler Shabaka or the Assyrian king Sargon.

Matthew Henry writes: “Isis, Osiris, and Apis, those celebrated idols of Egypt, being found unable to relieve their worshippers, shall be disowned and rejected by them. Idolatry had got deeper rooting in Egypt than in any land besides, even the most absurd idolatries; and yet now the idols shall be moved and they shall be ashamed of them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 19:1).

The Lord also will afflict the source of their livelihood, the Nile River, interrupting the annual flooding that brings water and mineral-rich silt to its banks. As a result, papyrus reeds, plants, and every cultivated crop will wilt. Fishermen using hooks or nets will fail to get their catch of fish in the receding, putrid waters. And those who derive their income from flax, or from linens made of flax or other materials, will lose their livelihood. The entire economy will come to a halt despite the feverish way they invoke their pantheon of gods.

Zoan and Memphis (vv. 11, 15) are the two largest cities in Lower (northern) Egypt in Isaiah’s time and serve as important administrative centers. Although many leaders in these cities profess themselves to be wise, steeped in the ways of their fathers, God has given them “a spirit of confusion” (v. 14) so that the princes are “complete fools” and Pharaoh’s wisest advisers offer “stupid advice” (v. 11). The nobles of Egypt boast of their antiquity, but even with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom, they are not able to see the calamity coming, or prevent it. “Without access to God’s wisdom and plan, people are left confused and misguided. Fearing God and depending on his wisdom is where every wise person must start (Prov. 1:7)” (Smith, p. 358).

Egypt Will Know the Lord (Isa. 19:16-25)

The six-fold refrain, “On that day …” (vv. 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24) points to the day of the Lord and features the conversion of the Gentiles – in this case, the conversion of Israel’s enemies, the Egyptians and Assyrians. This is a future promise of judgment followed by blessing.

Both Egypt and Judah will see their roles reversed in the days ahead. In contrast with Isaiah’s day, when Judah thinks about appealing to Egypt for help, a time will come when Egypt is in terror as she recognizes that Judah is the stronger nation, held firmly in the uplifted hand of the Lord Almighty.

The “five cities” (or “several cities”) of verse 18 are unknown but could represent the rest of the nation. The “City of the Sun,” however, likely is Heliopolis, a major city in the south of the Nile Delta dedicated to the worship of the sun god Re. The dramatic change in this city – where the Lord is exalted above all Egyptian gods – will demonstrate to the world that Egypt has repented of idolatry and placed its trust in the one true and living God.

Some commentators suggest that the cities mentioned here are near the Egyptian border and engaged in commerce with Israel. If so, the cities could be Heliopolis, Leontopolis, Migdol, Daphne (Tahpanes), and Memphis. Isaiah’s prophecy that the Egyptians will speak the “language of Canaan” (v. 18) likely means they will embrace the Jewish religion and desire to study God’s Word in its original language. When will all this take place? After the Messiah comes and sits on the throne of David (Zech. 14:9; John 17:21).

An interesting side note about verse 19: In about 170 B.C. a temple was built at Leontopolis by Onias IV, an ousted Egyptian priest who appealed to this verse as justification. But the intention of this passage, it seems, is to point out that this once profane land one day will become holy ground.

Verses 23-25 give us a magnificent foretaste of the Gentiles’ full inclusion in God’s kingdom. “Israel will have only an equal part (a third, 24; but not third place), and her distinctive titles will be shared out with her cruelest enemies” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 19:16). This must be an unbelievable prophecy for the listeners in Isaiah’s day. The nation’s sworn enemies, and pagans as well, one day will be God’s people, sharing in Israel’s covenant blessings, having their prayers heard and answered, offering sacrifices to the Lord, and receiving spiritual healing. It will happen, and from our New Testament perspective we may anticipate this day just as the faithful in Judah did 2,700 years ago.

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith writes: “Knowing how the radical Muslims control much of Egypt, Iraq, and Iran today, this prophecy still seems an amazing promise of the miraculous transforming power of God’s presence and grace. The prayer of every believer should be that the people in their own nation would respond as the Egyptians will and consequently join the many nations that will worship at God’s throne some day in the future” (p. 364).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 9: Prince of Peace, and Scorched Earth

Listen to the audio file

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Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

 When this takes place:

Chapter 9 takes place during the reign of Ahaz, Judah’s wicked king. While Isaiah’s ministry focuses on the southern kingdom, this chapter speaks to the northern kingdom of Israel as well. Even though the Israelites will face the darkness of military defeat, the day is coming when they will see “great light” as the Messiah lives and ministers in Galilee.

Key verse:

Isa. 9:6:  For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Quick summary:

This chapter highlights God’s Son and God’s sovereignty. Verses 1-7 give us additional information about Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), who will be a gift from heaven, God incarnate, and a light to all people. Verses 8-21 describe the punishment God is about to inflict on His own people, even though their defeat at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines will not lead to repentance.

Take note:

Verse 6 is one of the clearest Old Testament passages affirming the deity and the humanity of the Messiah. He will be born a male child, yet is from age to age Mighty God and Eternal Father.

The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:1-7)

The devastation of Israel at the hands of Assyria eventually will give way to an age of universal peace. In fact, the very lands about to experience darkness and death will be the first to see the light of a new day with the coming of the Messiah. As Matthew’s gospel makes clear, the region of Israel referred to in Isa. 9:1 is the first to rejoice in the light brought by Christ’s preaching (Matt. 4:12-17).

While Isa. 7:14 focuses on Messiah’s birth and 11:1-16 on His kingdom, verses 6-7 of chapter 9 lay great emphasis on His person. The first three titles imply deity:

  • The word “wonderful” as in “Wonderful Counselor” regularly means “supernatural” in scripture. See, for example, Judges 13:18. In addition, Isa. 28:29 describes Yahweh as “wonderful in counsel” (KJV).
  • “Mighty God” is a term ascribed to “the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” in Isa. 10:20-21.
  • “Everlasting Father” has no exact parallel but is significant. “Father signifies the paternal benevolence of the perfect Ruler over a people whom he loves as his children. Peace in Hebrew implies prosperity as well as tranquility” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, S. Is 9:1). While Messiah is a distinct person from God the Father, Jesus clearly claims to be both Messiah and co-equal with the Father (John 10:30). “Father of Eternity” is a better translation, according to Warren Wiersbe. “Among the Jews, the word ‘father’ means ‘originator’ or ‘source.’ For example, Satan is the ‘father [originator] of lies’ (John 8:44, NIV). If you want anything eternal, you must get it from Jesus Christ; He is the ‘Father of eternity'” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).

The fourth title, “Prince of Peace,” speaks to Messiah’s character. Luke 2:14, John 14:27, Acts 10:36, Rom. 5:1-10, and Eph. 2:14-18 are a few of the New Testament passages that point to Jesus as the One who brings peace to human hearts and to a sin-sick world. Matthew Henry comments: “As a King, he preserves the peace, commands peace, nay, he creates peace, in his kingdom. He is our peace, and it is his peace that both keeps the hearts of his people and rules in them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:1).

Finally, verse 7 emphasizes the scope of Messiah’s kingdom. It will be vast and never-ending (see Dan. 7:14, 27; Micah 4:7; Luke 1:32-33; Rev. 11:15). He will maintain righteousness as His rule conforms to God’s holy character. “This will all be accomplished by the zeal of the Lord Almighty. The coming of the millennial kingdom depends on God, not Israel. The Messiah will rule because God promised it and will zealously see that the kingdom comes. Without His sovereign intervention there would be no kingdom for Israel” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1053).

God’s anger, Israel’s arrogance (Isa. 9:8-21)

The rest of the chapter warns that God is about to punish Israel at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines. Even though Israel will be destroyed, she will not repent and turn to the Lord. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Isa. 9:6-7 describes the universal reign of the Messiah. Then the rest of the chapter suddenly shifts to describe the judgment about to be visited on the Northern Kingdom, Israel (vv. 8-21). How are these linked? Jesus’ reign is marked by universal allegiance to God. Israel’s tragic history was marked from the beginning by rebellion against Him (1 Kings 12). Those who will not submit to the Lord will surely experience not the blessing of messianic times, but the havoc and ruination that crushed Israel” (The Bible Readers Companion, Electronic edition, S. 417).

Verses 9-10 describe the arrogance with which the northern kingdom regards God’s wrath. Though their sun-dried bricks will not stand, the people plan to rebuild with more expensive and durable cut stones. And though sycamores are abundant and used for their antiseptic qualities, which induced the Egyptians to use sycamore to encase their mummies, the northern tribes boast that they will rebuild with the aromatic, knot-free, and more valuable cedar.

Verses 11-12 describe what is about to happen. The foes of Rezin, king of Aram and an ally of Israel, will consume the northern kingdom. Specifically, the foes are other Arameans and the Philistines. While this is the Lord’s doing, it does not bring Israel to repentance and therefore does not quench the wrath of God. Verse 12 ends with a refrain that is repeated three more times in the following verses: “In all this, His anger is not removed, and His hand is still raised to strike” (see Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4).

The words in verse 14 – “So the Lord cut off Israel’s head and tail, palm branch and reed” – comprise a merism, a figure of speech using opposite extremes to include the whole spectrum.  Verses 15-17 provide the needed detail. The elders (the head) and the false prophets (the tail), the leaders and those who are misled – even the fatherless and widows will reap judgment because “everyone is a godless evildoer” (v. 17).

Verses 18-21 describe the wickedness of God’s people as a consuming fire, with the people themselves as fuel. As God directs punishment against them, they are destroyed by enemies from without and rivals from within. “Ephraim’s own wickedness was destroying the nation, the way a fire destroys a forest or a field,” writes Warren W. Wiersbe. “But the sinners would become fuel for the fire God could kindle! In their greed, the people of the Northern Kingdom were devouring one another (v. 20) and battling one another (v. 21); but they would soon be devoured and defeated by Assyria” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry writes: “The reason why the judgments of God are prolonged is because the point is not gained, sinners are not brought to repentance by them. The people turn not to him that smites them, and therefore he continues to smite them; for when God judges he will overcome, and the proudest stoutest sinner shall either bend or break” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:8).

 Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips