Isaiah 19

Isaiah 19:1 the burden of Egypt

Egypt is almost like Babylon in that it represents the kingdom of Satan, the wickedness of the world, the idolatry of the ancients (D&C 133:7, Heb. 11:26-27, Rev. 11:8).  The greatest, most famous story in all of religious history is the delivery of the Israelites from the power of Pharaoh and the slavery of Egypt.  The children of Israel followed their prophet Moses out of captivity as a type for the covenant people leaving the wickedness of the world behind.  Aren’t we supposed to do the same thing?

The Lord has given his prophets many prophecies regarding the fate of Egypt.  Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel devote quite a few chapters to the judgments of God upon Pharaoh, the land, and the people (Jer. 42-46; Ezek. 29-32).  Comparatively, Isaiah actually spends less prophetic space on Egypt.  Unlike the other prophets, he begins with the message of gloom and doom but ends with a story of redemption.

Isaiah 19:2 I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians

The story of Gideon versus the Midianites was historical folklore by Isaiah’s time.  The story was that Gideon took 300 of his men, the ones who drank water like a dog, and surrounded the army.  300 men blew 300 trumpets and the confused Midianites began fighting each other, “the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow” (Judges 7:22).  Gideon was able to pursue them and killed 120,000 (Judges 8:10).

The same would happen to the Egyptians.  When was this prophecy fulfilled?  The Assyrians did attack Egypt in Isaiah’s day but they were unable to conquer them, and there is no record of such a terrible slaughter. The fulfillment may still be a future event.

Isaiah 19:3 they shall seek… the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards

Why would you rely on Satan’s powers to communicate spiritual things when the Lord freely offers answers to those who ask, seek, and knock? The world seeks wisdom from the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:7) rather than the Creator of the Universe.

Joseph Smith

Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age, and almost amongst all people. If we go among the pagans, they have their spirits; the Mohammedans, the Jews, the Christians, the Indians—all have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency, and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery? (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 110 – 111)

Jedediah M. Grant

Let the witch of Endor, and all other witches and wizards, with the prince and power of the air at their head, do their best, if we keep the commandments of God we shall continually soar far above their power and influence. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 2: 15 - 16)

Isaiah 19:4-5 the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord… and the river shall be wasted and dried up

These prophecies appear to be apocalyptic in nature as the Nile has never failed.  Dams have been built and droughts have been endured, but the great river has never been wasted. 

Isaiah 19:11 the princes of Zoan are fools

In Isaiah 30, the Lord chides the children of Israel for sending ambassadors and princes to the Egyptian cities of Zoan and Hanes to ask for military support. They are supposed to have the faith to trust in God, not Egypt.  The Assyrian armies are threatening the entire region.  The Northern Kingdom hopes that support from Syria and Egypt will save them, and the Southern Kingdom (comprised of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin) will place their trust in God.  The Northern Kingdom will not survive. The Southern Kingdom, though Assyria captures everything to the walls of the city of Jerusalem, is saved by God killing 185,000 of the Assyrian army (2 Kgs. 19:35).

In dramatic fashion, the Lord is reminding the people not to trust in Egypt.  The most damning comment is, “Their strength is to sit still” (Isa. 30:7). They are not going to do anything to help.  Some people are like that—the activity they do best is to sit around and do nothing—it’s a skill they have mastered. 

Isaiah 19:16-17 Egypt shall be afraid… of the hand of the Lord of hosts… And the land of Judah shall be a terror

These verses mark a transition to apocalyptic prophecy. This is the pattern of Isaiah—the gloom and doom of the first half of the chapter is replaced with glorious prophecies of millennial bliss.  Usually, all the good news is for the house of Israel.  Isaiah also prophecies of events that are completely unbelievable compared to the current geo-political situation.  In this case, he tells of a day when the Jews will be “a terror unto Egypt.”  That is quite the opposite of Isaiah’s time.

Isaiah 19:18 In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts

Currently, there aren’t very many Egyptians who are clamoring to learn Hebrew.  You can’t even fly in an airplane directly from Israel to Egypt; you have to fly to Istanbul, Turkey (which is completely the wrong direction), and then take another flight to Egypt because of security concerns.  The nations just don’t trust each other.  To imagine a day when Egyptians have enough respect for the Jews that they would learn their language and worship their God is unbelievable—for Isaiah’s day or for ours. 

Isaiah 19:19-21 In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt

Ok, now Isaiah has clearly gone too far!  Is he prophesying that there will be a temple in Egypt?  Where else can we imagine an altar to the Lord than in a temple?  Isaiah sees farther into the Millennium than Jeremiah or Ezekiel.  He sees past the destruction of Egypt at the beginning of the Millennium; he sees the redemption of Egypt once the world has come to grips with the fact that the two great capitals of the earth are Jerusalem and New Jerusalem. It will be a hard pill to swallow to admit that the God of the Jews is the God of all.

He even promises to “send them a savior, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.”  Where else can you find prophesies of a savior for Egypt?  Not in Jeremiah or Ezekiel.  Isaiah sees the unbelievable, “the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea they shall vow a vow unto the Lord and perform it.”  Basically, there will be five righteous cities in Egypt where the inhabitants will worship the God of the Jews.  They will have at least one temple, and will perform temple ordinances. 

Isaiah 19:22 the Lord shall smite Egypt; he shall smite and heal it

Often, the only way the Only-Begotten can get some attention is with destruction from the Almighty.  Egypt cannot be redeemed until it is punished.  To heal it requires that God first smite it.  The destruction attending the end of the world is not just out of retribution but out of love and a desire for subsequent redemption.  It is a preparatory punishment; the tares must be gathered into bundles and burned that the land may be prepared to produce more wheat. Isaiah is prophesying of a millennial day in which that wheat will be Egyptian wheat.

Isaiah 19:23-25 In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria

The Bible Dictionary state, “Assyria and Egypt became great rival powers, and an alliance with Egypt against Assyria was for some time the policy of the kings of Judah.  Isaiah opposed this alliance (Isa. 30:1-5).”  In the Millennium, this enmity will turn to alliance.  Again, in a turn of events that is completely impossible in Isaiah’s time, all three former enemies, Egypt, Assyria, and Israel will be blessed together.  The best part is the new autobahn from Egypt to Assyria (modern day Iraq).  Hopefully, Italian sports cars will be available still; there will be no speed limit and no fatal accidents.  Maybe the Iraqis will be speeding to get to the new temple in Egypt. 

“The prophecy reaches down to ultimate developments ‘in that day’ when Judah is restored and has become a formidable power, and the language and religion of Israel will be spread into Egypt (Isa. 19:16-22). Miraculously the old enemies will be converted, and Assyria, Israel, and Egypt will be blessed by the Lord (Isa. 19:23-25). That will indeed be the great day of the Lord, when the burden to Egypt has become a major oracle about the Lord's plans for the earth when all peoples shall be governed by him and peace shall reign.” (Ellis T. Rasmussen, A Latter-day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament [Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1993], 516)