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Isaiah Chapter 19 Notes

Posted by lehunt on August 5, 2014

Isaiah Ch 19 Commentary // larryhuntbiblecommentary.wordpress.com

Here are my thoughts on Isaiah Nineteen.

Below is a timeline of the history of Egypt around the time to which this prophecy is supposed to refer.

During his reign (747-716 B.C.) Piankhy, King of Ethiopia, invaded Egypt, taking advantage of that kingdom’s internal strife.  In accomplishing this invasion, Piankhy fought against the princes of the Delta region in northern (Lower) Egypt.  These princes constituted the 24th Egyptian dynasty.  Piankhy’s Ethiopian dynasty was the 25thdynasty to rule Egypt.  Piankhy eventually forced the 24th dynasty to submit to his authority, but the Delta Princes were allowed some degree of autonomy under the Ethiopian Pharaohs.[1]

The Ethiopian dynasty had three kings after Piankhy.

Sabaco

Sevechus (2nd Kings 17:4)

Tarakos (Tearko)

Then, in 671 B.C., Assyria invaded Egypt and forced the Ethiopians out of Egypt.

In 663 B.C.  The Assyrians had to leave Egypt.  After this, the son of Tarakos regained control of and ruled parts of Southern (Upper) Egypt for the next 11 years, but Assyria eventually drove him back to Ethiopia.  Ethiopians never again ruled Egypt.

The 26th dynasty came to power after the Assyrians drove Ethiopia out.  Psamtek I, King of Sais, founded the dynasty. (He was a descendant of the Delta Princes who had comprised the 24th dynasty; Sais was a city in Lower Egypt.)  Eventually, he ruled the whole of Egypt and successfully won the nation’s independence from Assyria.[2]

v. 4: Barnes believes that this fierce ruler is Psammentichus and that the politically fragmenting effect of the dodekarchy is the civil strife described in vs. 2-3, but to me the text seems too general to make any clear conclusions on the subject.  The Oxford commentary says the fierce ruler might be the Ethiopian king Piankhi, which seems just as plausible to me since he conquered Egypt at a time when it was weakened by civil discord.

Vs. 18-19: Barnes suggests that “five” here in v. 18 is an indefinite number, designating something other than five (338),[3] but I do not believe so.  I cannot think of another part of the Bible where the number five works in this way.  Besides, later on Barnes lists five cities settled by Jews in Egypt and admits that these may be the five cities of this verse (342).  This verse has the feel of a very accurate, literal prediction of the future.  In fact, vs. 18-19 both predict the future so clearly (as opposed to the earlier sections of the chapter) that the Oxford commentary (following its premise that supernatural prediction of the future is impossible) believes them to be written after the events they describe.  There were eventually five cities in Egypt that were settled by the Jews and consequently spoke the language of Canaan.  One of these cities was Heliopolis, the City of the Sun.  Also, Barnes and the Oxford commentary both note that a second temple to the LORD was built in the prefecture or province of this city, Heliopolis.  If, however, this temple is the “altar” (or “pillar”) to the LORD (v. 19) it is a little problematic.

It does seem to me (given the reference to the City of the Sun) that this second temple is what the verse refers to.  The problem is that I would have thought that Isaiah would have condemned such a temple as illegal.  Worship of God at high places (i.e., at more than one place at a time) seems to have been a very gray area for the Jews.  (See notes for 1st Kings 3:3.)  For instance, from the time of Samuel until the building of Solomon’s temple, there were two main centers of worship, and they required two high priests to oversee them: one at Jerusalem with the Ark, and the other at Gibeon with the tabernacle.  In addition to this, God was worshipped at high places throughout the land.  Apparently God tolerated this practice of worshiping him at more than one place at a time in spite of the fact that it was not ideal according to the Law of Moses.[4] But since spatially centralized worship was the ideal under the Law of Moses, God did commend those who strove to achieve that end, which is why Hezekiah is praised in 2nd Kings 18 for removing the high places.  It just seems odd to me that Isaiah, who was probably the one who influenced Hezekiah to get rid of the high places, would describe this Egyptian altar and pillar to the LORD as a sign that the Egyptians would eventually belong to the true faith.  Barnes believes that this altar and pillar need not have been places of worship; he thinks they might simply have been memorials to God (340).  This may be true, but it seems more reasonable to me to believe that Isaiah is referring to the temple in Heliopolis since that city is mentioned by name here and since it did contain a temple (and, presumably, an altar).

v. 20: This promise of a savior may refer to a specific person (such as Alexander the Great, as Barnes believes) or simply to the fact that God will deliver them whenever they are oppressed, so long as they are faithful to him.


[1] Although Barnes does seem to say in another place that all of Egypt was under Ethiopian control (Barnes Notes: 1st Samuel – Esther 285) his introductory notes on this chapter seem to treat Egypt as a split nation where only the southern portion (Upper Egypt) is under Ethiopian control.

[2] Barnes names this man “Psammetichus,” and claims that after he came to power, he put down a dodekarchy (which I am assuming is the government of “twelve” Delta Princes).

[3] In the same way, saying “I’ve done that a hundred times” designates many times rather than 100 times.

[4] Perhaps he tolerated it because it ultimately reflected the way Spiritual Israel would worship him in the future.  Jesus himself addresses the issue in his conversation with the Samaritan woman.

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