From Obscurity to Clarity
God’s message to Cush in Isaiah 18 may seem obscure to today’s readers. But God’s message to Egypt is crystal clear. Remember that Cush dominated Egypt in the 25th dynasty at this time in history (1). Isaiah’s use of the term “Egypt” might very well include Cush.
Spiritual Analogy: Confession–I love a car ride or a train ride where I get to sit up high and get a good view of anonymous people’s backyards. And, the longer the ride, the better. Weird maybe, but that’s me. Isaiah 19:1-15 is like a tour of people’s backyards, at a reasonable speed, like in a car on a two lane rural road, or on a train traveling a large distance.
What Does Isaiah See for Egypt?
- Egypt’s idols will be worthless – 1
- civil disputes will multiply – 2
- Egyptians will fear and consult their idols and spiritists – 3
- God will assign them cruel lords and kings – 4
- a terrible drought will dry up the sea and the Nile – 5
- the canals will stink and water plants will rot – 6
- plants by the river’s banks will die and dust storms will blow away their agriculture – 7
- fishermen of the Nile will groan and cry – 8
- weavers of flax into linen will lose hope – 9
- weavers of cloth will be broken and employees will be sad – 10
What About Egypt’s Wise People? Can They Help?
- Scripture uses strong language to describe the “wise men” of Zoan (Tanis) who are really “fools” – 11
- They give the king wrong advice contrary to what the Lord has planned (i.e., peace when there is no peace) – 12
- The leaders of Zoan and Memphis, another major city, acted on false reports that led the nation the wrong way – 13
- The Lord did this. He confused the leaders. They wander around like sick, drunk people. They have no clue where they are – 14
- It will be total chaos which no one can solve – 15
“In That Day” — What Day?
Spiritual Analogy: When the tour train arrives at Isaiah 20:16 forward, it comes to a full station stop. Serious explorers debark. Some rent a room for the night. Without warning, Isaiah just took a trip in his time machine and plopped everyone down into a different era. After glancing at the the landscape around them, the tourists turn to ask one another, not, “Where are we?” (they are still in Egypt), but, “When are we?”
Signs Signaling a Change
- “In that day” – 16
- “In that day” – 18
- “In that day” – 19
- “… in that day” – 21
- “In that day” – 23
- “In that day” – 24
And so we ask, what day is this? Let us check our bearings, look around us for the big picture, and see what we can find.
First, I have a dispensational study Bible open in front of me. The study notes wrongly assert that in verse 16 and forward, “in that day” refers to the so-called “millennial” rule of Christ. Nothing in the text speaks of a “millennium.” That is a term Isaiah does not use. To so label this passage is reading into the text.
Second, has Isaiah already used this phrase in what we’ve studied so far? If so, what light can Isaiah shed upon Isaiah?
Uses of “That Day” in Isaiah
The phrase “that day” occurs 47 times in the book of Isaiah.
1-With reference to a time previously specified in the same context.
1. Some occurrences in their contexts make reference to a time period previously specified in the text. For example, Isaiah 2:12-22 describes a time of judgment. “In that day” occurs in Isaiah 2:17 and 20. These refer back in context to that specific time period Isaiah has been describing. This time frame appears to be defined in verse 12 as the last day.
Important: Note that although the event being described is future (in this case a day of final judgment), the introduction of it as a topic occurs in context prior to the first occurrence of the phrase “in that day.” A paraphrase would be, In the day that I have just been describing… In other words, it functions in its context as a grammatical marker, rather than as a specific day.
Other examples of the phrase grammatically pointing back to a prior event already specified in the immediate context are found in Isaiah 17:4, 7, and 9. Isaiah 17:1-3 describe what will happen to the nation of Syria. Immediately after these verses, verse 4 opens with, “And in that day, the glory of Jacob will be brought low…” Isaiah is not introducing here a new topic with its own time frame. Rather, he indicates that what will happen to Jacob will happen in the same day as what he just described will happen to Syria. In other words, these events will happen at the same time. Verses 7 and 9 are similar.
2. The use of “in that day” in Isaiah 19:16 appears to fall into this category. Verses 1-15 speak of a time of chaos and calamity for Egypt. Verse 16 speaks of an Egyptian response in keeping with those events. Verses 12 and 14 assign responsibility for Egypt’s troubles to the “Lord of hosts.” Verses 16 names the “Lord of hosts” as the one whom Egypt fears. Verse 17 extends that fear to Judah, the nation who represents the “Lord of hosts.”
3. Therefore, verses 16 and 17 most likely should be grouped with verses 1-15, because they speak of the same time period of devastation in Egypt’s history.
But, Then Comes Verse 18
Isaiah 19:18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction. (ESV)
Does verse 18 signal the same time frame as the previous section, verses 1 to 17? Or, is this a totally different “day”? Why do we ask?
First, we ask because the subject from Isaiah 19:18 to the end of the chapter expresses a sudden and remarkable change. Egypt in biblical history served pagan gods. Isaiah 19:1 even speaks of their idols. But, Isaiah 19:18-22 describes an Egypt that has turned and now worships the Lord.
Isaiah 19:21 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. (ESV)
Verse 22 sheds light on how we should view this latter portion of the chapter. Isaiah interprets Isaiah for us.
22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
That is, the Lord is behind everything in this chapter. First he strikes Egypt, then he heals them. He strikes, Egypt turns to the Lord and pleads for mercy (like Nineveh in the book of Jonah), the Lord listens, and he heals them.
Second, this change is remarkable. The travesties of the first portion of the chapter seem historical. They could easily fit a time period not too much later than when Isaiah prophesied. But Old Testament history doesn’t record a time when the pagan nations surrounding Israel repented and turned to the Lord.
Third, from a Christian point of view, this is wonderful, happy news. It causes us to rejoice. In verses 23-25, the good news gets even better. The great bully of both Egypt and Israel, Assyria, is included in God’s blessing.
Isaiah 19:23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. 24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” (ESV)
But what is going on? When does this happen? Slowly, Isaiah has transitioned us from what seems solidly historical to something that appears to be like “pie in the sky,” i.e., impossibly good news, like heaven.
Spiritual Analogy: This is why the imaginary train has pulled into the station and come to a full stop. The travelers are still scratching their heads. They go back and reexamine that phrase, “in that day.” They ask, Is there a particular, special day in Isaiah?
2-With Reference to a Special Day of the Lord
To Be Continued…
1 “The 25th dynasty was a line of pharaohs who originated in the Kingdom of Kush, located in present-day northern Sudan and Upper Egypt. Most of this dynasty’s kings saw Napata as their spiritual homeland. They reigned in part or all of Ancient Egypt from 747–656 BC.” Wikipedia