Egypt’s Dossier, Part 3: Isaiah 19

Retouched versions of this picture from the ge...
An altar and a pillar in the Land of Egypt?

For parts 1 and 2 of this series, look here and here.  I’ve been slow in doing part 3 due to wanting to take the time to carefully study the relevant prophetic passages, particularly Isaiah 19 and 30, and Ezekiel 29-32.  As I’ve done so, I’ve pondered whether I should try to pull them all together into a single timeline.  However, each passage deserves to be read in its own context and to have its historical fulfillment explained individually.  The Holy One gave us these prophecies in the order that He did for a reason, and we need to understand that reason and how it effects our understanding of the passage; this is Hillel’s seventh principle of interpretation, Davar Hilmad Me’anino (Explanation obtained from context).

So what is the context of Isaiah 19?  This chapter comes in the middle of a series of prophecies about Israel’s neighbors and adversaries, starting with the fall of Babylon in chapters 13-14 and running through Isaiah’s “little apocalypse” in chapters 24-27.  Each of these prophecies have historical fulfillments, but each also has elements that have never been fulfilled and point to a more complete fulfillment yet future.

In the case of chapter 19, let’s look at the hint of a future fulfillment before we proceed:

The LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing. They will return to the LORD, and he will be entreated by them, and will heal them.  In that day there will be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.  In that day, Israel will be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth; because the LORD of Hosts has blessed them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”  (vv. 22-25)

The expectation of a future union between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria does refer to the literal nations, but through them prophesies as well of the union between Israel and all the Gentile world.   This prophecy has quite obviously never been fulfilled in either its narrow or broad senses, and since it is said to be fulfilled “in that day” that the rest of the prophecy is ultimately fulfilled (cf. vv. 16, 18, and 19), this is our “hint” that though this prophecy may have past fulfillments, it has a future one as well.

Historically, the civil war described in vv. 2-4 refers to the civil war that Egypt suffered in the early 7th Century BCE, about a hundred years after Isaiah penned the prophecy.  In this civil war, according to Albert Barnes on Isa. 19:4,

Twelve kings were in contention, of whom he was one. He called in the aid of the Arabians, the pirates of Caria and Iona (Herodot. ii. 152; see the Analysis of the chapter; Diod. i. 66). This was in the twentieth year of the reign of Manasseh. Psammetichus reigned fifty-four years and was succeeded by Nechus his son, called in Scripture Pharaoh-Necho, and often mentioned under that name. Psammetichus, during a considerable part of his reign, was engaged in wars with Assyria and Palestine. He is here called a ‘cruel lord;’ that is, an oppressive monarch, probably because he secured the kingdom by bringing in to his aid foreign mercenaries – robbers and pirates, and because his wars made his government oppressive and burdensome.

Psammetichus I

Psammetichus, or Psamtik I, was the father of Pharaoh Neco of the Bible.  Others suppose that the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is the one prophesied here, which would be consistent with the numerous other prophecies predicting Egypt’s fall to Babylon.  I’ll leave both interpretations open for the reader to consider.

Verses 6-10 describe an ecological disaster caused by the Nile failing to flood at its proper times.  Egypt itself receives only 2-5 millimeters of rainfall a year, and is entirely dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile to provide for its crops.  Failure of the Nile to flood, or at least flood sufficiently to provide a good harvest, could be caused by a drought hundreds of miles to the south in Africa.  John Gill, in his commentary on Isa. 19:6, suggests that a building project of one of the Pharaohs, such as a massive canal project mentioned by Herodotus in one of his histories, could be the fulfillment.

The general confusion and consternation of Egypt is then described, with the cause given in v. 17:  “The land of Judah will become a terror to Egypt. Everyone to whom mention is made of it will be afraid, because of the plans of the LORD of Hosts, which he determines against it.”  This probably refers to Egypt becoming fearful when they would see Babylon’s armies fall upon Judah, knowing that they were next.

Map of Answan, including the dam and Elephantine Island

And finally, vv. 18-21 describes five cities becoming refuges for the Jews, resulting in them “speaking the language of Canaan,” which is to say, the language then spoken in the land once called Canaan which was being punished for the sins of Canaan.  Verse 19 describes an altar being built to Hashem in the midst of the land.  This most likely refers to the scale replica of the Temple built on Elephantine Island, just north of the Answan Dam, which may have actually housed the Ark of the Covenant for a time!  (See The Seat of Mercy for the case for this fascinating possibility.)

So we see that Isaiah’s prophecy had very distinct fulfillments to the people who lived in the two hundred years that followed the giving of the prophecy.  Whenever we look at Biblical prophecy, we see such “near” fulfillments that prove the prophet to be the true messenger of the Eternal One.  Now let us look at the “far” fulfillment of the prophecy indicated by the unfulfilled epilogue of the passage.

First, let us zoom in on the failure of the Nile described in vv. 6-10, since this passage we can already see being fulfilled again in our day.  The following is from a University of Michigan report called “Human Impacts on the Nile River,” which we will compare to the details of the prophecy:

Report Isaiah
Since the annual floods from the Nile River no longer occur, the sediments and silt that were carried all throughout the region are trapped, and as one scientist explains, “Sediment is primarily retained in an extremely dense network of irrigation and drain channels, and also in wetlands in the northern delta” (Stanley, 1). The waters will fail from the sea, and the river will be wasted and become dry.
The chemical fertilizers contain high levels of Nitrogen and Phosphorous which are harmful because they flow from the cropland to the water.  Both of these elements are known to cause an increase in algae and algal blooms The rivers will become foul. The streams of Egypt will be diminished and dried up. The reeds and flags will wither away.
As evidenced by Figure three, the sardine fishery near the Egyptian coast declined after the Aswan Dam was built, however, since the 1980’s, it has been gradually increasing.  Sayed El-Sayed explains the affect that the dam had on the fish populations after the dam was constructed, “The average fish catch declined from nearly 35,000 tons in 1962 and 1963 to less than one-fourth of this catch in 1969… Since the late 1980s, the total fish catch off the Egyptian coast has grown to levels comparable to those that existed before construction of the dam” (Sayed, 1). The fishermen will lament, and all those who fish in the Nile will mourn, and those who spread nets on the waters will languish.
Lake Nasser is experiencing alarming rates of evaporation because the Lake was formed over a region that is very dry and hot.  The water loss from the lake is, “…one of the national problems, because the lake is the water bank of Egypt and the evaporated water range between 10 to 16 billion cubic meter every year, which represent 20 to 30% of the Egyptian income from Nile water” (Shalhout, 1). The streams of Egypt will be diminished and dried up. The reeds and flags will wither away. The meadows by the Nile, by the brink of the Nile, and all the sown fields of the Nile, will become dry, be driven away, and be no more.

If the environmental impact of the Answan Dam so closely matched this prophecy, might we wonder if other aspects of this prophecy are about to take place?

One possibility that comes to mind is that with the power vacuum left by Mubarak’s resignation–one filled for the moment by the military, granted–one could easily see Egypt splintering into different regions and factions just as it did shortly after Isaiah’s day.  On the one hand, such a civil war would give Israel some breathing room while dealing with her northern neighbors, but on the other, the possibility of mass persecution against the Coptic Christians is very strong.  Out of this struggle for power, a strong leader would eventually emerge–but this strong leader would not be able to stand for long against the new King of Babylon, the Man of Sin.

The Kings of North and South

Another possibility emerges from cross-referencing this passage with Daniel 11.  I’ve noted before that I believe that when Yeshua told us that the Abomination of Desolation would occur again, we should expect the entire prophecy of the person to be fulfilled again, if not necessarily in exactly the same way.  I will be exploring that in my next couple of podcasts and their attached notes, so for now, just take it as an interesting thought-experiment.  In any case, the King of the North–the Antichrist/Antiochus who rules over the region of Iraq and possibly Syria–goes to war with the King of the South, who is the leader of Egypt and was originally represented by the Ptolemy kingdom.  Daniel describes the war:

He will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South with a large army; so the king of the South will mobilize an extremely large and mighty army for war; but he will not stand, for schemes will be devised against him.  Those who eat his choice food will destroy him, and his army will overflow, but many will fall down slain.  As for both kings, their hearts will be intent on evil, and they will speak lies to each other at the same table; but it will not succeed, for the end is still to come at the appointed time.  (Dan. 11:25-27)

So the second possibility is that the chaos described in Isaiah 19:1-4 and 11-16 will be deliberately caused by the King of the North to bring down his rival.

And that’s the possibility that really intrigues me.  We know that these riots have been caused by the Muslim Brotherhood, which in turn both backs and is backed by Iran.  Since the Persian bear is a part of the final Beast described in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, one has to wonder:  Is it possible that behind the scenes there is already a King of the North who is setting the stage for the schemes described in Daniel 11 and the chaos described here in Isaiah?

I’m not claiming that we are already in the 70th Week.  I really don’t think that we are, or that the war described by Daniel has openly begun yet.  However, the key word in that sentence is “openly,” and if this post gets a few people to start their own digging, it will have done its job well.

Shalom

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